Monday, August 2, 2010

Weekend fun in Brooklyn and Governors Island

Saturday we took the ferry from Brooklyn to Governors Island, a 172-acre island just a half mile from the southern tip of Manhattan. The island has been open to the public for the past three summers, offering a variety of free activities, such as biking, picnicking, concerts, art exhibits, shops full of handmade wares (we bought a tea towel featuring the above illustration, courtesy of Claudia Pearson), etc. No one lives on the island anymore, but there are quite a few historic buildings, from the former mansions of royal governors (hence the name of the island) to inactive military forts, to apartment complexes, with quaint cobblestone streets and wrought iron signs. It's almost like stepping into a forgotten world.

I felt a little like David Sedaris in his essay "Possession," where he talks about how Anne Frank's secret annex is his dream apartment. Almost immediately upon setting foot on the island I knew I wanted to live there--all that open space, the cobblestone, the gorgeous houses, each one divided into two units--as I walked through one of them, now converted into a temporary art gallery, I found myself investigating closet space, designating "this one would be the computer room," etc--all just an extremely short ferry ride from Manhattan and Brooklyn. Except no one lives there, and no one ever will, as the transfer of Governors Island to the State of New York prohibits any permanent housing on the island. Needless to say, it makes for a fun afternoon, and now I'm going to show you a lot of pictures of it.

We started out the day in Williamsburg with insanely good fried green tomato sandwiches and beignets from the Goods trailer.

Then we drove (more like inched along in traffic on the BQE) to Brooklyn Heights to take the free ferry from Pier 6. It's a pretty quick trip--it probably took about as long to board the boat as it did to ride across the channel to Governors Island.

Above are...I'm not sure what. Orange and gray containers. But they look cool!

Most of the activity on the island is concentrated in one area. The other end, called Picnic Point, is essentially a field, with beautiful views, hammocks (not nearly enough though--we never got to try one out), picnic tables, and these makeshift metal huts, one of which we managed to snag. There are several food carts in Picnic Point, one of which I'm pretty sure is the best one on the island: Fauzia's Heavenly Delights. We ate vegetarian curry chicken (someone behind me in line was very puzzled by this concept), rice and beans, lentils and spinach, and a slice of carrot cake. We were not disappointed.

The island was run as a small town for military families until 1966, and after that, members of the Coast Guard and their families until 1996. Much of the island is still made up of abandoned and overgrown apartment complexes, which are fenced off from the public for obvious reasons. As nice as the rest of the island is, that part of it is slightly more intriguing. I want to know what's in those buildings, what it was like when they were in use.

Above you can see what looks like a former strip mall (illegible in the picture are generic signs like "hair salon" and "dry cleaners"), with a giant pile of rubble next to it.

A fire hydrant poking out of the weeds in an overgrown lot. Also nearby we spotted long-unused basketball hoops, playgrounds, and park benches.

Governors Island was the longest continually active military post in the country. It bears several fortification structures, including Castle Williams (currently under construction),

and Fort Jay. It's so strange to imagine cannons being shot out into the harbor at enemy ships. But I guess at one time that was a reality.

The fort is surrounded by what I imagine was once a moat, but is now just grass.

There are a number of apartments contained within Fort Jay, forming a border around a large square courtyard. Apparently the young adult writer Lois Lowry (The Giver, Number the Stars, etc) lived in one of these apartments. There were a number of rocking chairs on the porches available for anyone to sit and relax. The only thing missing was a mint julep. Seriously.

Beautiful wrought iron and brick detailing--the buildings on the island are all so incredible.

Another one of the many free activities is an outdoor sculpture garden and artist-designed mini golf course. I'm pretty sure it's the hardest mini golf course in existence, which is kind of annoying when there are lots of people waiting in line to play. We pretty much gave up keeping score.

After sweating on the golf course we cooled off with a couple of Arnold Palmers from Pyramid Cafe, a stand set up right next to it. You can actually choose which kind of iced tea you want to go in your drink, so I went with raspberry, while Dave chose Green Tea. (We did give these a shake after the picture was taken.)

Two things to note here: the five different containers of iced tea varieties, and the "Governors Island Wood Shop" sign above.

Water swirling around below.

After riding the ferry back to Brooklyn we walked to Dumbo to have dinner at Grimaldi's...and after seeing the insane line walked around the corner to Ignazio's instead. It was pretty good but it's no Grimaldi's. We should've just braved the line.

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