Thursday, March 31, 2016


One Sunday evening in spring, my landlord knocked on my door and said, “Come with me, I have something to show you in the park.” Although I had made it a point to not enter the park after dark, I was intrigued. I grabbed a jacket and followed him down the stairs and out the front door. We crossed Ocean Avenue and entered the park at Lincoln Avenue. From there we walked onto the grass and into a lightly wooded area.

From a distance I could hear a crowd of people, and as we got closer, I saw a long table laden with flowers, candles, and food. The people milling around it were dressed all in white. The ladies wore long white skirts with long blouses over them and white scarf turbans. The men were in white pants and shirts.

My landlord whispered, “It's a Voodoo meeting.” Voodoo is a Haitian religion, and I was thinking this group could be practicing Candomblé, a South American religion begun in Bahai, or Santaría a creole Caribbean religion. All three of these religions are based African religions – Fon, Yoruba, Bantu – brought to the Western Hemisphere by slaves.

As we got closer to the group, a very friendly woman approached us and said in a Caribbean accent, “Would you like something to eat? Please help yourself?”

I thanked her and declined, feeling nosy and out of place. The landlord had some food.  

“We are having a healing ceremony for a friend who is very sick,” this woman explained. “We just finished.”

I had only seen these kinds of ceremonies in the media – television and movies – and I was sorry I missed it here in the park, mainly because I know that the media exploits African religions, making them scary and silly – a holdover from slavery days. And I would like to have seen this healing ceremony. I never heard about or saw another one.

We only stayed that few minutes and then returned to the house. I doubted I would ever recognize these women if I saw them in the neighborhood. But certainly these people in the park were friendlier and more welcoming than the Christian church members near the house who glared at me, if they looked at me at all, if I happened to pass through the crowd while church was letting out. I never considered attending a service there.

Members of this church near the house were legally permitted to double-park on Sundays, blocking the neighborhood cars until noon. I don't know if this happened with other churches in Brooklyn, but it seemed to me that since public transportation ran on Sundays, they might have been “legally permitted” to ride the subway or busses. Not my call.

I only ever entered the park after dark once after that night. A tall, husky male friend and I walked from Park Slope to Lefferts Gardens at 10 o'clock one evening. We were on a narrow, hilly, dirt trail between a dense wall of bushes and trees on either side. It was really dark and I was really glad when we reached the flat area near Ocean Avenue. I'm pretty brave, but I would never take that walk alone.

Post by Alana Cash

Thursday, March 24, 2016


Spring has sprung in New York, when the weather is above 50 degrees and the little portable vestibules outside the doors of restaurants, come down and get stored away for next year.  Until then, there are still bitter cold nights and lots griping about how long winter has lasted.  And then, expected, yet always surprising, the long, beautiful spring starts in March and travels thru July – week-by-week different flowers appearing in gardens and bursting out on the trees before the leaves unfold.  The little portable vestibules are replaced by outdoor tables and chairs on the sidewalks.  

During the winter, the front and back garden of the house where I lived were flat and brown with naked bushes and trees, but in March the shoots began rising green from the earth and there were buds on the trees.  And then for months the flowers came in waves – tulips, daffodils, irises, daisies, zinnias, gladiolas, daylilies, sweet potato flowers – the clematis vines and the passion flower vines flowered – the huge peony and hydrangea bushes flowered like fireworks and the Datona Trumpet tree grew drooping orange flowers.  A grape vine came back to live as well as a wisteria with that intoxicating scent.  The blank dirt back yard became overgrown with just a little winding path to the back where the mulch container was kept.  Every warm day, I set a chair in the middle of the path and worked there, invisible surrounded by nature.  Who would think that living in New York could be like that.

It’s grand weather until August, when there are two or three weeks of high temperatures – meaning somewhere about 95 degrees and heavy humidity that Texans live with eight months out of the year.  And then comes fall, another beautiful, shorter season.  This time, the colors of the leaves replace the beauty of the flowers in the spring.

Friday, March 11, 2016


The other day I started reading a biography about Walt Whitman, a Brooklynite of sorts (he was actually born on Long Island and died in New Jersey). I learned that Whitman was a Quaker, and on top of that he met Elias Hicks, the very man whose beliefs split the Quaker Church into Hicksite and Orthodox.  That got my attention because I happen to own the original two pamphlets published in 1824 that concern that split.

The Quaker split was on account of Hicks drift from the official Quaker dogma, and it interested me that religious questing was as discouraged in the early 19th Century Brooklyn.  This is surprising because I was taught and I believed that our country was founded on religious freedom, and I would expect that less than 50 years after the Revolution, there would be a bit more tolerance of differing religious views.  To me that would mean allowing for personally seeking a greater understanding of the mysteries of existence.  But, no, I found out that when Elias Hicks views caused an uproar.

I did some research on the issue of colonial religion and found out that the Puritans – who brought us the Salem witch trials – were British Anglicans who wanted to reform that State church and were considered cranks because of it.  They left England for the purpose of expressing their religious beliefs more freely and made it against the law to skip Sunday services.  You would think they’d have developed a tolerance because of the way they were treated, but no.  In keeping with religious narrow-mindedness and bigotry, when the Puritans settled in colonial US, they made their religion the State religion and anyone veering from it was considered a heretic which included the Quakers.  One colonial governor went so far as to ask for help in sinking a ship in which Quakers were traveling. 

Having grown up in a home where I was taught that anyone not a Baptist was going to hell, I had a terrible aversion to other religions until I was out on my own and what I knew about Quakerism was limited to oats.  I was curious but afraid of exploring what was taught in those houses of worship that was so bad as to damn their members forever.  One of my great-grandfathers was a minister and he killed someone.  My grandfather was a minister and an adulterer.  I was hard pressed to understand what went on in a Lutheran church or a Quaker meeting that would lead me astray.

I’ve attended many different religious services as an adult, even venturing into a catholic mass or two, and on at least three occasions I attend a Quaker meeting.  All three of the Meetings I attended were Hicksite meetings where the people sat quietly together until someone felt compelled to speak, supposedly no preaching, and I don’t remember any singing either.

The first was in Austin where everyone sat quietly until someone spoke of the government’s policies in the Middle East.  When the meditation ended, I learned that the Meeting was sending a delegation to the Middle East to end or prevent (not sure) the violence there.  I said I thought that might be fruitless and someone explained to me that a delegation of Quakers went to Germany before WWII to speak to Hitler.  Thus making my point. 

The second Meeting I attended was in Santa Monica, California and a third at the Quaker Meeting House (circa 1857) at 110 Schemerhorn in Brooklyn.  During both meeting someone interrupting the meditative silence to speak passionately about politics and errors in political decision-making.  
All in all, the Meetings had a lot of what seemed like preaching to me, but nothing heretical. 

At any rate, I set forth here a quote from one of the pamphlets – this one published by Elias Hicks – The Misrepresentation of Anna Braithwait in Relation to the Doctrines Preached by Elias Hicks Together with the Refutation of the Same in a Letter from Elias Hicks.

Braithwait stated:

            “[Hicks] conceived the writings of Confucius and of many of the philosophers were equally of Divine Revelation with the scriptures; that the heathen nations of the Mahometans, Chinese, and Indian bore greater evidence of the influence of Divine Light than professing Christians.” (pg. 9 of above document)

It sounds so modern (except for the spelling).  And not a word about the government.  

At any rate, I’m glad to own the pamphlets which I found not in Brooklyn, but in Los Angeles.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


Fort Greene is one of the tres cool gentrifying neighborhoods in Brooklyn. As trendy as the other neighborhoods around Brooklyn Heights, it’s gotten really expensive to live there.  But Fort Greene has something extra to offer for the money.  Pratt Institute, one of the best art schools in the country, is in Fort Greene and the students leave their mark.  If you want to see art in a park, on the walls of buildings, on the sidewalk, sticking out of trash cans, visit Fort Greene. 

Pratt Institute Sculpture Garden
The first time I was in Fort Greene it was on a walk from Prospect Park to Chinatown in Manhattan and I didn’t spend any time looking around because I was already feeling the cement against my feet.  I was in Fort Green the second time was because I was hired as an extra in a Spike Lee film.  I sat reading in an attic-like room in a row house all afternoon and never got called to the set.  The last time I was in Fort Greene I had a fabulous walk around, visiting a fabulous organic grocery on Myrtle Avenue, exploring the sculpture gardens of Pratt Institute, looking at the refurbished brownstones, the graffiti, the Christmas decorations.
Fort Greene's version of the guard dog

Of course there is history.  Pratt Institute was originally a vocational school that offered classes in sewing and stenography ( (the school website doesn’t make clear that it was originally intended as a technical institute for training industrial workers).  It’s now a major art and architectural college.

Charles Pratt, one of Rockerfeller's partners, funded the school.  Pratt was owner of Astral Oil Works, a refinery in Brooklyn mainly producing kerosene for lamps.  One of their ads claimed: “burns in any lamp without danger of exploding.”  That is certainly a plus, BUT in 1880 the whole plant exploded.  Astral Oil changed their ads to read: “The holy lamps of Tibet are primed with Astral oil.” Tibet being so far away and all, no one would hear about explosions over there.

Pratt was one of the oil men who opposed John D. Rockefeller’s Southern Improvement Company scheme when Rockefeller colluded with railroads to get a 33% rebate on ALL shipments of oil.  That allowed Rockefeller to cut his oil prices and put the competition out of business.  What a guy!  Eventually, Rockefeller convinced Pratt to partner with him.  No comment.

Pratt built a home on Clinton Avenue in Fort Greene which is just a few blocks from Pratt Institute.  His son built a house next door.  Both are still standing and are used by institutions.  The Pratts also built homes in Glen Cove on Long Island and so many of them lived out there that they have their own private Pratt cemetery behind gates.  Had I only known.