Alas, it is our last evening here before an early trip home to Georgia tomorrow. I didn’t blog as much as I wanted this trip–my students put me to shame (probably because they receive grades for their posts :)) There was so much more I wanted to reflect on: how the South might just reside up in Harlem; how Coney Island always restores my soul; how I seem to always reconnect with old friends in this city; how I think I may have learned how to interact with New Yorkers on my very last evening here; how this Southern girl (unlike hometown girl Carson McCullers) ain’t ever leaving her region, not even for the cultural capital of the world. I’m going to use this excuse for my lack of posts: we’ve just stayed so busy, which means more experiences and less time to write about them. Instead, I’ll offer you some photos and let you see through my eyes what this trip has meant to me…(after all, this isn’t only a literature trip but a photography and arts trip, too).
Tag Archives: Coney Island
Often this trip is about making connections between my experiences. In that way, I feel like I’m writing about literature, analyzing the confluences of what I see. Last week, we visited the International Center of Photography, a small peaceful space that was hosting a show by Weegee. I don’t think I’d ever heard of Weegee before, but I was instantly taken by his journalistic detective-style photos of New York City crime in the 1930s and 1940s. Murder was his business, and in his black-and-white images of violently brutalized people, massive fires, and crime’s innocent by-standers, he beautifully portrayed the sometimes-isolated feeling in the city.
But Weegee had another favorite subject for his photography: Coney Island. In his Coney Island photographs—as the exhibit argued—Weegee captured a different side of New York: the playful spontaneous side of New Yorkers crowding on a beach for a day away from murder and crime. I was struck by the juxtaposition of these images: the crowds witnessing a murder and the crowds thronged together in play.
So when I visited Coney Island for the Mermaid Parade on Saturday, Weegee was foremost in my mind. Even though the beach community is more commercialized and consumerized today, if Weegee were around, he’d still capture a similar spirit in the people. Although the crowd was thick (I mean thick), somehow I didn’t feel crowded like I sometimes do in New York City. There was an air of revelry as mermaids and mermen made their way up the central street aside the undersea floats. On the beach, families lounged together while their children played in the water and built various sand statues. There were absolutely no pretenses there: it was carnivalesque without the dark side. I listened to the mermaid bands parading up the street; I shrieked atop the Wonder Wheel (swinging car!); I watched one of our students brave the cold ocean waters; I sat on a dirty curb and devoured a Nathan’s hotdog.
On the way home on the subway, our train was suddenly stopped and we were told to evacuate. As we pushed past the platform and up the stairs, six to eight police cars swarmed the station and rushed down to the train. Although we were quickly returned to a new train (without ever learning what exactly had caused the sudden evacuation), I thought of Weegee’s two photographic subjects. My day of revelry at Coney Island ended with a return to the city crimescape—perhaps a metaphor for the differences in attitude between the World’s Playground and the City that Never Sleeps, which Weegee captured so well.