Brooklyn, 5.30 pm, Saturday
Just off the plane, out of the taxi, looking for my b’n’b in Lafayette Ave – the address sounds grand, the reality slightly different, with a mixture of ‘housing projects’ towers, two, three, four-storey brownstones and even colorful weatherboard places. Quaint.
I find the brownstone and go up the steps. Ring ring, and a young woman answers the doorbell. Waldemar’s place? That’s downstairs. Back down the steps, my 20-kilo bag already feeling like 40. Where’s the door? Oh, around there, under the steps? How quaint, again. Knock knock. No-one home. Here’s a note: “Gone out. Ring my cell.” I would if I could, but my mobile’s not dialed in. Never mind, there’s a pay phone over by that grocery store. Could I have some change please? For the pay phone? Coins tumble through it, just like in the movies. Night’s falling. Sheesh.
Eventually, through the kind interventions of the upstairs neighbor, a key is located. I won’t have to sleep on the streets after all.
Sunday morning in Brooklyn, sun’s shining, and I hear the most heavenly voices wafting from the open windows of the glorious Queen of All Saints Church, just along the street. It sounds like a choir of black angels, and takes me back to tramping the streets of Porto Venere in 2005, and coming across a music academy with exquisite sounds of violins pouring out. My spirit is uplifted immediately and immensely. Hallelujah and Praise Be! Thank the Lord!
But Brooklyn’s an old city, and urban renewal doesn’t seem to have progressed far from the shores of the East River. Most of it feels straight out of a Tom Waits song. An old Caddy lies beside the sidewalk, and looks like it’s someone’s bedroom. Looks like it’s been there a while. That car ain’t goin’ nowhere, apart from the Caddy Boneyard.
Downtown, it’s the same. Empty streets, sad holes where old buildings have been ripped out of the city’s gums like rotten teeth. The Dime Store Bank with its classical Parthenonic facade just makes the decay more obvious. And here and there are the most marvelous architectural details, left over from the days when Brooklyn housed the wealthy. Maybe it will again; down by the river it’s more salubrious, and the art galleries and bakeries are moving into DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), and there’s a new ferry landing. So, this is the Brooklyn Bridge? And that’s Manhattan over there, with those tall skyscraper things? Anyone like to sell this here real estate to me? Here, have twenty-four dollars*. The Dutch know a bargain when they see one.
(*Actually, it was 60 guilders. Useful, if you’re an American Indian in 1626 and there’s not a lot to spend it on. Macy’s and Maccas were still some centuries away.)
It’s late summer, so the day’s pretty hot, and the humidity is building up. Why don’t I get on the East River Ferry and enjoy the breeze? And it is nice. My feet enjoy the rest, all the way to the landing at Greenpoint and the edge of Queens. Edge? It feels like the margins of the wastelands, stepping off the ferry into a sad parking lot. Being Sunday, the parking lot’s near-deserted, so at least there’s no drug deals going down. The only weed here today is growing through the cracks in the pavement.
But I’m on a Mission. Somewhere up Jackson Avenue is MOMA’s PS1 Contemporary Art Gallery, and the Sculpture Centre. I’m here for Kulture, with a capital Q. Fortunately, I’ve brought my GPS, and it leads me unerringly to Jackson. I’ve been to Jackson, good ole’ Jackson town. All it needed was Johnny Cash* to appear amongst the tumbleweed of papers blowing down the deserted street, and my day would have been made.
(* Better still, Clint Eastwood.)
My Lonely Planet guide is already looking dog-eared, and I’ve only been using it for half a day. The map shows the Sculpture Centre as being somewhere here, but blessed* if I can find it, and there’s no-one to ask. Up Jackson Avenue, down Jackson Avenue. Up, down. Eventually I spot it in a side street. It has a post-post-modernly lack of signage. And it’s closed, while a new exhibition is being installed. Saves me having to contemplate another ‘time-based work’ not good enough to make the Logies or MTV, I guess. My feet are hurting.
(* I’m being polite.)
Now, to find PS1. It must be around here somewhere….