Monday, May 31, 2010

Santa Cruzan

The kids on the mobile public works stage, Jersey City’s local harbinger that the Summer Street Fair season is beginning, rocked out. I liked the melody, it was catchy.

I was walking away from the block of second street that had been cordoned off. The lyrics were in Filipino. A young dude behind sang along. He responded to my surprise: “Oh that was a hit in the Philippines in the 90s. The band was the Eraser Heads, but they broke up.”

“I wonder if they were named after the David Lynch movie.”

“Who’s David Lynch.”

“What’s the name of the song.”

“I think the translation is the Great Proxy.”

You know, I knew that Jersey City was privileged to have a sizable Filipino population, and I know Manila is in the Philippines, but I had never put two and two together to realize that indeed, Manila Avenue is indeed the geographical nucleus of that community. It all makes sense now!

Saturday was the Santa Cruzan festival, which is translated as Holy Cross, which is a major celebration of this community. The Philippines are a fascinating culture with its unique blend of Asia and Hispania. My experience is that they are friendly and good natured and take a true joy in their religion. More than joy, a sincere and genuine pleasure, which when it comes to the complex subject of religion, is more uncommon than it should be. Catholicism and culture seem especially interwoven among the ex-pat Philippine community here in Downtown, which has been setting for this celebration for more than three decades.

On Second Street, besides the familiar portable stage were the familiar stands selling souvenirs, t-shirts, religious items and jewelry. A smattering of food vendors were present. The sun poured forth or is that down? I had gotten there around the time of the 2:30 mass, which was starting very late. Many of the women, young and old, were in resplendent evening gowns. There is a pageant connected to Santa Cruzan, where girls and women are crowned “reynas” or queens. What we saw on Sunday was just the tip of the ice-berg for Santa Cruzan, in addition to the pageant there was a “novena,” nine-days or prayers, mass attendance and communion receiving before Sunday.

Tradition holds that the novena is held to pray for good weather for Santa Cruzan. Who can resist the appeal of ye-ole customs?

Santa Cruzan celebrates the discovery of the One True Cross by Helena, mother of Emperor of Constantine, in the second century AD. Although controversial, Constantine spread Christianity and some scholars claim that it is because of him (and his mother) the cross is the universal symbol of Christianity. It could have been a fish, seriously. I digress.

The reason many of the women in attendance were accompanies by a young boy was that it symbol sized Queen Helena and her son., Emperor Constantine. It is believed she converted him from paganism. It also echoes Mary and her son Jesus. The various Reynas and other participants in the procession have additional symbolism associated with them. For example, one “queen” For example, Reyna Esther - the old testament matriarch who saved the Israelites, carries a scepter. Do some googling to find out all these symbols, there are many.

Thus they processed, north on Erie to 9th then back to 2nd Street via Manila Ave. A marching band with snare drum, tuba, trombone and trumpet led them. Many of the men wore the shiny white barongs, traditional shirts made from pineapple skins. I could imagine the same processions taking place in the rural and semi-rural regions of the archpelligio nation. But it wasn’t just a Fillipinio party. Behind the traditional Santa Cruzan procession were groups from other countries with their own icon of the Blessed Mother. More than a dozen at least. These icons are on view at St. Mary’s Church on 2nd street and they range from well known images, such as Our Lady of Guadelupe, popular throughout Central and South America to Our Lady of La Vang, which commemorates an apparation of Mary that appeared in Vietnam in 1798.

Devotions to Mary from across the globe were represented in this procession. May is the Month of Mary and the Santa Cruzan became a reason for everybody to come out and when I say everybody, not just a United Nations of ethnic groups but multi-generational too. all age groups had something to do with this event. You didn’t have to be Catholic, or have any particular religious belief, or identify yourself as a member of the groups here to appreciate the tradition and the inclusivity.

Maybe it’s like St. Patricks Day, everybody is Filipino on Santa Cruzan day. It’s more than that though.This procession didn’t just traverse a few blocks in a certain neighborhood in New Jersey, it reached back centuries and traversed the globe and will be processing every May long after we’re gone. Want to transcend time and space? All we need is some faith and each other.

Hamilton Park: Born Again For All

Nobody was smoking. This sounds like an odd initial impression and in fact, it wasn’t the first thought I had when had my personal premier of the renovated Hamilton Park on Saturday. My first thought was nice job. But as I sat there in the beautiful spring weather, soaking up the sun and the lively and pleasant atmosphere, I soon thought that. No lit cigarettes are in sight. Everything was so clean, there were so many kids and parents out and about; smoking would be likely frowned upon. Good thing I don’t smoke.... any more. Haven’t since September, I’ve quit. I think about it often, I miss it, and quitting was just about the hardest thing I’ve ever accomplished. The reason I thought about the smoking at this particular moment is that I smoked many a cigarette in Hamilton Park, walking through it or pausing and lingering, especially in the warm weather months. The park closed when I was still smoking. Now, the park has changed and so have I, and so far for the better and a greater good.
The children’s playground has been moved from near the gazebo to northwest quadrant and expanded. The tennis and basketball courts have been refurbished. Two basketball games were being played simultaneously on Saturday and a few folks watched in the small set of newly erected stands or sat in the fresh, clean grass. Two dog runs—for small and large “breeds,” since I guess mutts are frowned upon as the socioeconomic makeup up of our town escalates, at least in these parts. Thank God for these dog runs, finally something our local politicians and real estate moguls achieved is good for the community. Dogs ran wild in this park, causing a serious health and safety hazard. I actually wrote a letter, published in the Hudson Reporter, went to the police station, put fliers—Unleashed is Illegal. People who live more directly in the vicinity are well aware of these political battles. I don’t need to recount them here. The debate lasted for years and pitted neighbor against neighbor. I don’t want to get on a rant or let free my familiar flood of memories on this issue. That’s now past and a new, safer era of responsible pet ownership has begun and seeing how happy those canines cavorting together in their own private enclosure gladdened my heart. Finally, the park has facilities where these animals are encouraged to be good dogs. There needs to be more places to sit and in fact, the reorganization of space and the additions of the dog runs removed an area of tables and benches. Granted, this particular space had been taken over by some borderline types, they wandered over from the St. Lucy’s Shelter and other places. I never saw them as dangerous, they were never unruly. But their presence meant most of the time, you avoided that particular area. There seems to be no place for groups, of any kind—except for children and their parents and dogs and their owners—to congregate. That’s a trade-off I’m unhappy with. There is less grass, but it’s green and clean and free of dogs and their waste products.

Children of all ages running about, playing each other, parents having a good time being parents—everyone safe from unleashed dogs—that was just great. Moments like that, where you feel good about the present, the future, society as a whole... your city, state, country, world... seriously, those moments are few and far between and when they come they’re intrinsically fleeting. It behooves us all to appreciate them when they’re here. Cities outlast us. Cities are us, but we’re no more than residents and care-takers. We’re temporary. Hamilton Park is not just for those lucky enough to be able to afford the skyrocketing real estate prices of that neighborhood; this park belongs to the entire city. In fact, because of how it is funded, it actually belongs to the entire state of N.J. It was around before I got here and will be around long after I’m gone and that’s true for every one of us, even those endearing children playing beneath the sunshine of May. We’ll have to wait another 20 years for such a comprehensive renovation. Aside from the arrogance of the dog owners disobeying the leash laws, I loved the slightly run down aspects of this city park. Probably because I’m slightly run down too.

At some time in the past, what had become run down was once new. I’m sure what we see now will some day seem run down, and another renovation will be implemented. This too will pass; at least eventually will be out of date. How rare that we get to enjoy an old park that’s new again. It is not often nor common that we get to experience a new city park to accompany a new summer. I’ll be reflecting on that as the seasons change in this reborn setting. We missed the park. Closed for more than a year, the renovation delayed for various reasons. I did my part with several posts featuring wise ass complaints. I can quibble with details of the renovation. It really doesn’t matter if it is worth it or not. The park is back and so are we.

I spent some time on a bench, not smoking, drinking an iced tea. I usually read, but not today. I had a moment to enjoy as did everybody there.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Newark to Washington

Amtrak pulls into Newark Penn Station. I had to do a gig in Washington D.C. for the day job, took the train, about 7:24 AM. Amtrak is a national treasure. Trains are just a wonderful way of travel, the metaphor of the tracks, the egalitarian feeling shared by passengers trains inspire, the friendly attitude of the we love our job Amtrak employees, the landscape rolling by the window. I arrived for the business deal relaxed and refreshed, reading a lot, napping a bit too. Union Station is a fantastic station too. My one complaint, no place to view trains pulling into the station. In Newark you can of course. Wait on the platform and there in the distance, at the bend, the I know you rider I wish I was a headlight on a Northbound (in this case, Southbound) train. Ruminating about trains always leads to a song reference. Trains made this country great and Amtrak continues that fine tradition. Every time I have a chance to take Amtrak I’m thankful and thankful I live in a country that has an Amtrak.

Building Faces

Faces on buildings, faces made of stone. 19th century commemoration of ancient ruins where they found sculpture embedded in the exterior. Do they invite and welcome, maybe even entice; or are they there to protect the structure and its inhabits, like gargoyles who scare away even more evil entities or the blood of a slaughtered lamb the Israelites used in Exodus to protect their homes from the Angel of death, a sign so grief bypasses this dwelling. Are they symbols of some lost original purpose of the buildings, the spirits of the house?. Somewhere on the upper west side. Post-neo-classical revival of classicism. The faces peak in from the past, we notice them infrequently yet they’ve been watching us since we got here.

Taxi Driver

I went to Taxi Driver because I didn’t care to see the other films in the Loew’s 70s weekend and I love seeing movies on that 50 foot screen. In celebration of the theater’s 80th anniversary this year, the weekend-a-month film series followed the decade theme. Seeing All Along the Water Front (50s) and To Kill A Mocking Bird (60s) were truly memorable cinematic experiences. I had never seen Taxi Driver on the big screen. Martin Scorsese is a great director, but he is sometimes hit or miss. Of course, when he hits, like Goodfellas or the under-rated Shutter Island, he hits big and his misses, like Bringing Out the Dead are still worthwhile (okay, Boxcar Bertha and After Hours may be exceptions to that rule). I kind of always thought Taxi Driver was more in the miss category, I found it an over-rated film. More Death Wish than Virgin Spring. My opinion is different after the Loew’s viewing. The film is intense and disturbing, a character study of alienation and a snapshot of that transitory period between the two very different social upheavals of the 60s and the 80s (Reagonimcs changed America as much as the Civil Rights Movement, but not for the better). Scorsese is well-known as a dedicated cineaphile and his love of Noir holds no bounds. I saw Taxi Driver years ago. I’ve seen thousands of films since, especially Noir films. The blend of Italian Realism with Noir in Taxi Driver startled me. No one was making films like this when Taxi Driver was made and now that style is how all (okay, almost all, a lot) films are made. Loew’s always throws in some extras: A discussion and Q&A with a film scholar followed and this little exhibit of autographed publicity stills. I was too shaken from the film to stay for the Q&A. Needless to say, I avoided the cab line at the Journal Square station. No, I’m not looking at you, swear. Actually, this one moment stuck with me. The shoot-out at the end, the vengeance, when Travis Bickle shoots the pimp and johns as the child-hooker watches in horror. He looks around at the results of his violence—bodies a bloody mess in this dingy urban setting. He puts the barrel of the gun under his chin and pulls the trigger. Click, click. No Bullets. The audience sympathizes, even identifies with Deniro at this point of the film. You want to kill yourself and the anguish you feel comes from the fact you are now unable to commit suicide. What a disturbing feeling, but that’s what the 70s were often like. I felt that way all the time in High School. I recently re-watched The Departed, and during the (or least one of the) shoot-em up finales of that flick, one of the shooters uses the same gun under the chin gesture but this time the pistol fires – was this an inside comment by the director of the change in eras? I guess that’s why I love the movies—in a way, movies also watch you, they also watch us. I have seen it before, more than once, but in reality, I saw Tax Driver for the first time last week. Or perhaps it was the first time now. Was it because I’ve become a better appreciator of films or was it the big, glorious screen (and enthusiastic, appreciative audience) of the Loew’s? Both are true, so maybe both are to blame.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Abandoned Church Branch

Wandered by the abandoned St. Lucy church on 15th Street the other day. Click here for a story about the saint and her statue in J.C. It’s a wonderful old brick structure, and I noticed something weird, a kind of tree branch growing in a portion of the front window. What the heck is that, an accident or on purpose? Still, the icon is a somewhat disturbing image, even the more impressionistic rendering in this monotone statute.

Serenading Cyclists with Rock & Soul Music

Caught a rare stripped-down version of the Ones & Nines, Jersey City’s best soul band. Their debut CD, reviewed here is pretty awesome and live they mix up their originals with obscure and (depending on how you define semi) semi-obscure Rock & Roll, R&B and Soul classics—of course, if they’re obscure, are they really classic? Discuss. The sound these cats engender though it isn’t just a revival of that classic Stax and related rhythms, they move the story forward. Usually, there’s a horn section but after the set, Guitarist and song writer Jeff Marino told me that the gig was booked on short notice and the horn player (s) couldn’t make it.
Perhaps due to the lack of the wind instruments, the set had a harder edge. Vera Sousa was in fine voice and seemed especially energetic. I seem to recall an outstanding “Something on Your Mind,” one of their originals. The thing is that this group adheres so seamlessly to these classic sounds that you can’t tell the covers from the originals, especially since the covers tend towards rarely heard gems. The set with spirited, upbeat rockers about love with a poignant “You're Taking Up Another Man's Place,” a Mabel Johns Stax single that had me dusting off the box set and playing it when I got home. Mabel Johns has a fascinating career, most recently she appeared in Honey Dripper, a great John Sayles film. She was one of the few Soul Divas on both Stax and Motown, and her Stax singles are powerful. Where as Johns sings this as a lament, Vera infuses it with a Gen Y feminist energy, bringing a contemporary sensibility to this timeless War of the Sexes ditty. There’s no pleading here, just a clear and refreshingly deliberate warning to the guy to stop doing her wrong.

You think those Groove on Grove gigs are tough, this Exchange Place format was a real challenge, echo all over the place—Vera told me the musicians couldn’t hear each other. No stage, not even a raised platform. They were playing on the sidewalk. Coupled with the fact that everybody was here for the bike-deal, a ten mile tour of Jersey City on bicycles, ending down here on Exchange Place. Nobody was here to hear music. Well, except yours truly. They played a good set, and I noticed that while the first part of the set, crowds just flowed through sort of indifferent to the songs, by the set’s conclusion, which included the aforementioned Mabel Johns Rendition, the number of lingering and interested listeners grew.

The bass player, Alex Tyshkov seemed to be having an exceptional afternoon, or maybe his instrument merely survived the less than optimal sound mixing at the event. I talked to him after the set. He was playing some pretty mean riffs. I wondered if the bass had to step up to the plate so to speak because of the lack of the horn section. “The temptation is to compensate with a lot of noodling and filling in the spaces. But what you want to do is get out of the way and let the groove speak for itself.”

Visit: face or space

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Life-Like Celebrity Sighting

I’ll admit it here and now, just to clear my conscious. I never saw Titanic. I just didn’t give a shit or what have you and I missed it and then its success turned me off. I forgot that Leonardo DiCaprio was in it. He brought a great memoir, This Boy’s Life to life, to cinematic life, a rare feat, and with reasonable crediblity protrayed both Jim Carrol and Arthur Rimbaud. I loved the Departed and Shutter Island is one of the best films of 2010. I strolled through Times Square last week. I try to avoid that part of the city and I’m usually successful in doing so but you can’t avoid it entirely forever and there he was, Leonardo Wilhelm DiCaprio. Just so you don’t think I’ve turned Paparazzi, it’s a wax statue, outside the wax museum. Stuff like this makes you want to join the bring back the peep shows, hookers and junkies movement, but alas, not everybody can live here so welcome tourists. Pretty life-like for a celebrity. For a moment I thought it was him too, for real. I was thinking: wow, he’s much more tan in real life. Turns out he was wax. What you don’t see is the crowd of women, mostly women, in a semi-circle a few feet from the faux DiCaprio. I have a feeling they know Titanic a lot better than the fake Rimbaud poems in Total Eclipse (a cheesy movie but he wasn’t bad in it). I liked The Aviator. The women took turns in getting their pictures taken with the wax likeness. The young lady here happens to be my sister-in-law, who was visiting. I ran across this ironic quote on his wiki entry. "I have no connection with me during that whole Titanic Phenomenon and what my face became around the world. I'll never reach that state of popularity again, and I don't expect to. It's not something I'm going to try to achieve either." Those fawning over your wax statue on this time square sidewalk might see it differently.

Friday, May 21, 2010


I love turtles. I remember having a baby snapping turtle as a pet, it was as tiny as one of those green sliders sold in pet stores and it never got any bigger, having died. My older brother gave it to me, caught in a creek. No, no, he didn’t give it to me, he held a raffle, that’s right. He held a fair. It was the suburbs, kids did this sort of thing back then. We weren’t as supervised. The fair consisted of selling lemonade and cookies and turning the garage into a spook house and there was a raffle for a baby snapping turtle he caught in the creek a couple of towns over. My brother told me he fixed the raffle so I would win the turtle. I didn’t like the corruption, I guess it was a life lesson. What a cute reptile, black and those snappers, had a lot of energy, they can’t go back into their shell like other terrapin. I remember feeding it tiny bits of raw hamburger meat, dropping them into the little plastic bowl. The turtle didn’t last too long. A few years later, I had a box turtle I named Tank, who died in the winter. I kept him in the basement in this kiddy pool, I made a home for him there. I didn’t have a heat source and the poor guy just died. Don’t believe those Rocky movies, turtles are hard pets to keep. One of the first books I remember is Timothy Turtle. Not many books had my name in the title. I was a little young for The Epistles. Creatures would climb on his back and he ferried them across the river. I just like turtles, I’ve been known to go to rivers and such and watch turtles. It was a favorite activity with Nancy down in Virginia. We would watch them, mainly painters and muds, although a few green sliders were seen. It was at this park in Newport News, a kind of inlet from the James River and one of the rangers told me it was getting to be a problem, the green turtles were let go by former owners and were starting to become an invasive species. I saw this guy in Central Park the other day. I love the way turtles move, how they swim underneath the surface of the water with only their snouts sticking through, like a snorkel. Central Park ponds have a sizeable and healthy turtle population and it’s their season now. Go some time when it’s hot and sunny and watch them languish on the rocks and logs. Watching turtles gives me, albeit fleeting, a sense of peace and happiness. I love their perseverance, their ability to persevere even though they are perpetually alone, eternally within their shell. I saw a photograph that morning in the Times, the BP oil spill in the Gulf, a green sea turtle turned petroleum black. This guys safe in Central Park, ready for another summer of soaking up the rays of the sun, eating and mating.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Booster Gold

Big news. Booster Gold mentioned Jersey City last week. I read a few DC Titles. Booster Gold hasn’t been as good as some of the others, but it is still fun. Booster Gold is actually from the future, the 25th Century, returned to the 20th, a-hem, I mean, 21st century to make fortune and fame and his super powers, which are flight and energy rays, are actually 25th century tech. He struggles with his greed and arrogance as he does good as a super hero. Recently, he’s been time traveling to set the universe right by cleaning up the time-line, which is just a contrivance to give him an excuse to revisit famous DC comic book stories. In this one, he is in the 30th century during the Great Darkness Saga, a famous Legion of Super Heroes story from the 80s. The “Contact Lens” is a glib reference to the Emerald Eyed, a super-powered floating Eye that is the main weapon of the Emerald Princess, a member of the Fatal Five and villain for the teen hero team 1,000 years in the future. So, there’s the background. The art is great in the magazine, although the writing tends toward the “fan boy.” The Jersey City reference I didn’t like only because it seemed forced. I felt the writer was making an inside joke. I bet he or one of his close friends live here. It just didn’t seem to be a natural turn of phrase, a replacement for kingdom come, as in, from here to kingdom come. Oshkosh is often used. Jersey City – what was the point in using Jersey City? Any earth city is as far from the planet where this particular adventure is set. The idea that Jersey City is so out of the way as to imply far, it just isn’t so. Anyway, some clunky writing there, in my opinion. I don’t read Marvel (although I see the films), so I can’t compare, but DC sometimes does this sort of thing, gets too inside jokey. So, I can’t quite recommend Booster Gold, although I will still buy the title for now. Usually the humor works much better. But, since this is the only comic book reference I’ve seen for our city, thought it was worth posting.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Fresh Fire Hydrant

I missed the actual installation. But look at this brand new Fire Hydrant. It’s also known as a Fire Plug, and I guess the long riser pipe attached to the hydrant does “plug” into the municipal water supply. I just dug the image. We take the things for granted; we never see what is beneath a fire hydrant. Okay, I’ve ranted about the reason for this sidewalk deconstruction, but now that it nears completion, I have to applaud. I wonder when the last time was that Christopher Columbus got a new Fire Plug. Just in time for the neighborhood kids to use it as a sprinkler this summer. I wonder which of the local dogs will raise his leg to our fresh fire hydrant.