A bold choice, perhaps more believable at the Costume Institute Gala than in Rego Park; nonetheless, you have to respect a woman who has the courage to rock a bright-red turban.

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I keep trying to “find” Long Island City, but unlike most NYC neighborhoods, it doesn’t suffice to just jump off at the nearest subway stop and roam. Or it does, but what you find is not what you expect to find. That is, instead of hipsters, I took in sights of gritty urbanity on a two-mile urban hike through LIC’s industrial stretch, from the Hunter’s Point 7 stop to the Socrates Sculpture Park, far down the vast stretch of Vernon Boulevard.

Which is not to say my meandering was entirely unenjoyable. In addition to documenting a lot of excellent graffiti, I happened upon the Taxi Depot, which, among other things, supplies olde tyme cabs (as in the picture above) to the film industry. If not for the van parked in front of it, the cab would have transported me back in time, I think.

 

Top: A picture I took of Manhattan from the Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City. Bottom: The skyline as imagined on a shop’s drawn shutters.

Instead of wallowing in my current funk, I decided to take myself out on the town yesterday. The plan? Hit a few museums, eat some good food, and catch a bit of independent film.

Though it was abominably crowded because it was closing weekend, I saw Kara Walker’s exhibit at the Whitney. Fabulous. The large-scale silhouettes wrapped snaked around outsize walls; intimate watercolors, sketches accompanied by meditations on race, class, and gender captured on 3×5″ notecards, eloquently framed. By the time you read this, it’s likely finito, but if the exhibit travels elsewhere, I couldn’t recommend it more.

After, I wandered through Central Park (see picture, above), down Museum Mile, and took a quick tour of the Neue Galerie, where Gustav Klimt’s works are being exhibited. Gorgeous, but again, quite crowded, so I ducked into the gallery’s Cafe Sabarsky to clear my head over espresso (err, Grosser Brauner). It’s spendy, but between the heady Viennese brew and my slice of Klimttorte (chocolate ganache and several layers of dense hazelnut pastry), it’s well worth the premium.

 

Refreshed, I decided to head to the Lower East Side, having heard that there were some interesting events in Chinatown tied to the Lunar New Year. On February 9, a parade is on in Flushing (which is arguably New York’s more authentic center of all things Chinese/Korean/Asian).

More wandering ensued; then, feet wearied, I dropped into Bar Veloce for a tipple and a small bite. Excellent panini and red wine by the glass. Afterward, with a bit of time to kill, I decided to sample the appetizers at Madras Cafe. My judgment may have been clouded by the Kingfisher I knocked back, but the samosa chat was excellently spicy, and the idlis at least passable — a fitting end to a long, indulgent day.

I’ve seen some strange graffiti lately at my normal subway stop (V train represent!). It’s fairly juvenile, but it’s also somewhat disturbing, in what it may or may not expose about this community’s feelings about race, etc.

Above, a display ad for Sundance, with tagging in bold black hand that reads “Al Qaeda = a group of Muslims fooled into providing Bush, & those he works for, with an excuse to carry on the Prs [?].” Below, an ad for Bravo’s The Millionaire Matchmaker, tagged with “Uhm … let’s see … (1) Black guy, one-black girl … uhm … tough-one. Blacks together … (2) girls gay … everybody happy !!”

Interpretations? Juvenilia, or indication of some greater unrest?

It doesn’t have the cachet of Astoria and it lacks the gritty appeal of the LIC arts scene, but for my buck, I couldn’t pick a better place in Queens than Rego Park.

Other residents (and real estate agents) highlight its proximity to Forest Hills (the fillet of Queens!), the easy commute to Manhattan (30 minutes door to door!), and the low crime rate (a 40% drop in robberies in the past year!). But for me? It’s the humble character of the neighborhood and the kaleidoscope of culture shifting and glittering on 63rd Drive, on Queens Boulevard, along Yellowstone and Woodhaven.

The gym I go to is locally owned, rather than an outpost of the overpriced Bally’s or New York Sports Club (also, its employees are always quick with a friendly greeting, initially winning me over by exclaiming, “Is named Platinum — better than Gold!”). Within a 15-minute walk from my apartment, I can buy Colombian chicken, find Thums-Up cola, get supplies to celebrate Chinese New Year, hum along to old Bollywood tunes at a Subway franchised by a chipper young fellow from Indonesia, delight in a knish, or procure a neon menora. And on balmy summer days, or even into crisp fall evenings, there’s a certain corner on which a group of five or six old men invariably play backgammon, kids occasionally peering over their shoulders to help them strategize.

It’s a cool, refreshingly authentic place to live when it seems everyone is urging us to consider Williamsburg or Park Slope, both dripping with irony and artifice and endless posturing about who has the best what. Sure, sometimes it means I miss a hip indie concert, and there’s not much of a nightlife (other than Wiggles!), but at least I don’t have to fight for groceries amongst a million tiny men wearing black eyeliner, flannels, and ever-tighter jeans.

The Times has a brief today about a man in Queens who has been charged with a hate crime. I suppose the racists are never known for having a nuanced grasp of the world, but it’s always dimly amusing to see yet more evidence of their ignorance.

 David C. Wood was charged with second-degree assault as a hate crime and aggravated harassment after he shouted “Arab, go back to your country!” at 63-year-old Chadha Bajeet, a Sikh, and punched him in the face. Bajeet, who presumably ties a turban (as many Sikhs do), suffered a broken nose and jaw.

Violence against Sikhs in the U.S. isn’t new; particularly after 9/11, the visual cue provided by the turban has made the religion’s predominantly Indian adherents a rather easy target. From Congressman John Cooksey’s reactionary comment urging racial profiling after the terror attacks (“If I see someone (who) comes in that’s got a diaper on his head and a fan belt wrapped around the diaper on his head, that guy needs to be pulled over”) to the Sikh Coalition’s exhaustive listing of hate crimes and bias incidents against Sikhs since then, discrimination is blatant and well-documented. But I still find it confounding: Really? You’re so threatened by this Other that you have to break a 63-year-old’s jaw? What did he ever do to you?

The subject gets me all het up, I suppose, is that my husband is Sikh; even though he doesn’t tie a turban, he has long hair and a beard, which means we are inevitably pulled aside at the airport for grilling and patting down. The worst that’s happened is a TSA official asking the hubby why he looked so fidgety; hubz remained calm and explained, “It’s the first time I’ll be visiting my in-laws at their family home.” But when you hear about random attacks in a neighborhood less than five miles from your own humble apartment, it’s easy to get a little paranoid.