I live in a very tiny apartment smack dab in the middle of a very beautiful neighborhood.
It’s no secret that New York is big and busy and constantly in motion, but if you search hard enough, it’s possible to find pockets of still and quiet. Mostly you create the pockets for yourself: a cup of tea in the afternoon, an evening walk along the river, a matinee at the independent theater down the street. But there are certain neighborhoods that help you along in your quest for a respite from the bustle. On our street, London Plane trees compete with the brownstones for air space and in the evening the streets shine golden with dappled light. On after-dinner walks, neighbors make dinners in kitchens with the windows open. From the street passersby can hear laughter and the scrape of forks on plates. Our apartment is tinier than most—a sectioned-off room in what was once a grand building—but it’s a corner in which we can make a similar kind of music.
Besides, there’s something to be said for aspirational living. Not the kind of aspiration that eats at you—the risk is always there in New York, which can breed a kind of malcontentedness with one’s current station—but rather a hopefulness and awe. The built environment itself adds to the notion that somewhere within sight there’s magic happening. The Brooklyn Heights Promenade is just blocks from our apartment, and it stretches above the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway on the section of highway that wends along the edge of East River. The half-century-old esplanade overlooks Lower Manhattan, gleaming from across the water. Depending on the cloud cover and the time of day, the city shines silver or emerald or golden. One could easily pass an hour dreaming up a future from a bench on the promenade.
The central appeal of the neighborhood is this: to be in the midst of a place where so much is happening but where at the end of the day, the noises you hear as you close your curtains are of tree frogs and clinking wine glasses and the delighted scream of a tiny neighbor learning to walk. Because here, as in most places, it’s those kinds of rituals that matter most.