The house, in which Paul Auster set his novel, doesn’t stand any more. But I found the spot where it must have been. He said it was on 34th Street between 4th and 5th Avenues. There is a construction site where a new house is currently built. Across the street is a part of Greenwood cemetery. Like described in the book.
But is this Sunset Park?
Some maps show a neighborhood called Greenwood Heights that shares its southern border with Greenwood Cemetery. That is 36th Street. 36th Street would be Sunset Park’s northern border then. Did Paul Auster make a mistake?
Other maps don’t show Greenwood Heights. I found a statement that Greenwood Heights is not a neighborhood but just a name used by real estate agencies, because it sounds attractive.
I admit I was not able to get a reliable answer to the question so far. So let’s assume Greenwood Heights does not exist, 34th Street is in Sunset Park and Paul Auster did not make a mistake.
I followed the walk given in the Big Onion Guide to Brooklyn. It starts on 4th Avenue at 25th Street subway station, follows 5th Avenue along Greenwood Cemetery and then leads across what is definitely Sunset Park.
The northern part, next to the cemetery is the least interesting. 5th Avenue is mainly industrial and commercial, the side streets are residential. 4th Avenue holds the daily business. There, at 36th Street I found Ines Bakery. The window is filled with artful and fancy cakes. Micky Mouse and Minnie Mouse, other Disney Scenes, flower cakes, a wedding cake.
Inside they sell a huge variety of bakery goods and Mexican dishes. That’s what made me suppose it is a Mexican bakery. It was late lunchtime, so I thought it would be a good idea to eat something. I practiced my Spanish and had Enchiladas de Pollo en Salsa Verde. It was a good idea. What I got was freshly made, delicious, filling and cheap. While I waited I scanned the pastries. Most of them looked absolutely mouthwatering. There were three sorts of cheesecake, Danish filled with guayaba, croissants and tubes filled with cream and much, much more. But I could not take anything because most of my walk still lay ahead of me.
This part of Sunset Park is mixed Hispanic. Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans live here. The side streets show all kinds of row houses that can be found in other parts of Brooklyn as well. 5th Avenue is lively now. More bakeries show up. Italian ones and Mexican ones. All of them display these fancy cakes. Looks like they have a competition. I would grow fat if I lived in Sunset Park. Besides the dangerous bakeries there are restaurants to sit in, not only take outs. I saw an equatorian restaurant for example. Groceries, fruits, juices, festive dresses, shoes, stationary. You get everything on 5th Avenue here.
Uphill between 40th and 43rd Streets there has been a Finnish settlement starting in the late 19th century. Most of the Finns moved away by now. But apartment buildings with Finnish names still can be seen.
8th Avenue is Brooklyn’s Chinatown, having about half the size of Manhattan’s Chinatown. Power cables are still overhead here.
In the middle of this variety of cultures lies Sunset Park von a hill, a big green area offering playgrounds, playfields, a swimming pool and gorgeous views of downtown Manhattan as well as the Statue of Liberty and Staten Island.
At the park entrance I passed a school where little kids were just being picked up by their parents. Information was posted on the fence in three languages: English, Spanish and Chinese. So apparently kids of all ethnics learn together in this school.
All in all the neighborhood appeared friendly and lively to me – until my walk took me to 3rd Avenue. That’s where the Gowanus Expressway runs through it on the pillars of the former elevated train. It is not only an ugly cut but produces a horrible noise. Masses of cars pass through the neighborhood all the time and the rattling of the metal construction doesn’t really provide confidence with its safety.
I walked back to the bakery and bought cheesecake and a guayaba and cheese thing to take them home.
Today’s Bookend event was another trivia in BookCourt, called Nerd Jeopardy. Seems to be famous around here. Three teams of three from the audience competed on literary questions. There were two rounds with 25 questions each. The questions had different values and themes, which were displayed on a screen. A theme and the value were picked and then the question was opened. The teams could fire a signal when they knew the answer. When a wrong answer was given or no team knew it, the question went to the public. I admit I could not have answered many questions. I would have needed profound knowledge of the American literary scene. But it was fun and they had free wine. I thought about taking the idea home.