In trying to find the in-process piece that I saw a street artistworking on Thursday night when I was returning to Manhattan on the above-ground subway, I got confused where the A branches between Lefferts Blouvard and Far Rockaway. I ended up walking from Rockaway Avenue all the way to Lefferts, which meant I inadvertently discovered a captivating little place called Ozone Park.
Settled by Carribean immigrants of Indian descent (which all goes back to sugar plantation labor of the 1800’s), the neighborhood is flush with West Indies influence–aromatic restaurants where spices sear your nostrils even from the sidewalk, boutiques of glittering saris and metallic bangles, and beauty saloons advertising bridal henna. The video shops discount Bollywood specials, bodegas advertise fresh coconut water and bins in front of groceries contain spiked, dangerous-seeming vegetables.
The restaurants have signs in the window–“live cricket.” Being from Mississippi, where the crickets compose such a summertime symphony that even inside we raise our voices, I assumed those signs referred to insects. Except that I couldn’t recall ever hearing crickets in New York, and it didn’t seem like there were other shops catering to fishing.
Were people possibly cooking and eating crickets?
On the subway home, it occurred to me that the West Indies were colonized by the British, among others, and “live cricket” meant televised cricket matches. I had a lovely laugh at myself over that one.
I lunched at a Trinidadian restaurant—chick-peas swimming in a flakey, doughy bread with a dollop of sweet sauce that stung my lips and tangy ginger beer.
It reminded me of something I read years ago in Andre Dubus’s House of Sand and Fog. When Massoud Amir Behrani, the Persian narrator, is ridiculed by his road-crew colleagues for drinking hot tea in the Southern California sun, he thinks about the desserts of Iran and how the people who live there believe “the fire inside must match the fire outside.”
But the food’s not all that’s hot in Ozone Park—in researching the neighborhood after unwittingly stumbling upon its delights, I learned that in March, unsuspecting shoppers bought home cocaine-stuffed peppers from a local food shop. What a quirky borough Queens is turning out to be.