My English students in Italy often ask me to explain the difference between “home” and “house.” I usually stumble through my answer. The best I have ever managed to muster up is that a house is a building, whereas a home is your place to be.
This is by no means a textbook definition, and I could definitely do with some good input in a major way. How do you define a home?
I am really interested to know. As I rambled about in a previous blog entry, my travels through the United States this summer have uncovered the depth of my ongoing quest to answer this very question on a personal level – what is my home?
Predictably, the answer hasn’t come easily. Welcome complications have arisen from recent life adventures that sent me from my long-time home in San Diego, CA to a new beginning in Pittsburgh, PA, followed by Bologna, Italy, where I am now. I’ve spent this August on a break from work gallivanting around the eastern United States with old friends, family, and coworkers. My most recent stop was Park Slope, Brooklyn, a sort of homecoming after being away for many years. My visit incubated a little voice that has been nagging me, and has become annoyingly loud over the last few days. Park Slope, always a “taken for granted” second home for me, might actually be home.
Park Slope, Brooklyn is, at face value, a lively, diverse, and wealthy community in Brooklyn, NY. Sporting every imaginable cuisine within a ten minute walk, ornate churches, overpriced boutiques (is that redundant?), and the most diverse families I’ve seen in the US, some scoff at the sky-high real estate and the gentrification of the area. But don’t judge a book by its cover. This community has an identity that most certainly is more than meets the eye. The history and complexity of Park Slope could fill a thesis or two, and there are tons of people that can explain it better than I.
Ironically, Park Slope was my first home in the US after my family moved me from my birthplace in Lomé, Togo across the ocean to my father’s childhood home, a beautiful brownstone (although not made of brownstone), in the heart of the Slope on 4th street and 7th avenue.
It is this very history, and the history of families like mine in the neighborhood, that has made this community feel like home. As even with the Starbucks and the boutiques that have crept into 7th avenue over the years, the community’s rich past is still evident in staples like Pino’s Pizzeria,
mentioned in an earlier post as the best pizza I have eaten outside Italy. While easy to overlook, this food culture is a steadfast part of the immigrant population of the area.
I was lucky enough to be born into US citizenship, but I am fiercely proud to share something in common with the thousands of immigrants of every imaginable origin whose parallel paths finally crossed when they found their home in this community, binding cultures that rarely overlapped outside of the US. Like many new immigrants, my great grandparents on my dad’s side, from Ireland, settled in Brooklyn. My grandparents moved my dad and my uncle to 4th street after purchasing their brownstone in 1955, which stayed in our family nearly fifty years. At that time the neighborhood was affordable – my grandpa sold subway tokens and taught my dad the ins and outs of riding the subway as if he were one of the architects of the subways, details that my dad has tried to pass on to me, but now seem insignificant as this once coveted information has been replaced by your latest iPhone app.
It is hard to separate my dad from his roots in Park Slope, crossing 4th street every night to have his second dinner at his best friend Michael’s house, who was a second generation Italian American and the oldest of seven brothers. He later became my godfather. And although my dad has lived in California for much of his adult life, every time he says “faarest” instead of “forest,” I am reminded of stories of his days playing ball on 4th street with Michael and the other guys that are still his best friends.
Park Slope still feels like home because of its magical, enduring ability to remain constant in its dynamic identity where people from other places, and people who don’t know where their homes are, find their homes here.
This is a place filled with people searching for – or finding – a home. People like my fabu friend, Steph, proudly representing a new generation in Park Slope, after making the big move from DC to start her new job at the NYC Department of Education last week.
And just last night I crashed a wedding rehearsal dinner on the roof of a new apartment complex in Park Slope, recently purchased by a fabulous lesbian couple that are friends of my childhood neighbor.
All at once it feels surreal and perfectly normal to be surrounded by these people – the new pioneers in Park Slope, whose grandchildren may one day be writing a blog entry on this very topic.
For me, no matter how many deluxe baby carriages, Starbucks, and purebred dogs currently fill the streets of Park Slope, the democracy of its roots are unmistakable.
The people who made this history and the people who are only now discovering the Slope are crossing paths, just as the immigrants of my dad’s generation dad, to add to its identity and make this place incredible.
And maybe now I can do justice explaining the Slope to my english students the next time they ask me the difference between “house” and “home.” Not a house, but a home – this home, this place, is Park Slope, Brooklyn.
I’ve put together some of my favorite shots from my last trip to Park Slope, as most of our pics are on film and are buried in closets. One of these days, I will dig them out. I did include a few old pics of Park Slope taken my dad and other family members.
Best of Park Slope, a set on Flickr.