I was not in the mood for big program today. It was just too hot and the heat had prevented me from sleeping during most of the night. So I decided to finish my Williamsburg walk, started last Saturday. I took the bus down to Broadway and at first followed a restaurant hint from a NY Times article. It advised me to have Falafel at Green & Ackerman, available at the place’s Pizza and Falafel counter. I found the Restaurant and in fact there are several counters but I saw none offering Falafel. All food in the hot dishes and salad counters looked good, but nothing was labeled. So I had no idea how to get something. I was the only non-Jewish person in the restaurant. Men and women had their lunch in separate areas, parted by a wooden divider. They all were familiar with the place and knew how to order while I stood there quite lost and felt uncomfortable. I left – cowardly.
I started my walk and found a Jewish bakery on my way, offering sandwiches. A friendly woman behind the counter explained what spreads she had available and what kind of rolls and bagels. I chose a whole wheat bagel with tuna and egg and got it in a real brown bag. I ate it on the playground across the street, watching a little black boy in a soccer dress and bright blue crocs, running around with a water-gun shooting at pigeons. This area of south Williamsburg is not strictly Jewish, there is a considerable Latino community as well. Farther south it gets more and more Jewish and beyond the BQE – Robert Moses’s destructive Expressway – there is nothing but Jewish life. Synagogues, shops, schools and at that time of the day an armada of yellow school buses with Hebrew inscriptions. Jewish bus drivers kidding with little boys and girls running out of their schools and into the buses.
But walking through a Jewish neighborhood on your own doesn’t give you any explanations, doesn’t give you an understanding of for example why men wear these ancient looking frock coats and all women wear black skirts and thick stockings and mostly identical wigs. My guidebook explains buildings and history, but not Jewish life and customs. The Hasidic tour I had planned to join yesterday had been canceled because of not enough people. I hope I will have the chance to join it any other Sunday.
Back on Broadway below the elevated train the scenery changes seriously. There a blend of everything can be seen. A Mexican Deli next to a Middle Eastern Hookah Bar. An Islamic Center next to a Dental Office. Discount clothes and shoes next to Chinese back and foot rubs.
The Italian Part of Williamsburg is in the northeast, roughly around the intersection of Metropolitan and Graham Avenues, the latter one aka Via Vespucci. The area feels lively and looks friendly. Italian bakeries and pasticcerias, pizza or pasta places and fish markets tell you where you are.
On Graham Avenue I found the B43 bus going to Greenpoint. I went home on it, bought a poppy brioche for breakfast and a roll for dinner in the Polish bakery on the way – and used the rest of the afternoon to summon up yesterday’s class on our roof deck and write down my ideas about the Greenpoint story in the Milk and Roses garden.