Monday, 2 June 2014

Hot Teeny Bikinis on Brighton Beach, New York

As far as ethnic enclaves go, New York is a mosaic of communities that represent a variegated montage of nationalities from every conceivable corner of the globe.

Mexicans in Jackson Heights, Koreans in Fresh Meadows, Hispanics in the Bronx, Italians in Nolita, Haitians in Flat Bush… I’m running out of breath here.

My love for ethnic enclaves began in junior school. My parents would take me and my brother for Indian sweets in Thornton Heath where Mr Gupta would serve us plump glistening spheres of gulab jamun and tangerine hued jalebi that bled rosewater syrup.  And thus it began. A lifelong love affair with communities within communities. With the idea of people recreating their homes in trying to bring the best of the places they left behind, as incongruous as the result may be.

We made the 50 minute subway journey across New York, through the depths of Brooklyn to the small neighbourhood of Brighton Beach, lying sleepily on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. The sleepiness is the result of seasonal inevitability; a curse that plagues all seaside resorts that flower during the summer months.

Brighton Beach is essentially an episode of The Twilight Zone and one of the most wonderful places I’ve ever been. It’s an ageing place of spirited Jewish and Russian retirees who dodder around in floor-length furs, plump ruddy faces and mink hats older than the Rolling Stones.  

The neighborhood was once home to first generation Jewish-Americans and later concentration camp survivors. However, come the 1970s Russian, Ukranian and Jewish émigrés from the Soviet Union transformed the ethnic panorama once again into what is now known as Little Odessa. Today, Cyrrilic signs and Russian shops stretch as far as the eye can see. The buttery aroma of pirojki wafts enticingly in the air knitted with the New York smell of scorched coffee.

The poverty of the place is palpable. The main high street lies sadly beneath the rumbling train tracks, but it is not the sort of depressive Eastern European gloom I was told to expect. Instead there is a feeling of fuzzy nostalgia. I feel strangely at home. On the Oceanside broad-walk there are scores of elderly Russians playing chess, muttering moves into their moustaches. You can’t walk ten paces without someone stopping you for a chat. Everyone wants to know where I got my hat from. It feels like meeting long lost friends and roguish distant relations. A group of pensioners approach us for a game of volleyball. Why not. We play. They pose for a commemorative photo. I tell them it’s going on my blog and they all jostle to give me their email addresses.

Comrades, if you are reading this now rest assured that I'll be back. You'll find me on the beach come summer. Warm bottle of Baltika beer in-hand and sunglasses to shield my eyes from the rainbow of geriatric speedos. We'll play Durak and you'll cheat (I know your type). My boyfriend will sit strumming his guitar; you'll wrestle it from him and sing a guttural Russian song of love and loss. Everyone will laugh and then we'll head for shashlik in Baku, leaving behind an empty beach in the dusty waning sunlight.

ps. I'm guessing you clicked the link for a glimpse of some incy wincy dental-floss beachwear? Consider yourself conned. I'm trying out the whole search engine optimisation thing.

Greasy goodness
Bucket of raw fish for sale in the middle of the local sweet shop- that's about as Russian as you get


  1. Love the photos. Interesting place! Love the picture of the woman and her dog - looks like such a character.

  2. Woman & chow pic is A DREAM! Best post so far x

  3. "As far as ethnic enclaves go New York is a mosaic of communities that represent a variegated montage of nationalities from every conceivable corner of the globe."

    wow thats a lot of metaphors

  4. Great photos, I'm going in a few months eee :)

    HannahMay xo

  5. Wow, it's a while since I read something so well written, genuine and fresh on a lifestyle/fashion blog, lovely! X

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  7. Please let us know what you're wearing in Rosie's latest blog post - you look AMAZING. x

  8. I too love ethnic neighborhoods and 'communities within communities' and it is always inspiring to see your own thoughts reflected so well by someone else. Lovely.

  9. Gorgeous photos! Hopefully I will be moving to New York next year after I graduate! Very excited! I can't wait to see more of your photos! xx

  10. I would have stopped and asked about your hat too!
    And the lady in black walking her dog... I die! Fantastic photo!

  11. Beautiful photo's! I am heading out to NYC this summer to intern, its nice to know there are some beachy areas in the city for a spot of sunbathing! Ix

  12. Such a vivid post! I made it to NYC early last year, sadly never ventured that far afield - my loss!

  13. what an amazing picture of the woman and her dog!

  14. LOVE the way you write!
    So glad you're back, I checked your blog almost everyday during your hiatus

    1. :) Thank you, S... Hopefully I'll have something up again soon.

  15. Ha! I almost didn't read this post because of the bikini claim. Glad I did though. These cultural adventures are the thing I miss most about NY.

  16. Looks fab, great photos!...xv

  17. Glad to see it's back and okay. Volunteered to clean up the beach after Hurricane Sandy. A hot tub washed up on the shore along with a fridge amongst the other things.

  18. Wonderful pictures of one of my favourite communities in the NY metro area!