Searching for Color in a New York Winter

Brooklyn Botanical Snow

Torii Gate at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden

Outdoor photographers are confronted with the greatest challenges in winter. The difficult shooting conditions aside, there is so little color to capture, both on the streets and in nature. It’s always tempting to throw in the towel and put winter photos in black and white–an urge that’s sometimes spot-on.  But vibrant color is that much more striking in the dead of winter.  In this photo series, I experiment with no color, highlighted single colors and the closet things to color explosions I’ve been able to find this season.

Many of these photos were first published on my Instagram account: raysnyc

Eastern Parkway in Winter

Eastern Parkway

A blizzard is no excuse to stop recycling

A little snow is no excuse to stop recycling

Frozen Prospect Park Lake

The Lake in Prospect Park

A dog-walking fashion statement!

A dog-walking fashion statement

Eastern Parkway Winter Bench

The First Snow! – Eastern Parkway

Prospect Park Winter Tree

Dusk in Prospect Park

Brooklyn's majestic Grand Army Plaza in a blizzard

Brooklyn’s majestic Grand Army Plaza in a blizzard

Gotta get the kids home!

Gotta get the kids home!

Williamsburg Drone Sunset

Get your drones on! – Williamsburg, Brooklyn

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Traveling Back in Time and Loving the View: The Cloisters and Fort Tryon Park

One of the greatest things about New York is that the subways can turn into time machines–if you know where to go–seemingly whisking you away to an entirely different era. Easily accessible by public transportation, the Cloisters and Fort Tryon Park are a beautiful and serene part of the city where visitors can stroll through real medieval halls, view the pristine Hudson River as seen by the first European explorers and experience an unparalleled escape from the chaos of the city.

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The Cloisters – a slice of Europe in Upper Manhattan

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The nature of the Hudson River as seen by the eponymous explorer Henry Hudson himself in 1609

Located in the upper Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood, the Cloisters houses the vast medieval art collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  On display are extravagant tapestries, priceless stained glass windows and intricate stone carvings–flourishes that once adorned the walls of monks, knights and nobles.  The building itself is made up of stones from five different European abbeys which were partially disassembled in the 1930s.  Piece-by-piece, the structures were shipped to New York to be rebuilt and combined into a single building.

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Arches incorporated form the French abbey Saint Michel de Cuxa

Cloisters Tapestry

The Unicorn Defends Itself: In classic fashion, the humans in this tapestry find a unicorn and decide they need to kill it and take it home

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Old sentinels in a new home

Fort Tryon Park, which surrounds the museum, stands on land donated by John D. Rockefeller Jr. The park was beautifully landscaped by the the sons of Central Park architect Fredrick Law Olmsted and offers magnificent views of the Hudson River, the George Washington Bridge, and the New Jersey Palisades, also purchased and preserved by Rockefeller.

Walking around the grounds you’ll be charmed by rolling hills, vibrant flowers and New York City wildlife.  The Heather and Alpine Gardens offer two different walking paths for gorgeous year-round view.

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The Heather Garden is part of the original Olmsted Brothers design for the park.

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Excellent opportunities for nature photography…

Ft Tryon groundhog

With luck, you might see a rare sight, a real New York groundhog!

Whether you’re a New York native or a visitor don’t miss this chance to go back in time…take the A train up to Fort Tryon Park and the Cloisters!

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“It’s Complicated” with the Statue of Liberty

New Yorkers have what I’ll call a failing long-distance relationship with the Statue of Liberty. We love her, and we tell her we love her all the time. But we never visit her.

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We never decide to hop on the ferry and have a picnic by her pedestal or bring a date up to her crown.  Maybe we head out once every 10 years if friends are in town, but even this pilgrimage tends to be approached as a necessary evil of introducing visitors to New York.  Perhaps this is because we New Yorkers (like people everywhere) often pride ourselves on avoiding the parts of our city that are overrun by tourists.  Or perhaps we’re satisfied with our first and only visit to the Statue, the one we took when we were 10 years old.

With curiosity about this pervasive attitude in mind, I decided to go myself to see if the trip deserves a higher place on New Yorkers’ respectable afternoon excursion list.  Even though I’ve worked in tourism for years, I amazingly had not been to the Statue since I was a child.  So here’s a no-frills evaluation of the Statue of Liberty experience, from a local perspective.

I waited about half an hour including passing through security before boarding the ferry at Battery Park.

I waited about half an hour including passing through security before boarding the ferry at Battery Park.

A ticket online costs $18 with pedestal access, $3 more for the crown.  This includes admission to Ellis Island as well.  I showed up, gradually progressed through the line and then grabbed a spot on the top deck next to the ferry’s guard rail.  The boat ride offered breath-taking views of Lower Manhattan and the Statue that I almost would have paid $18 for alone.  However, you can get almost the exact same ride for free on the Staten Island Ferry so I needed more to be really impressed.

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What a great view of Lower Manhattan!

Warning: Make sure you reserve tickets on the official website for an exact arrival time on a specific day.  DO NOT under any circumstances arrive without a ticket and buy one from a third party vendor on the streets next to Battery Park.  They will sell you marked-up “flex” tickets that you will almost definitely have to wait in a multi-hour line to use.

As we approached Liberty Island, the air hummed with excitement.

As we approached Liberty Island, the air hummed with excitement.  Even though I see the Statue from afar every day, I have to admit that I felt like I was really seeing it for the first time.

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Once on the island, I took a free ranger tour…which was fascinating. Even though we all take the Statue for granted, it took a series of minor and major miracles and over 20 years of work to transition her from an idea to a reality.

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I think one of my most striking realizations was that the Statue is first and foremost a work of art. It’s a sculpture after all and a masterpiece at that.  I have to say that I never grew tired of looking at her from different angles as I struggled to comprehend her gargantuan scale.  Most New Yorkers only see her from afar or in photos, neither of which compares to seeing her up-close and personal.

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Perhaps the biggest drawback was the 45 minute wait on the island for a ferry to pick us up. The wind whipped all around and many of us were underdressed…these are the 21st century huddled masses.

In the end I had a great day.  The enthusiasm and thrill of the tourists rubbed off on me and made me feel like I was on vacation myself.  Perhaps for the first time, I really looked at the details of the statue–the stoic expression on Lady Liberty’s face, the tablet in her hand and the lift of her back foot, revealing that she is actually walking forward–progressing.   My verdict is that the Statue is not overrated.  The fact that people from all over the world come to see her is a clue that New Yorkers should too.  So if you love her, pay her a visit!

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5Pointz: Developers > World Famous Public Street Art

Joni Mitchell wrote : “Don’t it always seem to go / That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone / They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”  Well in this case, they’re tearing down paradise to put up a 1,000 unit high-rise.  And paradise is located in Long Island City, Queens.  Click on any photo to enlarge.

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5Pointz, the seemingly doomed graffiti art mecca

Bordering a Long Island Railroad rail yard and partially shadowed by the elevated subway tracks is 5Pointz, a collection of warehouses that would seem nondescript, were the facades not covered entirely in spectacular murals.  This breathtaking display is the result of an ongoing collaboration with over 100 artists who come from far and wide to leave their mark on New York’s most famous graffiti destination.

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Tourists too, flock to 5Pointz. On my bike tours, I have watched the delight of countless visitors as they unexpectedly find themselves in the middle of a colossal outdoor art gallery.

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Part of the appeal of the site is its visibility–riders on the 7 train get an excellent bird’s-eye view of the complex. Mets fans on their way to Citi Field know to look out for 5Pointz soon after exiting the tunnel from Manhattan.

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5Points is located directly across the street from PS1, the contemporary art and outdoor concert venue of the Museum of Modern Art. The presence of both have contributed to Long Island City’s rapidly rising trendiness and real estate values.

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Artists contact the curator, MeresOne, well in advance before painting at 5Pointz. A friend of mine is a muralist in Ecuador and she planned an entire trip to New York around an invitation to paint here.

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Each time I go with a bike group, the art at the ground-level has changed

This obscure piece may be a work of Banksy, the world's most famous street artist

This obscure piece resembles the work of Banksy, the world’s most famous street artist…is it his?

For over a decade the art community and the owners of the property have peacefully coexisted, the result of an agreement allowing free and legal painting to take place on the facade.  However, with the Long Island City real estate market booming, the owners have decided it is high-time to demolish the site in favor of luxury condos.  The City Council quickly gave the projects two thumbs up, eager to bring in construction jobs, a public park and 210 affordable units.

To their credit, the developers have offered up 10,000 square feet of surfaces for artists to graffiti on the new construction.  But this is miniscule compared to the space they use right now.  And whether the community and its curator even want to be part of the new project is a different question.  As of right now, the defenders of 5Pointz are on their last stand.  If their final round of litigation fails, the historic warehouses will see the wrecking ball in a matter of weeks.  Joni Mitchell might be the first to say: “I told you so.”

Boost 5ptz

Citi Tower, Queens’ tallest building watches over the painted warehouses

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Knowing that its days might be numbered, I took my family to 5Pointz recently. "Let's take a photo," my Dad said. "It's now or never"

Knowing that its days might be numbered, I took my family to 5Pointz recently. “Let’s take a photo,” my Dad said. “It’s now or never”

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Filed under Landmarks, Museums, Neighborhoods, New York, Photography, Queens

Ray’s Manhattan: Less forgotten but equally majestic

Lest Manhattan gets jealous of my Forgotten Brooklyn Post, I’ve compiled 10 of the most striking pictures I’ve taken on this storied island.  Click to enlarge…and enjoy!

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Rainy Little Italy

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Central Park’s great mirror – the Onassis Reservoir

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Our lady, as seen from the ferry deck

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The Dakota Apartments’ silent guardians

The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge as seen in the famous children's story

The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge as seen in the famous children’s story

Lower East Side native Sol Matsil displays torah scrolls in Kehila Kedosha Janina-the Western Hemisphere's sole Greek Orthodox Jewish synagogue.

Lower East Side native Sol Matsil displays Torah scrolls in Kehila Kedosha Janina–the Western Hemisphere’s sole Greek Orthodox Jewish synagogue.

Look, Mommy!

Look, Mommy!

One of my favorite castles in New York - the Jefferson Market Library

One of my favorite castles in New York – the Jefferson Market Library

We must protect this house!  From the Grinch who stole Christmas...

We must protect this house! From the Grinch who stole Christmas…

 

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Ray’s Brooklyn, Forgotten No More

One of the best parts of my job is how much I get to explore.  Last year I centered my wanderings mostly on Manhattan since that is where the lion’s share of this city’s tours take place.  This season, however, I have been making a concerted effort to specialize in Brooklyn–my home and the part of New York I love most.

I created my original Brooklyn Heights/DUMBO Walking Tour, now my most popular tour, and listed myself on Brooklyn’s TripAdvisor site.  Soon I plan to roll out a number of new Brooklyn tours focusing on neighborhoods like Fort Greene and Williamsburg.  Someday I hope even give a tour of the neighborhood that is nearest and dearest to me: my home, Flatbush/Ditmas Park.

As I explore, I take photos with my cell phone, point-and-shoot or digital SLR camera, depending on what I felt like lugging around on any given day.  Here are 10 of my favorite “Forgotten Brooklyn” photos of back alleys, hidden vistas and urban curiosities.  Click to enlarge…and enjoy!

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Greenpoint Graffiti

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Dog walkers on hidden College Place – Brooklyn Heights

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This must be the Joad’s old truck! – Vinegar Hill

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Thrift Store – Ditmas Park

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That’s my train! – Ditmas Park     

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Quarters A: the one-time home of the Commandant of the navy – Vinegar Hill

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Just a couple days of rain in the fall will bring these guys out – Ditmas Park

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The last trolley I know of in Brooklyn – Red Hook

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The commanding Prison Ship Martyr’s Monument, from below! – Fort Greene

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Mikey and the street art of DUMBO

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Ray gets trailed by the Paparazzi!

Last month, my friend and fellow Carleton-grad Teddy Wolff joined a tour of mine with the intent of documenting the experience photographically.  Teddy works as a professional photographer and he recently published the resulting photo series–Lower East Side Tour with Ray–on his website.  You can view the full suite of photos as well as a number of other excellent albums on Teddy’s Website.  Below are my favorites, with my captions added.

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The tour begins

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The breathtaking Eldridge Street Synagogue, the subject of an earlier blog post of mine

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Preparing to enter the sanctuary

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Passionate words being delivered in front of the walnut ark

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Describing the 21st century addition to the synagogue–the new stained glass window

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The synagogue interior has been masterfully restored

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The illuminated rose window

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Hey!

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Looking up for a hidden sign of immigrants past

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Ginger Ale! Note one of NYC’s rare L-shaped buildings

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Hot bialys, straight from the oven!

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These guys RUN the pickle shop…you can’t sneak anything by them!

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Willy Wonka-style candy shop, anyone?

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What a great tour! Thank you Teddy Wolff for the photos.

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Filed under Neighborhoods, New York, Photography, Religious Spaces, Tours

The High Line in winter and spring – A photo essay

In the past 6 months, I’ve had the pleasure of taking two visits to the High Line specifically to spend time with family and take photos.  Right away, a visitor realizes how photo-friendly of a place it is.  Modern art emerges from verdant gardens; original locomotive rails weave in and out of the pedestrian walkway—all with the distinct urban backdrop of the city.  Here are a number of my favorite photos—watch as the season changes!

The Standard Hotel looks proudly down on the High Line.

The Standard Hotel looks proudly down on the High Line.

Creepy looking guy...

Creepy looking guy…

My cousin Hanna checks out Tenth Avenue Square

My cousin Hannah checks out Tenth Avenue Square

Frank Gehry's IAC building...playfully known as "the Iceberg"

Frank Gehry’s IAC building…playfully known as “the Iceberg.”  In the background: Jean Nouvel’s geometrically-striking “100-11th” apartment building.

Jean Nouvel's geometrically striking "100-11th" apartment building.

Squares and rectangles

Even in winter, splashes of color are to be found

Even in winter, splashes of color are to be found

High Line shoes

High Line shoes

Welcome to Chelsea

Chelsea

One of the few grassy lawns to be found in all of Manhattan

One of the few grassy lawns to be found in all of Manhattan

Busy as ever

Busy as ever

Spring color splash

Spring color splash

 

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Test your knowledge: NYC <=> Europe and Egypt

As I return home from my travels across Europe and Egypt, I can’t help but think of the many connections I noticed to New York.  Below are ten such connections, in order of easiest to hardest.

1)  Pizza Time – Perhaps the only place more famous than New York for its pizza is Italy.  Specifically, what city takes credit for inventing the pizza over 100 years ago?

My friend John prepares to demolish this pizza at Da Michele: the most famous pizzeria in the most famous pizza city in the world.

2)  Egyptian Temples and Obelisks – New York can lay claim to exactly one Egyptian Obelisk and one Egyptian Temple.  Both of which were gifts from the Egyptian Government (we didn’t steal them!)  Where can you find and visit these antiquities?

An obelisk at Karnack Temple, in Luxor, Egypt.

3)  Peace Sculptures – Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd is famous for his peace imagery, specifically Non-Violence, the sculpture of a revolver tied into a knot.  This sculpture can be found in various places around Europe, including Luxembourg, where I stumbled across it.  At what peace-promoting institution in New York can you find an original version of Reuterswärd’s Non-Violence?

Non-violence at the Jean Monnet Building, European Union headquarters, Luxembourg.

4)  Frank Gehry – This Canadian celebrity architect has work scattered all across the globe, from Barcelona, to Hong Kong to Toronto.  Name a building he designed in New York (hint: there are 3, plus two interiors).

Taking a bike ride along Barcelona’s redesigned coastline. Gehry’s Olympic Fish is in the background.

5)  Neapolitan Mosaics – In addition to its Pizza, Naples (and specifically the ill-fated Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum) is famous for its intricate mosaics.  Arguably the most famous mosaic in New York was a gift of the people of Naples—where is this mosaic and what does it commemorate?

A Roman mosaic on display in the National Archeological Museum. Beautiful mosaics like these were preserved after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79.

6)  Venetian Gondola –  Not far from the famous mosaic, one spots an authentic Venetian Gondola complete with gondolier for hire ($30/half hour).  On what popular waterway can you find this little slice of Italy?

Gondola’s are a blast (even in the winter!) But the ones in Venice will cost you almost twice as much as their New York counterpart.

7)  Florentine Palazzos – Florence is famous for its Renaissance art and architecture including its Palazzos, imposing fortresses designed as displays of security and political muscle.  What Manhattan federal building draws on Florentine Palazzo architecture for the same effect?

Florence’s Palazzo Strozzi, begun over 500 years ago.

8)  Bronze Doors – Still in Florence, among the most famous set of doors in the world are the bronze doors at the entrance to the Baptistery of San Giovanni, completed 1336.  Over half a century later, 4 sets of similar bronze doors were designed by Statue of Liberty pedestal architect Richard Morris Hunt.  In what NYC landmark were they installed?

Florence’s bronze Baptistery Doors…Ray for scale.

9)  Don Quixote – While in Madrid, I visited the house of Don Quixote author Miguel de Cervantes.  In the 1980s, the City of Madrid gave New York a statue of their most famous writer.  In the Spanish department of what university does this statue stand? (Hint: You have to go down a back alley…this neighborhood is full of back alleys.)

Don Quixote painting at the Cervantes House

10)  Close to home – New York was founded by the Dutch, as were many of the original neighborhoods that went on to become Brooklyn.  Many Dutch words have worked their way into the New York vernacular–from Coney Island, to “stoop,” to Yankee.  In Amsterdam, one of the prominent landmarks is the New Church, or Nieuwe Kerk.  Where in New York can you find a Nieuwe Kerk reference to our Dutch heritage?  (Hint: This is the name of MY subway stop!)

Amsterdam’s Neiuew Kerk

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  1. Naples
  2. In Central Park and inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art
  3. United Nations
  4. 8 Spruce St (AKA New York By Gehry, the giant, twisting silver building right next to the Brooklyn Bridge), IAC Building (the frosted, iceberg-esque building near the High Line at Chelsea Piers), and the Signature Theature on 42nd St and 10th Ave.
  5. Strawberry Fields, John Lennon
  6. The Lake at Central Park
  7. Federal Reserve
  8. Trinity Church
  9. NYU
  10. Newkirk Avenue and Newkirk Plaza in Ditmas Park/Flatbush, Brooklyn!

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September Heritage Parades

Last month, I stopped by to check out two heritage parades: the West Indian Day Parade in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and the African-American Day Parade in Harlem.  All parades are fun but sharp contrasts set these two apart.

Emerging from the subway on Eastern Parkway for the West Indian Day Parade, a visitor is confronted with a wild scene on the street.  18-wheelers with speaker systems blast Caribbean music as thousands of people dance in time.  The sidewalks and smaller streets that flank the parkway are choked with spectators, food vendors and police vehicles.

Eastern Parkway on Labor Day

The first thing the eye catches is the flags.  Thousands of flags of every West Indian nation twirl in the air along with the music—flag bandanas, shredded flag t-shirts, flag capes and the traditional flags poking up from the crowd. DJs from local radio stations perched atop the trucks yell through the amplifiers, competing with similar sound systems on tractor trailers immediately in front and behind.

And then you notice the costumes.  Women in 10-foot high peacock feathers and leopard skin; men dressed with black-painted skulls and rags like the undead sailors in Pirates of the Caribbean. 

She let us take a photo with her….I think I’m in love.

And of course, the food was not to be missed. We chowed on some jerk chicken with deep-fried plantains, ox tails and collard greens.  All and all, the West Indian Day Parade was extremely memorable—a dramatic taste of the Caribbean moving through the heart of Brooklyn.

The 43rd African American Day Parade on September 16th was unquestionably tamer.  Floats moved lazily up Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard punctuated by marching bands and African drum circles.  From my perch at 125th St, neither the number of spectators and participants nor their intensity seemed to rival the free-for-all of the West Indian parade.  But this relative calmness can certainly be appealing, especially as far as family friendliness is concerned.

The NYPD marching band in the African American Day Parade.

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