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The end of summer, Bay Ridge
Do you realize it is our last summer here? – I asked R. today as we were sitting on a bench at the Bay Ridge promenade, watching the sun set over the milky-grey water and slowly disappear behind greenery of Staten Island. – And it’s ending. Our last summer here is ending.

It’s true; and it made us both sad. In less than two months all our life will be packed up in boxes, ready to move back to the neighborhood we came here from. And suddenly it felt much harder than it really is: suddenly I thought about all good things about this neighborhood I simply take for granted. About the birds chirping in the yard when I wake up in the morning, and the cool breeze from the bay; about the best cheap sushi in all of the five boroughs, right there, two blocks over at Fifth Avenue, and about the funny deli clerk who – since he learned I am Polish - greets me with dobsze, dobsze instead of the usual “hallo”. About the neighbors on my block who have been always the same for years, speaking to each other at home in at least two dozen different languages. All this will be left behind, soon, and I never took time to really describe it.

Bay Ridge has been a perfect home for us from the first day we moved here, in 2005, right when the housing bubble was still going strong, when the rental prices were growing up faster than the Dow Jones index — and when realtors did not return my phone calls. We have been shown 80 (Eighty. That’s right: eigh-ty!) properties already that summer, and we were both ready to give up in our seemingly hopeless search for a clean, affordable, spacious and cat-friendly place — when finally, finally, we got lucky. A college-certified poet supporting himself  as a freelance realtor was the first one who finally did call me back, and he picked us up for a short ride through the neighborhood. We’ve been chatting about e.e. cummings and typewriters as he drove us down tree-lined streets winding through rows of cute suburban houses. The first place he showed us was the one we ended up renting — and somehow in my mind it has always been marked by poetry and kindness that started with the man who led us there.  In the city where there are only two kinds of apartments (too small or too expensive) this one was an oddity, a miracle almost. For months we had no furniture to fill its vast spaces, so for Christmas that year we’ve bought the largest tree available from the itinerant Canadians who have been selling them on right on the corner. They makeshift shop was right in front of the nearby liquor store, where we discovered amazing Lebanese wines. Our first holiday smelled of homemade pierogi, pine needles, fresh paint, and Chateau Kefraya.

We only had one real vacation since we moved here, but somehow it always felt like we were on vacations, staring at the ships coming and going down the calm bay underneath the Verrazano Bridge, which always made me think of San Francisco.  We’ve been strolling, and later rollerblading up and down the promenade, way from the Owl’s Head Pier down to the bridge and back again, over and over. This place has never been really quiet — it’s just a slice of land left over from Robert Moses’ great highway project, spared only because the motorists speeding through the mighty Brooklyn-Queens Expressway would definitely not feel comfortable driving right at the very edge of Upper New York Bay. So the narrow ribbon of land was preserved, and turned into what became our everyday hangout place. For some time we knew (at least from sight) every roller-skater, every dog walker and every promenading Hasidic family; we recognized every elderly Russian woman if not by name, definitely by the shape of her beloved hat. When the crazy Czech man who skated like a devil himself zoomed by us, we greeted him with a friendly nod. We were at home here — and at the same time we were visitors, tourists. It was dreamy like Proustian seaside town of Balbec, populated by beautiful girls and boys of eternal summer, by Albertines and Charluses of our own.

From a certain point there was a dark side to this Bay Ridge “vacation:” both one of us had a steady job, and money was tight. Six miles to the north, at the corner of Sixth Ave and 49th Street the world was clearly ending and its crumbled remains were carried away in cardboard boxes by the former employees of the Lehman Brothers Co. I am almost certain that if it wouldn’t be for the fact that we’ve been living here, I would have fallen out of love with New York back then. It’s such a cruel place for people without cash, this city of ours – and since we’ve been mostly viewing it from afar, the roar if the economic earthquake felt like but a murmur. We were doing our best to get through this, taking odd jobs, keeping the faith, continuing at whatever it was that we usually have done to stay afloat. Every day was taking us further from the disaster, as we were starting our mornings with the rest of the neighbors, sipping our kawfee at Pane Antico or at the Little Cupcakes Bakeshop.

For a longest time it seemed like we were totally safe here, safe from any serious change, or any disaster: since that terrible September when many were lost (not surprising in a 'hood full of cops and firefighters) – and are still remembered by commemorative street name plaques – nothing serious has happened. The blue rays of light coming from the place where the Towers had been were but blurry cobalt streaks against the Brooklyn sky. Too bad very few visitors got to share our comfort: an hour-long commute did not encourage anyone to visit too often. Irene came and went, and so did Sandy. Big trees were uprooted, holes ripped in the promenade sidewalk made the skaters complain – but we have been spared, and so were our cats and our potted plants, and our everyday chores and habits. We made some friends, although it took us a long time to find them. We grew our roots; we settled down; it seemed quite stable. The prices went up, however, as everywhere else in the city – and I know it not because our rent increased (it did not), but because my dream house, the magical Arts-and-Crafts Gingerbread House on Colonial Road went from 4.5 million when it was first for sale in 2007 to even more outrageous 11 million five years later.

Our poetic realtor was right when he told us that this neighborhood was a tiny, self-contained little world. It had it all: the movie theater and plenty of hardware stores, a library, tons of restaurants, even a branch of Century 21 if anyone needed one. There was a mosque right next to the movie theater, so on Friday nights the faithful conducted their evening prayers right at the edge of the box office as the infidels were getting their tickets to see another superhero movie. Each year, there were at least two Easter celebrations, Catholic and Orthodox, eleven days apart. Saint Patty’s Day brought a parade with windpipes and green shamrocks in every other window, and the Norwegian Day had its own march, with Vikings. Every June and July, there were Italian weddings with brilliantined boys in shiny dress shirts and fluffy dark-eyed brides on impossibly high heels, yelling at their grooms and eating impossibly elaborate  wedding cakes. Every end of Ramadan brought the most amazing music and smells to the shops on Fifth Avenue; meanwhile, elderly Greek men of Fourth Av. began setting tables on front porches for ouzo and a game of backgammon. Cicadas were singing like crazy every August, and every October the leaves on the tiny Japanese maple trees in manicured front yards were turning blood-red. Then, right after every Thanksgiving, by the first frost the Canadians were back, with their Québécois accents and a truckload of fresh-cut trees.

I was thinking about all of this, trying to remember as much of this as I possibly can for the days to come — and the evening was fading, painting the bay in most amazing opalescent colors. We rose from the bench and turned our backs to the open ocean beyond the bridge. Neither of us said a word, but I am pretty sure we’ve been thinking the same kind of nostalgic New York thoughts; thoughts of people who have been here long enough to know that nothing really lasts. It will be over, in less than two months, and this place, this good, dreamy place will become what it probably should have been from the get-go, another entry on my growing list of paradises lost.

środa, 11 września 2013, bigapple1
Tagi: bay ridge

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