Day: October 22nd, 2006

War and Peace

Sunday, October 22nd, 2006 | All Things, Books, Friends, NYC History

JD and MB hosted a brunch at their new apartment in Washington Heights, near Fort Tryon Park. The Hudson View Gardens apartment complex was, at the time it was built in the mid-1920s, the largest housing cooperative in New York and one of the earliest catering to middle class households. Real estate developer Dr. Charles V. Paterno purchased the nearly 4 acres of land, across the street from his (since demolished) castle estate overlooking the Hudson River. His plan was to create a “garden community” of cooperative apartments resembling a medieval English village, to attract those who wanted the comfort and affordability of the suburbs, but still wanted to reside within the confines of New York City.

Directly across from the 181st Street subway entrance is Bennett Park, where George Washington set up his base of operations during the Revolutionary War. It was here at Fort Washington that American forces lost the decisive battle of New York on November 16, 1776 to British and Hessian soldiers. The rock outcropping of Manhattan schist in the photo is the highest natural point in Manhattan, 265 feet above sea level.

Hudson View Gardens

Brunch was a potluck affair: I brought in the loaf of pumpkin chocolate bread I baked at home the night before; SYB made cheese grits in JD and MB’s new kitchen. The Kiwi couple from Dobbs Ferry brought in mini-pancakes with whipped cream and jam, which I was informed by MB’s cousin R, are called pikelets in New Zealand. (Naturally, I didn’t catch this the first three times he said it, and had to resort to requesting the spelling before I finally understood.)

Over mimosas, we got to listen to the New Zealanders reminisce of home, recounting their tales of drunken blackouts. (“It’s the culture!”) I was both highly amused and slightly disturbed.

Later, I attended a book launch and reading for The Green Belt Movement founder and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Muta Maathai. Matthai was promoting her memoir, Unbowed, in which she recounts her remarkable journey from a farm in the highlands of Mount Kenya to becoming the first woman in Eastern and Central Africa to earn a doctoral degree, the first woman in the region to chair a university department, and the first African woman to receive a Nobel prize.


In the mid-1970s, Maathai left academia and founded the Green Belt Movement, Kenya’s most famous environmental and human rights-campaigning group. At its height, the GBM mobilized more than 100,000 women to form tree-nursery groups; the women earned $1 for every fifteen trees they planted, which was, in many cases, their only income. As a result of these efforts, 30 million trees were planted across the country for fuel, building, shade, food, and soil protection on both private land and degraded forests. Women were taught how to plant drought-resistant indigenous crops to feed their families; the transfer of technology from experts to the people turned small-scale farmers into agro-foresters, and raised awareness related to environment and development. The GBM both reduced the effects of deforestation and provided an empowering forum for African women to become creative and effective leaders.

Wangari Maathai

Later still: SYB’s potluck dinner. There was a delicious cassoulet in the Le Creuset, and other tasty dishes from Southern France to supplement. JD and MB (from this morning’s housewarming) brought in crackers and brie.  I baked a clafoutis aux cerises to serve with French vanilla ice cream.

Although the love connections were ultimately missed that night, the fine food and wine (and friends) more than compensated for their absence. And CS, AC and AH did discover a new television series, gradually getting sucked in — hour, after NBC marathon hour. Save the cheerleader, save the world.

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