Traveling from the yunnie cacophony of the East Village, riding the L train packed with twitchy hipsters, to emerge from the G train and onto Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint may be akin to stepping off a Carnival cruise ship bloated with ticky-tacky people, their lips smeared with Chocoholic Buffet, and walking into the Edenic wonder of the Galapagos Islands.
You are simply in another country. One that remains mostly unspoiled and untrammeled, where the natives practice strange and wonderful customs--like saying hello, holding the door for you, and wishing "Bless you" when you sneeze. Instead of talking on cell phones, they are talking to each other or just not talking. Instead of ramming you with baby strollers filled with atrophying children, they let their kids walk.
I have been to Greenpoint just twice and saw only a sliver. For a thorough account of the goings on in this part of Brooklyn, see Miss Heather's extensive reporting at New York Shitty. Forgotten NY has also covered the neighborhood here and here. But even a sliver gives you a good sense of the strong community still thriving here.
I was shocked by the lack of gentrification. Yes, they have Chase Banks and Dunkin Donuts, even a weird Starbucks in a former theater, but these all have a run-down look about them and they don't keep places like the Peter Pan Donut shop from being packed with satisfied customers.
People speak Polish everywhere. And it's not just the older people--it's the twentysomethings in their trendy sunglasses, the teens, and the kids, too. Dinner at the Happy End will surround you in Polish. Its dark, Eastern bloc decor might intimidate you. But you'll be welcomed by a friendly young waiter who will urge you to eat the salad, the best part, the part that gives you vegetables. And the kielbasa, perfectly cooked by a staunch woman in a hairnet, is incredible.
At the Manhattan 3 Decker diner you can get a three-decker sandwich (a club sandwich) and enjoy the bickering of the owners, a Greek couple who reply to one another, "And the horse you rode in on!" Meanwhile, regulars are greeted by name and the waitstaff knows their favorite tables. And the children--you won't notice you are surrounded by them because they are so well-behaved, quietly eating grilled cheese sandwiches and coloring in books. A mother tells one, "When I was a girl, I wasn't spoiled. My mother disciplined me."
Walking west, you pass lovely rowhouses on tree-lush streets, and fantasize about living there. "Greenpoint is unspoiled!" you think, "How could it be?" Then you come out to Franklin Street, where you see the future of Greenpoint. It's a completely different world, running just one block parallel to the world you just left, and it is spreading.
Next Stop: Franklin Street...