Archive

New York

A Brighton Beach sabbath afternoon. Ultra-orthodox Jews gazing at volley ball and the horizon; Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, New York, 2012. (Fuji X100). Click to enlarge.

A Brighton Beach sabbath afternoon. Ultra-orthodox Jews gazing (longingly?) at a volley ball game and the sand, sea, and horizon; Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, New York, 2012. (Fuji X100). Click to enlarge.

Note the prefabricated concrete boardwalk surface, grained in a half-hearted attempt to simulate the traditional wood plank surface — more on this in a subsequent post.

Ticket taker, dance event, Coney Island, 2012. (Fuji X100). Click to enlarge.

Ticket taker, dance event, Coney Island, 2012. (Fuji X100). Click to enlarge.

Two Coney Island boardwalk dance event denizens. In the absence of my Rolleiflex, the photos were composed and later edited to square format

Solitary "hoofer," Coney Island, 2012. (Fuji X100). Click to enlarge.

An introspective, sequined “hoofer” in the midst of a complex dance step, Coney Island, 2012. (Fuji X100 w/ 28mm-equivalent adaptor). Click to enlarge.

Dancers at a weekend afternoon dance party, Coney Island Boardwalk, Brooklyn, New York, 2012. (Fuji X100 w/28mm-equivalant lens adapter). Click to enlarge.

Weekend afternoon dance party, Coney Island Boardwalk, Brooklyn, New York, 2012. (Fuji X100 w/ 28mm-equivalent lens adapter). Click to enlarge.

I haven’t gotten out to Coney Island this summer.  So, offhand, I don’t know the state of the famed Coney Island-Brighton Beach seaside boardwalk post-Hurricane Sandy.  What I do know is that I very much miss dancing on Coney Island boardwalk in the breeze and fading light of weekend summer afternoons.

For the last couple of decades, impromptu dances set to the blare of portable sound systems and music decks manned by proprietors and patrons of boardwalk bars attract a crowd of dancers representative of New Yorkers to whom Coney Island is the only affordable and accessible seaside respite from the thick air, stuffy apartments, and burning pavements of summer time New York.  (This despite the efforts of former mayor Giuliani to expunge such offenses against “quality of life” and of soon-to-be-former mayor Bloomberg to sanitize, gentrify, and recycle neighborhoods and public space for the benefit of those with high incomes and volumes of disposal cash.)

Most Coney Island boardwalk dancers are urban survivors, people who’ve made it through the scourges of low-paying jobs or lives at the edge.  The music is mostly Afro-Caribbean, Latin, and fusion.  The price of a ticket is no more than a lack of pretension and a desire and ability to dance.

These last years, I’d gravitated more and more towards to weekend dances on the boardwalk.  The grit of the edge of the city is more redolent of the New York that shaped me, and the boardwalk venue is far more familiar, accessible, and welcoming to me than are stylish clubs in upper income Manhattan or in the ethnically-purged, middle-American “hipster” neighborhoods that now sprawl across the north of Brooklyn. Not least, the subtle flexibility and responsiveness of the boardwalk’s wood plank surface add spring and an intoxicating feeling of (seeming) virtuosity to one’s every step.

More Coney Island dancers! (Specifications as per photo above) Click to enlarge.

More Coney Island dancers. (Specifications as per photo above) Click to enlarge.

Technical Footnote

On the X100, the  optical imperfections (softness, flare, and color casts) of Fuji’s 28mm-equivalent screw-in wide angle adaptor helped rather than hinder portrayal of a Coney Island weekend afternoon.

"La Reina." The Queen of Latin Music, Celia Cruz.  Wall painting, low-100s between Lexington and Third, Manhattan, 2012. (Fuji X100). Click to enlarge.

“La Reina.” The Queen of Latin Music, Celia Cruz. Wall painting, low-100s between Lexington and Third Avenues, Manhattan, 2012. (Fuji X100). Click to enlarge.

The great Afro-Cuban singer Celia Cruz, one of the voices of Latin Music during the second half of the twentieth century.

The portrait above graces a tenement wall at the western edge of Spanish Harlem.  The tenements of Spanish Harlem were built more than a century ago to capitalize on flows of immigrants and their children attempting to escape the  congestion and degradation of the Lower East Side. (One of own grandmothers lived for a few years only a block away from the wall on which the portrait above is painted.)  Most of the first wave of East Siders to arrive in the neighborhood (Jews and Italians, mostly) soon moved northwards following the routes of new subway lines to housing that arose in the Bronx in the years after World War I.

By the 1940s, Spanish Harlem had become the main destination for migrants to New York City from Puerto Rico.  In the 1950s and 60s, some blocks of Spanish Harlem were amongst the poorest, most crowded and densely populated places on earth.  In recent years the population of the neighborhood has thinned out and, in places, gentrification has begun. Nevertheless, the voice of Celia Cruz still echos resonantly.

Gino Flea Market, New & Used, West 168th Street, Bronx, New York, 2012. (Fuji X100) Click to enlarge

Gino Flea Market, New & Used, West 168th Street, Bronx, New York, 2012. (Fuji X100) Click to enlarge

Retailing at the urban edge, beyond the rapacious locational analyses of chain and big-box stores.  Recycled goods, low-value inventories, uncertain provenance, low-rent locations, minimalist architecture, utilitarian displays, and clientele low on disposable cash.  (NB: Those who delight in the idiosyncratic orthography and grammar  of NYC signage will note the absence of a possessive apostrophy-s appended to Gino.)

Recommended in this context: Bronx Bodega by the inimitable gurus of urbanism, the “Internets Celebrities,” Dallas Penn and Rafi Kamm.