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New York's Beach

photo: el sitio, cuban, resto, queens

The first place in Queens with café after the blackout.

Greetings From Coney Island

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 25. August 2003:- After the partly humid weather I left here in July and after the mostly humid weather I left behind in New York last Tuesday, this town has pretty good weather these days even if it seems like there aren't many people around to enjoy it.

In principle, this is just a short period of calm between the end of 'Grandes Vacances' and the beginning of the season fraught with terror, irritation and frustration, known here as the 'Rentrée.' Vacationers are back, but they are keeping their heads down while this brief calm lasts.

It must be nearly over because we are going to start the week with another fine day tomorrow. Deterioration sets in on Thursday when the temperature is forecast to drop from Tuesday's high of 29 degrees to 24. Then it is to get serious on Friday, by dropping again to 21 C while getting all cloudy and crummy.

I guess if I had been here during August's heatwave I would be looking forward to the change. On the other hand, havingsign: john hancock owned this wharf times that are 'normal for the time of year' usually means that skywise, it would be better to be somewhere else - even though nothing here - except for once-in-25-years heatwaves - is extreme.

It's just so - ah, refreshing - to be able to go out without more cover than a shirt, with the outside like a comfortable living room with fresh air. I will miss it, I really will.

Riding in from the airport last Tuesday all the grass and brush alongside the RER tracks seemed so green and fresh. But now, after a couple of days, looking out my window at the trees hiding the cemetery, I see that they are not as lushly green as I first thought they were. They do not, in fact, look like they will last until Indian Summer, if there is to be an Indian Summer this year.

Travel Notes

I started out the first, what seemed like 24 hours, of the past week in a partly empty Air France Boeing 747, flying against time and the sunrise, from JFK airport in Queens, New York, to CDG airport at Roissy. It is a pleasure to ride in one of these older buckets because they do not have blurry little TV screens on the backs of all seats.

I was flying with Air France because many Café Metropole Club members recommended its inflight food. To tell the truth, it was absolutely average flying west to New York, and totally ghastly flying east to Paris. It was, if my memory serves me, the worst airline food I have ever seen. The average street corner in New York has better hog dog stands - at least to look at.

I write 'look at' because that is all I did. I think a lady across the aisle from me must have asked for a veggie plate, because her dish looked like what you get after weeding a garden - a mess of dandelion stalks and other vegetal parasites. My cheese was a mini-Babybel, which is normally reserved for snack times at an Ecole Maternelle.

But enough of this 'welcome to France' food. You also need to be warned about Roissy's new Terminal-2 'E' and 'F' additions. Following thesign: mta, va usted este verano rule of 'walking halfway to New York is better' than flying or taking the shortcut to the older 'A' area, the unfinished 'E' and 'F' wings are a long way from the RER to the check-in and long way from the check-in to the departure lounge, which is as cozy as a hanger for a Concorde.

A MTA sign, seen at the Coney Island subway station, invites Spanish speakers to Coney Island.

Opened recently with a great fanfare that I utterly failed to notice, the unfinished Terminal-2 'E' and 'F' wings are poorly signposted. There are many layout maps of the place, of the whole Terminal-2, but none of them say 'You Are Here.' Forget even looking for any sign pointing towards the RER - simply try to keep the 'Train' pictogram in sight, and avoid getting on a TGV by mistake, unless you want to end up in Marseille or Brussels.

If you are lucky enough to find the RER, it will take you to Paris' centre in a jiffy. If it does not seem like many people are around, they are probably lost somewhere trying to find their way out of 'E' or 'F.' Dimitri asked me if I knew about the guy who has been living in the airport for 20 years.

Café Life

I have lived more than half my life in Europe and for a good many of these years I enjoyed the decadent European custom of having four or five weeks' holiday, usually all at once. But the last time I had anything like this was in the summer of 1998, and it was only three weeks. Since then there have been no total holidays - just some, 'always' punctuated by work.

At the beginning of July I snapped and decided I had to see the beach at Coney Island. So I bought a no-discount-for-nothing ticket and as soon as Paris Plage opened, I flew off. Before I knew it, as soon as I landed at JFK, I was whisked off to a wedding in New England and treated to a sight of Maine. The weather was right, but it wasn't Coney Island.

I have a Life Magazine photo I thought was of Coney Island, but it is of Manhattan Beach, by John Muller. The caption says there's no room for a seagull to land. Aside from no seagulls, it looks like it was taken in the late 1940s. This is what I wanted to see.

But the weather wouldn't quite cooperate. Mostly it was almost nice, but without a truly blue sky. Then if it got bluer, it wasn'tphoto: beach, coney island a weekend. After a couple of weeks when it finally became nearly blue enough, there was the Thursday-Friday blackout, followed by an adventurous excursion to the depths of Long Island, and on Sunday the subway was iffy or the sky wasn't blue enough.

The Coney Island beach last Monday. Plenty of room for seagulls, even big ones.

After a short eternity then, last Monday everything came together and I rode the 'W' train from Queens through Manhattan to Brooklyn and through a lot of Brooklyn to the end of the line, at Surf Avenue at Coney Island. Warm. Blue sky all over the sky. Perfect.

But first, an inspection of Nathan's gaudy hot dog emporium was necessary. This is a wonderful world-class monument, but I was too excited to take the time to properly construct my hot dog - they are a do-it-yourself affairs - so I did not get the full measure of it. The very sight of the place is enough.

Next, to the rest of Surf Avenue. This is a wide street paralleling the beach, lined with not much except a Nathan's knock-off. But this is closer to the new-looking baseball stadium, homebase of the home-town Brooklyn Cyclones. All very neat and tidy, with an ocean view beyond the boardwalk.

Ah, the boardwalk. It is made of boards, it is wide and it is very long - stretching to the west and a long way east, to include Brighton Beach. The beach is sandy and wide and the Atlantic Ocean was lapping quietly against it. Except for a few lifeguards it was empty, deserted, fenced off from the ocean by an official red and white striped tape - closed for swimming on account of the sewage dumped during the blackout.

Drats! A day perfect for millions to be enjoying the seaside, but nothing other than a huge airport for seagulls. Even these were not plentiful - probably off testing cleaner water further east on Long Island.

There were a couple of handfuls of people fishing off a jetty festooned with signs saying 'no diving!' and mentioning other unlawful activities, and there was a police barricade to filter visitors, to protect the jetty from potential terrorists. For me, the bodycheck was waived by the officers, who were having a snack break.

From the end of the jetty it was possible to see a great deal of empty beach and the smallish amusement area along the boardwalk. The sea air also had a sparkling quality not found in most other parts of New York City.

The amusement area of the boardwalk is out of the distant past. There were more hot dog stands and snack bars, and antique game parlors with toss-the-ball into-the-hoop alleys. Only with reckless abandon did I win one out of three games.

Behind the boardwalk, on the north side, there is a park full of rides, including a roller coaster called the 'Cyclone.' It looked like it had been built before WWII, out of less substantial material than the elevated subway stations. Riders shrieked on the down-runs and sharp curves.

Further east there is a big aquarium, which must be for beach lovers on winter days, or when the beach is closed. It didn't look as antique as other parts. New looking bathhouses also dot the beach side of the boardwalk at intervals. Operated by the city's parks department, they are tastefully done, large and well kept-up - as well as being free.

Walking along the boardwalk, sharing it with a few other pedestrians and even fewer bicyclists, I saw a succession of jets coming in from the ocean to land at JFK airport. One of these was a delta-winged needle-nosed BA Concorde.

About where the aquarium ends, or a bit beyond it, Coney Island ends and Brighton Beach begins. The boardwalkphoto: nathans famous hot dogs and the bathouses stay the same, but cafés on the boardwalk are in the ground floors of a few apartment buildings. Many have signs in Russian. A bathouse-style pavillon opposite provides shade for chess players.

A small fraction of Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs at Coney Island. The other parts are no less famous.

After paying Park Avenue prices for drinks in one of the Russian cafés, I walked to the very end of the beach and decided to go to Sheepshead Bay. This required traversing Brooklyn suburbs - here, made up of quiet residential streets lined mostly with older, modest single-family houses with tidy green lawns behind narrow sidewalks.

Taking a turn on Oriental Avenue could have brought me to the bay that is known as Manhattan Beach, but the walk from the subway station at Coney Island had been a fair one. I probably missed Brooklyn's coziest beach.

Sheepshead Bay is a long inlet off Jamaica Bay, which is protected from the open Atlantic by a long finger of land called Rockaway. Its western tip is called Breezy Point and it is a 'gated' community - made so when its 400-odd residents bought the whole thing and threw up a Checkpoint-Charlie barrier to hide behind. Apparently, its homes are merely modest, as well as being somewhat isolated from New York's public transit.

There were a few fishing boats moored in Sheepshead Bay, set up to take out sports fishermen on short cruises. There was also mooring for private pleasure craft, but most of the bay was oddly empty, considering its proximity to New York.

The old and famous Italian restaurant on the bay turned out to have changed owners, and was only a shadow of it former self. I didn't bother trying its clams. After a long and chilly subway ride back to Queens, I cut the restaurant's taste with a double-café at the Cuban restaurant, El Sitio.

While in New York, TV-news mentioned the heatwave in Paris and showed a jam-packed Paris Plage. I captured a near-identical photo just before my flight to America. This year, the beach-for-a-month beside the unswimable Seine attracted three million visitors, 700,000 more than last year.

This year, just for fun, I expected to see 700,000 New York beach people at once on Coney Island's real, ocean-front miles of sand. Instead I saw just the sand. New York City guide books give Coney Island only left-handed praise, but to me it looked like a true urban beach-in-waiting, one with potential to rival any on either side of the Atlantic.

Why This Issue Is Late

Aside from sleeping until noon on account of staying up until 02:00 to treat the 135-odd photos taken in America on my recent visit, and taking hours to sift through the news clippings about Paris' August heatwave, there is no other important reason why this issue is later than any issue usually is. Falling asleep at 02:00 on Tuesday morning, with the issue unfinished, is not an 'important' reason.

Metropole's 'Partners'

Metropole now has some commercial offers for you, all handily gathered on the relatively new 'Partner' page. Occasionally this page will feature exclusive offers, only available to Metropole readers. Check out this page every week, because I often park the 'Photo of the Week' on it, and it will only be on view for one week.

Metropole's long-time affiliates are on this page too. The Café Metropole wine is also on it, withphoto: boardwalk, coney island a link to its own permanent About Wine page. Both pages can be accessed from the blurbs on the left, and sometimes right-hand columns, on many pages.

Just a small fraction of the boardwalk, looking west to the unfunctioning parachute drop.

The Café Metropole Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine can now be ordered online through the Moonlight Web site. This is thanks to Allan Pangborn, its maker, Metropole reader and Cafe Metropole Club member.

Once I get wine-type photos, this page will be getting the same treatment. This may happen sooner than I think because the hot weather has moved this grape harvest in France ahead on the calendar.

Metropole's 'mailto:' Change

If you haven't already, please read the following, again, with great care. The new email address for 'Ric,' 'Ed,' and the Café Metropole Club's secretary is henceforth ericksonr@wanadoo.fr. It may not be snappy, but most of the time all you need to do is click it wherever you see my name, and a ready-to-go email form pops up.

To be on the safe side, even if you never intend to write, make a note of the email address and maybe put it in your address book. For doing this, I promise that if you never write, I will not reply.

Café Metropole Club 'Reports'

Click this link slightly lightly to have a look at last week's "It Rained Like Sparerods" club 'report.' The rain in question had nothing to do with Paris, like a lot of other subjects brought up at club meetings.

A couple of other minor details concerning the club can be found tidily grouped on the all-in-one 'About the Club' page, because there aren't more than a couple. The virtual club membership card on this page continues to be free though.

The next meeting of the Café Metropole Club will be on Thursday, 28. August. The Saint's Day of the Week will be Saint-Augustin. This saint was born in 354 in Targaste and he became the Bishop of Hippone - near Bône. His mother was Sainte-Monique. Saint-Augustin was not related to Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, better known as Augustus.

This Was Metropole One Year Ago

Issue 7.35 - 26. Aug 2002 - The issue's Café Metropole column was titled, 'KultTour' Arrives In Paris.' The 'Au Bistro' column's headline was 'Some Non-News of the Week.' The feature of the week was absent for an unexplained reason. The Café Metropole Club update for this issue on 29. August had the "Don't Forget Napoléon!" report. Since it was summer, the Scene columnphoto: sign, forbidden, washington sq park merely repeated itself for this issue. There were four new 'Posters of the Week' and Ric's Cartoon asked, "Staying Long?"

This Was Metropole Two Years Ago

Issue 6.35 - 27. Aug 2001 - This issue began with the Café Metropole column's ' 33.7º C In Town' The 'Au Bistro' column was skipped in favor of 'Anyone for Tenting? Never Too Late for It.' This was the weekly feature. There were two 'Scene' columns, titled, 'Final August Final' and 'The Fall Scene - from September to December.' The update for the Café Metropole Club's meeting on 30. August, was called the "Walked 'Miles' To the Club" report. An Email feature had two subjects, 'Killer Trees' and 'Too Much Citron Pressé.' There were four wonderful new 'Posters of the Week' and Ric's 'Cartoon of the Week' was captioned, "We're Camping Here!"

Will 'Mardi Noir' Extend Into Fall?

When the government ended its year of governing France in July and departed for its annual vacation it left some unresolved problems behind. Now, as the French are about to resume their normal life after the summer pause, the government is faced with unfinished business plus some new contentious issues it intended to tackle this fall.

Unless the French have completely forgotten how to be French during the summer, they are going to be just as opposed to some government projects as they were before the summer-induced truce. Do I think the French have forgotten how to be French? Nope.

For Rabid Countdown Fans

photo: sign, no dogs, in russian, brighton beachThis week's 'count-down' is somewhat humdrum because I have not heard of any new 'count-down' subjects. We still have, therefore, the one provided by Jim 'Count-Down' Auman, who noted that Saturday, 11. October marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Edith Piaf. The date to remember is 48 days from today.

This sign, seen at Brighton Beach, says, 'No Poodles Allowed On the Beach,' in Russian.

Without fanfare, the number of days left this year is 128. Is this all there is until 2004? Golly. In no time at all we'll be standing up to our knees in snow on the Champ de Mars, with the mistaken hope that there will be a New Years' Eve fireworks show. Uh-uh. No chance! There never are any fireworks on New Years' Eve at the Tour Eiffel. Besides, France can't afford them this year.
signature, regards, ric

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