Sunday Signs & Symbols: Hindu Temple?

What I love about the neighborhoods of Jackson Heights Elmhurst, Queens (besides the fact that I grew up in Elmhurst) is the fact that that it is a melting pot of so many different cultures.  The local hospital, Elmhurst Hospital, apparently has staff that can speak approximately 80 languages and dialects to serve the community.

I was in the neighborhood one day and walked by this Sunoco gas station on Roosevelt Avenue & 72nd Street, I realized that there was one sign out of place from the rest.

Amid the signs for gas prices, state inspections, and washes there was a sign for what I’m guessing is a Hindu temple?  I didn’t have time to explore further so I can’t say exactly what place this sign is advertising.  I will have to come back and find out and let you know!

It is a little odd that a sign like this is mixed in with the gas station signs but maybe for this neighborhood, it makes a lot of sense.  If anyone can read the text, please let me know what this sign says in a comment.  Thank you!!!

Sunday Signs & Symbols is a weekly blog event, showcasing a picture and an explanation on this broad topic. Every culture uses signs and symbols to interpret their environment, inject meaning to life, and attach value to an object or practice so that its people share a common understanding of the world and the social rules that dictate the behavior within it.

Sunday Signs & Symbols: Hindu Temple?

What I love about the neighborhoods of Jackson Heights Elmhurst, Queens (besides the fact that I grew up in Elmhurst) is the fact that that it is a melting pot of so many different cultures.  The local hospital, Elmhurst Hospital, apparently has staff that can speak approximately 80 languages and dialects to serve the community.

I was in the neighborhood one day and walked by this Sunoco gas station on Roosevelt Avenue & 72nd Street, I realized that there was one sign out of place from the rest.

Amid the signs for gas prices, state inspections, and washes there was a sign for what I’m guessing is a Hindu temple?  I didn’t have time to explore further so I can’t say exactly what place this sign is advertising.  I will have to come back and find out and let you know!

It is a little odd that a sign like this is mixed in with the gas station signs but maybe for this neighborhood, it makes a lot of sense.  If anyone can read the text, please let me know what this sign says in a comment.  Thank you!!!

Sunday Signs & Symbols is a weekly blog event, showcasing a picture and an explanation on this broad topic. Every culture uses signs and symbols to interpret their environment, inject meaning to life, and attach value to an object or practice so that its people share a common understanding of the world and the social rules that dictate the behavior within it.

Sunday Signs and Symbols: Sun

In honor of the recent Summer Solstice and my practicing Bikram Yoga in Times Square that day, I think it appropriate to dedicate a Sunday Signs & Symbols post to the sun. The image above depicting a circle with a heavy dot in the middle is an ancient symbol of the sun that is often used in astronomy and astrology.

The sun is such an integral factor to life on earth and it only makes sense that various cultures, disciplines, and religions have various representations for it. Throughout history, you will find groups of people worshiping the sun to varying degrees, in either the literal, metaphorical, or metaphysical sense.

The ancient Egyptians worshiped Ra, the sun god, while the Incans believed that their sun god Inti, was birthed out of a rock on Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) in Lake Titicaca, a mountain lake that inhabits both Bolivia and Peru.

"isla del sol", "lake titicaca". bolivia, peruHiking along the top of Isla del Sol with Lake Titicaca in the background.
"isla del sol", "lake titicaca", bolivia, peruThe sacred rock believed to be where Inti, the sun god, was born.

In hatha yoga, students practice sun salutations, a series of postures done in a flow sequence. In fact, the Sanskrit word “ha” means sun and “tha” means moon and put together, “hatha” represents the cosmological balance found in the universe. In Sanskrit, “ha” represents energy, masculinity, and the right side of the body while “tha” represents serenity, femininity, and the left side of the body.

Today’s modern day sun worshipers can be found mainly in Westerners who love to soak in the sun and get a tan. In NYC, locals and tourists alike, flock annually to the streets for several days in the year to watch Manhattanhenge. I actually discovered a lesser known but equally interesting solar event in NYC that I coined Queenshenge.

Sunday, derived from “the sun’s day”, can stir up debate as to whether it is the last or the first day of the week. Nevertheless, it is a testament to our deference to the sun and the word itself embodies how we understand and measure time.

Sunday Signs & Symbols is a weekly blog event, showcasing a picture and an explanation on this broad topic. Every culture uses signs and symbols to interpret their environment, inject meaning to life, and attach value to an object or practice so that its people share a common understanding of the world and the social rules that dictate the behavior within it.

Yoga in Times Square

The Times Square Alliance held its annual Solstice in Times Square on June 20th, the day of the Summer Solstice.  Thousands of people descended onto the crossroads of NYC to participate in free yoga classes throughout the day.  One of the classes offered during the day was a Bikram class and this year, Bikram yogis got a special treat:  Rajashree Choudhury, the wife of Bikram Choudhury (creator of the series) taught the class.

A preliminary count of 3,260 people participated in last Wednesday’s class, arguably making it the largest Bikram class ever assembled. And I was there in attendance!  I ended up practicing in the fifth row from the stage with a clear view of Rajashree and the backdrop of Times Square behind her.

Practicing yoga in the heart of Times Square with thousands of yogis was a unique and exhilarating experience.  The sea of yogis stretched from 42nd to 48th Streets.  The added challenge was to find stillness in the total chaos. Cars honked, sirens roared, large TV screens flashed, the subway rumbled underground, and passerbys took pictures with their phones.  For more than 3 years, I have practiced concentration and focus in the serenity of a yoga room.  I was pleased to discover that after several “Oh-my-God-I’m-on-TV-Do-I-Look-Cute?” moments, I set aside the distractions and found my focus.

Lying in Savasana, Dead Body Pose, on Broadway in Times Square

View of the Sky from Savasana, Dead Body Pose

Stillness of the mind starts with stillness of the body. The most effective way to still the body is to still the eyes.  As Bikram teachers, we like to say “Where the eyes go, the body follows.”  When my students struggle to find physical balance, I encourage them to pick one spot with their eyes and focus on it.

In Times Square, the best focal point in my line of vision was ironically a billboard sign of a Corona bottle.  I stared at it and found my balance. I successfully managed to tap into my inner stillness amidst the chaos.  If I can find peace in the middle of Times Square, I can do it anywhere especially in the midst of the chaos of life.

We Heart Astoria Celebrates its Two Year Anniversary!

We Heart Astoria launched in March 2010 to promote the neighborhood’s restaurants, art and culture scene, shopping, plus news and events.  To celebrate its two-year anniversary, We Heart Astoria teamed up with BEAR Restaurant on May 2nd to host a fabulous party.

The founders of We Heart Astoria (l-r) are: Judith Klein Rich (@Fooditka), Mackenzi Farquer (@SITEnews), and Meg Cotner (@harmoniousbelly).  Each woman brings her own strength to the project, making the site robust and full of information.  Meg is a classical musician with an interest in organic and local food, Mackenzi is an interior designer and storefront owner, and Judith loves food and enjoys sharing her gastronomic adventures with the world.

Siblings Alex and Natasha Pogrebinsky opened Bear Restaurant and Bar approximately 5 months ago.  The food can be described as Russian cuisine with a progressive twist.  Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to meet Chef Natasha but Alex (below in the red tie) warmly welcomed us to the restaurant.

We sampled selected items from the restaurant’s menu including hot passed hor d’oeuvres.

Bear’s mixologists even created a unique cocktail for the night, appropriately named “We Heart Astoria” and made up of orange juice, vodka, simple syrup, sparkling shiraz, and garnished with a blackberry and cherry.

Many Queens-centric bloggers were there that night.  Several members of the Queens Love posse came to represent (clockwise starting with me):  Rachel Antonio (@Roxwriting), Stella Dacuma Schour (@Stellaaa), Bradley Hawks (@BradleyHawks), and Jeff Orlick (@JeffreyTastes)!  I am honored to be a contributor to this online project that visually highlights the many reasons why Queens is so awesome.

The best thing about attending these events is finally being able to meet people I’ve followed for so long on Twitter.  What joy to finally meet Sue of @tastoriaqueens who writes about her many food meals in Astoria!  We talked about our lives, jobs, food, and our mutual admiration of each other’s work.

Anne Noyes Saini represents one-half of @CitySpoonful with Clare Trapasso.  City Spoonful focuses on New York City’s food and culture, particularly the outer boroughs.  Anne is another person I finally got to meet in person!  For several months, we have been trying to coordinate on Twitter to meet over an Indonesian meal but could never find a mutual time.  Below, Stella sneaks into the shot of me and Anne.

Kicking off its inaugural event last April 10th, QNSalon is the newest kid on the e-block.  Created by Sarah Burningham (@sarahburningham) and Chrissy Festa (@chrissylf), QNSalon seeks to create networking opportunities for professional women in the borough; the next event is being planned for the summer.  So great to see you again ladies!

Finally, these two women — Madeline Leung (@restaurantbaby) on the left and Rachel Antonio (@Roxwriting) on the right — have been incredibly supportive of me and ActionJoJo.  Together, we meet twice a month for our women’s writing workshop.  Many of the blog posts that you have read these last few months have been drafted in the presence of these women during our two-hour workshop.  We meet not only to write but more importantly, to support each other in a writing process that can often be solitary and daunting.  At the end of the night, attendees received fantastic swag that included discounts and items from various merchants throughout the neighborhood.  My favorite gift was this one on the left, a wallet likened to a NYC icon:  the Greek diner to-go, paper coffee cup.  This wallet is compliments of SITE, a home decor store owned by Mackenzi.

Congratulations to We Heart Astoria for its 2 year online presence!  May you continue to be a strong voice in the Queens online community in the years ahead.  It is thrilling to be a part of an active group of people so committed to promoting Queens.

 

BEAR
12-14 31st Avenue
Astoria, NY 11106
(917) 396-4939
www.bearnyc.com

SITE
35-11 34th Avenue
Astoria, NY  11106
(718) 626-6030
www.sitenyc.com

Sunday Signs & Symbols: Utopia Parkway

Australian native James Clark of Nomadic Notes has been traveling the world for the last eight years. In February 2011, I wrote this post declaring my intention to be Queens-centric when writing about my hometown of NYC.  I suggested that Queens is a pretty awesome borough because it has a major thoroughfare with the coolest name ever.

As a Fountains of Wayne fan and curious world traveler, James read my post and was convinced to visit Queens the next time he planned to be in NYC!  By July, I met James in Vancouver at a travel blogger conference and in one month, he visited Queens.  I showed him around Flushing (he said he felt like he was back in China) and we ate in Astoria.  While he was here, we had to take a trip down the street that helped us become friends.

I think he was a happy man that day, able to experience a different slice of the Big Apple as well as finally being able to walk down the street singing the Fountains of Wayne song of the same name.

I got it made
I got it down
I am the king of this island / goddamn town
I’m on my own
I’m on my way
Down Utopia Parkway

Sunday Signs & Symbols is a weekly blog event, showcasing a picture and an explanation on this broad topic.  Every culture uses signs and symbols to interpret their environment, inject meaning to life, and attach value to an object or practice so that its people share a common understanding of the world and the social rules that dictate the behavior within it.

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

New York City elicits images of an urban jungle:   concrete sidewalks, honking horns, yellow taxicabs, tall skyscrapers, and seas of people moving with determined purpose.  This frenetic energy makes the city attractive to locals and tourists alike.  People seeking an escape from the Manhattan jungle head to Central Park, a haven from the asphalt and glass.  While Central Park may be the most highly recognizable park in town, it is only the 5th largest park in New York City according to the Parks & Recreation department.

In 1938, NYC Parks Commissioner Robert Moses put much of the Jamaica Bay area in southern Queens under the supervision of the Parks Department because of his interest in preserving the region’s wetlands.  In particular, he was interested in building a freshwater bird sanctuary in Jamaica Bay.  By 1951, the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge was formed and in 1972, the park fell under the jurisdiction of the US National Park Service.  The refuge along with 10 other parks in Queens, Staten Island, and New Jersey comprise the Gateway National Urban Recreation Area (indicated in green in the map below).

Cross Bay Boulevard bisects the refuge and a large fresh water pond (unimaginatively named East Pond and West Pond) exists on each side of the road with an adjacent trail.  Register first at the Visitor’s Center and learn more about the park from the current exhibits and public lectures.  Park rangers can also inform you which wildlife can be seen that day.  For approximately 60 years, the refuge has served as a rest stop for migrating birds such as the brown osprey and orange tree swallow during the spring and autumn seasons.  Some birds remain in the area all year long such as the green-mourning doves, cardinals, and robins.  There are many birds to encounter along the trails but binoculars will come in handy should you be interested in seeing smaller, rarer birds in the brush.

Just as the NYC urban jungle assaults your five senses, the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge also does the same.  As you walk along the marshes, you see cactus plants and holly bushes.  Broken clam shells reflect sunlight as they litter the ground creating a shimmery path.  Birds dig up the clams and drop them from the sky, allowing gravity to crack them open for consumption.  Constant squawks, squeals, and chirps can be heard overhead as the ground crunches beneath your feet.  The wind rustles leaves and makes surrounding tree branches squeak.  Scattered throughout the park are birds nests and birdhouses offering refuge for adult birds and their offspring.It is easy to relax in the refuge’s serenity even though the distant Manhattan skyline peeks above the marsh tips, cars whiz by on Cross Bay Boulevard, and humanity’s constructed jumbo birds take off and land at nearby John F. Kennedy Airport.  Despite these urban reminders, you can taste the salty smell of the ocean on your tongue and hear the rhythmic lapping water of the freshwater ponds.  I visited on a sunny yet windy day so the sun gave me welcome warmth against the cold ocean wind.  I passed a group of birders in their tell-tale khaki vests and hiking boots carrying their huge binoculars, long tripods, and expensive cameras.  Led by a park ranger, the group participated in one of the park’s free tours.

A Single Swan in East Pond with the JFK Control Tower in the Background
West Pond with the Manhattan Skyline in Background

A peaceful calm descended on me and I took a moment to acknowledge the human intervention needed to make this place possible.  This refuge would not exist without the foresight to preserve and create a natural bird habitat as land increasingly developed in New York City.  It is hard to believe that this haven for both birds and humans exists approximately 15 miles away from downtown Manhattan.

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
Cross Bay Boulevard
Broad Channel, Queens
(718) 318-4340
http://www.nyharborparks.org/visit/jaba.html
Trails:  Open daily, dawn to dusk.
Visitor Center:  Open daily, 8:30am-5pm

Take a Queens-bound (Lefferts Boulevard) A train to Rockaway Boulevard and transfer to a Rockaway Park-bound Q53 bus from Cross Bay Boulevard & Liberty Avenue to Wildlife Refuge stop.

Sunday Signs & Symbols: In the Event of a Tsunami

In College Point, a NYC neighborhood on the northern shore of Queens, this sign is in the town center (14th Avenue & College Point Boulevard) away from the shore.  No other sign with this image can be found in the neighborhood so I am left to wonder what it means.  Is this location where people are to gather OR escape from in the event of a pending tsunami?  What do you think?  Leave them in your comments below.

Sunday Signs & Symbols is a weekly blog event, showcasing a picture and an explanation on this broad topic.  Every culture uses signs and symbols to interpret their environment, inject meaning to life, and attach value to an object or practice so that its people share a common understanding of the world and the social rules that dictate the behavior within it.

Orchid Show at The New York Botanical Gardens

The annual Orchid Show at The New York Botanical Garden ended on April 22nd.  In case you missed it and need to wait until next year to see it in person, check out some of my favorite orchids from the exhibit.

The Garden hosts fantastic exhibitions throughout the year!  Future exhibits include Monet’s Garden and the extremely popular annual Holiday Train Show.

[portfolio_slideshow]

The New York Botanical Garden
2900 Southern Boulevard
Bronx, NY  10458-5126
(718) 817-8700
www.nygb.org
For directions, click here.

St. Joseph’s Feast Day, A Sicilian Tradition Alive in Queens

Happy St. Joseph’s Day!!!

My hunch is that you’ve most likely heard of St. Patrick’s Day but St. Joseph’s Day? Not so much.

As the husband of Mary and the foster-father of Jesus, St. Joseph is the patron saint of families and heads of families, workers, and for a peaceful death. We know very little about his life according to the Gospel texts but the small bits of information we do have indicate a life where he had to make some pretty tough decisions. It has been argued that he lived in an age of anxiety, much like we do today.

Popular lore says that Sicilians beseeched St. Joseph for rain during a severe drought in the Middle Ages. In response to answered prayers, they celebrated his feast day on March 19 by attending Mass and preparing a table filled with an abundance of food. This table has come to be known as a St. Joseph’s Altar, full of loaves of bread and baked goods shaped into popular Christian symbols. It also includes wine, fish, and other symbols that typically represent St. Joseph such as lilies, hammers, and nails. Even breadcrumbs may be found on the table representing the sawdust of a carpenter. Meat is absent from the altar because the feast day falls during the season of Lent when Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays. Altars are a physical space used to create a connection between the human and divine worlds. In this case, believers use the St. Joseph altar to place a petition or give thanks for prayers answered.  This tradition arrived in America with the Sicilian immigrants but it has spread to other ethnic groups who are interested in celebrating St. Joseph.  In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the creation of a St. Joseph altar is shared by many members of the Catholic community.

In my household, we celebrate St. Joseph’s Day for several reasons. My Italian-American husband is one-quarter Sicilian and he and many of his ancestors are named Joseph. Today, we eat a traditional dessert called Sfinge di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s cream puff), a puff pastry filled with either a vanilla custard or ricotta cream (think cannoli) filling.  To buy my pastries, I head to the quintessential Queens neighborhood known for its large Italian-American population, Howard Beach, home to American Idol contestant Pia Toscano and the late John Gotti, former head of the Gambino organized crime family.  Here, I go to Pasticceria La Torre for deliciously fresh and authentic Italian pastries and baked goods.  Their St. Joseph’s cakes are no exception (below left is one filled with vanilla custard and on the right is the one filled with ricotta cream)!

I also cook Pasta con Sarde or in Sicilian, Pasta chi Sardi, a traditional Sicilian pasta dish with sardines and fennel. It is said that wild fennel and sardines are abundant at this time of year all throughout the island. In Palermo, this dish is called Pasta di San Giuseppe in honor of St. Joseph.  The recipe I use is from Micheal Franco‘s blog, Live to Eat.

Buona Festa di San Giuseppe!

Pasticceria La Torre
158-12 Crossbay Boulevard
Howard Beach, NY  11414
(718) 843-2306
http://www.latorrebakery.com