46

Prospect Park South

PPS intro

 

Bit late and a little early but Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Hope it was and will be a wonderful time.

To the final NY post before we jump on yet another plane to fly to… Let me get to that. First, let’s wander around a neighbourhood I had no intention of doing – but am very glad I did.

Remember last week I said I wanted to see how the ‘tale of two cities’ was going by exploring a neighbourhood that barely noticed Hurricane Sandy and then one that most definitely did? Well, after doing the UWS as the former, we were all set to do the latter by trekking out to the Rockaways. But then I was told by someone who’d recently been out there that it wouldn’t be easy to actually photograph the aftermath of the storm because so much of it had been cleared, and I was better off going somewhere like Coney Island, where perhaps I’d see more.

So off we went to Coney Island – but found little there too. All the areas that were affected by the hurricane face real long-term problems – you just can’t see them easily.

As much as I’d like to have documented a neighbourhood struggling to regroup, I decided to cut my losses and go to plan B – a tiny neighbourhood called Prospect Park South in Brooklyn.

If you ask the average New Yorker about PPS, they’re likely to say, “Where?”. Admittedly it’s small – around six by two blocks with just 206 homes – but it packs a punch for a micro-neighbourhood. Because most of the houses here are big. In some cases, huge.

Some facts. PPS was designed by developer Dean Alvord at the turn of last century as a piece of “country in the city”, just south of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. But instead of building humble cooker-cutter cottages Alvord dreamed up an eclectic, whimsical and somewhat crazy mix of Colonial, Queen Anne, Italianate, French Renaissance, Japanese, Elizabethan and Jacobean. I can only imagine this was a man who wore interesting suits.

The really amazing thing is that if Alvord could walk the streets of his creation today, he’d barely notice any changes. The community who live here are pro-preservation and in 1978 PPS was designated a historic district. Something Miles the artist-preservationist from last week’s post would’ve no doubt raised a glass to.

Let’s stroll…

 

Part 1: Where did Brooklyn go?

Like I said, first we visited Coney Island, a low lying area of NY and one that was affected quite badly by the storm surge. Not that you’d know it if you just glanced at the place. On a day where there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, it was easy to think that the hurricane had never happened.

 

 

what hurricane?

what hurricane? :: 1

 

 

 

 

Maybe a little dirtier than normal…

 

 

what hurricane? :: 2

what hurricane? :: 2

 

 

 

 

But that was about all you could see – sure there was a Cyclone there, but that was just one of the rides. And even it was still standing after the storm. So we trotted off to Prospect Park South for an entirely different experience.

 

 

we trotted off to Prospect Park South

we trotted off to Prospect Park South

 

 

 

 

It’s so weird. You exit the subway at Church Avenue, which is kind of down at heel. You walk a little and then suddenly you realise you’ve crossed an invisible line, one that separates normal Brooklyn and Prospect Park South…

 

 

Church Avenue, where you 'leave' NY to cross into another world

Church Avenue, where you ‘leave’ NY to cross into another world

 

 

 

 

that's a house?!

that’s a house?!

 

 

 

 

As I said, there are about 200 homes here, in varying states ranging from pristine to those in need of repair. Because as much as the people who live here adore their old homes, they cost an enormous amount to maintain. The one below, for example, is apparently costing its owner over a million just to bring it back to life. These homes are clearly more than a roof over one’s head – they’re love affairs.

 

 

being "loved back" to life

being “loved back” to life

 

 

 

 

I was lucky enough to meet the woman they call the “Queen” of the neighbourhood, Mary Kay Gallagher. Not long after moving into the area almost 50 years ago with her husband and six kids, she became the neighbourhood’s only real estate broker – if you wanted to buy in PPS, you had to make it past Mary Kay. She also played a huge role in getting the landmark designation through in 1979 and is active in the local resident’s group, the PPS Association. At 92 she’s sharp as a tack and still running her real estate business, although now her grand-daughter is her “legs”. How many homes come onto the market each year, I asked her? “Ten would be a good year”. And the price? “Around 1.5”. Cheap by Sydney standards.

 

 

the Queen of Prospect Park South, Mary Kay Gallagher

the Queen of Prospect Park South, Mary Kay Gallagher

 

 

 

 

surveying her kingdom

surveying her kingdom

 

 

 

 

So who lives here, aside from Mary Kay? Things have changed a little from the early 1900s when you had to be of a certain type. Alvord’s comments in the original prospectus were: “In fixing upon a location for a home, it is pleasant to live where wife and children, in going to and fro, are not subjected to the annoyance of contact with the undesirable elements of society”.

But you still have to be wealthy enough to afford both the initial purchase price as well as the hefty ongoing costs. Which might explain why the area has always had a huge number of doctors and still does – like Chris, who despite his flamboyant style of dress, is an MD, living in one of the more moderately sized homes with his wife and daughter.

 

 

Chris the doctor

Chris the doctor

 

 

 

 

Dan, who lives down the road from Chris, with his wife and two boys, isn’t a doctor. But he bought a famous surgeon’s house just over three years ago. He’d spent years searching for the right house in the area – and tried Mark Kay Gallagher’s patience in the process. In the end she rang him and said, “Dan, I’ve showed you loads of houses. I’m going to show you one more and if you don’t like it, never call me again”.

Luckily for both of them, Dan loved the last house she showed him. It wasn’t a mansion – because Dan didn’t want anything too big – and it was a great deal. While it’s not the grandest or prettiest, Dan’s completely in love with both the neighbourhood and his home – “We live in a palace. We have chooks and I grow my own fruit and vegetables out the back. There’s space for the boys to run around and it’s really safe. The Upper West Side where we used to live couldn’t have given us any of this.”

 

 

room to move - Nathan and Calvin :: 1

room to move – Nathan and Calvin :: 1

 

 

 

 

room to move - Nathan and Calvin :: 2

room to move – Nathan and Calvin :: 2

 

 

 

 

happy in their hood

happy in their hood

 

 

 

 

"We live in a palace. A palace with chooks" - Dan

“We live in a palace. A palace with chooks” – Dan

 

 

 

 

Part 2: The Japanese House

My favourite house out of the 200 is the one everyone calls “The Japanese house”. Built in 1902, it looks so out of place in Brooklyn, NY, it isn’t funny. But that’s what’s so cool about it. What was Alvord thinking?

 

 

the Japanese House :: 1

the Japanese House :: 1

 

 

 

 

the Japanese House :: 2

the Japanese House :: 2

 

 

 

 

the Japanese House :: 3

the Japanese House :: 3

 

 

 

 

Given the temple-like exterior you almost expect to walk into a zen-like, sparsely decorated interior. But no. The home of Gloria Fischer and her late husband, Albert, is anything but sparse. They’ve lived here for 40 years and have been collecting things from all over the world for just as long.

 

 

40 years of collecting later :: 1

40 years of collecting later :: 1

 

 

 

 

40 years of collecting later :: 2

40 years of collecting later :: 2

 

 

 

 

I loved Gloria. Like Mary Kay Gallagher, she ain’t a wallflower. But once they work out you’re not a total idiot, it’s just fine. Then they’re only a little bit scary.

 

 

Gloria

Gloria

 

 

 

 

"My house is very much part of me, yes"

“My house is very much part of me, yes”

 

 

 

 

Like me, Gloria loves juxtaposing the unexpected – as must have Alvord. Why else would he have plonked a Japanese house right next door to a Greek one?

 

 

Gloria's Greek neighbour

Gloria’s Greek neighbour

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Showing their age

Unlike the 100+ year old homes that are well maintained, there are a handful of ones in the neighbourhood that have let themselves go a little. The result varies – some look lovely in their old age, others more than a little spooky.

I particularly like the one where an entire side is covered in some sort of vine. It’s right next door to the one that’s being “loved back to life” – whereas with this one nature is busy reclaiming its ground.

 

 

nature reclaims its ground :: 1

nature reclaims its ground :: 1

 

 

 

 

nature reclaims its ground :: 2

nature reclaims its ground :: 2

 

 

 

 

bird on a branch

bird on a branch

 

 

 

 

And I’m intrigued by the spooky house down the road that is apparently used a lot for films – spooky films I’m sure.

 

 

the spooky place

the spooky place

 

 

 

 

Part 4: The sage green house

Now what I haven’t told you is that I’ve been to PPS before, many times in fact. Because this is where the sister of our friend Chris from the UWS lives – Mary K, with her husband, Bill, and their three kids. Had I not come here with Chris many years ago, I would probably never have known about it either.

When plan A fell through this week – to visit an area affected by the hurricane – I immediately thought of PPS. I’ve always loved it and since this was where we were going to spend Christmas eve and morning, it made sense.

Plus we were invited to their annual Caroling Party a few days before Christmas, where around 80 of their friends pile into their home to make merry around the piano.

A perfect opportunity to test out something I’ve never tried before – a flash!

 

 

109 years old and still going strong

109 years old and still going strong

 

 

 

 

Silent Night, not - the Caroling Party

Silent Night, not – the Caroling Party

 

 

 

 

The house isn’t the biggest in PPS but it’s plenty big enough to keep every age group happy: the adults downstairs, the teenagers on the third floor and the kids, on the second floor in the TV room or running up and down wherever they fancied.

 

 

the teenagers room

the teenagers room

 

 

 

 

the kids room :: 1

the kids room :: 1

 

 

 

 

the kids room :: 2

the kids room :: 2

 

 

 

 

the chill-out room

the chill-out room

 

 

 

 

Previously always opposed to using a flash, I decided to make a feature of it and have some fun. Helped along no doubt by the malted red wine Mary K insist I try.

 

 

engaged couple No 1

engaged couple No 1

 

 

 

 

engaged couple No 2

engaged couple No 2

 

 

 

 

1am and still singing

1am and still singing

 

 

 

 

Part 5: Christmas morning

Coco and I joined Chris and Mary K’s family for Christmas eve dinner and then stayed overnight. Christmas morning was no different to any over – the kids are awake at the crack of dawn, dragging bleary eyed adults downstairs to the tree. A flurry of present giving and then everyone kind of flops.

Unless there’s a pesky woman with a camera ushering you out the door for a Christmas morning shot.

 

 

Christmas morning - Ellie and Audrey

Christmas morning – Ellie and Audrey

 

 

 

 

no snow but at least the sun is shining

no snow but at least the sun is shining

 

 

 

 

Coco and I had time for one last look around the lovely old house and then it was time to thank Mary K and everyone, and head back to the UWS.

 

 

looking down from the third floor - PPS, where even the traffic island is beautiful

looking down from the third floor – PPS, where even the traffic island is beautiful

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

People don’t come to Prospect Park South for the interesting street life – there is none. They come because of the houses.

“I, Home Owner, do take thee house… in sickness and in health, till death – or lack of funds to keep you in new clapboard and shingles, dormer windows, stained glass, and the odd Greek column or two – do us part.”

They’re commitments, often life-long ones. And they must be buggers to heat. But what houses they are.

 

 

 

Coco's favourite plaything on Christmas morning - Moo, a rescue kitten from the hurricane

Coco’s favourite plaything on Christmas morning – Moo, a rescue kitten from the hurricane

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

‘Christmas in NY’ is quite something. What with all the shows, the ice-skating, the walks in Central Park and along Fifth Avenue. Not that we’ve done any of that – no time I’m afraid. As it was, just adding a few social events into the mix has meant I’m yet again running late, later than usual even.

But it was a wonderful thing to spend it with our lovely friends – many thanks (again) Chris, Mary K, Bill, Ellie, Audrey and Quentin. 

And although my ‘tale of two cities’ didn’t pan out quite as I would’ve liked, I loved the two neighbourhoods we ended up exploring.

Tomorrow morning Coco and I are on the move once again. After much deliberation – so much – I’ve finally fixed on the next three weeks of this project. New Zealand!

Remember we had to use our existing Round the World tickets back to Sydney before 30 December? So just as exciting as the prospect of seeing NZ for the first time is that we’ll be home in Sydney on Sunday morning! Oh my god. Home. H.O.M.E. I actually can’t believe it!

Our Round the World tickets take us from LA to Sydney and then we’ll catch our breath for two days before catching a short flight to Auckland. So the first post will be the end of next week hopefully.

And after New Zealand? By then we should be up to ‘Suburb’ No 49 with only three more to go. Three! Of course I don’t quite know exactly where they’ll be – but between now and then I’m sure my brain will let me know.

 —

This suburb has been brought to you by Sarah Trew

See you next week.

 

43

Higashiyama

k intro

 

Seeing as it was my birthday this week I thought why not live dangerously and do what every tourist who comes to Japan does – visit Kyoto and make a beeline for its famous pretty bits.

Crazy right? If you’ve been following for a while, you’ll know this project is all about the ‘unfamous’ and having to search for beauty (well, okay, the Marais in Paris wasn’t exactly a challenge, nor Trastevere in Rome, but otherwise…).

It started well with a fun trip on the shinkansen, AKA bullet train, but I had a minor wobble as soon as we arrived when I spied the crowds of tourists and, yes, queues. I am not good at queues.

But it turned out that 99% of the tourists were Japanese. And call me something or other but I don’t mind hanging out with other tourists if they’re from their own country. Then it’s more like observing locals at play.

Oh, whatever. It was weird doing the ‘famous’ but it felt even more odd not to see it and not to show you.

The only real hiccup was that having decided to play tourist, I didn’t actually act like one – I was hopelessly under-researched and had no Top Ten list in my back pocket. Instead, we did what we normally do – chose one area to explore and no more. As a result, this is very much, here’s one part of Kyoto with a few shots of Japan’s most famous temple from another part thrown in.

I hope you enjoy our two-and-a-half-days-in-Kyoto-but-it-looks-like-one tour…

 

Part 1: Day two – the morning

First there was the train. Well, more like a plane really. Travelling at 300km an hour, the Nozomi shinkansen 700 series delivered us from edgy Tokyo to ancient Kyoto in just under 2.5 hours.

 

 

this is your captain speaking - the shinkansen

this is your captain speaking – the Nozomi shinkansen

 

 

 

 

just landed - arriving at Kyoto Station

just landed – arriving at Kyoto

 

 

 

 

travel back in time at 300 miles an hour

travel back in time at 300 km an hour

 

 

 

 

from Tokyo's man-made mountains to Kyoto's high-rise

from Tokyo’s man-made mountains to Kyoto’s high-rise

 

 

 

 

2. Day one – the afternoon

All year we’ve rented apartments. Most fine, a couple great, one woeful (when the cockroaches started walking across my computer it was time to go).

But we were only going to be staying in Kyoto for two nights and, you know, it was my birthday. So I managed to wrangle a swish hotel room for the two nights at ‘media rates’.

The hotel, the Hyatt Regency, was beautiful and really, who doesn’t love having their bed and breakfast made for them. But what made it extra special was that they organised for us to hang out with Tsubo-san. Job description – driver. But as I said, we didn’t do much dashing around. Instead Tsubo-san walked around with us for the afternoon, playing games with Coco at the same time as enlightening me about all things Japanese.

We spent most of the afternoon visiting Kiyomizudera Temple in Higashiyama, the old part of Kyoto. Just us and a zillion Japanese, keen to see the autumn leaves before they took to the ground.

 

 

crowded Kyoto - last chance to see the autumn leaves :: 1

crowded Kyoto – last chance to see the autumn leaves :: 1

 

 

 

 

crowded Kyoto - last chance to see the autumn leaves :: 2

crowded Kyoto – last chance to see the autumn leaves :: 2

 

 

 

 

crowded Kyoto - last chance to see the autumn leaves :: 3

crowded Kyoto – last chance to see the autumn leaves :: 3

 

 

 

 

Subo-san and Coco

Tsubo-san and Coco

 

 

 

 

After Kiyomizudera Temple we headed north to Kinkaku, the Golden Pavillion, also known as Rokuon-ji Temple. But with night falling as well as rain – and Coco tired and cold – we only stayed for a second. Just long enough to wonder how much the pure gold foil that covers the top two stories must be worth.

 

 

Kinkaku-ji in the rain

Kinkaku in the rain

 

 

 

 

Kyōko-chi  - mirror pond

Kyōko-chi – mirror pond

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Day two – Gion

Aside from being peak Momiji-gari (autumn leaf viewing time), it also seemed to be peak wedding shots time in Gion, the famous geiko (geisha) district that’s part of Higashiyama.

Tsubo-san had told us about the white wedding hat women traditionally wear the day before. So when we pitched up in Gion and spied 26 year old Asami in her wataboshi, we knew why she was wearing a large white envelope-type covering over her head. Because she had horns – all women do – and she needed to hide them.

 

 

pre-wedding photography session in Gion

pre-wedding photography session in Gion

 

 

 

 

a little to the left please

a little to the left please

 

 

 

 

Asami

Asami

 

 

 

 

an iconic shape - the fan

an iconic shape – the fan

 

 

 

 

Being kimono mad, I loved the wedding version. But I really love the head gear. When the photographer’s assistant helped Asami take it off, I spied the mechanics – the white material is held up by a simple wire structure that fits around the head like a halo.

Thanking the couple and the photographer – who was patient enough to have me shoot around him for a few minutes – we wandered off. Then around half an hour later, to their horror I’m sure, we ran into them again – there’d been a ‘costume change’…

 

 

umbrellas

umbrellas

 

 

 

 

like dolls

like dolls

 

 

 

 

After leaving them for the final time we met several other wedding couples, all dressed in their finery. Kyoto was clearly the city of lurve.

 

 

city of love

city of love

 

 

 

 

Part 4: Day two – Geisha dress-up

There’s one street in Higashiyama where people hang around in the hope of seeing a real geisha (called geiko in Kyoto, or maiko if they’ve got their L plates on) fly into a taxi or nip into a restaurant.

But knowing it was hit and miss and with so little time, I didn’t even try. And really, I was almost just as happy snapping the ‘geisha tourists’ – Japanese women who generally were spending just a day in Kyoto, paying up to 10,000 yen (around AUD$120) to be made up and dressed in geisha style.

Like the woman below, whose name I couldn’t get because I had precisely two seconds to shoot her before she was dragged off by her small team – I assume they get a lot of people mistaking them for the real thing and they’re over being bothered.

 

 

tourist geisha

tourist geisha

 

 

 

 

With Yuika and her friend, Hitomi, I had a few minutes more before their two assistants ushered them off.

 

 

visiting from Tokyo to play dress up - Yuika

visiting from Tokyo to play dress up – Yuika

 

 

 

 

last light

last light

 

 

 

 

setting sun

setting sun

 

 

 

 

On our last morning we met the sweetest geisha tourists, Emi and Kazumi, who’d left their home town in the early hours of the morning and had travelled five hours in a bus to get to Kyoto just for the day. Why? “It feels very good to wear traditional Japanese dress.”

Unlike the others, they didn’t have any assertive assistants hanging around them. They were quite happy wandering around by themselves, taking their own snaps.

 

 

"We left our home town at 3am and travelled 5 hours in a bus to get here" - Emi and Kazumi

“It feels good” – Emi and Kazumi

 

 

 

 

patchwork

patchwork

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

Short and sweet though it was, I loved our few days in the ancient capital. I know there are those who criticise the Japanese government for not keeping more of old Kyoto – aside from a few other famous bits, Higashiyama is really it – but at least they kept what they did. It was enough to provide a break from full-tilt Tokyo.

Many thanks to the Hyatt Regency too, not only for providing a lovely room in a very stylish hotel, but for introducing us to Tsubo-san, a lovely man with a great sense of mischief and a mind full of fascinating facts.

But it was quick. So much so that when we got back, Coco told me she thought Kyoto seemed like a dream.

 

 

'mum, Kyoto seems like a dream'

‘mum, Kyoto seems like a dream’

 

 

 

 

I’m not so sure though – even if we’d stayed much longer, it might still seem like a dream. Especially during Momiji-gari.

 

 

mesmerised, again - Coco in the hotel room

mesmerised, again – Coco in the hotel room

 

 

 

 

On the home front

Dream or not, it was a lovely way to celebrate a birthday – although my actual birthday was spent back in Tokyo, wandering around Shimokitazawa again and eating cheap but excellent Indian at Spicia.

Now, the next post is going to be an even shorter one and it’s going to be very soon! Like tomorrow or so. Just that I have nine more neighbourhoods/suburbs to do and not that many weeks before I’ve got to get Coco back home and into school.

And yes, there’s that small thing called a budget too. It’s getting smaller by the minute.

This suburb has been brought to you by Anna Capron

See you very soon.

 

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