parade

Posted by Ellen

Who dreams of a rainy Christmas? That's what we are headed for this year, as in many years past, here along the east coast of North America.

In 2010, it rained on everybody's Christmas parade in Kuching, Malaysia, but people seemed reasonably happy nonetheless, even afterwards on their way home.

Hereabouts, the winter rain has been nondenominational, this year dampening Hanukkah as well as threatening Christmas, and doing a real number on Festivus. Maybe we'll have a white New Year's.

Here's to holiday warmth and cheer, despite the mess the world is in.

Posted by Ellen

After more than fifteen years of imprisonment and house arrest, Myanmar's renowned democratic activist Aung San Suu Kyi was released by military authorities in time to participate in the 2012 parliamentary elections. Huge crowds, including these Buddhist monks in Mandalay, the country's second largest city, gathered to support Suu Kyi and her fellow candidates from the National League for Democracy, which won 43 of 45 contested seats and chose Suu Kyi as official leader of the opposition.

Monks had long been active in the struggle against Myanmar's military regime; many had been shot for pro-democracy activities. Suu Kyi's release from detention signaled a new stage in the country's political development, which was celebrated enthusiastically.

Even today, civil liberties are still tightly restricted in Myanmar and the military has loosened its grasp only incrementally.

But shortly after the 2012 election, Suu Kyi was finally able to travel to Stockholm, where she accepted the Nobel Peace Prize that she had been awarded in absentia twenty years earlier.

Posted by Ellen

New Years Day morning was cold; I begged off watching the parade and slept in. But just as they have for the past hundred and some years in Philadelphia, the Mummers were out in force–the wenches, the string bands, the fancy brigades, more than 10,000 costumed dancers, clowns, musicians, and etcetera, strutting their way up South Broad Street.

As always, mummery's ethnic awkwardness was on obvious display. The skit by the Venetian New Years Association, "Indian In-Sourcing," was set in a call center labeled "New Delhi" and featured mummers dressed as Indians from the subcontinent, who danced a "Gangnam Style" routine. Then the call center label changed to "New Jersey," with performers dressed as North American Indians, dancing to "Apache." But hey, it's a parade.

Posted by Ellen

There was a lot going on this weekend in Philadelphia. The new Barnes Museum opened with $5,000 a plate gala festivities, but I dunno, I went to the 2012 Kinetic Sculpture Derby instead, in the Kensington neighborhood of north Philly.

There are lots of rules for the Derby: vehicles must be people-powered, "pilots" must wear helmets (under those beehives, no doubt), everybody must be in costume, and also: "Sculptures must be decorated in a recognizable theme, or unrecognizable, as long as it is glorious."

No electricity is allowed, "unless it’s human generated for spectacularness."

And finally, after hours of parading through miles of Philadelphia streets and attempting to cross a mud pit near the finish line, winners are selected from among the derby entrants. There is an award for nerdiness, another for artwork, another for most spectacular breakdown, and so on. But in every case, the judges are to choose "based on glory and glory alone."

First prize Saturday had to go to the weather, which was about as glorious as May sunshine can get. Beyond that, at this writing, I have been unable to find out who won but it is certain that there was more than enough glory to go around.

Posted by Ellen

A Mummer approaches the crowd along Broad Street during Philadelphia's 112th annual New Year's Day parade.

The Mummers Parade, unique to Philadelphia though with overtones of New Orleans Mardi Gras festivities, typically lasts about eight hours and involves more than 10,000 strutters, dancers, musicians, and stagehands. The 2012 parade was said to be reduced a bit in size and extravagance, reflecting economic hard times and perhaps also the city's changing culture.

Nonetheless, crowds carrying open beverages mobbed the sidewalks and cross-streets, as brigade after brigade of Mummers in full feathery regalia marched down Broad Street, pausing every few blocks to show off the results of their yearlong labors on costumes, choreography, horn-blowing and banjo-picking and precision dance.

At the convention hall near the end of the parade route, the various bands and brigades perform lengthier, more elaborate versions of their dance routines for judges, who award substantial sums of prize money to the top groups. The prizes don't begin to cover the costs of mummery, however; even though all the dancers work for free, the costumes and special effects can cost a brigade $100,000 or even more.

With less money to spend this year on costumes and staging, more attention was devoted to choreography and dance skills. According to one Mummer choreographer, Dennis Quaile, the mostly male Mummers base their dancing on boxing moves: "punches, lunges, and dodges."

"Anything effeminate they will not do," said Quaile. "Some brigades have girls and they can get away with it. But if the guys don't feel manly, while dancing in their feathers, they won't do it. So I have to keep it as butch as I possibly can."

Posted by Ellen

This was the scene on Fifth Avenue in New York City during the 1904 Easter Parade.

Easter Parades are different from all other parades: no floats, no marching bands. They began spontaneously in the 1870s, according to what I read on the intertubes, as people got dressed up in their finest and went downtown to promenade. Easter parades still existed in Washington when I was a little girl, I believe along Connecticut Avenue. I never actually saw one in person, but I did get new clothes, new white gloves, and sometimes even a new hat with a ribbon.

If you click on this picture and study the enlarged version, there are plenty of details for your delectation: a horseless carriage amidst the horsey kind, a boy delivering flowers, men with tophats amongst the men with bowler hats. . . .