Sights and Sounds of Central Park

Urban Ranger Rob Mastrianni has been introducing people to the wonders of New York City parks for five years, from the wild reaches of Northern Manhattan’s Inwood Hill Park, which boasts deer that arrive from Westchester county and coyotes, who are presumably always on the lookout for falling boulders in the park, Mastrianni recently transferred to Central Park. In this brief interview he talks about the sights and sounds of Central Park, the benefits of working in the world’s most iconic park, and the fine line between introducing people to wildlife to New Yorkers and protecting them from one another.

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My friend Emily Wallace, 23, has been sick for over a year without a solid diagnosis. One doctor said it might be Lyme Disease, but the qualifiers for Lyme differ from state to state. She is from Connecticut, but moved to New York to start her acting career. Both states have a narrow set of specifications for what qualifies as Lyme. She ended up with “Maybe Lyme.”

She was given prescriptions and more prescriptions, antibiotics and supplements. She was given everything except answers. The sickness only progressed in limbo. Now it seems that many of her symptoms point towards cancer. Hodgkins. The day before her biopsy, she spoke about her fears of waiting and where she puts her mind in the meantime.

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Community in a Bad Economy: Queen of All Saints Church, Brooklyn

Two of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill’s largest catholic churches just emerged from a year of tough financial scrutiny. Bishop Nicholas Dimarzio launched an initiative to shore up the stability of the 197 Catholic churches in Brooklyn and Queens and decrease a running deficit that the church can no longer afford, he stated on their website.

Queen of All Saints Church, at 300 Washington Avenue, will remain open on a tight budget with an eye towards focused fundraising, said its pastor, Rev. Joseph A. Ceriello.

Saint Lucy-Saint Patrick, at 285 Willoughby, will merge with Mary of Nazareth Church on Adelphi street because of low attendance and budget problems, according to Rev. Kieran E. Harrington, diocese Vicar of Communications. The church building will remain open, but administrators at Mary of Nazareth Church will determine its activity and direction.

Several parishioners at Saint Lucy-Saint Patrick church said their tough times stem from tough times in the economy. One African-American father, who preferred not to give his name, lived in Clinton Hill for 46 years and said while he used to donate five to seven hundred dollars a year to the church, he can barely afford half of that now.

“The economy, it’s affecting everyone,” he said. “We can’t be expected to give our last dollar to the church when we have to help our families survive.”

While the bishop’s initiative examined the budgets of these two area churches, these two soundslides concentrate on the people who make up their unique communities, communities built up in a neighborhood of constant ethnic change.

Not shown is the Church of Saint Edward at 108 Saint Edward Street. It had been a second site of worship for Mary of Nazareth Church, but will no longer hold mass in 2011 and the building’s use will be determined in the future, according to Mr. Harrington.

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A Family Affair: The Oriental Pastry Shop in Brooklyn

On a stretch of Atlantic Avenue in a well-to-do part of Brooklyn, a number of Syrian and Yemeni restaurants and shops pepper the street. Next to a mammoth Urban Outfitters and across from a large grocery chain store is a little anomaly of a shop owned and run by Syrian-born Ghiath Mustapha and his brothers, Muyassar and Anas.

Entering into the shop there is an air of an old world market, with goods cramming every spare shelf, overflowing bins of fruits and nuts, and a whiff of cardamom, which they often grind with the coffee.

Ghiath Mustapha is usually the first brother to arrive, and spends his days baking the shop’s famous baklava for customers who snap it up. The shop caters lamb dishes and pastries for hotels and weddings as well.

Although the neighborhood has changed drastically since Mr. Mustapha and his brothers arrived from Syria in 1967, Mr. Mustapha is grateful that his shop has kept up its business, thanks in part to several loyal customers.

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So You Want to Designate a Historic District

One of the main issues affecting Carroll Gardens residents centers around historic districts.

The neighborhood already has one designated. The current historic district was established in 1973, and includes parts of Smith, President, Carroll and 2nd Streets.

“During that time, the Landmarks law was very untested. The Landmarks law hadn’t been tested in the Supreme Court, and there were still concerns about whether or not a historic district could be regarded as a taking,” Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, said.

But some residents are interested in expanding those boundaries. To do that, they must first establish an agreed-upon area prior to presenting the proposal to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).

Bankoff said that the LPC gets around 300 requests a year. He stresses that these are people who are asking for 300 separate buildings.

“Out of that 300, they get 15 individuals and maybe four districts. And that’s actually an improvement on recent years,” Bankoff said of the LPC’s progess. He said this is due to campaigning for extra resources and that they now have a survey team.

He said communities looking to designate a landmarked district can aid in the process by providing photographs and a very clear map of the desired area with basic building information.

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Geocaching Brings a Father and Son Together

My 15-year-old brother, Josh, has been geocaching for about a year now, and the activity has changed his relationship with my father.

In case you’re not familiar with the term, geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game. In the game, players use web directions to try to find containers with prizes inside, called geocaches. These “caches” are so prevalent that, at this very moment, there is probably one hidden near you.

This activity has been healthy for Josh. Like many 15-year-old boys, he has an unyielding sense of adventure. He spends a lot of time in fictional worlds of suspense and excitement. Most of the time, these worlds involve video games. The games all include virtual violence, which my mother hates, but reluctantly tolerates. Josh also plays paintball or airsoft just about every weekend with his friends. But in case you didn’t already notice, all of these interests involve guns and none of them include family. It’s pretty easy for a teenager to get caught up in his own life and forget about developing relationships with loved ones.

Geocaching is something (nonviolent) that he does with my dad. Josh loves it because it combines his obsession with technology with his adventurous spirit. My dad loves getting outside and taking on new challengse. But they both love the time that it allows them to spend together (even if they won’t say so outright).

Let me show you what I mean. Take a look at my audio-slideshow of one of their recent “hunts” in the woods of my hometown, Doylestown, PA.

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Cycling in Style: The Big Apple Tweed Bike Ride in Park Slope

Bicycle riders from across the city gathered in Park Slope recently for this year’s second Big Apple Tweed Ride, a charity event that merges cycling and couture.

Approximately 150 riders attended dressed in their finest vintage English cycling-inspired garb. Participants met at The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch at Grand Army Plaza before riding over to Brooklyn Circus, a specialty clothing store in Park Slope, for a fashion contest with categories like “Most Tweed Spirit Male or Female,” “Best Steed,” “Best Accessories” and “Best Dressed.”

“The Big Apple Tweed is about getting dressed up in fancy clothes, riding your bikes, seeing people dressed up in furs, etc. You know, just being a little extra,” said Ayodamola Okunseinde, a co-founder of the event.

After the awards, the cyclers rode to bar and restaurant Flatbush Farm for a tea social with a live Dixieland band. Proceeds from the Big Apple Tweed Ride went to Virginia House of Hope, a nonprofit organization that provides New York City children and families with basic necessities such as food, clothing and social services.

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Bringing Multimedia Show to the World of a Medieval Myth

Catherynne Valente mixed burlesque belly-dancing, improvised music, and literature for the Nov. 21 launch party of her new book, The Habitation of the Blessed.

Putting the different arts together made for an experience that you don’t get out of from any regular book reading. Dancers moved passed the audience to the stage and the band played rhythmic music. All the while Valenti read from a book of medieval wonder.

The book is based on the legend of Prestor John, king of a mythological kingdom that contained wonders from griffins to the fountain of youth. So it’s fitting that this mishmash of different artist helps conjure up the exoticism from imagining a distant magical kingdom at the basement floor of WORD Bookstore in Brooklyn.

And for one day Valente fans they got the addition to be exposed to the music of Brian Francis Slattery and the West Constantinople Squeezebox All-Stars and the dancing of Jezebel Wood, Mary Cyn, and Katie Lennon.

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Drumming on. One band to the next.

If you ask Ryan Fetter to describe the Atlanta music scene, there’s only one word that comes to mind: incest.

That’s because many musicians, including Fetter, use the Southern city’s close network of musicians to play in as many different bands as possible.

For Fetter, that means five. Five bands, including one that has Fetter touring the East Coast for weeks on end.

Fetter and his band, Mermaids, played Brooklyn’s Don Pedro on Nov. 28.

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The Holes on the Ground Point to Brooklyn

According to the survey, there is not a complete consensus on how much of a the problem potholes really are in New York City. Despite the fact that there is a slightly larger percentile of people who rate the problem 7-8 out of 10 in severity, it’s only 8 percentile points higher than those who would rate it than 1-2, the lowest rating.

And yes, 30 percent of my survey takers said Brooklyn was where they had the most problems with potholes. But the second highest answer to my survey — at 20 percent — shows that New Yorkers don’t see it as a problem at all.

With only 22 people who took the survey, these results shouldn’t be taken too seriously as representing the overall feeling of New Yorkers about potholes but it does point to Brooklyn as a place worth investigating.

You see most of those who rated 7 or higher also said that Brooklyn was where they had the worst experience with potholes. If you look at Kings County Traffic Safety Data bicycling and pedestrian injuries by vehicular crashes rose between the years of 2006-2008 in Brooklyn. It’s odd given the fact that these types of crashes have been going down since 2001 according to Crash 2.0.

It may be worth asking how safe or dangerous do people feel it is to be bicycling in Brooklyn?

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