Occasion: a late afternoon coffee stop between a big lunch and an unexpected engagement for dinner. I was wondering aloud about the wildlife on the expansive mural (only a small section is shown here) on the sunny, south-facing wall outside Root Hill. My barista explained that the mural, designed by the artist Katherine Gressel and executed with the collaboration of neighborhood children, depicts animals that once might have lived in the marshy habitat nearby before the waters became too polluted. Most of those animals must be long gone, my barista added — and even if they return to the canal, I'm not sure I'm ready to sample Gowanus crayfish.
False-flag operation? As trains on Metro-North's New Haven Line pass the Larchmont station, the most colorful sight to the east is The Cellar Bar. Like many drinking establishments in this part of the country, it displays the flag of the United States and several associated with Ireland. But why, I've wondered on many train rides in both directions, are they accompanied by the banner of the tiny Caribbean island of Dominica?
From the manager's quick smile, it was clear he'd heard the question before. Every so often, he noted, one or more befuddled folks who conceivably hail from the Lesser Antilles will wander in to ask, why do you have the flag of my country? (Likely the hope is for some home cooking, my thought as well.) He explained that the owner (not present during my visit) is a big fan of the singer Jimmy Buffett, whose fans have long been known as "Parrot Heads." To little surprise, only one national flag features a parrot; the owner displays it, as well as assorted parrot-phernalia inside the bar, solely out of devotion to Buffett. Alas, no chow is involved.
The manager shared one other observation as I ascended back into daylight. That's supposed to be a branch that the parrot is perched on, but it looks like nothing other than a kazoo.
The Cellar Bar 8 Railroad Way (near Chatsworth Ave.), Larchmont, New York 914-834-8723
Perhaps. My dining buddy and I had just attended a food fair, a cafe, and a small restaurant, only one of which relied entirely on the Roman alphabet, and so maybe our eyes were primed to see something in that middle graffito. The strong horizontal line, in combination with the whorls below it, is strongly suggestive of a South Asian script. I can't say for sure, but the neighborhood demographic is a good fit.
South Asian wild style? 68th St. near Woodside Ave., Woodside, Queens
This monument stands in a triangular plot named for Nathan Straus, whose family once were partners in the Abraham & Straus department stores and owners of R.H. Macy & Co. A pioneer of milk pasteurization in New York, in 1893 Straus established a milk-processing station on East 3rd St.; by the turn of the century, he had a dozen such stations in the city. He also supplied a number of milk stands — in some accounts, called milk bars — where people who had never tasted pasteurized milk could try it inexpensively.
This bas relief is one of four that encircle the columnar monument, which was dedicated in 1953 to honor Lower East Side veterans of WWI, WWII, and the Korean War. A dairy farmer, sitting cowside, would have been undignified for such a memorial; the bounty provided by American farmers is depicted instead by a sheaf of wheat and a basket of fruit.
Straus Square Veterans' Monument At the intersection of Canal St., Rutgers St., and East Broadway, Manhattan
Most Cubans of Chinese descent immigrated to the Caribbean as farm laborers. The fellow in this school mural — one of four, each depicting a stereotypical scene from the island nation — has taken up a second job. Though his attire is a caricature, the wrappers for his wares are authentically old-school and can still be seen today, albeit rarely. "Maní" is Spanish for "peanut," which, when served in paper cones, has almost certainly been ground and sweetened. Cuban-Chinese for dessert, anyone?
Mural of a peanut-sweets vendor Outside a Lincoln-Marti school 970 West Flagler St. (N.W. 9th-N.W. 10th Aves.), Miami 305-325-1001 www.LincolnMarti.com (From an autumn 2012 visit)
Many street vendors favor a machete for opening coconuts, which are cupped in one hand while the blade is wielded by the other. It's a versatile tool that can be used to fashion other tools, but the machete is safe only in practiced hands.
Less perilous alternatives include a three-pronged splitter employed on older coconuts, which contain little or no coconut water and are sought instead for their meat. At rest, the three prongs form a single spike, on which the coconut is impaled; stepping on a foot pedal spreads the spikes like reverse pliers. The litter of husks shows the effect.
This technique would spill the liquid from young coconuts, of course. Though it lacks island flair and old-fashioned mechanical charm, a power drill provides the necessary precision. Zip zip, it is done.
How to open a coconut Two approaches witnessed during an event at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden 10901 Old Cutler Rd., Coral Gables, Florida 305-667-1651 www.FairchildGarden.org (From an autumn 2012 visit)
"Look for them! Report them!" implores the poster about this "major landscape and agricultural pest" that "can grow up to 8 inches in length" and has "no natural enemies." Well, perhaps one enemy, if you allow for acquired tastes.
The advertising illustration of Gill Fox (1915-2004) was "nearly ubiquitous on pizza boxes in the 1980's" and, to my delight, still makes the occasional appearance today. This may not have been Fox's first pizzaiolo; his obituary describes a winking chef making an A-OK, a gesture to which some cultures have assigned vulgar meanings. It's possible that the artwork shown here was redrawn to be more universally palatable.
Of all his work, Fox was reportedly proudest of his political cartoons, which won him two Pulitzer nominations. Early in his career, however, he garnered early fame during the Golden Age of Comics. Compared with his two-tone pizza artwork,
Fox's covers during this period were laboriously colored.
From my archives, two photos of a showroom for kitchen-and-bath furnishings. This Harlem branch (to the trade only) shows off local color provided by Tats Cru murals. Though some have since been partially or fully covered by construction, the Sylvia's artwork is still in full view.
Davis & Warshow 251 West 154th St. (Adam Clayton Powell Junior Blvd.-Lenox Ave.), Manhattan 212-234-5100 www.DWNY.com
Though the familiar sign is still in place, this storefront was vacated in 2008, perhaps earlier, when the longtime Lower East Side business moved to Greenwich Village. At least one dining establishment has been proposed for the location; it's likely this was meant as an illustration of congenial things to come, to help smooth the way with the locals. Details still sketchy.
Former home of Economy Foam 173 East Houston St. (Allen-Orchard Sts.), Manhattan