Tag Archives: Brooklyn

Travel Theme: Sweet

By Vladimir Brezina

Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge this week is Sweet.

Even heaven is not sweet, but bitter sweet… and it’s to be found in Brooklyn!

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What are these space aliens doing wandering the streets of Brooklyn? Read the full story here!

Yay Coney Island Mermaid Parade!

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

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“Yay, kitty cat!”  the little girl in front of us yelled. The woman in the parade stopped and smiled. She was wearing a brown fur costume—perhaps too warm for this sunny June day—and a button nose. Whiskers striped her cheeks.

DSC_0370 cropped small“She’s a friendly sea lion,” another woman said. Of course! The friendly sea lion danced over to the line of kids. “Would you like to pet my flippers?” she asked.

Shyly, the kids did. Then they went back to shouting at the weird, wacky, and wonderful array of costumed creatures before us: “Yay bunny rabbit!” “Yay green lady!” “Yay guy on stilts!”

We were at the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, an annual festival celebrating Coney Island (“America’s Playground”)—and more generally, celebrating Brooklyn, New York City, sunshine and summer, the ocean, gays, straights, recovery from Sandy, families, friends, and fun.

It almost didn’t happen this year. Hurricane Sandy devastated Coney Island, and the not-for-profit that has run the parade since 1983, Coney Island USA, was over $100,000 in the hole. The nonprofit used to get most of the funds to put on the parade from its museum and performance studio, which was demolished by Sandy.

In a last-ditch attempt to keep the parade going, Coney Island USA launched a Kickstarter campaign—which netted over $117,000. Enough to keep the show going on.

DSC_0609 cropped smallAnd enough to generate a wonderful sense of celebration. Coney Island is back, bigger, better, wackier, and wilder than ever. This year’s parade really spotlighted the reinvention of Coney Island from nostalgic landmark to au-courant hotspot—perfectly blending the traditional and the cutting edge. (Exhibit A:  The only float sponsored by a national brand was sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon—the lowbrow canned brew favored by Brooklyn hipsters everywhere. Go figure!)

The kids in front of us had certainly gotten the message. They loved everything about the parade, and weren’t shy about asking the paraders to perform: “Burn some rubber!” they shouted at the vintage cars, glittering in the early-summer sun. (The drivers obligingly did.)

DSC_0620 cropped small“Play your horn!” they shouted at a saxophone-wielding participant. (He did.) And of course, “Over here! Over here!” they shouted at the paraders who tossed beads, candy, and toys at the onlookers.

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And the kids didn’t seem to be too impressed by the eye-boggling array of nipple pasties, codpieces, and jiggling buttocks. Mermaids and their consorts require very little clothing, so creatively embellished nudity is one of the hallmarks of the Mermaid Parade. But it’s not something the kids seemed to care much about, one way or the other.

DSC_0654 cropped smallInstead, they applauded anything and everything, indiscriminately.

“Yay police!” they shouted out at one uniformed NYPD officer, who shot them a puzzled look, then grinned and waved.  Although the parade was well-patrolled, the officers almost seemed unnecessary—I’ve never been in a crowd that large where the overwhelming mood was so cordial and friendly. (The day of the parade is informally called by the NYPD “Coney Island’s Crime-Free Day”.)

Vlad took almost 2000 photos during the two-hour parade. See below for a gallery of the best photos.

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DSC_0678 cropped smallAnd when it ended, we made our way onto the packed beach so I could dip a toe into the ocean, then headed back for the subway ride home.

At the gates to the Coney Island–Stillwell Avenue subway stop, we got one last surprise: As we went to add more money to our metro cards, a cop waved us through the open gates next to the turnstile. “Subway’s free today,” he said.

“Yay, police!” indeed.

And YAY Coney Island Mermaid Parade!

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Travel Theme: Secret Places

By Vladimir Brezina

Over on Where’s my backpack?, Ailsa has posted this week’s theme for her Travel Photo Challenge: Secret Places.

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The Yellow Submarine of Brooklyn

Our story begins in 1956, with one of history’s most famous maritime disasters. In thick fog on the evening of 25 July, the Italian luxury liner Andrea Doria collided with the liner Stockholm and next morning sank off Nantucket. 52 people died.

But for others, the great shipwreck was a great opportunity. Adventurers dreamed of schemes to strike it rich through salvage (although in the end, as usual, it was the lawyers who made the serious money). And there was plenty to salvage:

The Andrea Doria was known to be bountifully loaded with such diverse items as a $250,000 solid silver statue of a mermaid; thousands of cases of liquor; tons of provolone cheese; 200,000 pieces of mail that the federal government would pay 26 cents a piece for; the ship’s bronze propellers, worth $30,000 each, paintings locked in air-tight vaults; industrial diamonds; the ship’s $6 million metal scrap value; passengers’ personal property left in several vaults and more. [From an old article in Forgotten NY, now apparently deleted.]

Among those hoping to strike it rich was a Brooklyn Navy Yard ship fitter named Jerry Bianco, who developed a bold plan: build a submarine.

Bianco believed he could build a vessel strong enough to descend to 240 feet of water, where the liner rests at the bottom off Nantucket, and could actually raise the sunken vessel by filling it with inflatable dunnage bags; when filled, the bags would lift it off the bottom or to the surface — or so the theory went.

Lest this sound crazy, Bianco did succeed in forming a corporation, selling stock, raising more than $300,000, and building a 40-foot, 83-ton submarine that passed Coast Guard inspection with flying colors, and, in October 1970, was ready to be launched.

But for want of a nail…  Bianco was chronically short of money (he painted the submarine chromium yellow, because that was the cheapest paint he could find).  Because the launch was to be paid for by the pound, he did not ballast the submarine fully, and it capsized upon being lowered into the water.

And there it has remained ever since.

By now, not much of its yellow paint remains; it’s half-submerged, rusted, barnacle-encrusted… a modest, curiously-shaped object that nevertheless hides a fascinating history.

It’s in Coney Island Creek, a bucolic backwater of New York Harbor visited only by birds, fishermen… and kayakers! But not many know about it. We didn’t for many years. But now that we do, we visit it often. It’s one of our secret places.

These photos are from a visit just last week. The text above is partly adapted from a previous post on the Yellow Submarine. And a nice New York Times article on the submarine and its location is here.

“A Bizarre Boating Accident”

By Johna Till Johnson
(Photos by Vladimir Brezina)

Since we posted our Red Hook adventure a couple of weeks ago, readers have been asking for more. So here’s a real adventure, which until now, for reasons that will become obvious, we’ve been a bit reluctant to post in full…

We’ve drawn upon the initial couple of hours of this story for a previous post. But at the point where that post left off, the adventure was just beginning!

Two further comments: First, we regret that photos are a little thin in this post. During most of these events, photography would have been difficult, or inadvisable.

And second, this is an example of people going “above and beyond” to be human, even when it could potentially threaten them professionally. So to protect the well-intentioned—and much-appreciated—innocent, all names, dates, and other identifying details have been modified or obscured.

This happened sometime last spring…

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Red Hook: An Unexpected Adventure

By Johna Till Johnson and Vladimir Brezina

Freshly Pressed on the WordPress.com home page!

Experiencing the unexpected is the essence of adventure.

That was amply illustrated by our paddling experience on a recent weekend. In company with Harry and Runar, we set out toward Swinburne Island to see the seals that live there each winter. It was a perfect day for the trip: Sunny, temperature in the high 50s,  just enough wind to make things interesting. We figured it would be a great way to start off the seal-viewing season.

Instead, we ended up spending an afternoon exploring a part of the world we’d never seen before: Red Hook, Brooklyn. What we gave up in paddling and seal-watching we gained back in art, architecture, and entertaining social interactions.

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