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.

 

44

Ginza

 G intro

 

With just a few days left in Tokyo (sniff) I realised I’d been so distracted by traditional Japan that I’d completely ignored the hyper-sophisticated, ultra-modern side of the city. In a panic I leapt off to the one place I thought I’d find it by the bucketload – Ginza.

Ginza? Possibly Tokyo’s most famous district? Yeah, I know, and let me tell you, after last week’s flirtation with a famous area I really wasn’t keen on exploring another one. But I had no time to faff about or do a recce anywhere else, and anyway, this was Tokyo – surely there would be more?

A few facts before we amble. Ginza was originally the site of a silver coin mint – hence the name Ginza, meaning silver mint. Became Tokyo’s most famous upmarket shopping, dining and entertainment district after the 1923 earthquake. Nothing about Ginza is cheap – apparently you can buy a coffee here for $10. Hate that.

Okay, let’s move.

 

Part 1: And then

After snapping a few off the wall buildings, I was struggling. Ginza had turned out to be just glitzy shops and nothing much else after all. I mean, impressive architecture for sure, but beyond that, hmm…

 

 

a jewel of a building - Mikimoto pearls

a jewel of a building – Mikimoto pearls

 

 

 

 

liquid - De Beers daimonds

liquid – De Beers diamonds

 

 

 

 

Japanese for beer

Japanese for beer

 

 

 

 

 

place of fancy threads

place of fancy threads

 

 

 

 

Despite my time challenges, I decided Ginza wasn’t for me.

But just as we were approaching the subway to leave, I spied a monk type figure under a large hat, chanting. A metre away from him three Japanese men were busy discussing golf scores or business deals. Women rushed past, arms full of crisp new shopping bags. Twentysomethings wandered around, texting madly. But there the monk stood, a figure from another time, nothing moving but his lips.

O-kay. Not modern, no, but kind of interesting. Subo-san from Kyoto had told us about these monks who stand frozen for hours at a time, moving only when someone approached them for a blessing. He said it looked easy but in fact was very hard.

As it would be getting dark any minute I took just a few shots and then we left. But I was curious. Would the monk be there the next day? Was this his life?

 

 

Ginza gents and a monk

Ginza gents and a monk

 

 

 

 

the blessing bowl

the blessing bowl

 

 

 

 

frozen in time

frozen in time

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Cats and hats

Curiosity piqued and with time running out before we’d have to fasten our seat belts, we went back to Ginza the next day to see if the monk was still standing still.

On the way we passed another surprise – a man placing his three cats on a small ledge, for those passing by to enjoy.

Tokyo is seriously cat crazy so within seconds, no kidding, a crowd of Japanese had gathered to snap the cats. The furry stars sat there without looking the slightest bit distressed but they were kind of snotty and sneezy and really, when you think about it, did they really need it? As Coco said, “It’s cute and dreadful at the same time”. But at least it was surprising.

 

 

Ginza cats

Ginza cats

 

 

 

 

cat and camera crazy

cat and camera crazy

 

 

 

 

We then made a beeline to the subway to see if the monk was there. Yep, still there, looking like he’d never left.

 

 

Ginza girls and the monk

Ginza girls and the monk

 

 

 

 

heads down - the texter and the monk

heads down – the texter and the monk

 

 

 

 

In the 15 minutes that we watched him, maybe three people stopped to drop a few coins in his bowl in exchange for a blessing. After Coco had one, I got a little closer to see what his face looked like under his hat.

 

 

under his hat

under his hat

 

 

 

 

He was fully focused, eyes shut, chanting softly – all this despite the fact that a political rally was underway right behind him, with loud speakers blaring a few metres from his ears and people all over the place. Including this man, who was handing out pamphlets – a Japanese Dick Tracy for sure.

 

 

Dick Tracy, moonlighting as a political campaigner

Dick Tracy, moonlighting as a political campaigner

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Hair dos

We left the monk and Dick Tracy to go and eat lunch. When we came back in the late afternoon, the monk was still there, doing his thing, but the political rally had been replaced by another sort of gathering – one of traditional Japanese hair hobbyists. They were standing not on the street but outside Wako department store, housed in something you hardly ever see in Tokyo – a building over 70 years old. The 1932 neo-Renaissance building was one of the few buildings left standing in the area after WWII.

 

 

hair hobbyists :: 1

hair hobbyists :: 1

 

 

 

 

hair hobbyists :: 2

hair hobbyists :: 2

 

 

 

 

hair hobbyists :: 3

hair hobbyists :: 3

 

 

 

 

hair hobbyists :: 4

hair hobbyists :: 4

 

 

 

 

hair hobbyists :: 5

hair hobbyists :: 5

 

 

 

 

After snapping the women I turned around to see two of them approaching the monk. He’d already taken his hat off and was apparently finally ready to leave but he smiled at one of the women as he started the blessings. “I know him”, she said, “I come here all the time”.

 

 

blessing her hair?:: 1

blessing her hair?:: 1

 

 

 

 

blessing her hair? :: 2

blessing her hair? :: 2

 

 

 

 

Once he’d finished the blessings, Coco and I went up to him. After watching him for so long it was lovely to see him smile and talk and laugh. And he spoke perfect English. Because Hideo Mochizuki, it turned out, was a monk who’d lived in the East Village in New York City for 15 years once upon a time. Back then he was a cook and a carpenter. Then he’d met a monk on his return to Japan 12 years ago and found what he was looking for. “Everyone has a seed of goodness in their hearts. When they ask for a prayer, that seed grows.”

Well, he said something like that anyway. Hideo explained that he stood for four hours at a time, three to four days a week, and that he’d done that for 450 days in his Ginza spot – once he reaches 1,000 days he’ll move on. And what does he chant about for all those thousands of hours? He’s praying for people and for world peace.

Coco and he beamed at each other for the final time and then it was time to fly…

 

 

her latest friend - Coco and Hideo

her latest friend – Coco and Hideo

 

 

 

 

and then it was time to fly :: 1

and then it was time to fly :: 1

 

 

 

 

and then it was time to fly :: 2

and then it was time to fly :: 2

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

Given more time and less panic, I may not have chosen Ginza to be part of this project. Too famous and too fancy.

And in the end, despite my desire to focus on modern Tokyo, I found myself drawn once more to the old.

But I can’t think of any other famous, fancy shopping district in any other city that I’ve been to that was more enjoyable and surprising to explore than Ginza. Admittedly I’d almost bailed but Hideo the monk had saved me. All those hours he spends saying prayers for people really do work.

 

 

 

from one sprawling, earthquake prone city to another - Tokyo back to LA - to fly on to ….

from one sprawling, earthquake prone city to another – Tokyo back to LA – to fly on to ….

 

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

That was our last week in Tokyo – we left on Sunday, to fly back to LA, to catch our next flight to… Let me surprise you in the next post okay?

I hope you enjoyed our six weeks in Tokyo as much as we have.

Many thanks to those who sent neighbourhood suggestions as well as those who gently insisted Tokyo be included in the project. And to Laura M. and Jacqueline J. for all your advice on everything from best subway routes to surviving Tokyo as a gluten-free eater (it’s not easy).

There’s so much I’ll miss about Tokyo – from their absolutely beautiful sense of design to the people themselves. I’m sure there’s a darker side to Japanese society and yes, there are a few areas that aren’t so rosy (whales, the government’s lack of transparency, earthquakes etc) but it’s probably the city I felt most at home in. By the end I was almost falling asleep on the subway too.

 —

This suburb has been brought to you by Tony Murphy

See you next week.

 

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