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.
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.
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.