It’s been one year since I moved to Bedford-Stuyvesant from Fort Greene, where I’d live for about fifteen years. Like most change, uprooting myself was uncomfortable, but not nearly as painful as I thought it would be. I remember telling people that if I ever moved from Fort Greene, I’d be moving out of New York because there was no other neighborhood that I wanted to live in. I had laid down roots in Fort Greene, roots that grew long and deep. But the day came when I faced skyrocketing rents and the prospect of having to move.
I didn’t move out of New York, as I had predicted. Instead, I moved to Bedford-Stuyvesant.
When I first came here, I thought I’d miss Fort Greene forever. But I found out that I didn’t miss the screeching B54 bus coming to a halt at the bus stop across from my ground-floor apartment there. Nor did I miss the rumbling trucks and other colossal vehicles making their way to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway via my block. More than anything, I did not miss the people next door who congregated in front of my window at all hours of the day and night.
What I like most about my new dwelling, a garden apartment in a brownstone, is the unspoiled silence. One Sunday morning, in early fall, the only sounds I heard were the wind rustling through the leaves of the mammoth trees right outside my window, and the singsong of birds in the backyard.
My new block feels like a retirement community. Many of the brownstone owners are senior citizens who have lived most of their lives in these homes. When I was deciding if I should take the apartment, I rationalized that perhaps the time had come for me to slow down. Living in Fort Greene was like living in the fast lane. The neighborhood was changing so quickly that to be in the midst of it all made you feel hip and on the cutting edge (of what I really can’t say).
One of my first observations about Bedford-Stuyvesant was the number of people I saw heading to church on Sunday mornings. The church definitely has a strong presence here. In contrast, most of the people out early on a Sunday morning in Fort Greene are on their way home after a night of partying. Recently, in a definite sign that I’m slowing down, I joined the go-to-church-on-Sunday crowd.
In moving to Bedford-Stuyvestant, I feared I wouldn’t be as anonymous as I was living a building in a Fort Greene with neighbors whose names I didn’t know, or even care to know. I hoped that people would not mind my business, and that I would be able to move about without feeling that all eyes were on me. In the beginning, all eyes were on me because I was a newcomer on the block.
Now, I seldom see my three neighbors, or even bump into them. I’ve learned their names from the mail dropped through the gate, which brings up another issue. At first, not having a mailbox seemed like a real invasion of privacy. Everyone can see everyone else’s mail. But I finally concluded the only thing my neighbors could deduce about me from my mail is that I have a lot of bills.
For me the real selling point of my apartment, in addition to its lovely original details, is the backyard, which I have exclusive access to. Having always lived in apartment buildings, being closer to the earth was a welcome change. There was some trepidation, since my relationship with nature has been limited to a few houseplants and store bought flowers. Two or three annual visits to Brooklyn’s Botanic Garden and excursions to Prospect Park and I have had my fill of it.
But my affair with nature has been developing slowly. This past summer I had to learn how to coexist in the backyard with squirrels, bees, butterflies, birds, fireflies, mosquitos and a black cat who would occasionally strut through as if it owned the place. (I won’t say what I had to learn to coexist with inside the apartment.)
Through all of this, though, I don’t feel quite like a “Do or Die” Bed-Stuyer. Sometimes, sitting in my yard, I still have thoughts of living in a bright and polished apartment building, with squeaky clean glass doors and a wall of mailboxes.