After booking affordable New York accommodation online, we find ourselves staying in a lovely brown-stone apartment in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, on the corner of Malcolm X Boulevard.
Across the street garbage is piled high by Toni’s Pizzeria and the New Hope Healing Series (‘Space available for Worship’).
Toni dispenses his pizzas from behind bullet-proof glass. In the Liquor Store by Kosciusko St Station we order a bottle of Chilean wine, feed the money in through a slot and the Korean proprietor reaches around his defence shield to slip us a screw-top bottle. We sense that all is not well in Bedstuy.
Taxis won’t come here, we are warned. It’s not that they fear being mugged, just that nobody in Bedstuy has the money to get them a return fare to Manhattan.
The area has apparently seen better days. The streets are broad, beautiful and tree-lined. The rows of terraces are attractive, though most of the fresh paint is graffiti.
On a couple of corners are street art memorials to young black men. There are only two kinds of shops, delis (corner grocery and fast food shops) and hair salons where people get their hair straightened or curled, dyed or dreadlocked.
People are friendly, however. The Sunday bus, seeing us waiting helplessly in rain, made an unscheduled stop to pick us up. ‘No buses from here go to Manhattan no more,’ the driver told us, as he dropped us in Williamsburg, ‘but the J Train rides every few minutes.’
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is moving a little more upmarket. It’s becoming an area of artists and wannabe actors.
Further down is the Brooklyn Museum, with a superb collection of American and world art, set in the beautiful leafy Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.
Brooklyn covers an area bigger than Amsterdam and has a population of 2.5 million, three times that of the Dutch capital.
You have to expect a bit of diversity. It’s been an experience.