It took a trip to Italy to learn that the desire for respite from city life and the countryside was not unique to our time or to New York City. Romans built villas millennia ago. These lavish homes were built by the wealthy elite and were used to escape the city and summer heat. In Florence, the Medicis built villas - country homes that served as alternate living spaces to their urban palazzo. Not so much is new under the sun, particularly in the realm of basic human desires, and I suppose it was rather foolish and ethnocentric of me as a New Yorker to expect that escape from the stresses of urban life and the desire for a more spacious country home with grounds, etc., would be limited to recent times.
At one time, Manhattan was seen as a place to work and make money, not necessarily as a place to live. Many wealthy chose to live in the boroughs, particularly Brooklyn, seeing Manhattan as a place of business, but not necessarily the place where one would choose to live. One of those places was Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
At one time, Bay Ridge was just another Brooklyn neighborhood to me. I had not explored it enough to understand its identity. This is a typical problem for any outsider to a place. Cursory examination and reading will only give a surface knowledge. It will take many visits and substantial time to really understand the heart and soul of any place. Meeting residents is necessary to get a full picture.
This process started for me with visits to First Oasis restaurant, having known the owner for 30 years, starting when his restaurant was located in Manhattan. Over the recent years, I became more acquainted with the various features of the neighborhood: its architecture, parks, vistas, ethnic enclaves, and restaurants.
Western Bay Ridge fronts the Narrows, the strait that separates Brooklyn from Staten Island, spanned by the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. This is where Shore Road lies, originally fronting and following the shoreline. In the mid-1800s, the neighborhood functioned as a country resort for the wealthy who built huge mansions near the water. After 1940s, the Belt Parkway and accompanying landfill separated Shore Road from the actual shore.
On this particular visit, I was accompanied by a friend who grew up in Bay Ridge. She told me stories of her childhood and of her vivid memories. We strolled along Shore Road, where the photos were taken. This gave me a real human connection to the neighborhood for the first time. As we left at sunset, a moon shone brightly over one of the streets. I'm sure for her, it was no less than Moonrise Over Hernandez :)
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