Early this morning I attended the most fascinating event I have ever attended in this city. It was a blast, one of those "only in New York" events...though I'm sure it occurs wherever there is a strong Caribbean population.
It's called "j'ouvert," which is a slang contraction of "jour ouvert" in French, which means daybreak. It's the pre-party for the West Indian Day Parade that's happening as I type this.
Anyone who's attended the Parade on Eastern Parkway knows that it is a madhouse. The sidewalks are packed with people; the stands are selling great food and clothing, but all overpriced; the police and their barricades make it impossible for you to get where you need to go; there are men drunk on rum punch trying to touch you, grind against you, yell things at you. All of this eventually wears you down and you can no longer enjoy all the fantastic music emanating from the floats, all the scents of the jerk chicken and oxtail stew and all the beautiful handmade clothing and trinkets.
What makes j'ouvert soooo much better than the Parade is that it's not crowded...at all. It helps that j'ouvert starts in the middle of the night...literally. For me, the night began around 12:30am when I arrived at my friend's house where we made ghetto rum punches and talked about home decorating. At around 2am, we headed out to the street, where there was a mini-fair behind the Brooklyn Museum and some food vendors had already set up their booths. People were walking up and down the street and cars were blasting reggae and calypso. After an hour or so, when we thought we had missed the festivities, we discovered that they hadn't even begun. Small floats carrying nothing but steel drums began to stop traffic on Eastern Parkway and turned down Flatbush Avenue.
Flatbush then became a block party in the middle of the night. Float upon float moved down the street and steel drums...many played by women!...pounded out melodious music. My friends and I worked our way up and down the street, sampling the music from the different floats like a buffet. We bought whistles to blow as we danced. We tried to avoid the young guys covering people in paint...that is until my face got covered with it. We got powder thrown on us from all directions. And the entire time, we just danced.
We saw some outrageous stuff. There was a man who covered himself in black paint then sprayed oil on top of the paint so his blackness shined. There were grandmothers wearing nothing but a bathing suit and a pair of sneakers grinding their booties up against 15-year-old boys...who loved every minute of it. There were hippie hipsters who clearly were tired of waiting for the G train and decided to party with some folks, and didn't care their white skin made them stand out like a beacon. There were Korean women fully clad in rain gear...they had definitely been here before.
We finally left around 5:30 in the morning. Our conclusion was that we had arrived too early. People were heading down Washington Av. just starting their adventure as we were wrapping up.
It is an event that I almost blew off..."It's too late. I'm too tired."...but it was an experience unlike any other in this City and so was well worth it. I am so glad I was there. My friends and I laughed and ate and flirted and danced and made noise...and fit right in. How often does that happen?