Quran explanation

S: Franklin Avenue, Brooklyn

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Platform light through art

Boy if I thought Damaso changing his order was “cheating” on the purity of this project, how do I justify our actions this week? Neither of us even took the train! We didn’t have a lot of time and wanted to squeak in one more restaurant before Damaso leaves for a month’s road trip Monday, so we met on the platform of the Shuttle terminus at Franklin Avenue. Only we both took the C train to get there. Hey, at least I didn’t drive. We both arrived early, and we debated riding the shuttle to the other end and back, but then we remembered the whole time-constraint thing. I’ll ride it when we visit the other end of the line.

Shuttle end

The day is beautiful, and the streets are full and fascinating. We walk along Fulton Street, and I’m shocked to realize how close I am to my home. Somehow looking at everything through my End-of-the-Line eyes changes my perspective even on what should be familiar. Damaso spots a Halal Chinese restaurant, and I wonder whether it’s actually run by Uyghurs. More likely it just caters to the clientele, a la Kosher Chinese, but in any case, it’s closed, perhaps permanently, so we keep looking.

We didn’t look long before coming across a small restaurant surrounded by large banners proclaiming “No More Junk,” “Eat Healthy,” and “Halal is the Answer.” The storefront and buffet wouldn’t have enticed me into the unimaginatively named Halal Restaurant (1168 Fulton Street, Brooklyn), but I want to eat healthier! Plus, two other signs in the window clinched the decision. One read “We use alkaline kangen water,” which even a few Google and Wikipedia searches later I can’t interpret. The other was a list of fresh fruit drinks, and it included fruit sea moss, sorrel, and maeby. I’d only had one glass of iced tea before heading out the door, and I’m averaging over 50 ounces a day, but I immediately decided I would risk a caffeine-withdrawal headache and lost afternoon to get myself a fruit sea moss drink. Needless to say, we entered.

Drink list

Healthy food

No more junk

Alkaline kangen water

After our freezing lunch at the Last Stop Café in Astoria, I’d brought a sweater in my bag, proud not to make the same mistake twice in one week, but the inside of Halal Restaurant was steamy and stale. Along the left side of the narrow room, one cooler offered Jamaican and regular soft drinks, and the other was stocked with home-filled plastic cups labeled only with letters: “M,” “S, and “GT” for example. We asked what they were, but the answer was unclear enough that Damaso took an MP without knowing whether it was mango-pear or mango-peach. It was mango-peach, sweet and delicious. I took the FSM, fruit sea moss, and it was thick and glutinous but only had a mild, sweet flavor.

Homemade drinks

The buffet offered a startling mix of food from Muslims around the world. I mostly chose what I’d guess were dishes from the Caribbean and India, including four different types of greens—I think kale, collards, and two different preparations of stewed okra. They were all slimy and satisfyingly bitter. We shared two of the three bread offerings, and both were outstanding. I chose a large, flat rectangle of fried white dough that was chewier than paratha and deliciously greasy; Damaso picked the puffed golden-brown circle that turned out to be fluffy and sweet inside. The “bread” we didn’t try came in fat rectangles, about the size of most pieces of corn bred, but it looked starchier, like a fufu maybe. Aside from the bread, Damaso filled his plastic plate with vegetables and salad, but I tried a piece of fried fish (bland), several types of beans, and a lovely mild pattie that turned out also to be fish. Good eating.

Buffet man

Starch and greens

Healthy food

We sat under a giant poster of pilgrims praying in Mecca. Above the counter was a sunrise/sunset Ramadan schedule, and we realized the counterman, who I think said he was the owner’s brother, wasn’t eating, only presiding over an empty restaurant for the occasional infidel. He said he didn’t mind watching us eat while he couldn’t. I donated a dollar to buy a Quran from a stack on the counter. I don’t expect to find all the truths the restaurant promised, but I’d been meaning to read it anyway, and this volume looked manageably small. The man wouldn’t let Damaso take a picture of the 3D mosque-image clock on the wall, but he laughed and wasn’t upset to be asked.

Wall art

Quran explanation

$1 Qurans

I wanted to try another drink, either the mysterious maeby, which the counterman described as a bitter bark, or a green tea to get some caffeine in my blood stream, but I was overfull from the buffet, so we walked out into the sunlit day to explore the neighborhood. While traveling earlier this summer, I was filled with love in each city I visited, first convinced that I wanted to move to Berkeley, then to Bemidji, then to Baraboo. Now I was filled with love for Brooklyn. What wonders were so close to home! I leaned into the Slave Theater, where the Rastafarian “artiste” who greeted me was civil and sweet but told me he couldn’t answer all my questions because the government had recently been trying to pit the races against each other and oppress the Black man. I said I thought that had been going on for about 400 years, and he nodded sagely.

Back on the street, we admired posters of evangelists, wig stores, and murals before stopping in front of a striking church to wonder whether the sword, crescent, and star over the door meant it had been a mosque or a masonic lodge. We both had places to be, but it was too sunny to descend into a dark subway station, so we stalled in a dollar store, sure we would remember what we needed as soon as we saw it. Damaso did (baby wipes for the road trip), and when I couldn’t think of anything to buy, he reminded me that President Obama would be disappointed that I wasn’t helping the economy. I took some pictures of fabulously bright ghetto candy (“Kiddie Kandy: All Items Contain Candy”), and we moved on. Now I can’t find the photos to post.

At the beginning of the day it seemed silly to pursue an “end” so close to the beginning on a line I hadn’t even ridden. But by the time I ran for a bus to leave the neighborhood without having to leave the sunshine, it didn’t feel awkward anymore. Especially when the line ends so close to home, it takes a mission and an intention to remind myself to eat at the pan-Halal restaurant, explore the dollar stores, read the candy labels, and talk to the local political artistes. Damaso’s heading out again to explore America. When he gets back, I’ll be ready to explore some more of the world, right here in New York.

Photographs by Damaso Reyes

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