Returning to Brooklyn from peaceful, pristine Fort Collins, Colorado—consistently voted one of America's most "livable" cities—was hard enough; returning from bone-dry mountain sunshine to a suffocating blanket of New York humidity made it worse. But Prospect Park came through on my first full day back in town, delivering precisely the sort of acid-trip diversity you can't get in just any city, however livable: Arabs and Jews rocking out happily within earshot of each other.
The Arab-American Heritage Festival was everything street fairs should be and usually aren't, starting with the food. That bakhlava-like pastry with the dusting of fresh pistachio was consumed by me seconds after being photographed; the custard filling was ethereal.
Grilling kebabs perfumed the air.
An impromptu souk offered gauzy scarves and Chinese-made Nefertitis.
Families relaxed and socialized. The men sat in groups and smoked hookahs. (At folding tables, so did a few non-Arabic-looking women; were they rent-a-hookahs?) Young ladies displayed a spectrum of engagement with traditional Islamic dress; cell phones, giggling and gossip remain central with or without a headscarf.
From the festival, I took a three-minute walk to another world in the Prospect Park bandshell to hear a "Celebrate Brooklyn!" program of recording artists for JDub, an indie Jewish music label. I missed Golem and their "gypsy folk rock," but caught two offbeat acts. One was Soulico, a Tel Aviv DJ crew who rapped electrifyingly in reggae-flavored Hebrew. (I think the guy on the right is Axum, an Ethiopian guest vocalist.)
Next came The Sway Machinery. They describe their music as "ritualistic Afro-pop and cantorial blues," which is to say, indescribable; the band, dressed like early Elvis Costello in dare-you-to-laugh suits and ties, blasts through frantic horn-laden tunes anchored by guitarist Jeremiah Lockwood (who, yes, sings like a cantor). Aside from one family in the audience, there wasn't a yarmulke in sight, just words and music emerging from the diaspora through surprising new voices.
Even in a heat wave, it was good to be back home.