Thursday, August 14, 2008

Jackson Heights, Queens

Riding the elevated subway into Queens provides a rich, quintessential, multi-dimensional New York landscape: Outside, you have a sweeping sea of brick and concrete dominated by Manhattan towers; and inside, the train is full of people of all colors and histories and languages.
Silently—even gravely, I feel—the passengers and I watch Manhattan’s spires fade farther away, taking on a brilliant shade of steely gray-blue. The train rattles over the roofs of Long Island City and Woodside. Queens Boulevard snakes its way between towers of masonry and old factory buildings. Then we’re here: Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights.
From the platform I go down to the street: Roosevelt Ave which runs directly under the elevated number seven MTA line. Above, the train bangs and screeches away. Here on the street is an explosion of weekend afternoon commerce. Fruit and music seem to be the most popular commodities. At the stands people laugh and talk, say hello and goodbye.
A woman approaches me, speaking Spanish (this happens often). “I don’t speak Spanish,” I say, frankly. She hands me a flyer. “It’s Spanish classes,” she says.
Around the corner, somewhere by La Casa de Pollo the smell of vomit and day-old garbage cuts the air. There’s an explanation for this: New York City, and everything we love about it.

I walk north on 81 Street: Four- and eight-story, red-brick apartment buildings with manicured gardens in front line the blocks. At 35 Avenue there’s a street sale on the pavement around the “Community Church founded 1919”. Jewelry, hats, second-hand clothing, shoes, china, records, prayer beads, books, cast-off computer parts.
I wander the blocks, not really knowing where I’m going. Queens with all its numbered “avenues” and “streets” and “roads” and “drives”.
After a period of roaming down pristine blocks of red-brick co-ops, I’m at 75 Street and 37 Avenue. The store signs I see tell me where I am: “Amit Fabric & Saree Palace”, “JMD Palace”, “Afghan Kebab House”, “India Sari Palace”. I flip through the pages of The Sayings of Mohammed at a stand that sells Islamic texts—and this isn’t the only stand. On some blocks three stands of Muslim books sit side-by-side. The book sellers relax in seats by the curb and speak amiably with their competitors to the left or right.
I find a theater with a worn, cracked sign that says “EAGLE”. Bolliwood posters litter the front window and wall. My favorite poster has a particularly exuberant, bearded man in the foreground. A banner above him reads, “Singh is Kinng” (that’s right, two n’s). It’s no doubt a theater that features Bolliwood films. “Call 205-2800” is posted on the side of the building.
For a few minutes I have the arrogant notion that I’ve got the place figured out, then a man stops me and asks if I’m sending money home to my family. He’s carrying a red bag. On a table nearby are many similar red bags filled with something bulky. I tell him no, I’m not sending money home. Did he think I was Indian, working in the States and sending money home to my family?

Then I take a right, and I’m in Indian buffet paradise. One Indian buffet after the other. One advertises all-you-can-eat lunch for $7.95. Most of them are about $11.

It’s evident that most of the Indian, Middle-Asian cultural center is between 37 Avenue and Roosevelt Avenue, because when I cross Roosevelt, I’m back in the rhythm of the Spanish language.
But a serious culinary part of me has an enduring need for Indian tastes. I head into an Indian buffet on Roosevelt. For the ride out of Jackson Heights, I order a cold Lassi--a sweet, milky, yogurt drink from the land of saris and “Singh is Kinng”.

1 comment:

Mir said...

7.95?! 15 minutes in that place and i would bust the seams of my sari.