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WHO WAS IT THAT SAID if you live long enough, you see everything? If you’ve lived in Brooklyn long enough (which I have — 35 years), you’ve seen the bleak no-person’s-land around the grievously polluted Gowanus Canal become a coveted place to live. The Whole Foods rapidly rising at the intersection of Third Avenue and Third Street is incontrovertible proof of the neighborhood’s arrival, along with a slew of new restaurants (Runner and Stone, Little Neck, The Pines, Fletcher’s Barbeque), catering to occupants of the new mid-rise buildings that have gone up along Fourth Avenue in the few years since NYC allowed residential construction up to 12 stories along that commercial corridor.
<– My oracle
Gowanus is still not a beautiful neighborhood — it has more car washes than trees — but it does have good skies, I’ll give it that. I was there yesterday to pick up a couple of things at Lowe’s, as well as needing to while away a mid-winter afternoon. To make it more interesting, I walked into Build It Green NYC, below, a year-old non-profit architectural salvage warehouse on Ninth Street. It’s the second in the city; the original, in Astoria, Queens, gets bulk construction materials coming off the Triborough Bridge, I was told (I’ll never call it the RFK Bridge, nor will I call the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel), but the Gowanus branch has an impressive stock of vintage sinks and woodwork and lighting fixtures. Worth checking out.
Then, as the day faded away, I stopped into Four and Twenty Blackbirds, one of the first signs of the Gowanus revival when it opened several years ago, for a cup of coffee and a piece of salted caramel apple pie. I needed to reassure myself that Brooklyn wasn’t turning into Manhattan, and this tin-walled, neighborhood-y spot, where people hunched over laptops and children did homework at communal tables, was just the thing to relieve my isolation and help pass the time until I received the email I was waiting for: confirmation, finally, of a closing date for the house I’ve been in the process of buying for …well, it’s nearly two years since I made my first inquiry to the owner. March 27 is the day; not as soon as I would like, but soon enough.
When I got home, I reached into my velvet bag of Viking Rune stones, seeking the meaning of this further delay, and counsel on how to spend spend the next few weeks of waiting on top of waiting. As always, the oracle was spot on. I drew Thurisaz (“Gateway”), Reversed, top, and read the interpretation in the accompanying book. It’s a Rune of “non-action,” as it happens, indicating further “work to be done both inside and outside yourself.”
“This Rune strengthens your ability to wait,” the book says. “The Gateway is not to be approached and passed through without contemplation. You will have reason to halt, to reconsider the old, to integrate the new. Take advantage of these halts.” (I feel I was doing just that with the pie.) “Be still, collect yourself, and wait on the Will of Heaven.”
WITH DAFFODIL FOLIAGE PUSHING UP in the front yards of brownstone Brooklyn, the winter of my content is coming to an end. I’ve enjoyed this uninterrupted two-month spell of life in my ever-amazing home borough, where you see things like the movie shoot, above, on Prospect Park West, when you go out for your Sunday morning walk.
We’ve had our bit of snow (that’s the cherry orchard at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, with the Brooklyn Museum in the distance, above, as it looked a week ago Friday, and the view from my front window, below). I’ve caught up with old friends and gobbled down some culture (the Matisse show at the Met, the Museum of Arts and Design, French lessons on Saturday afternoons, even an afternoon at the ballet), though not enough of either.
And at long last, I’m in sight of a closing date on the property I’m buying in East Hampton. On Friday, the house passed its inspection for an updated Certificate of Occupancy, meaning, the Town deems it safe to live in (and that the backfilling of a derelict swimming pool, which I oversaw last month, was done to their satisfaction). And this afternoon I got an email from the seller telling me he is “putting together a crew” to move his two boats and the accumulated furnishings and stuff of 30 years out… this week.
Ye gads. It’s really happening! This means that after weeks of lying on the sofa, leafing languidly through books on Japanese landscaping and ripping pages out of decorating magazines, I’ll soon be putting in actual hard labor. All too soon, perhaps. Am I ready to plunge full-tilt into cleaning, painting, gardening, renovation? It makes me want to settle back on the couch with “The Art of the Japanese Garden” and a cup of tea. I’m already reflecting nostalgically on this temporary period of being a one-home person. I haven’t missed the Long Island Expressway one bit.
Soon enough, I’ll be in the woods, at the beach, breathing country air and enjoying country silence. Meanwhile, I’m appreciating the beauties at hand, like the freestanding mansions of Victorian Flatbush, above and below, where I went earlier this week for the annual ritual meeting with my accountant.
Mostly, though, what I appreciate is my Prospect Heights pied-a-terre, below, where I’ve been cozily cocooned. Its cheery yellow walls never fail to boost my spirits, and its two south-facing windows have served my houseplant collection well.
As the days lengthen, then, onward to what’s next.
AS THE OLD YEAR CAME TO A CLOSE, I said goodbye to my beloved East Hampton cottage — at least for a year, perhaps forever. Yet as I drove away on December 15, leaving it to my new renters — a sweet young couple who are over the moon about the place — it was with only a smidgen of regret. My grand plan is unfolding; I’m inching toward closing on another house in the same area. Meanwhile, it’s back to my Brooklyn apartment for the duration (when you have only one residence, I’m afraid it can no longer be called a pied-a-terre).
My East Hampton tenants kept some of my furniture — the sofa, the bed, and a few other major pieces. All my rugs, books, dishes, artwork, etc. had to be packed up and stored in the basement, above, in the space of about five days. My houseplant collection, below, came with me back to Brooklyn, and miraculously I’ve managed to place them all in front of my two windows.
I chafed at the confinement of urban living at first, but I’ve adjusted. There are trade-offs. What you give up in fresh air and bay views and the silence of the woods, you gain in quirky discoveries that can only happen in a great city…like the row of Victorian carriage houses in Prospect Park, below, that I had somehow never noticed before. They’re now used as garages by park maintenance, but wouldn’t they make a charming residential mews?
Or the sight of a vintage subway train pulling into West Fourth Street, bedecked with Christmas ribbons and wreaths…
….a fire escape festooned with lights in Williamsburg…
….or a gingerbread rendering of the new Barclay’s arena, seen at the Joyce Bakeshop in Prospect Heights: all things you wouldn’t see in East Hampton.
Christmas week was a little quiet because, well, I don’t celebrate Christmas. I did some cat-sitting and a whole lot of writing, including an article about Palm Springs’ mid-century architecture for a travel magazine, and two time-consuming pieces for HouseLogic, a website owned by the National Association of Realtors, which led to my one New Year’s resolution for 2013: don’t say yes to any writing assignment that comes down the pike. Life’s too short for hackery.
My sister and I indulged in some year-end furniture and rug shopping, though in my case it was merely speculative. We went to FIND in Gowanus, where I was moved to take a picture of the chairs above. They are crafted out of rubber tires and they are unbelievably comfortable. I’ve never seen anything like them. They were asking $100 for the pair of these oddities. I can’t decide whether I like the look of them or not. Do you?
I am mulling the purchase of a high storage chest like the one above, seen at Re-Pop in Williamsburg, since I’m desperate for additional clothing storage in my bedroom. It’s $850, so I postponed the decision. Whereupon we went next door to the Roebling Tea Room and had cocktails at the bar in an old, high-ceilinged industrial space (I suppose they have tea, too).
Another day, we checked out the kilims at Jacques Carcanagues in SoHo. I can’t get the one above out of my mind. It is 13′ long, 6’6″ wide, and was bought in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion, we were told. The colors are only four — purple, navy, cream, and white — and so unusual. For $900, it seems a great deal. But without a house, I don’t need a rug.
New York being New York, every time I venture out, there’s a new bar, restaurant or bakery. Above, the new Grandaisy Bakery on the corner of West Broadway and Beach Street. It definitely wasn’t there the last time I looked.
So onward to 2013 with fresh eyes, ears, mind. It’s a new year, so let’s make it new: new adventures, new activities, new people, new prospects, new music, new ideas, new knowledge, new dreams.
A LOT OF PEOPLE (myself included) give up, somewhat, on window boxes and outdoor containers by the time November rolls around. Others keep going… like the owners of the swell Manhattan townhouse, above, who’ve created an arresting display with gourds and berries.
My go-to place for inspiration in all seasons, including fall and winter, is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, above (that’s a side view of the Brooklyn Museum as seen from inside the garden), where crews were busy on Sunday repairing Sandy damage. Thankfully, it doesn’t seem to have been too extensive there.
Some go all out in autumn with mums. Usually that’s not particularly interesting, but I like the front yard planting, above, where the lavender mums are interspersed symmetrically with juniper, a yellow grass, and a deep purple leafed thing whose name is not springing to mind.
Sweet potato and coleus hang in through Thanksgiving, at least, the chartreuse of the always-satisfying sweet potato vine a vivid contrast against the brownstone.
A red annual grass is flourishing now in the concrete window boxes of a fine house on St. Marks Avenue in Prospect Heights. Is there anything being built today that matches the elegance of that hefty iron stoop railing and brownstone window ledges? No, there’s not!
SANDY, YOU BITCH. As one radio host put it, Sandy is a terrible name for a hurricane; it sounds like a girl you dated in high school. This massive hybrid “superstorm” needed a much more formidable name. Medea, maybe, or Zarathustra.
It was strange. Here in NYC, there wasn’t much rain at all. High winds pushed waters from the East and Hudson Rivers up onto the land, an unprecedented and very frightening event. The north Brooklyn neighborhoods hardest hit were Red Hook, Gowanus and DUMBO. I didn’t see the damage myself. I’ve been here high and dry, in my Prospect Heights apartment; when Mayor Bloomberg says to stay inside, I stay inside. It was only on seeing the shocking photos and videos, and hearing stories, that I began to grasp the extent of the destruction.
I’d come into Brooklyn from my Long Island cottage for a jury duty summons on Monday, now cancelled until further notice. Lucky I did, because my community in Springs was power-less for three days. Waiting out the storm here, snug in my brownstone pied-a-terre, I dodged the Sandy bullet completely. Prepared for the worst with food for three weeks, buckets of water, enough candles to fully observe every Jewish holiday between now and the year 6000, Sandy blew through Monday night while I slept. My lights didn’t even flicker.
When I ventured out, tentatively, on Tuesday afternoon, it was to meet a friend in one of the few open cafes. By today, Thursday, any venturing is still, of necessity, on foot. Public transportation is just resuming on a very limited basis. The shuttle buses the city has organized to replace the flooded subway lines between Brooklyn and Manhattan have their own long queues, above. Roads are gridlocked, and there are long lines for gas as well. For me, with my flexible lifestyle, these are only the merest inconveniences.
Yet for many, life has stopped. It’s apocalyptic in some places; you’ve seen it on the news. People are stuck in Manhattan high-rises, running low on food supplies. They’re rescuing people in rubber boats from Hoboken row houses. Overheard today at the gym: “…under two feet of water…” “..lost both cars and a motorcycle…” “…had just retired to the Jersey shore…” Meanwhile, my upstairs neighbor just told me, sheepishly, she had fresh-made mozzarella for lunch, from a fancy, well-stocked deli in Cobble Hill.
Today, I go about my quiet business with an enhanced attitude of gratitude.