Having lived in New York for almost four years, I had never wanted to celebrate El dia de los muertos.
I always used to say: "When witches are out at night, little fairies stay in. "
Even being afraid of dark, death, evil,magic, ghosts, witches, the devil, sharp teeth, ghouls, demons, vampires, werewolves, zombies, mummies, skeletons, black cats, spiders, bats, owls, crows, vultures, weird shiny eyes and blood, this year I have finally decided to courageously experience the world of darkness all at once -- Halloween in New York City. After all, in my Tarot card deck, death is the representation of the end of an old cycle and the beginning of a new one.
The traditions of the holiday of Halloween include activities like trick-or-treating, wearing costumes, ghost tours, bonfires, visiting haunted attractions, carving jack-o'-lanterns, reading scary stories, and watching horror movies.
Irish and Scottish immigrants carried versions of the tradition to North America in the nineteenth century. Other western countries embraced the holiday in the late twentieth century.
The term Halloween is shortened from All Hallows' Even (both "even" and "eve" are abbreviations of "evening," but "Halloween" gets its "n" from "even") as it is the eve of "All Hallows' Day," which is now also known as All Saints' Day.
It used to be a day of religious festivities in various Northern European Pagan traditions, until Pope Gregory III and Pope Gregory IV moved the old Christian feast of All Saints' Day from May 13 (which had itself been the date of a pagan holiday, the Feast of the Lemures) to November 1.
A few friends call me to let me know the best venues, private parties, street parades and performances, musicians birthdays and galley openings.
Special events invitations from social networks like Facebook, A Small World, and the New York Magazine A-List are in my inbox, awaiting an RSVP.
Some of my friends suggested we rent a white limousine for the whole night. I preferred to keep my itinerary free so that I could jump into extremely difficult-to-catch cabs and disappear like a little vampire whenever I felt like wandering in the streets or changing crowds, neighborhoods, energy and atmospheres. And this is exactly what did.
The first place I stepped into is to the "Spook-A-Rama" exhibit at the renowned Edelman Art gallery. Edelman Arts is a four-story gallery brownstone on East 63rd Street. It was opened last May, 2008 by Asher Edelman, and is home to an exciting new group of emerging, mid-career and established artists.
The crowd is exquisitely sophisticated and elegant, representing mostly other worlds' noblesse costumed in intricate Saris of delicate colors, butterfly rich feathered masks, Marharajas turbans and expensive tunics embroidered in gold, Batman and Catwoman, Cleopatra and Counts of Dracula, Venetian-laced aristocratic noblemen and a woman dressed in gold literally from head to toe.
On my way out, my friends and I separate, as I have the desire to cross the door of a private party at an Upper East Side three-floor brownstone whose entrance was surrounded by skeletons, bloody, suffering ghosts, a barking three headed dog, a hanging bloody pig with his head off, and carved pumpkins.
As a Brazilian and Italian, I realize I have no knowledge about those symbols. I therefore ask a tall, cigarette-smoking drag queen, waiting for exactly who I don't know.
"A carved pumpkin, my dear, lit by a candle inside", he says, "is one of Halloween's most prominent symbols in America and is commonly called a jack-o'-lantern. Where in heaven or hell are you coming from to ask this question sweetheart?" I chose not to answer. He then carries on:
The ancient Celts, on Hallows Eve, would place a skeleton on their window sill to show the loved ones who passed away, kind of like we do jack-o-lanterns. Originating in Europe, these lanterns were first carved from a turnip or rutabaga. Believing that the head was the most powerful part of the body, containing the spirit and the knowledge, the Celts used the "head" of the vegetable to frighten off any superstitions."
Somebody else passing by adds: "Unmarried women were frequently told that if they sat in a darkened room and gazed into a mirror on Halloween night, the face of their future husband would appear in the mirror. However, if they were destined to die before marriage, a skull would appear.
The custom was widespread enough to be commemorated on greeting cards from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The mirror gaze was one of many forms of love divination around Halloween and other ancient holy days."
Inside the house, a small child dressed as Alice in Wonderland next to a small skeleton with a white cape welcomes me in. In the dining room a coffin of a size of an adult lies on the main table surrounded with all kinds of candelabras filled with white candles. It's freaky.
On one side of the room is a line of people waiting for a Tarot reader session by the coffin. And outside is a small porch where possibly a ritual is taking place between Dracula and a masked Phantom of the Opera smoking a cigar around a small bonfire.
Games traditionally played at Halloween are forms of divination. In Puicn (pronounced "poocheeny"), a game played in Ireland, a blindfolded person is seated in front of a table on which several saucers are placed. The saucers are shuffled, and the seated person then chooses one by touch; the contents of the saucer determine the person's life during the following year.
The hostess of the party suddenly tells me that my friends and I must leave at once. Maybe because my camera was interfering, maybe because it's part of the theatrical game and atmosphere or maybe she thought we were somebody else. Under those costumes and masks it's kind of hard to recognize who is a unwanted guest and who is your yoga pal.
This is exactly the reason why I chose not to show my face tonight and hide it under a mask where I can fully experience this world as a spectator and an attentive observant without having any social obligation of wearing the real mask of my daily life.
We hail a cab and head downtown in search of a brighter atmosphere. On the streets, it is clear that New York City hosts the United States' largest Halloween celebration, known as The Village Halloween Parade, started by Greenwich Village mask maker Ralph Lee in 1973. The evening parade now attracts over two million spectators and participants, as well as roughly four million television viewers annually.
It is the largest participatory parade in the country if not the world, encouraging spectators to march in the parade as well it is sometimes compared to Mardi Gras.
We arrive in a recently opened lounge and contemporary Lebanese restaurant called Ilili. The owner Philippe Massoud is throwing a party where Brazilian models and young international jet-setters in sexy lingerie dance to the sound of a funky 70's mood band in an Old Lebanon architectural decor whose attitude and sexy lingerie is unmistakably New York.
Marie Antoinette in impeccable XV century white wig with delicately stitched scars on her neck, a handsome doctor and bunny girls interlace with Diana Ross divas and Supremes girls while passing through sexy Che Guevaras, Rastafari Bob Marleys and beautiful very thin, long haired Russian model prisoners.
Pilots and hostess and Marine officers are hard to distinguish whether they came straight from JFK or they are in character costumes. Mafia guys dressed in striped suits drink champagne with 1930s French Charleston dancers wearing hairpieces of feathers and vintage brooches.
This crowd is very young and wild, a lot of smoke and I can hardly can get any precision or focus with my camera. I am getting bored. Let's go somewhere else. Somewhere hot, very hot, where I am expecting to rise from the dead.
My group splits, some go to Times Square to watch the seventy-three Michael Jackson fans dressed as zombies and as the King of Pop himself breaking dancing through his exact steps. Today they are breaking not only the dance but also the Guinness World Record for the most people doing the Thriller dance at the same at Madame Trussauds New York. While Michael Jackson was not able to attend the event, I read he was thrilled with its success.
Prior to the record, participants took lessons on how to do the Thriller dance from Crunch fitness instructors, received zombie mini-makeovers and had the opportunity to take a photo with Madame Trussauds Michael Jackson wax figure.
But here I am. I think I have arrived in Hell. At the Buddha Bar on 9th Avenue, the party "Libertines and Concubines" was hosted by Re-Vamp entertainment. Great party, I haven't enjoyed myself like that in years. Red chandeliers, high ceilings and DJ Behrouz played excellent mixing world music with tribal house.
From buttons to Buddhas, the East-meets-West wonderland boasted eclectic French-Asian fare in a former button factory. Greeting you with castle-like stone doors, the cavernous 15,000-sq.ft. space is filled with the bold, the Buddhas and beautiful, the people surprisingly friendly, too.
Complete with a jellyfish tank and jellyfish-inspired accent lamps, a sushi bar, an enclosed glass smoking room with a smoking-ban-approved ventilation system, and, of course, four elevated high-roller tables with glass flooring, Buddha Bar transformed itself into a heaven-hell landscape.
Creativity was everywhere, we did not know where to look. TV cameras were filming a few reserved tables of young Indians and little fairies probably children of movie stars.
A black man dressed as Adam, the first man on earth wearing just a bathing suit with a green leaf is at the coat check with a woman vampire wearing in an 18th century bright red dress, a Zebra young South American man with his sophisticated 1930 British Colonial dressed with fringes blond girlfriend with a glass of champagne reserved a table near the Buddha Bar Palm trees. Very appropriate setting.
Militants, devils and rock stars danced with stunning divas and Russian Sado- Masochistic leathered women serving champagne, clowns and sexy school girls with quilted mini kilts and long wool socks talk loudly at each other while talking on their cell at the same time, probably to meet other costumed friends at a party nearby.
Astronauts and Chinese Empress dolls are spinning my head around. I am starting to get tired and I must still run to to check out Supermodel Heidi Klum's Annual Halloween party presented by Absolut 100. Heidi and Seal wowed the crowd in their outrageously elaborate costumes at the 1 Oak Night Club in Chelsea.
After a press embargo and its fair share of bureaucratic problems, New York's hardest door has opened -- to those, ahem, who have been deemed worthy of entrance. The boys behind 1 Oak, Ritchie Akiva and Scott Sartiano (who own Butter), have apparently grown tired of New York's repetitive club scene and are intent on creating a refined environment for the hippest urban influential in the city.
The West Chelsea area is all about atmosphere. And, as with any impossible-to-enter spot, 1 Oak has atmosphere aplenty. Though the exterior is refreshingly free of inappropriate designer cant, 1 Oak' s interior, designed with leaden proficiency, embraces the noir angularity of patterns ripped out of a castle in the South of France. Dressed as a mixture of the Indian goddess kali, and a multi-armed Voodoo clansman she looks petrifying and wild.
It's enough. I've finally dropped dead. I am ready to be reborn in my flowery bedroom on New York's Upper East Side with my book of psalms by my side.
Happy Halloween everyone!
The Clubs and restaurants:
ILILI Restaurant: 236 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY Tel + 1 212 683 23 22 / + 1 212 683 2929
Buddha Bar: 25 little West, 12 street, New York, NY tel + 1 212 647 7314
1 OAK: 453 West , 17 street New York, NY tel + 1 212 242111