Archive for the ‘Brooklyn’ category

Ankling to the West Indian Day Parade

September 7, 2007

Monday morning.  Labor Day.  Famous Ankles is tired and needs to do some personal chores and absolutely, positively, undeniably needs to have a day off from wanderings and blogging.  Until the TV story:  the West Indian Day Parade is today!  It’s big, it’s glorious, and it’s one of those events you can’t miss!  “Oh, yeah?,” I reply.  I’ll miss it.  I wasn’t going to go all the way back to Brooklyn just to see a parade.  No way.  I was still weary from Brazilian Day’s wanderings and waitings.

And, then I went to the West Indian Day Parade.

A lot of what you’ll read in the following may be indicative of my state of mind, but I don’t think so.  There’s no doubt that the West Indian Day Parade is huge and it has attractions that I really haven’t seen at other parades.  But, it isn’t a particularly good parade.  The downsides are such that, in the Famous Ankles pantheon of great NYC parades, the West Indian Day Parade ranks near the bottom.

That’s a bit of heresy, I guess.  Overall, I didn’t enjoy the parade.  Yes, the colors were eye-blinding.  Many of the women were wonderfully attractive.  The music was so loud that it shook my bones more than the Puerto Rican Day Parade did (and that’s saying something).  But….

Take a look at the pictures.  I’ll give some commentary; but look to see what you don’t see.

I took the subway down to Nostrand Street and found that the parade had already started.  However, it’s a very slow parade (as you’ll find out), so I didn’t miss much.

There were colorful women.

20070903-west-indian-day-parade-01-marchers.jpg

The parade is held on Eastern Parkway.  As you can see, it’s a pretty wide boulevard.  The cool thing about having the parade here is that the parkway is paralleled by a sidestreet on each side.  Vendors were jammed all along the pathway.

20070903-west-indian-day-parade-03-sidestreet-scene.jpg

Incidentally, curried goat generally sold for $8.  I didn’t partake (I’ve had occasions where street food has caused…difficulties.  I’ve mentioned that I seldom indulge).  The interesting food item that I haven’t seen before was a type of fried fish.  It seemed to be a fish, head and all, that had been rolled in a light dough and then fried to a crispy brown.  I don’t know about the bones and such.  I didn’t partake. 

The first spate of marchers went by pretty quickly.  There was a delay, so Famous Ankles started to take a walk.  I first headed west and caught up to, and passed, the earlier marchers.  But I was heading toward Grand Army Plaza.  Been there, done that.  I wanted new ground.  So I reversed and headed into the heart of Crown Heights.

The crowds were big.  I had heard that 3 million were expected.  Now, I eventually walked most of the parade route and I saw a WHOLE bunch of people.  But 3 million?  I didn’t keep track so I’ll have to let the official counts (whereever they are) be my guide.

20070903-west-indian-day-parade-04-bored-crowd.jpg

I will say this.  Lots and lots of cops.  This event can have a violent side.  I later heard that three people had been shot.  As far as I know, not at the parade.  I didn’t see any suggestion of violence and I went everywhere.  But the parade is just part of the larger festival so it may have happened over the different evenings.  Maybe that’s where the rest of the 3 million were.

20070903-west-indian-day-parade-05-lots-of-cops.jpg

Traditional costumes.  Yeah, that’s what they were…traditional costumes.

20070903-west-indian-day-parade-06-bikinis.jpg

20070903-west-indian-day-parade-08-cowgirl-float.jpg

Like I said.  The parade was slow.  There was a lot of waiting around.

20070903-west-indian-day-parade-09-bored-crowd.jpg

So, I kept up my walking.  Famous Ankles is peripatetic, so it was off to the sidestreet and continuing on to the source of the parade:  Utica Street.

Lots of music and spectators on the side.  This group was actually a bit lively.  And loud.  Oh yeah, loud.

20070903-west-indian-day-parade-10-sidestreet-music.jpg

And the parade actually seemed to have stopped.  I noticed that it had been something like half an hour since I had seen/heard any marchers.  I took a long look down toward the direction they were to come from.

20070903-west-indian-day-parade-13-30-minutes-between-floats.jpg

Nothing.  I began to wonder if the parade was over.  It wasn’t.  Not by a long shot.  Maybe after 45 minutes total, they started up again.  This time, with a lot more colors and brightly dressed women.

20070903-west-indian-day-parade-18-colorful.jpg

Rhetorical question.  Do you not see what I wasn’t seeing?  Ain’t it amazing?  (Okay, two questions.  But look at the crowd.  That’s where you don’t see it.)

I didn’t know how to classify these costumes.  In my notes, I just called them “colorful” or “colorfuls”.

20070903-west-indian-day-parade-19-closeup-colorful.jpg

20070903-west-indian-day-parade-20-colorful.jpg

At this point, the parade of “colorfuls” became jam-packed.  They all didn’t have the full huge costumes, but they made up for it in numbers.

20070903-west-indian-day-parade-21-stilts.jpg

(Do you not see it again?)  The music was loud.  In the Puerto Rican Day Parade, the music would thud throughout my chest.  Here, that plus through my skull. 

I was wearing earplugs.  Good earplugs.  (That’s one of the prime rules of parade-going.  If someone tells you to take earplugs…TAKE EARPLUGS!)

I guess when they call it the West Indian, some people take “Indian” more seriously than the “West” part of it.  Okay, there is the American West.

 20070903-west-indian-day-parade-32-american-indian-part-of-parade.jpg

Others just loved the regalia, whereever it came from.  Yes, those West Indian Vikings are the stuff of legend.

20070903-west-indian-day-parade-39-west-indian-viking.jpg

20070903-west-indian-day-parade-22-indian-part-of-west-indies.jpg

I’m going to end this post.  It’s just too long with too many photos so far.  I’ll continue with more photos in a later post.

However, here’s the solution to the thing you didn’t see.  Crowd excitement.  There was none.  None.  Even during the music, I really didn’t see enthusiasm.  I’ve brought up the Puerto Rican Day Parade several times.  In that parade, even at well before the beginning when the crowd was just standing around, there was whooping and shouting and, well, excitement.  Flags being waved (seldom seen in the West Indian Day Parade even though most people seemed to have one in hand).  Whistles being blown (I only heard one at the West Indian).  People with horns and other sound-makers (unnoticed by me at the West Indian).  The only times there was excitement was when one of the DJs on the float would demand the crowd wave their flags or whatever.  They tried (the DJs, that is).  The only place with some excitement was the sidestreet.  They were having a good time….but not a Puerto Rican Parade kind of excitement either.

Overall, I’m not at the parade to see the floats (most are boring).  Nor the politicians.  And not even the music.  I’m there to share in the experience, and when people are bored…it’s not a great experience.

-H

Wandering Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza

August 21, 2007

My latest posts have been about my wanderings out and about Brooklyn on Saturday, August 18th.  Here’s another.

What can I say?  It was a busy day.  I still have two or three posts left that cover the weekend.  It may be for the best because this coming weekend’s weather may not be quite as accommodating as last weekend’s.  In any event, I sure hope it doesn’t include another mugging.

Anyway….this post isn’t about next weekend, but about my Park Slope (Brooklyn) wanderings.  Where we left off, I had managed to aimlessly wander around the ENTIRE PARK!!!!  What was I thinking?  I’ll tell you what I was thinking:  “I need to get to Grand Army Plaza and get something to eat.”  Ahhh, sophisticated thought processes on display there, eh?  (Truth:  it’s a big park, but it is walkable.)  When I finally did spot Grand Army Plaza, it was a moment of pleasant relief.

Grand Army Plaza is a huge area built up and around a plaza and it is grand, indeed.  The centerpiece of the plaza is the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch.  (But to confuse you, there’s a Grand Army Plaza in Manhattan, too.  It’s where the Plaza Hotel is, right at the southeast corner of Central Park.  Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza is at the northern tip of Prospect Park.  Both parks, as noted in my earlier post, were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead.  Maybe he had a thing about grand armies…)

Here’s a pic of the arch.

Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch

It is part of Park Slope, but it seems more or less a place all to itself.

I’ve been there before and each time, there’s been a Famers Market.  You can see part of it at the bottom of the picture of the arch.  NYC is big on farmers markets.

I was pretty tuckered out when I got to this point.  I did notice the Brooklyn Public Library just to the side and just had to go in.

Grand Army Plaza

It’s pretty nice inside, but not quite the New York Public Library, which has an entry beyond compare.  I still owe you a photo regarding my Brooke Astor post.  Soon…

Oh, there doesn’t really seem to be any places there that I wanted to eat; so I went a few blocks back to 7th Avenue and found the Tex-Mex place I mentioned in the Park Slope post.  It wasn’t worth walking the few extra blocks.  Well, I’ve gone further for worse, so no real complaint.

-H

Wandering Prospect Park

August 20, 2007

As part of my planned Saturday wanderings in Brooklyn, I decided to take a quick look into Prospect Park.  It turns out to be far more of a look than planned.  I essentially walked the entire perimeter of the park.  It’s a big park and I got pretty tired during the walk.

I reached the park after going through Park Slope, which is just to the immediate west of Prospect Park.  I think I was on 9th Street and I did enter at the Lafayette entrance.  I don’t know if that’s the actual name, but there’s a dedication to him at the entrance.

Prospect Park entrance

The area just inside the entrance was set up for a big birthday party for a little kid.  Happy Birthday kid…whoever you are.

Frederick Law Olmstead was the primary architect of both Central Park and Prospect Park.  They are very different, but they both share one feature that even Famous Ankles can notice:  complexity and diversity of the areas.  Neither park can be described simply.  You can’t take in the parks at a glance or even with a dozen different perspectives.  They are designed to have distinct areas, each with its own identity and, usually, a distinctive name.  In Central Park, you’ve got such places as the Great Lawn, the Sheep Meadow, the Ramble, and Poets’ Walk.  Prospect Park has lots of names, but they don’t strike my ear as familiar as those in Central Park (whose places I had heard of before moving to NYC).  That doesn’t make them any less attractive.

The most immediate difference I saw between Central Park and Prospect Park is the lack of fences in Prospect Park.  Central Park has a lot of fenced-off areas; or at least areas that are fenced off at various times during the year.  I wandered for a while in Prospect Park before I saw my first fenced-in area.  It’s an equestrian area where two women were taking horse riding lessons.  There were also two instructors, one of whom seemed to enjoy yelling at one of the riders.  It wasn’t English…but in NYC it can be anything.

Riding area

I continued walking and ran into Prospect Park Lake at the far south tip of the park.

Prospect Park Lake 1

It looks like Goose Heaven to me.

Prospect Park Lake 2

And that leads to a second difference between Prospect Park and Central Park:  wilderness areas.  As beautiful as Central Park is, there’s very little unplanned space in it.  At times, it seems that every blade of grass is planned.  Central Park has an area called “The Ramble” (an old favorite of mine) which is relatively “wild”.  But even it is very well planned out.  In contrast, Prospect Park has lots and lots of “wild” areas.  (I saw an interview where a Park employee said they had the last true forest in NYC.)

Wild areas 1

Wild areas 2

Okay, the last seems pretty planned, but it wouldn’t look that way in Central Park.

The biggest difference, at least for me, is really the people.  On a weekend like this one, Central Park is usually much more crowded.  There are a lot of runners/bikers in the streets in both places, but I don’t think Prospect Park had more than a relatively small fraction of that population in Central Park.  I did note that the hilliness of Prospect Park made some of the bikers and rollerbladers go a lot faster than anyone I’ve seen in Central Park.

But, both parks were done by Olmstead and there are lots of similarities.  I’ve mentioned the “sections” that both parks consist of.  They both also have a number of tunnels in the walking areas.

Prospect Park underpass

They both have “boathouses”.  In Prospect Park, it’s near the Audubon Center.  Central Park’s boats are individualized (you rent them and paddle yourself).  What I saw in Prospect Park included a sort of micro-cruise ship.  Here’s that boat coming under an overpass (unique to Prospect Park, too).

Audubon Center area

It’s tiny, but it is powered by something other than oars.

Okay, but there’s one thing that Prospect Park has that Central Park doesn’t:  the Long Meadow.  Stretching from Prospect Park Lake in the south to the northern tip, the Long Meadow is a grassy open area several hundred yards wide and who knows how long.  It meanders all over the place and is a combination Sheep Meadow and Great Lawn and beyond.  In Central Park’s Sheep Meadow, people often just cluster to sunbathe.  In the Great Lawn, they play organized sports (reserved times and everything).  In Prospect Park’s Long Meadow, they do both and anything else they feel like.  It’s nearly perfect.  I can hardly say enough in its favor.

Long Meadow 1

Long Meadow 2

Long Meadow 3

The last picture is from near the northern tip of Prospect Park.  At that point, you enter back into Park Slope.  That area is Grand Army Plaza (the subject of another post).

-H

Wandering Park Slope

August 19, 2007

My Saturday wanderings started with a very popular and prosperous part of Brooklyn:  Park Slope.

If you’re financially sound and new to NYC:  Park Slope calls.  And a lot of people are hearing that call.  There are definite reasons for that.  It’s a nice area with beautiful buildings and a magnificent, terrific, wonderful, beautiful park right next to it:  Prospect Park.  I’ll be posting separately on that.

Okay, for those people who don’t know Brooklyn:  Park Slope is probably just a couple of miles east of Manhattan’s Financial District (that’s at the southern tip of Manhattan).  It is easily within reach of Manhattan because of a bunch of subways plus the Brooklyn Bridge.  It’s a bit north of Coney Island, but it is so far from Coney Island, in a cultural sense, that they practically aren’t on the same planet.

Park Slope is the home of a lot of artists and performers, as well as oodles of the non-hoi polloi (I love getting technical).  The prices range from sub-Manhattan to Manhattan equal.  The sub-Manhattan prices are in places that call themselves “Park Slope”, but don’t quite share the same zip code(s).  The area is quite hilly (that’s the “slope” part) and apparently lays claim to being the area of the story “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”.  Well, there are lots of trees in this part of Brooklyn.

Park Slope trees 1

Park Slope trees 2

The area has a lot of brownstones and rowhouses and the like.  Here are some on 7th Avenue, which seems to be a main commercial drag in Park Slope.

Park Slope buildings on 7th Ave

And a few more.

Park Slope buildings

The thing I love to point out (this is my jealous side) is to look at the window air conditioners.  The buildings are old, magnificent, often expensively remodeled, and incapable of handling central air conditioning.  You see it all over Manhattan, too.

The houses below are magnificent.  They’re on 9th Avenue about a block away from Prospect Park and are probably way, way, way outside any price range I’d ever consider.

Limestone houses

Yeah, they’ve got the occasional window air conditioner, too.

Some of the buildings have some interesting art.

Park Slope diaspora building

Dixon’s bike shop

There’s even some small art.  Here’s a bit of tree protection (probably protecting it from dogs which doesn’t bode well for the art).

A tree is protected in Brooklyn

Okay, Park Slope is a terrific looking place.  But is there more to it?  Sure, but my other impressions are so minimal that you can take them for what they’re worth.

The Park Slope Coop (I prefer the more correct “Co-op” to differentiate a cooperative from a chicken house) is an interesting throwback to the 1970s.

Park Slope Co-op

The place is busy and filled with non-standard foodstuffs.  It is also a little dirtier (although not unsanitary) than I like my grocery stores to be.  It has the real feel of the 1970s cooperative food store that I used to go to long ago.  But that’s not for good reasons.  There are lots of little repairs that need to be done (as in “we’ve got more important things to do rather than repair a few tiles or re-paint a wall”) and the displays are unprofessional.  I used to do some retail and it’s always a good idea to pull the few remaining items to the front to make the display look full and flush.  At the Park Slope Coop, every single can was pushed as far back as it could go.  And almost every line of product wasn’t fully stocked.  It isn’t for nothing that Whole Foods is doing so well:  they’ve got the co-op feel and selection types down pat, but they’ve done a lot of professionalizing of their appearance.

On the other hand, as I went it a pretty loud woman (apparently just in a boisterous and happy mood) greeted an old friend with the statement “I just finished my film shoot.  It was intense, man!”

Another Park Slope image in my mind:  lots of stoop sales (people putting out homewares for sale, but having no yard, put it just off the building’s stoop).   I saw about four stoop sales in three blocks.  My favorite:  a family had out a wide variety of stuff.  Not a great quantity, but a great variety.  It included two mannequins, an accordian, and an old PC.  I took a picture, but it came out poorly, so won’t be shown.

And they did have a great flea market that day.  It appears to be a weekly event.  I thought it was pretty good.

Park Slope Flea Market

It included furniture, coins, typewriters, old watches, original art, and (most poignantly) family photos.  The quality appeared generally on the good side, so it beats most flea markets hands down.

There are lots and lots of real estate offices.  As usual in NYC, all of them have posted “for sale” and “for rent” samples on their front windows.  Most of the offices actually have a number of their postings marked “SOLD” or “Under Contract”.  I don’t know how true/timely they are and think that’s just to drum up interest on the part of sellers.

I had lunch at a little Tex-Mex place.  Not worthy of any note, so I won’t.

Overall, Park Slope is ethnically very caucasian and middle American.  I don’t think I heard any foreign languages on the street, but people and events were actually very muted.

-H

Wandering Brighton Beach

August 4, 2007

I had made absolutely no plans for my weekend wanderings this time.  I woke up nice and early and contemplated the possibilities.  That is, I opened up the subway map, looked at Brooklyn, and said “Hey, why not go to “Brighton Beach”?

All I knew about Brighton Beach is that it is a heavily Russian area near Coney Island.  Oh, and that Neil Simon wrote “Brighton Beach Memoirs”, which I’ve never seen.

So, it was off to Brighton Beach.  How’s that for intensive planning?

Using the oh-so-valuable subway map, I decided to take the “B” subway there.  The “B” line is one of those subways that I never seem to use.  It goes through Manhattan in some areas that I don’t tend to ride.  For example, there are three or four main subway tracks that go north-south in Manhattan, each of them are host to one or more lines.  The furthest west are the 1/2/3/N/Q/W/R/A/C/E  lines:  I can catch these on 42nd street at Times Square/Port Authority.  The furthest east are the 4/5/6 lines which I can catch on 42nd Street at Grand Central.  And then there’s the B/D/F/V lines that stop at Bryant Park on 42nd Street.  It’s a pretty minor station that I’ve seldom gone in.  And today, I went in again.

And screwed up…of course.  I waited for the B train.  And waited.  And waited.  I saw a couple of D trains go past (they go to Coney Island, but not to Brighton Beach).  I finally got disgusted and caught the next D train to 34th Street figuring I could catch a Q train or a B train there.  Once I got there, I discovered that the B train only runs weekdays at rush hour.  I hadn’t bothered to read the big notices at the Bryant Park station.

So, I caught the Q train and went to Brighton.  Here’s a thumbnail of what it looks like just after getting off the subway.

Brighton Beach street scene

I think everyplace needs an elevated train track.  It seems everytime I get off a subway with an elevated track, the place has just a little more character.  And Brighton Beach has plenty of character.

It’s a very sort of “Brooklyn” place in a lot of ways.  Lots of traffic:  cars and pedestrians.  There are a lot of families walking around.  Except in this part of NYC, most of them seem to be headed to the beach.  It’s only a couple of blocks from the station.  Below is a photo I took as I walked up to the beach.  See the elevated area?  That’s the boardwalk.

Coming up to the beach

It’s the same boardwalk that goes all the way to Coney Island and then some.  I’ve always been amazed by it.

View from the Boardwalk #1

And now, looking westward (another thumbnail, sometimes the program lets me do thumbnails and other times it doesn’t).

Boardwalk view #2  In the distance, you can see Coney Island.

The beach itself is huge.  Here’s a couple of pictures.

Brighton Beach…beach 1

Brighton Beach…beach 2

I wandered a bit on the boardwalk.  It’s huge and just seems to go on forever.  The temperature was in the high 80s and I don’t know why there weren’t more people at the beach.

I did wander back to what I think of as the main drag “Brighton Beach Ave.”  As expected, the area is really, really, really Russian.  While walking along I seemed to hear little other than Russian being spoken.  Lots of Cyrillic lettering everywhere, which delights me for some reason.  I just don’t understand why.  Long, long ago, I memorized the Cyrillic alphabet just to test a computer program.  (Actually, I wrote a tutorial on my old VIC-20 using a font program just to figure out how to use the font program.)  I think I lost all knowledge of it after about a week, but I did have a good time with it.  And Russians themselves are always somewhat fascinating to me.  I’ve enjoyed a lot of Alexsander Solzhenitsyn’s writings, including the Gulag Archipelago, which took me years to read.  On the world stage, they’re sort of like Texans.  They are a bit grandiose and think they invented everything.

I went up and down the main drag for a while.  I spotted a big grocery store and had to go in.  As I entered, a 30-ish Black woman was coming out and she looked at me and quickly asked if I knew a nearby place to get some gefilte fish.  I just smiled and said it was my first time in Brighton Beach.  I was laughing to myself thinking about times like the Puerto Rican Day parade, the Columbus Day Parade, the Shiite Parade, Harlem, Williamsburg’s Hasidic community, and many others where I was never, ever mistaken for one of the locals/participants.  Maybe I can pass as a Russian.

But, I’m a lousy Russian.  At that grocery store, I looked around and could hardly recognize any of the food.  Most of the signs were strictly Cyrillic and the place was a very Russian food sort of place.  Some of it was a little intimidating and others I couldn’t figure out whether it vegetable or meat, or whether it was cooked or to be cooked.

As I was leaving, I noticed one guy at the front of the store buying some sort of pastry item.  I figured that I had to try something very Russian.  So, I looked at the display and thought maybe they were “blinis” or somesuch.  The woman at the counter asked me what I wanted and I asked what they were.  They were Russian pierogis (which I’ve had and sometimes enjoyed – see my Greenpoint posts).  They sure looked different.  They were huge and looked like large croissants more than anything else, although not crescent shaped.  Some were stuffed with meat, some were stuffed with fruit, and some were stuffed with vegetables.  I opted for the cabbage pierogi.  The crust was very soft and sort of sweet, which made for a strange contrast with the cabbage; which was sort of pureed and mixed with some sort of cream sause.  It was okay, but not worth going back for.

I did end up going to lunch at a Turkish restaurant, run by Russians, and it was pretty good.  The service was horrendous, though.

And, I later did my sort of favorite thing:  wander the backstreets.  I found that within two blocks further away from beach, the area turned very Hispanic.  And another block or two later, became a Pakistani enclave.

Here’s picture of the backstreet area.

Brighton Beach backstreet 1

And another, this one caught the subway as it was passing by.

Brighton Beach backstreet 2

I did notice one thing that was missing:  Churches.  Manhattan and Brooklyn are filled with houses of worship, but in Brighton Beach I saw one Synagogue and one Yeshiva (a religious school).  Nothing else.  That’s pretty odd.

Anyway, the trip was nice, but I have to admit that Brighton Beach is a long ways to go.  It took me something like 75 minutes each way.

-H