Dominoes = Dominican Chess

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

If baseball is Dominican’s favorite sport then dominoes is our favorite pastime. In the DR everybody, from the youngest to the oldest, male and female alike, spends countless hours playing dominoes. I like to joke that kids here in the U.S. grow up with an X-Box and kids in DR have a box of dominoes. It is that ingrained in the culture, so it is only natural that the love of the game has continued on American shores. Some of my earliest memories are of my mom and dad playing dominoes with friends and family. Before I could even hold all the fichas (domino pieces) in my hand, I was joining along.

To even use the word “playing” might be considered by some die-hard aficionados as sacrilegious because to them dominoes is not a game – it is more like a science. Dominoes is Dominican Chess. That is how serious some folks take it. To watch a game of good players is to observe a highly sophisticated and synchronized contest of wills and intelligence. Never mind the animated banter, insults and biting humor, these people are really in deep concentration with a laser like focus on the game. The barbs and talk is more of a ruse than anything, another way to keep your opponent off-track. Great players think several plays ahead. They know what each player has in their hands without looking.

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The Magnificent Mangu

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

MANGU! The very word makes me and countless other Quisqueyanos salivate. For those that don’t know, mangu is the Dominican breakfast par excellence. Mangu is basically boiled, mashed green plantains with olive oil and a few others ingredients but that description doesn’t properly convey the magic of this staple of Dominican cuisine. Pair the mangu with fried cheese, eggs and Dominican Salami (AKA Los Tres Golpes) and you have a meal that is simple yet sublime. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the vinegar soaked cooked onions that elevate the mangu to a work of gastronomic art.

I find it hilarious that Mangu Y Los Tres Golpes sounds like an awesome name for a band. By the way, there is a forth, less respected member of that group which is longaniza (Dominican sausage). I would also like to mention that some folks enjoy a mangu made from ripe yellow plantains but I do not count myself as part of that contingent. I like my mangu from green plantains strictly. I guess you can call me a traditionalist.

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I Love Platanos!

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

This poem was conceived while I was at a resort in the Dominican Republic a few years ago, feverishly fiending for some Dominican food. It is only so much “international food” one can eat, especially when you are on Dominican soil.

It is a bit over the top with Shakespearian overtones but that is how I felt at the time.

I Love Platanos – An Ode to Platanos

Oh Platano, how we Dominicans love you
You are forever welcome at every Dominican table whether it is breakfast, lunch or dinner, entrée or dessert
You delight in all your incarnations; maduros, tostones, asado, mangu or mofongo
Can’t forget the pastellon or the platano con azucar or any of your many variations
I even had a fresh off the boat cousin who made Platano juice,
Umm umm umm, Delicioso
Your versatility never ceases to amaze

Oh Platano, how we Dominicans love you
You are the constant companion, the faithful friend of all Dominicans
Without you, rice, beans & meat is just rice, beans & meat
Who would eat Salchichon without your accompaniment?
You are the muse of all Dominicans mothers

Oh Platano, how we Dominicans love you
Woe be to those who refer to you as green Bananas
That borders on being racist
Bananas are bananas and platanos are platanos
I’m also not too fond of the term Plantain
Words tend to lose meaning when they become anglicized

Long Live Platanos!!!

I Love Platanos is an excerpt from my upcoming book, DR Travelogue.

I invite you to join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at ledblackNYC@gmail.com

The Led Black Book Club – When Tito Loved Clara

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

Even though I am a voracious reader, I don’t usually read fiction but when I found out that our beloved Inwood, New York City was one of the settings where Jon Michaud’s first novel When Tito Loved Clara takes place, my interest was piqued. Right from the first paragraph I was hooked. By the time I finished the first chapter I knew that I would not really rest until this fascinating and titillating novel was consumed whole. Warning: This book is crack-like addictive. Jon Michaud is a masterful storyteller who reels you in by dropping a bomb on you out of nowhere and then slowly and painstakingly filling in the details. I found myself not being able to put this book down, when I was wasn’t reading it, I was extolling its virtues to anyone that would listen.

Here is the breakdown: Clara Lugo is a Dominican woman who grew up in the hood but does not want to be held back by it. She is firm in her determination to escape her past and by the time we catch up with her; she has moved to New Jersey and is married to an American man, Thomas, who she has a son with and is struggling to conceive another child. By the way, Thomas has a few skeletons in his closet as well.

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Rejuvenation: A Poem, a Brujeria Bath, a Fat Lip and Avatar

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

“When you really want something to happen, the whole universe conspires so that your wish comes true.”

The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

Its 2010 People

O-9 is in the rearview – old school like moon shine

Get on your grind cuz I’mma get on mine

The present is a present, a gift that is divine

It’s not just another year it’s another decade

The future will be as bright or as bleak as you envision it to be

Tomorrow is always a day away and yesterday is but a memory

Now is the new black

In an ever-expanding universe limits are illusions

A habit of looking back will stop you from moving forward

Paradigm shift is the order of the day

Evolve or become obsolete

It’s now or never – shift or get off the pot

Supernatural selection – Darwin with a vengeance

Succeed or succumb – irrespective of circumstances

Use what you got to get what you want

Excellence is a choice that is yours to make

That poem was written almost 2 years ago, on December 30th 2009 to be exact. At that point in my life, I sensed that I was due for an awakening. I felt that even though I made a decent living and was raising, clothing, feeding and supporting my family, that there was more to life. For someone who came up on a rough block in Washington Heights and saw so many of my childhood friends end up either in jail, on the run, killed or in dead end jobs, I could already be considered a success. I am a self-taught professional, I owned a piece of property and more importantly, I had aspirations of make of a living from my writing, editing and entrepreneurship. For the longest time, I had nurtured a vision of my life that would transcend a day job. One where, I could make a living from being creative full-time, the problem was that it was just a vision – it needed action and elbow grease. Little did I know then, that it would also take blood? But I digress.

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Uptown Gem – The Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Center

Words by Led Black (@Led_Black)

Photography by Jay Franco (@_jayfranco)

Video by Amanda Hiciano (@_IamNYC)

Malcolm X changed my life. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley literally put the Black in Led Black. The book which has sold untold millions of copies and influenced everyone from Huey P. Newton, to Spike Lee, to Public Enemy, among many others, seemed to materialize out of nowhere at a crucial point in my development as a person and as a thinker. It was during my years in the Bronx High School of Science that the book found its way into my life and thank god that it did.

Coming from P.S. 143 in Washington Heights, I didn’t know I was poor until I attended Bronx Science. Being that I was the only one from my junior high that year to make it to the prestigious public high school, I virtually had no choice but to make the trek everyday from the hood to Bronx Science. All of sudden I was attending school with kids whose backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses were vastly different from mine. Culture shock was an understatement, which resulted in some existential angst and serious soul searching on my part. I felt adrift and ensnared in a downward spiral of resentment and alienation.

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I Love The Shabazz Center!

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

This past weekend, I had the honor of moderating a panel on marketing at a place that is very close to my heart, the Shabazz Center. It is the place where the iconic Malcolm X was slain but conversely it is the place were his legacy lives. To be moderating a panel in that sacred space, hallowed ground if you will, with all those amazing pictures and paintings of that larger than life giant was for me a very solemn and special moment. Thanks go out to NoMAA for choosing me to moderate that panel and to the esteemed panelists.

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