The blog is still getting some traffic and email enquiries, so the posts will remain for the time being. I am working on other projects, and no longer live in London (though I am there regularly). You can still follow me on Twitter.
Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read and comment on my posts!
Cast your eyes across the East River and downtown Brooklyn looks like the backdrop to 1940s film noir – all warehouses and wharves and somber apartment buildings.
But go one block back, above the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, and you’ll find one of America’s best-preserved historic neighbourhoods.
Brooklyn Heights – as the name might suggest – sits on a bluff overlooking Manhattan. Its leafy streets are lined with New York’s signature brownstones, as well as older, pre-Civil War brick homes and clapperboard houses.
It’s as lovely as Greenwich Village, which it resembles, but lacks the tourists and the bars – apart from a handful around Montague Street.
The street names are evocative: Pineapple St, Cranberry St, Orange St. On the latter you’ll find Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims, from whose pulpit Henry Ward Beecher (brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe) gave abolitionist speeches.
Walt Whitman lived behind the church and even Abraham Lincoln was known to stop by (Americans are keen to celebrate the best bits of their relatively short history, which is fair enough; to my eyes, the church looked spotlessly clean and brand new).
Heading west, each street ends with a view over downtown Manhattan. Some houses have grand bay windows; others display family portraits in gilt frames on their living room walls; still others have grand back gardens like Kensington townhouses – an astonishing rarity in New York. Approaching the edge of the district, the heavens opened on us, and the city was doused in an apocalyptic light.
With autumn colours (or fall colors) tingeing the trees, residents put out pumpkins on the front steps. Cats prowl their stoops, people walk their dogs, shop windows throw light on the sidewalk, and a man walks by with flowers.
Two miles away, traffic rumbles down Flatbush Avenue and people are shopping at Target (a sort of US Tesco). But this is another world: it’s genteel, it’s old world, it’s moneyed. It’s both not of New York and very much of it.
Ending on the Esplanade, looking back over Manhattan in the gathering gloom, the scene looked like a grimy still from a Woody Allen film. Brooklyn Heights hunkers down, turns in on itself, and says, “we’re all very well here, thank you very much”.
I’d like a house here, please, if it’s not too much trouble.