In a winter weary park, purple crocus bloom. Bright sun makes a liar of the snow and slush of two days ago. For the past week, I’ve been an honorary Brooklynite. I arrived with my MINI Cooper crammed with groceries and work files–none of which have been put to use.
I came to help my daughter, Emma, through a surgery and into recovery. My other daughter, Abi, is here as well. We are in Em’s Brooklyn studio apartment. Three grown women, plus two cats, in about 250 square feet of space. Cubed it’s slightly better because of the ten-foot ceiling. I grew up in the country, spent most of my life in New Haven, and am now again in a rural New England town. I’m a long way from home.
Nothing is quite like Brooklyn. Not a Starbucks in sight … but a handful of high quality coffee shops within blocks. Words like “pour-over” are spoken with reverence. A French patisserie around the corner that makes chocolate almond croissants and petite sandwiches on baguettes. The food, well the food, is some of the best ever, in the least pretentious circumstances. I’ve had perfect Bolognese sauce on rigatoni and authentic mole robed enchiladas, delivered hot to the apartment. One night we had fresh ground beef burger with pomme frites, from Chez Oskar.
Em has lived in her building since she wrapped up her degree at NYU. Brick, six-story, it’s early 1900’s sturdy. The marble floors were polished once, according to the older gentleman across the hall. He and his wife have lived here 45 years. There is a gentrification push on in the Clinton Hill neighborhood. It’s the hipsters, Em says with disdain. What was solidly middle-class Black and poor student is now upwardly mobile young whites–who are craving that great coffee and trendy restaurants. It’s definitely a win/lose situation. Rents are soaring. On-street parking has become a ritualized dance, circling and circling, u-turns and y-turns until a spot can be claimed.
My Brooklyn experience had been limited to much shorter visits and:
“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith, read long ago. The coming of age story set at the turn of the twentieth century, can still be read for its classic characters. A poor family, alcoholic father, strict mother and wanton aunt are as colorful as the locals wandering Fulton Avenue today.
Em’s adventures for the past decade–she guides us all with her expert and sometimes stinging assessments of the neighborhood. On the corner, there is the good deli and the bad deli. The latter is run by a lech who offers to “walk her home.” The former gives her advice about bad boyfriends. “He drank too much.”
Lastly, I know Brooklyn as part of family lore. My grandfather, Willard Harold Fitzgerald (Harry) was a young graduate in civil engineering from Columbia University when he worked on the Manhattan Bridge that rises with impunity at the end of Flatbush Avenue, then lands on lower Manhattan through a collanaded limestone arch. He was a supervisor on the construction when he took on a challenge from one of the crew. They challenged the young Harry to hoist iron. He injured himself, permanently wrenching muscles in his back. From then on he walked with a twisted frame. I’ve always thought of the Manhattan Bridge as “our bridge.” And less famous than its sister Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan is now the gateway to my daughter’s neighborhood.
The sun is shining on this March day. We’ll walk. And walk. I may stop in at the independent Greenlight Bookstore. I’m thinking that it’s the perfect place for a reading of my next book. And if we walk enough, there may be a stop at Ample Hills Ice Creamery, with it’s wonderful Walt Whitman quote and crazy creative concoctions. Soon enough, I’ll be back in the quiet glen in northeastern Massachusetts, for today Brooklyn rocks.