31 May 2011

Hasidim and Hipster Fixies

Today I took one of those "no destination" rides.  Helene and I just sort of wandered from one place to another, doing about 30 or 35 miles in total without getting more than a few miles from my apartment.  Such is an enjoyable way--for me, anyway--to spend a warm, humid afternoon after waking up late.  

Along the way, I stopped in an Old Navy store. (They didn't stop me from bringing my bike in.)  I was looking for at least one nautical-stripe T-shirt.  For the longest time, I wore one that I bought in France. You've probably seen them:  the kind worn by Breton fishermen and Marseille dock workers and, for a long time, by sailors in the French Navy.  They are white, with horizontal navy stripes.  For a long time, it was the only white article of clothing I owned.  

I also used to have a wool sweater that was the inverse of the T-shirt:  navy with cream stripes.  It was one of those sweaters with buttons on the left shoulder.  I actually wore it on many a cold-weather ride, as the wool was of a very nice grade and tightly woven, and the sweater was of just the right weight and thickness for a variety of conditions.

There are imitations of them available in this country.  For all I know, they're not even being made in France anymore.  In any event, as I expected, Old Navy didn't have the originals.  But they didn't have any imitations, either.  On the other hand, I found interesting tank top with a tied back in a kind of "fade" from blue to green to purple.  And the green and purple just happen to be the shades, more or less, of Helene as well as Arielle and Tosca, my other Mercians.  So of course I couldn't pass it up.  One of these days, I'll post a picture in which I wear it--and, of course, I'm riding one of my Mercians.

I also rode to someplace I haven't been in quite a while.  It's one of the neighborhoods in which I spent my childhood:  Borough Park, in Brooklyn.  This is the church in which I was an altar server:

And, diagonally across the street is the school I attended. Here is a section of it:

They are the Holy Spirit parish and school.  Between them, I saw this:

Even if I hadn't seen that, I would have been surprised that the school, and even the church, were still open.  Even though the temperature rose to just above 90F, all of the females I saw on the streets were wearing thick hosiery (some with seams running down the rear) and long skirts, while all of the males were wearing even longer coats.  If they noticed me, I can only imagine what they might have been thinking.  For one thing, I was alone and riding a better bicycle than most of them even know exists. Plus, I was the only one riding a bike who was more than about ten years old.   And I was wearing a short (by their standards, anyway) denim skirt and a tank top.

I know, from an earlier experience, that the Hasidim don't like to be photographed. Of course, I respect that.  But at the same time, I wasn't about to ask any of them to take a photo of me with my bike!

You've seen Hasidim if you've been Williamsburg, another Brooklyn neighborhood. (In fact, shuttle buses run between the two neighborhoods.)  What's ironic is that they're in the hipster-fixie capitol of the universe. That makes for some very interesting visual contrasts.  One is between the black of the males' coats and hats and the females' skirts, and the day-glo or neon colors of the bikes rolling down the Kent Avenue bike lane or parked in front of the book and music stores, "retro" boutiques and self-consciously funky coffee shops and restaurants of Bedford Avenue.  The other contrast, of course, is between the presence of hipsters and their fixed-gear bikes in Williamsburg and the absence of same in Borough Park.

If I could have found a way to photograph what I've just described while respecting the wishes of the Hasidim, I would have done so.  All I can do is hope that I've described it enough for you to visualize, at least somewhat.


  1. Interesting and I can imagine it! When I lived in Toronto I used to visit a family friend in what was then, the countryside outside of Waterloo. The area farms were mostly owned by the Mennonites, and the contrasts at the Farmers Markets, between the customers from the cities and towns - including those from Toronto who would drive down, and the Mennonite boys and girls who were helping their parents, was always interesting. Everyone seemed happy to be "where they were" and happy to talk to each other as well. It was neat.

  2. Paddy Anne: It's always interesting to look at close-knit communities like the Mennonites and Hasidim and to ask: What do they sacrifice?, and, What do they gain?

    They do indeed seem to be happy where they are and to talk to each other, as you say. It seems that they have the sort of family life that used to be the norm but is now disappearing, at least in the US. In some way, communities like the Mennonites (whom I've seen in Virginia and Pennsylvania), the Amish and the Hasidim are rather like medieval communities in their degree of integration (Familial, judicial and ecclesiastical authority are all but inseparable from each other.) and in how everyone has a role, and each of those roles are valued. Of course, some of us wouldn't care much for the loss of individuality and individualism such a way of life entails.

  3. I wonder if it is kosher to ride a fixie on, say, a Monday afternoon. I can't see why it's a problem. Certainly, the photo would be a problem. Interesting contrasts....

  4. http://brittanyboutique.com/store/marinershirt.html
    though this might be of some help. sorry if it wasn't.