Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Every Sunday afternoon from spring through fall, people began gathering at the Drum Circle in Prospect Park and started a rhythm – like the heartbeat of the neighborhood - that lasted until dark.  There was all kinds of percussion – shakers, rattles, bells, maracas, wooden boxes, and sometimes steel drums.  The Drum Circle was just down the block from where I lived, and as more percussionists arrived it got louder.  Eventually, about a hundred people showed up for playing, dancing, and watching.  95% of the drummers were male, but there was one fabulous female drummer.  Most of the dancers were female, but men danced as well.  

Youtube video of the Drum Circle:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nwB4SLALf4

The Drum Circle is actually a designated area of the Prospect Park and there’s a semi-circle of 18 benches made of oak logs.  It's tough to get a seat because the benches fill up fast, but a lot of people bring folding chairs.  Some bring and blankets and sit in the shade beside the circle.  Some bring their barbecues and sometimes there are vendors selling food and drinks.   It is against the law to have open containers of alcohol anywhere in New York – even in your own yard or on your own porch, so anyone drinking alcohol, disguised it, but it became evident as the day wore on that some people were getting high on something.

I had a small djembe when I moved to Brooklyn and a few times I went over to join in the fun.  The problem for me was that men would interrupt me to “teach” me how to play.  I may not play all that well, but I have rhythm and I like to play my own way.  Sometimes I skipped a beat or simply rubbed the top of the drum as a beat.  As long as I kept the rhythm, I figured what difference did it make.  But I’m pretty sure these men weren’t really wanting to teach me to play. They didn’t have their own drums and wanted an instrument to play.  I didn’t see them offering to teach anyone to dance, and there were some dancers that could have used some loosening up.

When I discovered the salsa dancing on the boardwalk in Coney Island, I stopped going to the drum circle.

Post by Alana Cash

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


On Saturday mornings, during the summer and fall, I used to bike over to Grand Army Plaza.  Five streets intersect there, including the most famous, Flatbush Avenue which runs across Brooklyn from the Manhattan  Bridge to Rockaway in the Atlantic.  There’s a road leading into the main entrance of Prospect Park   This roadway was blocked every weekend for Brooklyn’s farmer’s market 

I’m not sure where the farms are that are selling produce – it would hardly be worth it to travel from upstate or New Jersey – but there were bakery items and hand-made cheese and soap.  The best part of the market to me was the truck that accepted old, stained clothes that some business turned into insulation for houses.  The truck wasn’t there every weekend, and when it wasn’t, I had to take my stuff home, but it was a great idea for any farmer’s market to have donations trucks.

Grand Army Plaza is sort of the Arch de Triomphe of Brooklyn.  There’s a traffic circle, an arch, a fountain, its own little park, and a lot of statues.  It was intended to be a break from the city before entering the park, and it has retained its peacefulness.  It was a beautiful place to walk (or bike ride) – especially in summer when the trees were shady.
The arch was designed by Olmstead and Vaux (who designed Prospect Park and Central Park) to commemorate the triumph of the Union Army in the Civil War.  The arch is called the Soldiers and Sailors Arch.  The statues were added later.  There’s a John F. Kennedy. monument, statues of two Union Army generals, a couple of governors.  

The top statue reminded me of the Brandenberg Gates in Berlin.  At one point “winged victory,” above the arch, fell over in her chariot and remained that way for several years (because New York City goes broke from time to time) until finally repaired by donations from private citizens.

The main public library faces Grand Army Plaza.  The plaza arch faces the main entrance to Prospect Park.  The Brooklyn Museum is less than a block away, and the Botanical Gardens are right behind the library and museum.  It’s really a nice cultural center.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


I couldn’t have cable TV where I lived in Brooklyn.  The cable company would have had to drill a hole through the house wall to run the cable and the landlord just wasn’t having it.  So, if I wanted to watch a movie or full season of a TV series, I had to get it on DVD.

At first, I went to the Brooklyn Central Library seeking DVDs.  The library was walking distance away and housed in one of the most beautiful buildings in Brooklyn, right next to the Brooklyn Museum at Grand Army Plaza.  Right inside the front door, I had to journey through a metal detector  – like airport security – passing a desk with armed guards, which made me believe this was some kind of special library with rare books or something.  I never figured out why they were there. 

The metal detector was in an anteroom that runs the length of the building.  There were offices that open off of it on one side and the other side houses glasses cases displayed old photographs of Brooklyn and antique Brooklyn artifacts.  Straight ahead was a huge opening into a massive room that felt like a rotunda because the ceiling was four stories high.  This was where the checkout counters were as well as the return counter – and I learned I needed to wait until my books were scanned by the librarian and I got a receipt.  Because, otherwise, they went missing and I was welcome to pay for them.

On the other side of the room was a small coffee stand with a few tables in front of it where people sat and read as they ate a donut and drank coffee.  And in the center of the room there were rotating displays – sometimes photographs and art which could be spectacular, other times there were displays of Brooklyn history.

One of the educational displays was about the draft riots in New York City during the Civil War.  The message in the essays accompanying the photographs implied that it was racial bias that made the Irish immigrants create a riot because they were unwilling to go off and fight in the Civil War. Actually, the resistance was both practical and economic.  The Irish didn’t want to live in worse conditions than they were experiencing already in New York before being maimed or killed in the war, while the freed slaves stayed in New York and took their jobs.  Brooklyn Library made no mention that the Irish had been recently deported from Ireland by their landlords who did not wish to pay to feed them and where they were starving in ditches during the Great Irish Famine.  In New York, the Irish were unwelcome and treated like cockroaches.  No Irish Need Apply was typically appended to ads in newspapers and placed on signs at store fronts into the 20th century.  

So, anyway, I did attempt a few times to check out DVDs at the Central Library, only to find every single time, that the DVD was missing.  Meaning stolen.  The library policy was that, even if you owed fines on materials, you would not be stopped from checking out further materials.  There was a limit on the amount of DVDs that a patron could check out at one time, but that was handled by having library cards issued to every member of the family.  I supposed that if you knew you never needed to return them, the DVDs could be sold.  

Sometimes, I was able to find books at the library, although often those were stolen as well.  This, of course, gave irony to the armed guards and metal detector at the entrance.

But, the building really is beautiful and worth visiting.  And they do offer free lectures and classes that are excellent.

For my movie watching, I joined Netflix.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


The Brooklyn Museum is not one of the more famous museums in New York City, but I found it leisurely, being able to view everything without jostling or looking over someone’s shoulder like you have to do at the Met or MOMA in Manhattan.  The Brooklyn Museum is the second largest - 500,000 square feet - and has 1.5 million works of art.  Mind boggling.  And, like every public museum in NYC, there is a suggested donation or “pay what you want.”  I think suggested admission for the Brooklyn Museum is $5 which is far below the museums in Manhattan.

The Brooklyn Museum has one of the best Egyptian collections in the US, including a copy of The Book of the Dead.  There's American Indian art, African artworks, and large collection of Asian art. Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party” has a permanent home at the Brooklyn Museum.  I saw a Basquait exhibit there (Basquait is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, by the way). Basquait was a graffiti artist and one of his exhibits was a rough painting was a black, vinyl record painted on plywood.  I preferred the graffiti on the buildings in my neighborhood better.

There’s floor in the museum dedicated to decorative arts – replicas of home interiors from 17 C. to 20 C.  There’s also a visible store room – objects in storage are on display in crowded glass booths.  

On the first Saturday night of every month, Target hosts a free open house with live music, storytelling, lectures, and activities for the kids.  It’s really jammed with thousands of people of all ages == like subways at rush hour == and I only went once.  I sat cross-legged on the floor with a few hundred people in a small art display room listening to someone lecturing about the history of some type of art movement or communism or something.  A guard yelled at me for sitting too close to a painting.  I tried to move but the room was too crowded, so I left to listen to the music. The music is danceable and loads of people were dancing.    

It's better to go on a weekday morning, though, if you want to see the art.  And when you’re finished for the day at the museum, you can sit outside on the huge front terrace and drink a cappuccino.  It’s a quiet way to spend a morning if it’s raining because there’s a porch.  If it's not raining, you can visit the "salvage" sculpture garden == architectural elements scavenged from the City.

 The museum is in the heart of some major “sites” in Brooklyn == the original Brooklyn Public Library is down the block, the Botanical Gardens are behind the museum, Prospect Park is a block away, along with Grand Army Plaza, etc

More about the museum here:  http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/faq.php 

Post by Alana Cash

Monday, September 1, 2014


When I first moved to Brooklyn, my area was considered a “gang hotspot” and I used to see kids on the corners wearing red jackets and baseball caps – the rim flat, like new, not curved. They were always polite to me and not ever once did I feel unsafe around them.   

That doesn’t mean there wasn’t any violent gang activity.  One day I walked into a little discount store at the south end of the block.  I guess I was in the store about 10 minutes when  I heard sirens, but there were always sirens – ambulances, patrol cars, fire trucks – so I didn’t think anything about it.  When I came out of the store, I saw across the street there were some patrol cars, an unmarked car, and an ambulance.  There were a lot of patrol cops and a couple of detectives in suits.  EMTs were putting someone into an ambulance.  I asked a patrolman what happened.  And what happened is that a kid had walked up to another kid and shot him in the face at four o’clock in the afternoon. 

I walked on home, dropped my stuff off, and a bit later I left the house heading to Manhattan.  I walked north on the block to the subway station at Prospect Park.  Along the way, I saw patrolmen entering the apartment buildings, canvassing, and on the corner was a group of boys in red jackets and hats.  I could hear them talking about the shooting as I passed them.  I never found out if the person doing the shooting got caught.

After that shooting, I took a ridealong one evening with the NYPD in my precinct.  I had to wear a bulletproof vest.  In the space of an hour or so, I went with them on three “calls.”  All of them involved a gun.  There was a man in a check cashing place who got robbed after he cashed his paycheck.  The robber had already taken off on a bicycle.  The patrolmen looked at the surveillance tape in the store and saw that in his nervousness, the robber had dropped some of the money and other patrons in the establishment picked it up and quietly slipped in their pockets.  They were already gone as well.  The next call was to visit a school janitor who said some kids had come inside the school while he was cleaning and he ran them off.  He said they had a gun.  Then we went to a gas station where someone threatened a woman at the pump with a gun – I had to stay inside the car so I wasn’t really sure why.  Then, they got a dangerous call and had to drop me off quickly at home.

Except on a police officer, I never saw a gun in Brooklyn.  I saw a butcher knife once, though.  A woman behind me in the post office pulled it out and started tapping it on my shopping cart handle.  This was a post office deep in the neighborhood.  It had an old, badly painted mural on the wall of famous sports figures from Brooklyn, clerks behind bulletproof glass, and a jillion pieces of used gum stuck in black circles on the floor.  The few times I went to this post office, there was a little old lady sitting outside the front door on top of three stacked kindergarten chairs, talking to herself. 

The woman with the knife was a lot bigger than me, but for some reason instead of feeling frightened, I got angry, really angry.  She surely didn’t expect to see me in the post office, so right away I knew that knife was in her big, junky purse because she was afraid in the neighborhood and that big, old Wild Thing was trying to scare me.  Although, she definitely had my attention, I never looked at her nor at the knife after I first saw it.  I pulled the cart away from her to the other side of me as calmly as you please, and she stepped really close to my left arm and tapped the knife on her hand.  I still didn’t look at her, and if I was afraid, I still didn’t feel it.  I just felt the steam coming out of my ears.  I don’t like being bullied.  There were bug-eyed people in line watching her.  I stepped to a window, purchased stamps, and left. 

I went to the police station to report it, and they said it was a federal crime, so they didn’t take a report.  I went home and reported the incident to the post office over the phone.  I never heard from the postal police, but the next time I was in that particular post office, a few months later, it had been completely painted white, the gum had been scraped from the floor, and there were five surveillance cameras in the ceiling.  I never saw the big, old Wild Thing again.  Maybe she got arrested.