We literally just walked in after spending our Labor Day afternoon at the annual WIADP (West Indian American Day Parade) on Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, but to describe what we just witnessed as simply a parade would be akin to saying that scotch bonnet peppers are sometimes a little spicy, i.e. an enormous underestimation. The parade is the largest in New York City with upwards of 2million people flocking to it annually.
It was an unbelievable assault on the senses – the sights (thousands upon thousands of dancing people all decorated with their national flags and some astonishing costumes), the sounds (hundreds of different sound systems all turned up to 11 and all competing with one another as they slowly rumbled by on floats, accompanied by the ever-present encouragements for the dancers from some very vocal MCs), the smells (a myriad stalls selling Caribbean favorites, some better known that others), and the atmosphere (it is about 90F here today and there were some enormous smokers pumping out clouds of jerk-scented smoke, as well as many other “personal” smokers pumping out clouds of the other kind of smoke Jamaica is famous for).
Of course, apart from soak up the atmosphere, we did our best to sample the wares from as many of the stalls as possible. Sadly, our eyes were bigger than our bellies, and we frequently had the unfortunate experience of having to walk past many a stall not physically being able to eat anymore. Let’s face it, Caribbean food is not exactly light at the best of times, and on a scorching summer day, goat curry with roti, fish cakes, bake and salt-fish, all smothered in fruity hot pepper sauce, and washed down with spicy ginger beer, then shaken up and down with booming soca and dance-hall, is a recipe for a lot of sweating and the need for shade and a sit-down. Intense. Seriously intense.
My only touchstone for a carnival like this, is, well, carnival – the Notting Hill Carnival in London to be precise. And, not to offend anyone involved with that fun, enormous, crazy and, occasionally, violent Caribbean festival, the WIADP is a major step-up. The food, the sounds, the people, the culture, it’s all as much as you can take and more. It’s as close to being in a foreign country as I’ve ever experienced in America (note that, for me, America is a foreign country). It’s such a radical departure from what the area around the Brooklyn Art Museum usually looks like and where you usually see white couples jogging along behind three-wheel baby-chariots, that at first it takes you aback. Then, and suddenly, it just sucks you in, but, just as quickly, it spits you out again. It’s a lot to take and we had to retire for some shade and cold water, but we’ll be back. You should check it out next year, for once a year is enough to last you a while. That said, we’ll definitely be exploring more of our local Caribbean restaurants and trying to recreate some of their dishes and the ones we ate today now we’ve got a taste for it.