32

Crown Heights

CH intro

 

What a week. It started in the Caribbean and ended up in Russia…

This week’s neighbourhood, Crown Heights, was actually the very first one Coco and I stuck our noses in when we arrived in NY three weeks ago. I knew it was a West Indian enclave but what I didn’t know until I started talking to the locals there was that every year it hosts a huge carnival – the Labour Day Parade, a celebration of West Indian/Caribbean culture that stomps and shimmies its way down the main drag (Eastern Parkway) on the first Monday in September.

How could I miss that? I decided to put Crown Heights off until then and chose another neighbourhood for my first NY installment.

Which is how I ended up ‘in the Caribbean’ last Monday. And the Russia bit? We’ll get to that later.

First, some facts. Crown Heights is in Brooklyn. Was posh and white in the early 20th century, then became more working class and black, a mix of West Indian and African American – while at the same time housing a large Hasidic Jewish minority. This mix of such different cultures was the original reason I wanted to explore the neighbourhood – and after last week’s look at the South Williamsburg Jews, I was even more intrigued.

Let’s go Crown Heights!

 

Part 1: Before the parade

Before I decided to put Crown Heights on ice until the Labour Day Parade, I’d already taken quite a few snaps. It was a Saturday, and across Eastern Parkway I noticed smartly dressed women sitting on benches.

Turns out they were from the Seventh Day Adventist Church across the street and Saturday was their church day. Having found the black Africans a little chilly in Paris, I approached with caution – but I needn’t have. You couldn’t hope to meet a friendlier bunch of people than the congregation of Shiloh Seventh Day Adventist Church.

 

 

in their Saturday best - outside the Seventh-Day Adventist Church - Danie, Sunshine and girls

in their Saturday best – Danie, Sunshine and girls

 

 

 

 

"Black women shouldn't have to straighten or braid their hair" - Danie, fighting for follicle freedom

“Black women shouldn’t have to straighten or braid their hair” – Danie, fighting for follicle freedom

 

 

 

 

perfect lines

the opposite – perfect lines

 

 

 

 

Patricia and Shianne :: 1

Patricia and Shianne :: 1

 

 

 

 

Patricia and Shianne :: 2

Patricia and Shianne :: 2

 

 

 

 

"I always wear a hat to church, always"

“I always wear a hat to church, always”

 

 

 

 

That church was just one of the many that we would find during our time in Crown Heights – and they come in all different shapes and sizes. From the Seventh Day Adventists to the Baptist churches and the Spiritual churches – and Mount Faith Zion Church, headed by Bishop Roach…

 

 

Bishop R.C. Roach, Mount Faith Zion Church

Bishop R.C. Roach, Mount Faith Zion Church

 

 

 

 

all welcome

all welcome

 

 

 

 

On the first wander in Crown Heights we also met some delightful local kids, all from a Jamaican background – Naomi and brother Fabian were having a ‘go’ of a stretch limo parked outside their house. They knew the driver and were testing it out.

 

 

rockstar for a second - Naomi :: 1

rockstar for a second – Naomi :: 1

 

 

 

 

rockstar for a second - Naomi :: 2

rockstar for a second – Naomi :: 2

 

 

 

 

Fabian

Fabian

 

 

 

 

Before leaving I took a quick shot of Naomi with a friend, hanging outside their homes on Eastern Parkway. It would be a very different scene when I returned three weeks later…

 

 

chillin' - Naomi and Kalila

chillin’ – Naomi and Kalila

 

 

 

 

Part 2: The Labour Day Parade

Like I said, a very different Crown Heights greeted me as I hopped off the 3 train last Monday – wild, deafeningly loud and incredibly proud. This was the West Indies’ day – Jamaica, Grenada, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago et al – and they were making sure everyone knew it.

 

 

a statue of liberty

a statue of liberty

 

 

 

 

"It's a chance for my kids to see my culture" - Jamaican born Virginia and her girls

“It’s a chance for my kids to see my culture” – Jamaican born Virginia and her girls

 

 

 

 

Jaden and Joel

Jaden and Joel

 

 

 

 

Robert - "I'm from Jamaica of course!"

Robert – “I’m from Jamaica of course!”

 

 

 

 

because it wasn't noisy enough - Daniel playing the air horn

because it wasn’t noisy enough – Daniel playing the air horn

 

 

 

 

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

 

 

 

 

And the parade itself? Rhinestones, glitter, feathers and lots of skin – I was no longer in South Williamsburg…

 

 

a bird of paradise in a sea of blue

a bird of paradise in a sea of blue

 

 

 

 

he can't take his eyes off her

he can’t take his eyes off her

 

 

 

 

For months, costume-makers have been hunched over hot glue-guns, applying copious amounts of rhinestones and feathers to outfits like Alana’s…

 

 

more rhinestones and feathers than usual

more rhinestones and feathers than usual

 

 

 

 

marching for Trinidad and Tobago :: 1

marching for Trinidad and Tobago :: 1

 

 

 

 

marching for Trinidad and Tobago :: 2

marching for Trinidad and Tobago :: 2

 

 

 

 

I like his head dress too

I like his head dress too

 

 

 

 

purple pucker

purple pucker

 

 

 

 

all shapes and sizes :: 1

all shapes and sizes :: 1

 

 

 

 

all shapes and sizes :: 2

all shapes and sizes :: 2

 

 

 

 

Days later Coco and I visited the nearby Brooklyn Botanic Garden – and all the memories of the Labour Day Parade came flooding back…

 

 

yellow eyes :: 1

yellow eyes :: 1

 

 

 

 

yellow eyes :: 2

yellow eyes :: 2

 

 

 

 

scales :: 1

scales :: 1

 

 

 

 

scales :: 2

scales :: 2

 

 

 

 

scales :: 3

scales :: 3

 

 

 

 

Part 3: The Chabad-Lubavitch Jews of Crown Heights

I did know before I visited the nighbourhood that the Hasidic Jews of Crown Heights – from the Chabad or Lubavitch sect – were known as the ‘friendly’ and more relaxed Hasidic Jews. But I still couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw some Chabad Jews wandering down the street during the Labour Day Parade. They weren’t exactly standing on the side-lines, cheering the marchers on, but they seemed pretty fine about it. One Jewish man, Stewart, told me it was a good thing. A young Jewish boy, Daniel, had set up a stall of his old toys outside his home with his grandfather and mum nearby. Maybe it wasn’t exactly kosher but it was clearly okay. (Oh, and yes, they were totally fine about me photographing them – hooray!)

 

 

"It's good" - Stewart

“It’s good” – Stewart

 

 

 

 

Daniel outside his house with a toy stall

Daniel outside his house with a toy stall

 

 

 

 

living side by side

living side by side

 

 

 

 

The next time Coco and I visited the neighbourhood I noticed a large group of young male Chabad Jews outside a building across from their main synagogue, 770, on Eastern Parkway. We wandered over to find that the building was a dormitory for the men who were all overseas students, attending the school inside the synagogue. Because this was no ordinary synagogue – for Chabad Jews, 770 (known as that because of its address, 770 Eastern Parkway) is the most important synagogue in the world.

 

 

from Israel to Crown Heights :: 1

from Israel to Crown Heights :: 1

 

 

 

 

from Israel to Crown Heights :: 2

from Israel to Crown Heights :: 2

 

 

 

 

from Israel to Crown Heights :: 3

from Israel to Crown Heights :: 3

 

 

 

 

Amazing really, given the neighbourhood’s many churches and that earlier, just a few blocks west, we’d seen a Muslim family hit the tarmac to pray.

 

 

prayer, wherever it needs to be

prayer, wherever it needs to be

 

 

 

 

Crown Heights – neighbourhood of churches, synagogues and make-shift mosques.

 

 

reborn - tattoo man and the former movie theatre, now church

reborn – tattoo man and the former movie theatre, now church

 

 

 

 

Part 4: Three weddings in one day

On our last visit to the area, Coco and I stumbled on three weddings all happening on Eastern Parkway.

The first was being held in the Shiloh Seventh Day Adventist Church that we’d come across that very first day – it was a Sunday and I wondered why their door was open, given that Saturday was their church day. So we took a quick peek inside – to see a very nervous looking bride waiting for proceedings to begin.

 

 

Sophie at Shiloh Seventh-Day Adventist Church, about to walk up the aisle :: 1

Sophie, about to walk up the aisle :: 1

 

 

 

 

Sophie at Shiloh Seventh-Day Adventist Church, about to walk up the aisle :: 2

Sophie, about to walk up the aisle :: 2

 

 

 

 

Not wanting to add to her nerves, we quietly left and continued walking east along the Parkway – until we noticed a group of women sitting outside the Oholei Torah Center, not far from the 770 synagogue. By now I knew that the Chabad Jews were pretty cool about photography – and that their reputation for being friendly was well-earned – but these women were especially welcoming.

 

 

relatives of the bride and groom wait outside the Oholei Torah Center

relatives of the bride and groom wait outside the Oholei Torah Center

 

 

 

 

So welcoming in fact that it seemed perfectly normal to sidle up to one of them, Libby, and ask, “So is that a wig you’re wearing?”

 

 

Libby

Libby

 

 

 

 

(Yes, it was a wig. ‘Really?’ – ‘Really’. Libby explained that like the Williamsburg Jews, they have to wear them, but that they can wear any style of wig, they don’t have to wear hats and they certainly don’t have to shave their heads.)

 

 

Libby's daughter

Libby’s daughter

 

 

 

 

After taking a few shots, Goldie, the woman in the purple outfit in the third to last image above, asked if Coco and I wanted to take a look inside.

I didn’t take a shot of the room – it was a fairly nondescript convention hall (although interestingly, the women were on one side of a screen, the men on the other). But I loved talking to Goldie – she’s a Rabbi’s wife and a million other things but this 48 year old mother of nine was the perfect person to quiz about all things Chabad. Having just experienced a little of the Williamsburg Jews, I was intrigued about the differences between them. Goldie explained that while they had the same Hasidic religion, they had very different philosophies. A major one was that the Chabads were actively encouraged to go into the outside world to make the world a better place, one good deed at a time.

I spent so long talking to Goldie that I missed the bride’s arrival outside in the better light – but I got one shot of her sitting on a special seat.

 

 

the bride, Chaya, before the ceremony

the bride, Chaya, before the ceremony

 

 

 

 

Feeling that we’d stayed long enough – what did these brides think of a complete stranger suddenly appearing? – I thanked Chaya, Goldie and the other women and headed back onto Eastern Parkway.

We’d only walked another minute when I spotted a large gathering across the street, right outside the 770 synagogue. Yes, it was another Chabad wedding, but this was the actual ceremony, when the bride and groom stand under a chuppah and various things happen.

I couldn’t see anything until it was too late – I just caught sight of the bride and groom disappearing into the synagogue for the next step in the ceremony, where they spend 10 minutes alone in the yichud room. They’ve had to fast the whole day so finally this is when they can eat something – and technically, this is the first time they’re allowed to be alone together. Oh, and also, they’ve had to spend the week before the wedding apart. Why, I asked someone? “Anticipation!” they answered gleefully.

 

 

step 1 - the ceremony under the chuppah

step 1 – the ceremony under the chuppah

 

 

 

 

step 2 - the bride and groom enter the yichud room

step 2 – the bride and groom enter the yichud room

 

 

 

 

By then I’d met the brother of the groom and his mother. I thought she looked quite exotic and when she talked I realised she was Russian, as were several others around her – and then I remembered, that was where Chabad Jews originated from, over 200 years ago. Standing there, waiting for the bride and groom to come back out, surrounded by Russian voices and the black hats, admiring the groom’s mother’s piercing blue eyes and pale unlined skin, I felt that I’d been transported – across the seas to a land of snow and ice and red wine. Red wine?! More like vodka – red wine was what I had to pick up for dinner – Coco and I had been invited to a friend’s house and we were late, we had to go!

For the last time that day we said our goodbyes and jumped into a taxi.

 

 

from Russia with love - the groom's Russian mum and brother

from Russia with love – the groom’s Russian mum and brother

 

 

 

 

step 3 - exit the building as man and wife

step 3 – exit the building as man and wife

 

 

 

 

married at 20 - Talia :: 1

married at 20 – Talia :: 1

 

 

 

 

married at 20 - Talia :: 2

married at 20 – Talia :: 2

 

 

 

 

lacework

lacework

 

 

 

 

Mazal Tov Chaim and Talia!

Mazal Tov Chaim and Talia!

 

 

 

 

Part 5: Love and peace

Crown Heights has had its troubles – there were riots in 1991, a real low point in relations between the black and Jewish communities – but wandering around its quiet back streets or even along Eastern Parkway at sunset, it seems like a pretty chilled place, one that’s able to accommodate even the most different faiths and peoples.

 

 

brownstones in golden light

brownstones in golden light

 

 

 

 

the quiet life on Eastern Parkway -  Sierra-Maree and Kimani

the quiet life on Eastern Parkway – Sierra-Maree and Kimani

 

 

 

 

of all descriptions

of all descriptions

 

 

 

 

they do a pretty good job of it in Crown Heights

they do a pretty good job of it in Crown Heights

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

Crown Heights knows how to throw a wild party  – and apparently the Labour Day Parade used to be a lot wilder, in every respect. But even so, I absolutely loved it. I remember walking down the street, through the glitter and the feathers and the broad smiles, thinking, I know it’s cliched but I really LOVE New York! And that was before I felt the joy of being able to take photos of the wonderfully warm Chabad Jews, at their weddings no less. It’s a week that made me feel full of gratitude. Gawd. I think I’m going to have to go get my hanky now.

 

 

Coco and I snapping the fish

Coco and I snapping the fish

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

All pretty quiet on the home front. Except for the usual arguments about Coco spending too long on that blooming iPad. But as I usually complain about it while chained to my own computer, it doesn’t really cut deep. She also got to see a whole load of creepy, crawly spiders this week at the American Museum Of Natural History. Not with me though – anyone who knows my story (an Australian White-Tail Spider basically decimated half a thumb of mine) knows I don’t do spiders.

 This suburb has been brought to you by Nadine Lee

 —

 See you next Monday-ish.

 

18

Chateau Rouge

CR intro

 

For the past few weeks Paris has had me in its picturesque, seductive clutches. It was fun but looking back at my images I did wonder, where was the challenge? Normally my thing is to seek out the beauty in the ‘unbeautiful’. And ‘unbeautiful’ ain’t Le Marais nor Les Batignolles.

It was time to get back to my mission brief.

My choice for this week was also influenced by the recent election here. All the talk about immigration leading up to the big day was a stark reminder that for many, Paris is a crowded 25sqm room shared with a handful of other people, and no prospect of a job any time soon.

Nowhere could this be more true than in the 18th arrondissement, around a neighbourhood called Chateau Rouge. Also referred to as la Goutte d’Or, this is the Little Africa of Paris. Exotic foods, tick, but also a slew of problems that can’t be fixed overnight, even if there is a new government in power.

Quickest ‘history’ ever – the hood is named after a red castle that no longer exists. Done.

Okay, iPhones away (will explain later), cameras away (ditto), let’s swagger…

 

Part 1: F-f-f-fashion

Amazingly, Chateau Rouge is just minutes away from tourist-crazed Montmartre and its top drawcard, the Sacre Coeur. One minute it’s all pretty pretty, then suddenly you’re wondering, what happened? Where did Paris go?

Unlike Faubourg Saint Denis, where there are really just a few streets dedicated to African hair and where there’s a strong bobo presence, this neighbourhood seems to be entirely African and Arab. Markets here offer gombo not oysters or foie gras, and you have to elbow your way through or be elbowed. Shops are filled with colourful African materials not trendy western gear. Butchers are halal. Welcome to Little Africa.

But at the end of the main open-air market a police car is almost permanently parked – along with the colourful exoticism are serious drug and crime problems. Add illegal immigration into the mix and you start to understand why the locals were incredibly unhappy about me and my camera pitching up. One woman explained that some Africans would even be afraid I might use their photos to do, er, black magic.

Up against it, I very quickly realised that any sort of in-depth photographic exploration of the area wasn’t going to be possible. No one was about to invite me into their lives and share.

At one point I almost abandoned ship. Then I’d get some kind soul to agree to a photo (even if they did give me no more than five seconds to take the shot) and I’d think, okay, maybe this will work.

Since I wasn’t going to be able to do anything too deep, I decided to explore one particular facet of Little Africa – its fashion.

The neighbourhood is filled with men and women who continue to dress as they would if they still lived in Africa – only now they’re in Paris, amongst the berets and trench-coats. The shock of hot, vivid colour against a sea of western blah and sombre tones is just fantastic.

Then there are the Africans who take their colourful heritage and apply it to a more contemporary look. I especially loved the men who wear suits, but in a playful, inventive way. I’d actually go so far to say that it was in Chateau Rouge that I saw the most interesting fashion that I’ve seen so far in all of Paris (not that I hang with the fashionistas of course).

Fashion, as an expression of one’s culture… très intéressant!

 

Little Africa, 'Lowest Prices'

Little Africa, 'Lowest Prices'

 

 

 

Chateau Rouge is right next door to the Sacre Coeur

Chateau Rouge is right next door to the Sacre Coeur

 

 

 

First up, the men…

 

 

Sayra

Sayra

 

 

 

Zongo, fashion designer

Zongo, fashion designer

 

 

 

The man below was very reluctant to be snapped. I explained I just wanted to take a shot of his inventive tie and not his face. “But it’s my creation” he said. Eventually after minutes of discussion he caved – and I had precisely three seconds to take the shot.

 

 

 

when worlds collide

when worlds collide

 

 

 

Next was Jean, interior designer. Different story entirely. He was one of the few who was quite happy to be photographed – and why not? Just look at that suit.

 

 

for one thing, Jean is wearing Burberry with a purple tie and tartan cap. Dangerous!

for one thing, Jean is wearing Burberry with a purple tie and tartan cap. Dangerous!

 

 

 

I ran into Jean again a few days later. He was wearing the same suit but with a different hat, tie and shoes. Could I please take another shot…

 

 

 

and he did!

and he did!

 

 

 

even Obama gives Jean's style the thumbs up

even Obama gives Jean's style the thumbs up

 

 

 

Then there were these guys…

 

 

 

check me out!

check me out!

 

 

 

religious bling

religious bling

 

 

 

after a trip to the Hammam he felt cleaner and brighter all over

after a trip to the Hammam he felt cleaner and brighter all over

 

 

 

Part 2: Senghor from Senegal

Okay, so this dude in his voluminous boubou deserves a section all of his own. I know nothing more about him other than his name and where he comes from, but my imagination rushed into the vacuum of information and filled it right up. To me he’s a witch-doctor-ish, magic man who appears out of nowhere and travels not by metro but by forces unknown. You could have knocked me over with a chicken feather when he said, yes, you can photograph me.

 

 

Senghor from Senegal

Senghor from Senegal

 

 

 

with one wave of my magic wand, I can make 1000 volts shoot through the air

with one wave of my magic wand, I can make 1000 volts shoot through the air

 

 

 

where'd you get those D&G sunnies from?

where'd you get those D&G sunnies from?

 

 

 

off to make magic with his gombo

off to make magic with his gombo

 

 

 

And while we’re on the subject of magical things…

 

 

and the note on the bottle said, Alice, EAT ME

the note on the bottle said, Alice, EAT ME

 

 

 

Part 3: The women

Like my experience of observing the sari clad Indians of Sydney’s Harris Park, I loved watching the African women in traditional dress glide down the streets, so unFrench and yet so much a part of modern day Paris.

 

 

and Chateau Rouge

and Chateau Rouge

 

 

 

wild prints

wild prints

 

 

 

she buys her flowers from Barbes Market to match her hair

she buys her flowers from Barbes Market to match her hair

 

 

 

waiting

waiting

 

 

 

Then there’s the modern look…

 

 

 

Doris, with Jennifer in her hair

Doris, with Jennifer in her hair

 

 

 

Henna girl

Henna girl

 

 

 

French stripes

French stripes

 

 

 

Of course, an African woman’s hair is a big deal. Braided, shaved, extended, coloured, whatever. You gotta do something to your hair.

 

 

now and then

now and then

 

 

 

Part 4: Beyond the fashion

I would have liked to have explored the Arab, Muslim side of the area more – but couldn’t. I lost count of how many Arab men I asked to photograph – in my best French and as respectfully as possible. They were just not into it.

Anyway, the deal is that the neighbourhood has mosque problems. I think there might be two but I only visited one – and from the outside only. You’d miss it if you didn’t notice the small sign, or the collection box sitting on the street outside, raising money I assume to improve the current one or maybe build a new one.

It wasn’t long ago that space problems meant that Muslims in the area were allowed to pray on the streets in front of the mosque. There was all sorts of hoo ha over that and the practice was banned late last year.

There is, however, a major development happening soon – a new, very modern looking Islamic centre is being built nearby and as far as I understand, the mosques might have prayer rooms inside.

 

 

they have their iphones, he has his Islam

they have their iphones, he has his Islam

 

 

 

they must be green with envy of other grander mosques

they must be green with envy of other grander mosques

 

 

 

things are looking up - a new Islamic centre and a new government

things are looking up - a new Islamic centre and a new government

 

 

 

The Wrap

I am fascinated by the African presence in Paris. I understand the reason – France needed labour post-war so they invited all of Africa in – but I just find the contrast between the two cultures so incredibly striking.

It was therefore quite exhilarating to hang out in Little Africa this week. And as frustrating as it was to not be able to photograph more and different facets of the area, I did enjoy the challenge.

So what did I find beautiful in this decidedly unbeautiful neighbourhood? The vibrant colour and the ‘fashion’ for sure, but also the energy of the place. It’s hard to describe but it feels excitable, edgy, as if any minute it will reach a crescendo and… pop!, the whole place will implode.

Oh, and the warning to put away your iPhone and camera? Just passing on what I was told. Apparently if you wander around chatting on your iPhone, you’re very likely to have it plucked out of your hand. And one guy told me his friend was carrying a DSLR camera with the strap around his neck and had his arm broken when someone wrenched it so hard to get the camera off him.

 

 

 

Chateau Rouge, and bleu, orange, vert, rose

Chateau Rouge, and bleu, orange, vert, rose

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

A lovely Australian blog follower living in Paris for a little while took Coco off this week for some home schooling followed by cartwheels in the park. Coco loved it so hopefully, if the budget holds out, there’ll be a little more of it. On my side, I’d just like the dreary grey stuff to disappear so I can have fun with the sun again, in a photographic sense. And I’d like more sleep too. But who doesn’t?

And to all those in Australia, Happy Mother’s Day!

This suburb has been brought to you by Zoe Thompson

I’ve decided to change my post date to Sunday or Monday by the way. It’s only taken me five months to work out that I’m probably missing a lot of good stuff that happens on the weekend by making my post day Friday and my so-called ‘day off’ on Saturday.

Which would suit you better by the way – Sunday or Monday?

See you next week.

 

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