Walking New York streets might be my favorite part of any visit. I walked in the mornings, quietly letting myself out of the house at 7 a.m., before anyone else got up.
Prospect Park, Brooklyn’s almost-600-acre park designed by the same planners who made Central Park in Manhattan, was nearby. A three mile walking path circles the perimeter of the park, mostly under the trees, smooth in part and rough in part, enough to discourage bike riders.
Bicycles, anyway, have their own paved, striped, perfect path running parallel and closer to the inside of the park. If you want, you can walk on part of that perfect, sunny path, but I chose to stay under the trees. I thought about being afraid of the big city and muggers, but couldn’t get myself to even be nervous, with all the other walkers, runners, tai chi practitioners, and even a teenage boy walking and talking with a large green parrot on his shoulder.
With playgrounds, places for music, woods and trails, it’s a great urban park. The Long Meadow runs north and south for a mile down the park’s middle, filled with people and their dogs and frisbees and children.
The Grand Army Plaza and a giant memorial arch stand at the north end of the park, with a farmer’s market on weekends. A lake meanders along the southern part, with a zoo and botanic gardens and museum and also other attractions distributed along the park’s periphery.
Among those other attractions is Litchfield Villa, the home of Edwin Clark Litchfield, who was an early developer of the neighborhood in the 1850s. It’s now the headquarters of the New York department of parks and recreation. I wonder if this is the same Litchfield family that gave its name to my hometown in Minnesota.
Along Seventh Avenue in Brooklyn, delivery trucks unload from street to sidewalk, sometimes opening up the metal plate in the sidewalk that covers the stairs to store and restaurant basements.
On the corner, cut flowers and live plants stack four shelves high, spilling out of their containers. In the next block, fresh baking smells lure me into Le Bagel — sure, maybe it’s a chain, but it’s a New York chain, with giant, hand-rolled bagels and giant mounds of cream cheese in the deli case, strawberry and onion and garlic and chives.
On weekday city streets, parents walk children to various schools, and other people walk dogs. Walking north on Fourth Avenue, toward Manhattan, I passed the Old Stone House Park. The house is a reconstruction of a building that was part of the Battle of Brooklyn (also known as the Battle of Long Island) in the Revolutionary War.
George Washington may not have slept here, but he fought here. The major battle ended in an American retreat, with 9,000 troops evacuated via the Brooklyn Ferry to Manhattan in a daring nighttime retreat. Prospect Park also has a historic marker of the battle, for it was there that the ancient Dongan Oak was felled to block the path of the British army. There’s something magic about walking on the same ground where history was made.
On Saturday, Jeff took us to the New York Historical Society. He’s a member there, and even has a chair in the auditorium with his name on it, donated as a birthday gift by his family. The exhibits were “Lincoln and the Jews” and also a photographic exhibit from Selma 1965. One of the other highlights (pun intended) was a display of Tiffany lamps. The imitation or reproduction Tiffany lamps that I had seen before are but a pale reflection of the jeweled glass and elaborate design of the originals, such as dragonflies and birds. A woman, Clara Driscoll, was one of the leading designers in the Tiffany studio, and the exhibit showcased her work.
After visiting the museum, Beverly and Jeff and I looked through the gift/book store. Another highlight, for me, was finding my book — Civil Rights for Children — displayed for sale there! We told the cashier that I had written it, and he brought a stack for me to sign, and assured me that it sells well, especially to teachers.
On Sunday, we went on the Park Slope home tour. Park Slope is a classy neighborhood of old brownstones, dating from the end of the 19th century. The brownstones are three or four stories tall, atop garden apartments, which sit partially below ground, often with a walk out to the back yard. The houses are mostly attached, with the wall of each one against the wall of the next. Back yard patios and gardens have high fences offering privacy from neighbors. The home tour featured mansions — mahogany-paneled libraries, sun-lit white dining rooms, a formal parlor with a Steinway piano, kitchens with giant islands covered with Portuguese tile or travertine marble from Italy and copper sinks.
On Monday, Ron and I took the subway (the stop is just three blocks away) to Greenwich village. Washington Square was our first stop, though even before we got there, I was completely charmed by the idea that we were walking on Bleecker Street, forever famous in my mind as the center of bohemian life a half-century ago.
Walking into Washington Square, we were hailed by a man looking for someone to play chess. Not us! But we sat on a bench and enjoyed watching the half-dozen chess players, at the tables. The tables are chessboards. Players bring their own chess sets, and some bring timers as well. A musician played near the fountain, unusual only because of his instrument: a piano. I noted a small wheeled platform next to it, which he apparently uses to roll the piano through the streets of the city.
Not too far away, we located Ron’s destination: the Dean and DeLuca grocery store, offering high-end kitchenware, along with coffees, teas, cheeses, sausages, and more. The display of candies alone was amazing.
Many of the store signs are in Cyrillic alphabet. We looked through a food store that had at least five different flavors of dried cranberries, as many kinds of sunflower seeds, dates, dried fruits of all kinds, cheeses, candies and meringues and cookies and breads.
The subway/elevated train runs over the street in Brighton Beach, but the boardwalk and Atlantic Ocean lie only a few blocks to the east