NYC Part 1: Brooklyn

My overnight bus ride from Toronto to New York City was okay, for the most part. The only thing that I got peeved about was when the lady in the seat in front of me reclined so far back that her head was practically in my lap. A few gentle nudges from my knee didn’t even give her a clue, so I had to grin and bear it.

We got into New York fifteen minutes ahead of schedule, which I was quite impressed by considering the debacle that happened on my return trip home from Baltimore last weekend. I had originally planned on grabbing some breakfast before footing it up to East Harlem, but I was neither hungry nor awake enough to walk sixty some odd blocks, so instead I headed for the subway station.

During the night I confirmed a meet-up time with my friend Sarah and discovered that the hotel I thought she was staying at on the Upper East Side had actually changed to another hotel in Times Square. Because of this I wasn’t in a particular rush to head up that way, so I decided to rearrange my original itinerary and instead headed over to Brooklyn Heights.

If you haven’t already guessed by my use of their lyrics and a photo in previous posts, I’m a Beastie Boys fan. Formed in 1981, Beastie Boys have always been proud of their city of New York and often represent their home turf in their songs. One neighbourhood in particular, Brooklyn Heights (or downtown Brooklyn), was often saluted by my man Adam Yauch, aka MCA.

Adam has always been my favourite of the three Boys (though I love all of them very much). His raspy, throaty voice stood out for me the most and my ears always perked up a little bit more whenever it was his turn to dish out a verse of lyrics. I have also always respected Adam for his humanitarianism, especially for organizing the Tibetan Freedom Concert.

In 2009, Adam was diagnosed with salivary gland cancer. After courageously battling the disease, Adam’s battle came to an end on May 4, 2012. He was only 47 and left behind his wife and daughter.

He was taken from this life much too soon, yet thankfully we have his work from the past three decades to remember him by. On the one year anniversary of his death (which was actually only three weeks ago this past Saturday), Adam’s home neighbourhood of Brooklyn Heights was given a gift from the city of New York to further extend his legacy — Palmetto Playground, located at Willow Place and State Street, was renamed Adam Yauch Park in his honour.

And thus, Brooklyn Heights became my first stop of this trip.

I took the subway to Borough Hall and walked the rest of the way to the playground, which was easy to locate thanks to the grid system that New York implements in its street layout. It was still early morning (and today is actually a holiday, Memorial Day, so it was probably quieter than usual), so I found the walk to be peaceful and calming.

State Street is beautiful. The stretch that I walked through was lined with Brownstones, smelled sweet from blooming flowers and fresh green foliage, and despite me being by myself and it being only six in the morning, I felt safe and comfortable; I almost felt at home.

Needless to say, I was the only one at the playground and practically had the entire street to myself as I was walking there. For this, I’m thankful, because my bottom lip and chin were quivering as I approached the park. This was then accompanied by watery eyes as I stood in front of the placard with his name on it.

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I took a moment to send some loving out to Adam, wherever he may be, and also to the remaining Boys, Adam Keefe Horovitz (aka Ad-Rock) and Michael Diamond (aka Mike D). Before I left Toronto for this trip, I read an article from Rolling Stone about the park dedication, and something that Ad-Rock said in his speech at the event stuck with me:

“It’s fitting that we’re here today to dedicate a playground to Adam Yauch, because like the Wu-Tang Clan, Beastie Boys is for the children,” Horovitz said to laughs and cheers  at the top of his speech. Speaking of Yauch’s mother and father, Frances and Noel, Horovitz continued: “They taught Adam to be curious, thoughtful, kind and just enough crazy – that craziness that is New York. That New York frenetic energy. It’s musical, artful and always moving forward – and that’s not only Brooklyn, that’s Adam Yauch.”

(You can click here to read the entire article)

I’m glad that I shook my itinerary up a bit and made this my first place to visit. Despite my lack of sleep from the bus ride, I was feeling mellow yet happy. I definitely picked up some good juju from that playground (thank you, Adam).

From the park I retraced my steps across State Street, then headed up Boerum Place to where it meets Tillary. Here is where the pedestrian walkway over the Brooklyn Bridge begins. I was about to start my journey over the bridge, but as I was crossing Tillary I decided to make a quick side trip to visit my favourite pizza place in North America — Grimaldi’s on Old Fulton. I’ve mentioned this restaurant a few times in the past, so I thought I’d at least get a picture to include on the blog.

I cut through Walt Whitman Park and Cadman Plaza (thankfully I know how to navigate this area without a map because I come here every time I’m in NYC), and made my way over to the pizzeria. I was greeted with a surprise once I got there, though. Grimaldi’s had moved to the building on the corner, directly beside its old location, and in its place was yet another coal oven pizza joint, Juliana’s. I was stunned to say the least.

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In the window of Juliana’s was an enlarged copy of a magazine article, which included the word “revenge” in its title, so it quickly grabbed my attention.

It turns out I only knew a snippet of the history of Grimaldi’s. I’m going to paraphrase what I remember, combined with what I read in that article today, so correct me if I’m wrong (also, the official website for Grimaldi’s doesn’t include a history of owners, or at least not one that I could find)…

Grimaldi’s had originally been opened by a Grimaldi back in the day, but the business was sold to a gentleman outside the family (sometime in the 1990s, I believe), keeping the iconic name.

Something happened in the year and a half since my last visit, though. Patsy Grimaldi (who I recognized from the magazine article as the old man who always manned the front door to the pizzeria whenever I went, acting as a pizza sentinel in a sweater vest), is the one that opened Juliana’s (named after his mother as he couldn’t obtain the rights to the Grimaldi name due to the sale of the business). So although Grimaldi’s is no longer at 19 Old Fulton, Patsy is, and with him I’m sure continues the incredible pizza dynasty that he’s helped to establish.

This is the first time I’ve been to New York and have not visited Grimaldi’s for dinner. I’m quite saddened by this, but it’s probably for the best. Firstly, it was maybe 6:30am when I got there, so it wasn’t really a suitable time for pizza (and they obviously weren’t even open). Secondly, the pizzeria doesn’t sell pizza by the slice, only whole pies (and this probably applies to Juliana’s now as well), and seeing how I’m by myself on this trip, that doesn’t really work. So no iconic pizza this trip, but I don’t think there will ever be an end to my visits to New York, so there’s always next time.

The pizzerias are near a pier that offers an amazing view of the Brooklyn Bridge, so I couldn’t miss taking some shots of the area.

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From here I then returned to the pedestrian walkway and began the epic walk across the East River.

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It didn’t take me long to start noticing all the locks that people placed at various spots along the bridge. I know there’s a bridge in Paris where it’s customary to leave “love locks” with your partner to ensure a lasting relationship, so I figured it was New York’s version of its own.

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At first I thought it was cute, then I got a bit bitter because of the breakdown of my marriage. Instead of remaining bitter, however, I had an idea.

I actually had a padlock in my backpack to use later on at the hostel, but I also knew that the hostel had locks for their guests to purchase if need be. With this in mind, and without hesitation, I pulled out my own lock, picked a piece of bare wire, and locked that sucker on to represent my love for the city of New York. Bam. How’s that for being romantic AND optimistic?!

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I made it across the bridge in thirty or forty minutes, stepped back on to the island of Manhattan, then hopped on the subway to meet up with Sarah at her hotel in Times Square.

This trip was definitely off to a good start (or even, started off on a good foot seeing how much walking I had already done before it was even 9:00am).

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