Dyke March NYC

June 26, 2009

Now in its 17th year, the Dyke March NYC is a protest, not a parade. The people who participate in this annual event are motivated by a desire to increase their visibility and make their voices heard.

Thousands of dykes take over the streets every year in celebration of lesbians and to protest against ongoing discrimination, harassment, and anti-lesbian violence in schools, on the job, in our families, and on the streets.

The march goes down Fifth Avenue from Bryant Park to Washington Square. While the organizers never obtain permits for the march, the NYPD takes a rather benevolent view. All along the route, police officers block traffic, pose for photos, wave and generally enjoy Dyke March duty.

Even though it rained during most of the march, one police officer remarked, “Watching these women is the highlight of my week.” I hope you agree.

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Police cars lead the way

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Police and marshalls stop traffic

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Here come the marchers

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Drummers keep the beat

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The rain didn’t dampen spirits

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Finally, the storm tapered off

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Marchers were drenched but happy

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Very happy

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Some were silly, too

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Kids also participated

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NYPD posing and grinning

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Spectators’ signs were wet but legible

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Marchers carried signs, too

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You don’t need a sign to carry a message

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A marshall in her “uniform”

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Dancing in the street

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A couple with a message

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Walking in the sunshine

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Visibility was important

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So was togetherness

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Her shirt says “I love my two moms”

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The march ended at Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village

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These marchers were inspired by the Village People

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The mood in the park was celebratory

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And triumphant

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Rainbows appeared everywhere

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Even on flags

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Veterans of past marches sat and sang together

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Even visitors to the city showed their pride

Dyke March


The thrill is gone

June 25, 2009

Michael Joseph Jackson, the world’s most famous entertainer, has died at the age of 50. I’ve been a fan of his music just about forever; I remember a big family event I attended years ago where I sat around a table with my cousins, arguing about whether or not Thriller was the greatest album ever recorded. The very first song I loaded onto my very first iPod was Michael Jackson’s Ben, the greatest love song ever dedicated to a rat. 

A year ago I attended Thriller Night, a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the video for Thriller. The evening included an appearance by John Landis, director of the ground-breaking short, a stage filled with zombie dancers and two Michael Jackson imitators who showed up unannounced. After a few minutes of competing for the spotlight, they peacefully posed together for me.

You can read my account of Thriller Night is here and see the very shaky video I shot here.

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Michael Jackson: Thriller, 25th Anniversary Recording Remastered
Michael Jackson: Video Greatest Hits – HIStory
Michael Jackson: Ben


Fannie’s book finds a new home

June 15, 2009

A few months ago I was walking past a thrift store when I noticed several cartons full of books piled on the sidewalk. The shop was emptying their shelves for a special event and giving away the items they deemed unsalable.

It was starting to rain, so I glanced through the books, selected three that appeared interesting, stuffed them into my bag, and hurried home. When I got inside I gave them a closer look. One of the books was about classical music (I gave it to a musician friend), another was about vitamins (it turned out to be too wet to save).

The third book, however, was something else entirely: dark, small and slim, in rather poor condition with the words “Album of Love” embossed on the cover. I picked it up, flipped it open, saw a name, Fannie C. Ashmore, written inside the cover and an illustration on the first page followed by quite a few blank pages.

I assumed that it was a fancy old blank notebook or an empty photo album, but when I looked further, I saw that some of the pages did have writing — spidery words formed with an old-fashioned fountain pen. The inscriptions (mostly poetry) were by several different hands, but all of the messages were addressed to Fannie, and I realized that it was some sort of autograph or friendship book.

A few items were tucked between the pages: a scrap of paper with Fannie’s name and town, Trenton, New Jersey, one of her calling cards, a bit of a dried fern and two newspaper clippings concerning the death of Alexander B. Green of the Fourteenth New Jersey Volunteers, who lived in Ewing and died in the battle of Monocacy Junction “in his youth, away from home … in the fierceness of battle.”

One of the inscriptions in the book was to Fannie from her “coz, Alex G,” and with a bit of online research I learned that Alexander B. Green of the Fourteenth New Jersey Volunteers died July 5, 1864 and is buried near Trenton at the Ewing Church Cemetery.

I couldn’t imagine how the book that was once so important to Fannie wound up in a thrift store, or why it was discarded, or even how it managed to make its way to this city, but I thought that the little Civil War era book would be of value to someone. Unfortunately, I don’t know who, or where, or how to find them.

Over the past few months, I’ve tried to locate an historical society, museum, or similar instituation where the book would be appreciated, but the places I contacted never seemed to be quite the right fit. A couple of people offered to “take it off my hands,” but I didn’t want the recipient to act as though they were doing me a big favor — I wanted it to go to someone who’d be happy to have it.

Finally, it occurred to me to offer the book to the library in Trenton, Fannie’s hometown. I had a long conversation with a librarian who told me that similar books were a fad among the girls who attended the Normal School (a teacher’s college) in Trenton around the time of the American Civil War. She was delighted to accept my offer and will be giving Fannie’s little book a safe and secure new home in the Research Department’s Trentoniana Collection. She also expressed her hope that somehow, someday, a descendant will walk into the library and ask to see Fannie’s little book.

Perhaps, someday, they will. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.

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Front cover

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Fannie C. Ashmore

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Beauty

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Album of Love

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Autographs

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To Fannie from “your affectionate cousin”

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“The clear, cold question chills to frozen doubt …”

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“Your sincere friend, Mary F. Sheppard”

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The Mountain Sprite

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Dried fern

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To Fannie from J.J.S.

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“To Fannie, Trenton, April 14th 1861″

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Light of the Harem

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“Ever your loving cousin, CMG”

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“Remember me when far away …”

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“A despatch, received from Alexander B. Green, of Ewing, by his wife, on Saturday night …”

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From the State Gazette, lines of the death of Sergeant A.G.

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“Still think of Alex G”

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Fannie C. Ashmore, Trenton, New Jersey

Trenton Free Public Library
14th New Jersey Volunteer Regiment
New Jersey Civil War History Association: History of the 14th Regiment
National Park Service: Monocacy National Battlefield
Friends of the William Green Farmhouse: Alexander B. Green
Report of State Normal School, Trenton, 1864


The 31st Annual Museum Mile Festival

June 9, 2009

There are two things I dislike about the Museum Mile Festival:

1) It happens only once a year.
2) It lasts only three hours.

There simply isn’t enough time to take in everything that happens during this event which stretches along Fifth Avenue from 82nd Street to 105th Street — 23 blocks offering nine museums (all providing free admission) along with concerts, clowns, jugglers, face painters, and arts and crafts projects.

In past years I’ve started at the lower end, near the Metropolitan Museum of Art at 82nd Street, and attempted to work my way up but never made it past the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum at 91st Street. This time I decided to start at the northern end of the festival, heading down from El Museo del Barrio at 105th Street.

Unlike the rest of the institutions on museum mile, El Museo does not have its own building. Instead, it is one of variety of Latino arts organizations housed in the massive, block-filling, neo-Georgian Heckscher Building at 1230 Fifth Avenue (other tenants include the Raíces Latin Music Museum Collection of Harbor Conservatory and La Casa de la Herencia Cultural Puertorriqueña).

Although El Museo is currently closed for renovations, the Latin-flavored music issuing from their loudspeakers inspired passersby to dance in the street. Inside the Heckscher Building, through corridors of worn linoleum and flickering florescent lights, they offered a mask-making workshop, a salsa jam session, and promises that they will reopen in the fall.

The next stop was across the street to the Museum of the City of New York, which is charged with a “unique mandate: to explore the past, present, and future of this fascinating and particular place and to celebrate its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation. A variety of exhibitions, public programs, and publications all investigate what gives New York City its singular character.”

The current programs are tied to NY400: Holland on the Hudson, a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Dutch. In 1609 the Half Moon, guided by Captain Henry Hudson, landed on the shores of what is now New York City. Hudson’s arrival led to the establishment of New Amsterdam and the New Netherland colony.

This was my first visit to the museum and, while I was eager to rejoin the celebrations outside, I couldn’t drag myself away from the programs including exhibits about Manhattan before Hudson’s arrival, the Dutch city, and the acapella concert by the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus.

I kept checking my watch, thinking that I was missing the rest of the festival, but remaining unwilling to leave as I learned about the many Dutch influences that continue to touch our lives in New York City today. I lingered at a map that shows areas of the city with their original Dutch names: Breuckelen (Brooklyn), Vlackebos (Flatbush), Boswijck (Bushwick), Conijne Eylandt (Coney Island), Midwout (Midwood), Nieuw Utrecht (New Utrecht). I listened to recordings based on diaries and letters written by the Dutch colonists. I gazed at the rare artifacts, books, manuscripts, maps and globes.

I stayed until the museum was ready to lock its doors for the night. When I got back to the street, the festival was over. The street had reopened to traffic and a few stragglers were using discarded pieces of chalk to make their marks on the sidewalks and walls.

Perhaps next year I’ll take in more than one or two museums during the festival. Then again, perhaps not. Why rush to “get through” a good experience?

I once read a highly-recommended guide to Paris by Rick Steves which included instructions on how to see the Louvre Museum in less than an hour (maintain a brisk pace and glace at certain key works in case your friends back home ask what you thought of, say, the Mona Lisa). When I got to Paris I ditched the book and spent an entire day inside the Louvre, lingering after dark to watch the skateboarders clattering on the stairs and terraces above the Seine. The “in a hurry” crowd never knew what they missed.

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Dancing in the middle of Fifth Avenue

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Drawing in the street

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Another little artist

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Inside the Heckscher Building

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Jam session in El Museo del Barrio

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Viewing the NY400 exhibits

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Photographs of Dutch citizens

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Moving up and down the stairway

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Exploring the galleries

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A figure originally used to hold a compass on a ship

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Looking at Dutch photographs of New Yorkers

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A guide to Nieu-Nederlandt

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Viewing a video about New York history

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Map of New Amsterdam

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Inside the galleries

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The crowd straggles out of the Museum of the City of New York

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Writing on the walls with chalk

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Chalk message on a museum wall

Annual Museum Mile Festival
El Museo del Barrio
Museum of the City of New York
NY Times: Voyaging Up the Hudson to Rediscover the Dutch
NY400
New York City Gay Men’s Chorus


Greek Festival in Downtown Brooklyn

June 5, 2009

The metal signs were propped up on the sidewalk. The flags and banners were hung from the awning. The street was closed, the carnival attractions arrived and the tables and chairs were assembled outside the front door. Most importantly, the yayas (grandmothers) were cooking. And cooking. And cooking.

It was time once again for the festival run in Downtown Brooklyn by Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Now in its 32nd year, the annual week-long event is one of the biggest fund raisers for the church that has stood here since 1916.

The cathedral is more than just a place of worship; for nearly 100 years, it has served as the center of Greek life in Brooklyn. Many parishioners cheerfully put their business affairs aside for the week and devote their labors to ensure the festival’s success. The attractions include a “white elephant” sale and gift shop, music, kiddie rides and, of course, the food. The barbeques for gyros, souvlaki and grilled octopus were set up in the street, the trays filled with moussaka, pasticio, dolmades, spanakopita, keftedes and pastries — all based on old family recipes — were on the tables under the tent.

The music played, the kids giggled and ran, the younger people manned the grills, the yayas kept an eye on the money box while serving heaping helpings of everything and the men, just as they do in Greece, sat together swapping stories, making plans and watching the passing scene. Oopa!

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A sign on Court Street

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Tables set up on the asphalt

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Cooking the meat for gyros

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Grilled souvlaki

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Assembling a gyro

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Yayas inside the tent

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A tray of desserts

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The carnival attractions help raise money

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The neighborhood kids love winning prizes

The Greek Orthodox of Cathedral of Sts. Constantine and Helen
Recipe: Moussaka
Recipe: Pasticio
Recipe: Dolmades
Recipe: Spanakopita
Recipe: Cat Cora’s Keftedes


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