Wednesday, September 18, 2013

New frontiers - we look north

We are exploring.

Bumped out of my Cobble Hill comfort zone by the rapacious landlord, I am feeling twinges of provincialism as I begin to discover parts of Brooklyn so other they may as well be new countries. I think it is Elizabeth Strout - novelist - who says that New Yorkers are provincial. They just don't know it.

We are so attached to the neighbourhood. Its borders, its manners, its sounds, its commodities.

Yesterday I visited the southern edges of Bushwick. It was a flawless day, which helped.

A sixteen block walk north from the C, with the northern edges of notorious Brownsville at my back, took me through an area I would not negotiate at night. I passed some projects, three schools letting out, people sitting on the sidewalk in folding chairs, some offering a friendly greeting as I passed, a community garden, some drug dealers, a police station (83rd Precinct), and countless storefront churches and tiny nail salons.

I walked with my New Yorker rolled into a nice, aggressive-feeling tube. Later, the Frenchman found that very funny, and recommended keys as a first line of defense and gave me a brief tutorial (the Frenchman's more French father was friends with foreign legionnaires and Marseilles hoodlums). I exaggerate the threat level, but I hardly blended in, and my skin tingled. So that part of the homework was done: Don't take the C.

[Doing more homework on the neighbourhood, later, I learned about the Brooklyn Bike Patrol, a group of volunteers who escort women home safely at night. It has a good reputation in the neighbourhood. Its founder recently suffered from two heart attacks and needed help raising money to pay his hospital bills.]

Once I reached and crossed Broadway and its thundering overhead subway, I was officially in Bushwick - though neighbourhoods have no set borders, rather, they align roughly with zip codes and community boards. Did I feel a stirring of my colonial roots? French and Huguenot settlers made a village here in 1660. The houses were suddenly and unexpectedly beautiful. It was in one of them (not pictured here) that new apartments were being advertised, after a gut renovation, which has given them all nice, new finishes. We are tired, really tired, of old, dirty and derelict (ironic in genteel Cobble Hill). What we will lose in terms of neighbourhood luxuries like Sahadi's and cheese shops and wine shops and waterside parks, we will gain in the domestic bliss of a clean building, new appliances, touch pad entry systems, a real laundry and more space. Indoor and outdoor.

Still...not sure. Crime is barely an issue where we live, but it would on our radar at this address. And the green spaces...

It was promising. Not perfect. But promising. And the prospect of a new living experience is potentially exciting. I toured a local supermarket, oohing like a slack-jawed tourist at the guavas and strange tubers and roots, and cactus paddles. And the staple organic salad leaves and eggs and milk and butter were there, as well as buckets of Cafe Bustelo. For serious food - organic poultry, say - we'd have to shop elsewhere.

After my long walk there, I took a short one, to a different subway, the J, and was in Manhattan in ten minutes, right beneath the wonderful Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side - more food shopping potential.

Today's place had the major flaw of no outdoor water source. Which was vexing. And I'm not sure how soon the thrill of the different would wear off. There is the added complication of being viewed as gentrifiers, more affluent than long-time residents.

Who knows. We are still looking. But I am now hopeful, rather than bereft. Although I suppose that could turn on a dime, too.

It's a speciality of mine.

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