Saturday, December 27, 2008

Adela, Ensalada de Pulpo and A Tribute

¡Hola! Everybody...
I went with some friends to my fave restaurant,
Casa Adela, yesterday and Adela herself scolded me for staying away so long. She then promptly prepared fresh alcapurrias for us that were to die for. She actually hurried a couple of yuppies out of their seating so we could have our favorite table and then proceeded to crack her up.

I was all over the place and anyone who’s ever met me knows what that means (out of control LOL).

I wasn’t that hungry, but I ate a plate of
mofongo, though I preferred an ensalada de pulpo (she didn’t make any yesterday). Today I’m going back for a half-dozen of pasteles. Other than my mother’s, Adela’s are the only pasteles de yuca I will eat. If you’re ever in New York, Adela’s is a must-visit -- tell her Eddie sent you and she’ll laugh.

Today, I’m checking out a salsa dance school. A friend told me the school is chock full of white girls with Latino men fetishes.

It’s been two years since James Brown passed away. I wrote this back then...

* * *

-=[ Tribute: James Brown ]=-

At a crucial point in the award-winning film, Mr. Holland’s Opus, the teacher of the title is fighting to save the high school arts program from budget cuts. The exchange goes something like this:

Vice Principal Wolters: I care about these kids just as much as you do. And if I'm forced to choose between Mozart and reading and writing and long division, I choose long division.

Glenn Holland: Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later, these kids aren’t going to have anything to read or write about.

It is a telling moment in a movie that’s principally about teaching our young. The fact of the matter is that art is indispensable to genuine teaching. Numerous studies have shown that children who are immersed in arts programs tend to do better in reading, writing, and mathematics, for example. The word educate comes from the Latin root word educare, which means to draw from. The implication being that education is not about filling children’s minds, but drawing out the potential that already exists. It is unfortunate that today we eat our young and then blame them for our own collective narcissism and shortsightedness.

I won’t get into that today, but I mention the arts because it has been such an integral part of my life. Art, or Beauty, or Truth, or whatever you want to call it, saved my life. When I was at the lowest pint in my life what saved me, was art. What saved me was the knowledge that in this focked up world, full of petty motherfuckers racing like lemmings to catch/ buy/ sell/ the latest trend/ sound bite, flavor of the month, there was Beauty.

In my destitution, I could find sustenance in the intricate beauty of a Faulkner paragraph. I could drink Neruda’s passion; I could listen to John Coltrane’s fearless wide-eyed peer into hell. Knowing and experiencing the beauty of a Monet assured me that there was sanity in this world and that it was worth living. Therefore, it is with great sadness that I mark the passing of great artists – those who sustained me, when I felt I couldn’t do it myself. I feel a profound sense of gratitude for the archetype of The Artist, because they serve to remind us that there’s more to this momentary passage of time on this green planet. The Artist, sometimes at great personal cost, follows her vision and sometimes points us to what matters most, though we oftentimes don’t pay heed.

And so it was with James Brown. I remember growing up listening and dancing to the sounds of James Brown. As a young teen, I danced the Camel Walk to James Brown. And who can forget his anthem to black pride when he sang, “Say it loud! I’m black and I’m proud!” At the time, it was a radical notion, for people of color to be proud of their skin color, their hair, and their culture. We take it for granted now, but there was a hard war fought in order for us to assume that we should be proud.

I was born of Puerto Rican parents and raised in the slums of New York City, rubbing elbows with African-American neighbors who also lived in those ghettos. I remember it was 1967 when we moved to East New York Ave in Brooklyn, right behind the Pitkin Theater (that’s the Pitkin Theater above). In those days, movie houses were built to resemble opulent palaces: velvet seats, golden trimmings, lush carpeting in huge auditoriums facing a great stage where a huge silver screen hung. There was even a balcony and the older kids would go up there to make out.

At the time, we were the only Puerto Rican family living on that block embedded in a predominantly African-American community. In the beginning, I had to fight my way to and from school almost everyday. Eventually, I would befriend most of my neighbors and the first girl I ever kissed was this beautiful light-skinned girl called Gail. Actually, she would kiss me when we stood on line in school and I hated it because I didn’t like girls – yet! LOL

On Saturdays, my mother would give each of us something like seventy-five cents and send us to the Pitkin Theater across the street on Pitkin Avenue (our apartment faced the back of the Pitkin Theater). The cost of admission was twenty-five cents and for that sum, you would see two new releases, plus the cartoons sandwiched in-between!

But the Pitkin Theater also held live shows and this is where I first experienced live soul music. I remember seeing Little Anthony and the Imperials there, and there were other acts. Many of the then up-and-coming Motown acts used to pass through in those days, part of the circuit and these were hugely popular. I remember the first time I was sitting down at the Pitkin and they were showing, between films, the hottest acts of the day. It was the first time I remember where all the white acts were booed and the Black performers cheered loudly! LMAO!

Now, James Brown, he was no up-and comer. JB was the King of Soul, the Godfather of Soul! I don’t know if he ever played the Pitkin, but whenever I think of JB, I’m reminded of the Pitkin and those days. JB took the field holler and put it to a fatback backbeat. When JB squealed, screamed, hollered, it was almost as if collective pain and anguish of the oppressed was concentrated in those musical moments. JB had the nastiest, funkiest rhythm section and if you listened closely, all the West African rhythms were encapsulated in his vocal stylings. To listen to James Brown was to be reminded that you were alive, that you were sensual, sexy, and a bad-assed muthafucka on the dance floor.

Without James Brown, popular music as it exists today would not exist. JB was the most sampled artist, the most emulated, having influenced people from the great Miles Davis to Prince and everybody in-between. Our world is a better world because of James Brown, whatever his inner demons were and today, we’re a lot less richer because of his passing.

Rest in peace, JB...



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