In the intervening years since my father wandered the tunnels of the subway in search of those pearly gates, the allure of Brooklyn has dimmed somewhat. Entire neighborhoods have acquired infamy as places visitors should not venture: Bedford-Stuyvesant has long been a symbol of urban blight and neglect, while other areas have become home to a new (if undesirable) class of immigrants, such as the Russian Mob in Brighton Beach. To be fair, I cannot determine if that appellation is a Hollywood storyline or actual fact, since I've never been there. Finally, there's Coney Island, another place I've not seen but feel omission from my bucket list will cause no tears.
Lately, Brooklyn has developed a new patina, as home to hipsters, urban pioneers and others, who have been accused of "gentryfying" the neighborhoods. Allegedly, it is home also for what passes as affordable housing in New York. These tribes are rumored to regard Pabst Blue Ribbon, a beer we settled on in college when we couldn't afford anything better, as some sort of nectar.
Brooklyn is now home to younger daughter Amanda, who has worked there the past three years, actually residing there since the middle of last year. I recently traveled north to visit her and to see what all the fuss is about.
In a word, I was impressed! While a good number of the old buildings are in a state of disrepair, there are some gems that have been restored.
This, for example, is the old Williamsburg Savings Bank, one of the tallest clock towers in the world. Apparently, it is now home to some higher-end condos.
I was struck by the number of warehouses, many of which have been artfully tagged by local artists. Some have been restored into shops or restaurants. We went to an especially wonderful place, called Ample Hills Creamery, where I enjoyed perhaps the finest ice cream I had ever tasted. One of the buildings that caught my eye was this one:
I know someone has to make caskets; I always assumed they came from some outfit called Lighter Than Air or Eternal Respite. I had no idea that someone would actually call such a company by the items it manufactures.
Amanda explained that part of the Brooklyn experience is complaining about going to that other island, which we did, a couple of times (went, not complained). We met up with friends at the Marriott Marquis, where our tour guide led us to a wonderful cafe near the theatre district called Don Antonio, where we laughed and ate to excess for too short a time. Afterwards, we visited the guardians of the New York Public Library, Patience and Fortitude, who are old friends to us.
Our next visit to that island was to tour the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Over 7,000 people lived there in the 70 years before New York began to regulate such buildings. There are several different tours, each relating the tale of one of the families that lived there. After our tour, we all wondered that anyone survived that era in such a place and felt grateful that our ancestors, who certainly had their challenges when arriving here, did not have to live in a place quite like that.
We explored Brooklyn Bridge Park, the school where Amanda teaches and saw a variety of neighborhoods, ranging from the elegant to the still marginal. I think it would be a hard life, to exist there. While I was fascinated by the diversity of life, people, buildings, businesses and neighborhoods, I fear I would find it overwhelming to live there.
But then, I'm a bit older than my hosts/tour guides. They are both at a great age and in a great spot. They seem to relish the wonders of living in such a stimulating environment. For them, getting on a train to the City or walking a mile or two are just part of everyday life. I'm thankful for the time I had with them and the many memories they created.
Thanks, tour guides! I can't wait to go back!