Nell Freudenberger’s Brooklyn
Brooklyn is known for all the writers who live here: You can find them frowning at their laptops in their neighborhood cafes, donning their noise-canceling headphones to block out the clamor of the only other comparably populous group–children under five. As luck would have it, my Brooklyn lies at the intersection of these two sets of scribblers.
Before I moved here three years ago, I was worried I wouldn’t be cool enough for Brooklyn. As it turns out, I’m not–and that’s fine. Brooklyn–with its milliners, its mustaches, its small-batch cupcakes for dogs–might even be tiring of its own hipness.
An artisanal spirit without the pretentiousness can be found at places such as Café Martin, in Park Slope, where the Irish owner is often behind the counter. “Why does that man have such a sulky look?” one pint-size customer recently inquired, over her hot chocolate. Admittedly a bit taciturn, owner Martin O’Connell makes the best and among the most reasonably priced espresso drinks in the borough.
A little farther north, Blueprint has a peaceful garden walled in by repurposed Brazilian walnut, where a Dark & Stormy with house-made ginger beer and lime perfectly accompanies the Niman Ranch pork butt sliders.
One of the many things I love about the borough is its choice of bookshops.
The Manhattan independents tend to be dark and crowded, both with shoppers and wares; not so Greenlight in Fort Greene, a clean and well-lighted place, which also sells books at the Brooklyn Academy of Music‘s Eat, Drink and Be Literary series.
The Community Bookstore in Park Slope is more traditional, narrow and a little more musty, but with a whimsical children’s section and a pond full of turtles out back. The tiger cat, Tiny, is often napping sprawled across the table of new hardcover fiction. (Do not attempt to move her, even if her hindquarters are obscuring the cover of the novel that took you five years to write.)
When it’s nice out and the cherry and dogwood trees are blooming, there’s no reason to be anyplace besides Prospect Park, where we’re regulars at the carousel and the zoo.
Prospect Park’s historic carousel closes in the rain, but that’s arguably the best time to visit Jane’s Carousel on the waterfront in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), which becomes a kind of submarine, with water streaming down Jean Nouvel’s gorgeous glass box housing, blurring the barges gliding by on the East River.
Just a few steps away on Front Street is Berl’s: the only all-poetry bookstore in New York City. Its owners, married poets Jared White and Farrah Field, sold chapbooks at the Brooklyn Flea for years before opening Berl’s in September of 2013.
“It’s hard to take a baby to work at a flea market,” White explained–a good reminder that even writers have to grow up sometime, and Brooklyn is a pretty nice place to do it.
This piece, written by Nell Freudenberger, first appeared in the April 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine. Freudenberger’s most recent novel is The Newlyweds.
> Get to Know Nell:
National Geographic Traveler: What makes Brooklyn unique?
Nell Freudenberger: Brooklyn is heterogeneous in wonderful and disturbing ways, which makes it a fascinating place to be a writer. Rich and poor people live in close proximity. It’s also culturally diverse in the extreme.
NGT: Where would you live if you didn’t live in New York?
NF: I’d love to live in Mumbai. I stayed there for a few months years ago. I’ve never walked around a city that varies so much by neighborhood. I like the mash-up of architectural styles, and the feeling that you’re in a place where history runs very deep, but which is also so dramatically modern.
NGT: What role does travel play in your life as a writer?
NF: I’m a little embarrassed about how stimulating travel is for me as a writer: I feel I ought to be able to find inspiration at home.
What I love about going somewhere very different, whether nearby or abroad, is the way I start to notice the details of ordinary life.
When I was just out of college I spent a summer living with an eccentric woman in New Delhi whose lover went to great lengths to get European-style cheese for her. They would sit at a dusty table in her living room in the afternoons, talking and eating cheese.
It was that table with the plate of cheese on it that inspired the first successful story I ever wrote.