In the summer I moved out of Ditmas Park to Ocean Parkway. It’s only about a ten minute walk from my old place, but it’s not Ditmas; people consider it Kensington, but that’s not terribly descriptive, because Kensington is a huge area. I tell people “Ocean Parkway,” because that’s more descriptive and if someone’s been down to Coney Island in a car they know what Ocean Parkway looks like (designed by Olmstead, it’s an official city landmark; it’s a wide street with bike paths and stone tables for chess, as well as beautiful old trees).
The most striking thing about the neighborhood is the ethnic mix. It’s a very Hasidic neighborhood. I live right next to a hundred-year-old synagogue, which I can see from my bedroom window. On Friday nights you see a lot of men walking around with the huge furry hats (like this). During Sukkoth I noticed a fair bit of merry-making in the ‘hood, and not knowing anything about the holiday (other than that the two major camera stores in the city shut down for ten days) I went to Wikipedia, where I read that
The word Sukkot is the plural of the Hebrew word sukkah, meaning booth or hut. The sukkah is reminiscent of the type of huts in which the ancient Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. During this holiday, Jews construct and reside in sukkot small and large. Here families eat their meals, entertain guests, relax, and even sleep.
And then I was like, so that’s what all that hammering out back was about.
The neighborhood is also heavily Russian. In fact, I’m one of a mere handful of people in my building who are not Russian. There’s this little old lady who’s all of about four feet tall who lives on the fifth floor. I’ve ridden the elevator with her a few times and she really reminds me of Baka Katica, the grandmother of a Croatian cousin of mine: she doesn’t speak a word of English and even though she knows I don’t understand her language, she talks my ear off. One day we even managed to communicate. She asked me which floor, and I said, “šest.” (Six.) Then she said, “muž?” (Husband.) “Ne,” I replied.
“Studentija?” (I can’t write in Russian so I’m spelling these words in Croatian.)
“Rubotnik?” (Or something similar; I recognized the “robo” part as meaning “worker.”)
[Look of surprise.]
There’s a really interesting little green grocer’s a couple blocks away which is where I buy all my produce. It’s one of the cheapest places to buy fruits and vegetables in the entire city, quite possibly. On the outside of the store it says, in Cyrillic, “Russian Store” (“Russki Magazin”). When you get inside there are these weird products, like 30 different varieties of honey from pretty interesting places: Lithuania, Greece, Moldova, and Bashkortostan, which I had never heard of before. The preponderance of goods are Turkish, but there’s a lot of stuff with Hebrew writing, as well as “Golan” brand pasta. At the cash register there’s a little donation box with Hebrew writing.
I can’t figure out where the two young women who operate the cash register are from. Today as they were talking to each other they were speaking a language that I couldn’t identify that had a lot of “kh”s in it. Like, in every word. It could have been Hebrew, for all I know. Then a man popped in, and one of the girls said, “Salam aleikum” to him, then followed it with “nasılsınız?” which is Turkish for “how are you?”
Across the street is a very similar grocery. One day when I went in, an east Asian woman was working the cash. Then as she was ringing up my purchases she started talking to her boss in Russian.