Fourth of July in the time of Corona

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4AThe Fourth of July holiday is one of the most celebrated holidays across religions and states and ethnic and moral persuasions in the US. We literally stop everyday life preparing for and celebrating freedom. It is an excuse to party and go on vacation and just have a good time. Not this year.

With most of the country seeing a surge in cases and deaths, there is not much to celebrate. Here in New York, I’d like to think we’ve been through the worst of it, but I say that with a bit of trepidation knowing the heavy hand of a resurgence can hit us anytime.

After months of working from home, I’ve learned to ease up and start working towards “normalizing”. But what exactly is that during this time when we are living life in such a different atmosphere?

For the first time in many years, the Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks display was cancelled. Many New Yorkers, and many Americans in general, contented themselves with local fireworks displays from home or the neighborhood. Nothing quite like the fireworks show of New Year’s Eve back in the Philippines, but loud and celebratory in a different kind of way. It was like America was saying we will celebrate freedom, corona virus or no corona virus — but know we cannot celebrate like we used to.

The subject of Freedom itself is being stretched in all directions in recent months. It’s like a renewed consciousness among a very diverse people who are reacquainting themselves with the notions of race and authority — in very varied ways. I will not get into that here. It is still a very raw subject matter, and I don’t feel I am in a place where I can discuss this for now. In time.

We in New York still feel the threat of the virus very strongly. And I am grateful for that, because I know we’re moving towards getting back to a semblance of normalcy, but with an abundance of caution. I am grateful to be given the option to work from home. I am also grateful that wearing masks is now mandated by stores and other establishments. It has sunk into our consciousness as part of the social norm. If you don’t wear a mask, you risk the ire of other New Yorkers who do, and you will be denied entry into all establishments that require it. That makes it more acceptable to go out and live everyday with less fear, but not without it.

I think fear is a good thing. It makes us take that extra step to ensure that we do not unduly expose ourselves to the risk of infection. The virus is very real and still ravaging parts of the country and the world as a whole. It has penetrated our every day lives in such a pervasive way, that we are rethinking how we go about business and life, in general, with sweeping strokes.

On Friday, my sixteen year old son asked permission to join a group of friends for a Fourth of July gathering where they had fireworks. It was in the neighborhood, and he asked for a just a few hours. My first impulse was to say no. But we have had to be cooped up the last couple of weeks, and I know he wants to see his friends. I have allowed him to go biking or play hoops with a small group of 3 friends from way back. I have instructed him not to go into anyone’s house, and to be sure he wears his mask. All of this is on an honor system, and I’ve reinforced the fact that he has to abide by the rules.

My ex husband has even driven him to a park to meet with three classmates from high school, giving them a few hours to hang out and then driving him back home.

As summer has arrived, my ex and I have agreed to limit these social interactions to one a week. So back to the party.

I immediately communicated my reservations to the ex, but also told him I don’t really want to have my son feeling like he was being deprived of the opportunity to enjoy the summer. With reservations, I told his Dad that maybe we should consider it. My son had name-dropped one of his childhood friends who was going, and I thought I would speak with the mom, whom I knew, just to set parameters. But I didn’t know the host.

I woke up the next morning with a very heavy heart and a resolve to not allow the boy to go. How can you maintain social distancing in a Fourth of July party? It was in a home, not in the park. Parties and such gatherings have been known to become breeding grounds for super spreading, which has led to many infections in other places. I just wasn’t ready to take the chance.

Fortunately for me, the ex felt the same way. For all our differences, parenting is one of the things we still usually agreed upon. We decided not to let him go.

Breaking the news to the boy wasn’t as easy, as he immediately responded with an emotional “Why?”. I tried to explain my reservations, and told him his father and I had agreed with no argument. We felt strongly about it and it wasn’t a risk we were willing to take. These are unusual times. On anormal Fourth of July, we would not think twice about letting him go, but we are far from normal.

He made no pains to hide the fact that he was deeply disappointed. But that was that.

I don’t want to be part of the problem — many people have gathered and broken social distancing rules. It makes me feel frustrated about the fact that relaxing the social distancing norms seem to be so widespread among those who feel they can, because they are being careful. In my mind, no matter how careful you may think you are being, the fact that you are increasing your exposure to infection is diluting your caution.

I still feel uneasy when I encounter people who aren’t wearing a mask, as I walk past them wearing mine. I have resorted to finding alternative walking routes with less traffic, giving up the path in the park during popular times when many joggers and other visitors forego the required mask. I know it’s an open air environment, but that does not mean the absence of the possibility of infection.

The local grocery requires masks and gloves now, and I felt bad that I went in earlier after my walk without the gloves. (Reminder to self: shove a pair in my pockets tomorrow.). I do walk with a small bottle of sanitizer which I either tuck in my leggings pocket or hold with my phone during my usual walk about. Signs are plastered to maintain distancing. Even the neighborhood bagel shops had social distancing in the lines that formed outside. This is the new normal.

So even as we celebrated a different way, we celebrated. We celebrated freedom, even with the constraints of our new normal. Happy Fourth, America!

A visit to Central Park

My hands are all “wired out” and that’s in the literal sense.  I have been practicing working with household wire which have strained my hands no end over the last couple of days.  I just had to give it up for today, and I think I will give my hands a reprieve from the tugging and the pinching and put away the wire for now.  It can get very addicting to the point of not listening to my hands screaming for a break — and just switching the finger against which the pliers rest. ( End of craft report.)

Here I am preparing for another week ahead.  I’m trying to make a mental note of the things I need to do during this week.  I haven’t even hit Monday yet and here I am finding myself wishing there were 8 days instead of 7, and 30 hours instead of 24 to each day.  It’s that familiar feeling of trying to pull the calendar to a slower trot as it heads towards the end of the year.  It’s Halloween next Saturday, and soon, Thanksgiving will be here. 

The weather has been rather fickle-minded, cold one day and almost spring like the next.  We were blessed with near 70s weather last Thursday and while I could’ve opted to work from home, I dropped by the city and came in, just so I could take a walk in Central Park later in the day. I had wanted to check out if my favorite autumn canvasses were already up.  Not quite.  I had missed out on visiting Central Park in the spring, and with the fleeting colors of autumn, I wanted to see if I can catch the landscape as autumn was creeping in, and then come back to view it in full splendor.

I was lucky enough to have had that chance last year when I visited the park in October and then in November again.  (Click on the links to view my pictures of Autumn 2008).  The way mother nature paints and ushers in the changing of the colors of nature when the seasons come and go reminds me that time goes by so fast.  If we don’t grab the moment, it will be gone and there is no way of getting it back.  I remember my regret in not having snapped up pictures of  a favorite tree here in the neighborhood because I told myself it wasn’t going anywhere and I could come back a few days later. I did go back — but to a different combination of hues of the season.  So much can take place overnight that what was once a fiery crown of autumn leaves might be but twigs and branches tomorrow.  Lesson learned. 

While I would’ve wanted to linger, I had to walk through the park in a more purposeful stride, entering through Columbus Circle towards the Bethesda Fountain and then heading back through the Central Park Zoo and out to 57th and 5th Avenue to catch the express bus home.  The landscape was still mostly green.  There were patches of yellow and orange but the park is still in transition.  The ground is not yet carpeted with autumn leaves.  That will probably happen in a week or two. 

I enjoy visiting with Alan and Angelo but there is something special about walking through the park alone.  It allows me to experience the park in a more personal way, the way I want to.  Whether I am walking at a leisurely pace or trying to cover as much ground in as little time as possible, I see the park in a different light when it’s just me and my camera.  There are still many parts of the park that I have yet to find and explore.  I have yet to reach Belvedere Castle, and I rarely get as far as Strawberry Fields where the mosaic dedicated to John Lennon with the word “Imagine” can be found — a corner I’ve seen only three times in the almost ten years I’ve been here. 

No matter how many times I walk back and forth through The Mall, I always find its canopy of giant elms breathtaking, whatever the season, whatever time of day.  And for the first time, I spied the park bench donated in memory of the late Jim Henson, and on it was inscribed: “TO THE JOYFUL  LIFE OF JIM HENSON WHO LOVED THIS WALK IN THE PARK.”  I can relate.

There is always so much to discover and there is much to go back for.  That’s the perpetual tourist in me — and I’m already making a mental note to go back to the park soon.

Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, viewed from the Bethesda Terrace
Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, viewed from the Bethesda Terrace

The Colors of Spring

We’ve been experiencing some horrible weather here in New York the last couple of days and the sun was taking a peek behind the cloudy skies this morning, but it was dry.  So I thought I’d take a moment to stop by Bryant Park before heading to work to take some pictures of the tulips that deck every nook and cranny of this 42nd street patch of green.  There are days when I get so tempted to do just that but I often find myself rushing up to the office.  Not today.  I took a walk around the park and caught the newly planted bulbs.  I’ll be back when they’re all in bloom.  What a treat for the eyes — even after things turned gloomy and the rain started to fall.


Au Revoir, Cendrillon

It has been 2 weeks since we found out that Cendrillon, located on Mercer Street had closed its doors after 13 1/2 years of being a part of the LES (Lower East Side) restaurant scene. We were going to have brunch there  hoping for some Beef Angus Tapsilog, and looking forward to some Ukoy when we realized the signage hanging in front of the restaurant was missing, and upon walking up to the facade, we were greeted by this sign.

It wasn’t surprising, but it was a very sad moment, as Cendrillon and its proprietors, Chef (Mang) Romy Dorotan and Amy Besa had been part of many fond memories at an establishment that made us proud as Filipino New Yorkers. With all that has happened in the last couple of months, we have seen so many casualties of this economic crisis we are all current suffering from.

I remember some of our first few dinner dates here after I moved to New York in June 2000, and the many celebrations had there with family and friends. I had proudly brought visiting family and friends to dine here, warning them that it was Filipino cuisine with a twist. Some looking for good old Filipino homecooking were sometimes disappointed by the variation on old favorites, but to me, those very twists to the cuisine I grew up made it a novelty of an experience worth stopping by for in Manhattan.

Mang Romy and Amy usually hopped from table to table talking to their patrons whenever they could, making friends among their many loyal customers.  They cheerfully shared stories and got to know the people who trooped to their doors.  They featured artists, known and otherwise, lending their walls to showcase talent.  

Sometime after 9/11, Alan and I had talked to Mang Romy and he shared with us how the Cendrillon family agreed to cut salaries and hours to survive the scourge of those days when they were cordoned off within the so-called no man’s land, a very trying period for many establishments.           

I’d like to think of this as but a new chapter in the ever-evolving repertoire of Chef Romy Dorotan. It is heartening to know that they are building yet anothe restaurant, Purple Yam, which will be opening in Brooklyn sometime in May 2009.  The restaurant is still under construction and will be in a area where there are other similar restaurants serving a wide variety of international cuisine.  Alan and I are waiting for that opening excitedly, and looking forward to seeing our favorite restaurateurs churning out Filipino fusion cuisine once again.

Jollibee in the New York Times

While some may think it’s overrated — and part of me will agree with writer Matt Gross that their burgers can be aptly described as “forgettable” in the land of burgers and fries in every form, size and shape that New York is, I must say his description of my favorite Spaghetti (Jollibee style) was on point: “frighteningly addictive.” 

Check out the full article Jollibee Brings a Filipino Addiction to Queens” which appeared in the March 11, 2009 edition of the New York Times.



Braving the cold

Forget that it was 31 degrees Fahrenheit with a real feel of 12 degrees — I shed my gloves and took out my camera, finding what could’ve been the traffic light box on one corner and I rested it there to capture a breathtakingly colorful Empire State Building tonight.

New York Style: The Jollibee Experience

We finally decided we’d try and get some Chicken joy tonight and while the line outside is not that intimidatingly long, it looks like I’m going to be here a while. A man walked up to me as I fell in line and handed me a ticket stub — I didn’t even know I had to get one.

So Alan wants some chicken and a burger. I’d settle for a champ but am hoping they’re offering peach mango pie. We were fortunate to have found a parking spot just before 62nd Avenue, so the boys are warm and snug in the car.

I’m glad Jollibee chose Queens instead of somewhere in New Jersey which means it’s just “in the neighborhood” and easily accessible. Just as the better Filipino eateries are a few blocks away, this is right by the 61st St local stop on the 7 train. I’m around 50 people from the door, and it appears they let the people in in batches. So when it does move, I expect I will move up by around 10. I’m already hoping they are offering Peach Mango Pie but I don’t see it in the marquee above the counter.

It’s a tad bit cold but it could be worse. There is a slight breeze but no strong winds, and we wouldn’t have gone tomorrow where there’s a forecast of rain mixed with some snow. Anything for a taste of home… The line, as expected is all Filipino — undaunted by the news of long lines wrapping around the corner. I didn’t get quite that far but I have yet to move.

Whenever we’re in Manila, we make it a point to eat as much Jollibee, ChowKing and Max’s Fried Chicken — these are simple and ordinary treats back home which are indulgences for us here because it takes effort to get to where the outlets are. And sadly, there are even times when the outlets here fail to measure up to the original franchise. (Like the Goldilocks pastillas here is a far cry from the pastillas sold back home — perhaps due to ingredient substitutions.)

But is it any wonder that there’s a queu to get in considering even back in Manila, the lines for the counters are always long. The guys in line behind me appear to have arrived from New Jersey. Quite a trip for some goodies, but one I can completely relate to.

Such is the draw of craving for a taste of home. It’s something we can never quite forget, and something we keep coming back for. I’ve moved around 10 feet now, almost half an hour into standing in line. I’m at the halfway point of the line from where I started out — and I can already taste my Champ and Filipino-style spaghetti. You can’t quite smell it out here probably because of the cold, but seeing the familiar decor inside already makes your mouth water at the prospect of Jollibee for dinner.

I’ve posted my status on Facebook and I’ve already gotten two comments from friends — I wish I could “share the joy” but I haven’t even gotten to the front door just yet. This is the latest craze among Pinoys here in the East Coast. No wonder there is a sign outside that even if the store is open until 11pm, the line closes at 8pm. (Take note…Touted as Winter hours.)

Someone just drove by asking how long is the wait — someone in line shouted back “One hour!” which should be just about right since I’m now halfway through, just a little more than thirty minutes after I got here. The guy behind me is inching his way past me not so much because he’s trying to cut the line but I think more out of excitement to get in. I can’t blame him… (Is he nuts trying to cut the line with Filipinos in front of him? Besides, we’re holding numbered tickets… And you just try to cut the line…)

Jollibee, the mascot, is almost in sight. I almost feel like wanting to have a picture taken with him after all the effort this has taken. I’m 10 people away… Almost there. (An elderly guy asked me if I was texting… I said no, I’m blogging.=).

Some non-Filipinos walking past are probably wondering what’s all the fuss.. Two ladies actually stopped and asked what they are selling here. The Fil-am guy behind me said “Filipino delicacies, snails…” — all in jest, but I quickly said “good burgers and chickens.”.

So what’s your favorite treat at Jollibee? Mine remains to be the Sweet’s something I try to mimick for Alan’s benefit, but still a far cry from the real thing.

This is not for the faint of heart. An hour and a half into this, I’m still feet away from the counter and I’m hearing there’s a wait for the chicken. I already know I’m waiting because I’m not leaving this place without it. The chicken is available in original and spicy recipe and in 2 ($5.99, or $7.19 with 2 sides), 3 ($7.79 or $8.99 with 2 sides), 6, 12 pieces. Instead of the famous Champ, they have the Heavyweight Yumburger ($4.99 or $6.39 with French Fries) and the Amazing Aloha ($6.29 or $7.69 with French Fries). would you want your burger with bacon and a slice of pineapple? (Alan is brave to try it but I’m sticking to the Yumburger.). They have the standard Spaghetti ($4.49) and Palabok Fiesta ($5.79) of course, and yes, the Peach Mango Pie ($2.29). (I’m happy.) There are Salu-salo Family packs which are platters going for $17.19 for the Palabok and $13.99 for the Spaghetti.

When I finally got inside, it took another half hour before I finally gave my order.  It might seem insane to others for us to have spent two hours for a simple Jollibee meal but if you ask us, it was well worth it.

Jollibee is at 62-29 Roosevelt Ave., nr. 62nd St.; Woodside, Queens