almost three months to fill
I went this week.
What struck me when I left the train was the smell of estuary sea water, a pleasant sort of warm stagnant sea aroma. Tottenville is at the confluence of the outer harbour and the Arthur Kill waterway which separates the island from New Jersey. The land is flat and merges into the sea.
I found, perhaps predictably, a very quiet suburban community. It was a little too quiet in fact, to the point of being unnerving. I haven’t spent much time in suburban America but this seemed to fit all the cliches, flags in the front gardens, placards for Republican politicians… But walk down the small town Main Street and you see the remnants of an older settlement; altogether it feels very far away from Manhattan.
Conference House a bit to the south has a place in revolutionary war history, but walk through its park and you reach a wild beach area. It didn’t look pristine, but its not hard to see what the area would have been like before it became subsumed by the suburbs. Staten Island was once famous for oysters. Perhaps it could be again?
If you do go to Tottenville, stop at the Deli on Main Street called Rachel’s on the Bay. They was a woman running the place, with her son (probably on summer holidays) and they were really friendly. “Where are you from?” they asked, as I struggled with the ridiculous choice of sandwich fillings and breads, “why are you here in Staten Island !?”. They had moved from Brooklyn, but her accent wasn’t from Brooklyn, she was from Lebanon. They probably don’t have too many customers from outside New York (perhaps even from outside Staten Island), go and visit, buy lunch and sit on the beach for an afternoon.
Here is a blog that includes a lot more detail on Tottenville.