Back to BROOKLYN !
(said with a thick Italian/new york accent )
After college, my path moved me to Brooklyn, I picked Brooklyn for a few reasons;
1st it was close to Wall Street, where I started working. I could take the subway to work, and after a stress full day of standing and trading – walk over the Brooklyn Bridge back to my tiny apartment, and use that walk to distress.
2nd I never fit into the ‘uptown thing’, going to restaurants & bars every night never appealed to me ( looking back, I did not smoke, and could not stand the smell) . Brooklyn offered a different style – more family bound, a few restaurants & pubs, but most of all – my little area was ‘safe’ – not a lot of drive by shootings. The big thing here was pizza, ‘family loyalty’, and Bocce Ball.
So back to Brooklyn I went one day, when the sun finally shined, to walk with my happy memories.
It was during this time in my life, that my ‘real education‘ took place. I loved living in Brooklyn, my 2 bedroom apt. with hardwood floors, and the smell of tomato sauce scenting my apartment.
I liked being in this Italian neighborhood. I felt very comfortable in this area, it was like stepping into a familiar movie set, with all the props in place. The pizza restaurants, run by good looking men, and women with big black hair, and perfect makeup, wearing black, pants & tops. I think this is why I am a fan of Mob Wives’ TV show. I know, these people exist, and I tried to blend in, but never fully able to accomplish this endeavor.
Brooklyn has the most beautiful Brownstone homes, all with lovely front gardens with roses, and iris and a statue of Mother Mary, or St Peter.
The St. Paul’s church was close by, easy to walk to.
I thought, I would live here forever, and settle my gipsy bones down finally. I dreamed of buying a Brownstone, and living on the garden floor, to create my own little space of Eden.
Renting out the other top floors to other Italians, who would feed me once in a while . I learned these people were very generous with giving you food to eat (mange ! mange!)– and you could not refuse, it would be an insult to the family. So you always accepted the invitation, this worked for me ; I did not like to cook, but never admitted it.I planned on marring a good looking ‘wise guy’ ,and taking yearly vacations to Italy, to visit Cousin Frankie, Maria and any other relative I could find. . Yes, I had a plan!!
My return to Brooklyn was bittersweet. Most of the building did not change, but the store fronts did. Court Street, the main shopping area- changed so much – it saddened my heart.
Most of the Court St, now offered Yoga sessions, Organic food, massage therapy & Juice Bars and trendy bars! … where did my bakery that offered cannolis go to?
This was not Italian based business, that I loved, shocked by all the changes, I walked in slient horror, and sadness, passing wanna be hippies and organic nuts.
I tried to revisit a favorite restaurant that I used to buy brick oven pizza from – (my mouth waters just thinking of it ) . So, walking down Court St., I recognized the crossing street names, but could not recognize any of the store fronts – just as I passed a Dunkin Donut shop – I froze ! Gone was my brick oven place – it now was this donut place ! What gave it away? They changed the store front, but forgot to remove the stature of St. Joseph’s in the patio area.
I ordered a café, (needing a Irish coffee with a shot of whisky in it). I settled for a black with very little milk.
As I sat alone, and I listened to the people buying things (one dozen glazed, 2 cafés to go – with their NYC accents, trying to take some pleasure from this. One man, I focused on, he was an Italian, looked like Sly, and had the air, like he was a ‘neighborhood guy’. He was 5’10”, olive skin, dark short hair, clean shaven, and blue eyes. Wearing Levis jeans with his black leather bomber jacket. The jacket was good quality, I could see the soft butter leather from where I sat.
He came in to pick up a special order, for his father’s birthday party. 3 dozen donuts & special ground café. (plus cake and other sweets, I’m sure). As he waited – he ordered a café, and sat down. I saw my chance, to ask my one burning question, that filled my mind.. So, I took a gamble- and decided to ask him, hoping he would not brush me off, with some excuse of not knowing what I was really asking.. “what the hell happened here?”… I had to tone it down a bit ..
‘Pardon me sir, but can you tell me what happened here ? I use to live here, and wanted to come back and enjoy a piece of pizza here, and instead, I am stuck with a café & donut. He laughed at the question, and asked if he could join my table..” yes”, I said. I knew he understood what I was really asking, and he was going to tell me. Why he did this was so simple – (Tony to protect his real name), used to work in this restaurant, that was in this building, and was proud of the good food they made. Tony was pleased that I made a special journey back here, just for lunch. So finding that I already proved to Tony, I was a ‘neighborhood girl .(with a strange accent) Tony decided to dish the dirt
Tony told me, that most of the neighborhood people moved away to Staten Island. A few reasons were, it was safer for the children, and the crime rate was lower (gee, wonder why? Lol) Too many people were effected by the World Trade Center, and most people wanted to, or had to, change their living costs, or the scenery.
The Italians, sold the stores to these ‘artsy-fartsy’ people, who paid top dollar for the locations. The Italians wanted an area, without ‘other people’ creating problems. Tony said, there are still some old timers, who are not leaving, except in a box ..but most of the people who had kids moved to SI. Tony asked where I lived now, Paris .. ‘that is very far to travel for a piece of pizza ! I responded – “it was damn good pizza ! “, we both laughed. Just as we started to laugh about things, a 40 ish year old, italian woman came into the shop. He said,‘ Hi, Maire !’ , she nodded and kept walking out the door, with her café.. I understood, from the body language, that this was going to get back to his wife, quickly , nothing is faster than women gossiping. (God made us this way- we don’t need internet ).. He was having a café with a strange woman .. Tony excused himself, saying he had to get these donuts over to the house, for the party. He quickly left the place, trying to catch up with Marie .. to share the strange but true explanation, of why he was having a good time with me.
I decided to walk back to the Brooklyn Bridge on Clinton Street ( named before the fat man).Brownstone after Brownstone I passed, with every footstep, revisiting my old dream of living here.. gone was the tomato scented air , the women with big hair, and the old men playing Bocce in the park. How I wish, I could stop time, and go back – to when I was so native, and full of dreams & hopes. Before the WTC attack. Alas, you can go back to the place – and hopefully you can recognize it again, but when you go back, will you find the same people ? The same atmosphere? My journey proved, you really can’t go back .. at best, you can find a Tony- who can tell you, what you missed with the passage of time. ..and find comfort in the fact, that Tony had a birthday party to host, with his trusting wife …