Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Jubilation at Red Hook

 [Photo: Allen Murabayashi]

The Dutch heritage of old New York is memorialized in a dwindling number of socially prominent family names, in some place names like Harlem, and in a few anglicized geographical terms such as kill (a stream or watercourse) and hook (Dutch hoek, a promontory or corner of land jutting into the sea.)  So it was geography that gave Red Hook, the semi-peninsular waterfront neighborhood of Brooklyn just south of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, its name.  Brooklyn is rapidly effacing Manhattan as the most happening borough of New York, and Red Hook is rising rapidly among the more happening Brooklyn neighborhoods.  It was entirely appropriate, therefore, that Red Hook should be the venue for the wedding of Katie Dixon and Richard Fleming, both Red Hook householders.  The nuptials of the bloguiste’s eldest child would doubtless have had a measurable effect upon him in any case, even had the celebration not been, as in this instance it in fact was, the event of the season.
            The religious ceremony was performed al fresco, according to the New Zealand Anglican rite, in Valentino Park, with its matchless view of the Statue of Liberty.   Valentino Park is named not for the heart-throb of the early silver screen, but for a heroic New York fireman, Louis Valentino.  Ancillary heroes on this occasion were young relatives of the happy couple--Lulu and Cora Fleming-Benite, flower maidens, and Wyatt Dixon, ring-bearer.  The officiant, the Rev. Canon Joan E. Fleming, delivered a brief homily that won appreciation (and a few laughs) from the gathered friends and family.
Valentino Pier on an ordinary day...

and on one not so ordinary

            Though a ceremony of such blessed simplicity hardly needed a rehearsal, there of course was one.  As we milled about with half an eye on the principals, the ocean liner Queen Mary II, big as a mountain, eased past us on her way from her Brooklyn berth to the open sea and some romantic cruise.   That alone justified the rehearsal, which was in any case necessary to legitimate the statutory rehearsal dinner.  That event took place at Sunny’s Bar on Conover Street, roughly midway between Valentino Park and the newlyweds’ home on Coffey Street—described to me by a realtor I later met at the wedding dinner as “the Gold Coast of Red Hook”.  Here was a description that varied somewhat from that of H. P. Lovecraft in his classic tale “The Horror at Red Hook” (1925), where he writes of those waterfront streets as a “tangle of material and spiritual putrescence.”
an expression of local pride

             Whatever it may then have been, Sunny’s—which advertises itself as “the oldest continually run bar on Brooklyn's waterfront”—is today the hip venue for bibulous poetry readings, blue grass bands, and art happenings, all supported by a young and enthusiastic local clientele.  Sunny’s is a bar, not a restaurant.  The delicious and abundant Chinese dishes, together with the requisite paper troughs in which to serve them, were the work of a neighborhood caterer.  Musical entertainment was provided by the Red Hook Ramblers.  (This was, in fact, an All-Red-Hook event).

            The rehearsal dinner was a comparatively intimate affair;  the wedding celebration itself was something else again.  To call the blast that followed the ceremony a “reception” would be an insult to the English language and to the Red Hook neighborhood alike.   A very large contingent of the fascinating friends and colleagues of the bride and groom were in attendance, not to mention dignitaries from afar.   Though young John Henry and his mother were understandably impeded from coming, Rich’s brother Luke was able to be there with all other immediate family nuclei.  The venue for this spectacular event was the site of the former Pioneer Iron Works.  A hundred years ago and more this place turned out locomotive parts, steam rollers, and other high-precision implements of heavy industry.  Today the huge brick factory building is in the midst of a brilliant conversion to an arts complex, its old open industrial yard transformed into an eccentric garden.  Beneath the soaring ceiling of the old foundry room more than 200 people sat down to a sumptuous repast prepared by the chefs of the famous Good Fork Restaurant of Red Hook, who had set up a field kitchen in an out-of-sight corner of the old machine shop.  The generous and charming hosts for this fabulous dinner were Dr. John Dixon and his wife Betty, the bride’s parents.  John Dixon also offered a beautiful toast, the harmonious elements of which fully confirmed his reputation as the “Sage of Murfreesboro”.
among out-of-town celebrities were James and Hester Magnuson from Austin

            Our new daughter-in-law, who would look gorgeous wearing on old flour sack, was dazzlingly beautiful in her simply draped white wedding gown.  And I must offer a word of sartorial praise also for my son Rich, who cut quite a figure in a mode of attire one might have thought obsolete since the days of Simon Legree or, at the latest, Rhett Butler.  This beautiful couple, now three hours married, stepped out upon the dance floor, and, as they say, things really began to happen.  Let the Wild Rumpus begin, indeed!  The late afternoon had been hot and humid, and heavy with the threat of a storm.  But the heavens themselves could not fail to respond to so joyous a company, and as night fell all threat of precipitation vanished, and the revelers were free to drift freely between the culinary delights of the iron foundry and the ample beverage stations of the garden.

            Your bloguiste cannot report on the party’s last hours.  He and some others exercised the septuagenarian option and drove back to the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott.  But one knows even at the time they are happening that certain happy experiences will never fade from the retina of memory, and this was certainly one of them.  To beloved Katie and Richard, God’s blessing, life long and fulfilling, and happiness undiluted! 

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.
Song of Solomon 1:2

...not that the wine was bad, mind you.