21 August 2006

Little Russia By The Sea

I actually saw Matthew Broderick in the lead role of Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoir, exactly where, why or how, I can't quite remember, but it was when Matthew was just beginning to look too old for teenage roles. It was probably in San Francisco in the 1970s, which is the last time I did any serious theater-going, but never mind; I only mention it because today I visited the real Brighton Beach, way out there at the end of the B and Q lines.

Which in turn put me in mind of England, because there's a chain of DIY (home improvement) stores called B&Q, sort of along the lines of Home Depot, and their advertising slogan is, "You can do it if you B&Q it." Another even more obvious thing that reminded me of England was going to Brighton Beach; the main difference being that the train to Brighton from London costs £16 ($30) return while the fare in New York is a mere $4 (£2.20), or nothing at all if you already have a Metrocard. Either way the trip takes about an hour. Another difference is that New York's Brighton Beach consists of about a quarter-mile wide strip of whitish sand mingled with cigarette butts and broken glass while Brighton's Brighton Beach is nothing but rocks with little broken glass in evidence.

Which brings up the question: since it's obviously a great deal harder to break a bottle on sand than on rocks, how did all the glass get on New York's beach? Did someone go to the trouble of breaking bottles back in the parking lot, then sweep up the pieces and carry them hundreds of yards to scatter them on the beach, all for the sake of keeping up New York's hard-ass image? Anyway, it made walking barefoot a great adventure which I probably won't repeat next time, even though I made it with the soles of my feet intact.

Still another difference or two: the water here was reasonably warm. Not tropical, but comfortable. Maybe in the mid-70s (low to mid-20s C), whereas in England it never gets out of the teens (50s to low 60s F). On the other hand, the water seemed cleaner in England, but that may only be because it's so chilly that few people stay in it long enough to scatter their litter about.

In any event, it was nice to get to the beach again; I think it was my first time this summer, whereas last summer (which was actually last January, February and March, because I was in Australia) I went to the beach almost every day. But let's face it; New York City's beach scene, pleasant enough as it is, doesn't exactly compare to Sydney's. Still, I'm going to go back, maybe tomorrow, and this time I'm going to walk from Brighton Beach to Coney Island. I would have done it today, once I saw the inspiring sight of the Coney Island Parachute Jump, aka "The Eiffel Tower of Brooklyn," off in the distance, but it was getting too late in the day and I had to hop on the old B train back to Manhattan.

Oh yeah, Brighton Beach also advertises itself as "Little Russia By The Sea" for obvious reasons: practically everything on the main drag is in Russian, and it's also what most of the people are speaking. Walking along under the elevated train tracks thus comes across as both a time and culture warp. It's kind of reminiscent of New York in the 1950s or 60s, if New York had been relocated to the Black Sea and communism never existed, but I think I'm stretching now.

Also noted: very cheap house prices and rents, at least as compared to anywhere else in New York, which may spell the beginning of the end of Russian hegemony, because quite a few Mexicans seemed to be moving in. On a couple blocks the music and the homeboys hanging out made it feel more like the Mission than little Volgograd. Anyway, a good day out, and now I'm exhausted (lying around in the sun takes a lot out of a guy) and going straight to bed.

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