My routes these last week or so have been straight lines across the city walking through a range of neighborhoods.
Brownsville was my starting point yesterday. It was eerie in the rain, I saw few people and have no photos from this time because of my pace. A school bus on Bristol created an odd and irritating rhythm as the driver slammed on the brakes every two houses screeching on the wet pavement and honked twice. They repeated this for the duration of my time on the block. I’ll return to this area on a day with less rain.
Perhaps it was a repair person because farther along Ditmas I found a village of everything car related: repair, salvage, painting. Cars and vans were parked like trees in a dense jungle on the sidewalk and those moving in the street sounded their horns so often they seemed to be conversing.
The Wyckoff house is at the corner where Ditmas becomes Avenue D for a short time. The oldest building in New York, there is quite a contrast between the homestead and the land surrounding. As I tried to capture this juxtaposition, a man and his daughter of about four passed as he held her close and sang a sweet song loudly in a Caribbean accent I could not place. They smiled at me and she ate ice-cream not yet down to the cone.
As school let out through Flatbush, children in uniforms filled the sidewalks. Their accents were so beautiful to me, Caribbean and a hint of American. So much joy in the fluctuations of their voices.
Kensington or South Slope reminds me a charming Austin, Texas with dreamy trees and well preserved sprawling family homes from another time.
Ditmas becomes 18th Ave beyond Coney Island Parkway. Here, in Borough Park, Russian Orthodox Jewish families ran about their evening errands. One couple actually smiled at me, that interaction made me love this area so much. I acquired a walking partner for a short time while buying a Kinder egg. The smell of metabolizing vodka was apparent and I could not decipher his name, though it started with an M. The older gentleman did ask for my phone number but I told him instead to walk with me for a few blocks. His face was kind but the language barrier was too great for me to understand anything he shared. I’m fairly certain all he learned from me was that I’m half Filipino. A few blocks later I shook his hand and told him to go home and rest. He was still following awhile later but a stern glance made him disappear.
It began to pour when I reached Bensonhurst again. My feet were soggy again but finding the end of the road in Bath Beach was magical.
Directionless days of walking have proven to be the most soothing. A concept I would love to scale some day to the level of lifestyle, I call: living like a cat.
Embarking on a journey with no end goal. Allowing possibilities never foreseen to approach and being open to them as a new tiny universe. Passing the boundary of the charted world in my mind. Giving color to drawn pencil lines- the roads I’ve previously anticipated crossing. At these moments, my feet are most articulate and not a single breath lacks depth. This is playing. Celebrating a place because it exists.
When so centered, I do my best to share this feeling with those receptive on the sidewalks and in the establishments. I imagine myself to look like a gleeful tourist and anywhere they would be correct. This reminder is the currency exchanged between those in a monotonous routine briskly walking around people reading the city.
The next week or so my walks will be shorter and less frequent as I begin work on the map. It is 60 x 60″, on two pieces of 100# paper that I will mount on panels when I return to California.
My favorite shops in Flatbush and Crown Heights are old hardware stores, fabric stores, and pharmacies where I’ve found relics that I imagine have been on nearly the same shelf for decades. I find so much joy in the graphic styles of the Caribbean and African cultures. Some magical earthly wonder of the unknown and known in repetition.
Of course, not everyone cares for my curiosity. Thumbing through a newspaper in a language I did not understand, the shopkeeper approached me and asked if I needed something. I inquired about the price of the paper and he said, “This is mine, not for you.” After a bit of back and forth, I told him that although I could not read it there was something for me to learn by seeing it. Still, he refused hatefully. I said,”You are wrong,” and left. Perhaps it was a religious paper. In any case, I hope to never feel the need to communicate that hatred in my own eyes. This encounter prepared me for the difficult moments I will surely endure throughout this project.
A few blocks later, I found a box of free books outside of a French and Creole bookstore and entered. It seemed as if there were five salesmen at least, the first of whom told me all books were buy one get one free. A woman was tutoring the most dapper boy in Brooklyn along the farthest wall. The next man walked me through the shelves and explained each section. I could have listened to them speak for the entire afternoon. I left with The Metamorphosis.