Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Language Observations #2


Taking a cab home (especially at 4 a.m. after a long day at my money-makin' job, GRE and working on layout at the Brooklyn Rail) is always difficult because, like I mentioned before, drivers don't really know where 85th Road is, nevertheless Briarwood. I usually say it's Jamaica and off of Queens Boulevard.

The driver asked me my address and he called in to his dispatch. In Spanish, he asked "Donde esta ciento curanta y uno?" In my sleeping haze, I heard this and corrected him. A.P. Spanish comes in handy sometimes.

(I do want to re-learn Spanish, along with all of the other things I want to do.)


Rob's daughter, Claire, has a Bengali babysitter. For the weekends, Rob gets people he knows to watch Claire. Last weekend, that was me. Because she knows I'm Bengali, she asked, "Can you speak Bengali?"

"I understand it a lot and I can speak a little bit," I told her. She tried to think of something she wanted me to say.

"Can you say 'come here'?" she asked, fitting with her bossy nature.

I know I hear that phrase all the time, but at that moment, it flew out of my head. Right now, it's hard for me to recall it. I'm so used to it, I don't think twice about what I hear—it's equated to English for me.

(Phonetically, it's ekenhe aaso.)


My sister recently started watching Indian movies and listening to Indian and Bengali songs. One day, she asked me how to say "love" in Bengali. I knew I didn't know how to say it, so I said no and asked if she knew. She said she knew now because of a song—bhalobashi. Puzzled as to why we didn't know how to say such a simple word, we asked our dad. He just shrugged and smiled.

Monday, October 29, 2007

My Middle Name

I don't really have a middle name. I'm just plain, old Nadia Chaudhury, not Nadia Rachel Chaudhury or even Nadia Fatima Chaudhury (my actual first name, before they changed it).

But I do have a family middle name. I'm not sure if that's the correct term for it, but I call it that because my father, brother and I all have it. (My mother just uses her maiden name and my father's last name.) Nadia Hasan Chaudhury. According to my father, it was the middle name his father gave him and my father passed it on to his children. All of my official documents
passport, social security card, birth certificateuse that name.

I used to write my entire name out in my careful elementary-school penmanship. Once I learned script, however, I didn't like the way my 'H' looked—my 'N' and 'C' were swooping and pretty and the 'H' seemed too blocky. So I dropped "Hasan."

Now, I'm just Nadia Chaudhury.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

my dirtiest suntans

I’ve got to get out of here. I choose a piece of shawl and my dirtiest suntans. I’ll be back, I’ll re-emerge, defeated, from the valley, you don’t want me to go where you go, so I go where you don’t want me to. It’s only afternoon, there’s a lot ahead. There won’t be any mail downstairs. Turning, I spit in the lock and the knob turns.

—Frank O’Hara, "Meditations in an Emergency"

Friday, October 26, 2007

Briarwood, New York

85th Road in Briarwood.

[I wrote this for Inprint, Issue #15, May 1st.]

No one’s ever heard of Briarwood, my quiet, small neighborhood off of Queens Boulevard, tucked in the outskirts of Jamaica and Kew Gardens. My credit card statements are addressed to Jamaica, New York, as if Briarwood doesn’t even exist to Citibank. Though, the MTA recognizes the neighborhood enough to create a subway station there: Briarwood-Van Wyck, home to the F train.

Whenever I tell people I live in Queens, they gasp and say, “Oh my god, that’s so far away! How long does it take you to get to school?” Forty-five minutes to an hour, I answer, depending on the train. Then they gasp again, “Oh my god, that’s so long!” Compared to my hour-and-a-half trek to high school in the Bronx, going to Lang is a breeze. Even getting home during the late hours (or early morning, whichever way you choose to look at it) is easy because the F train never stops; although there might be a twenty minute wait.

I live on 85th Road, on top of a hill. One side is so steep for several blocks that it rests on Hillside Avenue. The other side slants slowl
y, twisting and meshing into other streets, until it comes to a stop on Queens Boulevard.

Outside my apartment, there are two other similar buildings, all part of the same apartment complex. In the center is the circular pathway where I learned to ride my bike, going round and round until dark and the pathway that became a make-shift baseball field, each entrance substituting for the bases. A stout, wide bush where I saw my first robin in spring sat in the very center of it. Children walk to the elementary school just across the street, and when they’re a bit older, they walk a bit further to the junior high school right behind that elementary school. The sky’s clearer above and I can cou
nt how many stars I see with two hands.

Despite this calm and serene atmosphere (and because of it), Briarwood is not very exciting. Besides the Little League parade every spring, not much happens in this little neighborhood. I spend most of my time in Manhattan, where it’s livelier.

Going home, though, is an indulgence I get to relive every night, because it’s a break from the constant motion of Manhattan, walking through the quiet, hilly roads of Briarwood where I used to play manhunt through the streets and buildings of the neighborhood and watched in awe as a friend threw a ball up to the roof of a six-story apartment building. Briarwood is where I grew up, and for now, it’s nice being here.

Summer Briarwood skies.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

you being in love

I hesitate over calling E. E. Cummings one of my favorite poets because of his popularity (I'm the same way with everything elseAmelie and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are two of my favorite movies, but I don't like admitting it because they're everyone's favorite), but he is.

I'm not sure how exactly I stumbled upon Cummings—maybe in my creative writing class in high school with Mr. Garfinkel (who I credit with setting me down my writerly path. He wrote my college recommendation and I snuck a peek and it almost made me cry)but my love for poetry started around then. Stylistically and to a lesser extent, thematically, Cummings inspired me. Looking back at my earlier poems, this was very obvious with my parentheses, line breaks, spacing and hell of a lot of enjambment (thank you, Henry Shapiro).

What appeals to me about Cummings, in general, is just that—instead of following the typical line breaks of a sentence or breath as Charles Olson did, Cummings' relies on more factors: the way it sounds, the way it looks and the way the words are broken up. I always think of his work as visual poetry, or "look-at" poetry and I describe my work the same way (though, this might not be the case anymore). Looking at subjects, he fed my fascination with spring and the abstract action of wishing. I even used a line from "when faces called flowers float out of the ground" as my senior quote:

and breathing is wishing and wishing is having-
but keeping is downward and doubting and never
-it's april(yes,april;my darling)it's spring!

It's difficult, I think, to write love poetry, but in "you being in love," Cummings offered a nice, different (in my opinion) perspective as to what love is and entails.

Here is "you being in love," from is 5:

you being in love
will tell who softly asks in love,

am i separated from your body smile brain hands merely
to become the jumping puppets of a dream? oh i mean:
entirely having in my careful how
careful arms created this at length
inexcusable, this inexplicable pleasure—you go from several
persons: believe me that strangers arrive
when i have kissed you into a memory
slowly, oh seriously
that since and if you disappear

ask "life, the question how do i drink dream smile

and how do i prefer this face to another and
why do i weep eat sleep--what does the whole intend"
they wonder. oh and they cry "to be, being, that i am alive
this absurd fraction in its lowest terms
with everything cancelled
but shadows
—what does it all come down to? love? Love
if you like and i like,for the reason that i
hate people and lean out of this window is love,love
and the reason that i laugh and breathe is oh love and the reason
that i do not fall into this street is love."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Updates: Burma, Monks versus Junta

With talks of sanctions and meetings going on in Burma, New York Times' Choe Sang-Hun takes another look at the battle between the junta and monks. From the way he sees it, the junta prevailed this time by waving their guns around and patrolling the streets, ready for anything.

During captivity, the monks were "de-monked," questioned as regular people and then were re-blessed as monks. This was the junta's way of respecting religion, but they must be kidding themselves if they thought it was that simple. Parents are pulling their children out of monastaries, afraid of what will happen to them in the near future. The balance needs to be re-established between religion and the government and really, the only way to do this is to decrease the power of the junta. The people of Burma are unhappy already, and this needs to change.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Yellow, Red and Orange Everywhere

Since it's autumn, Josh and I celebrated by spending a weekend around Albany picking apples, hiking along the Helderberg Escarpment/Indian Ladder trail and dipping our feet in the Hudson River.

The Hudson view from the MetroNorth.

Indian Ladder Farm in Altermont, New York. Fijis were currently season.

The lost apple.

Rows and rows of apples. The trees weren't that tall—just about my height.

He was really hungry.

Across the street, we went to their farmers' market where we picked up presents, apple cider and apple cider donuts. Delicious.

After getting a bit lost, we found ourselves in John Boyd Thatcher Park atop the Helderberg Escarpment. You could see all the way to Massacusetts. Seeing the bare walls of the escarpment was amazing.

Heading to the Indian Ladder Trail, which begins with, you've guessed it, steps. Back in the day, they used actual ladders.

From behind one of the several waterfalls we stumbled across.

From the stream's view.

Trees, rocks and waterfall.

Since we missed the 4:33 p.m. train back to New York City, we stopped by Waryas Park in Poughkeepsie to say hello to the Hudson.

View from the train backthe Newburgh-Beacon Bridge.
[And yeah, so I designed a spread...I couldn't help myself.]

Monday, October 22, 2007

Rowing to Alpine & Back

The lovely Quixotic rowing under the George Washington Bridge.

Under brilliant Sunday afternoon blue skies, rows and rows of white, pristine clouds, and the sun shining at just the right angles and intensity, three Whitehall Gigs sailed and rowed their way back to Pier 40 after a journey up north and a night’s rest at Alpine, New Jersey.

Rowing in The Quixotic.

Led by Rob Buchanan, on Saturday, October 13, we rowed up the Hudson to Alpine, New Jersey where we spent the night at the Alpine Picnic Area/Boat Basin (with permission, of course). For some, this trip echoed an earlier mission this past summer when we helped bring three boats from Croton Point to Pier 40 for the FISA Row Around Manhattan event. The Magnus resides in the boathouse as a result of that trip and it was one of the boats we took on our adventure, along with the Quixotic and the Alex Murphy.

Although we were set to go with fourteen people, only twelve showed up. Since we planned on taking three boats, we divvied up the crew into groups of four. Ideally, you want five people in the boat—four rowers and one coxswain, a.k.a. the leader. We lacked full power, but we went ahead anyway. Luckily, the Magnus was already equipped with a self-steering device that Rob himself put together, so that crew had it a bit easier.

Setting up the sails at Fort Washington Park.

Heading out at around 10 a.m., we stopped just before the George Washington Bridge at Fort Washington Park for bathroom beaks and rigging up the sails. Ever since I fell in love with rowing, I’ve wanted to sail in the Whitehall gigs, especially because I’ve never been sailing before. Sam, Rob and Frank put up the sails—placing the mast, setting up the halyard, affixing the sails and away we went.

First time sailing in The Quixotic under the George Washington Bridge.

This trip marked The Quixotic’s many firsts—first overnight adventure, first endeavor past New York City, first over-10-mile trip (rows around Manhattan don’t count) and its first time sailing. Anne and I, along with Rob as our teacher, built The Quixotic in the first Lang on the Hudson class and we were so proud and happy to officially break The Quixotic’s sailing cherry. Granted, it took us forever to actually get to Alpine because the tides were against us, the skies were overcast and it was difficult picking up the winds. In the end, after we reached Alpine, it didn’t bother us too much.

Around the campfire.

At the Alpine Pavilion, there was a wedding reception and our boats added that romantic touch. Sam and I spoke to the bride and groom, who, along with their wedding party, posed with the boats, and other various guests. After thoroughly enjoying ourselves with food and many, many drinks, we wandered around the area, taking pictures and talking. Eventually, the campfire/grill was set up and dinner was served. With full bellies, we sat around the fire and talked about life and all that stuff.

Climbing the Palisades.

After a cold night’s sleep (which will never happen to me again), we awoke to another golden morning. With a quick breakfast and a reminder to return by noon for shove-off, we explored Alpine.

First stop was the Kearny House, which, to our dismay, was closed. When we weren’t able to find any way into the building, we went hiking. After staying on the trail, we strayed off. Suresh and I parted with the group but eventually caught up. We met up at the ruins of what must have been a manor overlooking the Hudson and decided that our goal way to climb up the Palisades and find either a WaWa (I’ve never been to one) or store so Derek could buy cigarettes. The non-path was rocky and steep but the eight of us managed. When we reached the highway, we walked south until we saw a Citgo to our right. Derek bought his pack while we bought drinks and snacks. Since we had about thirty minutes to head back and we were having no luck with trying to hitch a ride back, we followed the actual trail down to the Hudson.

Sailing and rowing the Magnus.

Back at the beach at Alpine, we prepared and we were off. I switched to the Magnus and sailed. Because I couldn’t steer and hold the sail, Rob steered from the stroke position. Sailing was wonderful, especially when the wind picked up and I felt the powerful push. We made a stop at Englewood Basin for paninis. Then we rowed and sailed the last leg back to Pier 40 as we talked about poetry, camping, and mountaineering and enjoyed watching The Quixotic.

The gorgeous boat we built.

With the pink-and-orange-tinted skies above, we cleaned the three boats and all headed our separate ways home. Well-spent weekend. Very. Check out Rob's write-up for more.

Cleaning the boat.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Valley of Jim Thorpe

Walking the train tracks along the Lehigh River.

Next up on my "Exploring Northeastern America" series (as I have newly dubbed it) was Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, the hometown of my friend Kayley, accompanied by Josh and Ilana in mid-September.

Named after Jim Thorpe, an all-round American sporter, this little town resides in the valley of the Poconos Mountains. The bus ride from Grand Central was uneventful (except for a witty ticketseller who told Kayley she bought the last ticket out of New York; we weren't impressed) and not too long—approximately two hours. Once we arrived at our destination, Allentown, Kayley's mother drove us to Jim Thorpe, where we past some deer, oh the wonders of non-urban areas.

Entering the cave.

We drove down to Lehigh Valley State Park, home to the Lehigh River. We explored an open-ended cave, complete with abandoned rail tracks that once ran over the Lehigh, the foundations of which are still embedded in the river. Then, we headed down to the river banks and embarked on our climb up to the near-beginning of the Glen Onoko Falls. The skies were overcast yet the air wasn't cold. Walking up the obtuse incline, we chatted while focusing on our footing as Josh pointed out the unnatural in this natural setting with the usual suspects: beer cans, plastic bags, cigarette butts. For a good portion of the trail, we followed a rusty pipe that ended abruptly. We crossed back and forth over the creek, taking in the clearness of the water (and it tasted good too, though I checked to see if there were any dead deer around, just in case). Once we made it to the near-top, we rested and then climbed down. Following a man and his daughter, we ended up at the railtracks and walked along until we reached the parking lot.

From the river's view.

Glen Onoko Falls.

After showering and eating breakfast at Kayley's, we headed to Jim Thorpe's downtown area, also known as Little Switzerland because of its narrow streets and sidewalks line with houses and stores alike, reminiscent of the vias di Roma. Kayley pointed out various landmarks, both personal and general to Jim Thorpe. We wandered through an antique store, complete with ridicioulous items, such as a homoerotic lamp of Grecian figures.

One of the stars of downtown Jim Thorpe--the pirate house a.k.a. tattoo parlor.

Since I needed to immerse myself in the entire middle-of-nowhere environs, we went to Walmart, my first time. Before that, we went to Rita's and got Italian ices—delicious mango Italian ices with custard. In Walmart, I did find a second copy of American Psycho for only $5, which made it worth it. Stopping by her sister Shannon's house, we played Guitar Hero and picked up season 3 of The Office, which we indulged in for the rest of the night.

The next day, after waking up late, we headed to Shannon's local church where Shannon's daughter/Kayley's niece, Emeline, was celebrating her 8th birthday. Before the other kids arrived, we took it upon ourselves to decorate both the church and ourselves with streamers, tissue paper flowers, and metallic stem foils. With the kids, we played Dance Dance Revolution, musical chairs and other assorted children's games.

Playing DDR.

The highlight of the day, though, was going back to Shannon's and her husband Jarrod's home again and riding in the back of Jarrod's motorcycle. I have an on-going list of things I need to do, just general life goals, and for the longest time, I had the urge to ride in the back of a motorcycle. Well, in Jim Thorpe, I got to do just that. After suiting up in Shannon's bright pink motorcycle jacket, gloves and helmet, I hopped behind Jarrod and off we went. Pennsylvania is known for their hills and mountains and this made for a wonderful ride. Jarrod sped up whenever we could and we quickly raced through the curvy roads of Pennsylvania. Going over 100 mph, you realize how easy it is to just let go and fly off into the wind--there was nothing holding me down except for my arms around Jarrod's waist. It was wonderful. Coming back, my hair was a mess, my glasses were practically knocked off, but it didn't matter—I need to do it again.

On the motorcycle.

And with that, we rushed back to the bus stop, making a quick stop at Sheetz, the mega-gas-station-slash-convience-store where we stocked up on food for the trip back. Then it was off to our brightly-lit city of New York.

Amazing view of Jim Thorpe.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

What is a Journalist?

According to the Washington Post and the Freedom Flow of Information Act 2007, a journalist is,

a "covered person" is someone "engaged in journalism," which itself is defined as "the regular gathering, preparing, collecting, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting or publishing of news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public." That would cover those working for major news organizations as well as individuals putting out their own blogs or newsletters.

This definition doesn't include:

anyone associated with terrorism from claiming to be a "covered person"...[and] anyone who is "an agent of a foreign power" as newly defined in recent amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Committee staff members said this could include journalists working for the news network al-Jazeera, owned by the government of Qatar; publications run by Hezbollah, the Lebanese political party; and even the BBC or other news organizations owned by governments. The new FISA definitions also include as agents of a foreign power anyone who "is reasonably expected to possess, control, transmit or receive foreign intelligence information while such person is in the United States."

Good to know.

Updates: Burma & Bronx Science

- Roger Cohen discusses China's involvement and lackthereof with Burma in light of the Beijing Olympics in next year.
- Released monks recount their degrading captivity, including being told that they weren't monks anymore, made to eat barely-there food with their hands and, of course, beaten.
- Another known death, a pro-democracy activist in captivity as well.

Bronx Science:
- The ever-lovable New York Sun takes a look at Principal Valerie "Dr. Quack" Reidy, the changes she made at Science (more tests, enforcing the discovery method which entails learning in the classroom instead of reading materials ahead of time) and responses. The Sun includes positive reviews of Reidy too.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Science Evermore?

The Bronx Science I knew from 1999 to May, 2003 to the Bronx Science that awaited me on Homecoming, October 2003 were nothing alike. I'm afraid to go back and see what happened to the place. Reading this today justifies that fear.

Entering Science in 1999, I was upset because I didn't want to go to a specialized science high school, emphasis on the "science." Being a humanities-driven person like myself, I envisioned myself attending Townsend Harris, but being stuck on the waiting list stopped me. And I really didn't want to go to my zoned high school.

At the time, Stanley Blumenstein was principal and all was well. Bronx Science was the picture of New York City high school life—students took more required classes than your average NYC high school student, kids would lounge and play in the campus out front or the handball courts in the back or on Harris Field where more than not, illicit indulging occured, students could even leave school and take the 4 or the D train, if time permitted it. I was excited about high school and managed to carve my own path, focusing on yearbook and creative writing.

Then Blumenstein retired
and that's where this story starts. Then, William Stark became Acting Principal as the NYC Board of Education looked for a new principal, though Stark was good enough. But the Chancellor was set on getting a big name as principal, preferably a Nobel Prize winner, but failed to do so. Stark, by the end of this, already moved into a more secure position. Because of the need for a new principal, then-Biology professor Valerie Reidy got the position. It was with then that Bronx Science began its transformation for the worse.

Under Blumenstein's and Stark's watch, Bronx Science had a relaxed atmosphere. The students were smart, they knew how to take care of themselves. The school had an open campus, so students were free to roam the wild and tame streets of Bedford, Bronx. Sure, kids cut classes all the time (myself included), but everyone still managed to do well in school.

There was nothing wrong with the system.

Then, along came Reidy during my senior year at Science. I don't rememeber the exact chronology, but there were mandatory ID checks at the cafeteria before entering the school. Those students who arrived late were had to wait inside the cafeteria instead of going to their classes. During Halloween and St. Patrick's Day, we were confined to the building. If we were let loose, we'd wreak havoc outside, or something like that. Shoulder-baring tops were highly disapproved of. During my senior year, as co-layout editor of the Observatory, Science's yearbook, I had to deal with the Letter from the Principal. Reidy poured over the letter throughout the year. We went through pages and pages of proofs. Finally, when the entire book went to bed, Reidy found a grammatical error and insisted on printing exact replicas of our design for that page with the correction as stickers. She handed them out during graduation rehearsal and asked us to replace our previous letter. No one did this. I think I still have that sticker somewhere here.

After graduating and being a college student for three months, my friends and I visited Bronx Science on Homecoming, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and oh my, how it changed. In the lobby of the building, underneath the giant science mural, were television screens. To be more accurate, they were security screens. In less than a year, Reidy set up security cameras all through campus and you could watch the entire show in the lobby. Yep. What she wanted was control of the students, of New York City's brightest, and that's exactly what she received.

In defiance to Reidy, students and teachers called her Dr. Quack. The moniker stems from the honorary PhD Reidy received from her alma mater, which gave her cause to add the suffix Dr. to her name. Instead, students and teachers alike opted to call her "Dr. Quack." Because he helped spread the word, Dr. Bob Drake, a chemistry teacher at Science (I never had him) was fired. I believe Dr. Mel Maskin (I was a horrible student in his class, but I appreciate his teaching methods) also left Science because of Reidy. How will the administration, or rather Reidy, respond to this? How will the Board of Education respond to it? Hopefully, the Chancellor will see that Reidy is too much of a polarizing figure for Bronx Science. Once teachers are being fired and resigning over your presence, it's pretty much time for you to move on, isn't it? Maybe the Chancellor should take up his search for a Nobel laureate as principal—there is no doubt he or she would be a better choice.

Just to note, famous Science alumni: for Jon: William Safire graduated in 1947. For Josh, Jon Favreau in 1984 and Scott Ian in 1982. And yeah, there were many Nobel Prize-winning graduates, editors and reporters (there's hope for me), Daniel Libeskind, the architect of the Freedom Tower (don't get me started on that) and many, many more.

[Title stems from the Bronx Science alma mater song.]

Graduate Application FAQ

While looking over the essay requirements for UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism:

Journalists abide by word limits. There is a strict 750 word limit for the statement of purpose and a 750 word limit for the personal history statement.

Both should be written with quality, not quantity, in mind.

Oh, word counts.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

& More Burma News

First, here's a nice look at Burma's reluctant need for a military regime by Seth Mydans, and another look at Burmese protestors by Thomas Fuller.

While the streets are relatively calm during the day, apparently at night, the junta go on raids through monastaries and homes, searching for and arresting any dissenters, including monks. And still, officially, there are only ten people killed during the protest. This number is an obvious fiction.

Prompted by the UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari's visit, the junta now picked out an official to deal with talks with the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Syi. This is a big step as the junta previously refused to deal with Suu Syi. Whether the junta will listen is another question to be answered.

Ye Min Tun, the Burmese diplomat in London, resigned over regime's clampdown and violence, citing, "This revolution, this incident seemed to be the decisive factor that could persuade the government to go to the negotiation table. But actually the government ignored the reality," according to BBC.

While I agree with his horror and his decision to not associate himself with the military, I hope he plans on pushing for democracy in Burma. It's better to fight than to give up, that's what the monks are doing, and the Burmese civilians should follow their lead.

& here's a nice image from my fellow Rail designer, Graham.

Monday, October 8, 2007


the faint
lines of a watch
are sketched on
my wrist, rays

from a different
time zone
my skin to a darker
copper, under blue

water black
wet cloth
clings to my
hips, i am

pale underneath,
hot, step
over burning
sand ingrained in

heels, footprints
behind me,
turn dry,

crumble softly
under feet, there
is no escaping and
can’t stay mine

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Brooklyn Rail: The City From a Rowboat

[From the latest issue of the Brooklyn Rail. Check out the amazing spread at the end of the article.]

The City From a Rowboat

Exploring the Rivers

by Nadia Chaudhury

Rowing in the Hudson River during a row around Manhattan.

From a not-so-quite distance, New York City looks peaceful, tiny, and conquerable. Instead of riding around in the leisurely and loud Circle Line ships that frequent the waterways of New York, I am grunting with my fellow rowers, pushing and pulling our way through the messy tides of the Hudson. We are literally right on the river in a Whitehall Gig, a 25-foot-long rowing vessel. With three fellow rowers and our reliable, all-knowing coxswain at the stern I am experiencing New York from a different angle—from the waters.

Rowing in New York City sounds impossible. In this city where grids of sidewalks, streets and subways guide us through our everyday lives, it’s easy to overlook the fact that New York is, in fact, surrounded by water. At most points the city’s residents are literally blocked from the water by fences or by harsh, jagged rocks.

There are four rowers to a boat: the stroke, two engine rowers and the bow rower. The stroke rower dictates the speed and length of the oar stroke and the rest follow. Then there is the coxswain who, in addition to steering the boat, leads the boat by telling the rowers when and what pace to row.

Rowing under the Brooklyn Bridge during the FISA Row Around Manhattan tour.

Whitehall Gigs were rowboats used to taxi people back and forth between boroughs and to larger ships. It is thought that they received their name because they were sent out from Whitehall Street, which used to rest on Manhattan’s coast before the city extended the island with landfills.

Groups like Floating the Apple and East River CREW (Community Recreation and Education on the Water), promote greater access to our city’s waterways. The two non-profit organizations show anyone who happens to wander by their respective boathouses the ins and outs of rowing in the Hudson, the East, the Harlem and the Bronx Rivers. All for free.

Philip Yee is a familiar face to those who frequent Floating the Apple’s boathouse at Pier 40. As a volunteer, he sees himself as the activities and Pier 40 operations coordinator.

“I kind of expanded with the program,” Yee says. “When I first came down here, it was originally Wednesday rowing and it basically consisted of about seven people.”

Launching from East 96th Street for the 5 Borough Ramble.

On the other side of Manhattan along the East River, Mary Nell Hawk acts as the ad-hoc program director of the East River CREW. Hawk is also the vice president of the organization’s board of directors and helps with the curriculum for the group’s educational activities.

Moving uptown, she felt she needed to do something. She was already in touch with Yee at Pier 40 and she could see the East River from her apartment window. “It didn’t occur to me to even think about getting on the water.” It wasn’t even a thought for her until she read an article about groups like Floating the Apple and East River CREW who, working with City Council member Gifford Miller, were searching for increased waterfront access for smaller boats.

With St. David’s, their boat, East River CREW looked for a boat house location on the east side. After some searching, the Parks Department gave them a strip of land at 96th Street where they soon installed a davit, a mechanical arm used to put boats onto the water, and obtained a storage container for the boat and other supplies.

“Rowing the East River versus rowing the Hudson became a big deal for us,” Hawk says. “We felt that the East River is what joins four of the five boroughs and even Staten Island if you want to, but everybody touches on the East River. This year we’ve made it our focus to row to other boroughs as much as we can because we have the access.”

Landing at the Italian Gardens, near the New York-New Jersey border.

The first East River CREW row this season was the Cinco de Mayo row. “We rowed to the Bronx River where the Bronx River Alliance was doing what they called a ‘flotilla’ of 75 canoes down the Bronx River. We joined them at the newly opened Hunts Point Riverside Park,” said Hawk.

Floating the Apple is affiliated with schools and programs throughout the city with rowing and boatbuilding programs. Among those in the past were the Graphic Arts and Communications High School through their ROTC program, Stuyvesant High School and Harbor School. With the City As School, students actually received gym credits for rowing.

“The youth program legitimized us in the sense that otherwise it would be just a bunch of old folks sitting here in our own club,” Yee says. “Getting youth involved is very invigorating and it gives us a sense of community.”

Schools programs, including Eugene Lang College at the New School University’s Lang on the Hudson and BMCC’s Now, take advantage of Floating the Apple’s facilities. In Lang on the Hudson, students build a boat to add to the program’s collection and learn about the New York Harbor. With BMCC’s program, students combine science and language arts with rowing. This past summer they studied Homer’s Odyssey on the water.

Out in the Hudson, along with an experienced Floating the Apple member, beginners get a sense for the waters by rowing around the basin at Pier 40. Those up for the challenge venture north or south of the Pier 40 and the more experienced traverse the river to New Jersey, whether to Frank Sinatra Park or Maxwell House Beach (known also as the Playa de Hoboken), a small strip of sand where another boathouse is opening up.

The sight of a Whitehall in the river is still a spectacle to many. Motor-boaters gawk as they sped by; people walking along the coast take pictures; passengers on the commuter and tourist ships wave.

Using the davit at Pier 40.

Hawk describes one instance where East River CREW was asked to take one hundred high school kids, one by one, on the water. “So we had two groups out on the boats and three groups on land. I’m out on the water and all of a sudden I’m hearing all this police sound and someone had put in a 911 call. Since then we’ve been calling the Harbor Unit.”

As wonderful as being out on the water is, it seems as though there should be more legal waterfront entrance sites. The water is a public area and everyone should have access to it, but this isn’t always the case.

During a summer outing, Floating the Apple crossed over to a cove in New Jersey and rested alongside a dock in front of a restaurant. While relaxing our arms, a uniformed man came up to us. “You’re not allowed to stay here,” he said from down the dock. We said we’d only be a couple of minutes and left soon afterwards.

“They’ll just limit the access points as to where you can get out to the water,” Yee said of the Parks Department. “The only way you could have gotten out to the water was to own a boat, rent a boat, which was expensive, or you could take the Staten Island Ferry back and forth.” Yee claims that what they are doing at Floating the Apple and the Downtown Boathouse, a kayaking shop next door to the group’s pier, is “giving people the opportunity to go out on the water and enjoy the water because the water’s for everybody.”

Landing boats at the East 96th Street boathouse.

There are ways to get around it, though.

“When I first graduated from college [in 1976] I did have one friend who had a kayak and he and I would come near here,” Hawk reminisced, referring to the waterfront on West Houston Street. “There was the ruin of this elevated highway that you could walk under and over this road. Then there was one place in the railing where a piece of debris had fallen in the water like a sort of step-down. So you’d put the kayak down and crawl through.”

The moment you experience being out on the water, it’s hard to resist its call. You’re bound to venture out there time after time.

“Once you’re on the water,” Yee said, “it’s an incredible feeling that I could go somewhere and feel like I’m outside the city and not really leave the city. In the 90s the parks got crowded, so this is the last open space in New York.”

From inside the boathouse at Pier 40.

Pier 40 offers free rowing on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the afternoon until dusk. Check for East River CREW events.

Nadia Chaudhury is Layout Editor for the Rail and, among traveling, writing and taking pictures, is a rowing and waterfront enthusiast. Check out her blog at

My amazingly designed spread, by yours truly:

Thursday, October 4, 2007

A Reason to Not Help Burma

The New York Times' Thomas Fuller and Newsweek's Melinda Liu offer nice run-throughs as to why Burma's neighbors refuse to do anything about the junta. It all comes down to this:

"But the bottom line, Thai officials say, is that Thailand is competing for the world’s energy resources, and if it does not buy [Burma's] gas, someone else will."

And how can you argue against that logic? A government suppressing its people by means of violence versus plentiful oil and gas? Yeah, it's an easy choice.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Burma, A Week After

After the beatings and killings are over (that we know of and could see) in Burma, its streets are calm and back to what seems like normal. It's like nothing happened last week, the monks and civilians weren't protesting, the junta didn't attack the demonstrators, the monks weren't sealed in their temples, people weren't shot at or hacked at. None of that happened.

But of course, emotions still run high throughout the country. While the junta has a history of attacking its citizens, they never had the gall to attack the monks. That is where the Burmese's anger lies. The highly spiritual and Buddhist country, the monks, as I keep saying, are highly revered. Once the monks rejected the junta by refusing to accept their food dontations, the junta lost what little bit of good face they had in the country. Even by releasing 229 monks and nuns they detained, the junta will never have the same power over the country as it used to. They touched the untouchables and the Burmese won't forgive them for that.

By sending U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari, the U.N. and the world tried to send a message to the Myanmar junta: We think what you're doing is wrong and we are trying to do something about it. But messages aren't enough.

The U.N. Security Council's attempts to intervene somehow fell through thanks to China's block, so it was all on Gambari to save the UN's face. But did it work? Highly doubtful--if the junta didn't succomb to international pressure years before, what makes this time any different?

And again, the junta cut off the internet. Don't they understand it's too late? The world knows and sees what's going on. Even Slyvestor Stallone saw what was happening. The Democratic Voice of Burma and the Irrawady update constantly, along with bloggers and other news sources. The junta's reputation isn't on the line anymore. But goddamnit, why aren't we doing something about it?

China and the ASEAN need to stand up against Burma. The Indonesian Foreign Minister, Hassan Wirajuda, suggested a shared government, junta with civilian, in order to ease into a democracy smoothly. Wirajuda also insisted on China's involvement. Forget about the oil in Burma--there are lives at stake, isn't that more important? They need to tell the junta to back down. They need to force the junta to stop and actually talk to the leaders and fix the country. Give the people what they want and get rid of the military regime in whatever way possible and let Myanmar become Burma again.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Burma Turning On Itself

As I said before, Burma is a Buddhist country. Therefore, monks are highly revered. When the monks joined the protests, the world probably believed they were untouchable. Sure, they were sealed inside temples and taken away to prisons and schools and buses that served imprisonment purposes, but to hurt and kill the monks? That's sacreligious. That's just goddamn wrong. Looking at Ho Htike's latest entry, monks are being murdered by their own soldiers and government that, according to satellite images, wiped out entire villages. There are also more personal accounts on BBC's website.

The very soldiers led by the very government that should, ideally, be protecting them. But instead, this is happening.

And what is anyone doing? The UN envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, met with the junta with the detained pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, but of course nothing will come of it. Come on, the junta's been around for a while and no one did anything about it before. They know they don't have to listen to the UN. And all the while, the only thing China, Russia and India care about is their economical ties with Burma, so of course they won't impose sanctions against Burma, yet they are the countries with strong influences on the country.

And I call bullshit on reports that at least nine people died today. Bullshit. It is obvious that many, many more than that died already. Many more. But it's difficult getting the right facts as journalists are continuously being arrested, which, at a crucial time like this, is a sad, sad thing.

Settled Fog

This is why I want to live in San Francisco.