A HUMBLING EDUCATION (FROM A STRUGGLING NYC POET)

Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 12:14pm

A month or few ago, I brushed by a hustling subway poet who was looking to collect his honest daily dime. Somewhere beneath 14th Street, I was rushing to catch the next passing L train – and like many a New Yorker – was quick to dismiss this seemingly manic man’s artful contribution to society. But I suddenly and instinctively backpedaled (perhaps reaching for some of life’s elusive answers) and decided to pick his brain.

His name is Donald Green. He makes a living penciling impromptu poems on stapled sheets of brightly pigmented paper. I imagined most of his clientele was comprised of fleeting New York City tourists embracing an authentic, but transient experience. A memorable transaction, where art might intersect with the reality of others’ grand misfortune.

Donald Green, NYC subway poet

So he offered to write me a poem. And requested I prime him with a theme. With little time to ponder, I blurted out the phrase “Moving Forward.”

Below is a jagged, but meaningful transcription of what his weathered mind could indeed provide – and I found great beauty in the generality of his words:

———————-
“In the moment Justin comes, sitting along a subway hall.
A stroll to platforms, and sees a sign, he does.
He comes, acknowledging I am a New York Times published poet.
(January 2, 2000, the poem entitled ‘Hope’)
I render poems upon request.
Justin, when asks about a subject, wants a poem about ‘Moving On.’ A poem on ‘Perseverance.’

Well, life asks, ‘How many to persevere?’
Well, life asks, “How many to be strong?’
Life can present its stressful wind.
Life can cause the spirit to bend.
But one clings to stay in life’s air.
One has to hold to it.

It’s a will to survive.
It’s a will to get there.
It’s a will.
You can make it proper.
It’s a will…
to get things right.

Serve yourself.
Be kind.
In your mirror, serve yourself.
And get the strength in all ways possible.

Prayer, if you select.
Exercise. Rest. Nutrition. Friends. Reading. Art.
Serve yourself.
Giving to the loft that is the mind.
Clinging to nurturing thoughts that are the positive.

Work.
Courage.

Justin, I think here…

Food.
Compass.
And a path for this challenging air we know as life.”

– by Donald Green, New York Times published poet
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qiPGQyNvCu4

FROM A VERMONT MAPLE SYRUP TO UNA PIZZA NAPOLETANA: MOTORINO MANHATTAN

Wednesday, September 9, 2009 at 5:04pm

So I’ve been off the cayenne/maple syrup diet for quite a while and back onto Neopolitan cuisine. And it should be little surprise to most of you that I love to eat, talk, write and photograph my food. This morning I arrived at 349 E. 12th Street in East Village, new home of chef Mathieu Palombino’s Motorino Brooklyn sequel – formerly chef Anthony Mangieri’s praised Una Pizza Napoletana, the first of several DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) pizza joints to populate New York City about 5 years back.

I’ve had several consistently perfect meals at Una Pizza Napoletana before Mangieri got fed up with the the rising number of aspiring (albeit less meticulous) pizza wannabes that have been emerging onto the scene in the past several months (Anselmo, Luzzo’s, Fornino et al), and he set off to San Francisco attempting to replicate his praised San Marzano tomato infested gold mine once again. He began his success in Point Pleasant, New Jersey after his migration from Naples and prior to the opening of the East Village location.

Chef Anthony Mangieri (Una Pizza Napoletana)

Chef Anthony Mangieri (Una Pizza Napoletana)

You have to respect a business owner who can set his own uber-limited hours (Thurs – Sun on, from 5pm until dough runs out) and slugglishly takes his time crafting the perfect pie while overeager bourgeouis Manhattanites anxiously wait in line for up to 2 hours for their chance to try a $24 pizza! (And it’s most certainly worth the price as well).

A man who eloquently writes an almost pompous, but beautiful manifesto educating Americans on what real Neopolitan pizza is, and also should never be. A man who believes service isn’t nearly as important as the freshness of ingredients and consistency of the highest quality process. I remember first entering the tightly-packed 34-seated space back in 2006 noticing a small sign above a crucifix written in a Neapolitan dialect that stated this obsessive mantra in just a few short words – something about details and quality always preceding good or friendly service.

(For those of you unfamiliar with D.O.C. guidelines, it’s pretty straightforward, but few do it right. Requirements are as follows:

1) A Wood-Burning Oven: Pizza Napoletana must be cooked in a wood-fired dome oven operating at roughly 800ºF.

2) Proper Ingredients: Tipo 00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes, all natural Fior di Latte or Bufala mozzarella, fresh basil, salt and yeast — only fresh, all-natural, non-processed ingredients.

3) Proper Technique: Your pizza dough must be kneaded either by hand, or with a low speed mixer. No mechanical dough shaping is allowed, such as a dough press or rolling pin, and proper pizza preparation. Pizza baking time should not exceed 90 seconds.

D.O.C Pizza Margherita from Motorino (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

D.O.C Pizza Margherita from Motorino (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

see http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/09/dining/09matt.html for more info).

And so, as I aim to combine years of my marketing/advertising experience with a deeply engrained passion for wholesome, well-prepared food (and proud ‘Napulitan’ heritage/ pristine pizza training from my father), I stumbled upon Motorino back in February 2009. With an even more noticeable obsession for detail, Belgium-born chef Mathieu Palombino set out to compete in the D.O.C pizza revolution that’s been rapidly raising a new bar for the even less conscientious foodies of this city. He studied under the acclaimed David Bouley and was the Chef de Cuisine at one of the famed BLT restaurants before deciding to open the Graham Avenue, Williamsburg-based Motorino in 2008.

In addition to a rekindling affair with Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo of Frankies Spuntino, Prime Meats and Cafe Pedlar, I’ve decided to participate in the opening of Motorino Manhattan which is set to start serving early next week. I’ve been given an extremely warm welcome, as my food, marketing and client service experience was instantly embraced and will hopefully be handsomely rewarded!

Today I met with Mathieu, general manager Schotland McQuade and the 4 other servers who’ll I’ll be joining in the launch of this electric new venture. Under Mathieu’s strict, but enthusiastic guidance we quickly and turbulently prepped the newly refurbished space for a NY Magazine shoot that was scheduled for early this afternoon.

Chef Mathieu Palombino (Motorino Brooklyn)

Chef Mathieu Palombino (Motorino Brooklyn)

Shortly after, Mathieu sat us down (his ‘handpicked’ team) to brief us on his stringent expectations for the next several weeks to come. Beware of Frank Bruni, but more importantly the critics who’ll arrive en masse and incognito as we prepare to pace ourselves for what’s expected to be a rather tumultuous stream of diners, foodies and former Mangieri evangelists.

We’re expected to be ready for sub-par reviews that will inevitably compare us to the pedestalized Una Pizza Napoletana, but will plow forward with the most natural, friendly and sophisticated service that Palombino has managed to maintain at the hipster-inhabited Motorino Brooklyn.

Motorino Storefront (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

Motorino Storefront (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

The menu was specifically designed to accommodate the significantly smaller location and aims to turnover as many as 15 rounds per night. No delivery, but pickup encouraged. Some antipasti features include a fire-roasted mortadella, heirloom tomato and sliced vidalia onion salad, mixed greens with parsley, chives, balsamic and Frankies’ branded olive oil.

The pizza is limited to 6 variations from the classic Marinara (for the pizza-challenged: tomato, oregano, garlic and olive oil only), Margherita, Prosciutto di Parma, Pommodori, Sopressata Piccante and a Buffaline Bianca. An interesting addition will be a Pizza ‘Libretto’ (Italian for ‘booklet’) or an entire pie easily tri-folded in a to-go format for those on the run. I imagine this will surely elicit some really entertaining press.

D.O.C Pizza Margherita from Motorino (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

D.O.C Pizza Margherita from Motorino (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

Finally, I’m extremely stoked to receive personal training from Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer – 1 of only 100 total Master Sommeliers in the country! Like most people I know, my wine knowledge is sparse, so I hope to embark upon a complex, new education. Maybe now I’ll actually know what I’m talking about when I take that first sip and nod in approval to my equally uninformed NYC waiters.

In the meantime, I’ll also be working under the Franks and Portland-based phenomenon Stumptown Coffee at Frankies 17 and Cafe Pedlar on the Lower East Side (17 Clinton Street).

I want to invite you all to stop by one of the locations anytime and sample some of the best, but modest eats this city has to offer.

I’ll keep you all posted on the days to come.
Justin D.

For more info check out today’s NY Times article:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/09/dining/09matt.html

SPUNTINO

(An immediate response to my visit with the owners – family friends – of one of the most successful Italian restaurant ventures in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. I had once briefly trailed there, but during a time when I was already holding down a full-time advertising job in Manhattan. My mind and heart were not fully ready to take on a career for which I had so passionately expressed interest. Upon revisiting, I was saddened by the fact that I hadn’t had the opportunity to explain my position. And my new outlook given the circumstances of my life and associated growth.) – 

I suddenly want this more than ever. The atmosphere is warm and inviting – despite the less welcoming reception I think I’m being given. I know I may be unwelcome. For a host of reasons. Family politics for one?  Or my wavering nature demonstrated in the past during a very uncertain and unopenminded period of my life.

But I talked a good game back then. They saw the charming salesman in me – the unconspiring, but intelligent promise I could offer to their bottom line.

I know I might have dropped the ball though. I showed hesitation. An incongruous performance from my naturally genuine personality pitch.

And there was never a chance to explain. There rarely is when dealing with those who don’t particularly prefer that type of confrontation. 

Now I’m eager to just reconnect. It’s one of the few challenges in life that I would actually welcome. Trying to win someone over that’s possibly put up steel walls between us. I respond well to being ignored I guess. I’ll keep pushing. I need to explain myself. I need to make a statement about my relentless desire to join their team.  

The music grooves with a laid back southern twang. I could dig this. The flavors from the sweet fennel sausage and bitter broccoli rabe panini are sharp, explosive and memorable. It’s home and it’s heaven.

ANYONE CAN BE AN ARTIST

(A brief reflection on a shared experience with a 5 year-old boy named Ethan.  Iʼve had the pleasure of working with him as a volunteer instructor at a childrenʼs cooking school in downtown Brooklyn – November, 2008):

Today’s the third time Ethan asked me to draw him a picture.  I’m finally beginning to catch on.  He either sees my drawing as a form of entertainment or else he’s too afraid to try it on his own.  I think it’s the latter. Because I couldn’t agree with him more.  We share the same fear.  But it’s my responsibility to stop it, before it becomes too real.  Before he projects it onto anything else.

I suggested we each take a pen stroke and match each other’s move.  A fun form of interaction.  A painless demonstration of symmetry.  He hesitatingly gave it a go – preemptively expressing his worry that he may not get it right.  I had to quell it and encourage.  “You can’t mess it up.  If you do, we’ll fix it together.  Do you know some of the best artists were the ones that created from their mistakes?”  (An insight I borrowed from a recent encounter with my landlord – once Andy Warhol’s right hand man and now still a peculiar but generative creator).

So Ethan takes a stroke.  It’s backwards.  Maybe he’s dyslexic.  In fact, I noticed he’d reversed all the letters in my name when attributing me credit for the drawing.  I decide to create from his accident.  Though we’re following a cartoon book model illustration of a vampire, I add a bit of my own style.  A larger cape than the book had intended.  The boy wasn’t happy with the lack of an exact match.  But I think that it sufficed.  I think for a moment he saw the bigger picture.  He hadn’t ruined the image.  He’d only helped to break the mold.

A FIRST MEMORY, A FIRST BLOG

One of my earliest memories of being comforted brings me back to about age 3. I was living in my first home in Staten Island, NY. I don’t think my younger brother had yet been born and so now it feels as though I was still the baby of the family.

There were loud, heavy crashing thunderstorms. Perhaps my first conscious experience of this frightening phenomenon–or at least the first time I was old enough to verbally articulate what I was feeling to accompany my cries. I remember these cries too though–I was shaking uncontrollably. It seemed as though the horror might be endless. A choking, self-perpetuating anxiety that possessed me wholly and instantly.

And then my mother, very simply pacified me with an iced Coca-Cola from the fridge (it was 1981 and they were still available in the classic glass bottles). Tonight, at age 30 I downed a familiar swig of coke after battling an incessantly helpless and isolated day. It happened to have the same effect.

A MISSED CONNECTION

You wore a medium-length grey skirt with black leggings and caramel colored brown laced boots. I wanted comment on their grace. 

Your hair was silky straight, bangs delicately draped over your forehead. You were reading Wuthering Heights and I wondered if you were revisiting the text.You had a small beauty mark just on the right above your lip that added perfected your porcelain face.

Had I a chance to say hello, I might have.

There is nothing that can ever really be deleted. As much as we may try, what once existed still remains to exist in some form and with various remnants. Our past is our past, though sometimes too painful or difficult to admit how much it’s part of our present. And our futures are open. With good health and innate human design to survive, there’s always room for self-exploration and the associated splintered sunlight that will inevitably accompany the process.

LIFE CAN MAKE THAT SPIRIT BEND

(Over a year after meeting the memorable Donald Green, a New York City street subway poet (and personality), I remind him of our once-lived conversation – and a night I couldn’t forget. The night he imparted a few golden nuggets upon my weakened spirit and humbled me in seconds. He was astounded that I’d actually saved his work, and more importantly, had published it online.

Here’s a man who’s encountered tens of thousands of passers-by, but few who’d given him his much-deserved credit – besides the typical creatures of exploitation. So I’m fumbling with my cell phone when he accuses me of recording his conversation with one of his customers or listeners. Little does he realize I’m about to show him a year-old blog entry where I’d written about the night I’d met him – to remind him of his purpose and resonation with some who he’d forgettingly engaged.

I penciled the below (poem) back for Donald Green as a small gesture of my gratitude and hope he’ll have a chance to log onto a computer sometime very soon. Thanks Donald.)

Donald Green, NYC subway poet

Donald Green, we meet again.
One year later.
Only much the same.
But so much depth we’ve gained.
From the richest of encounters.
You ask if I’m taping your conversation.
And how surprised are you to understand
that I was only reaching in my pocket?
To search for a little phone
and hand you the World Wide Web.
You find it hard to believe –
that I had published one of your poems.
The one you’d written for me.
At a time in my life when much was not right,
you held me with a gentle glide of hand,
that pen flowing on the colored paper,
while the love spilled willingly from your mouth. ‘
May you write to save, may I save what’s right.
The word of life and treasure, the word of all your might.
This one’s for you Donald Green. Published for yet another cyber life.

-Justin D, July 20, 2010

Last year’s entry:
https://justindurazzo.wordpress.com/2010/01/18/my-humbling-education-from-a-struggling-subway-poet/

GORGEOUS DAYS

The fine wine does little justice to the warm wind of these summer days.  These moments I recall but only from the years before.  Now I remember what it is that makes me high.  This  feeling that injects its life into my veins is mine.  Sweet grass once again reborn, emerging from the thick twisted, matted clumps of dead blades which once were viable.  My bare back stands back out against the breezy currents which kiss my sculpted scapula.  The instantaneous caress is nothing short of Earth’s one day perfection.

In the midst I hear the sounds of crickets as they flail their legs together in melodic unison.  The subtleties of nature, creeping out from usual seclusion.  All living things and creatures, they emerge from nowhere.  Now to somewhere.  They collectively arrange to enhance the air, the light. the moon, the sun, breeze, the flowers, the dancing of the trees.

SACRIFICE YOUR WHOPPER!

(A small Facebook group I created in response to the smart and insightful social networking initiative  – the Burger King® Whopper® Sacrifice – launched by BK’s agency of record (Crispin Porter + Bogusky) who challenged Facebook members to ‘put their fair-weather friends to the test’ by sacrificing 10 friends in exchange for a free Whopper.)


To all those who participated in the Burger King® Whopper® Sacrifice Facebook campaign by sacrificing 10 of your ‘fair-weather’ Facebook friends in exchange for a free whopper: 

I’ve created this group to hopefully encourage and maybe inspire some of the 23,256 free Whopper recipients (including myself) to sacrifice their free sandwich to those who just might need it a little bit more than we do. 

After earning my free Whopper voucher I had to ask myself, ‘When was the last time I’d even eaten fast- food, let alone a Whopper?’ Not sure I can recall, perhaps due to the high levels of alcohol in my system that led me to consume one in the first place. 

On another note, it’s hitting a low of 14 degrees Fahrenheit here in New York City alone and needless to say, there are thousands of unfortunate, hungry folk simply looking for a bite to eat – to at least get them by for a couple of hours. 

As you anxiously await the snail-mail arrival of your free Whopper voucher consider this – you didn’t have to pay for it – you doubtfully lost any ‘real’ friends and it’s likely you had a blast participating in this clever social networking practical joke. So please share the friendly cheer and Sacrifice Your Free Whopper® by spread- 

ing the word and reaching out to all those lucky winners who’re in a position to do a small, but good deed to kickoff 2009. 

Thanks, Justin D.

VERBAL CREATURES

(An older entry, that began as a free-association exercise to express my love of words and writing. At times bordering on an obvious ethereal absurdity, it’s one of my favorite poetic pieces, uninhibited by rigid form or strictly logical waves of thought. It’s feelings-based, peppered with linguistically driven dream-like imagery.)

In the course of my night, there’s a resting wave which utters through my shaking spine.  It wails of grace and beauty.  It echoes songs of love.  It captures the essence of who I am and what I need to be.  I am the music, but can’t convey it without the sounds of all who sung before me. 

I am the night living among the shadows of the sleeping day things.  I am the darkness and what can seem to be so right.  I silently dance across the vagaries of my other night friends.  Careful not to wake the tired souls of Monday morning. 

My ears hum the sweet lulls of the days before me.  The woes are mine, the sins are cast upon me.  I am alone, yet alone for now, for others have been alone before me.  I lovingly type word after word of fictitious verbal creatures that have never once existed.  They are now my proud companions.  They are now the proof I have of singing women in my head.  They verify me, they indulge because of me.  All I have went into them, and all they have comes back to me.  I gladly smile at the word creatures’ doings – their makings and shakings, their rinsing and convincing, their torpid cries and somber lullabies. 

The word creatures do their creature like things.  They makes honey-kissed tarts with marmalade dressings.  They inspire frugal men to do their frugal things.  The little word creatures sometimes leave everything as it already seems. 

My words they are ok.  But when I try they quickly die.  When my mind is free of care they make the readers stare.  They’re so beautiful they are.  The are like no other.  So unique, so unlike their brothers.  The words they move, they dance, and run.  The are free, and free to be wherever they may need to be. 

Methinks that once a word was out of line and ran away from his shelter-like book where all the words would reconvene.  But that’s alright, more room to be made for the prodigal word,  The one who would find his way back to his roots.  The one who would learn that life is not possible all alone. 

My little creatures are well-aware that they must work in together, whistling when they must, but never by themselves.  The work they make will move hovering mountains and push plain sweet grass fields miles from their base.  Together their deeds will reconceive notions and develop plausible solutions to otherwise trivial dilemmas. 

I am the Word Mommy and my words are because of me.  They make me proud, and they make me feel happy.  And then they make me feel sad also.  They make me feel a lot of things, and things are good as well you know.

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