In the port of New York a smooth pearl gray fog lifts slowly to reveal the city. A proud row of multi colored buildings guards the shore while we pass under the Verrazano Bridge, glide past the Statue of Liberty, a quiet, soft green in the mist. A tugboat joins alongside. We are about to dock in the world’s largest city.
Having visited the city numerous times, I’m aware there is a certain assault on the senses when you first see New York, when you enter, while you explore. Depending on how you are wired, that assault can evoke anxiety, frustration, even fear. Or it may energize the artist, the explorer, the adventurer in your soul. But what about Brooklyn? Not entirely sure of my reasons, I choose the tour of Brooklyn.
And I wonder. How does one discover Brooklyn? Is it part of the city or an existence all its own? Do you cross a bridge dragging pieces of Manhattan behind you? I visualize historic brownstones lining streets that crisscross in neat squares. People live here but work in the city. Like suburbs on steroids. That’s what my limited mind conjures up. And yes, there they are! And trees line those streets. “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” flits through my mind.
Once my mind settles its yearning to see the Brooklyn of my imagination, I begin to experience a different Brooklyn. Shops, restaurants, schools, offices, apartment buildings and at last the neighborhoods. Just like Manhattan, there are separations from the whole. German, Italian, Chinese, Hasidic Jews. They pass before us on the sidewalks, the shop windows, the signs, the places of worship.
Especially intriguing are the Hasidic neighborhoods. Our guide gives insight into baffling customs they adhere to as a means to ensure their continuing traditional existence. Married women shave their heads to be unattractive to men other than their husbands.But they wear dark tressed wigs, all looking eerily alike as they stroll the sidewalks with their children. Another sect is set apart by the tiny balconies on their apartment buildings which allow them to be “outside” for certain religious observances. They are tightly woven communities. They live in a world visibly apart ‐ similar to the Amish in Pennsylvania, I remark. Yes. The guide agrees. Just like that.
We visit Coney Island. Hear about the devastation from Hurricane Sandy. Have a Nathan’s famous hot dog. It’s iconic Americana. Not yet open for the season, its boardwalks swept clean by the abrasive sand filled wind, it promises colorful, noise filled summer days and nights.
But for all the local color and historical uniqueness, the rise of “glass boxes” is evident everywhere. Our guide bemoans the disappearing Brooklyn. It hurts. This new Brooklyn. And as we return to our ship, the tour over, our guide reads off an astounding list of famous natives of Brooklyn. A breeding ground of artists, writers, painters, poets, actors, musicians. And I send a tiny prayer into the Universe ‐ don’t let Brooklyn change too much…the world needs the artists. And the artists need the Brooklyn‐like neighborhoods of this world.