A Writer Reflects on Brooklyn

In a recent issue celebrating its 40th anniversary, New York magazine asked some of its past contributors to reflect on the city they love and the changes they’ve seen over the last 40 years. Here is what Brooklyn-born author Pete Hamill had to say.

In Brooklyn, the visitor, whether native son or total stranger, can experience a very special sense of beauty. Much of it derives from a simple fact: Manhattan is a vertical city, and Brooklyn is horizontal. In a preface to a collection of his short stories, John Cheever once talked about Manhattan when it “was still filled with a river light … and when almost everybody wore a hat.” Hats are making a minor comeback, but in Manhattan, the river light is gone forever.

The reason: the soaring scale of most Manhattan buildings blocks the light. But Brooklyn is still the wide, low borough of light, bouncing off the harbor and the ocean (out by Coney Island), a place of big skies, a place where you can see weather, not simply defend against it. Clouds move swiftly, driven by the wind, or hang in lazy stupor. Storms can be tracked visually, as the immense dark clouds make their tours.

At dawn the sun begins to pass over Prospect Park, Green-Wood Cemetery, then all the way to the Verrazano Bridge, the start of its long day’s journey into the New Jersey night. The light is immanent, muted, a promise. Along the way, every neighborhood is given fresh clarity, every building assumes the kind of volume that depends upon shade as well as light.

In Brooklyn, most building is on a human scale and so the sun can do its work of gilding every surface. You walk for the morning paper, and total strangers say, “Beautiful day.” And you must assent.

I think he’s right, and that his words are too good not to share.

Pete Hamill in Brooklyn, September 2008

New York Magazine: Brooklyn Revisited

9 Responses to A Writer Reflects on Brooklyn

  1. moi says:

    kindred spirits! 🙂


  2. photowannabe says:

    Heart and soul in that write-up. I never made it to Brooklyn. Wish I had. Now that my traveling job has dried up the chances of me getting there are pretty slim. (:0(


  3. hi annulla – it’s been a long time since i lived in a vertical area. i’ve always lived on a steep hill, so i always had a spectacular view over the town where i lived, both in NZ and Greece. when i lived in athens, i rented an apartment. one day the landlord took me up to the top of the building – i was astounded to see the hills of kaisariani surrounding the area i lived in. i think i’m kind of lucky to know my space…


  4. very interesting post and shots. thank you for your visit and kind comments


  5. si tu passes sur mon blog, il y a quelque chose pour toi ;o)
    if you pass on my blog, there is something as you ;o)


  6. antof9 says:

    I’ve noticed that I never need sunglasses when I come there …


  7. Well spoken!! Only pockets of Manhattan has “sunlight”.


  8. Cool site, love the info.


  9. I like this site very much so much great info . “Historical reminder Always put Horace before Descartes.” by Donald O. Rickter.


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