My wife and I just spent a couple of weeks in Brooklyn visiting our six-year-old grandson Sam and his parents. They live in Carroll Gardens, an old Italian neighborhood of lovely brownstones and corner stores that is rapidly gentrifying. Middle-aged and elderly Italian men in the neighborhood seem to be living out the stereotypes of Italian Americans portrayed in American films. But I suppose it’s the other way around; the film makers based their characters on the real-life Italian-Americans in neighborhoods like this.
When I approached an elderly Italian man sitting outside the Society of the Citizens of Pozzallo, Sicily to ask him a few questions in my somewhat limited Italian, I slipped into the pitch of voice and intonation of Vito Corleone. He didn’t seem to notice.
The Italians in Carroll Gardens are now vastly outnumbered by ethnically unidentifiable young professionals. You see so many of them, or the nannies who work for them, pushing baby carriages and strollers around that our son-in-law quipped that it looks as if a sperm bomb exploded.
The largest identifiable ethnicity in the neighborhood is Latino. The workers at the local grocery store speak to each other exclusively in Spanish. The grocery store is housed in a building that was long ago a synagogue, an indication that Jews were also once part of the neighborhood. Today there aren’t any shops specializing in bagels and pastrami, but there are lots of pizzerias and a Mexican bistro.
You fairly often hear French on the street. There has in recent times been a large influx of French immigrants to NY, and they have flocked to Brooklyn in such numbers that the elementary school P58 in Carroll Gardens is now a bilingual English/French school, with priority given to the children of francophone parents for enrollment in the French program.
Our grandson Sam set up a lemonade stand by the stoop in front of the building where he and his parents live. In a few hours it seemed as though representatives of every human group on the planet strolled by. Most either ignored the lemonade stand or smiled and walked on. But enough of them stopped and bought lemonade to keep Sam busy. Among his customers was a policeman from the 76th precinct across the street. The policeman chatted with us for some time and returned later with a baseball for Sam. He told us that the neighborhood had the third lowest crime rate in the city of New York. It felt a little like we were in an episode of Sesame Street
While Sam was selling lemonade, the Society of the Citizens of Pozzallo, Sicily, was setting up tables around the corner for a street party in a sudden reassertion of the neighborhood’s Italian identity.
Returning to our Oak Bay Village in Victoria, British Columbia, we suffered slightly from jet lag because of the three-hour time difference. Oak Bay, sometimes known as the Tweed Curtain, is overwhelmingly Anglo and monochromatically white by comparison with Carroll Gardens. Besides being mostly a pale shade of white, most Oak Bay residents also have white hair. Pedestrians often use walkers. When I joked with my daughter that walker fights sometimes break out in the local pub, she thought I was being serious.
But Oak Bay has its charms. Unsurprisingly, it’s quiet and not exactly bustling and has wonderful ocean views, lush foliage, and many varieties of flowers that start blooming in February. From the front of our condo building on a clear day we can see snow-capped Mount Baker in Washington State. And one thing for sure—no sperm bomb is going to explode.