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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.”
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.
Al fresco dining: one of the chief pleasures of the season. Above, the garden of Brooklyn’s Bedouin Tent restaurant on Atlantic Avenue, with a view of the Belarussian church next door
THESE DAYS, I’M BOTH a city mouse and a country mouse. I’ve been bouncing around from here to there — a few days in Brooklyn, a few days in Springs (Long Island, N.Y.), depending on what I have to do.
The newish and very welcome Botanica Garden Center on Atlantic between Third and Fourth Avenues
Look what’s behind the Botanica Garden Center, above
Out in front, impromptu green space
Row of three houses, surprisingly genteel, along gritty Ninth Street in Gowanus
Back in the country, I have a sense of purpose I didn’t have a couple of months back. An erupting garden, in need of watering, weeding, and deer-spraying, will do that.
My backyard greening up, as it looked a week ago
The scrawny magnolia I inherited is filling out, year by year
Great, deer-proof stuff: deutzia, I think it’s called
Local color, before the tree leafed out
Gardiner’s Bay, above, a short walk from my house
“Gobble it up with your eyes,” my mother used to say. Spring’s beauty is already fleeing. Trees that were in full flower a week or two ago are now all-green. Savor it while it lasts, and then — we have no choice — let it go.
Prospect Heights looking lush
Cherry blossoms and brickwork, Prospect Heights
High style on Columbia Heights, Brooklyn Heights
Rope wrapped tree, Fourth Avenue, Boerum Hill
A cornice too pretty for a boiler company, Fourth Avenue, Gowanus
Window box show, Columbia Heights, Brooklyn Heights
Something Parisian about this one, Columbia Heights, Brooklyn Heights
Elegance, Columbia Heights, Brooklyn Heights