Bococa, or Caboco?

On a sunny day of high cirrus and high spirits, we crossed the Gowanus Canal (a draw bridge!) and went up the other slope to explore Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill. Or as the Brooklyn Alive! guide would have it “Bococa”. What is it with NYC and these locale contractions? Then again, 10 years ago we had a jolly good laugh at signs imploring people to come and live in Dumbo: it is literally on the map now! (FYI = Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass).

We rambled Smith St and Court St, again that appealing mix of neighbourly small business, old-fashioned business, new fashion business, hipster cafes, dogs, dogs and more dogs.

I was thrilled, yes thrilled, to visit La Casita, a much-loved and renowned yarn store and cafe. Much smaller than I imagined but, of course, perfect. There was the patchwork bench out the front, the lovely owner helping a customer with a cable needle problem, there were all the yarns I’ve only read about. And (prepare yourself for shouting) it was the first day OF THE NYC YARN CRAWL! OMG OMG! Can’t believe it’s on while I am here. So I bonded with everyone in the store, got my raffle tickets, free patterns and registration number. No matter that I didn’t make to the other stores that were part of the crawl – I’ve participated in an NYC yarn crawl! YAY!

Other favourites: Momofuku Milk Bar; By Brooklyn for local design; a nap in a pretty pocket park; Watty and Meg for American bistro classics and a fabulous Shirley Temple; watching FDNY take over Atlantic Ave with BIG trucks and tall men (braces, they all wear braces); the former South Brooklyn Savings Bank; the changing colour of the ginkgo trees; and the view of Manhattan from the promenade.

Montage time:

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And it must be time for this little known classic.

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The Other Fifth Avenue

We loved our Brooklyn neighbourhood. Our nearest ‘high street’ was a block away, through a much loved park and then a plane tree lined street beside the primary school.

Fifth Ave, Park Slope, is a real mix. Mostly three or four storey tall, small shop frontages but deep – and a surprising number of businesses with gardens at the back.

There’s a small but quality farmers’ market on Sunday mornings (there’s an enormous one up the hill at Grand Army Plaza but we didn’t get there.

We adopted Du Jour Bakery as our breakfast place – newish with great coffee from Brooklyn Roasting Company, fabbo egg dishes and corned beef hash and baked things. Vera and her staff adopted us back, remembering our coffee order and menu quirks from our first visit.

Across the street is a fabbo bistro called Juventino, accredited by Slow NY for all those good slow values. One wall was lined with food books and wine, the tables covered with pages of Larousse Gastronomique. We had a terrific dinner there, and went back for brunch on Sunday – the queues!! We opted for Monday brunch. Juan is one of those great people born to be in hospitality, great host and wanting to know about Australian food too.

Of course, there was an artisanal, organic gelati store (favourite flavour: olive oil and rosemary), a bagel store (with a separate window for people with dogs: pooches each got a dog biscuit too), beautiful plant and flowers store (beware, wandering puppy), and the authenik, colourful Rachel’s Taqueria (waitresses as highly decorated as the poster-objet laden walls and ceiling. And all this is just TWO blocks of a very long avenue.

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But my Mecca on this other Fifth Ave was this:

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And because we purchased superhero supplies, we had to take the Super Heroes Oath. So that’s the rest of our lives sorted out.

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Boston

We had one goal for our day (a day! Ludicrous but we’ll come back) and that was to visit the famed Museum of Fine Arts.

It’s huge, so we decided to make our theme American Art – especially as MFA is renowned for its Copleys, Sargeants and all that silver.

Anticipating our whirlwind visit, the MFA kindly arranged for Sir Norman Foster’s creatives to build a new wing just for the Art of the Americas, and reorganise a courtyard. From inside, it’s not as dramatic as the roof and courtyard the practice did for the British Museum, though that drama comes from the revelation as you enter. Both are cool and rational, and really serve the art well. I think some people will argue it’s a bit soulless, but once you are in the galleries, it works really well.

Here’s the courtyard from the staircase that serves the new wing

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The brick wall is the early 20th century building – behind it is a beaut visitor centre and book shop.
And yes, that’s a three storey Chihuly. Man, they love Chihuly.

Here’s the view back to the wing

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So we loved the art. We really only loitered in mid-late 18th century, oohing and aaahing at the Sargeants and Copleys and their contemporaries. And coveting the silver – incredible work, and buckets of it, so you can really see the changes in fashion through it.

And the Sons of Liberty bowl, made and engraved by Paul Revere. This was my ‘goosebump’ moment: radical silverware!

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We then skipped lightly to the 20th century where all the decorative arts looked straight out of fabulous Hollywood movies (note to self – read up on Hollywood’s role in promulgating modern design). Failed to take a pic, but there were two Georgia O’Keeffes that were fab together: one a full blown ruffled white flower in blue cool tones; the other a view of a wall, also filling the canvas, no sky, no street, one door, a plane of hot adobe pinkorangeapricotterracotta.

The best of the AbEx were two domestic size Pollocks – perfect for our home, we explained to the staff. They felt they had really done quite enough for our visit and wouldn’t wrap to go, so we’ll pick them up next time.

Last pic: on the opposite side to the Foster extension, is a wonderful (and timeless) I M Pei pavilion (1980) that now houses contemporary art and floods a former corridor with light. We took coffee here and listened to kids having a tremendous time making stuff.

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And I could really imagine listening to Boston’s own Chick Correa play in any of these spaces, his classical training and inventive jazz suiting the architecture for sure. Here’s the very recent Mozart Goes Dancing, with Gary Burton.

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Oops – music for last post.

There can’t be many songs about Rhode Island! This one has one of my all-time favouritest lyrics – listen for the line about Pennsylvania! I’ve chosen the version by the incomparable Blossom Dearie and I suspect the images are from RI, but for some reason I can’t play it on my ipad. Let me know immediately if I’ve posted something weird.

And for Newport – well, who could go past the entire soundtrack of High Society – my second favourite musical film ever. (My most favourite will turn up in a post very soon). This song gives me goosebumps every time, and it is the only number in the film that names Newport

Right! Now I must go and write about Boston for you!

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Bar Harbor + Newport

I’m gonna put these two together – even though we visited Boston in between – so it’s TWO islands for one post. Is any one keeping count? How many Islands are we up to?

Bar Harbor is the main township on Mount Desert Island, one of the myriad islands that decorate the Maine coastline like a green beaded fringe.

Most of the island is consumed by Acadia National Park – moose, puffins, mountains, glacier-formed lakes and waterfalls.

We saw none of it. Not complaining: we knew this was one destination where the ship moors in the bay, and passengers leave by tender. It was too hard and too dangerous for Tim (and the lovely crew) to attempt a floating pier, so we stayed aboard our nearly empty home and pretended it was ALL ours. The staff spoiled us rotten.

The fab thing about mooring in the bay is the incredible 360 views, and watching those vistas change as the sun moves.

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^ These are our ship’s lifeboats ferrying passengers to Bar Harbor

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^ There are three islands close to Bar Harbor, upon which we gazed from our shipboard library: Porcupine Island, Back Porcupine Island and this one, Sheep Porcupine Island.

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^Local lovely Margaret Todd glided round us looking lovely.

Newport loves boats and ships. The bigger the better. Though it was the middle of the week, it was a beautiful day and lots of boats were out. We moored between Rose Island and Goat Island and saw everything.

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^ Note dark-masted ship behind Goat Island. Note five storey building next to it. Boggle at size of boat.

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^ I saw this fleet head out in the morning. They fluttered out of a walled marina like white butterflies. I thought they were a dinghy class and was surprised how many were heading out on a Wednesday. This pic taken eight hours later, as they returned under spinnaker. Then I realised they were at least 20ft!

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Halifax

People of Halifax are called Haligonians. We wanted to ask if any of them were cloned, and if so, were they called Halifacsimiles. They were all so nice, and several were wearing full dress of the 86th Highland Regiment, that we didn’t dare.

Halifax is on a not-quite island – there’s a very short neck joining it to mainland Canada – so it’s a good thing it has multiple islands in its lovely harbour. I’ll tell you about Georges Island in a minute.

The docks and waterfront are fabulous. There’s been serious investment in mixed development and it felt loved and lively. There’s an arts university, museums, condos, some office space, parks and memorials and cafes etc. We walked along the waterfront and up in to down town in search of coffee. That happy travellers’ luck kicked in and we found the best espresso in Halifax (Canada being a land that drinks filtered coffee). A coffee roasting coop that had just opened this second store. We spent a little more time there than we intended.

But the Maritime Museum called, and it is fab. I am now expert on the Canadian Navy, small fishing vessels of the north Atlantic, the hydrography of Canada (which has the most coastline of any nation) and we met the ship’s cat of The Acadia, who is in disgrace, having been caught bringing a rat on board.

The front two storeys of the museum are based on an incredible chandlery that operated on the site (in a lovely red brick building) from 1890-1980. The museum bought it lock, stock and fishy barrels and it is the centrepiece of the complex. It’s been cleaned up a little, but all the stock is there, the office, the sailmakers room, and the whole place smells incredible – linseed oil, wax, and something mysterious sort of like kero. The rope and fenders are beautiful – I’m sure there was jute from Riga there, though I might just be over-romanticising my maritime adventure.

The most moving part of the museum was the exhibition about the Titanic. Halifax ships were involved in the retrieval of the dead, and the Marconi Radio Office documented the calls of all the ships from the first distress call. Seeing that document, written by hand in pencil, made the whole tragedy very vivid to me. I don’t think I had known than two thirds of all aboard died. Many of the unknown are buried in Halifax – “the wharves were lined with coffins” and 40 embalmers and undertakers from all over eastern Canada came to help. The story of Canada’s response to the tragedy is told more thoroughly on this marvellous website.

The port of Halifax was a crucially important one for the British: they kept worrying about the French supporting the Americans and them moving north. There’s a wonderful star-shaped citadel on the hill in central Halifax, still firing its cannon at noon, and in summer, staffed by those kilt wearing Highlanders. But I was more intrigued by Georges Island.

It’s a tear-drop shaped islet with picturesque lighthouse and outbuildings and if it had a few white sheep on its emerald grasslands, you’d swear it was a movie set. But lurking beneath that lawned facade is a Georgian killing machine.

It has long range cannon carefully disguised, and a complex system of tunnels and storage underground. The story is that it was built by prisoners and pressed sailors who were blind folded when taken to their work site, so no one knew the whole picture and the enemy could not find out. This is said of many forts and citadels, so it might be true of one or many.

Time for some pix

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And a song. I wanted to post Ruby Jean and the Thoughtful Bees, whose CD was playing in that fab cafe. They are a much loved local outfit. But am having connection issues. So here is the wonderful Cold Water by Damien Rice. Damien Rice

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