The Forbidden Taste
There it was! The disco ball waiting for me. It was a big one—a gigantic one— spinning, and turning people into happy blinds with its beams of light. In the DJ booth, Nickodemus exploded the “Rebirth of Cool” by Disable Planets, one of the classics from 25 years ago. It was the perfect prelude for the night.
Giant Step—a record label back then, today a successful agency—celebrated its anniversary at Le Bain, the bar at the top of the Standard Hotel. It didn’t matter at all that it was Monday (same as a quarter century ago—really, that much?) The place was packed with dancers of all ages and backgrounds. Chic outfits, cool attitudes. The pool at the bar was open, the rooftop as well. The nigh was breezy and inviting. New York bloomed in lights all around.
On September 21, 1990, Maurice Bernstein and his partner Jonathan Rudnick started a weekly party called “Giant Step,” always in virtually secret places, where the sounds were Hip-Hop and Jazz with DJs and live musicians. It was magic, the best of both words together. The perfect mix of music that welcomes all cultures. The presence of the Latin percussion gave rhythms like salsa, mambo, and boogaloo (almost dead by then) a new life within young people.
It was also Monday when they threw the first party, and Nappy G was there as well. “The best thing of New York nights is that. You can find the best party on a day where in any other city of the word people are sleeping or, at most, watching the news,” said this DJ/percussionist who has been rocking the underground dance floors of New York—and the word—since then.
“Now we party at Le Bain, and that’s a more upscale experience from the one we used to have back in the days. We partied at underground clubs, and it had more of a feeling of coming from the artist community in New York City. But the music is still timeless and the way people react to it is also timeless. It still connects all walks of life and all different types of people into the world where jazz, hip-hop, house, mambo, and funk can live all together,” he added in a nostalgic voice.
As in almost every birthday party, people looked happy and satisfied with the atmosphere. No one ever sat—the seats were empty all night long, while the pool got crowded little by little with lingerie and underwear. Who would ever bring a swimsuit to a party like this!?
Is it true, though, that those underground after parties that made New York famous are almost gone. It is hard to find a place to go after 4 am. But this place really gives you that underground feeling, that forbidden taste that bohemians looked for two decades ago. At Le Bain, there are no security Big Feet following you, bartenders are always nice, and the staff are not reprimanded for dancing one or two songs instead of picking up after guests.
And you don’t get kicked out for smoking at the roof. Well, you will say, “Many places allow you to smoke on terraces” …and I will add: Cannabis?
Like I am yours
Like I forgive everything
Like I am always for you
Like you can be far
and come back every time
Like I am yours
Don’t ask for my name
Don’t intrigue yourself with what I do
Don’t wonder where I came from
Don’t assume where I am going tonight
Don’t obsess with my sex
Just dance with me! (I love New York nights)
El ruido no nos hace falta
pero lo sentimos cuando se va.
I feel black
I feel yellow
I feel white
I feel red
I feel green
I feel anger when injustice because of this colors happens.
I am nothing
I am just a human being who happens to have a skin with some color.
The problem is not color people
The problem is injustice and is everywhere!
Boleto de tren
Cuando voy a dormir
compro el boleto
del tren del sueño.
Lo compro pensando en que
subirás en alguna de las estaciones.
He viajado bastante
y aún no abordas
pero sé que tú estás soñando en
And after such big love,
they could only give each other
the greeting of the horse.
Si pudiera correr a ti,
Si hubiera no más una pequeña razón,
Si pudiera arreglarlo todo,
Ahora debo dejarlo todo,
Let’s die together a little bit tonight, he said. And they sat down next to each other and smoked a cigarette.
I have been in many cities in the world, big and small. I know the great Paris, I’ve walked the City of Light up and down; I have lived in London, and have had breakfast in Madrid. Even the tiniest cities I have visited always have something particular that makes them unique.
But no matter where I have been, or how many different cities my eyes have touched, every time I go around New York I exclaim, I love New York! I wasn’t born in New York, I never dreamed about coming to this city. In my mind San Francisco was the place I should go, or any city in Europe. But destiny brought me here and here is where I want to stay.
Having New York in my life has been like finding a very good friend. One that makes my stomach brake with laugh; one that always has his doors open for a visit; one that makes me cry in sorrow for injustice and one that gives me all the solitude I need when I want to be alone.
New York is this and much more. Yesterday night, for example, I was putting gas in my car and suddenly a big panda bear crossed the street on a bike. It’s not Halloween, it’s just April, but these things happen in New York. I couldn’t more than shake my head and smile.
This city has it all. It’s like a big shaker with all kinds of people, all kinds of cultures, all kinds of businesses mixed inside. You only have to go to Union Square, a place where a conflux people of all ages, specially young people with the most recent trends in fashion, music, dance, even sports, to see what is going on in the rest of the world. They come here to see and be seen. But Union Square in not really a pleasant place; instead it is an asphalt plaza with not too much beauty, located in the middle of very agitated streets with cars, bikes, skateboards, motorcycles and buses zooming in all directions. Anybody coming from other city would find this place very chaotic…but chaos is distinctive of New York.
I don’t have to imagine or recreate my favorite place in the world putting together pieces from other cities. I have found everything I wish for here. Even the chaos is something that I appreciate in New York because I realized through that that the whole world is in chaos, and I am sometimes a big chaos myself.
One of the things I enjoy the most in New York is the anonymity. There are so many people all concentrated in their own business that nobody has time to see if you have blue or green hair, if your pants are old or new, or if you are wearing the same tennis shoes for the last week. However this may be the city with the most intricate net of fashion designers holding one of the most visited runway of the world.
I haven’t even had time to miss my own country since there are people from almost every big city of Colombia here, that not mentioning the food. I can have at any time a great ajiaco and go back in time with my palate to happy moments with my family.
Not everything I like about New York. This is a very dirty city, and sometimes very rude. So many buildings and cars, trucks, noise and heavy winter make this city a burning hell. Not everybody loves New York. It takes a lot of courage to accept a place with no owner, expensive, crowded and where everybody is trying to make a name for their own, competing shoulder to shoulder sometimes forgetting about humanity.
La copa rota
Amó hasta que sangró
Llenó la copa
Bebió y olvidó
Gilberto Santa Rosa still a king, and without a mustache
When I got to the Nokia Theater in Times Square to see Gilberto Santa Rosa, on May 15, two situations struck me. One was that you could get a drink from the bar in the first floor of the venue and take it right inside the theater, not very common in New York City. The other was that the theater wasn’t completely full when I entered the venue, and I wasn’t precisely early. Actually, for a moment I thought I was going to miss the beginning. Nothing more discouraging than a concert full of empty chairs.
Getting to the Nokia Theater is easy by train but once you are on the street you have to deal with hundreds of tourists walking blinded by this epicenter of light! Strolling these streets at a good pace without bumping into people or avoiding one or two elbows on your chest is almost impossible. However, this atmosphere warms you up as a good prelude for a concert.
The security people at the entrance of the theater were cheerful and welcoming, another thing that is hard to find in venues around New York. There wasn’t a line at the door though.
Accommodated on my chair sipping my gin and tonic, I saw people getting anxious as myself. It was 9:40, the theater wasn’t full and there was no sign of Santa Rosa. The concert was supposed to star at 9:00 pm.
Fortunately, a few moments later the lights went down and as art of magic all seats were taken and whistles and claps flooded the room. There he was, “El Caballero de la Salsa” (The Gentleman of the Salsa), Gilberto Santa Rosa, a singer with more than 40 years in the salsa scene and famous for being one of the most creative “soneros” (a sort of Latin rapper) of the new wave of salsa.
It was strange to see that this Puerto Rican singer had completely shaven his mustache, which has been a staple of his image for decades. He was wearing a suit, as always, and perhaps that’s why they called it “El Caballero”; not many salseros wear suits, more often eccentric clothes distinguish these type of performers.
Santa Rosa delivered once again. Great musicians and the energy of a singer who seems to improve with years were the perfect cocktail for a great salsa night. The repertoire was extensive, from the hit “Perdóname” (forgive me) (1990), which made the audience roar in excitement, to classics he used to sing with the Orchestra of Willie Rosario back in the early 80’s, to “Conteo Regresivo” (final countdown) from his latest record (2007).
Santa Rosa invited Paquito Rivera, a Puerto Rican singer famous on the 60’s for the cadence on his voice, to the stage. The singers shared a nostalgic moment as a celebration for Rivera’s 50 year career.
Santa Rosa delighted the audience by making fun of himself and Latin culture. Often, his songs are about break ups and impossible loves, and are accompanied by impressive festive music. He remarked how Latin people can be sad and have a broken heart, and still be able to dance and party.
The contradiction was obvious, while Santa Rosa was singing very sad lyrics couples and soloists were dancing all over the place!
People looked happy even when Santa Rosa left the stage. Most of the number ones songs were played and Gilberto put together a great show. The venue made its part. Space was enough for dancers and there was even a waitress bringing drinks from the bar to the room. Any seat in the venue had a good view of the stage so it was not necessary to get the most expensive ticket to see the artists.
“El Caballero de la Salsa” had two sold out nights in a row in his second home, as he calls New York City. Salseros know there is no “Perdóname” con Santa Rosa.
“Hasta que vuelvas” (until you come back), Gilberto.
Lost in translation
—May I have a dappio, please?
—Sure. A napkin, right?
—Yes, thank you.
Translation: The place was an Italian restaurant; dappio is a doppio; the waitress was Japanese; the customer Colombian, with a bad accent.