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.

 

40

Shimokitazawa

S intro3

 

So, you’ve heard of Harajuku right? The place where young Japanese do extreme dress-up? Okay, well, this week I thought we wouldn’t go there (too famous) – but somewhere that I’d heard was a Harajuku-lite. Hip but more relaxed. A neighbourhood in western Tokyo called Shimokitazawa, or Shimokita as the locals call it.

While I knew we wouldn’t find grown men in onesies or gothic lolitas there, I thought at least we’d see some dress-up. But no. Maybe we missed it. Because Shimokita seemed more cozy and kawaii (cute) than anything else, its narrow car-free alleys filled with a fairly ordinary mix of people hanging out at the independent cafes, vintage clothing shops and tiny bars and eateries.

Pretty amazing considering it’s just 10 minutes by train from the skyscrapers and madness of Shinjuku.

Let’s wander…

 

Part 1: Food and drinkies in Shimokita

As I mentioned, the neighbourhood is dotted with bars, cafes, restaurants. My favourite bar was the one where Tony Montana was at. No, not that Tony Montana (Al Pacino, Scarface, 1983). This Tony Montana…

 

 

everyone stands at a stand-up bar - that's Tony, on the right

everyone stands at a stand-up bar – that’s Tony, on the right

 

 

 

 

mushrooms and chook on the grill

mushrooms and chook on the grill

 

 

 

 

hey, hello, anyone?

hey, hello, anyone?

 

 

 

 

 

Tony was there with his owner, Kawabata. I asked Kawabata what he liked about living in Shimokita – he said, “It’s exciting”. (Or at least I think that’s what he said. Kawabata, if you’re reading this and I just misquoted you, please let me know.)

 

 

what? I'm hungry

what? I’m hungry

 

 

 

 

finally

finally

 

 

 

 

Given how many rules there are in Tokyo, I’m sure there’s one that says – No dog, including one named after a famous American actor, is allowed to eat at a bar. But this is Shimokita – chill.

There are lots of cute dogs in the neighbourhood – like this one…

 

 

let's call her Fluffy

let’s call her Fluffy

 

 

 

 

…. but really, Tony Montana was the best.

 

 

in their own worlds

in their own worlds

 

 

 

 

Aside from the bars, the main food focus in the neighbourhood seemed to be on fish and noodles.

 

 

fish, fresh and dried

fish, fresh and dried

 

 

 

 

let's get a taxi, this thing weighs a tonne

let’s get a taxi, this thing weighs a tonne

 

 

 

 

where would Japan be without its noodles?

where would Japan be without its noodles?

 

 

 

 

noodles in the making

noodles in the making

 

 

 

 

As for cafes, my favourite was this one, with a small photography gallery out the back and a very sweet barista, Susumu…

 

 

Ballon D'essai

Ballon D’essai

 

 

 

 

Susumu

Susumu

 

 

 

 

thank you Yoshida!

thank you Yoshida!

 

 

 

 

Part 2: On the main street

We met all sorts of people…

 

 

the inspiration for his hair do? - Teruaki

the inspiration for his hair do? – Teruaki

 

 

 

 

tradition

tradition

 

 

 

 

Kaede

French-ish – Kaede

 

 

 

 

half Dutch, half Japanese - Yuzuki and Luca

half Dutch, half Japanese – Yuzuki and Luca

 

 

 

 

Shunto

Shunto

 

 

 

 

There are few cars around but occasionally you see the odd taxi – of which I am strangely fond. Their bright colours, the lace seat covers and the impeccably dressed taxi drivers and their white gloves. Pity they cost an arm and a leg.

 

 

 

taxi!

taxi!

 

 

 

 

the smartest taxi drivers ever

the smartest taxi drivers ever

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Obsession No. 1

Lanterns. Love them. Can’t stop snapping them. Especially when combined with gleefully happy two year old Mei.

 

 

hanging out with grandpa - Fukai and Mei

hanging out with grandpa – Fukai and Mei

 

 

 

 

fish

fish

 

 

 

 

the kiss

the kiss

 

 

 

 

fun

fun

 

 

 

 

Speaking of fish and lanterns…

 

 

attracted by the light

attracted by the light

 

 

 

 

early evenings

early evenings

 

 

 

 

Part 4: House and garden

After we’d explored the main shopping area, we walked up the little hill to check out the houses. While most of them were the typical Tokyo low-rise 70s-80s kind, there was one that caught my eye – old, of course, with a traditional garden.

 

 

the garden :: 1

the garden :: 1

 

 

 

 

the garden :: 2

the garden :: 2

 

 

 

 

the garden :: 3

the garden :: 3

 

 

 

 

And I cannot ignore a nice old wall…

 

 

wall :: 1

wall :: 1

 

 

 

 

wall :: 2

wall :: 2

 

 

 

 

bows

bows

 

 

 

 

And even when there’s no space for a garden, nature still sneaks in…

 

 

windows

windows

 

 

 

 

Part 5: Autumn

One of the reasons I decided to include Tokyo in this project was I wanted to see the autumn leaves. While there aren’t many in Tokyo, I did spot a few. On trees and as well as elsewhere…

 

 

a slow reveal

a slow reveal

 

 

 

 

Inside this beautifully wrapped packaging from a shop in Shimokita was…

 

 

autumn :: 1

autumn :: 1

 

 

 

 

autumn :: 2

autumn :: 2

 

 

 

 

autumn :: 3

autumn :: 3

 

 

 

 

Japanese design is unbelievably wonderful. From their papers and fabrics to the sweets above. And these ones too…

 

 

kawaii!

kawaii!

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

When they ask young people where they most want to live in Tokyo, apparently Shimokita is one of the top choices. I can see why; it’s an incredibly relaxed and friendly little corner of Tokyo that’s minutes away from the bright lights of Shinjuku et al. I just hope it manages to hang on to its charm – just around the corner from Susumu’s hand-drawn coffees is a Starbucks. Just saying.

 

 

 

at the cat cafe

at yet another cat cafe

 

 

 

 

tea and hot chocolate

tea and hot chocolate

 

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

Coco loved Shimokita. Aside from its small town charm, it had a cat cafe. A done deal really.

Now, I hope you’re still reading because I have news. Having almost not come here, Tokyo has got me firmly in its clutches. So we’re staying a few extra weeks. And, I’m so sorry if this is going to disappoint anyone, but I’m cancelling Mexico City. After Tokyo, one more big city may just do me in – well, us in actually. We’re both pretty exhausted. The kind of exhaustion that makes you feel quite odd at times and unable to move. We’ve been going at it for 11 months and it’s showing.

There’s more. You know how I’m running late – as in, I’m only up to ‘Suburb’ No 40 which means I have 12 more installments to go – but the year ends in just six weeks?

Well, the problem is, my Around the World tickets expire at the end of those six weeks. If we don’t finish by then, I’ll have to buy new tickets home. It may not sound like much but it’s just one cost too many – even with the wonderful support of my sponsors and Kickstarter supporters (hello! I love you!), this project has ended up costing me a pretty penny.

I’ve been really struggling with this for weeks. I’m so passionate about this project and so committed to making it the best possible virtual travel experience I can for you. But I just can’t take any more out of my mortgage to fund it (I know, extreme huh?).

So, here’s my solution. I’m going to do 12 ‘suburbs’ in six weeks. Ha! They’ll be shorter for sure, it may kill me, but…

And after Tokyo, we’ll finish the last few weeks in a mystery location.

If anyone has another solution (eg, know someone at Qantas who’ll extend my tickets for another month) please do tell.

I’m so sorry if you’re disappointed by any of this. But I think my plan will work out okay. It’ll just be 52 Suburbs Around the World ‘Lite’ from now on…

This suburb has been brought to you by Nirah Mattila 

See you next week – twice hopefully.

 

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