...or, "Why we did no paint stripping last Sunday." The Stablemates headed instead for the wild recesses of Red Hook, an isolated Brooklyn neighborhood that simply fascinates me. A strange amalgam of housing projects, ancient wharves and warehouses, stubby little frame shacks, and verdant vacant lots, Red Hook is one of the few places that still exemplifies the "ultimately unknowable" quality of Brooklyn (see Mark Helprin in "Why Brooklyn?" at left). It is cobblestones and harbor and mystery; roses scramble over unidentiable rusty wrecks, and two demonic pit bulls perpetually guard a lunatic-looking open-air villa (or is it a demolition site?) And on Saturday, there was the Queen Mary, towering over the waterfront like Godzilla. (Photo above, by Kevin Walsh for Forgotten New York; go here for Forgotten's excellent ramble through the area, with more fine pics)
Now, of course, Red Hook is also artists and gentrifiers...and we met plenty of both by visiting the BWAC Art Show on the pier at the foot of Van Brunt Street, then the staggering new Fairway across the street. Both are overwhelming journeys through a maze of aged brick archways, BWAC through countless bays of works good, bad and indifferent (including wonderful stuff by several friends).
As for Fairway, suffice it to say that I went back to Red Hook in the rain this morning, because on Sunday we had to park on the street and could only buy what we could carry. The outdoor cafe with the killer view of Lady Liberty and the "water taxi" was drenched in cold grey mist. But this time--alone, alone!--I was able to wander in a stupor (like Robin Williams in "Moscow on the Hudson," fainting in front of the miles of coffee cans). You have to live in Brooklyn (or Moscow) to understand the concept of "pent-up demand" for a super supermarket...and so far, the ordinary grocery prices are within reason (no $7 tissue boxes or $10 bottles of detergent). But there's also the vast Planet of Cheese (plus several small Cheese Moons elsewhere in the galaxy)...at least three Meat Planets, including one with kosher bison...a Brit-fix satellite with Lyle's Golden Syrup and Lion Bars...interstellar oceans of olive oil...and clusters of fat, shiny fish (not the bleary-eyed chum of most supermarket fish cases). It's ridiculous, obscene and lots of fun.
All in all, I was pretty well-controlled; I got some mixed olives (under a sign lecturing me to dress my olives, but in a rare oversight, there were no little outfits for them); some sort of goat-cheese round; pricey kosher mini-black-and-white-cookies; and Leben yogurt, which I usually find only in Orthodox neighborhoods. I did not buy an aged steak, although they are hanging up there seductively, awaiting the CrazyStable's annual summer "Steak and Cake Party." (Invitees, you know who you are.)
I wouldn't want to live in Red Hook; after all, Flatbush is the center of the known universe, and this desolate place is poised to lose its magic in a Williamsburg-style yuppie takeover (Ikea is coming soon, and yes, I'll shop there, too). But an excursion into the surreal waterfront kingdom of portobellos, pit bulls, and paintings is always a bracing change of pace.