Camden, New Jersey… where they will try to arrest you if you praise the city.
Let me step back.
Justin Fornal is an independent filmmaker living and working out of the Bronx. He is also a gastronome. In 2006, he combined his interests to create the character of Baron Ambrosia, a man who wears flashy clothing, drives a purple roadster, and lives in an Indiana Jones-style world of hidden magical dangers. From this setting, he explored the various ethnic foods present in his area of New York City in the video podcast Underbelly NYC and the public access television show Bronx Flavor.
This is fairly unusual. He didn’t stop there. Having explored the food of the Bronx, the Baron Ambrosia character began appearing in Newark, NJ. Fornal also attracted the attention of people at Food Network, which funded a show where Baron Ambrosia ventured across the United States, focusing on ethnic dish exploration of the sort he’d done in the New York City area.
In 2013, the character was retired with the feature length film Baron Ambrosia Is Dead. Ancillary entertainments such as his commercial for Tums and his appearance as a contestant on Cash Cab were set aside forever.
…but someone like the Baron can never truly die. In 2014, the Baron was seen again around the Bronx, this time in the company of another NYC culinary legend.
Then, in October, Fornal announced that the Baron was going to go swimming, in an effort to draw attention to the beauty of a city. Not the Bronx; he’d done that in 2013, becoming the first recorded person to swim the length of the famously polluted Bronx River. This time, he was going to swim a five-mile length of the Cooper River in Camden, New Jersey.
Camden is famous not for its beauty but for consistently having some of the highest crime rates – particularly violent crime and murder – in the country. It would be expected that he would be hailed for risking his health in an extended swim through the polluted river (as he was during his Bronx River outing.)
But as mentioned at the start, this is Camden. Rather than praise him, they threatened to arrest him if he so much as attempted it. Authorities even scheduled people to watch the river during his announced swim date of October 11th.
On October 8th, before dawn, Baron Ambrosia, wearing fancy goggles and decorated wetsuit, slipped into the Cooper River and began his swim. He completed it after the sun had come up, allowing him to step out to a waiting bottle of wine and some NYC photographers who’d been tipped off ahead of time. Photographers who got some beautiful pictures of Camden, whether the authorities liked it or not.
Question of the night: What’s one of the sources of civic pride for your current home town?
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