Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tourist in My Own Town

This New York Magazine's guide to Brooklyn's Brighton Beach neighborhood says:

Right now on Brighton Beach Avenue, the neighborhood’s trestle-shaded thoroughfare, you’re equally likely to bump into the aging eighties arrivals who’ve never left their apartments or upgraded to the pink Oceana complex right nearby; their designer-clad kids jabbering in an amazing mix of gutter Russian, Brooklynese, and teen uptalk; Dominicans and Puerto Ricans making inroads back into the area; Manhattan hipsters out for an ironic evening of vodka and chintzy stage shows at Rasputin or the National; and half-repulsed, half-misty-eyed Russo-Americans like yours truly who have moved on geographically but are still reeled back in from time to time by the siren call of thick ice cream, a dubious DVD, and a jar of really good pickles.

Who the article doesn't mention are third-generation American Jews who pick the first really warm day of the year to tell themselves, "My great-grandparents were from Russia, so I shouldn't have any trouble finding stuff in Brighton Beach." What I forgot was, "Gee, Russia has a different alphabet than the United States!" and I felt like the signs were in Martian.

I'd brought this article with the map and the places to eat, even though I felt like a tourist. Then I figured, let's face it, I'm going to check out a neighborhood I haven't seen in about 40 years and I'm not going there to work or to visit somebody, so I'm going there as a tourist. I was glad I'd brought the map.

I found the Varenichnaya place. It has the Russian equivalent of ravioli. I remembered varnishkes from childhood, with buckwheat groats. Kasha varnishkes. Then I remembered I hated kasha. But the place also had an assortment of dumplings and blintzes and other hearty peasant fare, and every table had this little bottle of condiment made from garlic, oil and paint thinner. There was a TV over the door playing what looked like a Vegas-y variety show in Russian. So I got to be a hipster ironically enjoying a chintzy show.

I carbo-loaded and then went out to plow the fields, but since there are no fields in South Brooklyn I just headed over to this store that had appetizers in bulk and collected a whole bunch of little bags of stuff I would never have thought of buying if I weren't in a store that had appetizers in bulk: Pounds of fruits and nuts and dried beans and grains.

Then I picked up a great deal of produce. The article doesn't tell you about this, but every block has a produce store with a great assortment and price, or at least a great price compared to the Village. Then I went home to the fruits and nuts.

I'll check out other neighborhoods as a tourist, too. It's one of those things you always mean to do when you have the time, and then when you have the time, all you can think is, "I'll do that after I get another job! I can't think of anything except getting another job!" And then you don't check it out after you get the other job. So I'm violating Normal Person Protocol and actually doing it now.

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