This evening, commuters emerging from busses and subways near Borough Hall were greeted by the sound of beating drums, shaking maracas and resonating gourds. It was an outdoor concert organized by the West Indian American Day Carnival Association, the folks responsible for the annual Labor Day parade on Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway.
When it comes to homosexuality, most gay organizations are determined to project an image of normalcy in which all gay men are Will Truman and all lesbians Ellen DeGeneres.
— Riki Wilchins
This massive last-Sunday-in-June event has always been characterized by a mixture of flamboyance and defiance. Initially known as the “Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day March,” it began as a way to commemorate the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots – the singular event that sparked the gay rights movement.
The Stonewall Riots (also known as the Stonewall Rebellion) took place over several nights in June 1969. The riots started during what was supposed to be a routine police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street. According to Martin Duberman’s book, Stonewall, the rebellion was sparked when a police officer prodded drag queen and incipient transgender activist Sylvia Rivera with a nightstick and she responded by throwing a bottle at him.
A melee ensued and the angry crowd overwhelmed the surprised officers who’d expected the crowd at the Stonewall, like all their predecessors, to quietly enter the paddy wagon and submit to arrests for “indecency.” When passers-by and patrons of other bars in the neighborhood joined the fight, the NYPD brought in reinforcements and riot gear. Before it was over, a crowd of 2,000 protestors fought 400 police officers. Once unleashed, their sense of injustice and outrage quickly led to the formation of several gay rights organizations.
Over the years, the anger and rebellion that fomented the gay rights movement have been largely replaced – at least in the mainstream media – by a more conservative message, a more inclusive, celebratory and conciliatory tone. The march turned into a parade, the words “Liberation” and “Freedom” were replaced with “Pride,” the focus on transgender rights and concerns was replaced by the fight for legalized gay marriage.
But this year, the rage and outrageousness that fueled the movement’s beginnings returned to the front pages and parade-goers’ conscienceness. On June 11, popular drag performer and Billboard chart-topping singer Kevin Aviance was attacked outside a gay bar in the East Village. He was robbed and savagely beaten by a group of men who yelled “Kill the faggot” and pelted him with garbage.
Suffering from a broken jaw and requiring extensive physical therapy, it appeared that he would be unable to participate, as scheduled, in the parade’s after-party.
However, two days before the march he told the New York Post, “I am getting my mouth unwired for one day, so that I can be done up for the Gay Pride Day Parade on Sunday.” And so he did. Today he made a triumphant return to the public eye, riding Hannibal-like on the back of an elephant while waving to the ecstatic, cheering, wildly proud crowd.
The Northeast part of the United States has been pelted with rain for days, but regardless of the weather, local Mermaids were determined to hold their parade today on the streets of Coney Island.
There were few drizzles during the 24th Annual Mermaid Parade, but the crowds in the streets were unusually sparse, the skies were gray, some of the floats were draped with tarpulins and more than one participant carried an umbrella. And when the marching (and dancing, strutting, singing and swinging) stopped, the skies opened. Good thing that all mermaids love water.
Astoria has always been the home to strivers and dreamers. In the early 1800s the village of Hallet’s Cove was re-named Astoria in hopes that John Jacob Astor, the first millionaire in the United States, would invest there. Although he reportedly never set foot in Astoria, America’s richest man eventually gave the village $500 and the name stuck.
This northwestern section of Queens, where three bridges – the Queensboro, the Triborough, and the Hell Gate – cross the East River, is the traditional center of Greek life in America. Today, long-time residents are joined by newcomers from around the world and Astoria has become one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the nation, filled with those pursuing their own American dreams.
Well we’re movin’ on up
To the East Side
To a dee-luxe apartment in the sky
We’re movin’ on up
To the East Side
We’ve finally got a piece of the pie
— Ja’net DuBois and Jeff Barry
Theme song to “The Jeffersons”
It wasn’t that long ago that they were homeless and hopeless, scrounging around in garbage cans and sleeping in the streets. Now these cats are ensconced in a duplex apartment on one of the city’s toniest streets. Welcome to the Meow Mix House.
10 cats from shelters around the country were brought to New York to share the Meow Mix House – a storefront that has been temporarily transformed into a kitty dream home. The cats-in-residence are participating in what’s being called “the world’s first cat reality show.” All the cats will be adopted and receive a one-year supply of Meow Mix cat food. The “winner” in will also be given “a job working for The Meow Mix Company as Feline Vice President of Research and Development.”
Of course it is silly, and it is intended to sell a lot of cat food, but the Meow Mix House also raises awareness of animal welfare and, for the week it remains at the corner of Madison Avenue and 49th Street, the house’s residents are amusing, enchanting and entertaining their fellow East Siders.
The second Tuesday of every June, as day turns to night, one of the most beautiful sections of the city hosts the Museum Mile Festival. The mile-long stretch of Fifth Avenue from 82nd Street to 104th Street is closed to traffic while nine of the cultural institutions that line its sides are open to the public, free of charge. For a few all-too-brief hours this evening, this normally quiet, dignified street overflowed with laughter, awe, music, art and magic.
OK, it isn’t a typical block party; it is a heavily-promoted, big-time commerical enterprise featuring corporate sponsors and high-profile chefs. But there’s no denying that this weekend the 4th Annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party attracted a crowd that included some of New York’s most ravenous foodies.
The event brought 10 pitmasters to Madison Square Park for two days of marinating, smoking, basting, cooking, eating, dancing and drinking. Thousands of people stood on line for hours to get their share of the ribs, pulled pork, brisket and Brooklyn Beer while soul, jazz and country musicians took the stage. Best of all, the proceeds from the sale of food and drinks benefit the Madison Square Park Conservancy. Good food, good beer and good music, all for a good cause.
This section of the Lower East Side, Eldridge Street between Canal and Division, was once the home of a thriving community of Eastern European Jews. In 1887, they constructed the jewel of their block – the Eldridge Street Synagogue, an imposing Moorish-style building with a vaulted ceiling, stained glass windows, ornate brass fixtures, hand-painted murals and a velvet-lined ark.
Over time, the center of New York Jewish life moved elsewhere and the area began to fill with immigrants from other areas, primarily China. The Synagogue’s congregation dwindled, the operating budget became smaller and the building fell into disrepair. As a tiny group of worshippers hung on, the roof caved in, the walls crumbled and the entire structure neared collapse. Then, in the late 1980s, historians and community activitists “discovered” the building and formed the Eldridge Street Project, Inc., determined to restore and preserve this landmark.
Today, with the restoration project well underway, the Eldridge Street Project is sponsoring the 4th Annual Egg Rolls and Egg Creams Block Party. This unique event celebrates the evolving culture and traditions of this densely-packed community with nods to both its Jewish heritage and its Chinese present.
The block party features the language, arts, music, dance and foods of both cultures, including mah jong lessons, a Chinese calligrapher and a Jewish scribe, arts and crafts, performances in Yiddish and Chinese, and, of course, delicious home made kosher egg rolls (a fried variation of the classic Chinese spring roll which contains no egg) and egg creams (a traditional New York soda fountain drink which contains no egg).
How to Make an Egg Cream according to Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate Syrup
1. Take a tall, chilled, straight-sided, 8 oz. glass.
2. Spoon 1 inch of U-Bet Chocolate Syrup into glass.
3. Add 1 inch whole milk.
4. Tilt the glass and spray seltzer (from a pressurized cylinder only) off a spoon to make a big chocolate head.
5. Stir, drink, enjoy.
Two mysterious, brief encounters near the main branch of the New York Public Library today left me wondering about romance in this city.
First, on the 42nd Street side of the library was a scene that should have been in a movie – an old Checker cab was parked in the right lane, blocking traffic, while a photographer hurriedly shot images of a gloriously gorgeous newlywed couple. At first glance they appeared to be models posing for (perhaps) a bridal magazine, but the scene lacked all the accoutrements of a professional photo shoot; there were no stylists, no makeup artists, no assistants – just a perfectly beautiful pair in a perfectly dramatic setting on a perfectly beautiful day.
Secondly, a sign pasted inside a phone booth on the 5th Avenue side of the library. As I passed the booth, I caught a glimpse, took a few more steps and stopped. Had I really seen that? I went back for a photo of what is possibly the most anti-romantic image ever.
So … is New York one of the most romantic cities in the world or the one of the least? How do this sign and this couple exist on the same block? In the same city? In the same universe?
For years, friends earnestly urged me to listen to public radio and for years, I ignored their suggestions. I suspected that the programs on something called “public radio” would be either educational (translation: dull and dry) or political (translation: dull and irritating).
Then, one night, someone turned the radio dial and I heard a deep voice intone, “Welcome to Lake Woebegone, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” I was enthralled by the quirky variety show that followed and the exotic Midwestern culture it portrayed. Fascinated by the program, A Prairie Home Companion, and its tales of Norwegian bachelors, lutefisk suppers, deer hunting and ice-fishing, I’ve kept the radio tuned to that station ever since.
Tonight, the man behind that voice and show, Garrison Keillor, appeared at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Union Square. He described his experiences making the new feature film based on his radio broadcasts, fielded questions, offered advice and autographed books and CDs for the wistful New Yorkers who hope to spend their summer vacations on the shores of beautiful Lake Woebegone.
This is a sunny day in one of the world’s largest cities. It isn’t a legal holiday; there isn’t an emergency; the authorities haven’t evacuated the neighborhood. Yet the shops are shuttered, the businesses are closed and the streets are empty of traffic.
Question: What is going on and where is everybody?
Answer: It’s just another Friday afternoon in Borough Park.
Borough Park (also spelled Boro Park), a somewhat run-down, working-class area of Brooklyn, is home to one of the largest Orthodox Jewish communities in the world. Many of the residents here follow the teachings of Yisrael Ben Eliezer, known as The Baal Shem Tov (The Master of the Good Name).
The Baal Shem Tov, who died in the Ukraine in 1760, was the founder of the Hassidic Jewish movement. He taught that God is best served and worshipped through singing and dancing, and instructed his followers to meditate, so they could connect with the “holy sparks of the Glory of God” that dwell in “all that is in the world.”
The male followers of The Baal Shem Tov are easily recognized by their distinctive appearance. Bearded, they wear garments modeled after those of their spiritual leader, including a beskeshe (a suit with long tailored jacket), a fringed prayer shawl called a tallit or talles, a skullcap known as a kippah or yarmulke and, on Shabbos and other holidays, a circular fur hat called a shtreimel. Hasidic women can dress in mainstream styles but are limited to suitably modest items. They are free to wear makeup, jewelry and other fashionable adornments, but once married, the women cover their hair with wigs, scarves or hats.
While they have always considered children a blessing, many modern Hasidim are committed to having as many children as possible, believing that they must replace the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Consequently, the neighborhood has the highest birth rate in the city.
On Friday afternoon, around 2:00 p.m., the entire neighborhood shuts down, allowing the Hasidim to go home and prepare for Shabbos, the Jewish Sabbath. It is Erev Shabbos (the evening the Sabbath begins), when, dressed in their finest garb, large families hurry through the streets to the services where they welcome their day of rest. Come Sunday morning, the normal workweek will resume; the restaurants and stores will open again, the sidewalks will overflow with bustling shoppers and the streets will be filled with roaring, honking traffic.