Hi fellow internet peoples! As promised yesterday, today I ventured out to the Brighton Beach/Coney Island neighborhood for the first time in quite a while. When I was new to New York, I made the journey out on the F train to the beach quite frequently. It’s easy sometimes to forget that there’s a nice beach in Brooklyn accessible by the subway. And, like the character of Felix Katz in The Believer’s Daughter, a lot of people live out in the Brighton Beach area and commute about an hour into the city every day for work.
Can you imagine living just a few steps away from a beach and a carnival? I guess if you live near Santa Monica, you probably can. I was pleased to observe upon arriving at Coney Island this morning that it’s a lot cleaner and nicer than I remember, and I daresay the boardwalk is far less sleazy than the one in Venice Beach. Holla, New Yorkers! I did, however, see an old man crash his bicycle into a brick wall when he was straining his neck to watch girls in bikinis jog past. Fortunately, no one was injured, and sadly, I was laughing too hard to capture the moment with my camera.
Coney Island used to be a pretty seedy area, not too long ago. It was a place where you could still see old-fashioned sideshows, like bearded ladies, wolf boys and magicians pulling doves out of hats. For a while, its future was up in the air, but the new amusement park, Luna Park, seems to have brought a lot of the old charm back to the boardwalk while simultaneously getting rid of a lot of the weird, dirty carnival element.
Brighton Beach is a neighborhood rich in history and it has historically been a place where a lot of Jewish immigrants coming from Eastern Europe settle after arriving in New York (immortalized in Neil Simon’s very famous play, Brighton Beach Memoirs). One of my favorite things about New York is that you can almost feel like you’re visiting another country without ever leaving the city. Brighton Beach exemplifies this perfectly; it’s a neighborhood where you hear a lot of Russian spoken, and if you walk a few blocks inland from the boardwalk, there are tons of Russian and Turkish restaurants. When I was creating the character of Felix, I knew I wanted him to be as different as possible from Grace. She’s a sheltered, spoiled girl raised, as her brother calls it, “behind the religious curtain.” I wrote Felix as a worldly, mature guy whose parents were raised behind the iron curtain, which is what Russia used to be referred to before Glasnost.