I remember the sense of wonder that accompanied my first discovery of Far Rockaway. It was the summer of 2009, and I was in love. She was new to New York, and my wanderings improved for it.
All photos by George del Barrio
We toyed with Coney Island to escape the hot concrete of New York’s summertime, but finally found the experience to be too crowded by kitsch and commercialism. The idea to explore the end of the blue line was probably hers; the good ideas that summer generally were.
My son was a baby then. And as raw as my emotions were around the divorce that had just finalized, I was likewise new. As a man, father, and artist, my world was changing focus. To anchor myself to those closest to me, I would look for reference points to the life I’d known with them.
One thing I knew about my quiet, beautiful, impossibly sweet child was that he was fascinated by trains. So when the A emerged from the tunnel on that first ride out, cleared the big bend at Rockaway Boulevard & skimmed the sparkling waves of Jamaica Bay, I started to count the days til I could make the trip happen for my boy.
Through regular pilgrimage, I came to favor the left side of the train both coming and going: in the morning we’d watch JFK’s air traffic, and at day’s end, sun-tired and sandy, my child would stretch out across our laps as the setting sun refracted on the bay.
Over the years, the funky beach town at 116th street became a refuge, a place of friendship to connect with nature, peace, and boardwalk beers over Mets games, paradise”¦ I even made a hobby of fantasizing about moving to Far Rockaway full-time: to be in New York, fully connected to mass transit, but next to the beach? Very nice dream. And just so, time’s passage introduced me to many all-year residents, the Queens-leaning strain of irie in them always unmistakable.
I want to be more like that, I’d say to myself.
Today, a visit to Far Rockaway means the hum of generators, mountains of rubble, impossible visions of defaced and listing structures (contents spilling out like drunken vomit), lamposts angled crazily, city streets impassable, deserted”¦ As though our neighbors were targeted by unstoppable forces and lost the war.
BUT THEN YOU REALIZE: the human loss (though very real) was far less than what the epic calamity would suggest. Piles of mattresses, not corpses, big difference. High five, government!
Which also says: the spirit that I fell in love with remains.
And alongside that happy observation came a fascinating notion, or better yet, recognition ”” the peninsula is miles of canvas, opportunity on an incredible scale.
This post is my personal hello to something new and just a little bit scary to me: The Far Rockaway Redevelopment Fund. The Fund will commission artists to create site-specific responses throughout the peninsula (and if fundraising goes well, I’ll also direct support to brilliant ideas).
My hope is to refocus minds on the potential exposed by this devastation ”” I feel a responsibility to my city and son to make the most of this, to try to make things right. And the lure of a beachside art walk would invite New Yorkers to explore a patch of land that I now regard as the most important in all the city: this is what the future looks like if we don’t change course. Maybe there’s even a local economy boost in there? I honestly don’t know. But I know that I can’t not try.
We need to rethink the way we live in this world. Art conjures our greatness, and we’ll have to rise above everything we’ve ever known to move forward. I know this.
The Fund launches this Thursday, at Gowanus Loft, with a show I personally can’t wait to attend: The Listening, an acoustic listening party & fundraiser. We’ll have great art, food, drink, and performance in an epic space: ideal circumstances to come together in awareness of the moment we’re in.
So if you’ve read this far, and live in New York”¦
Untapped New York is proud to be a co-sponsor of The Listening, which has been featured on Flavorpill and The Huffington Post. More details about the event here. Buy tickets here.
Get in touch with George Del Barrio @superbiate and check out his blog. Learn more at The Vanderbilt Republic’s Facebook page.