Exploring Brooklyn

I spent the whole of the past weekend in Brooklyn, exploring. I was inspired by reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and decided I needed to go and walk the streets Betty Smith so evocatively described. I’ve been meaning to go to the Museum and the Botanical Gardens for ages, and so Saturday was planned as the day. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas – the rain that started on Thursday and put paid to my plans to see the free Black Eyed Peas concert in Central Park (cancelled for health and safety reasons – oh well, we found a bar with musicians who played Black Eyed Peas songs for us and barmen who plied us with cheap margaritas instead) stuck around until Saturday night, which rendered a visit to the Gardens impossible. However, Brooklyn Museum was a perfect choice for a miserable June afternoon, and so off I went. I am a bit of a museum snob…are we sensing a theme here?!…and I was prepared to be sniffy, but I must say, I found it absolutely wonderful. They have such diverse collections, displayed imaginatively around its impressive turn of the century building, and every floor holds something to surprise and delight. I was thrilled to find a stunning Boldini portrait, a genuine Egyptian mummy, a reconstructed Dutch house complete with period interior, Sam Taylor-Wood’s complete, haunting Ghosts photography exhibition, chronicling the moody walk across the moors from Haworth Parsonage to Top Withins, inspiration for Wuthering Heights, and breathtaking stained glass, amongst many other intriguing objects. I also bumped into Jenny and her sister, and we had a nice catch up in the cafe. Isn’t it lovely when that happens?

On Sunday I was back across the bridge, this time for fish and chips with two of my friends. We were so full after lunch that we decided to go for a nice long walk – the sun had come out and there was nary a rain cloud in sight. Wandering down leafy avenues of brownstones and streets filled with quaint Victorian shopfronts, we found ourselves entering the wild and very English feeling Fort Greene Park, which was teeming with locals enjoying the pleasant weather. I could just imagine Francie and Neeley Nolan skipping through here on their way home from school, or sitting on the stoop of one of the nearby brownstones, Francie reading a book and Neeley playing with his marbles.

There is a remarkably timeless feel about Brooklyn. I love its shady streets, its slightly rugged open spaces, its beautiful turn of the century architecture, its unique and interesting shops and its peacefulness. Sitting on a bench, watching the trees sway in the breeze along the solemn brownstone lined avenues, spreading a dappled sunlight along the weathered sidewalks, you could be in 1911, not 2011. It’s a perfect place to be on a sunny afternoon.

26 comments

  1. This was really very nicely written… Good job. My BIL used to live in Brooklyn and *loved* it. He now lives in LA – not quite the same place! I really admire how you are making the most of your stay in the US – very inspiring…🙂

    Liz

    1. Thank you Liz, glad you enjoyed it! Yes LA must be worlds away – though the weather is better! Thank you – I am doing my best and I am being helped by the warmth and generosity of the lovely Americans I have met!🙂

  2. What a delight to read of your Brooklyn adventure, and to walk the streets and parks of it with you here, Rachel. The old brownstones are wonderful (I’ve been in one, though it was several years ago). They evoke such a different era, but, how exciting for you to be there after finishing A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I admire you spirit and sense of adventure and how you capture a book in every way possible. Good for you.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Penny! It was a pleasure to be able to share it with you.🙂 Aren’t they beautiful? I’ve been in one too and they truly are fantastic and so elegant. Thank you – I love being able to read books set in New York and really understand and imagine what the author is talking about – it makes it a much richer and more meaningful experience for me.

  3. Very much enjoyed your review of Brooklyn and it’s great to see the elegance of it in your photos. I got a real sense of Betty Smith’s affection for Brooklyn in the novel. I particularly liked the Christmas tree episode where poor Francie and Neeley got the tree thrown at them and Francie gazing at the expensive doll in the shop window.

    1. Thanks Nicola – glad you enjoyed the photos. Betty Smith’s love for Brooklyn just oozes from the pages and I think that’s why it’s such a warm, cosy novel. I loved those bits too – my heart broke for those children and how little they had, but they so enjoyed those little bright moments in their lives that I couldn’t help but think they did have a rich childhood in many ways as they learned to appreciate the important things in life through their poverty.

  4. Reading your description of Brooklyn, I kept hearing the voice of Anne Bancroft as Helene Hanff in 84 Charing Cross Road – she loved her home city, and your enthusiasm resonated with hers.

    1. What a compliment to be compared to Helene Hanff, Susan! Thank you so much! I love this city with all my heart – I can’t help but be enthusiastic!

  5. Last year my family and I stayed in a brownstone apartment on Washington Avenue for a week at the time of Chipp and Gemma getting married. We walked back over the Brooklyn Bridge having gone to City Hall on the underground from Clinton/ Washington Subway.This particular post brings back the memories.Thank You.

  6. WHAS HAPPENED TO YOUR BLOG/WEBSITE????? For many months now I have been reading your blog in chronological order. I stop for a short time…come back to keep on reading and all of a sudden I cannot find where I left off. How do you navigate and where is the archive button. I have so enjoyed reading of all your entries from the very beginning…keeping a list of entry titles and noting what is a “good read”. I am already on your email list. Please help me out here…I am up to mid-October, 2010. Thank you and I look forward to your reply.
    Margo Boylan in Old Forge, NY
    (Located in the Adirondack State Park)

    1. Margo I am very sorry – I changed blog templates and forgot to put my archives back on – they’re back up now and you should be able to go back to your reading where you left off! I am so glad you are enjoying reading through my blog and I am very jealous that you live in the Adirondacks- I adore that area!

  7. You have the nicest days out! I would love to know just what sort of H&S issues would have cancelled a concert but you certainly ended up with lemonade from a lemon sort of situation. I love Fergie!

    Brownstones in Brooklyn or Edwardian townhouses in London just make you sigh, don’t they? I always have to resist the urge to knock on someone’s door for a peek around. Somehow I just know they’d make fabulous places for a game of hide-and-seek!

    1. Thank you Darlene! I do have a lot of fun! I know…it was very annoying, especially as we had queued in the rain for so long beforehand. But what can you do?! And apparently they will reschedule so hopefully I will get to see them soon.

      I KNOW – I peer in at the windows and imagine myself living there in a wonderful fantasy life where I am rich and can afford fresh flowers for every room and a library of my own with french windows onto a lovely courtyard garden…a girl can dream!

    1. How could you not indeed?! No trip to NY could possibly be complete without a visit to Brooklyn and a walk across the lovely bridge, of course!

  8. I’m glad you like Brooklyn! Isn’t the Brooklyn Museum good? Poor Brooklyn Museum is so underrated, but I am thinking I may get a membership there. It’s really a wonderful museum. Did y’all end up seeing the period rooms? Indie Sister and I were delighted with them — neither of us had any idea the museum had those. It’s wonderful.

    1. Of course I like Brooklyn! You are there!🙂 The Museum was fantastic – and yes, totally overrated. It’s very much a more compact version of the Met and yes I LOVED the period rooms – I had no idea they were there either and I thought they were amongst the best bits of the whole place. You go and get that membership!

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