August 15, 2010

When in Brooklyn

I was in New York when word of Aitken Roshi's death came. For many years I'd considered myself a friend to him, corresponding occasionally, sending post cards from my travels, receiving much comfort and growth from his teachings. He was 93 when he died. Lucky he was to have lived a long life and to have so many years to influence the world with wisdom and insight. I'll go to his Memorial Service on August 22nd and be away for about five days. This time I'll bring my computer and write a report to the blog from there.

New York was a personal trip, a journey to find out where I came from and to see where I've been in the meantime. I had a wonderful time.

(The photos compress differently from the draft to the published version. They are parts of my neighborhood and I can't tell the order : the old Savoy movie theatre; Bedford Avenue with the original Loehmann's at the center in the distance; the street leading to St. Teresa's church towers; my high school, Bishop McDonnell Memorial.

The first four days I spent alone, staying at the Herald Square Hotel in midtown Manhattan. The plan was to visit my old neighborhood in Brooklyn and go to places I'd been in my youth. I simply wanted to experience the streets where I'd been as a child and to see how it looked. Traveling in New York is really easy. Public transportation is exceptional and one can get around the city and go from one borough to another quite easily with a Metro Card, a train/bus ticket which you slide through a slot which reads the metered amount. The subway stops are stifling hot, but once you board the train, they are all air conditioned. It's quite pleasant.

My neighborhood, which I hadn't seen in 50 years, looks the same except that the cultural mix has changed. In my day it was a mix of Irish, Italian, Jewish, African American. Today it is all African American and Haitian. I was an anomaly in the neighborhood, the only white person walking deep into an area where I appeared strange and perhaps threatening to some. Clearly, I was on alert, but I was not frightened. It amazed me to see the buildings all the same and some improved with the stone and brick having been washed clean. There was no graffiti to be found. The streets were swept. The shops had all changed with different owners and different wares and interests. My school and the church remained although the stucco was peeling from the church building. The convent stood exactly the same. It was ghostly to see it without the life in it that I had remembered. Friends apartments were intact, my own apartment a bit changed because a gate had been built around the entry. On Google Earth, the apartment had been an evangelical church, but that too has gone. It's simply an apartment building. The walls where we played ball were still there. All of it there. It was remarkable. But, I could not take photos in that area as I was truly an outsider and it would have been threatening to go around taking photos. But, no matter. It was my own mind and memory that I wanted to experience and no photo can really do the job of first hand witnessing. I may go back again another time to see it to tell me more about my life and where I've been. That is the real thing, I think. That sometimes we have to go back in order to find out where we've traveled, where we've been, what road we took and why.

Next: more events in Brooklyn and Manhattan