Author Archives: dospino

Posts: 14 (archived below)
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A Different Kind of Bar In Jackson Heights

If you show up on a weekend, Terraza 7 train Cafe gives off the feel of an old venue, like Knitting Factory when it was still in China Town, except you won’t find bouncers in front of the open barn doors checking ID’s or collecting a cover, you’ll just have to make your way through a mostly twenty something Latino crowd smoking cigarettes and discussing politics or art in spanglish.

You can always tell who’s making their way over to grab a drink and karaoke, watch a film on cine-club Mondays, listen to poetry the first Tuesday of the month, or catch some live music between Wednesday and Sunday after 10pm; they clash with the backdrop of the other Jackson Heights nightlife. The cholos who sold fake social securities in the daytime now whisper “chicas, chicas, chicas,” on Roosevelt Avenue.  The disheartened day laborers, once looking for work, stagger out of bars where women charge you for a dance. Straight men under full moons transform into drag queens, but Terraza’s crowd never changes.

They are a diverse group of Latino hipsters who buy in even less to the mainstream. They wear a slightly outdated regalia of bootcut jeans and UFO pants, baggy t-shirts, fedoras, and artisan jewelry and accessories. They cultivate their own local music at Terraza and use the rickety stage to shed light on social issues through art. It has become their own.

“Valuable are the spaces that allow for creative uses of free time in ways that add to the quality of life of the neighborhood’s inhabitants and generates ownership,” said owner Freddy Castiblanco, sitting lopsided on a worn couch by the entrance. “Artistic expression is a way to empower a neighborhood, and particularly important in immigrant communities,” he added.

Castiblanco opened the doors to Terraza 9 years ago, in June of 2002, in hopes of bringing together diverse Latin American expressions. What he found was a group of people more interested in rock and pop.

“Before, I used to be young, and they used to play metal, and it was fucking awesome. Crappy bands of course, but interesting people,” said Jessica Ilm, a local sheltering herself from the rain with a hand above her head.

After a year of giving into the demands of the neighborhood, however, Castiblanco sought a different sound. He began by creating an in house Latin-jazz band that later incorporated Afro Colombian instruments like the tambor and gaita. And as the music matured, so did the crowds.

“It opened the doors…to people that were concerned, or that would care about something interesting that would happen in a melody, something interesting that would happen lyrically in a song, rather than ‘that’s a nice beat i can shake my ass to that.’” said Juan Velez, a classical guitarist who attends open mics.

Castiblanco also uses the space as a platform for political expression. With Main Street Alliance, Castiblanco spearheads talks and has even spoken in front of Congress to combat unfair treatment of small businesses. “I think small businesses have an important roll in the development of a neighborhood,” vehemently preached Castiblanco during our meeting. Organizations like Make the Road and Movement for Peace in Colombia have also used to space host events and talks with local leaders and politicians.

Just standing outside, you feel the difference from other venues in the atmosphere. It incorporates the neighborhood and its needs in an unprecedented manner. It cares, in large part, because of Freddy.

Posted in Music | 3 Comments

Nobody Beats CD’s

On my way to Washington D.C. this past weekend, Q104.3 (at this point in the trip just background noise) stopped playing classic rock and turned into gargles of static that no turning of any knob would fix. My parents and I hadn’t noticed until we heard fuzzy chunks of some unrecognizable Police song that tickled our ears with enough familiarity to make us crave music once again. In movies or like that Toyota Highlander commercial, parents are always singing an obnoxious song off of an even more obnoxious album. Luckily an old Bob Marley was in the armrest, left over from a previous excursion Upstate, mixed in with Silvio Rodriguez and Salsa/Calypso mixtapes.

My father initially objected, but tired and reluctant to argue from the demanding drive, he succumbed to the idea. “No woman, no cry,” starts Bob, consoling the masses at a live concert, goosebumps on my skin, raising from the dead some memories I hadn’t touched in a while.  I could feel in our shared silent indulgence, that we all sat and remembered what this song meant to us individually.

Ricardo, my older brother by exactly a day and a year, and I bought that album in the basement of what used to be Nobody Beats the Wiz on Steinway street in Astoria. It was our mother’s birthday present. Big chain music stores don’t really exist like that anymore. I remember F.Y.E. was a block south and if they didn’t have what you wanted there you could hop on the R train and pick it up on 82nd street in Jackson Heights. I used to love Virgin Mega Store at Union Square during the summer. I’d walk in and hope to find something good on sale to spend my money on instead of buying bottled water; the store was always cool. I miss it in Times Square too, before it became Forever 21. I took those escalators up and down a million times over and checked out all their Vinyl, all their eclectic aisles. I could have lived there when they started letting us scan CD barcodes for 30-second previews of every song. I was madly in love with music.

When the song ends we all come back and smile. The silence between the songs is filled up by silent humminh of “no woman, no cry.” When the next track starts it hopes to have the same effect, but we just sing along this time, enjoying a CD for the first time since we bought an iPod.

Posted in Music, Music Rant/ love song | 2 Comments

A Great Big Pile Leaves You Wanting More

When they’re setting up on stage you get a sense that A Great Big Pile of Leaves has done this before. Every tuning solo, every beating of the snare, and even the steps they take over tangled wires connecting guitars to amps to the sound system seem inveterate. I believe this band immediately, at least more than I believed the last group, Two Lights, a band still riding the coattails of the Jonas brothers.

Highline Ballroom is comfortably packed by 10pm when the guys take over the stage. The mostly underage crowd, sober from the previous act, begins to pour from the awkwardly placed dining area on the edge of the venue. Fans scream “Yeah Tyler,” as they come closer to being ready. I remember that overwhelming anxiety when I performed with my band, Pyramus and Thisbe, senior year of high school. The Leaves don’t seem phased a moment away from breaking the silence on stage.

“Why won’t they start already, so we can get out of here,” said Theresa, my classmate, forced to a Thursday show in midtown Manhattan, an hour away from her home in Staten Island.

With a heavy flannel shirt and a heavier beard, the drummer announces the beginning of the set with a banging of his sticks. Immediately I see he is going to be uncomfortably sweaty, but not enough to merit removing his shirt like Travis Barker. The music carries a fast upbeat pace, which burns a significant amount of calories but requires very little skill. The guitarists play bright chords, exploring the clarity of their Gibson’s and Epiphone’s, and the bassist glides between a good range of his instrument. It’s fun, and the lead singer breaks out in fervent staccato grunts that strike emotional chords. His presence is strong on stage, as he strums his guitar with calculated precision that make his biceps swell and his forearms vascular.

He’s less clean cut than in the bands music video for the song Aligator Pop . His beard is scruffier, his shirt wrinkled and his boat shoes worn below tarnished blue jeans. The second guitarist, a hired gun for the tour, is wild and dressed in black from head to toe, appropriate because he kills it the whole night. The bassist looks out of place in this band of hipsters, but after the first song boasts, “It’s good to play at home. Well almost, I’m from Brooklyn.”

The rest of the concert neither added nor detracted from the enthusiasm of the crowd.  The same trio screamed “Yeah Tyler,” the same fans danced, and people who knew the lyrics sang bashfully. “It felt like one long song,” adds Theresa as she exits the venue, disappointed. I nod and agree, but it’s one long song I enjoyed listening too.

Posted in Music, music reviews | 231 Comments

An Empty Clam!

With incomprehensible lyrics, a loud guitar, and enough empowered women sporting eccentric haircuts to pass as an ad for a women’s fashion magazine, Tamar Kali’s “Pearl,” comes off as generic; especially with that unnecessary rap verse from Jean Grae. Toward the middle of the video she starts yelling the same melody she has been singing barely audibly underneath the angry music, and things get even worse. Her falling limp on the couch at the end of her video is the exact sentiment I shared, thank God this is over!

Posted in Independent Film | 2 Comments

Attack of the Lotus Flower!

Recognizing how aggressive the beat to “Lotus Flower,” a single of Radiohead’s latest album The King of Limbs, lead singer Thom Yorke seizes and convulses at the beginning of the black and white music video but when his voice comes in, so soft its sharp, he places his hands in his pocket as if restraining the anger. Later we see the echo of his voice drive him mad and we are allowed to observe him, lost in maniacal behavior, like a performer on stage with high angle shots and theatre like lighting. It’s work well, self reflective, of music as a performing art.

Posted in Independent Film | Comments Off on Attack of the Lotus Flower!

A Search for Imaginary Food

At 5:30 pm, in the pattering drizzle of the approaching month of April, a crowd emerges from the subway at West 4th Street rumbling like a train onto Avenue of the Americas. Among them are residents of the area, those who have come for the films at IFC, and the happy-hour-day drinkers that gather around downtown for “thirsty Thursday”. A group of 30 people linger on the sidewalk, spread out between Golden Swan Garden’s short black fence and “the Cage.” Some are standing alone, checking BBM’s or playing on their Nintendo DS 3Ds, while others are paired off, but there is something uniting this diverse mix of adults. On March 31st, a food truck would bring in food from Pentos, a fictional land from the “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series by George R.R. Martin, and these fans are hoping to be the first to get a taste.

If the books don’t sound familiar, “A Game of Thrones,” might. It is the name of the first book of the series, but moreover, the newest show in the HBO lineup set to premiere on April 17th. Since the announcement of the show, Martin’s book sales are approaching triple digit growth in year-to-year sales, according to “Thrones Tomes Selling Big” in Variety. In the United States alone the books have reportedly sold 4.5 million copies, according to the publisher, Bantam books, in the article.

The promotional food trucks were, in the tradition of an Easter, set up as a scavenger hunt. The rules were simple: check the “Game of Thrones” Facebook or Twitter page between March 28th and April 1st, show up to the destination by 6:00pm, find the cart, and be among the first 300 in line. The location of the trucks and the food varied daily from Astor Place on Tuesday, where “The Riverlands” green goodness came to life, to Lincoln Center on Wednesday, where food from “The Wall” could be sampled.

By 6:30 pm on Thursday, the Pentos truck had yet to arrive at West 4th. The HBO crew, identifiable only by their “Game of Thrones” t-shirts, had already ushered the masses, now numbering in the hundreds, into a four-person-wide line that wrapped around the corner of the garden.  The grumbling was almost audible by the time the truck arrived, and talk of the week’s meals started simultaneously among the crowd.

“Of the three that I’ve tried, my favorite dish has to be the squab,” said Kat Baek, a sophomore at Baruch College, now on her third hunt for the cart. “The lemon cakes were served every day [but] the taste never got old,” she added, taking refuge underneath a Burberry patterned umbrella.

When the black truck was parked, the day’s menu was handed out. The more hardcore fans on the line attempted to decode the puzzle embedded in it. “Apples to oranges,” announced a crew member.

“It means you have to fold the apples to oranges in the menu to find the hidden message,” said Joseph DeSimone, an avid fan of the series and Senior at Baruch College. “I’m not even going to try,” DeSimone added, worn from the hour long wait in the rain.

The first dish was the spice roasted duck with dates, buttered turnips, cabbage and juniper. The second option was the Lamb Flatbread with chickpeas and purple olives. As usual, the dishes were to be accompanied by the “famous” lemon cakes. The books themselves are refered to as “tomes” for good reason, as they are detailed accounts of this fictional world, even when describing the meals.

“In the book they talk about this buttered cabbage and turnip dish,” said the meals architect Tom Colicchio (Top Chef)in an interview for the ‘Thrones’ Facebook page. “Pentos is an area more east, sort of a lot of spices are there, and so I want to use a lot of spices,” added Colicchio. This was evident in the duck, which mixed coriander, fennel seed, red/white/black pepper, and cardamom in its spice sauce to awaken the taste buds. The lamb flatbread was just as full of flavor. The thin piece of flatbread was surprisingly not brittle but more suprising was how well cooked the shredded lamb was in a food truck. The combination of its spices mixed the coolness of the chickpeas and the tartness of the olives gave the dish a perfect balance.

“I wish there was a permanent one,” commented Baek, referring to the food truck as she enjoyed her free lemon cake in the shelter of the subway.

Posted in Food | 2 Comments

Amber is all Ambiance

Sometimes who you eat with at a restaurant can make or break the experience, but even loving your company won’t help Amber.

Despite its misleading height of three floors, Amber is a relatively small asian restaurant on the second floor of its Gramercy location. The third floor is mostly unused, except for private parties, and gives the restaurant lofty high ceilings. The first is primarily “a bar area for young people,” in the area according to Wi Pam, the assistant manager. It’s long electric blue bar is modern looking and complimented by the neon orange of the stairs that clashes nicely with the brick facade hiding behind a curtain.

The space fits roughly 50 hungry people pressed together during the busy lunch hours in a closely spaced tables. It has two long leather couches on either of the exposed brick walls, but those stuck in the aisle’s wooden chairs will be surprised at how comfortably you sink in to them. The tables are an elegant dark mahogany that in the candle lit dinner atmosphere is almost romantic; I say almost because the Katy Perry blaring on the sound system is anything but.

Before you place an order the wait staff is patient, practically invisible. The same is true for when you get thirsty or need a fork if you’re not trained in the art of chopsticks. They begin to test your patience after a while but the giant Buddha surrounded by a small pond of fish by the kitchen remind you to keep your inner peace.

Once the food arrives, faster than the slow service might initially indicate, you realize the reason for the diner like prices. The portions are immense, but the food is disappointingly simple in flavor. Buddhist delight ($9.00), a combination of squash, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus and noodles were so drenched in soy sauce that the smell and taste was uniform. The texture of the vegetables also varied from hard huge chunks of the broccoli and cauliflower to smushy squash in your mouth, something I was unprepared for. The side of sticky white rice it came with reminded me of a cheap Chinatown restaurant and did not effectively compliment the dish in any way, even to soak up some of the soy sauce.

The pineapple fried rice ($9.00) was a little better, but that’s not saying much. It comes in an empty pineapple shell, which is nice, but just like the Buddhist delight, the combination of pineapple, cashews, an array of vegetables and shrimp did not combine well to bring out any of the flavor. The pineapple for example had a sharp sweetness that didn’t allow anything else in the bite to be tasted. If you tried each individual element with just the rice however, it fared better in the taste buds.

“I want to just eat the cashews alone, I’d be disloyal to them if I combined them with the shrimp,” said Jessica Rozario, who left a third of her food untouched.

Needless to say, we decided not to take remainder of her meal home. It was nice to sit there though. If you eat there on a weekday night only a few people downstairs silently drink their cocktails, the second floor plays poppy music giving it a lounge feel and no one, especially not the wait staff, bothers you. Just makes sure not to get your hair stuck on the gum stuck on the wall. If you want good Asian cuisine you would probably have better luck eating at any of the other 18 restaurants in the area.

Posted in Food, restaurant reviews | 2 Comments

It Comes With Experience

Adrian Nicole LeBlanc speaks long winded and inspired, as if giving an informal lecture, even when answering simple questions about faking laughter at a comedy club. At a rate of one analogy per train of thought, she conjures up images like “preparing a meal” to discuss an author’s involvement with their subject. She trolls advice in the form of personal experience, not to belittle but in a sincere attempt to manifest ideas honestly and unscripted. Last night there was no script, nothing written down but short excerpts from her books; a conversation where the other person knows more than you and you sit and pick apart every word to understand how to get there.

Posted in Independent Film | 2 Comments

A Celebration Always Needs Food!

On March 20th it was Purim for my friends Brandon Bordonado, an interesting New York mix of Puerto Rican and Jewish, and Kacey Herlihy, a more typical New York mix of Irish and Jewish. They tell me about their earliest experiences with Purim while in Hebrew school during this “Jewish Halloween.” ” We dressed up, there were carnival games, like a basketball hoop, tickets, prizes and free coffee and cookies (like) rugelach and hamantaschen,” said Herlihy with a childish timbre in her voice.

Hamantaschen is a cookie that comes in an array of flavors. “Apricot is the creme-de-la-creme. It’s what every kid wants when he goes digging into the cookie jar,” said Bordonado. Raspberry is the next best thing, but the least desirable is Blackberry he tells me in his heavy Queens accent that Cuomo talks about in this New York Times article.

Brandon is so enthusiastic about the falafels, about the stuffed cabbage, and about his mother’s cheese salad and I wonder where my excitement is. All around me I have been ignoring the signs of celebration in Colombia. I’ve got cheese from Barranquilla in my fridge that comes in huge blocks that weigh 1o, sometimes 20, pounds each. Colombian candy sits beneath it in the shelf below and I ignore it to reach for the peanut butter. I hear the words “carnavales,”“aguardiente,” and “semana santa,” but don’t realize I haven’t been home to celebrate with my grandmothers over the phone and thank them for the handmade “bollos de yuca”. All I had to do was open the fridge and look to see their was a celebration going on.

I try and remember when Ivonne, my parents oldest friend, still lived in their Jersey house they never owned. Our families, and other friends, used to get together there and eat seafood rice for dinner on Saturdays, but the economy has stripped us of our happiness. Others in our family of friends have endured real life challenges of unemployment and coming out of the closet. We have lost our joy during these hard times and don’t even get together during moments like these to celebrate life for a while. I didn’t realize how important food was to keep my family together, but without sharing rice or homemade food, we just don’t seem to see one another.

Posted in Food, Food Rant / love song | 2 Comments

Safdie Brother’s Slice of Life, or Apple

All it took was an industrial, truck sized shredder chewing up paper on park avenue and 26th street for me to realize how the Safdie brothers films had come to change my perspective; I saw this otherwise ignorable event convert itself into something full of New York attitude, hidden underneath layers of stimuli.

I first experienced their strange take on cinema verite in “Daddy Longlegs” at a screening at IFC. I immediately gravitated to their style of shooting that led me to their “buttons.” These little pieces of plastic that adorn clothing, are sprawled out on two pages of, highlighting moments in the fabric of new york that sometimes go unnoticed and overlooked: the music of a subway performer, the bewildered look of a drug addict waking up, or the losing lotto tickets that litter the sidewalks. “Seek out meaning always! There’s a lot in NYC. Narrow perspectives are important, they’re all we really have as humans. Get to the real neighborhoods, be a part of your real neighborhoods. If you’re inspired by a person on the subway or street, talk to them. Put them in a movie. The wold is about magnetism. Share that,” was Josh Safide’s advice to any aspiring New York filmmaker in an interview that had to take place by email because of their busy schedule.

I’ve run in to them twice on the streets of Manhattan however. Once I passed them while working, investigating if Bellevue Hospital hired outside crews to cleanup the snow that gathered in the front of the main entrance. I wouldn’t have recognized them if I hadn’t run in to them by chance months before after their premiere of “Daddy Longlegs.” They were standing in the lobby in front of glamorous lights that made them out as rock stars, I was starstruck, but the second time around they seemed human.

Josh and Bennie are difficult to explain. Josh has an incredibly reserved look that coupled with an incredibly charismatic personality extracts from you an honest voice. He has developed in to, if he hasn’t always been, a director.  Bennie hides behind thick glasses and stylishly composed outfits. He is the cinematographer, and his attraction to image is written plainly on him. They often appear in the films they make, like playmates experimenting with each other on the medium of film. “So many people only have themselves to talk with. Benny and me have different outlooks on the world, but very similar sensibilities and passions, which creates a very impassioned yet balanced perspective,” replied Josh to my question about sharing the experience of making films with his brother.

Their films are rogue, and they are out to capture every little moment that defines a piece of New York. Moments like my classmate Ashley Rudder’s encounter with the filmmaker who sells his movies on the train. She was able to share this with us because of someones camera, most likely embedded on a cell phone. Cell phone cameras are estimated at more than 1 billion, with an anticipated 800 million camera phones to have been sold in 2010, according to an article in the Economist. In Iraq, when the former dictator Saddam Hussein was executed, it was recorded on a cellphone camera. This moment was as historically monumental as it is shocking to see.

The Safdie brother are breaking ground with their use of cellphone cameras, something Jean Luc-Godard, a master of the french New Wave, does in his latest film, “Film Socialisme.” Resnais also shares a love of dialogue as poetry with the Josh, evidenced by the subtitles to the french audio written out in what he calls “American Navajo English,” something hailed as an art piece of its own. “Maybe that’s why I’m so attracted to poetry, specifically poetic prose, because the word use is potent. I guess we’re interested in potent dialogue. That’s how we approach scenes in a directing sense. We toss the “script” out the window and hold onto a few vital words or lines and makes sure the characters says very few specific things,” said Josh.

The Safdie brothers are critically appreciated but not commercially successful, something Josh accepts as a truth because of their “uncompromising” nature. They refuse to stop making something significant for something commercial, like in the failed converse commercial. It’s hard to appreciate them at first glance as you warm up to the reality they create, something almost too lifelike to be fiction. It’s a freeing feeling watching their films, that something this fresh is still possible with such a tired art.

Posted in Independent Film | 4 Comments