New York

Old is for the ‘naked’ brownstone with the crooked lamp post we strolled past in the neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant (known as Bed-Stuy) in Brooklyn.

New York is one of those unique cities were neighborhoods are constantly transforming and changing. Back in the early 1900s Bed-Stuy housed predominately white, affluent families. With the Great Depression most of them abandoned their grand mansions and brownstones to live the suburban dream. Housing prices dropped and many low-income, black people moved in. In the 60s, 70s and 80s Bed-Stuy was considered a failed neighborhood with high criminal activity and high unemployment. I heard it was infamously known as “do or die, Bed-Stuy”.

No wonder why many people, including my own parents, perceived Brooklyn as a dangerous place because there were “many black people living there”.

But Bed-Stuy did not fail because of its black residents, it failed because it was planned to fail. I learned from the documentary ‘My Brooklyn‘ that city planning officials neglected this neighborhood after the white people left, leaving it with little or no public institutions (schools, health care, police). Put in that light, it was pure discrimination in terms of public policy and resource allocation towards blacks.

Fortunately Bed-Stuy survived the ordeal and most of the old buildings are still intact, making it one of the most picturesque and historical strolls in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, gentrification has already started. New developments are dotted around, hipster cafes are seen, which all means that housing prices will rise and push out the current tenants. With more white and affluent people moving in, the public institutions will one again improve, and the cycle continues…

The ‘naked’ brownstone is waiting for its rebirth.


22/52 Old

Beirut, Cagliari

At the beginning of the week old was for the pasta madre –mother dough- started by a Sardinian family almost 300 years ago. We were given a small piece of it as a gift at a Victorian afternoon tea event in the public gardens last Sunday, on the condition that we bake with it and take care of it-  refreshing it regularly, with a precise weight of water and flour. I feel reasonably confident about the baking part, but I’m not so sure how well I will do with keeping it alive in the meantime, given my terrible track record with plants… Let’s hope my dough fingers are more effective than my green fingers. 

Later in the week, old was for the nail polish I finally, and rather reluctantly, removed more than 2 months after my last pedicure in Beirut. It felt symbolic and slightly sad, like removing one of the last visible traces of my life there. At first I thought it wasn’t going to come off at all, especially not with my eco-friendly nail polish remover, clinging stubbornly on, just how I have been hanging on, unwilling to let go of the city. But after 20 minutes of hard work, almost as long as it takes the girls at G-Spa salon to do a complete pedicure, my toenails were naked again, looking less confident after losing their double coat of coral conquest ( finally the right colour, after 3 watermelon-tangerine-salmon years of searching), but at the same time stripped bare and ready to begin again. 

And since neither the mother dough or my toes are particularly photogenic, old is also for this heart, in front of a dilapidated doorway on a Tuscan hillside, where the way of life feels older than the orchards and the olive trees and all of us.