New York is not Manhattan, as much as London is not the Square Mile of the city and the West End. So, we took the subway out to Brooklyn to see what we could find.
We emerged at Grand Army Plaza, hungry and ready for some breakfast. We have had some really good food at the type of diner which would be called a ‘Greasy Spoon’ in the UK, and we staggered into the closest one for a Lumberjack Special. Frankly, I’m not sure why we did it – our track record with American portions has pretty much been plate-of-food 1, us 0. But we ordered and soon had in front of us juice and coffee while our breakfast was cooked to order. When it arrived, I was worried the china plate would crack in two under the weight of it all: 3 huuuuge, fluffy pancakes bigger than my face, slice upon slice of ham, crispy bacon, sausage and two eggs – over easy for me, sunny side up for the Hungry Husband. Dripping with maple syrup, this was indeed the type of breakfast only a lumberjack could digest!
In a vein attempt to work off about 10,000 calories, we walked along through Grand Army Plaza into Prospect Park. The plaza itself is oddly European, the grand arch and statues reminding us of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris or Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. The park was quite pretty with little arches and swathes of green filled with tiny tots and their moms – one set running after the other, leaves starting to crunch between their feet.
We walked down Flatbush to the Barclay centre, home of the Nets basketball team, and mostly felt like we could have been anywhere in the world. Large cities (and Brooklyn is one in its own right, even without the rest of the New York City megalopolis) seem to have a generic flavour in many ways – shops, street vendors, traffic, people.
Brooklyn Borough Hall was, however, a very pretty moment of Gothic revival architecture in the middle of a generic mass of buildings. Nearby, we saw a little boy holding a certificate with gold lettering which seemed to be a record of citizenship. A few people were posing for pictures, bursting with pride. Although America’s immigration policies are notoriously tough these days, that was a reminder to me of how this country was built, right here in New York, for generations of people.
The main event for us, though, was the walk along Brooklyn Bridge. The wide arches of Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges are as much a part of New York as any skyscraper. Certainly, it’s what binds Brooklyn to Manhattan: a short walk from Brooklyn to Manhattan over the famous bridge shows up the financial district in all its glittering glory. Brooklyn Bridge is an amazing feat of technology, particularly for its time, and I suppose we can forget what these bridges – Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg, Queensboro – have meant for the greater city of New York.
Looking back, looking forward, upriver and downriver, you cannot help but be awed by the immensity of this man-made creation: New York City, in the Empire State.