Pasquale Spensieri spends his days driving around Brooklyn looking for dull blades. When he rings the bell on his truck, the owners of upholstery shops, restaurants and pizza parlors come out with knives and scissors to sharpen. Pasquale’s father first started sharpening knives during the Depression, with a pedal-operated grinding machine strapped to his back. At that time, there were hundreds of door-to-door grinders in New York. Today, at the age of 71, Pasquale is one of the last. Produced by Joe Richman and Emily Botein (WNYC) for their series New York Works.
Since the 1880s, Mohawk Indian ironworkers have been known for their ability to work high steel. From the Empire State Building to the the World Trade Center, generations of Mohawks have helped shape New York City’s skyline. Each week, they commute to Manhattan from their reservation in Canada, framing the city’s skyscrapers and bridges. In September 2001, after the fall of the Trade Center Towers, the sons and nephews of these men returned to the site to dismantle what their elders had helped to build.
Our show host maps get directions to Heaven, in the holy Hindu city of Vrindavan, India. A three story series:
“The Streets of a Holy Hindu City” are reminders that the Hindu faith is everywhere in Vrindavan — countless temples line the streets and pilgrims march in devotion. There is also stark, third-world poverty and suffering. But for the faithful, the city is a manifestation of heaven, here on Earth.
“Pilgrims on the Path of Krishna“, among the stones of ancient temples and bathing pools, march and chant praise to Krishna and his consort, Radha. They touch the holy water of the Yamuna River and walk barefoot down the same paths they believe Krishna himself once trod.
“The Embodiment of Earthly Divinity“, the focus of many worshippers in Vrindavan, is the Sri Radha Raman Temple, where a black stone statue of Krishna sits enshrined and wrapped in saffron robes. Many consider the small stone statue to be Krishna himself.
The producers gather sounds from the streets of their own backyard, the 112 square miles of the borough of Queens, New York, home to the largest mix of immigrants and refugees in the United States. These are people praying in different neighborhoods, in churches, mosques, synagogues, in apartments, at public gatherings and in private moments who come from Togo, China, Haiti, Nigeria, Queens, Romania, even North Carolina. Part of: Crossing the BLVD: strangers, neighbors, aliens in a new America.
The producer is in Harvard Square with his aunts, looking for a “side-room”: That’s their word for a place to pray. Five times daily, even when they’re away from home, they perform “namaaz” (nah-MAHZ), their prayer service. They find the direction of Mecca, and a space that, temporarily at least, is sacred. Hammad Ahmed’s piece, was produced for the Say It This Way podcast. A brief glossary for the uninitiated: “qibla” = the direction Muslims face while praying (i.e. towards Mecca), “namaaz” = any of the five daily prayers, “hijab” = Muslim headscarf, “sajdah” = lying prostrate during prayer, “side-room” = a private-or-not-private space that Muslims occupy for prayer when away from home.
A woman’s song on the streets of Taipei, Taiwan, leads the producer to the outskirts of town, to climb the rock steps of the White Temple. There, high in the clouds, one hundred voices are singing a salutation to the Buddha.
The traditional, 1000-year-old song Dayenu is a part of the Jewish Passover (April 19-27 2008). This piece is an audio essay, a poem of sorts, on the song, the holy day, and what, if anything, the tales of Egyptian first-borns and parted Red Seas have to do with us today. Original music by Frank London, founder of the Klezmatics. Aired on APM Weekend America; by producer Judith Sloan of Crossing the BLVD, “Dayenu (for Passover)” (6:15 mp3):