The New York Times just published Tony Judt’s piece on New York a few days ago. This was something he wrote much earlier ( of course since he died in August this year) and is coming out in a book. You can read it here:
Anyway, the point of this posting is that it inspired me to write my own recollections of the year I and my wife Ramaa lived in New York, since to me too, its so much of a world city in the way Tony Judt talks about.
We lived in Brooklyn amidst the remnants of what once was an Italian street. It still had a working class Italian pastry shop, womanned by a couple of beautiful young sisters and their mom, who had to keep a stern eye on the rather unsuitable suitors that could be found there at any time. Next to it was Johnny’s, in mine and my wife’s opinion, the best pizza in New York..one of his pizzas that we still dream about was called Granny’s pizza .. thin crust with fresh moz and fresh basil, drizzled with olive oil. A pizza completely at home in a Michelin star restaurant if you ask me, served with no fanfare at a hole-in-the-wall Brooklyn pizzeria. A block to the east was the little Brooklyn Chinatown that, we were told, people would refer to as Taiwan to compare it with the mainland across the Hudson! Three meat dinner for 3 dollars flat… the cheapest vegetables you could ever buy overflowing the sidewalks, and bustling with people…who suddenly vanished into the brownstones after 7pm. Our favorite however was a Vietnamese restaurant where the staff were all nieces and nephews, some of who were students at CUNY, with cute accents and blond spikes in their hair, and late at night the whole family ate together, often sending off-menu delicacies to our table.
A block to the north the neighborhood turned distinctly Hispanic, redolent every evening with the smell of baking buns from a hole-in-the wall Mexican bakery, that we noticed only after passing it about a hundred times, that made the most amazing sesame buns. A few more blocks up on 5th avenue there was a little metal shack on one of the cross-streets where a large genial Mexican grandma doled out, from a battered cold case, amazing home made tamales. We loved it .. it was so third world!
If you managed to walk that mile and still have an appetite .. Fifth Avenue Brooklyn was full of vendors with freshly fried empanadas, that became a daily addiction for my wife, and corn roasting on coals, with the occasional meat cart, dripping with links of blood red sausages.
If you walked south however you entered a middle-eastern neighborhood… first a couple of Greek restaurants heralded the hookah bars and the pastry shops including an amazing Lebanese pastry shop where we first tasted mamoul. Coming back stuffed with Zaatar and mamoul, the hookah bars were full of oldish men with large mustaches sucking away in complete silence at the hookah’s while children played all around them!
You could even buy at an oud at a curio shop at one corner!
Finally if you walked west, crossing first the Palestinian grocery store next to the subway station at the first crossing, and the Indian grocery store at the next, you would traverse a couple of blocks of closed warehouses and decaying factories, till you came to the grey industrial waters separating you from Manhattan. But even here, you could take a crowded ferry, probably plying this route for more than a half-a century, and get a sense, till you reached the black-clad Manhattanites on the other side, of being in another world.