Walking in Brooklyn

A few weeks ago I met Jenny on her new home turf and we went for a walk in a sunny but snowy Brooklyn. Our first port of call was Chip Shop, where we gorged ourselves on fish and chips and tea and had a wonderful time pretending we were in England. We then set off through the brownstone lined streets of Park Slope, headed for Prospect Park. Park Slope is a beautiful neighbourhood, filled with majestic Victorian architecture, well tended homes and sweet little boutiques and cafes. It’s a wonderful place for an afternoon’s stroll, and Jenny and I both had home envy as we peered in at the windows to the lovely rooms beyond those brownstone walls. Somehow, neither of our apartments managed to compete with such splendour!

Prospect Park is huge, and as we were there in January, it was also covered in snow, which gave it a blissfully serene, muffled quietness that made it feel like we were in the middle of the countryside rather than a stone’s throw from Manhattan. It is a much wilder park than Central Park, covered in trees and wooded areas, with lovely meadows and hills perfect for tobogganing, which plenty of people were taking advantage of, whooping and laughing on their way down. Jenny and I almost stole an abandoned toboggan we found to have a go ourselves, but I had just read Ethan Frome, and a fear of crashing into a tree and ending up miserable, querulous and paralysed gripped itself around my heart so strongly I couldn’t face it. So onwards! we went, finding ourselves crossing a little wooden bridge over a stream, passing through a tiny Narnia like tunnel, and arriving on the edge of a frozen lake complete with ducks and a beautiful boat house. Who knew Prospect Park had so much to offer? It even has a gaily painted Victorian bandstand, and though we were horribly lost by the time we found an exit, we agreed that we had had a very lovely walk indeed, through a place we both can’t wait to explore more of in the summer months, accompanied, obviously, by a picnic basket.

Not really knowing where we were, we continued walking along the edge of the park, passing the Botanical Gardens and a lot of fantastic art deco architecture on our way, and eventually, after wandering through a potentially dodgy neighbourhood where everyone only spoke Creole and stopping off in a CVS to ask directions, we found a subway, and both safely got back home again. What fun would a walk be without a little danger, anyway?! Brooklyn is such a diverse and wonderful place, with dozens of distinct neighbourhoods, hardly a chain store to be found, open spaces galore, beautiful architecture, individual boutiques and cafes, and spectacular views across the East River to Manhattan and beyond. It is also has a very calm, relaxed feel compared to Manhattan, and it is like taking a mini holiday whenever I take that trip across the bridge. It’s a shame that so many tourists never make it this far, because Brooklyn has so much to offer, and I hope I get to explore much more of it as the weather gets warmer and it becomes more bearable to be outside for longer stretches of time.

In other news, I was also in Brooklyn this past week, for a delicious dinner with a wonderful woman called Laura, who just so happens to be one of The Girls from Winnetka. We had the most fantastic time, and I was fascinated by what Laura had to tell me about her life, and that of the girls, and what they have discovered about the differences between their own generation and later generations of women through talking about their book and their experiences with others. As we talked, I considered just how much the expectations Laura’s generation faced haven’t really changed for women of my generation, and my recent rant about chick lit exemplifies that even today, like for Laura and her peers, a woman isn’t really considered ‘successful’ until she has achieved marriage. I’m going to expand on these thoughts on another post, but meeting with Laura also made me realise something else; the importance of multi generational friendships. Laura is in her (very early) seventies; old enough to be my grandmother. However, the fun we had was no different from the fun I have with friends of my own age, but the stories we shared and the knowledge and experience and wisdom I gained were infinitely richer. Since I have been in America, I have taken a ‘why not?!’ approach to most things, and this has paid absolute dividends; by pushing outside of my comfort zone and meeting people I would not normally meet, mainly through my blog, actually, I have widened my horizons and had some absolutely fantastic experiences. Laura is not the only wonderful friend of a different generation I have met; I have also had the pleasure to meet with Ellen, a dear reader of my blog who is not quite old enough to be my grandmother (I know she’ll smile when she reads that!) several times, and I so love it when we meet. We have such a wonderful time and really, the age difference doesn’t matter at all – friendships are friendships. So, something else New York is doing for me is opening my eyes to the benefits of stepping outside of societal norms. Anything and everything is permissible here; New Yorkers wouldn’t bat an eyelid if they saw a polar bear wandering down the street. I’m glad I’m living in such a liberal city. It’s making me more and more adventurous by the day, and I really am reaping the benefits.

43 comments

  1. Another lovely glimpse through the window of your new life in NY. I don’t know Brooklyn at all but how great that you found a chippy! A real taste of home. By the way, if you do happen to meet a polar bear, don’t run. And don’t play dead!

    1. Thank you! Brooklyn has something for everyone – the chippy makes it an extra happy place for me to be! Good advice – I’ll file that away for when I visit Alaska (because I will, one day!)!

    1. Thanks Jackie! It really is wonderful – I have a fair few at home as well, mainly from church, and they’re so much fun plus great at giving advice. I hope you find some too and can reap the rewards of it!

  2. What a wonderful walk which I enjoyed vicariously! And yes, it’s fun to have friends from a different generation. I love to chat to my sons’ partners, both of them in their 30s, whilst at the other ‘extreme’ I have a dear writer friend who is in her late 80s but who is as bright as the proverbial button (and is currently writing her 4th novel in as many years.) We can all gain pleasure and learn so much from friendships with people from a different generation.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Margaret! How wonderful about the different friends you have and the pleasure you get from them. It can be so easy not to branch outside of your own age group but I am so glad I have, and that you have too! I’d love to meet your writer friend, she sounds fantastic!

      1. You might like to order her booksvia your library although I don’t know whether you’d be able to get them in the USA? She writes under the name of Christina Green – you could look her books up on Amazon.co.uk – and her books are historical romance set in the Victorian period and placed in England’s west country, but with a lot of factual detail which she has carefully researched.

    1. Ha! Glad you liked that part!๐Ÿ™‚ I can’t wait for it to be warm enough to get a picnic basket out and fill it with bread and strawberries and potato salad!

  3. I can not tell you how much I appreciate it when people leave their curtains wide open at night. To peek in at cosy living rooms when it is freezing outside warms my heart. One should really watch the curb though as I can’t count how many times I’ve almost landed face first on a front lawn!

    Such a lovely day out and what a sport you are for enjoying the outside no matter how cold it gets. Next time try the toboggan!

    1. Oh I am such a peeker too, Darlene! It’s a wonderful hobby. The other day I was walking down 23rd street and when you get to about 7th avenue the gorgeous brownstones start, and the LIBRARIES in some of those apartments…my good lord, what I wouldn’t do for them. Ha! Yes, I could quite easily end up falling down the stairs into these people’s basements!!

      Ok…I will give tobogganing a go if I get the chance, but it will have to be in a totally obstacle free place!

  4. I just came home from this and that (and buying diapers for my granddaughter, who is coming tomorrow, how fun is that for a granny?), brewed my pot of tea, checked my email, and then, here you are, Rachel, reminding me again of all that is right in life.

    Multi-generational friendships are so important. I grew up in a house with three generations living in it and it was such a gift of life to me. In my garden club, I am the youngster, and the more seasoned women can run rings around me. I say I want to be like them when I grow up. I know you will enjoy each and every friendship you make, but, before I wax on and on, I must tell you how excited I am for you to have had dinner with Laura from Winnetka! See Penny. See Penny smile. See Penny turn green with envy.

    My one trip to Brooklyn was many years ago. Tom and I were on a little trip without the girls, our first such trip, and we met up with Jim and Jackie, who were in our Lamaze class and ended up having their son the day after we had our Jennifer. We had much to much fun in the s hospital, as we shared a room together, but, that’s another story. The long and the short of it was that they moved to Brooklyn, he went into publishing, and they had a wonderful, old Brownstone, a row house much like the ones you have here, and I was and remain enchanted. I can’t wait to hear about that picnic in a few months.

    1. Oh how lovely that you have Kezzie coming to visit! I bet you will have a marvellous time.๐Ÿ™‚

      What a wonderful way to grow up, Penny – I wish I had been so lucky. I so enjoy my friendships with both older and younger women than me and I hope they continue as I grow older! I know, the dinner was just wonderful – we truly had the best time. It was such a joy to meet Laura and she and I will be meeting again once the spring comes!

      What a lovely friendship that sounds – and I bet they have the most beautiful house. Laura lives in a brownstone too and I did have house envy, I must say! I’d love one of those gorgeous brownstones – the possibilities that lie inside are endless!

  5. What a gorgeous day! I’ve only been to New York the one time for a weekend, and I didn’t make it to Brooklyn. I am coming up this May for the Book Expo/Book Blogger Convention, so maybe I’ll put that on my Saturday itinerary. (And I’d love to meet up with you while I’m there! May is perfect picnic weather๐Ÿ™‚ )

    And I totally agree about multigenerational friendships. I’m at a phase in my life when a lot of friends my own age have to spend a great deal of their time taking care of their children, so it’s harder for us to find time to get together than it used to be. So for the past couple of years I’ve been just as likely to end up going out with older, retired women friends as with other 30-somethings. It’s really no different from hanging out with friends my own age. As you say, friendships are friendships.

    1. I know, it was lovely! You should definitely do Brooklyn when you come, and I’d be delighted to meet up! How fun!

      Friendships ARE friendships and I’m glad you’ve found the same. We’re not always in the same places as same age friends and sometimes you need to branch out – for example a lot of my friends are couples and go out with other couples so I have made some slightly younger friends who I can enjoy hanging out with when my coupled up/married friends are busy!

  6. Love to hear about your adventures, and love the pics! You are so right about the multi-generational friendships. So many sweet little ladies befriended me when I was a young mom and lived far from my own — I wouldn’t have known what to do without them and their wisdom. I hope that I will be able to give as much to the generation behind me as I’m moving further up and over the hill.๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Thanks Susan! What a lovely story – I’m so glad you had that support when you needed it most! There can be a real reluctance amongst people of my age to form friendships outside of their own age group and I’m glad I’ve done it, because they are so fantastic and have helped me learn so much! I hope the same – that’s if I ever gather my own store of wisdom to pass on! Ha!๐Ÿ™‚

  7. A picnic would be so fun! We could have a picnic and feed the ducks! I can’t wait for spring, for many reasons including the possibility of a picnic. Before the spring thaw I will invent and perfect a chicken pesto sandwich to take on a picnic.

    (At the laundromat today I was talking to an old guy about the weather, and he said there wasn’t going to be any warm weather at least until May. And I said something like, It better not wait that long! and he fussed at me for trying to tell the Lord what to do. Oops.)

    1. Yes we can! I am so excited already. Oooh chicken pesto sounds delicious – I’m going to throw it out there that you should put sundried tomatoes in there too. Work on that recipe!

      Jenny I have TOLD you about talking to strangers in this city! Oh my goodness! Especially laundromat strangers. They are the worst. Apart from bus psychos; I’ve had one of those this week and it wasn’t pretty. He wanted to touch my knitting!

    1. Thanks Verity! It is going to be hard, I won’t lie – I love this city so much and the only thing that reconciles me to having to go home is all the people back in England that I miss.

      1. Digestive biscuits?
        Earl Grey?
        Red post boxes?
        The banter of constant ridicule?
        Wimbledon?

        Naaaa….second thoughts, I think the New World is much better, R.

  8. I’ll echo what someone said above and say that you should definitely try to find a publisher for a collection of your essays about coming to America and discovering New York and its environs. Include some of your lovely photographs and, voila, a coffee table book for the ages!

    I like your take on intergenerational friendships. I married quite late in life and had my children in my late thirties and early forties, so I’m much older than the “average mom” when I go to things like PTA meetings or other parenting groups. I get asked quite frequently if I “have custody of my grandchildren” because (despite help from Miss Clairol) I suppose I look “too old” to have teenagers–ha-ha! But I have made a number of friendships with the (to me) “younger moms.” Then I go to a ladies luncheon at Church and find myself the youngest woman in the room–although I enjoy it just as much–all part of the rich tapestry of a woman’s life.

    1. Oh Deb, you are too kind!! I don’t think I’m good enough to be published! Maybe one day though!!

      I am loving hearing all these stories of women’s friendships across the age barrier. It’s so wonderful to know that women are out there supporting each other and benefitting from each other’s experiences at every age. That’s funny what you say about being an ‘older mom’ – if you were having kids now you’d probably be the ‘average mom’ – my sister had her first baby at 26 and she was the youngest woman in her baby group by a mile – everyone else was having their first babies in their mid thirties. I’m so glad you have such good friendships! And aren’t afraid to use Clairol!

  9. Aw, so glad you’re feeling the Park Slope love. (I’ve lived in Park Slope for nearly seven years now and am quite fond of it.)

    Prospect Park also normally has an outdoor ice rink, though sadly it’s closed this winter for renovation/expansion – sigh! It’s tough to motivate myself to drag myself and my skates via train or bus to another rink when I’m so used to just being able to take a walk across the park for my skating fix.

    Other neighborhood recommendations: if you like coffee, swoon-worthy espresso drinks at Grumpy (7th ave between 11th and 12th – they have other locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan too). Community Bookstore (farther north – 7th Ave between Carroll and Garfield) – it’s a sweet and well-stocked independent bookstore. The Grand Army Plaza farmers market just outside the north end of Prospect Park on Saturdays (less crowded than Union Square but still full of great local food).

    1. Hi Heather! How lucky for you that you live in Park Slope – I am jealous! It’s such a great neighbourhood. Thanks so much for those recommendations – I like the sound of Grumpys and the Community Bookstore! Next time I go over the bridge I will be sure to make a visit. I think I’ve been to the Grand Army Plaza market before – is that where the big library is? If so, I’ve definitely eaten delicious food from there. I can’t wait for the summer months when you can go to the market, buy some food, then head to the park.๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Yep, exactly, the Central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library is right at Grand Army Plaza. Books and good food all in one place – yay!

  10. What wonderful pictures, Rachel! Thanks for sharing them and your experience of walking through Brooklyn. I love to explore cities and see hidden gems. It’s great to be able to explore New York with you.

    I can’t pass up your comments about societal expectations. Though I definitely agree that women are still made to feel unsuccessful if they haven’t “achieved” marriage (great choice of word there, Rachel!), I think the expectation is subtler now, and women today definitely do have much more freedom of choice than they did in the past. If you just go back to the 60s, women had only a few professions to chose from and were definitely expected to get married after university, if they went. Though I grit my teeth now when people look at me pityingly after I say that I don’t have a boyfriend, I know that no one is going to give me too much pressure about it; it’s just a subtle undercurrent of pressure that if I pay too much attention to could affect the way I look at things. Luckily, I’ve learned to pay less and less attention to this, and most of the time, I feel pretty good about my life. I hope most women today in the West don’t get greater pressure than this, though I bet, in some circles, that the pressure to marry is more direct and even in some that marriage is still the only avenue for women. I hope these circles are few and far between now, and I’m glad that society in general has come as far as it has; I hope it will just go farther still and not even exert that subtle pressure any more.

    1. Glad you’re enjoying the photos, Virginia! It’s a pleasure to share them!

      I’m so glad you haven’t experienced the pressure to settle down and get married, and can cope with the pity of others – I don’t care about being single particularly, but I have a lot of friends who do, and they certainly feel the pressure. I think the ‘happy ever after’ of all films and books consists of a walk down the aisle or a guarantee that a walk down the aisle will be in the future doesn’t help. But I definitely agree it’s not as bad as it used to be, and I’m glad that it’s becoming more acceptable for women to be single as a choice and be happy about it rather than constantly being considered sad spinsters who have missed out on life.

  11. Am laughing a lot at your Ethan Frome-induced fear. Wharton…scaring generations away from tobagganing since 1911.๐Ÿ™‚

    What lovely photos. It sounds like you’re having a splendid winter in NY, and meeting the nicest people. I’ve been lucky to have friends of all different ages – now I barely register the difference in our ages.

    1. Edith Wharton has a lot to answer for! She has struck the fear of God into me!

      Thank you! I really am, I feel so lucky. I’m glad you have such wonderful friends of all different ages, too – it’s such an important part of life I think.

  12. I suspect that all of us readers like ‘peeping into other’s windows’ whether literally as we walk, or figuratively, as we read about others’ lives in books, and now blogs.

    Our family home is currently a film set and we have come back to live here for a few days inbetween shooting. The family who live here don’t really exist but I feel like I have not only peeped through the window, but have gone through the front door and down the rabbit hole! The really weird bit is that we are in many ways similar to the fictional family, same demographic, education, family values, but yet so so different. It is intriguing to look around and see different furnishings, wall colours and nic nacs.

    The film is a tv series developed from a book called ‘The Slap’ by Christos Tsiolkas, a Melbourne writer. It’s the story of the repercussions after an incident where someone slaps another person’s child. It was my book club’s choice a few years ago and I couldn’t finish the book but have since gone back and read it. I didn’t really like the book but it has resonated with many people and has created heated debates and polarized opinions on many aspects of family life.

    On another note, I have just finished reading ‘The Girls from Winnetka’ and I found their stories bitter sweet and sad. What wonderful, dignified, role models these women are for future generations.

    1. Hi Kerry! How absolutely fascinating that you’re having a film shoot in your house – I can imagine it’s really weird having that other ‘family’ acting out a life in your home – kind of a parallel universe. But how fun that you’ll get to see your house on TV! I’ve heard about The Slap but it didn’t really interest me enough to make me want to pick it up – maybe one day.

      Oh I am so glad you enjoyed The Girls from Winnetka! It’s such a wonderful book and the stories so touching. I know that they have already been an inspiration to many and the book has also been an inspiration for them, which was fantastic to hear from Laura.

  13. What a wonderful day and beautiful pictures of your walk. I love the brave little ducks that are out in January. Thank you for sharing about your visit with Laura. I believe that friends can be any age and each generation can learn from each other and enrich each other’s lives. I do wish you had taken that toboggan ride though. I am sixty and still love to zip down the hill! I’m not sure I would enjoy getting lost in Brooklyn as much as you did because I’m too much of a country bumpkin. I love to wander in the timber and get turned around and come out of the woods where I least expect it.
    I am enjoying your adventures so much. Thanks again for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Janet! I know, those ducks were really intrepid, considering most of the lake was frozen! I just couldn’t do the toboggan ride – not with all those trees to crash into! But maybe one day I might feel brave enough to give it a go!

      Oh I am SURE you would love Brooklyn if you ever made it over here! I am so delighted that you are enjoying my adventures – thank you so much for reading along!

  14. HAPPY VALENTINES DAY Book Snob! Hearts and flowers wrapped in love to you.
    I forwarded your blog to a couple of friends and I want to share what my first friend wrote me. We became friends when we were 5.
    “Loved what she said about having intergenerational friendships – what she doesn’t understand ( yet) is that we are all the same age inside – 30, 40 , 50, 60, 70, 80…………….I’m sure that is why you connected – like minds and curiosity, the outside body doesn’t come into the equasion.
    I guess that is the pearl that comes with years.”
    My other friend wrote that she is going to adopt your “Why Not” spirit!! And everybody (underlined) says for you to write your book!
    So looking forward to our next episode together.
    Laura (who would have loved to be your grandmother!)

    1. Oh Laura, you are so lovely! Happy Valentine’s Day to you too! Those cakes you gave me were divine!
      I love what your friend said about us all being the same age inside…so true. How wonderful that you and your friend are still in touch after all these years!!
      You and your friends are far too kind – I would love to write that book but I just don’t know what I would have to say! I will think about, I promise!

      Can’t wait to see you again, once the flowers are out! And I would be honoured to be your granddaughter!!

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