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Monday, March 14, 2011

Sidewalk University




Many years ago, a number of us were on the street in the East Village talking to a bookseller. In one of many spontaneous outdoor forums on the streets of New York, the conversation was nothing less than extraordinary. When I volunteered how impressed I was with the evening's classroom, the bookseller showed little surprise. He pointed out that this was not just any place, it was in fact the streets of New York City, aka Sidewalk University.

Not a substitute for the institutions of higher learning, but, for those unable to attend or perhaps as post grad work, nothing beats the streets of New York City as a place to learn. Not to suggest that every person or conversation will be one of erudition, but with some discrimination, a person can ferret out some worthy engagements.

Saturday, my family was en route for a weekend stay in the city and was however, delayed due to traffic. Learning of this when I was already outdoors on my way uptown to their hotel, I now had some free time - why not spend it in Union Square before jumping on the train? The farmer's market is always a pleasurable stroll and opportunity to grab a healthy snack and/or beverage.

On this excursion, I was particularly drawn to a table of enormous eggs - some filled, some empty to be used decoratively. The stand was run by Roaming Acres, an ostrich farm in Andover, New Jersey. Todd Applebaum, pointed out to me that the farm made use of nearly 100% of the ostrich - its eggs, meat, bones, skin (as wallets).

However, the eggs whose color and size drew my attention were that of the emu, an Australian relative. Todd gave me a short lesson on the emu - my appetite was so whetted that, like any good student, I followed up the lecture with reading. I learned that the emu was a remarkable bird, with some of the best design features I have seen in any animal. They can go a day or two without water, weeks without food, sprint at over 30 mph if necessary. A nail on their toes serves as a knife to kick away predators and other emus. They thermoregulate and can tolerate a wide range of temperatures. Their legs are among the strongest of any animals and can tear down wire fences. Their eyes, as would be expected, are equipped with a translucent secondary eyelid. Read more here.

The eggs are highly prized - the emu only produces one every few days. When I asked Todd why I saw no emu meat or products, he smiled and said that you don't kill the goose that lays the golden egg. We joked and I suggested that perhaps the emu knew its coveted status and was rather a diva. And so it was, on Saturday, March 12, 2011, that I was privileged to another tuition-free seminar on the streets at New York's Sidewalk University :)

5 comments:

Sue Kendi said...

Emus are great animals. The males sit on the eggs once they are hatched. When I volunteered at the Bronx Zoo we used to take turns "walking with the emus", which meant walking alongside the fence of their enclosure. They follow you for as long as the fence goes and when you turn around and walk back, they follow you back. It kept them busy and less bored. There was one male at the zoo that every spring sat very diligently on a small round rock, thinking it was an egg.

Brian Dubé said...

Sue - thanks for this real world experience. You're another example of one of our many instructors in New York's Sidewalk University.

Jack said...

Very interesting, Brian. New York's Sidewalk University is pretty cool, but my own PC university is pretty educational, too.

Anonymous said...

Yes, interesting story!

newyorker said...

Brian, as a native New Yorker who has lived in Sydney, Australia for fifteen years, I was delighted to see emu eggs in your story. Emus have a significant place in the Aboriginal dreamtime (The time of the creation of the world in Australian Aboriginal mythology) and are widely represented in Aborigianl art. I read your blog every day so I won't lose my New York connection. Thank you for your insightful writing and eye for what makes New York New York.