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New Jersey

New JerseyBeing from New Jersey I have heard the brunt of many Jersey jokes.  I know what it feels like to sit behind big hair at the movies, to watch a cashier count my change with her the long finger nails sticking between the bills.  I can recognize the distinguished nasal accent the second I hear it, and I’ve seen girls walk down the street without the slightest movement of their hair, held oh so carefully with an entire bottle of hair gel.  I used to work with a girl who filled the ladies bathroom with the fumes from her Aquanet bottle everyday, so yes I know the stereotypes.  Industry rules.  Down I95 factories pump out streams of smoke swirling around like a strange Rorschach test in the sky.  As if my home state didn’t have it hard enough, the MTV ‘reality’ show The Jersey Shore has thrown more gasoline to the fire of Jersey insults.

Granted the success of these shows are all based upon stereotypes.  I don’t judge Los Angeles by the fake tans, fake breasts, and lip enhanced women on reality television, ok maybe I do just a little, but I certainly can’t make broad assumptions about the city as a whole, much less the whole state.  We all have our own prejudices that affect our opinions about the places we visit, but by being completely ruled by these assumptions, we miss out on a lot of the good stuff.

What most people forget is that New Jersey is the “Garden State,” and to all those distant snickers, I am dutifully ignoring you.  While industry has been an important part of our economy for many years, there are many beautiful parts of New Jersey.  Believe it or not there are farms in NJ, quite a bit actually.  If picking your own fruits and vegetables strikes your fancy, you can do so at multiple locations.  Farmers’ markets are all over the state and you can check on the Department of Agriculture website to find one close to your home.  Chances are some of the produce found in your supermarket and restaurants is from a nearby farm, especially if you’re buying tomatoes, blueberries, apples, beans, broccoli, corn, and the list goes on.  When I lived in Montreal, I would shop at the local farmer’s market and I was surprised to see Jersey tomatoes and berries so far north.  I have gone to farms in NJ since I was a little girl, where children could ride hayrides, go apple, peach, and pumpkin picking, drink apple cider, and pick out homemade pies.  Maybe I’ve belabored my point, but allow me to reiterate; we aren’t all sludging around in grime and hair gel.

As one of my family members said about the comments people were making about NJ and The Jersey Shore show.  “Let people think NJ is like that.  Save the nice beaches for ourselves.”  And it’s not merely the beaches but also the trails, the mountains, the small towns, the multicultural cities, the good food.

That is the thing with New Jersey.  People don’t go to places because there was a rave review in a prominent publication like the New York Times, although that is quickly changing.  People go to restaurants because of word of mouth, because the food is great, their friends go, it’s been open for years, they know the owner, and the service is friendly and generous with their drinks.  I’m not referring to the chains I love to hate and hate to love.  Yes those are popular too, and while they aren’t as ‘authentic’ as the small Italian eatery in my town, sometimes you just want to choose between 25 different kinds of cheesecake.

I challenge anyone to find a better quality steak or rodizio than in Newark NJ, and if you find one, I’ll be first on line.  If you want a great meal, go where the immigrants are; the Brazilians know their meat and they live in Newark.  If you want gargantuan portions of Spanish food, Newark is also the place.  The cost is reasonable and the food is damn good.  More “modern” eateries are popping up as well.  Modern Spanish dining, or as I like to call it shi-shi,  can be more expensive, with smaller portions and sauces drizzled onto nice designs on your plate, still delicious and following in the footsteps of Nouveau Spanish cuisine all over the world.  If you want Mexican food, Mi Pequeno Mexico on Ferry Street is by far the most authentic Mexican food I’ve tasted since wandering around Mexico City.  That’s a place worth returning to.

Call me biased.  I absolutely am.  I love New Jersey.  I love that there are trees outside my window and that the GWB  is a 15 minute drive from my house.  In a perfect world with no traffic and endless parking, I can be walking around the MOMA or grabing a coffee from the Mudtruck in Astor Place in 30 minutes.  In New Jersey there are towns that still have bookstores, coffee shops, and vintage stores that have remained untouched by the hands of chain stores.  Go to Montclair, Englewood, Ridgewood, or Madison and you’ll feel like you stepped into a small town movie set.  If you need a discounted superstore you’re in luck.  Rest assured, no matter where you stand in New Jersey, you are within 20 minutes from a few malls.  Sometimes closer.

So yes some of the stereotypes may be true, but in a state where there are so many cultures and immigrants, it is impossible to stigmatize the whole population.  Go to little India on Newark Avenue in Jersey City and tell me if you are reminded of the folks on the MTV show.  Not likely.  Taste some chicken makhani or saag paneer and you will be back for more.

Say what you will about the industry, the hairspray, the housewives, or the Sopranos, this is the place I call home.  And to those who don’t want to get past the stereotypes to find the good stuff, it is fine by me.  Like my cousin said, more for us.

Image via: Nicholas_T

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NY Times Writes About Asbury Park

by Elena on September 13, 2009

Asbury Park NY TIMESImage via: Matthew Weinstein for NYTimes

Funny enough, the same day that I decided to post my Asbury Park photographs, the New York Times Travel Section publishes an article about the Eclectic Renaissance of Asbury Park. This goes to show that the travel powers that be concur, Asbury is back.

Asbury Park CasinoAsbury Park CasinoAsbury Park 3 CasinoAsbury Park 2 CasinoAsbury Park 4 CasinoIn the casino, this map displays many of the changes that will be taking place on and near the boardwalk.Asbury Park Casino (2)

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Jewel of the Jersey Shore Asbury Park

by Elena on September 11, 2009

Jewel of the Jersey Shore Asbury Park in 1914
Image via: Shorpy
Throughout the 90s and 2000, Asbury Park has seen better days. Once known as the jewel of the Jersey Shore, the famous beach town changed from a popular summer getaway to a forgotten, ghost town, on account of economic hard times, corruption, and the riots of 1970. Still the mystique of Asbury Park has never been forgotten, frozen in time, inspiring Bruce Springsteen to make his album Greetings From Asbury Park, and talk about psychic Madame Marie in 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy). Still many more artists keep coming back to play at venues such as the Stone Pony.

The past couple of decades, driving through Asbury Park has garnered a completely different image than the old picture of prosperity (ie the black and white photograph above of women in petticoats and men in full suits). You were more likely to pass buildings with shattered windows, garbage strewn on the street, and bars blocking doorway entrances, rather than the a busy boardwalk full of joggers, shoppers, and out of towners. Asbury Park was crime ridden, run down, and dirty, left to decay after the hard times.
Jewel of the Jersey Shore Asbury Park this too shall pass
Image via: Keith Meyers/The New York Times
Despite the hardships of the past, each coming year it seems that Asbury is gaining a breathe of fresh air. I visited Asbury this summer and from just two years ago the changes are drastic. You can see from my post of Greetings From Asbury Park that more people are returning to this one time vacation destination. The new restoration projects, as well as the new stores that will be opening on the boardwalk, have some people excited and others groaning. After all, if a bunch of overpriced cafes serving $6 cups of ice coffee start popping up, some worry that Asbury may loose some of its authenticity.

Unfortunately that is what happens when a place starts to become ‘popular’ once again. Suddenly the Starbucks of the world want to put up shop. As for me, I’m torn. The juxtaposition of such old favorites as the Stony Pony and the Wonder Bar, next to the new trendy cafes on the Asbury boardwalk makes for a more interesting, and I hate to say, convenient visit. More than anything, although Asbury may be a ‘diamond in the rough,’ a ‘hidden gem,’ an ‘up and coming destination’ (insert any other trite, travel writing cliche here), now the city is given the opportunity to be what it once was, hopefully without loosing its unusual Jersey Shore town charm.

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A Different Perspective of Asbury Park

by Elena on September 11, 2009

My cousin Fernando, who inspired me to appreciate Asbury, took these pictures below. I love the way our differing posts show how a photographer’s perspective affects the outcome of the photographs (not to mention the effects of a muggy day versus a bright sunny day). The same images take on a completely different feel, depending on who is behind the lens.
Fernando Asbury Park guy on bike and girl watching oceanFernando Asbury Park Beachgoers

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Greetings From Asbury Park

by Elena on September 10, 2009


My cousin forced me to see Asbury with different eyes. He loved Asbury Park, even at a time when I would roll my eyes at the suggestion of spending an afternoon there laying on the beach. Before talks of development and building restoration projects, he was a fan of this beach town because of its conflicted history, not despite of it. Another perk is that it is less crowded than other favorites along the coast, although that is quickly changing.

There is something intriguing about going to a place that has fallen off most people’s radar. Off the beaten path, some people call it, when you decide to explore somewhere not in the travel guides. There are many perks to this philosophy, for one you avoid the crowds and you get enjoy an experience a place few others have.

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Bright Pink Sky

by Elena on June 28, 2009

Friday night there was a weird light coming through the windows of my house. My brother and I went outside and saw that the sky was bright pink. Not just the sky in fact, but everything. The light was reflecting off of the street, cars, houses and yards. It was a little bizarre just how bright it was, looking somewhat like a sci-fi movie, I half expected to see aliens buzzing around. There had been several thunderstorms throughout the day which left the sky looking pretty damn cool.


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As per usual I was rushing to the airport, but as luck would have it, they tell me to cut everyone on the line. What can I say, sometimes it pays to be late. While sitting at the terminal, bored and anxiously awaiting to board the plane, I notice two grown men wearing pink, Disney princess dresses. Why you might ask? Good question but it is one I cannot answer at the moment. Both dresses were frilly with poofy sleeves and lace trim. The dress pinched at the waist and flared out underneath. Let´s just say I´m almost positive one was a man, but the other princess clad individual was a bit more questionable. He had more delicate features and a daintier voice, although I´ve been fooled before. A good guess is that they are in their 50s. Ah yes and how can I forget the pictures of the Disney Princesses on the bottom. Two thumbs up for these guys. I hesitate to leave the house without concealer and these guys can do just about anything, it seems. I really wanted to ask them why they were wearing the dress of littl girls´ dreams, however I was too tired, anxious, and sleep deprived to attempt normal conversation. (If you can call talking to a grown man wearing a princess dress normal). It was too early in the trip for absurd encounters. I was still in Newark, New Jersey for crying out loud. Not to mention the pill my friend had ever so politely given me was starting to kick in. Take that fear of flying! Soon I entered my pill induced stupor.

In Newark there were some people wearing masks because of the fear of swine flu, but for the most part everyone seemed calm. Only a few people on my flight had the mask on however the guy next to me would not stop sneezing or coughing. Each plegm filled cough made me more and more nervous. The antibacterial gel came in handy, as I applied it every half hour and held a tissue to my face. All politeness went out the window as I turned completely away from him and avoided eye contact. It`s pig flu for crying out loud. Not taking any chances. At the Houston airport a good majority of people were wearing masks which didn`t help with my anxiety. Damnit for not thinking ahead and subscribing to mass hysteria.

Endless wandering around the airport as well as an impromptu call to a friend caused me to loose track of time. All of a sudden I hear my name over the loud speaker. I run to the terminal and apologize. While entering the plane I received lots of dirty looks from perturbed passengers. I could feel their disdain behind those blue medical masks. Their eyes were throwing tiny daggers.
Time for the other half of my plane fear pill…. mmm nice calm.

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