West Indian--American Day Carnival survival guide

Brooklyn's Eastern Parkway is about to be transformed into a Caribbean-infused bacchanal. Before you party in the streets, get schooled on the 42nd annual parade's history, sights and sounds.

Carnival history

* The fest dates back to the pre-Lenten Mardi Gras, a Catholic tradition that eventually blended with African slave culture on European-colonized Caribbean islands, to create a cocktail of religious symbolism, unrestrained dancing and exotic costumes.
* Jessie Waddell, a Harlem resident and unofficial Trinidadian cultural ambassador, organized New York City’s first West Indian carnival-themed street fair in the mid-1940s. The celebration migrated to Brooklyn in the early ’60s.
* It’s estimated this year’s crowd will top last year’s 2 million.

Parade prep

* The weekend-long party leading up to the parade begins on Saturday 5: The West Indian-American Day Carnival Association will host the Steel Band Panorama, a steel-player competition, at the Brooklyn Museum (200 Eastern Pkwy at Washington Ave, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn; 718-638-5000, brooklynmuseum.org; $35) at 7pm.
* Head to the intersection of Eastern Parkway and Flatbush Avenue at 4am on Monday 7 to witness the preparade spectacle that is J’ouvert (daybreak), a raucous gathering of paint-and-mud-splattered revelers impersonating everyone from pop stars to Presidents.
* Bring earplugs and closed-toed, comfortable shoes. You’ll need ’em if you plan to spend your day getting down while eardrum-shattering sound trucks blare calypso, reggae and soco.
* Support your Caribbean island of choice by wearing its flag’s colors. We’re partial to Martinique, because pale blue and white always look good together.

See the sights

* Thousands of glittered, feathered and BeDazzled ladies and gents will “jump up” and “wine down”—that’s Caribspeak for the dance movements accompanying soca and calypso music.
* Many NYC and Brooklyn political bigwigs—Borough President Marty Markowitz wouldn’t miss this event for anything—will be milling around. One of this year’s six grand marshals is Jamaican-rooted Colin Powell.
* Steel-pan players from throughout the New York area will march and dance to upbeat tunes like “Bandoleros,” “Pan Redemption” and “Magic Drum.”
* Don’t be alarmed by the freakishly tall people: They’re moko jumbies, stilt dancers representing African spirits.

Chow down

* Sample ethnic cuisine like ackee (a tropical fruit popular in Jamaica) and aloo pie (fried dough filled with mashed potatoes).
* Veer off the parade path to the Islands (803 Washington Ave between Eastern Pkwy and Lincoln Pl, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn; 718-398-3575), a tiny, authentic Jamaican eatery owned by Marilyn Reid. She recommends parade partyers try the jerk leg of lamb ($12--$15) and toast with a glass of sorrel, a popular island beverage made from the sorrel flower.

Shop around

* Check out the sick kicks at the About Time Boutique (736A Franklin Ave between Park and Sterling Pls, Crown Heights, Brooklyn; 347-789-5513, abouttimeboutique.com), just three blocks from the parade route. Trinidadian owner Kevin Phillip mixes his clothing line, Krow Hill, with a variety of streetwear brands in his funky wardrobe showroom.
* Pick up a Caribbean-themed painting or a beautiful bolt of cloth at one of the hundreds of arts-and-crafts tents along Eastern Parkway.

GO THERE NOW! The 2009 West Indian--American Day Carnival: The parade begins at Utica Ave and Eastern Pkwy and ends at Grand Army Plaza, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn (wiadca.org). Mon 7 11am--6pm, free.

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