Sunday, June 22, 2008


Through the open sliding door to the terrace after this 5pm on this Sunday - my heart in three places: Vancouver, New York, South Africa - comes the incessant peeping of two mockingbird babies (OK, bird people, juveniles), and the happy yelping of Latin music from a street fair three blocks away on Smith. Also the flower-laden soft breeze blowing in advance of a thunderstorm and bringing the linden trees' scent into my little apartment to lift said heart under the rumble of approaching thunder.

The concept of neighbourhood is still new to me, even fourteen (...!) years later. I came from a car society. You drove. You skipped places. You certainly did not walk, unless it was a Serious Walk up a mountain. To me a neighbourhood is a village, a small town. Right beside and touching the next village or small town. One that is accessed by foot, usually. It has borders. Everyone's definition of neighbourhood varies. There are the formal names: Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens. There is the personal 'hood which both blends and truncates.

I tend to turn right for one block when I leave my door, for work, and then head down to the subway, and coming back I stop at my regular shops on the other side of this grid and turn back, entering from the opposite side. If I head past the block to my right I am crossing an invisible personal border. That's what I did yesterday when I wheeled my new, old, heavy little original '50's Schwinn, recently purchased from the d.a.r.g.-owning guy below me, the bike having languished forever in the laundryroom, to the bike shop on the other side of the BQE in what I think still qualifies as Carroll Gardens. Anthony (pronounced in your best Brooklynese) admired it and said it was a sweet little bike, and undertook to take it apart, fix what is broken (flat tyres, no breaks, iffy chain) and put it back together again for $75. So I will fetch it next Saturday. Then I will see if I actually like riding it and if don't I will sell it to someone who will love it.

I walked down streets I know but not intimately. I realize that when I travel my usual route I build up a close relationship with the plants along the way, and along these other streets I was struck by the new. Creature of habit. I must get out more, and in the other direction.

This lovely little stoop is on Sackett just before Court Street. Astonishingly, the climber on the left of the door is bougainvillea. I did a double-take. It is, really. In USDA Zone 6 with a minimum of around -10'F . Le microclimate reigns supreme. To the right is the old trumpet vine, Campsis radicans, and on the pillar on the right is Ampelopsis, porcelain berry. Spiraea on the left and Dutch irises on the steps, with clematis here and there. Very, very sweet.

Back on Henry Street on what is Constanza's block until she gets on a plane on Wednesday*, a very happy Hydrangea quercifolia, oak-leaf hydrangea, one of my favourites, keeping its blooms until late in the season.

What I did not take a picture of because it would not have translated well, is a statuesque cherry tree, looking very Bing-like, on the corner of Union and Clinton, FULL of ripe cherries, very high. I longed to climb it, and just stared, all of ten years old, wanting to climb the wall and steal the fruit.
*Constanza is coming over for Prosecco and a bite to eat on the terrace on Tuesday evening, the day before she leaves for North Carolina and the loft in the tobacco factory, with her little family. Your terrace is one of my favourite places in New York, she said.
I will miss her. Very much. I have hardly known New York without her.


  1. That doorway is so charming with its archway of foliage. I know what you mean by striking up a close relationship with plants that you see along your route. Someone on my street has a rosebush that is badly neglected...the branches are drooping to the ground and it distresses me....I have thought about going there in the dead of night with a stake and hammer and remedying the situation!

  2. I spotted an Oak Leaf Hydrangea on 3rd Place between Clinton and Henry that just knocked my socks off.

  3. Lavinia,you could feed it surreptitiously. And of course pick the blooms at midnight two weeks later...

    Knithound - lots of nice ones at the moment! Hm. Interactive flowering map would be good...


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