Day 337

MyBigWalk Takes on Branch Brook Park

Last week I walked in Branch Brook Park in Newark — the scene of three deaths in as many years — for my debut on our local news e-zine,  BARISTANET. “Is it Safe to Walk in Branch Brook Park?” drew 47 comments, many of them snarky, angry, and downright insulting. A few were kind and insightful, but they were overshadowed  by the mockery!

My piece began earnestly enough….

Is it Safe to Walk in Branch Brook Park? When I posed this question to my friends I’d been out of the country for three weeks. I’d missed the Dean Gaymon tragedy in Newark, and the ensuing stories about sex-trolling and other illicit activity in this 360-acre Essex County Park.  But a walker must walk – and so I set out at 11 a.m. on Friday the 13th with a map, my big dog, and my son John – a 16-year-old black belt who’s ripped, and knows it…

…but the Baristanet comments took aim from the get-go. Here are two of my favorites:

from scottaleh: “What a God-awful post! Is the premise supposed to be that, because Dean Gaymon was shot by police, anybody walking in Branch Brook Park is in danger of the same? Is the premise supposed to be that this beautiful park is dangerous to anyone walking at 11am on a summer day because it’s in Newark? And what the heck is the relevance of Route 280 and the Basilica being nearby? BTW, anyone who really wants to see drug paraphenalia (and therefore, “debauched nightlife,” I guess) can find it in Andersen Park, our local source for drugs. Yeesh.”

From croiagusanam: “But I know that the park is safe. I walked there every day after my month-long sojourn in Katmandu, accompanied only by my pedigreed Lithuanian bloodhound and my 16 year old daughter, who is SMOKIN’ HOT and knows it. We encountered actual people, doing actual things. I was flabbergasted. I asked Sheriff Lynch if he thought the place was safe. He couldn’t stop staring at my daughter. What a letch! Anyway, I’ll be posting every week now, so you can follow my adventures and those of my daughter (I’ll include some pix as well!).”


Never one to be daunted by a few crass remarks or unkind words, I returned to BARISTAVILLE last week, taking a few friends to the uber-suburban borough of Essex Fells and making as much noise as we could. Is Essex Fells safer than Newark? Is it more fun to walk in a dicey Newark park or a quiet-as-a-cemetary suburban enclave?

You can check out the original post, and YESTERDAY’S RESPONSE on Baristanet. And don’t be afraid to leave a comment there — God knows, everybody else felt absolutely fine about it!


Day 310

At the beach, my daily motto is go with the flow.

Jetty where I did my yoga (I walked there, of course)

If that means doing yoga in the morning on the jetty while the waves crash offshore and the seagulls and sandpipers share the rocks, do it.

If that means singing The Sound of Music duets with your friends at midnight (as long as it’s not bothering anybody?), do it.

If it means jumping off a rock into the water to catch a broken umbrella…well, somebody’s gotta do it. And when the next umbrella breaks, somebody’s got to do that, too.

And if it means MyBigWalk is OurBigRide and it’s your 16-year-old son who’s pedaling beside you well then, you’re a lucky Mom.

Yup, that's my boy.

Day 303

We walked from Ocean Grove to Asbury Park last night to see Rufus Wainwright at the historic Paramount Theater. He sang a beautiful walking song that his late mother, Kate McGarrigle, wrote for her husband, Loudan Wainwright III during what Rufus called, “a brief moment of conjugal bliss.”

Maybe because I go walking all the time, rain or shine, blues or joy, this feels like one of the prettiest love songs I’ve heard in a long time. I hate to admit it made me cry, because Pam was on one side of me snickering, and Frank was on the other side…not exactly snickering…but almost.

They thought I was nuts, but if there’s somebody you really love (who won’t laugh at you), go walking, and bring this song to play on your Ipod. I know I’d love it.

(The bootleg video’s pretty bad, so here are the lyrics):

The Walking Song

Wouldn’t it be nice to walk together
Baring our souls while wearing out the leather
We could talk shop, harmonize a song
Wouldn’t it be nice to walk along

I’ll show you houses of architectural renown
Some are still standing, some have fallen down
Farm houses buried under Canada’s snow
Spanish villas on the Boulevards of Mexico

And I’ll learn to tell the ash from the oak
And if you don’t know I wont make no joke
Well climb to the top to view the world from above
Or carve our initials in the trunk like teenagers in love

And when we get hungry well stop to eat
Gotta think of our stomachs and rest our feet
If we get thirsty well have a drink or two
In a mountain top bar with a mountain top view

And when we get tired we’ll stop to rest
And if you still want to talk you can bare your breast
If it’s winter and cold we’ll take a rooming-house room
If it’s summer and warm well sleep under the moon

And we’ll talk about the sports we played
Bout the time you got busted or the time I got laid
Well talk blood and how we were bred
Talk about the folks both living and dead

This song like this walk I find hard to end
Be my lover or be my friend
In sneakers or boots or regulation shoes
Walking beside you I’ll never get the walking blues.

Day 297

Yes, Jessica, there’s still time to go for another walk with me before my year-long walking adventure runs full circle.  I can hear you breathing a sigh of relief so thanks for asking and yes, guys, I am back in New Jersey. Walking. Can you hear me breathing a sigh of relief now?

Well, breathing just a sigh, I guess.

Since tomorrow’s walk will consist of driving my car to Foreign Aid automotive, talking with Zen-mechanic Albert for a little while, walking home, and doing it all again at the end of the day…I thought it would be better if I kept posting about my trip to Eastern Europe for just a little while longer. Like maybe for the rest of the week.

Here’s something I posted in Shelf Awareness about a lovely English-language bookstore in Prague. Which I walked to…of course!


Patrons at the Globe Bookstore and Café in Prague don’t have to choose between books and drink: here they can find both.

“In Prague, beer is cheaper than water,” manager Kaja Curtis (at right, with a customer)

Look - she's buying a copy of THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING!

said. “But the culture of literature and the arts is alive and well. There’s a lot of emphasis on books and literature and on education here. That’s always been the Czech tradition.”

Stepping into the Globe and entering its quiet, wood-, sun- and book-filled sanctuary, it’s clear the indie bookstore is thriving in Prague. The city’s first English-language bookstore, the Globe was founded 15 years ago and has welcomed a marquee of literary legends from Klima to Roth and caters to ex-pat poets and writers who’ve made this capital city their home. The storefront is stacked with titles on two levels and across a wrought-iron balcony; the rear is a spacious bar and café with a lively garden and American-style food.

In May, the store held a launch for The Return of Kral Majales, a hefty collection of English-language ex-pats’ poetry, fiction and short stories edited by Louis Armand. The Globe hosts a biweekly book club, poetry readings and music performances, as well as free English-language movies every Sunday.

The café drives the business, but the bookstore is the heart and history of the place, general manager Eva Regulyova said. When I stepped off Pstossova Street into the store on a hot weekday morning, I literally dropped into a café chair, pulled out my notebook and started writing down titles I wanted to read.

From my perch I could see the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, any number of magazines from National Geographic to Vogue; Alain de Botton’s The Art of TravelThe Art of Living by Epictetus, The Big Short by Michael Lewis and Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin, to name a few.

Literature looks different when you travel. Fiction by or about Balkan, Czech, Hungarian and Bohemian people jumped out at me. Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst and The Glass Room by Simon Mawer–how could I have overlooked these titles at home when here they seemed like essential reading? Ditto The Shadow of the Sun and Travels with Herodotus by ex-pat Polish journalist Ryszard KapuÅ›ciÅ„sk.

Once a month there’s a folk singer in the Globe’s café. She was there when I went back for a second visit and had a lovely chat about literature with Kaja. She was singing “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane,” and it was hard not to feel a little melancholy because I’d be leaving soon, too.

Day 229

View from the Main Street Bridge

When Toni and I sat down to a very late lunch on the banks of the Raritan River (south branch) this week, our big walk was still ahead of us.  We finished our pretty mediocre wraps, tossed the trash, and agreed to take a very quick look in the lobby of the Hunterdon Art Museum before putting on our walking shoes.

The sign said the galleries were closed. But the door was open.

Being one who rarely passes up the opportunity to peek around a curtain, peer through a window, or go through a doorway that’s otherwise blocked to me, I went in. Toni, a lifelong journalist, naturally did the same. But this isn’t a story about journalistic ethics, guys. This is a story about serendipity.

Inside we found what was clearly the tail end of a new installation: large exotic fabric flowers wrapped in protective plastics, colorful prints in boxed frames, glazed ceramic botanic sculptures laid out on colorful packing blankets.

We poked around, called a few robust “hellooo, anyone there?”s, and agreed it was time to leave.

Peony 'tooth fairy', Hirschman

Outside we passed a woman in a lovely botanic sweater. She smiled, we smiled, and soon we found ourselves engaged in a lively conversation with Mary Birmingham, exhibit curator.  She was clearly exhausted but exhilarated about the “Botanica” show opening this weekend.

“I live about an hour from here,” Mary said, explaining why she, too, was just having lunch at 4 in the afternoon. “I live in Montclair.”

WELL friends, Toni and I live in Montclair, too.

One thing led to another and we found ourselves back inside the museum for an impromptu, curator-led walk through the show, opening this Sunday, featuring 30 varied artists working in varied media but all inspired by botanical elements and exploring the relationship of contemporary artists with the plant world

"August" Garden-in July (c) Stillman

We were introduced to porcelain works by Lindsay Feuer, dramatic felt pieces by Linda Brooks Hirschman, and photographs by Linda Stillman, an artist who’s working on a series of daily paintings of the sky, and another that features found objects from her walks through New York City. Stillman’s time-elapsed garden photographs are one of many gorgeous works that will be featured in the Botanica exhibit.

Best of all, Mary reminded me once again that serendipity — the chance meeting, occurrence, or development of events  in a happy or beneficial way — shows itself when we’re open to it. And that being out in the world is a wonderful way to meet interesting, creative people who’ll share their energy and their discoveries with you.

p.s.  Toni and I had a fantastic walk along old  rail trail in Clinton.   The trail was lush, peaceful, and beautiful but we’d never have found it hidden behind the lumberyard, nor would we have followed it under the 6-lane highway overhead, if it Mary hadn’t told us where to go.

Found / Urban Entanglements

Miscellanea Botanica II

Miscellanea Botanica I

Day 184

Caitlin, outside Urban Outfitters

I am serious! All that walking on Sunday in my nice boots really did me in. But at least I don’t have blue lips. I mean, they look cute on this young retail clerk I spotted on Park Street in Montclair…but if you ever see me with blue lips, take me right to the emergency room!

Meanwhile, I treated myself to a new pair of Naot sandals. If you aren’t familiar with this Israeli-made shoe, and  you are ready to splurge for fashion and comfort, check out their website or go over to Dem Two Hands, one of my favorite local stores.