My previous temp job ended this Friday and, by some luck or grace, I managed to scare up another job that will keep me occupied for at least another few weeks. The job doesn't start till Wednesday - bad news for my pocketbook, good news for my soul - and so I thought I'd use this unexpected 4 day weekend to my best advantage and tackle some of the stuff on my New York bucket list - all the things I want to do before I leave the city. Yesterday, I decided to check off "Explore Brooklyn"; it's sort of shameful how long I've lived here, and how vague and nebulous the borough of Brooklyn is to me. Actually, they're all pretty vague and nebulous other than Manhattan, now that I think about it - I've never even BEEN to Staten Island (although that's on the bucket list too), but the fact that I know so little about Brooklyn irks me the most.
Brooklyn is a pretty large swath to cover in just one day, so I narrowed "explore Brooklyn" down to "explore Park Slope," because before yesterday, I'd never even been to Park Slope proper, not even once.
After some rather inept Googling of "where to go in Park Slope," a combination of articles from New York Magazine, Time Out, and various blogs on the subject led me to two specialty food stores, a bookshop, a stained glass store, and a cute-looking odds-and-ends boutique, all of which felicitously swung a very wide loop around the neighborhood. The stained glass shop proved to be a bust - more a workshop than a browsing store, and the odds-and-ends boutique had since closed. But the bookshop was delightful, quiet, cozy, smattered with couches and cats, with a little plate of cookies in the back bearing a sign that said, "Take some, they're delicious!" I munched on an oatmeal raisin cookie and pet a cat for a half-hour or so while I read the first chapter of a William Goldman book (The Princess Bride is one of my favorite books ever) I had never seen before. You rarely see William Goldman books in stores, I've found. I guess he's gone out of fashion. I put the book back when I left - intriguing as it was, money is tight and I don't need to go spending it on books when I have plenty to read at home. But at the last second I saw, towards the door, a new book by Yann Martel. Now, while The Princess Bride and a few others will give Life of Pi a healthy run for its money, it may well be my favorite book I've ever read. It affected me in ways I can really only describe as shattering. I could resist; I turned right back around and purchased a copy. And what advantageous timing: I read Life of Pi during Lent several years ago and it was the perfect spiritual companion for the period. Ash Wednesday is tomorrow and I'm looking forward to taking Yann Martel's haunting philosophy and storytelling with me.
At the specialty food stores, I was like a kid in a candy shop, almost literally. I kept writing down ideas for gifts for certain loved ones and friends (isn't there a theory out there somewhere that we give what we'd actually like to receive?). At one, girl at the counter caught me staring with a bit too much intensity at some marinated mushrooms. At Christmas in my house, my mother and I debate fruitlessly over marinated mushrooms. We serve them on our traditional Christmas antipasto platter; she insists that store-bought marinated mushrooms taste terrible, I feel her homemade mushrooms are raw and flavorless. So, at Bklyn Larder, I was caught staring intently at their marinated mushrooms - they looked so much better than anything we've ever bought or made - trying to divine what kind of mushrooms they had used, and to guess what they might have used in the marinade, in the hopes of bringing a better marinated mushroom recipe home for my mom to try. The counter girl asked if I'd like to try a little and they were, indeed, better than any marinaded mushrooms I've ever had. Actually, to say they were better implies that they're eligible to compete in the same category. They're not, they're worlds apart. Alas, even trying the mushrooms and viewing the helpful sign announcing they're marinated with "white wine, thyme and shallots," wasn't enough to make me feel I could recreate it. I guess now I just have to figure out how to somehow get those mushrooms from New York to our antipasto plate in Albuquerque.
I wandered into any store that caught my eye. Fancy boutiques with $500 dresses I could never afford and their funky vintage counterparts with more manageable prices - even though I wasn't in a place to be shopping no matter what the price. I saw a sundress for $12 at Beacon's Closet which thank god didn't fit because I didn't really need it and probably could not have resisted it if it had. I wandered around every little shop with shiny merchandise, peered into windows of nice-looking restaurants, and poked my head into every cafe that looked interesting from the outside. I even walked into a wine store - who knows why, just curious. When I finished my wide loop, three hours later, I ended up back where I started at Bklyn Larder, and starving. Pleased as I was with their mushrooms, I decided to try my luck with the soup, and ended the excursion with - SERIOUSLY - the best bowl of tomato soup I've ever had.
On the way out, I made a point to pass the Atlantic Yards, a point of interest since seeing the Civilian's In the Footprint, and I thought about the conversation I had with my dad after having seen it. I told him one thing that had frustrated me about the show was that they never really fully explained the details of eminent domain, but went through a lot of trouble convincing us that it was being abused. I asked my dad (a real estate attorney, so, you know, he knows about stuff) what he thought of the fact that even though it's a private developer, they're using the fact that the project is creating affordable housing and jobs to validate the use of eminent domain. He shrugged and said, "That seems about right." The comment didn't really contain any sympathy for the residents who had been who had been pushed out, but nor was it in defense of the government or the developers. It was just an observation that it seemed to him what had happened had been a valid use of eminent domain. The memory made me think fondly of my dad, about how he values logic and consistency - so much so that I think he might favor it over any moral or political ideal. Our politics don't always align, but I like that, I can respect that. I'm comforted by that.
It was a beautiful, peaceful day; I hadn't felt so… alone with myself, so independent and quiet, since I had been left to explore Boston on my own several years ago. Or, before that, Chicago. It suddenly occurred to me how much I enjoy this kind of solitary exploration, going nowhere and doing nothing in particular, letting my feet meander as my thoughts do - from Christmas to literature and philosophy to my dad's steadfast nature to a thousand other pointless and wonderful subjects that I hardly think of but, really, amount to my life. I like wandering around in stores and cafes, even if I have no intention of purchasing anything, even if there's nothing I would want to have if I could. I like taking the time to explore and consider the possibilities that exist on the inside of the storefront, possibilities that I usually consider and dismiss in the split second it takes me to walk past, on my way to somewhere else.
And then it occurred to me that with Boston and Chicago I had been left to my devices through a specific set of circumstances. I hadn't avoided exploring those two cities on my own, but I hadn't pushed it either. They both just sort of happened. Before yesterday, I had never actively planned to meander pointlessly on my own like that. I wonder why, if it's something I've enjoyed so much in the past? It doesn't matter. I find it sort of strange and wonderful that after so many years in the city, there are still so many neighborhoods that I can wander through and get lost in with total abandon - more, probably, than neighborhoods I know well. Now that I know I enjoy it so much, I'm going to have to do it more often, and I'm incredibly grateful that I can. It's almost like I can go on a mini-holiday whenever I want to new and unfamiliar place without every having to venture farther than my nearest subway.