Torea Frey

Editor, writer, photographer, observer on the street.

It's true, I do (also: Astoria books!)

This post is participating in the Astoria Blog Carnival, hosted by We Heart Astoria.

I almost don't know what to say; I just want to join in the merriment. Two years and 13 days ago, we moved to Astoria (or, rather, the border of Astoria and Long Island City, but who's really counting?); about a month ago, we signed another two-year lease, and we couldn't be happier. I find nothing more satisfying than setting out, camera in hand, and snaking through the streets; here's to many more such "adventures," even if they are rather pedestrian and unremarkable, in the coming months.

Since I read a lot of books, I figured I'd highlight a few Queens-centric stories I've recently enjoyed.

The Ask, Sam Lipsyte

In the Times, Lydia Millet writes, "A witty paean to white-collar loserdom in the fund-raising racket, “The Ask” describes a crisis in the life of one Milo Burke, a deeply cynical academic development officer, earnest binger on doughnuts, avid consumer of Internet porn, and devoted father and husband. Detailing the meltdown of Milo’s career and marriage, “The Ask” takes place in an exhausted and passive institutional workplace ..." It's a commentary on modern New York, an interesting illustration of life for those of us who are making it, so to speak, but still not living off Central Park and hob-nobbing at Cipriani.

Lipsyte explains Astoria thusly:

I'd take long walks in the neighborhood. We lived in Astoria, Queens, as close to our jobs in Manhattan as we could afford. One afternoon I made a mission for myself: stamps for the latest bills (I'd ask for American flags, stick them on upside down in protest against our nation's foreign and domestic policies), paper towels, and -- as a special treat to celebrate the acceleration of my fatal spiral -- a small sack of overpriced cashews from the Greek market.

I'd cure my solipsistic hysteria with a noonday jaunt. Sights and smells. Schoolkids in parochial plaids. Grizzled men grilling meat. The deaf woman handing out flyers for the nail salon, or the other deaf woman with swollen hands and a headscarf who hawked medical thrillers in front of the drugstore.

This was a kind and bountiful neighborhood: the Korean grocery, the Mexican taqueria, the Italian butcher shop, the Albanian cafe, the Arab newsstand, the Czech beer garden, everybody living in provisional harmony, keeping their hateful thoughts to themselves, except maybe a few of the Czechs.

Witty, wry, and a great read; The Ask was one of my favorite books in 2010.

I also indulged in a bit of noir, including the following from the successful Akashic Noir franchise.

Queens Noir, Robert Knightly, editor

The Kim Sykes piece, "Arrivederci, Aldo," is set in Long Island City, on the Silvercup lot. In "Only The Strong Survive," by Mary Byrne, she describes Astoria:

"In no time at all I reached Broadway, with its crowds and traffic and fruit displays. I liked it better here. This was home. Men on the sidewalk spoke Chinese and Slav and Arabic into cell phones. Visit Queens and see the world."

In the final Astoria-based piece, "Last Stop, Ditmars," by Tori Carrington, the author describes the Greek population in the area:

I sat back in the booth, considering her where she had taken the seat across from me. I'd also known what she was going to say because I knew her. And had known her husband. Mihalis Abramopoulos had owned and operated the Acropolis Diner on Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria, Queens, for the past thirty years. Ever since he'd come over from Greece in the early '70s. Not unlike many of Astoria's Greek population that had been trying to escape military coups and martial law and were looking for a safe environment in which to raise their kids. Hey, my parents had done it in the '60s, before the colonels had stages a military junta in Greece and taken over control of a country that was still trying to get its shit together after the civil war. I'd been seventeen at the time, but I'm told I still speak like I'd just arrived on the last plane over the Atlantic.

Interesting! Our landlord is Greek; there are lush, old grapevines in our backyard, which I've long admired, but I'm always reluctant to ask about his origins, and his family's origins. Perhaps for someday soon.

I should also plug Marcy Dermansky's Bad Marie, which is not set in Astoria, but is an un-put-down-able tale about a lady, named Marie, who is BAD. Dermansky lives in the neighborhood, and she is a fun follow on Twitter. She taught me that Harissa, on 30th Ave., has great food (Balthazar pastries!), and it's been a staple ever since. Cheers!

If you're in Astoria and you're looking for a good bookstore, I'm a big fan of Seaburn, on Broadway and 34th St. The thrift stores, particularly the Salvation Army and Goodwill, can also be great (low-cost!) sources for your summer reads.

(By the by, I aspire to one day write half as well as these folks. Perhaps a yarn set in the Salvation Army on Steinway, an absolute must if you like people watching.)