One-Bedroom Apartment in 1950s High-Rise

Location Rego Park
Rent $650 (rent-stabilized)
Square feet 500
Occupant Edward Bekkerman (artist)

It is a cool afternoon, soft yellow light. Leafy Rego Park looks so gentle. I read that it was developedin the 1920s by the Rego Construction Company, which was founded by two German immigrants who promoted "real good housing." It's a beautiful neighborhood. I've lived here 25 years.

On the way over, I saw a man standing on the balcony of the very 1950s Walden Terrace Apartments. He was talking Russian on a cell phone. Everybody's here—Indians, Israelis, Koreans. The neighborhood has changed. It was much quieter long ago, less people. More a Jewish neighborhood, Hispanic. Now more immigrants keep coming. People are becoming more successful. That is why they keep building around here.

There are many Bukharan restaurants, owned by people from Uzbekistan. We just went to one with pale green wallpaper, chandeliers, and a man with a mustache and 1970s aviator glasses who was bent over his plate of shish kebab and pickled tomatoes and a teapot full of vodka. You've lived in this red brick high-rise building for 18 years. I remember paying $240 for this apartment. In those days, it was easy to find an apartment. My brother used to live in the building. Now he lives in Forest Hills.

You used to live with your parents near here on 108th. You came from Russia with them in 1974 when you were 16. Your father was a sculptor and a dentist. You grew up in Sochi, the Miami Beach of the Black Sea, where you ate crawfish and quail and all the politicians had their houses. I'm assuming it was like in the espionage movies—they had vodka in the garden and debriefed each other. Then you lived for six years in Moscow in a big apartment, then New York, where you danced with Balanchine and traveled with ballet companies. Ah, I look so fat. No more Swan Lake for me now.

Not so! Then you said you "started doodling" and got a scholarship to the Art Students League. When you are not spending weekends with a beautiful woman who lives on the Upper East Side, or walking in Central Park in the evening where the lights remind you of 18th-century St. Petersburg, you are painting in this apartment that only has a dining table and a bed and is packed with shipping crates for paintings, bottles of burnt umber acrylic, and canvases, some five by six feet, of people screaming, not to mention the 50-some greenish-bronze sculptures that have the same sort of wonderful Paleolithic madness. They come from a primordial kind of cave time in my mind. They are guardians of the soul. They are also very much the people of New York. I walk up and down the city. When I get home, they just can't wait to jump out at me.

You have pieces of driftwood around, and smooth white pebbles. The music playing is Cesaria Evora. She comes onstage in bare feet with a glass of wine. She represents freedom for me. I think of sandy beaches and a nice, quiet life and not too many worries.

Are you going to live in your apartment forever? I hope not. I need a bigger space. A loft with a skylight. So far it's been a little bit of a dreamlike situation to get something like that. But one day . . . hopefully soon. I always liked Downtown, like around Wall Street. If all those rich kids would leave their places, it would become very quiet and mysterious. When you get there in the evening and wander around the streets, it's an incredible feeling, the European flair of Venice, little streets, the big buildings—you hardly see the sky. It's quite a profound feeling, knowing thousands of people were squirreling around in the day and the evening becomes like a desert.

 
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