horz line

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 ets coming in from the ocean to land at JFK airport. One of these was a delta-winged needle-nosed BA Concorde.


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