New York's Republican enclave
- 3 June 2012
- From the section Magazine
While most of the city is pro-Obama, there is a corner of New York that traditionally votes Republican - the city's holiday destination, Brighton Beach.
"You hear more English in Odessa in the summer than here in Brighton Beach," says Ramon, a waiter at Restaurant Tatiana.
A recent immigrant from Ukraine, Ramon was a waiter on ships all over the world, but, like hundreds of thousands before him, he dreamed of the United States.
"I am so happy to be here," he adds, bringing me a glass of Russian Standard vodka.
It surprises me, finding a whole new cast of young immigrants here in the coastal area of Brooklyn they sometimes call Little Odessa, and, though it is more than two decades since the former Soviet Union fell, you can still get a whiff of the bad old days.
"Do you mind if I look around?" I say to the saleswoman in one of the fashion stores, a feline blonde in black with several scarves and a lot of rings.
She looks me over, shrugs and, in that sullen voice, says haughtily, "If you really have to." The clothes feature a lot of sequins.
At the next store, luscious furs are retailed, often to former denizens of Brighton Beach who have moved out and up, but return to shop and eat.
There are food stores and book-stores, all featuring Russian products, the signs all in Russian. Occasionally a furious old man with food in his beard pushes ahead of you on the street.
At Tatiana, I struggle with so much choice - crab and caviar, duck salad with tangerines and nuts, baked sturgeon, blini, not to mention beef stroganoff.
Deliveries of more food, more drink, more produce arrive every 10 minutes, as the restaurant gears up for high season.
Perhaps the recent memory of too little choice - and sometimes too little food - is still palpable on Brighton Beach.
Everyone smokes on Brighton Beach. The waiters, on their break, smoke. Over a bench not far away, an elderly couple in wide-brimmed hats raise a pair of nylon umbrellas against the sun and light up.
But why is that slightly scary fellow staring at me? Then I realise it is the "Re-elect Obama" button on my jacket.
This is a little bastion of Republicans in an overwhelmingly Democratic city.
These are people who remember the Soviet Union all too well and resist what they see as big government and anti-business programmes.
They may be liberal on social issues, like abortion, but anything that feels like socialism - even if it is not - makes them queasy.
In Brooklyn, Republicans have found a home by the sea.
Romney supporters will no doubt rally here all summer long, though it is hard to imagine those political suits noshing their way through borscht and herring and smoked tongue at Restaurant Tatiana, or partying all night at the Rasputin Nightclub, where the dancers are hot and the clothes Armani.
Still, Tatiana herself - recently profiled by the New York Times - is a staunch Republican. She arrived from Odessa at 21 and built her foodie empire - the restaurant on Brighton Beach and another in Miami.
"I am what I am because of capitalism," said Ms Varzar in the Times. "And Republicans are more capitalistic."
From my seat at Restaurant Tatiana, I can see the Atlantic Ocean and the whole sweep of Brooklyn coast.
To the left is Sheepshead Bay, where party boats take you out for night fishing. Fishermen of every race and nationality fish for blues and striped bass or porgies, whatever is running.
And to the right is, of course, Coney Island - the legendary seaside resort with an amusement park which became the object of my childhood obsessions.
We are only 10 miles (16km) from Wall Street, but this is, for many, the sea coast of summer paradise. The big event, on 23 June this year, is the Mermaid Parade.
As the parade moves by, more and more astonishing creatures appear as from a fantasy sea, some very scantily-clad. Nudity is legal in New York State (who knew?), and many of the costumes have a touch of the burlesque show.
At night, there is the Mermaid Ball - a sort of after-party with tail fins.
Entry is £15 ($23), which will allow you to dance to the sounds of live bands and with "live mermaids", as they are billed, who include Rosey La Rouge and Sasha Fire Gypsy.
By the time you leave, you will have made a real splash here, and be just in time to see the dazzling fireworks go off in the sky over the ocean, announcing the real beginning of summer in the city.
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