new yorkers, for all our great qualities, are definitely not mobile. we complain when we have to take the subway more than nine stops in any direction (less if those stops go outside manhattan). i can’t tell you how many relationships i know that have ended because one of them lives off the g train; we like convenience. that’s why in a single neighborhood you have seven nail salons, four dry cleaners, two barbers, and a dozen bodegas. we don’t handle distance outside our radius well. but in spring 2015 (and every spring), hundreds of new yorkers made the trek deep into the bowels of brooklyn to celebrate spring in new york by dousing each other in great bursts of colorful paint powder and dancing into the wee hours of the morning. this is holi.
traditionally, holi is an ancient hindu religious festival to celebrate the coming of spring, where people of all ages and social statuses take to the streets and color each other with dry powder paint. anyone and everyone is fair game as color explodes in the streets, parks, and outside temples and buildings. it’s a giant bender of color, music, food, and friendship. although it is primarily celebrated in India and nepal, it has spread to many parts of south asia, and, recently, a hipster-ized version has made its way to new york city.
although probably not as the hindu gods intended it, the nyc holi tries to at least remain true to the spirit of celebrating spring and each other. revelers show up and receive a packet of colored powder, djs and bands play all day, and food trucks sell everything from Indian food to caribbean chicken and tacos. and there’s beer — lots of beer. what isn’t there to love? oh yes….the location. to find a spot where hundreds of color-crazed new yorkers can smother each other in paint while drinking, eating, and dancing can be a bit of a challenge, so the event was held at the yard @ c-pac. Never heard of c-pac? Thought so. that’s because it’s at the ends of the earth…like, for real. c-pac is a nightclub/performing arts center in east flatbush, brooklyn. to get there, take the 2 or the 5 train to the VERY LAST STOP…and then either walk a mile or hop a bus for another 20 minutes. you have to really, really want to get there. (the venue has also closed since the writing of this article. told you it was far.)
but if you build it, they will come…especially if “it” involves beer and music and “they” are new york hipsters/burners/just generally fun-loving people under the age of 35. so, with that in mind, I made the nearly two-hour trek from astoria to party with my peers on a chilly spring saturday in the middle of f*cking nowhere.
amid suburban-style houses with lawns and front porches, a smattering of caribbean restaurants, and a family dollar, is c-pac. you don’t know you’re there until you’re there. the warehouse building hides itself nicely at the very end of east 48th street and farragut avenue. the only signal that we had arrived was the very long line of people all dressed in white t-shirts, the steady thump of music, and the wafting smell of grilled meats. once i made it inside the yard, my eyes crossed at the dizzying array of sheer color. it was like stepping into one of those trippy paintings in mary poppins — color everywhere. without warning, i was immediately smacked in the chest with a giant ball of neon pink paint powder. virgins be damned — no white t-shirt is getting out alive at holi.
the space spread out in different sections, from the dance floor at the foot of the main stage to a couple of brightly colored school buses, atop which people had climbed for a bird’s eye view. several sections were covered in faux grass where people in flower headdresses smoked cigarettes and chowed down on Indian bowls and tacos. you half expected neal cassidy to tumble out of one of the school buses, hopped up on lsd while johnnydDepp lingered in the corner doing his best hunter thompson. everywhere you looked people were dancing, smearing their color-stained hands on anyone and everyone. strangers broke out into private color wars, tossing paint at each other furiously and then hugging it out so colors mixed and mingled in temporary friendship. rogue color bombs flew out of nowhere, landing on innocent partiers busy dancing to the live hip-hop and reggae performers. a few of the more mischievous would sneak up on unsuspecting victims to grease their entire faces in bold cobalt, vermillion, or chartreuse. it was nothing short of an orgy of color.
as the sun started to set, the air was still thick with the sound of calypso beats, street meat, and lingering powder rising from bodies and the fistfuls still being tossed into the air. the energy was electric as we said goodbye to another long, dark winter and hello to another season of enjoying everything we know we love about new york (but often forget between january and may). we love the people we share the city with, we love the convergence of culture, we love the food, we love the music, we love being outside…and sometimes we will even take the train waaay outside our comfort zones to find it and celebrate it.
unless it’s off the g train. f*ck that.
**this story appeared in new york natives.