Festival Of Colors: New York City

It’s the weekend of one of New York City’s Holi Festival of Colors and spring is just beginning to appear in the cloudless and bright blue sky. This particular event is being held outdoors in an elusive location in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. The address was only released a few days ago and it seems attractively random. The nearest subway train is a mile from the fenced parking lot that will set the stage for the night. I know little of what to expect because although Holi is traditionally a Hindu celebration held for the sake of spring and oneness, this isn’t an exclusively Hindu event and I suspect a lot of people will probably be on drugs, and with that in mind, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a religious event like this one before – even if only tangentially religious.

A crowded lineup of bands, rappers and DJs was announced on the event’s Facebook page this week. Since the festival is being held in a parking lot in a neighborhood relatively deep into Brooklyn, I assume that at least part of the motivation behind the location is to do with the sonic roster and sound ordinances. Each ticket comes with a bag of colored powder and the biggest ice breaker of the night is that people get to throw the powder on strangers without making any sort of prior acquaintance. This bend on common courtesy appeals to me. Attendees have been instructed to wear clothing that could be, but probably won’t be, ruined. With temperatures hovering around 50 degrees tonight, I’m not sure I have a coat I am willing to even possibly destroy so I layer up old sweatshirts and leggings instead.

%Gallery-186285%I’m in line for the security check when I realize I might run into trouble. The search is one of the most thorough I have experienced only to be compared with the Colombian airport where I was pulled aside and asked to open factory-sealed bags of coffee. I have prescription medication with me, but I don’t have the prescription itself in hand. This has never been a problem for me before – not even at the Colombian airport. But it’s a problem tonight. Security wanted to throw my medication away. I pleaded with two of the workers, explaining that since I don’t have health insurance, the medicine would be expensive to replace. One of the women working security fortunately offers to hold my medicine until I leave. I’m frustrated and trembling from the confrontation, but I understand it all the same. They don’t know that it’s not an illegal drug I have in my possession. If there’s any sort of scalability for which kinds of events are better-suited for recreational drug users than others, this kind of event would surely fall low in the rankings from a security standpoint. No one is spending the night in this parking lot tonight – everyone must find their own way home, whether they walk to the distant train, try to find a taxi, or drive themselves. It’s best to be vigilant, I suppose.

I finally make it through the security checkpoint and into the festival itself. The area is enclosed and seems small, but there’s more than enough room for the hundreds of people already present. A couple of food trucks and a bar are to my right. A handful of portable toilets crowning the head of a winding snake of a line are straight ahead. A makeshift stage hosting a dynamic punk band are to the left. I wish I didn’t have to, but I immediately head toward the harrowing bathroom line with urgency and wait.

I’m a lousy chameleon in this colorful landscape. The powders have been thrown; the colors have blended. Everyone else is a rainbow and I am a sore thumb until my husband surprises me with a hefty splash of red color to my face. My mouth is unluckily open and I spend the next 10 minutes spitting up red that looks like blood although it isn’t but maybe might as well be for the scene I’m causing. I repay him when he’s least expecting it later in the night. But that’s how the Festival of Colors is.

“I think you could use a little more purple,” says a girl within a swarm of girls behind me. She punts her purple powder my way.

“And more green!” adds her friend, wiping hers along my leg.

It’s difficult not to begin a conversation after an interaction like this. One of the girls calls me pretty and makes me blush, but luckily she can’t see the flush of my embarrassment beneath my splattered face. She asks to take a photo of me and I feel flattered and suddenly young. This is how it pans out the rest of the night. Strangers find clever ways to paint the innocent passerby and usually a smile is exchanged and sometimes a familiarity with one another is forged. I don’t normally find it easy to introduce myself to people I don’t know at events like this, so I like this. Beneath the masks of Holi powder, we are all ourselves, weighted with whatever we might be carrying. With the color unifying us all in appearance, our barriers have broken. These barriers are superficial and remarkably easy to eliminate. They are cemented into the changeable – like the logo of a brand, the smoothness of skin, or the shine of hair. We might not even notice them until they’re gone. Once our surveillance cameras have been covered, what happens next is lovely: we all just get along.

When the punk band exits the stage, a DJ begins. He throws us all back a decade or so with songs from Blackstreet and Destiny’s Child. We dance. The party is still going when I leave and attempt to find the security officer who told me she would hold my medicine. She said she would be here, but I can’t find her and I almost give up hope. She probably just threw my medicine away. But before I become too convinced, I’m pointed in her direction. She empties her pockets and gives me my medicine back, which is folded into my paper ticket for the event. I thank her and walk to my car. With the visible invisible, it’s fascinating how quickly we all become equals.

Photo Of The Day: Festival Of Colors NYC

The Festival of Colors celebration in the East Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn last week was a vibrant Holi celebration. In Hindu tradition, all of the festivalgoers were asked to toss their multicolored powder into the air before the sun completely set and in doing so, the little daylight left alongside the stage lights set the blending colors of powder aglow. I had been looking forward to the festival for weeks after reading about it online. The location, which was simply a fenced parking lot in the middle of East Flatbush, one mile from the nearest train, wasn’t announced until a few days before the festival. Once I knew where to go, I took photographer Ben Britz with me and he snapped this photo. The night was filled with dancing, drinking and conversations with strangers – the kinds of conversations that are bound to occur when you’re all united in an effort to (harmlessly) ruin each other’s clothing and spread cheer.

Amazing Race 13 episode 7: Delhi, India where karma can get you

After last week’s dash in Delhi that ended at the Baha’i House, Starr & Nick were the first ones to head out again into Delhi’s traffic for episode 7 of Amazing Race 13. This week’s episode was one traffic jam after another and a mix of what makes life in Delhi so darned interesting. Colorful. Literally. It was also an episode where people who are snide don’t come out ahead. It’s karma, baby, karma.

Travel Tips from this episode:

  • Working with others can benefit everyone. Don’t be a loner all the time
  • The bigger vehicle is not the best one to take through a traffic jam
  • When stuck in traffic, get out of the vehicle and direct the flow to give yourself a pathway to move forward
  • Be observant. When one way of doing a task is not working, don’t keep repeating yourself. Try something else.

Recap and cultural highlights:

If this was Holi in Delhi, the timing couldn’t have been better for an authentic cultural experience with some Amazing Race craziness mixed in, however as a person who has been to a Holi celebration, the volume of this episode’s depiction was turned up several notches.

When each team arrived for the first task at Deshbandu Apartments where a Holi celebration was taking place, one of the team members was to run through the crowd of celebrating people and up a ladder-like tower where dozens of Amazing Race colored envelopes hung. Six of the envelopes had the next clue. The others said “Try again.” As each person ran to the tower and up it to search through the envelopes, the crowd pelted him or her with colorful powder and sprayed water to make a real mess.

In the typical Indian version of Holi, people throw colored powder on each other in fun, but not in the thick clouds as shown in the episode. The idea–sort of–is to celebrate the rejuvenation of spring with colors. People often come wearing white, and have control over how covered in colors they want to be–mostly.

When I went to a Holi celebration, my face was smudged a bit, but I hung back. Kids go nuts. As with any Indian holiday, food is also an important part, and all ages are included.

Unfortunately, the teams in the Amazing Race had no idea what the celebration signifies–and as with any cultural experience that’s not your own, personalities show through. Plus, their version of Holi was not totally accurate.

Christy & Kelly had the hardest time. Personally, I think it’s because they’re so busy making fun of people and thinking that they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread, that they miss details. Tasks come hard to them. Last episode they made fun of Dallas. This week, they were making swipes at Andrew & Dan.

This episode showed Holi as payback. Each time Kelly grabbed the wrong clue and had to run once more into the fray of revelers, I looked for a sympathetic twinge in my heart and couldn’t find one. When she tripped and fell, oh well.

Dallas & Toni caught onto the essence of Holi even though they didn’t know it. Later in the episode, when Dallas, still tinted pink, was running down the road in the midst of pack of kids, Toni brimmed with love at the joy she saw in his face.

After the faux Holi celebration, it was off to the Jain Temple where the Charity Birds Hospital is housed. As with all temples in India, people must take their shoes off before entering. Nick wasn’t thrilled with the idea of walking around barefoot and had no idea why the birds were there. Were the birds sick or were they supposed to be therapy for sick people, he wondered. Seriously, Nick. Don’t you have any cultural know how? It says Charity Birds Hospital above the door, for heaven’s sake. The hospital was founded by the Jains in 1956 to take care of wounded or sick birds and is based on the Jain religious belief that has a high aversion to killing.

Sarah was the most in tuned to the plight of the sick and wounded birds as she and Terrence searched the cages for the next clue. I love the way these two keep calling each other “Babe.” It doesn’t matter what they’re doing. It’s endearing.

Before Tina & Ken could look for the next clue in the Charity Birds hospital, they had to perform their Speed Bump. Tina, now with green hair (and green is the worst for not coming out from blond hair) & Ken headed to the Sikh Temple where they helped give water to the throngs of worshipers. Here, Tina was back to being culturally sensitive after calling the fellows that doused her in green powder, “morons.”

This temple scene was a high point of the episode because of the authentic interactions. Tina, in particular, recognized that she was in a holy place and felt compelled to do a good job. Her “God bless yous” as she handed out glass after glass was rather touching.

After the visit to the Charity Birds Hospital came two Road Block choices: Bleary Eyed and Teary Eyed. In Bleary Eyed, the teams were to follow the small numbers of the electrical wires along a very narrow street in Delhi. Once they reached a man with a sewing machine, they were to give him the series of numbers they found. If they were right, he gave them the location of their next clue which would lead them to the Pit Stop at Humayun’s tomb, a complex of mausoleums built in the 16th Century.

This was an older section of the city, I imagine. As buildings are wired for electricity, the tangle increases. The numbers help keep the circuits straight. I can vouch that all of Delhi’s wiring is not like this, however it the wiring and the traffic indicate a city that is teaming with people.

In Teary Eyed, the teams were to head to a market, pick up two 40 pound bags of dried chilies (one each) and carry them to Sharwan Kumar & Sons, a spice business where they were to pulverize 35 ounces of it into powder by using a mortar and pestle. Sarah & Terrence are the only two who picked this option. In the middle of calling each other “Babe” and pounding away, they choked a bit on the chilies’ fiery fumes.

Nick & Starr and Dallas & Toni arrived at Nai Sarak Street for their number hunting in about the same time, and after they discovered the numbers, decided that if they worked together, they’d get finished faster. Both teams plugged in the Ganesha at the store the tailor sent them but, once they were in their Tuk-tuk taxis, skill had nothing to do with who would get to the Pit Stop first. Traffic means everything.

Traffic threatened to do Ken & Tina in after they completed their speed bump and were catching up, but Ken got out of the taxi to part traffic which worked like a charm.

Finding the numbers was a horrific task for Christy & Kelly and Andrew & Dan. It took them forever to find out what to look for. After Ken & Tina figured out the system, they pointed out a number to Dan & Andrew before they hopped back in their taxi they had wait for them. That’s the way to be nice.

Christy & Kelly who have not been nice to anyone on the whole trip arrived at the Pit Stop last. Ha! Yes!

Who won this episode? Nick and Starr–again. I’m growing weary of them winning all the time, but my impression of them went up a notch when they worked with Toni & Dallas and seemed to enjoy it. I do wish Starr would quit cavorting around in her running bra. It irks me. She’s not in Survivor.

What did they win?: A trip to Kauai, Hawaii

Christy & Kelly’s words of travel wisdom: Keep being each others support system. As much as these two bothered me because of their snide ways, I was impressed with how well they got along with each other. No matter how many problems they might have had, they didn’t snipe at each other once.

For recaps and videos from Amazing Race 13, check out the web site.