Mixing it up on a New York summer evening


NEW YORK — Like many other cities around the world, New York has had a punishing summer. On one of the first nights that the weather gave us a respite, I went to a new place for dinner, a Turkish restaurant in Greenwich Village that a friend had enthusiastically recommended to me. I had intended to go for several weeks, but the weather wouldn’t let me make a decision about it.

An Adana kebab plate looked particularly enticing, among other things, because my maternal grandmother had been born in that city. The dish was as delightful as I hoped it would be, a real treat. I mentioned my connection to Adana to the restaurant’s owner.

“Oh, Adana,” he said wistfully, “what wonderful food they have there!”

After dinner I tool a short walk to Washington Square Park, perhaps the most famous and active park in the city, visited every day by thousands of people — tourists, neighborhood folks, misfits, artists of every kind (including con artists), and drug dealers and buyers. It is a truly strange but wonderfully attractive mixture of people.

I had started walking toward the center of the park when I heard some wonderful jazz music coming from an alley. As I approached, I saw a trio — drummer, double bass player and saxophonist — performing. There was a relatively small but appreciative audience.

A cool breeze through the tall trees, a full moon and an old-fashioned street lantern made it all look like a Magritte painting, an additional bonus to a special night.

As I listened, enraptured with the music, I saw in the scant evening light a beautifully shaped black woman slowly passing by, dancing with incredible grace to the music being played. She was followed by her companion, who was offering $1 cold water bottles in a hushed voice. She interrupted her dancing to hand the water bottles to customers and to receive payment.

The person sitting next to me bought a bottle and paid it with a $20 bill. The black woman took the money and handed it to her companion who continued walking without giving her back the change.

“Hey, it’s a $20 bill!” she said.

In what seemed like a well-rehearsed act, he answered, laughing, “Well, everybody has to make a living, isn’t that so!?”

He handed her the change, took her by the waist, and the two danced to a jazz tune, this time by legendary Brazilian musician Antonio Carlos Jobim. They danced and laughed, danced and laughed, their erotic vibes filling the atmosphere.

The cold water bottles waited on the side. Beautiful music, beautiful dance, good humor. It was a moment to treasure. It was another summer evening in New York.

Cesar Chelala writes extensively on human rights and foreign affairs.