At Home, I'm a Tourist



I split my year between Hong Kong and New York, and just got back to my Brooklyn apartment a couple of weeks ago. Of course I'm feeling discombobulated--brutal jet lag and all--but I think that's a good thing. One of the advantages of never completely settling into a place is that you never get a chance to stop seeing it with fresh eyes. That's the great gift that traveling gives all of us. Even (especially) when we're in the most familiar surroundings, we can still feel the thrill of discovery. At home, we're tourists.

(Apologies to new wave rockers, the Gang of Four for stealing the title of their spectacular chugging guitar anthem!)

By the way, I use the word "tourist" in a kindly, not a pejorative way. You can be a Real Traveler and a tourist at the same time--it's a matter of attitude, thoughtfulness and point of view. As those of you who follow my National Geographic Traveler column know, I occasionally sign myself up to wear a little badge and follow a fellow with a yellow pennant and whistle. Because you can learn a lot about a culture by taking that great leap forward into its tourist attractions.

Anyway, I've been enjoying this time of readjustment to my Brooklyn haunts. Since my mind is still kind of in Hong Kong, and my ears are still poised to hear Chinese, the streets of my "new" neighborhood, Park Slope (where I've lived more than 15 years) feel truly foreign to me. I find myself wandering up and down the gorgeous, mid-summer avenues, some so lush with trees that they tunnel over the roadways, and absorbing the architectural details of the gorgeous brownstone rowhouses as carefully as if I were in Paris with a Michelin guide in hand.

I've actually had several weird encounters with checkout clerks, because I couldn't understand what they were trying to tell me (I've haven't yet switched from Cantonese to Brooklynese).

And I'm noticing stuff about the sometimes peculiar local culture that I doubt I would have noticed if I stayed at home year-round. For instance, there's this:


This is the fourth or fifth tableau I've seen like this in the last two weeks. Nobody in Park Slope, it seems, can bear to throw away a book. The love of books is hardwired into the local culture of my dear old neighborhood. We leave them, like foundlings, piled on doorsteps, balanced against wrought iron fences, even propped on top of walls. They stare at you as you pass by, begging like lost puppies, for a new home. And they say that print is dead!

I'll tell you more about the multiple attractions and delights of my quirky Brooklyn neighborhood (rated the #1 in New York by a very trendy magazine!) in an upcoming post. Meanwhile, I'm going to dive into one of my "foundling" book finds (yes, I picked one up for myself. How could I resist?)

Martin Yan's Culinary Journey Through China. I have been wondering why someone left it sitting, all by itself and lonely, on their Brooklyn stoop--were they daunted by the recipes? Did they move to China and figure they didn't need it anymore?

Mysteries never to be solved by this urban tourist. But the Chinese cookbook by the Canadian author is the perfect book for the neither-here-nor-there place I'm in right now.


 
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