Monday, January 7, 2013

Gumbo Memoirs: New Years from Brighton Beach Beach to the Lower East Side





I have always been weary of New Years parties.  There are too many other fun things to do every day than worry about making a big night of December 31, too many other adventures to enjoy of everyday life.   Over the weeks of the holidays, we enjoyed adventure after adventure, careening into a New Years polar bear plunge, trip to a community garden, a few parties, meetings, and lots and lots of gumbo.

Stumbling upon a tree in Princeton.
Photos Helena Hooper Shepard


Wandering through the park, we found this majestic tree still down after Sandy.  The kids run up and down exploring it for ages.  I'll take these adventures over New Years any day.

But I love seeing everyone, the friends of my life, catching up on our year, thanking them for being there.

 Most years on New Years, we drop the kids off at the grandparents and hang out.  This year, we decided to hang out with them the whole week, the whole holiday. 

Hanging at Bar Tabac with gals.


Going to Bar Tabac for lunch, out to parties till midnight, where Scarlett proudly reveled in seeing the fireworks for the first time. 


By one am we said goodbye, so we could get enough sleep for the New Year's day Polar Bear Swim.  I had never done it before. 

We dropped by the house on the way out to Coney Island.


 My friend Eric Rofes once said the growth is trying new things, going to the uncomfortable place and checking in with my body.  So why not jump in the water with five hundred other new best friends.

Taking the F train looking at the city.

At Coney Island, there was a line of people registering to swim, which myself and a group of renegade swimmers ignored.  Must all of life be regulated and registered in Bloomberg's New York - but not on new year's.
Top photo by Kathey Willens, Middle by Sports Illustrated.
Bottom by Caroline Shepard


Running in, jumping into the water felt great, ice and air, taking in some cold, feeling the energy with so many others, enjoying the hot and cold, of the new years before changing into warm clothes.

Warm clothes helped after the plunge.

Finishing the swim, I changed back into warm clothes and we went down to Brighten Beach to our favorite Russian restaurant, at Cafe Volna.


From Brighten Beach, we grabbed a train off the East Village for Brennan and Catherine's New Years Party. 




 A late lunch into early dinner affair it tends to be one of the best parties of the year.




And this year, it did not disappoint. Old and new friends, warm food, stories, and black eyed peas were enjoyed by all in this little party on 7th street across from the Lower East Side Ecology Center.




2011 New Years Pile on with the Times Up! gang at Brennan and Catherine's.

Most fun was chatting with new people, while old chums poured  in and the crowds meshed. 


Flirting and gossiping about my dad's old thesis advisor Tom Roach... "Joking comes from me, not the class," the dandy old English prof used to explain in class.  


"I am in a great mood.  The reviews for my new book are out.  And they look great,"   my friend recalled him boasting.

"I thought reviews come out after a book is out," he asked.

"My dear, you cannot leave these things up to chance," Roach replied.  After retiring Roach ran away from Princeton to have a mad affair.


I will always appreciate him and him generous bountiful spirit, which lent itself to fun times across the board.
Others at the party were dancing and spinning records, listening to the Clash

Shaking to Strummer's pop inspired Marxist poetics.



As Lost in a Supermarket came on, Alissa pointed out that the Clash were borrowing from Ginsberg's Supermarket in California.  They were all buddies, we recalled.  But I hadn't seen the connection between the Beats and Punk.  But in this whimsical way, it made sense.  







In between hanging with the kids, dancing and chatting with Barbara, peter, josh, brennan and his hop n johns, the kids were  patching buttons.  "I see a diy punk spirit taking shape there," Catherine mused, noting Scarlett's many buttons. 

Scarlett with many buttons.
Satchmo playing St. Louis Blues.
Josh sat thinking about St. Louis Blues and Mardi Gras.
Josh and the author.



Dodi punched me on the way out.  I asked her why. "The smack, it was an funny ironic punch," my nine year old daughter explained after spending five hours at the New Years party. 

"A funny ironic punch?"

We laughed, reveling in a funny holiday moment, after a day of adventures.

Finally, we were home and off home to bed. I found two buttons on my back declaring: " Kick Me" and "Punch me."  Old slap stick jokes die hard, the appeal  unending.

THe next day, we woke slowly and ran to spa castle in Queens.  From Russian Brighten Beach to Korean Queens, the mix of cultures ,  bodies, naked, enjoying the steam, chilling out, laying around, this is part of the fun of the city.

Spinning around the whirl pool with the kids on the roof, steam rose from our warm bodies, into the colder winter air, the sun shimmering.  I wondered why or how I could be so lucky to be having this much fun.
The line up for Gone with a Fiddler.


Thursday, friends were coming over for  another night of gone with the fiddler with Steve and Ron, old friends and new.


Dodi helped me make the rue.  And Scarlett and Caroline loved it loved it.

Top okra, green, red, and yellow peppers, tomatos, onions and the roux,
later adding crawfish, oysters, crab, and shrimp.
The alchemy of flavors in the gumbo.
Dodi helped make the rue. Caroline and company didn't seem to mind it.

So in honor of Sandy, we revised the apocalypse, wondering if the movies can give us answers about what our life might look like in the face of the abyss.  Most of life's answers can be found in the movies.  So we might as well look.

Dystopian images in the 1981 film the Road Warrior.


Two of the top fifty dystopian films of all time - Road Warrior and Boy and His Dog.

Both felt like scenes from old spaghetti westerns, a look at what the world might and could look like.

And Peter's favorite movie... The Third Man ... seemed to lead them all, with masterful gorgeous image after image, surpassing the others by a mile.  
Orson Welles was
 actually alive and other scenes from The Third Man.


THe evening finished with a journey into old new york with After Hours, still one of my favorite movies about the delights of being lost.




Up to Al's in Garrison Friday.

Picking banjo and enjoying the snow.


Back to NYC by Saturday, feeding chickens at Children's Magical with Wendy in the morning. 




We have the solutions to so many of our problems - from community gardens to non-polluting transportation - right here in front our eyes.  We can provide food security with gardens which reduce alienation and help people connect.  We can plant more trees, fight fracking, use more solar energy so fossil fuel goes the way of 78 records.  We can use oyster mushrooms to remediate oil spills and we can eat them Michael Ellick reminds us. The earth has a way of replenishing itself.  We have the solutions.  Sometimes it is just up to us to use our imagination to find them.

Leaving the garden, i brought a few of the eggs to friends at a party.

On our way to Ft Greene.


Enjoying Gumbo with company that afternoon.  Many have said gumbo is the closest thing we know to democracy in America, stirring flavors from the generous mixture of textures, flavors, culinary and cultural histories. 

Greeting friends.


Turning flower and oil into alchemy.   

Kevin makes a file gumbo, building a seafood stock from the shells of shrimp, adding the rue to the seafood stock, then crab shells, sausage, and then pouring it over rice.

After almost 40 minutes, the roux was ready.

We cooked all afternoon.

Working hard all afternoon.

Went to Judson.  Doris needed her tree taken down.  So Scarlett and I helped her take down her ornaments, ran the tree to the street and romped around the village all afternoon. 

Chasing windmills with Scarlett and her magic wand all afternoon.

Ran back to Brooklyn and then back downtown to help organize at New Alternatives for LGBT Youth and a meeting  at 60 Wall Street, where plans are in motion for the new direct action group to unleash some creative chaos on MLK weekend for the anniversary of Citizen's United.  OWS is a place where ACT UP and Radical Faeries meet anarchists, street youth, moms and families, immigrants and jazz musicians. We will use as much art, as many images, stories  as we can.  One of the members of our meeting noted last night that change does not happen through one action or another but waves of actions. Sundery, we were planning waves.
Walking past the old Keller's Bar, South, past the Ear Inn to 60 Wall Street
By Monday, it was back to Times Up! meetings and tar sands blockade street theater Tuesday.

"Trust me, I'm an energy expert," noted CJ.
Photos by
Mickey Z-vegan, who gave me a lovely copy of his new book at the meeting.
Friends and street theater - it looks like OWS is moving again.


The year's rituals and meetings, poetry and polar bear dives - they help me find meaning and pleasure in the  contours of my life.  By the time the year had started so had our battles and struggles.  A friend was hit by a car, another lost to a long battle with cancer.  The losses and chaos was there, yet so is our festival of joyous resistance.  We're bringing on waves.

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