Harlem Meer Performance Festival

The Harlem Meer Performance Festival is a tradition that runs every Sunday from Father’s day to Labor Day weekend. For 18 years, it has been attracting local residents, foreign tourists and musicians alike. Annie Claire Bergeron-Oliver attended the festival’s last performance.

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Consumer Watch: Are Vibram Running Shoes Good for Your Health?

Imagine a glove for your toes. That’s what Vibram FiveFingers is all about. They’re made to mimic the barefoot running that Kenyans and other cultures have been doing for centuries. But, are they good for your health?

By: Annie Claire Bergeron-Oliver and Leisha Majitan

A Year of Firsts

Published on Columbia Journalism’s Centennial website 

The day I received my acceptance letter from Columbia Journalism is forever etched in my memory.

I was at school in Toronto, Canada, reading my final thesis draft to my roommates. Up popped the email notification on my laptop and I screamed. I called my astonished parents who were momentarily seized with fear that I had been attacked. It took me fifteen minutes to summon up the courage to open the email. When I finally did, it was an apparent disappointment. Tantalizingly, the page only said a decision had been made but with no details. Five pages later, with just one word, my dream of attending this great Ivy League school had come true It said “Accepted”

This past year has been the best and worst time of my life. I thought that being a student-athlete at the University of Toronto with almost 60 hours of training and class each week was tough. I was wrong. Columbia has stretched my intellectual horizons and physical limits, each time edging that boundary one step further. I’ve improved my craft by becoming a better storyteller, learning to ask tougher and more relevant questions, and more importantly solidifying my passion for reporting.

It’s been a year of firsts. My first all-nighter was spent producing a six-minute crime and consequence video for RW1. I fell asleep at 4am with a video camera on my lap as it imported files. I created videos and radio pieces, some better than others, which were published and subsequently spread across various social media platforms by proud friends, family and even the odd viewer. I ventured alone into a New York City Housing Project against police advice, travelled to the heart of the Bronx at 2am for an RW1 story, and attended my first professional National Hockey League game as a sports reporter. I have met incredible New Yorkers with powerful stories and rich histories that I’ve been honored to tell.

I feel privileged to have been trained at a school that has given many of the best journalists in the world the beginnings of their careers. Walking into the J-school building, aptly renamed Pulitzer Hall this year after the muckraking American publisher, is incredibly humbling and inspiring.

Devils on Fire With Fourth Consecutive Win

The Prudential Center was half full on Sunday but the Devils fans who opted to miss the Super Bowl pregame were treated to a show of their own by Illa Kovalchuck.  The flamboyant forward had a goal and two assists in New Jersey’s 5-2 win over the Penguins. Kovalchuck now has 10 points (three goals and seven assists) in his last four games, which coincides with a four-game winning streak for New Jersey.

The Devils are moving up in the Eastern Standings with four consecutive wins over the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and now the Penguins.

New Jersey forward Kovalchuk played another strong game against the Pens, scoring the game’s first goal at 2:21 in the first period. He later scored two assists in the first period and second additional assists in the second.

Kovalchuck’s 22nd goal of the season came off a diagonal pass from forward lineman Patrick Elias. Elias, followed a loose puck down the ice to where Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury met him behind the net in a race to the puck. Elias, kept tight to the boards until emerging on the right side of the goalie net and passed to an open Kovalchuk, who was positioned just above the left side of the goalie crease. Fleury was caught off guard. He was too far to his right. And Kovalchuck scored between Fleury’s legs.

Devils head coach DeBoer said Kovalchuk had been playing well since training camp last summer. “For him and Zach Parise, they have brought that consistent effort right through day one, DeBoer said. “We need them to,” he added.

After sitting out the last two games against the New York Rangers and Flyers, New Jersey goalie star goalie, Martin Brodeur, had a commanding performance on Sunday“I haven’t played a lot in the first part of the season, so definitely practice was something that I keyed on to get myself ready,” said Brodeur.

The second period was a new game. Players had energy and renewed motivation.

Despite Devils’ defenseman, Kurtis Foster, receiving a two-minute penalty, a short-handed goal by Devils Zubrus at 2:28 into the second period. That goal prompted the Penguins to change goalies.

 Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said his forwards took chances and looked for opportunities that didn’t pan out on the shorthanded goal.  “We took a little bit of a chance at the blue line and a tight play, and it turned up being a goal,” said Blysma.  

Then with 47 seconds left in the game, Brodeur stopped a shot on net and pushed the rebounding puck across the ice to the far blue line. It was the assist that David Clarkson, who was closely followed by two Pens players, needed to make an easy shot into an empty net to score the winning goal. The Penguins had pulled their backup goalie, Brent Johnson, in exchange for an extra offensive player. “Today we handed the third period much better,” said DeBoer.

Brodeur, arguably one of the all-time best goalies, with three Olympic gold medals and 1,165 NHL gamesunder his belt, said it’s been a tough weekend for hgim. “I didn’t get to start yesterday and I knew that I would be starting today, so I concentrated on getting a good start and just play well,” he said. Brodeur has only played 60 percent of the games so far this season, missing almost two weeks in October due to a shoulder injury. He was replaced by backup goalie, Johan Hedberg, on multiple occasions

To avoid a repeat of Saturday’s poor third performance against the Flyers, where they let in four goals in the third period. To avoid a repeat, Devils head coach Peter DeBoer said the team prepared to play the Pittsburg Penguins by watching and re-watching tape of the previous night’s game. “I think we recognized some of the mistakes we made,” he said. “It’s one of those things that you learn from your mistakes.”  

The Devils improved power play performance this season can be attributed to the new assistant coach, Dave Barr, who joined the team last July. “Dave Barr has been outstanding job there for us,” said DeBoer.  “He really pushes pressure and when you are pressuring the other team like Kovalchuk, Parise and Elias, they make turnovers into opportunities.”

Last season was the first time in 15 years the Devils failed to make the playoffs, and despite lineup changes, trades, and improvements in Brodeur’s performance, the Devils have only climbed into the playoff positions for 41 of the last 120 days. But DeBoer is not worried. It’s only the last 25 to 30 games really matter he said. “It has been as low build for us,” said DeBoer.  “New coaches and players, we dealt with some injuries. I’m confident that our best hockey is ahead of us.”  

There’s more to jockey uniforms than pretty colors

The colors are mesmerizing, overwhelming and confusing not to mention that they also represent more than a century of thoroughbred racing history.

And the master of all this is a man named Walter Arce who operated out of a subterranean room at Aqueduct racetrack, where he is responsible for out fitting more than a dozen jockeys every day from a selection of nearly 4,000 silks. These are the “uniforms” that identify the stables that own the horses the jockeys ride every day at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga racetracks that are open during the long racing year.

Included among the collection are old silks belonging to Manhattan socialites like the Vanderbilts, Hollywood starts like Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and George Clooney.

Inside the Color Room, as it is known, four men care for the silks locked inside. There aren’t enough gold hooks on the wall, so the jackets are jammed together three or four to a hook, two rows per wall. Ensuring that the silks are organized is part of Arce’s job as Color Coordinator. He takes the silks from the color room and puts them on a supersized drying rack. This process permits jockeys to grab the correct silk for their race. Every owner has his or her own silk design, so sought-after jockeys can wear up to eleven silks a day said Arce. In a busy day, he washes and hand dries up to 100 silks.

The jockeys and their horses form a rainbow of colors as they line up at the starting gate. Today’s silks, said jockey and former fashion design student, Jacqueline Davis, often combine unflattering colors. “I’ve worn some crazy colors. I’ve worn some that look like an early 90s tracksuit.” Her current silk is a white aerodynamic spandex jacket with a sky blue diamond and the letters LR, for owner Linda Rice, centered on her chest.

There are 38 different silk bodices, three types of materials, 19 sleeve patterns, and almost an unlimited number of colors to choose from said Lee Weil, who works for the Jockey Club of America, which catalogues each owner’s silks. Nowadays many riders prefer the aerodynamic silks made from spandex instead of nylon or silk said Davis: “It’s supposed to let the wind go off your back slick and make us a little faster.” The tight spandex acts as an insulator, a valuable feature at outdoor, winter racetracks like Aqueduct.

But details and material choices aren’t apparent to spectators in the stands. What they you can see, however, are the fluorescent colors whipping around the track. To help audience members differentiate competitors in 624 B.C, Greek riders wore colored drapes into the stadium. But it wasn’t until 1894 that the Jockey Club of America required owners to register their silks said Weil. Silks were an easy way for horse owners to identify their thoroughbred as they galloped around the track. “There wasn’t a big grandstand and it was harder for them to be able to see their silks,” Weil said.

Stables are known for their silks. Brookemeade Stable, a major thoroughbred establishment in the mid 1900s, had a white silk bodice with two blue sashes across the front. For a jockey, wearing those famous silks evoke a sense of pride and accomplishment.  Davis said it’s more than a uniform; it’s a connection to a specific trainer and a status symbol. “We want to be seen in the big owners silks,” she said, adding that “Whether or not it’s a big or little guy, if we win the race it’s a golden ticket.” Unfortunately for Davis, there was no golden ticket on Sunday.  Her mare, Crescent’s Moon, was spooked coming out of the starting gate and threw her to the track. And that meant a little extra work for Walter Arce who had to get Davis’s silks cleaned.

Audio Postcard -Central Park Carousel

Here is my first audio postcard.

A childhood treasure, the Central Park Carousel, is nestled amongst 30-foot evergreens, baseball diamonds, and the chaotic streets of New York City. Since opening in 1951, it has thrilled parents, children and visitors. Its’ romance continues to attract long lines-ups. Annie Claire Bergeron-Oliver reports.