Thursday, July 08, 2010

2010 St. Patrick Day's Parade Collage


I was distraught when it occurred to me, already deeply committed to existing plans, that I would be visiting NYC during St. Patrick’s Day festivities. What I expected to find, in effect, was a more Yankee, more Irish, and more emerald green version of Mardi Gras. I haven’t experienced Mardi Gras in its greatest state of debauchery, but I have some sense of what its excesses look like, sound like and smell like. I’ve seen something that may have surpassed it. I was in NOLA when Louisiana State won the national championship at the Superdome. On game day, I was weaving my way through riotously drunken crowds and stepping over vomit at noon on Bourbon Street. One man in particular left an indelible impression. He was highly disturbed, making violent and erratic gestures, striking his forehead sharply with his beer bottle time and again and with such swiftness that he acted surprised. He was a bundle of oversized tics and twitches. I don’t know whether he suffered from Tourette’s Syndrome or whether he was on Meth or simply suffered from a mental illness. My gazed fixed on this poor guy (and who I was convinced would be his nearby soon-to-be murdered victims) and I couldn’t stop staring (though from a safe distance through a crowd of revelers). Many of these people were so deeply anesthetized that were they hit by a stray bullet they’d hardly know it unless someone were to point out that, “hey, I think you may be bleeding out; you may want to put down your drink—or at least one of them.”

Based on this experience, I anticipated crowds in NYC to be brash and rude and, above all, drunken. Staggering, memory-erasing drunken. What I encountered, instead, is what I’ve encountered on my two previous trips to NYC—uniformly friendly people thoroughly enjoying themselves in their grand city. Warned time and again of the rudeness I’d encounter up North, the truth is I’ve yet to meet a rude person in the city. Police officers have been friendly, and really funny, too. Clever. Folks on the subway have kept their manners and kept to themselves. Street artists everywhere provide cheap entertainment. And the tourists like myself whom I’ve met seemed as equally charmed by the city as I am. In fact, no matter wherever I’ve lived I’ve encountered warm and expansive people who are well-mannered right along side rude and narrow-minded folks. Folks is folks. Folks elsewhere just don’t make bragging about their comparatively superior manners a kind of self-congratulatory hobby, as it seems to be in the region of the nation I now live.

The parade is an all-day affair, and it traverses scores of city blocks. It just keeps going and going, marching troupe after marching troupe, bagpipe after bagpipe, one honorary Irish citizen after another. Waves of green, one after another. Green and pipes and drums. What I did not witness, however, was drunkenness, debauchery, and a general breakdown of morals into amoral bedlam.

Yes, I was sorely disappointed.

But I was also proud of the city. And I was proud of the participants and observers. Because the parade isn’t merely an occasion to set aside one’s normal life in favor of regrettable, if also highly entertaining, excess. Really the day is about pride in all things Irish. Just as advertised. The parade itself is a family affair, with lots of kids participating and even more wee ones and toddlers and surprisingly happy-looking teenagers watching and cheering in their silly green outfits. Regions of Ireland are celebrated. Irish cities are celebrated. Irish heroes and families are celebrated. The Catholic Church is celebrated through and through, and especially the Virgin Mary. The whole thing was a little like Kermit—green and silly but still dignified underneath it all.

Like everything else I’ve seen in the city, it was grand. And entertaining. And worth visiting.

6 comments:

shinigami-sidhe said...

Well, manners and friendliness may not vary all that much, and smug superiority is incredibly annoying, and I can't believe I'm defending Georgia on anything, really, but street harassment levels really do vary from place to place, and Georgia actually does have a lot less of that than other places. Certainly less than here, and from talking with other women who have moved away from Georgia, the place is, anecdotally at least, a not terribly scary place to walk down the street while female.

Mike Bailey said...

and that's huge, i agree. and what a bummer it must be for you. i'm a giant hulk of middle-age manliness, so i get left alone most everywhere, i think. i found manhattan itself to feel very safe but that's because the whole place is booming with upscale businesses and loads of tourists. our home has been burgled once before here in GA but i basically feel like the place is safe. not the whole state, of course. just my neighborhood. maybe i'm simply delusional.

shinigami-sidhe said...

I've never been to your neighborhood, but your city in general does feel really really safe, and I know I and my cute fluffy adorably harmless looking friend (who is the most talentedly evil human I have ever met) could meander down Broad late at night and go hike up to the cemetery, and no one would bother us for all that we were two small women alone. In fact, even if we staged a horror movie dialogue about how safe the place was (and what could possibly happen to us in all our sweet innocence?) no one ever bothered us. So you probably aren't delusional. At least, not about that.

Andy D. said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. I'm wondering if the Parade were moved out of Manhattan and into a different burrough if all these impressions would be the same though?

A.

Mike Bailey said...

S-S: Is your evil fluffy friend CS or CJ? And good to know I'm not entirely delusional. Most excellent.

AD: Probably. But I've spent all of an afternoon and part of an evening in Brooklyn, mostly wandering around lost. It definitely had a different vibe than Manhattan.

shinigami-sidhe said...

CS. CJ lives a virtuous life of enlightenment and is on a nickname basis with the Gods.