walt whitman and mark bittman

GIVE me the splendid silent sun, with all his beams full-dazzling;
Give me juicy autumnal fruit, ripe and red from the orchard;
Give me a field where the unmow’d grass grows;
Give me an arbor, give me the trellis’d grape;
Give me fresh corn and wheat–give me serene-moving animals, teaching content-Walt Whitman
Pete and I went to New York City last week–or as us nutritionists call it, the Big Apple. Things were rather quiet down there–no really. It was the day after Christmas. Getting off the train we walked to the water’s edge below the United Nations. We hardly saw a soul. We waited on a dock to catch the East River Ferry. Pete loves alternative modes of transportation, so we’d been excited to learn one could now take a commuter ferry across the river to my ancestral homeland.  
Everything was so deserted that day, we weren’t sure if the ferry was running–and there was no one to ask. Finally one other person joined us on the dock and we found a posted schedule–so we bought our tickets from an automated kiosk and waited. Soon enough, we watched as our adorable little ferry-boat tooled across the river to retrieve us and to carry us down to Brooklyn.
I suppose on an ordinary weekday it would have been a lot more crowded, but it was so empty that the ferry boat driver was making small talk with us. I am pretty sure he would have let me steer the boat if I just asked. He seemed like that kind of guy. I walked outside onto the deck. It was a pretty cold day and the wind on the river was strong, but it was exhilarating to take in the views from that vantage point. There I was under the Williamsburg Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge and then finally the Brooklyn Bridge with the city surrounding me on all sides–like I was a tiny seed in the core of that big Pyrus Malus–the botanical name of course.
Pete and I had decided to spend part of the day exploring DUMBO, the Brooklyn neighborhood Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. This was historically a manufacturing district– where among other things, Brillo Soap Pads were once made. However, increasing gentrification has transformed this area into one of New York City’s premier art districts. Debarking from the ferry, I was surprised again to see so relatively few people–but I was more struck by the surroundings and the sensation of being under massive structures that I have only been on top of before.
We quickly came upon a large stone edifice. I stopped to read the large plaque on its front wall. I think it said that Walt Whitman had worked there as an editor for the newspaper, The Brooklyn Eagle. I definitely am right about the Walt Whitman part, but not positive about the other details as my attention was soon distracted. Across the street, breaking the flat topography of virtually empty sidewalks was a line of about sixty people–like they were stuck to some invisible fly paper that had lured them and trapped them. My nutritional antenna was quickly activated and I had some idea of what was going on.  These people were standing outside in the cold, in a line that would move glacially slow, waiting for pizza–Grimaldi’s pizza.
To be honest, I didn’t know about Grimaldi’s fame but I do have some basic DNA intelligence about NYC pizza. How good could this pizza–which the sign informed me was not sold by the slice–actually be that one would stand outside for that long when it was that cold?  I mean this was not some place where it would be really hard to come upon a decent slice like, I don’t know–Maine?
My dilemma appeared and tugged me by the sleeve. It asked, how deep is the desire of my planetary co-eaters?  Would they risk frost bite for something that could extend beyond the definition of good pizza only so far?  Did Dionysus himself twirl that dough and stir that sauce?  Should we stop and inquire and obtain some anthropological data for a study someone would pay me good money for?  And, could we get some?
I informed my dilemma that we were only observing and not judging. It was a vacation week and I did not need to assess if these food passions were bona fide expressions of life’s pleasures or surrogates for other unfulfilled desires like I sometimes do with my clients. Besides, I was developing a good robust ‘been out on the water in the cold air’ hunger that would not abide such a wait, so, no, we could not get some.  We turned the corner and found a pretty good pizza place–this seemed to appease my dilemma and my appetite. Interestingly, my online research revealed some rather disappointing  Grimaldi reviews.
After eating, we took back to the streets. We passed through a beautiful archway right under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. Again, we were virtually alone, but suddenly three people appeared from the other direction.  A man and woman seemed to be being shown around by another man and guess what, I swear to God, I am pretty positive it was my pretend best friend in food, Mark Bittman! * Well, I’m not really sure at all. It could have been any other tallish, baldish, veganish guy from NYC.
Actually, I’m not even sure if I could identify Mark Bittman in a line up, but I still got that star struck feeling. What should I say to him?  Should I tell him that I have adopted a Middle Eastern culinary theme for Hanukkah because I’ve decided we should return the holiday to its geographical and spiritual origins?  And that I’d been thinking about Christmas dinners and what would Jesus eat–kind of a WWJE existentialist question. If he were my kid or heavenly father, what would he like for his birthday dinner?  I am certain it would not be ham. Surely, Mark would be interested in this kind of holiday food discussion and he’d probably have some opinion about this Grimaldi’s thing.  But, just as quickly as he appeared, he vanished in a Twilight Zone DUMBO kind of way.
So, there it was.  One quick trip to DUMBO and two sorts of not really literary experiences…Whitman and Bittman.  For Bittman’s latest writings on local and global food issues, take a look at his blog http://bittman.blogs.nytimes.com/.
As for Whitman, it  turns out that wonderful spiritual naturalist was really quite the urbanist. The second verse of the poem goes on to say:
Keep your splendid silent sun,
Keep your woods O Nature, and the quiet places by the woods,
Keep your fields of clover and timothy, and your corn-fields and orchards,
Keep your woods O Nature, and the quiet places by the woods,
Keep the blossoming buckwheat fields where the Ninth-month bees hum;
give me faces and streets–give me these phantoms incessant and endless along the trottoirs!
Give me interminable eyes–give me women–give me comrades and lovers by the thousand!
Let me see new ones every day–let me hold new ones by the hand every day!
Give me such shows–give me the streets of Manhattan!
And so back to Manhattan we went–by subway. Our day ended in midtown amidst throngs of thousands of people. Pete, my dilemma and I collapsed onto the train having walked many miles as NYC can do to you–tired and a bit more culturally nourished.
Happy New Year. Deep and awe-filled blessings. And, if you have ever eaten at Grimaldi’s or have an amazing pizza place, let me know.
In health, Elyn
*Related Posts:
photo credit: dumbonyc

my plate

My Plate Haiku
The farmers’ market
Each egg at the dairy stand
A different color.   by Enki

9 thoughts on “walt whitman and mark bittman

  1. Elyn, Sandy and I have been planning a similar exploration of the Lower East Side in the next few weeks! On the topic of pizza, we have been noticing many more places offering gluten free varieties, which is good news for our daughter and other celiacs. Quality varies considerably, but nice to have the option. Happy New Year.


    • hi cora, yes, it is quite astounding how big the gluten/celiac issue has become and how many culinary responses there have been to it. so yes, that is good news. interestingly, i think we will be hearing more in coming years about other grain intolerances and fructose intolerance as well but i won’t bore you.

      enjoy your city stroll. elyn


    • oh! have you ridden the tramway? with or without kids? i do know of it and pete and i had just consulted the map on access to roosevelt island. cornell just got a big development gig there that has been in the news, so you may have heard about that. next time, we will ride the tramway. will i have to pay extra for my dilemma?


  2. Elyn, I can’t recreate the (clever) post I lost, but I did have a pizza story. Just that week (January 4th, to be precise) I had eaten, probably the best pizza (outside of New York City, of course) in, of all places, Otakoy, Istanbul. It was thin crusted, the toppings were fresh and flavorful and we ended up eating 2 large pizzas between the 3 of us. Loved your description of your day. I have to get to Brooklyn…..Great Whitman poem…..Did you really think you saw Mark Bittman, or were you taking literary license?


    • fascinating. pizza in istanbul. i wonder if due to good quality more local type produce ingredients there. but, the question is, what conditions did you endure to procure such wonderful fare? was it over one hour waiting, sub-freezing temperature worthy?? thanks as always for sharing. elyn


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