Love in Brooklyn: A 9-11 widow is engaged! • Brooklyn Paper

Love in Brooklyn: A 9-11 widow is engaged!

Marian Fontana, a 9-11 widow, has gotten engaged.
The Brooklyn Paper / Hugh Crawford

In honor of Valentine’s Day, The Brooklyn Paper sought out the best, worst, most tragic and, frankly, most romantic love stories. Inspired by Borough President Markowitz’s “state of the borough” speech, we set out to assess the “state of the state of love in the borough.” The state of love is, of course, strong!

9-11 widow finds love again

One of Brooklyn’s highest-profile “9-11 widows,” Marian Fontana of Park Slope, is engaged.

More than five years after the horrific day that claimed the life of thousands — including her husband, Lt. David Fontana of Squad 1 — Fontana got engaged last week to Tom Martinez, a minister at the All Souls Bethlehem Church, a Unitarian congregation in Kensington.

“What I love about Tom is that he understands what I have gone through and the deep love I will always have for Dave, and is okay with all of it,” Fontana wrote in an email to her friends.

“I am blessed to have so much love in my life.”

Fontana told friends that she had a hunch that Martinez, a fine arts photographer and author of “Confessions of a Seminarian: Searching for a Soul in the Shadow of Empire,” was going to propose because he first asked Fontana’s 10-year-old son, Aidan, about how he should go about it.

“Tom asked for Aidan’s permission first, a gesture so sweet and so indicative of the love they share,” Fontana wrote in that email.

“I was not surprised that he began his proposal with ‘I love Aidan with all my heart.’”

Of course, 10-year-olds aren’t the best at keeping secrets, so Fontana knew the big question was about to be popped.

Though she now lives in Staten Island, Fontana remains a larger-than-life figure in Park Slope, thanks to the way she mobilized the neighborhood after 9-11 to keep Squad 1 open when the city threatened to shut it down just weeks after the attacks.

The squad, which is housed on Union Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues, lost 12 firefighters that day.

— Louise Crawford

Dating your belly

Dating in this city can be hard on the stomach, a lesson I learned recently when a prospective romance imploded and in the process cost me access to my favorite sandwich.

The sandwich in question — an unrivaled three-meat marvel that had long been a balm to my troubled digestion — came from a restaurant on Atlantic Avenue, where, over time, I developed a secret lust for a fetching young counter-lady, whom I knew was also the owner.

My mind reeled from the potential gastronomic benefits of our pairing, and one day I worked up the nerve to talk to her. To my astonishment, she gave me her email address, and later, agreed to meet. I could scarcely believe my luck: a date with the architect of my sandwich.

However, our nascent affair ended before it really began. After just a few emails, my young sandwich temptress started grilling me about marriage, children, and commitment. I was alarmed, as I felt her to be skipping several important steps in our relationship, namely the first date. She then began calling and text-messaging me — and eventually left me a scathing voicemail. I ended it there.

I didn’t find my beloved — and I lost my beloved sandwich in the process.

— John O’Connor

Monkey business

Valentine’s Day isn’t just for higher mammals anymore. At the Prospect Park Zoo, the supposedly lower beasts are pairing up in ways that would make a human blush.

“We have so many mated pairs now,” said Patricia Cole, the zoo’s curator of animals.

The love-fest includes:

• A pair of kestrels (think falcons) named Arthur and Guinevere who are madly in love.

How can you tell? “They sit closely together,” Cole said. “And they pick nits right off each other.”

Too much information.

• A pair of Emerald tree boas who squeeze so closely together that they look like one snake.

“We’re thinking of putting some shades on them,” Cole said. “You can see them doing it. Rocky, the male, wraps himself so tightly around Esmey that people think he’s trying to kill her. But no, that’s what snake love looks like.”

Too much information.

• Two black lion tamarins, Sharon and Ozzie, whose love affair consists mainly of langorous naps.

“They also groom each other,” Cole said, though she cast some doubt on the passion that this couple shares. “They’re monogamous, but it’s mostly because they have no other choices. It’s definitely ‘love the one you’re with’ in their case. But they do groom each other.”

Too much information.

Cole said humans could learn a few lessons from the supposedly lower orders.

“Humans take themselves far too seriously,” she said. “Animals are far more accepting of one another and their expectations are not as high.

“Of course, the other important thing to learn is that the couple that grooms together, stays together.”

Too much information.

— Gersh Kuntzman

Cat lovers

At this time of year, it’s important to take a step back and realize that it’s not just humans who suffer the vicissitudes of love — the broken hearts, the disloyalty, the cragged scars.

Take the story of the Persian cat and the alley cat, star-crossed lovers in the wilds of Red Hook. Their ill-fated tale comes courtesy of Julia Niego, who witnessed their romance through her Richards Street basement apartment window.

“There used to be just a male cat who came around in the fall,” said Niego, describing a striped-grey tabby that “looked the part of the seedy alley cat.”

And just in time for Valentine’s Day, he resurfaced with a bang. And with company.

“About a week ago, in the middle of the night, [he and his visitor] started making a lot of noise,” recalled Niego.

“My boyfriend asked, ‘What’s wrong?’ And I said, ‘They’re having sex.’”

Unfortunately for the building’s human residents, it wasn’t a one-night stand.

“The next night, we could hear the girl cat and the boy cat,” said Niego. “The tomcat had this deep baritone voice, and the female cat had a higher voice and she made these strangled, chirping sounds.

“The whole building was talking about it.”

Like so many Brooklyn love affairs, this one turned sour before it could even begin.

The next night, the lady cat returned to the backyard searching for her lover, but he never showed. She cried the whole night.

“My boyfriend said, ‘That’s so sad. He ditched her. He totally ditched her.’”

For the next few days, the spurned lover haunted Niego’s backyard, mewing for her mate. The crying got to Niego.

“I felt bad,” she said. “So I opened the door, and there’s this beautiful, charcoal-gray, puffy, Persian cat. And I say, ‘You wanna come in?’ She stared at me, backed away slowly and never returned.”

Niego has turned philosophical about the romance.

“When I met her, I thought she was kind of a snob and I didn’t feel much sympathy for her,” said Niego. “I was like, ‘Honey this is what happens when you go slumming with the alley cat.’”

Her upstairs neighbor, Hannah Gersen, had a different take on the matter.

“I had cats growing up,” said Gersen. “My first cat, Alexandra, got pregnant. And then her boyfriend ate her kittens.”

“I don’t want anything like that happening in my backyard.”

— Dana Rubinstein

The art of craft

As a “wingwoman” for a class called The Art of Rapport — which promises to teach men how to build “iron-clad trust” with “any woman” in “mere minutes” — my job was to “act natural” while, one by one, the students approached me to try out their new techniques.

“You look like a creative person. What do you do?” Um.

“Hey, do you know any cool bars around here?” No.

“Actually, that was just an excuse to come flirt with you.” Oh.

For $20 an hour, I managed to tone down my characteristic unfriendliness to a level of awkwardness that these men seemed to find charming. In fact, I began to worry that they saw it as something we had in common — as a sign that I might, after all, be just the girl for them.

The more awkward I caused our conversations to become, the more dangerously they began to swerve towards real life.

I revealed to one of the men that I lived in Brooklyn.

“Really? Me too! Which part?” He was one of the normal-looking ones, with a pleasantly round face, glasses, and an Indian accent. Not attractive, but he looked like a decent neighbor — the kind of person I might see while swimming at the Y, or grocery shopping on Atlantic Avenue.

These possibilities seemed to suggest a new answer to the question: What kind of person would take a class like this? He could have been anyone.

Or, more creepily, they could be anywhere.

They could be pulling up behind you with their shopping carts at Fairway, or elbowing their way beside you at a bar in Park Slope. (If he asks you what your favorite kind of ice cream is, RUN.)

True, after hours of telling one guy after another that no, I don’t know any cool places to hang out, it was a relief to discover a fellow Brooklynite.

Still, I wasn’t about to tell him where I lived.

— Kayla Soyer-Stein

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