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Before the parade passes by

That's the Crazy Stable—at right, behind a Cambodian temple procession that passed by yesterday on a beautiful spring afternoon.

The folks from Watt Samakki on the next block had a festival going on, and I was unloading groceries as they came up the block, chanting, beating drums, and ringing bells. A masked reveler blew me kisses.

The fabulous little parade jolted me with nostalgia for the surreal kaleidoscope of cultures that glimmered around us 32 years ago. We moved to "Caribbean Flatbush," but actually, to a borderland where almost anything seemed possible. Our first next-door neighbors were from Trinidad on the left, Haiti on the right; the unofficial block "mayor" was a feisty Jewish bagel-baker who scoffed at white flight, as had at least a half-dozen other aging white homeowners.

Back then, emissaries from all over the globe would sweep by unpredictably. I once looked out the window to see a man dressed from head to foot in a shaman-like costume made of straw, dancing fiercely all alone and chanting in Kréyol. For several summers, a wild and glorious ra-ra band roamed the edges of Prospect Park on Sunday nights, making sonorous chaos. Also in summer would come a truck from Alabama, full of watermelons. It would stop on the corner and shy black men with deep Southern accents would emerge, selling the lot in an hour as word spread and neighbors hurried over on foot.

And that was only the block! Over in the Parade Grounds, the football (I mean football) players converged for their "beautiful game" daily, from Africa, South America, South Asia, playing their music afterwards on the sidelines to accompany epic picnics. Down on Church Avenue, Haitian ladies laid out herbs and spices on the sidewalk where everyone, even Russians from Brighton Beach, came to scour the bargain stores. Once, I waited at the check-out behind a Cambodian man who pushed forward a few dollar boxes of ramen with hands that appeared to have been crippled from torture.

From killing fields to playing fields, came our neighbor monks. So many others came, too, most recently a wave of house-proud Bangladeshi contractors. But every year, there are more white faces among the newcomers. Blessed with affluence, they tend to fix up a rambling wooden house impeccably in record time; so far, none of these old piles has fallen to the wrecking ball, unlike fast-changing precincts to the east of us convulsed by tear-downs. But this real-estate feeding frenzy has turned it all into a tense zero-sum game: Gentrification. Displacement. Air rights. Air BnB. "Privilege." "Pioneering." A whole vocabulary for being adversaries instead of neighbors; decades-old conversations with a sharp new edge. Our poor house, in the condition we found it, would now mark it for the wrecking ball. Brooklyn no longer has much room for those of modest means, unless you got in years ago and hung on. It offers no mercy to teachers, or artists, or home health aides, or our children, of any color, in its high-rise future. (Unless they are "in finance," apparently. Those "in finance" must be the ones who now populate the air by right.)

Luxury was not a word you would have associated with our block back in the day. Raw possibility, yes, and most of all, people, amazing people. Immigrants, mostly (those monstrous threats, we are warned) who brought us hot meals, carried trash to our dumpster, and assured us, "It's a good house, but it takes time." Their celebrations bubbled up in our lives like an underground stream, not curated by some museum but just happening on the street. We weren't invited, we weren't excluded. We waved. They waved back.

It seems like only yesterday.

Posted on Sunday, April 14, 2019 at 04:18PM by Registered CommenterBrenda from Brooklyn | CommentsPost a Comment

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