Saturday, January 21, 2006

Coney Island, Vodka & Brave Polar Bears

On New Year's Day I stood at Coney Island knee-deep in sea-water, taking photographs as stalwart Polar Bears, young & old, fit & fat gathered to shiver and commune as they dipped into the chilly sea -- an annual tradition that some say began in Russia.

Slide Technology
Above you will see an " Photo Cast" using the new technology. These digi-pix were taken with a Canon D20 digital camera and flash. The slide only plays 20 pictures as a time so try exiting this blog and returning to see a new set. " Slide" is an interesting application still in Beta.

...Back to Polar Bears and Coney Beach

My friend Fumiko had invited me to join her to offer support to her husband George, as he transformed temporarily himself from a Columbia University post-doc fellow into a brave hero whose bare chest was littered with goosebumps after his icey plunge. I first met Fumiko in Lima Peru where we both were covering the take-over of the Japanese Residence by MRTA rebels. I was sent there ( freelance) for CNN and she by TV Asahi.

This day, though, far from Peru and conflict I watched as Fumiko toweled off George. They suggested we follow his dip with a visit to the Moscow Cafe on the boardwalk at Brighton Beach. There, older men cast furtive glances over shoulders while speaking in Russian. Fumiko and George proceeded to order a plate of cold cuts and slabs of whitefish on bread from the bar.

George, Brighton Beach & Vodka

The bartender poured shots of vodka in small-stemmed shot glasses but ordered " No photos" when I asked his permission. As I was the designated driver for this caper - and certainly have no tolerance for such proof of liquor- I politely declined further vodka shots, now being offered by George's new friend, Michael, gratis. Dressed in plaid pants, Michael invited us to his apartment above the Moscow Cafe for tea. He said it was a Russian New Year tradition. But no tea appeared. There he began to tell us a story of his life as a commando in Afghanistan, forcing shots of vodka on us. ( I kept pouring my shots into George's glass when Michael was not listening ). In the words of the poet Hart Crane in To Brooklyn Bridge

"The City's fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year . . ."

In this case it was cold water followed by vodka for George. On our way home he started to bark gently like a young dog. But that is another long story.

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