Gateway to Gowanus

51WHO 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

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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.

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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. IMG_3286I 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.”

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Rainy Night in Brooklyn

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WHEN IT’S DAMP AND DRIZZLING AND DARK BY 5, and some trucker has sideswiped your car and taken off your driver’s side mirror, and you find yourself walking home in the rain from an auto body shop in gritty Gowanus, you’ve got to seek out beauty wherever you can find it (or become powerfully depressed).

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A pretty iron railing, a rare gem of a 19th century wood-frame row house with a mansard roof, the warm light emanating from the windows of a brownstone parlor, whimsical stone faces carved in a Romanesque facade…

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a purple painted doorway in a montone row of brown stone, a crazy turquoise bay on an otherwise somber apartment building…there’s plenty to smile about, even through the raindrops.

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Things are changing in Gowanus, signified by the coming of Whole Foods, announced yesterday. A movement associated with the Park Slope Civic Council, Future of Fourth Avenue, hopes to beautify what seems a hopelessly ugly strip, below.

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Within three blocks of the body shop, where used to be other auto body shops and a church called Jesus Never Fails Church of God, there’s the welcoming Bar Tano, on the corner of Third Avenue and 9th Street; the three-month-old Michael & Ping’s which bills itself as modern Chinese (the decor may be modern, the food seems about the same); and a tin-ceilinged pie shop called Four and Twenty Blackbirds, filled this afternoon with laptop-wielding hipsters with a hankering for homemade bourbon sweet potato, honeyed pumpkin, or caramel apple pie ($4.50/slice). I resisted.

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Romanesque Revival mansion on Sterling Place and 7th Avenue, Park Slope

I’ve been reading about the history of my new neighborhood, Prospect Heights. It boomed in the decade between the 1873 opening of Prospect Park and the 1883 opening of the Brooklyn Bridge. Horse-drawn omnibuses plied Flatbush Avenue from Fulton Ferry landing, from which 1,200 ferry boats a DAY made the crossing to and from Manhattan.

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Romanesque Revival apartment building, Prospect Place near Flatbush Avenue, Prospect Heights

Romanesque Revival style prevailed, with hefty arches over doors and windows, and terra cotta facades heavily carved with flora and faces and other motifs (maybe because Chanukah starts tomorrow, I kept seeing six-pointed stars, below).

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Brooklyn is rich in architectural decoration. That’s even more apparent now that I’m living deep in late-Victorian territory. There’s always something new to notice.

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Above, Disgruntled, apprehensive, rageaholic: three faces from the facade of the red Prospect Place building above.

Anybody care to venture a guess as to who these gargoyles were, and why they look so pissed off? Were the faces modeled on real people? They look anything but generic.