Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I Love A Parade

No, that's not quite right. I hate parades. And unlike many of the things I hate for no good reason, this hate is easily traceable to a series of childhood traumas. I grew up in Manhattan in the 80s on the parade route. Parades in New York went across 86th Street and down 5th Avenue. I lived on 86th street. So approximately 10 times a year there would be many many many people on my doorstep and lots of sis boom bah. The parades, for the most part, all ran together in my mind, with two obvious exceptions. The loud ones. The scary ones. The not-good-for-children ones.

I speak, obviously, of the St. Patrick's Day parade and the Puerto Rican Day parade. And as much gets said about the Puerto Rican Day parade and its ills, as one who was there, year after year, it was the less bad of the two for one very important reason: climate. The Puerto Rican Day parade is in June, a month of sunshine and happiness and a desire for cookouts. Which can happily take place in Central Park. Many parade revelers would assemble in the park and in the parade viewing streets near the park so that they could revel in a sunshiny manner. St. Patrick's Day is in March. Today in fact (fancy that). People do not traditionally barbecue in March. Which is sad because the barbecued food could absorb a tremendous amount of the free-flowing alcohol.

So on years when the school holiday did not coincide with the parade, I walked home from school dodging green vomit in my earlier years, and friendly hands in my later ones. Something I was reminded of this morning on the train which was packed with the soon-to-be-handsy.

Now, the appearance of some comely lads, both fine and brave, in their dress blues mitigated my painful flashbacks some, and this picture sent by devoted partner helped some more, but I don't have a lot of fond parade memories (sorry to my dad who took me a number of times to see the Thanksgiving Day Parade, the only major parade that didn't come by our block).

But as part of my attempt at zen introspection, I tried to examine what it was about parades that set me off. I am a well-known avoider of crowds. I don't like them. They are highly inefficient. And they make me slightly (very) violent-like.

But that's not quite right either. I simply loved the souks in Morocco, and they were stuffed to the gills with people, many of whom were aggressively trying to sell me carpets. Similarly, my biggest regret of our trip to Egypt was not getting quality time in the Khan-el-Khalili market in Cairo, another place full up with people. And, truth be told, the ordered chaos of subway travel has always been my preferred method of transport, both here and abroad. I am deeply suspicious of metropolitan areas that don't have subways.

Yet the flip side of this is that when we look to travel in this hemisphere, I seek out the least traveled places; the we're-the-only-ones-here places. So now I think I might be a racist: American crowds (when not on subways) are ill-mannered, drunk, grabassy, loud talkers who inspire violence in me, whereas foreign crowds are ok because it's part of their culture? Crap, I don't want that to be me. That's very jingoistic (oh, forgive these poor people their crowds, they know not what they do). Still, I can't deny that foreign crowds irk me less than domestic ones.

So, I'll attempt to rationalize this ickiness away: I only encounter foreign crowds when on vacation, a period of time characterized by relaxitude and smiliness. Is that helping? Ok, how about this: Americans (again, excepting, for the most part riders of the NY subway) aren't really good at crowds. We're a country that kept expanding so that we would be less crowded. Aside from events or trips to Cancun, we don't congregate overmuch (see also MegaChurches, but those are self-selecting crowds). We're unaccustomed to sheer human volume and, as such, don't know the rules of engagement. It's why our crowds are ineffectually shove-y whereas the shoviness in a place like Mumbai (so I hear) is purposeful and generally without malice. We are a nation that shoves maliciously (I know I do). My experiences with foreign crowds have generally demonstrated a well-rehearsed algorithm of movement. A frenetic ballet, it you will. Anyone who has ever spent 60 seconds at the St. Patrick's Day Parade knows that the drunk jumble is anything but balletic.

Am I off the hook yet?

I know there's a stereotype of the American Abroad, but a lot of times it's not inaccurate. We do have a tendency to talk loudly and, probably given the paltry number of vacation days we get, we become exasperated quickly if the requisite amount of ease and relaxation we anticipated on our holiday isn't forthcoming. And yet, let's be fair, I'm not signing up for a trip to Oktoberfest or the World Cup anytime soon, so foreign country people, you're not in the clear either.

So, I'm going to feel bad about myself for a little bit while I try to make these rationalizations hold water. If you have anything that could help, please don't hesitate to contribute; as The Big Chill taught me: rationalizations are better than sex.

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