Brighton Beach New York – the jewel of ethnic enclaves

As far as ethnic enclaves go, New York is a mosaic of communities that represent a variegated montage of nationalities from every conceivable corner of the globe.

Mexicans in Jackson Heights, Koreans in Fresh Meadows, Hispanics in the Bronx, Italians in Nolita, Haitians in Flat Bush… I’m running out of breath here.

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My love for ethnic enclaves began in junior school. My parents would take me and my brother for Indian sweets in Thornton Heath where Mr Gupta would serve us plump glistening spheres of gulab jamun and tangerine hued jalebi that bled rosewater syrup.  And thus it began. A lifelong love affair with communities within communities. With the idea of people recreating their homes in trying to bring the best of the places they left behind, as incongruous as the result may be.

We made the 50 minute subway journey across New York, through the depths of Brooklyn to the small neighbourhood of Brighton Beach, lying sleepily on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. The sleepiness is the result of seasonal inevitability; a curse that plagues all seaside resorts that flower during the summer months.

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Brighton Beach is essentially an episode of The Twilight Zone and one of the most wonderful places I’ve ever been. It’s an ageing place of spirited Jewish and Russian retirees who dodder around in floor-length furs, plump ruddy faces and mink hats older than the Rolling Stones.

The neighborhood of Brighton Beach was once home to first generation Jewish-Americans and later concentration camp survivors. However, come the 1970s Russian, Ukranian and Jewish émigrés from the Soviet Union transformed the ethnic panorama of Brighton Beach once again into what is now known as Little Odessa. Today in Brighton Beach, Cyrrilic signs and Russian shops stretch as far as the eye can see. The butteryaroma of pirojki wafts enticingly in the air knitted with the New York smell of scorched coffee.

The poverty of Brighton Beach is palpable. The main high street lies sadly beneath the rumbling train tracks, but it is not the sort of depressiveEastern European gloom I was told to expect. Instead there is a feeling of fuzzy nostalgia. I feel strangely at home. On the Oceanside broad-walk there are scores of elderly Russians playing chess, muttering moves into theirmoustaches. You can’t walk ten paces without someone stopping you for achat. Everyone wants to know where I got my hat from. It feels like meeting long lost friends and roguish distant relations. A group of pensioners approach us for a game of volleyball. Why not. We play. They pose for a commemorative photo. I tell them it’s going on my blog and they all jostle to give me their email addresses.

Comrades, if you are reading this now rest assured that I’ll be back. You’ll find me on the beach come summer. Warm bottle of Baltika beer in-hand and sunglasses to shield my eyes from the rainbow of geriatric speedos. We’ll play Durak and you’ll cheat (I know your type). My boyfriend will sit strumming his guitar; you’ll wrestle it from him and sing a guttural Russian song of love and loss. Everyone will laugh and then we’ll head forshashlik in Baku, leaving behind an empty beach in the dusty waning sunlight.

ps. I’m guessing you clicked the link for a glimpse of some incy wincy dental-floss beachwear? Consider yourself conned. I’m trying out the whole search engine optimisation thing.

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Greasy goodness

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Bucket of raw fish for sale in the middle of the local sweet shop- that’s about as Russian as you get

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30 comments

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Love the photos. Interesting place! Love the picture of the woman and her dog – looks like such a character.

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Woman & chow pic is A DREAM! Best post so far x

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"As far as ethnic enclaves go New York is a mosaic of communities that represent a variegated montage of nationalities from every conceivable corner of the globe."

wow thats a lot of metaphors

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Great photos, I'm going in a few months eee 🙂

HannahMay xo

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Wow, it's a while since I read something so well written, genuine and fresh on a lifestyle/fashion blog, lovely! X

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Please let us know what you're wearing in Rosie's latest blog post – you look AMAZING. x

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I too love ethnic neighborhoods and 'communities within communities' and it is always inspiring to see your own thoughts reflected so well by someone else. Lovely.

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Gorgeous photos! Hopefully I will be moving to New York next year after I graduate! Very excited! I can't wait to see more of your photos! xx

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I would have stopped and asked about your hat too!
And the lady in black walking her dog… I die! Fantastic photo!

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Beautiful photo's! I am heading out to NYC this summer to intern, its nice to know there are some beachy areas in the city for a spot of sunbathing! Ix

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Such a vivid post! I made it to NYC early last year, sadly never ventured that far afield – my loss!

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what an amazing picture of the woman and her dog!

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LOVE the way you write!
So glad you're back, I checked your blog almost everyday during your hiatus
S

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🙂 Thank you, S… Hopefully I'll have something up again soon.

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Ha! I almost didn't read this post because of the bikini claim. Glad I did though. These cultural adventures are the thing I miss most about NY.

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Glad to see it's back and okay. Volunteered to clean up the beach after Hurricane Sandy. A hot tub washed up on the shore along with a fridge amongst the other things.

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Looks fab, great photos!…xv

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Wonderful pictures of one of my favourite communities in the NY metro area!

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These are beautiful photos. Also, what an amazing story about New York!

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It is a poverty-stricken area… but one with character. The people are generally kind and friendly.

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I love the shots. May I know what is the camera are using and what application do you edit your pictures? I’ve never been to US so I can’t really relate somehow.

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I fell in love as you described the place.And the photos you took look amazing!

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When I saw the blog title, I thought you were going to talk about a beach in New York. I have never heard of Brighton Beach, New York. I believe the neighborhood is wonderful. I reminds me of what we have here in Lagos although ours in Lagos doesn’t cut across nationalities but only across ethnic groups in Nigeria.

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I like the collection of the pictures. Thanks you for sharing out with us.

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It is so amazing to find a place like this on such hectic surrounding as New York… I loved the way you write, I could totally feel the nostalgia of the place and how much you enjoyed being there. Like others commented, the photo of the lady with the chow-chow is a truly remarkable one, but the pictures of the sunset in the desert beach are the ones I liked the most. Thanks for sharing.

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I love reading your blog. Your writing style is always on point and great picture as well! Keep it up!

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The BIG APPLE HUH? I have not visited it yet but at this rate I might visit it. Just for donuts he he.

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The pastries look very tasty. I hope they would maintain the place so that it would attract more tourists.

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