The Unbearable Banishment: Gentrified memories

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Gentrified memories

My bride and I abandoned our children for the weekend to attend a wedding in downtown Brooklyn. It was a beautiful affair. The ceremony was at St. Agnes, a church built in 1904 in the Boerum Hill section, just two blocks from where I lived when I first set foot in New York. The reception was in the neighborhood down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass, affectionately referred to by real estate agents and trust fund kids as DUMBO. Seriously. I hadn't been there in about 15 years and was genuinely aghast at what I saw. Gentrification is the oldest story in the oldest city, but when you see its results before your very eyes, it has the power to shock. The last time I walked those streets, it was all artist studios with great light and dirty windows and abandoned warehouses. The neighborhood didn't have a cute name. Now it's residential with a Chase Manhattan Bank branch. It blew my mind.

We stayed in a fancy, new, boutique hotel that didn't have heat because of a steam pipe explosion. They gave us a space heater instead. We didn't mind. We're not babies. On Sunday morning, I walked up Smith Street to buy The New York Times. When I lived there, Smith Street wasn't so nice but now it's become a destination. We had a scrumptious lunch at a Portuguese restaurant the day before. En route to get the paper, I saw no fewer than four strollers. Those expensive Quinny models. It would seem that even at that young age, there's a strict hipster dress code that must be adhered to. I wonder what happened to all the Latinos who lived there?

I saw Zadie Smith read a couple of months ago and she was discussing the gentrification of Holborn, her old neighborhood in London, as it relates to a plot device in her new book NW. She had this to say, and I quote:
(Gentrification) is a global experience. People get priced out of their own neighborhoods. The thing I find funny is that there are all different waves of immigration but there's only one community who moves into an area and feels they're a great boon and that's middle class white people. They always think that everybody should be so happy that they've arrived in droves with their cupcakes and all the rest of it. And that interested me, that state of mind that imagines that when you arrive en masse that you're only bringing good. That you're a benefit to an area. That was always quite funny to me.
She's right, you know. Sorry, cupcake-bearing middle class white people. The entertainment at the reception that evening was quartet of virtuosos who played American popular standards and a few French chanteuse selections. A stand-up bass, vintage guitar, violin and singer who looked and sounded the part. Here's a brief, crappy video. Try to ignore the background noise.

The performances were mesmerizing. I'd love to hear them again will seek them out. I heard a rumor they play a wine bar on Friday nights. Look at that great microphone!

Here are just the boys warming up. Beautiful. Listening to this music and then walking out onto the cobblestone streets below the Manhattan bridge on a cold, clear night was sheer poetry to me.

*     *     *

I'm too old to be traumatized by a bad haircut, right? Or does vanity know no age limit? I had a little talk afterwards with Candi (she dots the "i" with a star), but the damage is done. I actually had a bad dream about it this morning. What would Dr. Freud say?


Blogger Gorilla Bananas said...

One can dream about any old shit, but I'm sorry to hear about the bad haircut. Is Candi your barber or your shrink? Anyway, it's funny that she dots the 'i' with a star. It reminds me of the character played by Sarah Jessica Parker in LA Story who wrote her name 'SanDeE'. Nice band.

January 29, 2013 at 12:09 PM  
Blogger OldLady Of The Hills said...

That Group has a very wonderful old fashioned sound...and an unusual configuration of instruments---they sure get a lot out of so few instruments, don't they?
Going back to a place that held such memories but had changed so very much---That had to be quite a shock to the system....
I liked that quotation about Gentrification! Ain't it the truth...!

January 29, 2013 at 3:09 PM  
Blogger Ellie said...

Candi is for eating .... Oh my .... Realise I may be getting into naughty territory here *winks*

January 29, 2013 at 3:17 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

I was lamenting my bad hair and reread the post and in it, I claim that we're "not babies." Maybe I ought to edit that. Candi gets a Mulligan. But one more haircut like this and I'll take my $20 bucks somewhere else.

I wish I could drag everyone to hear these guys (and gal) play. I want to share them with everyone.

January 29, 2013 at 3:24 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

They had the sound and the look. I could have listened to them all night. And all the next night. Sumptuous to look at. Gentrification always was and always will be. We hope that things remain the same in our absence but they never do, do they? I'll bet you've seen your share in L.A.

January 29, 2013 at 3:25 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Candi, if I may borrow a phrase I didn't invent, is Jerseylicious. She wears tight clothing, sometimes a beret resting on the back of her head, nails out to tomorrow, bleached white teeth and hair everywhere. She looks like a handful and a potential pain in the ass, but what a figure!

January 29, 2013 at 3:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's trippy to me to see what's happened in Sonoma county, with the growing wine economy. Orchards have been almost completely replaced by vineyards and "cow towns" like petaluma are now filled with trendy eateries. Graton used to be filled with brawling drunks and canneries and now it's a hip hippy spot to hang out. Hmm. I need to do a post on this.

January 29, 2013 at 5:11 PM  
Blogger savannah said...

don't get started on gentrification. i skipped on l.a. and now it's happening here in my little town. *sigh* the downtown area is a designated historic district, so the change isn't there, it's in the surrounding areas. everyone who has called for a halt has been shouted down and/or called everything but a child of god... xoxoxoxo

January 29, 2013 at 9:46 PM  
Blogger savannah said...

btw, sugar, a bad haircut is a bad haircut and you must absolutely whine about it! i do!!! xoxox

January 29, 2013 at 9:48 PM  
Blogger dinahmow said...

Bad haircut day, huh? Try this

And that combo at the wedding? My kind of swoon. Thanks for posting the vids and, if you track them down, please tell us.

Gentrification happens everywhere, seldom with empathy.

January 30, 2013 at 12:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

gentrification is a tough one... in my own little town, there's a great deal of action in what was an abandoned city. and with that? more people want to live there - which feeds the art shops, and mom and pop shops. no one wants a chain drugstore - but there's a crew trying to get a basic grocery store within walking distance of the city center.... as a result of supply/demand? rents are creeping upward. but there are jobs. and there is art and music and amazing loca-vore food places.


i don't get this cupcake thing. when did cupcakes become a thing? we even have a damn cupcake truck running around?!?!?

January 30, 2013 at 1:02 AM  
Anonymous nuttycow said...

Picture (of the bad haircut) or it didn't happen ;)

January 30, 2013 at 3:24 AM  
Blogger Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

You're bonkers to trust your hair to anyone who dots their name with anything other than a dot.

Gentrification is a tough one - mostly because I see it happening, and I am that middle class white girl who's moved to a newly regenerated end of town, and happy (ish) to stump up rent that a few years ago would have been unheard of in the area. So Zadie Smith might find me part of the problem. But then I've never finished one of her books, so we'd probably be even on that count.

Alas, I maintain that the area's thriving, full of independent shops and businesses (no cupcakes). It's part of the normal cycle of things. I'm not scared to wonder the streets around there at 4am.

January 30, 2013 at 4:52 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Actually, I spent a summer in Petaluma many years ago. I attended that Coast Guard training facility. Is it still there? We used to sleep on the beach at Bodega Bay. Too sandy to be romantic. It's hard to picture Petaluma filled with trendy eateries. When I was there, it was a bunch of chicken farms. Not much else. Yes, you owe us a post, please.

January 30, 2013 at 7:09 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Shouldn't we be more evolved than that? To have a nightmare about a bad haircut seems demented.

January 30, 2013 at 7:11 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

You can forget about trying to stop it. Gentrification has always been with us and it's not going anywhere soon. The real estate gods are too powerful to fight against. There's big money to be made and they won't be denied. I shouldn't complain. I cashed-in on my Lower East Side condo. I'm part of the problem.

January 30, 2013 at 7:13 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

That made me laugh so loud that the people in my coffee shop looked up! When I look in the mirror. I have the same sad, forlorn look in my eye that the dog does in that picture.

That combo at the wedding plays a wine bar on Friday nights IN BROOKLYN. Just sayin'.

January 30, 2013 at 7:16 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

You can forget about that, missy. It's not enough that I lay all my failures and longings out for your entertainment? You have to gawk at my bad haircut too? You are a cruel mistress.

January 30, 2013 at 7:17 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

I pitch and moan but I have ambiguous feelings about gentrification. For many of these areas, if it weren't for new money being pumped (ha...I mis-stroked "pimped") into the area, they'd simply continue their slow, inevitable decline.

And the cupcakes have gotten fancier and shrunk. Have you noticed? They used to be the size of my fist but now they're tiny. I have to eat three to make one proper serving.

January 30, 2013 at 7:21 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Look at that. A comment from nutty and then one from you. Two of my oldest followers.

Candi usually does a spectacular job. She gets one Mulligan, but one more cut like this and she's history.

I have the same argument for people who romanticize "old" Times Square, with its pimps, hookers, porn theaters and rough edges. "The Duce." The prattle on and on about the Disneyfication of the area, but I remember old Times Square and do you know what? What we have now is the lesser of the two evils. Old Times Square was absolutely terrifying. I can't IMAGINE what it would look like now if it hadn't been gentrified. Probably a war zone.

Did you read Smith's White Teeth? It's such a good book. If you haven't give it a try.

January 30, 2013 at 7:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gentrification wouldn't have as much of an impact in the UK if we still had post-war levels of council housing, (public housing, is that what you call it?) which was all systematically sold off by Margaret Thatcher and her heirs. A few pockets of it still survive, with people paying 90 pounds a week for a three bedroom house in central London, next to someone paying 500.

Glad it doesn't really affect Lancaster. There's a limit on how far one can be trendy in a small Northern cathedral city.

January 31, 2013 at 2:42 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Is council housing a good thing in London? Because I wouldn't be caught dead in public housing here in the U.S. They're hives of criminality and danger. People in public housing feel more trapped than fortunate, cheap rent notwithstanding.

January 31, 2013 at 3:16 PM  
Blogger dinahmow said...

Well keep it mind.Just sayin'...
Wouldn't be that one on Henry St, by chance?

January 31, 2013 at 5:16 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Nope. It's on N. 8th St. in Williamsburg. We can get car service there.

January 31, 2013 at 5:25 PM  
Blogger Comma Chaser said...

Hey UB, a couple of years ago, you mentioned an old school diner that you loved. What was the name of it again?

February 1, 2013 at 3:01 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Dang, there are (were) so many. Was it in New Jersey? The Red Bank Diner? That's a good one. I think that's the only one I've written about. That's where I always took my kids. There was Moondance in Manhattan and the Empire, both in Chelsea.

February 1, 2013 at 3:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Zadie Smith is definitely right. Gentrification may be good for businesses and it lowers crime rates, but that's about it. It removes the soul from once-gritty, colorful, vibrant neighborhoods and sanitizes them for surburban, chain-store sensibilities. I miss the NYC of the 1970s and 1980s.

Also, it's not wrong to be traumatized by a bad haircut. That's why baseball caps were invented, you know.

February 1, 2013 at 4:25 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

I am torn. Don't you remember Times Square before Disney got there? I sure do. That wasn't soul. That was terror. You didn't dare go NEAR Bryant Park! I was mugged three times over the course of the my first two years here and let me tell you something, it stays with you a long time. It fucks up your self esteem for a little while. Call me a mush but I like it better now. It's not ideal, but it's better this way.

Thank you for your kind words regarding my haircut, but I still cry into my pillow every night.

February 1, 2013 at 4:34 PM  
Blogger Comma Chaser said...

Red Bank diner, that was it. Coming back to me now. Thanks!

February 1, 2013 at 5:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can see how being mugged three times would fuck with a person. The crime wasn't fun, no. But I do have perversely fond memories of how nasty 42nd St between 7th and 8th was--nothing but peep shows, XXX theaters, drug dealers and hookers. Bryant Park, Union Square Park AND Tompkins Square Park were pretty much off limits. But I wish they hadn't gentrified everything within an inch of its life. It's too much. And it's such that a lot of regular folks can't afford the 5 boroughs anymore. Sigh.

May your hair grow swiftly and put an end to your current trauma. I've been there, man.

February 1, 2013 at 7:37 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Oh, please! Union Square! What a nightmare THAT was! And now look at it. Beautiful. Or not, depending on your point of view. It's an argument for the ages. The only thing I strongly disapprove of is the demise of the middle class in New York City. I had to leave to raise my kids. I'm just regular. I couldn't afford any of the tony family-friendly naibs. Sad. I would have liked to stay.

February 1, 2013 at 8:08 PM  
Blogger Kono said...

I once wrote a post about gentrification and had people coming out of the woodwork to crucify me cuz i wasn't the biggest fan of it, but hey, it happens and you can't stop it and a bunch of people get displaced all for the common good right? and Zadie was wrong, it's not just white people taking over neighborhoods these days, hipsters and faux hipsters have no color barrier, it's all a rainbow.

February 6, 2013 at 11:57 AM  

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