Monday, December 27, 2010

Football, Travel and Brooklyn Memories

Well, well, well; we've finally gotten a response for submissions from someone other than regular contributors Sage and Bolotin. Today, Suzanne Wertheim (who happens to be Feature Editor of Cascade Lakes News & Views) drops in with two old pieces she wrote, one from an old News & Views suggesting an upstate New York travel destination for you to include in your summer travel plans and the other describing what has happened to what was once a down-scale Brooklyn neighborhood. When you read it, try to imagine it as a painting. This piece originally appeared in a magazine called Cascading Views which some original residents of Cascade Lakes may recall. See! You can contribute too. Just send your poems, short stories, essays, whatever, to me at riart1@aol.com. Meanwhile, everyone have a Healthy, Happy and Safe 2011.
JL

*** *** ***

A SUNDAY IN PARK SLOPE
Suzanne Wertheim

One Sunday in July, I was reacquainted with the
part of Brooklyn where I taught school from 1964
to 1979. Then it was a sleepy old area with no
place to eat lunch; now it's a vital community
repletewith wonderful eateries.

Park Slope is a neighborhood originating at the
northern edge of Prospect Park, sloping down to
the Gowanus Canal including some of the most
glorious brownstone row houses and other
dwellings of the same vintage. The 526-acre park
of this neighborhood's moniker encompasses
rolling meadows, scenic bluffs, a 50-acre lake,
Brooklyn's last remaining woodlands, a rocky
ravine, and a zoo. It also boasts a 1912 carousel
and a 1905 boathouse.

Clad in my Reeboks and the scantiest exercise
clothing I dared to wear in public, I eagerly
embarked on an early morning aerobic walk
around the historic tree lined park drive. Absent
vehicles allowed changing traffic lights to be
disregarded as I perambulated in a peaceful blend
of quiet infused with Sunday morning activity.
Hushed by the weekend lack of engines, the road
teemed with multitudes of people of all ages,
colors, ethnic backgrounds, physical conditions,
abilities,and styles.

Bicycle teams whirled by in brightly colored logo
shirts revealing wetl-defined muscles. Kick boxers
punched the breeze dreaming of bouts to be won.
A synchronized roller blade trio was
choreographing a new routine. Dog walkers
chatted affectionately to their "best friends."
Babies in aerodynamic carriages, pushed by
hurried jogging mothers, slept peacefully as the
breeze whooshed by their soft faces.

Armies of people were strolling, walking, jogging,
race walking, running or trotting. They had dread
locks, pony tails, shaved heads, bald heads, and
earphoned heads. Some had washboard
stomachs, some cellulite thighs. Some with
pregnant bellies were covered from head to toe in
observance of Orthodox Jewish modesty; others
were bouncing braless with no modesty
whatsoever. A profusion of sweaty, panting racers dashed as
if in a high speed police chase. In the field, soccer
players called out in Italian, Spanish, Greek, and
occasionally English. Stimulated by a smell of
horse manure, chirping birds, rustling leaves,
whirring bike wheels, purring roller blades,
blurring bright colored team shirts, panting and
grunting strenuous runners, and multilingual
chattering, I absorbed the refreshing atmosphere
of a renaissanced neighborhood on the move.

The sky darkened, foretelling rain, and exercisers
were on their way to the New York Times and
good bagels, content to hobble down Carroll
Street mopping perspiration from exposed skin.
leaf laden branches outside the wrought iron
gated ground floor window started to sway. A
pristine brownstone awaited afternoon visitors,
steak was defrosting on the slate kitchen counter,
fresh com from the Grand Army Plaza Green
Market awaited shucking, and the grill cover was
off and folded.

"Slopers" are the new Greenwich Villagers. Their
neighborhood became a reflection of their
diversity and grew into a lively, interesting
environment. Historic gems such as the Brooklyn
Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens
and Museum, and the Grand Army Plaza library
provide culture that rivals any similar resources.
Restaurants and shops are the equal of the best
in the city. Wealthy families live in two million
dollar homes on the park blocks. Access to
Manhattan is easy. The schools are good, ethnic
foods are plentiful,·and they have a Barnes and
Noble and an Office Depot. I might like working in
that neighborhood again, were I not retired and
living in Florida!

*** *** ***

Thumbs Down on Pro Football
Jack Lippman

While I cannot deny that the games on TV are very enjoyable, I really cannot bring myself to root for, or be a fan of, any of the professional football teams. Why? The bottom line is that professional football has crossed the line from being a sport, like basketball or baseball, to what amounts to an exercise in controlled violence. Sure, the players are so highly skilled and such magnificent performers that almost any team can come from behind and win a thrilling victory! That’s why they are fun to watch. But I cannot see why anyone would enthusiastically root for, or be a “loyal” fan of any team made up of overachieving, overweight and overpaid professional athletes whose stock in trade, when you get down to it, is violence. These players are out to win, and to do so, they must physically attack their opponents. They are well versed in precisely how far they can go in hurting an opposing player without incurring a penalty. Life expectancy for retired professional football players is turning out to be diminished and the controlled violence of the sport is the reason.

College football at the BCS level is no different. Teams from major conferences such as the SEC, the Big Ten, the Big Twelve, etc. are really training grounds for the professional teams. Their games are just as violent as those in the professional NFL and that is what the pro scouts look for. The major difference between fans of the pro game and fans of the BCS college game is that the latter have some justification for their enthusiastic support of the sport because they attend or once attended the institution fielding the team. On the other hand, merely residing or coming from the Oakland area, for example, is not a real justification for someone being an avid Raiders fan.

Drop down one level, however, to teams like the Mid America Conference’s University of Toledo and the Sun Belt Conference’s Florida International University. These teams, from which the professional teams will probably draft few if any players, recently met in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl game, won by FIU, 34 to 31 with a last second field goal. Although the players weren’t at the proficiency level of the pros or the BCS teams, it was by far one of the best games I have ever seen and I found myself rooting for both teams interchangeably, as the lead changed hands repeatedly in the last quarter. I’ll take FIU versus Toledo any time over the New England Patriots versus the Philadelphia Eagles or Oregon’s Webfeet versus Auburn’s Tigers. In fact, other than not being able to view them on TV, even watching a small college like Muhlenberg take on another small school like Franklin & Marshall or Gettysburg can be very enjoyable too, particularly if you don't mind driving to Pennsylvania.


*** *** ***

A WEEK AT CHAUTAUQUA
Suzanne J. Wertheim

The Chautauqua Institution is not only hard to spell
but has an off-putting connotation. It's not what the
word "institution" implies. I need eighteen words to
do it justice .. Here goes: charming resort, music conservatory,
college campus, repertory theater, summer
music festival, Victorian village, spiritual retreat
and dance festival.

With its beginning as a Protestant summer retreat for
teachers and clergy to study and to be refreshed, it
grew in 131 years into a rich, ecumenical atmosphere
and fosters a wide range of learning and entertainment.
Now designated as a National Historic Landmark, a different
theme is programmed for each week of the nine-week summer calendar.
The Institution is a not-for-profit, 750-acre educational center
beside Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York
State, where approximately 7,500 persons are in
residence on any day during the season, and a total
of over 142,000 attend scheduled public events.
Over 8,000 students enroll annually in the Chautauqua
Summer Schools that offer courses in art, music,
dance, theater, writing skills, and. a wide variety
of special interests.

The village is navigated almost entirely on foot and
bicycle. Magnificent historic homes sport wicker furniture
on expansive porches where vases of multicolored
gladiolas are an accustomed sight. Imposing
Victorian-style homes peer down gracefully sloping
hills to the lake. Bestor Square is the center of
activity, calling to participants of all ages to enjoy the
tranquillity of strolling on the grass or reposing on a
bench. There's a 5,000-seat amphitheater and indoor
theaters for operas and plays. Music students
can be heard plying their talent in small practice
structures or planted somewhere on the square, for
passers-by to enjoy.

The Chautauquan Daily prints the most accurate
schedule for two days at a time. Every morning at
10:45, a speaker of renown lectures on a topic related
to the weekly theme. Approximately 100 lecturers
appear at Chautauqua during a season. My
daily morning ritual of a walk to the Farmers' Market
rewarded me with luscious, homegrown tomatoes
and lovingly baked morning breads and pastries,
In the space of one week, I attended three symphonic
concerts, an opera, a play and a chamber
music performance. All were excellent. I also ran
into my junior- high-schoo! science teacher who
spends the whole summer there in residence at the
historic Athenaeum Hotel.

A friend says Chautauqua is for nerds. l was there
and I'm not a nerd. However, for one week, I was
immersed in delicious culture and tailored my attire
to be plain and unadorned. Up-to-the-minute styles,
jewelry and makeup were best left at home. Sneakers
worked well all day, every day. Chautauqua is
not about food, 50 dining choices are minimal. We
did picnic lunches at the lake and made oatmeal for
breakfast in the microwave in our spartan hotel
room.

I've only touched on what this special environment
offers. To get into all of its purposes and activities
would fill many pages. If you want to know more
about this unusual place, go to www.ciweb.org,
There you can read about the history of how Chautauqua
started and grew into what it is today. You'll
find out about its fine and performing arts schools,
the weekly themes that were scheduled during the
recent season, all the performers who appeared, the
lecturers who spoke, and much more.

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