Saturday, September 19, 2015

Why Travel and Why Write about It?

I find that travel blogs are the easiest for me to write. Perhaps that is because, since my retirement, I have spent many months away from home. Whether studying in Paris, visiting relatives in the Shetland Islands or volunteering in Oaxaca, travel has been my teacher. I find that the world can be my personal school room and that there is so much that I do not know.

a schoolyard surrounded by art

This week, I am in New York City, celebrating my daughter's 40th birthday.  The best laid plans went out the window when a series of unfortunate (???) events took us from the stylish apartment that I had booked to a clean but cozy (we eat sitting on the bed) hotel room in Brooklyn.

I have discovered that 20% of the inhabitants of Brooklyn are Hispanic (mostly Mexican, Dominican, Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian). PS 24 in Sunset Park,  my nearest elementary school, has 91% Spanish-speaking students and has developed a dual-track English/Spanish programme where about half of the student population is taught in both languages each day. English classes are held in the school for parents and Pre-Kindergarten is available. The teacher/pupil ratio is 1:12. Ninety-six percent of the students are eligible for free or subsidized lunch.


I was attracted to this school by the series of murals that decorate the wall surrounding it. The murals were created by The Groundswell Community Art Project. They depict the ethnic origins of the students (Black, Muslim and Chinese as well as Hispanic), the arts, music, sports and learning activities, community connections and some commentary on migration. I drive my daughter a little crazy each time we pass the school on the way to the subway. I have to look and photograph.

I live in a district where more than 60% of the population speaks a language other than English at home. Contrary to the Sunset Park, Brooklyn model, our immigrants are better-off financially than their Canadian-born neighbours. Large newly-built homes, which are often vacant, block the sunlight of the modest bungalows of long-time residents. Canada, by choosing immigrants based on a strictly financial basis, has created a situation that is problematic and seems to be without a solution.

Who should be the gatekeepers?
We are all the descendants of immigrants who chose to look for a better life. We are the children of younger sons who had no land to inherit, those who saw little opportunity in the homeland and those who needed a "fresh start".  With this in mind, we should willingly extend our hospitality to others, especially those in need.

Travel helps me to think about home in a different way. It is much more for me than what I wore (not very interesting this trip) or what I ate (really tasty choices but probably not great for the blood pressure).

Today, we will take a ferry from Battery Park to visit Ellis Island and the Museum of Immigration.
But first, we get to walk to the subway yet another time!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

All's Well that Ends Well!

For more than a year, my daughter and I have been planning a week's getaway to New York to celebrate her fortieth birthday. As I am wont to do, I have looked at rentals and  neighbourhoods to find the best possible situation. Our Canadian dollar has dropped in value considerably so a Manhattan hotel was not in the cards this year.

the lights

During previous trips to New York, I have stayed in older hotels near Times Square. The hustle-bustle, proximity to theatres, sights and lights hold an allure for us but we had decided to stay in Jersey City where we could rent an apartment with a kitchen, a gym, and a swimming pool for less money! It seemed ideal...Until 12 hours before we were boarding the plane, I received an e-mail from that the apartment for which I had already paid more than $2000 Canadian was unavailable!!! How could that be? offered me another hotel (no kitchen, no gym, no pool) in Brooklyn for the same price but I still needed to get back my money from the first rental or non rental! It was 10:00 pm Sunday night in New York so I really was in no position to quibble. The 24 hour Canadian phone number for is out of service anyway.

A really sleepless night! Note my overuse of exclamation marks. I had to cancel my Airport Shuttle and find a way to get from Newark, New Jersey to Brooklyn in rush hour. We required a town car as there really is no simple way. Our driver was not familiar with the route so at one point, he left us in the car, stopped in the road and enquired somewhere (I don't understand).

After 24 hours of extreme uncertainty, my daughter and I arrived in the Sunset Park area of Brooklyn.
Life does not always turn out as we plan. On Sunday, our minister talked about the futility of worrying..It was the lilies of the field sermon. As it happens, Sunset Park is more than 50% hispanic

Sunset Park brownstone

I love to be where another language is spoken, where there are mama y papa vegetable stores, Mexican delis and bodegas. Last night, I convinced Daughter to try an Ecuadorean restaurant, El Tesoro Ecuadoriano. I love to try different foods but my daughter is a little more wary. I had a cazuela de mariscos, (fish stew with a tomato broth thickened with plantains)which was delicious. My daughter has decided that we need to go back another night.

Sunset park was Brooklyn's first park

Today we wandered down our own (Brooklyn's) Fifth Avenue with its food smells, its dark-eyed mothers and babies, its windows filled with religious ornaments, hula hoops, phone cards for Central America and $3.00 hoodies. So different from its counterpart on the other side of the river!

Tomorrow is Mexican Independence Day
We will be buying our transit pass and heading to Manhattan most days but without this unforeseen
adventure, we would have missed a really interesting and affordable neighbourhood.