The Soul of Summer

Block Parties are the quintessence of the summer season in New York where youngsters and geezers mingle together in an outburst of freedom and shared happiness. I still remember my first experience with a block party back in 2007. I had just moved to New York on a beautiful block in the heart of Bed-Stuy, and my landlord told me about an upcoming “block party.” At the time, I wasn’t really sure what she meant or what to expect. I quickly understood.

That specific Sunday, I was suddenly awakened by the sounds emanating from a pile of stacked speakers in the middle of the street, right in front of my house. A couple of neighbors had chipped in to rent the speakers for the occasion. Another neighbor, Elvis, was fine-tuning balance levels while Trevor, who happened to be passing by, started to dance. I ran to the bodega and bought some ice-cold beers and hot dogs that I grilled on my stoop with a portable BBQ, and distributed them among the kids of the block.

Ever since that very first block party, I have always found the joyous atmosphere about them addictive. Even this past weekend, I was invited to a block party in Bushwick, Brooklyn by Angel, whom I met only a few days ago.

Ina Rubadub Style

Summer in the City

Angel had parked his cars horizontally across the street to block off traffic and installed some “do not cross” police barriers. When I arrived around 1pm, the fiesta had already begun, and the block was alive under the fire of the sun. The aroma of sizzled meat seasoned the humid air, and a few thick and steamy puffs of wind struggled to stir a huge Puerto Rican flag fixed on a street pole. Adults were chattering, dancing and laughing. Boys were riding their bikes and running all over the block, while girls were hula-hooping and jumping in inflatable pools. Angel waved at me while pounding the beat on a tin can – and with a quick sideways glance, immediately indicated where the coolers packed with ice and beers were located. “Toma, grab one, it is the only remedy against the heat,” he said.

Angel’s son, Angelito, had his iPod connected to the sound system and was caught in the middle of an intergenerational friction. While he had selected modern hip-hop tracks, old-timers demanded traditional Salsa Nuyorkina. Facing this growing pressure, Angelito switched to Ruben Blades. “Ok, ok – ay les va,” he said to settle things down. Angelito’s friends were shuffling tiles and exchanging singles a few feet away from the effervescence. An imperturbable chef was flipping dozen of patties while women were busy figuring out the food and refrescos logistics. Most of them had cooked delicious specialties all day the day before, and the foldable tables were filled with aluminum trays of bicultural delicacies. After eating a plateful of pernil and arroz con gandules, I took my camera and snapped a couple of pictures, trying my best to capture this vibrant laid back atmosphere and that marvelous sense of camaraderie.

On my way back home, I made a quick stop at another block party, where teens were shooting hoops and where grown-ups rode their motorized toys. I managed to take a couple of images before the firefighters arrived to turn off the spitting hydrant’s water works. Some angry neighbors might have complained about the low water pressure in the nearby blocks.

Words and images by Stephane Missier aka Charles le Brigand

All rights reserved. Une production de Brigand © 2012

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