Sunday, 23 May 2010

#13 I live in Brooklyn. By choice.

The Williamsburg Bridge and Lower Manhattan from DUMBO

The title - a Truman Capote quote - alludes to Brooklyn's hard-edged past. Recent past, really. Even in the early 90s, the old Dutch township of Breukelen was mostly a no-go area for Manhattanites. Times have changed. The relentless gentrification of even the grittiest corners of Manhattan (the Meatpacking district, the Bowery, Alphabet City, Harlem) has forced many modestly wealthy city folks across the East River.

They weren't all pushed, mind; many jumped. Brooklyn is attractive for all kinds of reasons - big living spaces (relative to Manhattan), a rich cultural heritage (the aforementioned Truman Capote, Woody Allen, Benjamin Britten, Aaron Copland, Jay-Z and Notorious B.I.G. have all called these hallowed streets home), some stunning museums and parks, breathtaking views of Manhattan, and top notch transport links. Oh, and no tourists.

The clincher, though, is Brooklyn's delivery on the melting pot dream - Hassidic Jews, Muslim and Christian African-Americans, Eastern European emigrants and Hispanics from all over South America live cheek by jowl. It feels how you imagine New York should feel.

Anyway, I too have now joined this...well, let's surrender to literary cliché and call it a 'tapestry'; it is more pertinent here than generally. For the next couple of months I'm living in a hostel in Bedford-Stuyvesant, about five minutes walk from where Jay-Z was born. (Did I mention I fucking love Jay-Z?) 'Bed-Stuy' suffers something of a hangover from its very bloody gangland past ('Bed-Stuy: Do or Die', as the saying goes), but is actually a beautiful place to live, with airy parks and wide, sleepy streets. I'm sharing a room with many sweaty traveler sorts in a feast of Bohemina bonhomie, drinking copiously, eating poorly, and washing rarely.

Mural in Bedford-Stuyvesant

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