Friday, November 12, 2010

Brooklyn vs the rest of the city

Even when I woke up this morning I was already hungry. I washed down the rest of my momofuku strawberry milk that i'd forgotten to finish the night more, but by the time K had arrived at O's apartment along with her partner I., i was starving and excited to start the day. We took the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge, where I realized that it's usually on the subway that you find the most interesting people. There was a lady with flaming orange fake hair and unsettling makeup that was livid at K for no reason the rest of us could understand. There was a pimp-looking fellow with an old suit and a thick fur coat and a cane, but for some reason what I found most striking about him was the Discman he was listening to. I also saw a Hasidic Jew who wore the traditional black hat and black suit and gentle smile and very, very, very bright green socks.

We got off at the last stop and made our trek across the Brooklyn Bridge which, although nothing like the way I expected it to be, was a wonderful walk. I don't know why I expected it to be like crossing the Burrard Street bridge in Vancouver, although certain aspects of it really did evoke the same memories - the warm comforting sun, the tall buildings on either side of the shore - but it was certainly a unique bridge of its own. Unlike the other bridges I've walked across, the pedestrian walk was in the middle of the median, so roaring traffic framed your view of the waters from every angle. And it was busy, hectic and crowded, i suppose because other people had seen that it was a beautiful day and a beautiful way to get some morning exercise. It gave me an amazing view of both Brooklyn and Manhattan, and helped me see just how huge it was, all these tall buildings everywhere.

Once we arrived in Brooklyn we headed straight for Grimaldi's Pizzeria in DUMBO, the coal brick oven pizza place which S. had assured us was the "2nd best place to get pizza in New York" - and certainly the line up wrapping around the block proved its popularity. Grimaldi's tasted like American democracy to me, or at least what it should be. No reservations for special people, the same line for everyone, whether for take-out or eating in, because, as the old Italian man at the door asserted as a matter of fact, "The oven, it is what it is." He made seating customers into an effortless art, and despite the daunting line up into the restaurant, we found the line moved quickly and soon enough we were seated in the crowded room.

I love this kind of restaurant. No nonsense waiters who aren't going to chat you up to try to pressure you into ordering more food or tipping more, no nonsense prices, and not a lot of fancy trickery decorations like square plates or dim lighting - just a memorial tribute poster for 9/11, and an equally large poster of The Godfather, which did not really quell my suspicions about an Italian business that only accepts cash. Nothing crazy, nothing fancy, just the honest promise of good food. Watching the pizzas go by us and watching other patrons savour their meals was somewhat torturous to us, as we were ravenous by the point - almost like "painfully prolonged foreplay", someone remarked. When our simple thin crust pizzas of Italian sausages, pepperoni and sweet roasted red peppers finally arrived, we pounced on them like wolves. I. found himself dancing a happy dance in his chair and all coherent thought was blocked from my mind when the pizza hit my tongue. And suddenly we found that the three of us had eaten two entire pizza pies.

to deal with the satisfaction of our gluttony, we took a stroll down the harbour and through the Brooklyn Bridge Park, which, despite still being under construction, was a lovely urban parks, and the reason that "there are parts of Brooklyn that I don't absolutely despise," admitted I., who is a former Orthodox Jew born and bred in New York. Still I found the ominous Watchtower owned by the Jehovah's Witnesses to be unsettling, these giant silent buildings that loomed over the park and the Brooklyn Bridge, with many strange windows that you could not see into or ever see souls looking out of. Instead the only form of communication emitted at all was a giant billboard that read READ THE WATCHTOWER, as though it was a subway advertisement for a new bestseller book rather than a religious text. I kept feeling like someone was watching us.

By the time we were ready to leave, we found there was still enough time to sightsee a bit more, so we took the subway back to Manhattan, where I wanted to see Ground Zero. The last time I had been in this spot, the World Trade Center towers had still been standing, and my family had gone in and looked through the telescopes at the Statue of Liberty, wondering why the statue was carrying an ice cream. Now it was a giant hole in the ground surrounded by busy construction workers working hard to turn it into something that wasn't a hole in the ground. I've always wanted to ask my friends who live in New York what it was like to be there the day the world changed, but I've never done it because I feel like it's rude, the way you would never ask someone what it was like to lose their child to disease or some other private sorrow. Except this was a sorrow shared by an entire city, country. I stopped by the Memorial Site Preview center because I wanted to see what the grounds were going to look like, but instead found myself being drawn into the stories of that fateful day, matching where I was that day (in homeroom class at high school, with Sherman bursting in with the incredible news, his parents working in the city). I had to be pulled away.

We walked through the cemetery at St. Paul's Chapel, which was right across the street from Ground Zero. I'm not usually big on churches but I thought this one was particularly beautiful and dignified, and old for a North American church. We also walked down Broadway till we hit Wall Street, the financial heartbeat of the world. Wall Street was the ontological antithesis of hipster-happy Brooklyn. K told me that at night it's completely deserted because there's nothing to do here. Not unlike, I guess, Bay Street in Toronto, Sparks Street in Ottawa, or the financial districts of other cities. All these impressively stern buildings with those giant white columns that I now associate more with America than the Romans. People in suits walking right by panhandlers. I thought Wall Street would smell like money but strangely enough I found it smelled like street hot dogs. Which if you think about it, is just as American.