Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sunset Park, Brooklyn

After the graveyard; after the tombstones and the elaborate monuments and mausoleums of Greenwood Cemetery, we have bustling Sunset Park. Stands where you can buy pupusas and quesadillas. Markets where yucca and chayote are as ubiquitous as apples and pears. This is a neighborhood for all senses. Children and parents, adults and the elderly, people representing three generations stroll down Fifth Avenue. Some shop, some browse, some argue, some discuss. The street corners are filled with an urban ebullience.
I am with my cousin, and we agree: Sunset Park enchants us both.
At the corner of 45 Street and Fifth Avenue a stocky woman shoves a pamphlet my way. It’s in Spanish, and the woman sees the confusion on my face.
“You can’t read it?” she asks.
I tell her it’s fine; I’d like to learn Spanish.
“English. Here,” she says, and bluntly pushes another pamphlet into my hand.
Satan the god of this world, it reads. I put both the Spanish and English versions into my pocket.
Around a nearby corner the commercial bustle eases and gives way to a block celebrating the dry, sunny day. Hydrants are open down the street. Eager kids yell and run through the cold showers of water. On the sidewalk, residents have set up chairs outside their two-story, turn-of-the-century row houses. The smoke of barbecues wafts up the street’s slope. A group of friends plays football on the asphalt, the young athletes splashing through the puddles from the open hydrants.
After a tour up and down Fifth and Sixth Avenues and many side streets, my cousin and I decide to try more avenues east. We walk down shady streets of pre-war single-family homes, all nestled next to each other. The occasional American flag flaps in the hot breeze. Then we’re at Eighth Avenue, and the Spanish signs are gone.
Businesses advertise in Mandarin. The avenues are much, much quieter when compared to their counterparts to the immediate west.
“I want ‘Boba’ tea,” my cousin says.
We walk into a bodega that advertises smoothie-looking drinks on a poster. My cousin asks for “Boba” tea.
“You mean ‘Babo’ tea?” the clerk asks.
My cousin says, “Boba, Babo? Babo tea, yeah.”
The clerk tells us to try across the street. We cross Eighth Avenue and enter a take-out place. On the menu there is neither “Boba” nor “Babo” tea, but there is “Bubble Tea”. This is obviously what my cousin was looking for. She orders one.
Out in the sun, we sip the sweet, refreshing “Bubble Tea”. There are tapioca balls piled up inside. When you take a sip, you also get to chew on the tapioca.
Nostalgic for the activity from before, we make our way back down to Fifth and Sixth Avenues, where the Spanish signs dominate the scene.
My cousin buys a pupusa—a fried corn tortilla with cheese, and I buy a quesadilla with beans, Mexican rice, and guacamole. We decide that nearby Sunset Park (the neighborhood’s namesake) must be the place to eat our lunch. We climb the wide steps of the park. They lead to expansive lawns where healthy trees provide ample shade. Families enjoy picnics, kids kick around soccer balls. Nearby, an announcer yells through a megaphone in Spanish. He’s beside what looks like an organized neighborhood basketball game. The announcer’s words follow every move, every play.
We find a bench toward the highest point of the park. From it there is a sweeping view of midtown-to-downtown Manhattan, Jersey City, downtown Brooklyn, Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and the northern parts of Staten Island. Barges slowly travel through New York Harbor. I point out that, from our perspective, the hand and torch of the Statue of Liberty rise above the Jersey horizon.

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