Friday, December 7, 2007

I Love A Parade

Bucharest 1 Decembrie 2007

Ok, I admit it. I’m a parade junkie. I’ve stood sidewalk New York vigil under the dirty patched inflatable gigantathon rubber and helium cartoon characters and floating super heroes du jour on the all-American over-eating day, at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Believe me, the balloons look better on tv!

I’ve shivered in near 51 degree (Farenheit) January’s Southern California frost in Pasadena, awe-ing and ah-ing at the most amazing things they can do with flora and fauna at the Rose Parade.

I’ve seen the ball drop on New Year’s Eve (Revelion) in Times Square, and been terrified when the crowd decided to move, and you moved with it, or risked a trample.

Once of each was enough outdoor exposure to give me bragging rights for attendance at the USA’s biggies.

But I’ve also spent many a spring, summer and autumn criss-crossing the states, and when I’m on the road at any random holiday, the draw of small town America celebrating pulls me in like a 5 pound bass on 25 pound test line.

I love an American parade. I’ve paused in Iowa and Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Kansas, Virginia and Nebraska, among others, to take in the line of tractor, hay wagon, dignitaries wearing convertibles and imitating the Queen of England’s wave. I’ve seen Founders’ Days and Independence Days, little shapeless five-year-old adora-belles in pink leotards and net tutus tapping or twirling their way to hometown recognition from the local jazz-tap-ballet studios, and cub scouts, boy scouts, eagle scouts with badges and sashes on parade to celebrate ground hogs, and Halloweens, state fairs and new mayors, veterans in proud, rusty medals, and local high school drama clubs/girl scout troops, YW&MCA’s adorned and bedecked in occasion-matching outfits. Pilgrims and witches, though not necessarily in the same parade. And the fire truck, if it’s a really small town. Or the fire trucks if the county is involved. And wonderful and awful high school bands oompahing marches something near Sousa, or definitely Sousa-like. And dogs in big collars, and sometimes, in the western states, horses draped with more silver than a Tiffany display case.

It’s always a treat. It’s always a proud occasion.

So when I was invited along to spend a Saturday morning on the 1st of December seeing the Romanian National Day Celebration Parade march down Bul. Kisseleff to the exact duplicate of the Arc de Triomphe (Arcul – The Arch) that Bucharestians revere, you betcha I accepted. Yet another chance to compare country attitudes, actions and traditions, spend a sunny, winter day in the brisk air, cheer some passing populations, go to the after-carnival and eat delicious things that taste better the worse they are for you. Sure, who wouldn’t have accepted eagerly?

Nooooot exactly.

First of all, it’s a military parade.

Any decent Ex-communist country would surely know how to throw a line of cannon in to a row. And I had already seen this self-same martial art practicing on the street I traverse daily to biroul (the office) two days before. I just didn’t know that this would be the only contingent.

As we approached, my companion began to comment on the crowds. Startled by so many. This was not a mandatory meet. It was not a communist compulsion. This was a voluntary event and the streets were lined 3-5 deep with on-lookers. Obedient children were everywhere. Waving their curiosity like the small blue (albastru) yellow (galban) and red (si rosu) government giveaway flags that sprouted everywhere.

A previous parade under the dictator was a very different spectacle. “People had to be here then?” I innocently asked, trying to penetrate the atmosphere and match it to anything I knew from life as an oblivious American. “More than that.” I was told. “There were sign-in sheets for everyone. They would take attendance. And they would check, sometimes as much as six times during the event, just to make sure you didn’t leave. What’s a spectacle without adoring crowds?”

But today was different. It was a quiet orderly assembly of people finally experiencing that the honor was theirs. Not imposed. Not required. This was the first year that Romania was a member of the European Union. And the back of the free flags sported the blue field with the now-familiar golden ring of stars. And Romanians belonged. Now they brought their children. Because it was a nice day. Because it was a good activity. But something bigger. The pride was palpable.

After September 11th in the US, parades like this would have brought on cheers. Loud applause would ring over the streets, raining down appreciation on the heads of all the uniformed participants for their service to town and country. On this initial December National Day, there was no applause. It felt to me like it felt to them that it would be rude. And this was not a day to dishonor.

“Why is it” I posited “that when the boys plan the parades, they always bring out their war toys?” The response was a logical surprise. “Oh, no, you really don’t understand. It was the military that stood with us and supported the Revolution. Without them, we would not have been successful.”

The President spoke, of course, though we were far too far down, finding a tiny slice of view to hear him. And the tanks, and rocket launchers, some dressed for forests, some for deserts, the jeeps and vans and cycle patrols rolled past to a crowd that drank in the representation and protection that this tiny 21 million strong, ever-conquered country now counted on to keep history from repeating itself.

But at the end, there was no carnival. No hot dogs, or locally made popcorn balls in colored cellophane. No rides or ping pong ball tosses for prizes of goldfish you would name “Richard” or “Amanda” and who, three days later would be floating belly-up in their bowls. No recruiting booths for the local volunteer fire-fighters, or the armed services. Just an orderly egress. People still waving their paper emblems, a little, or wearing like shawls the full size flags they’d brought from home.

I wish words were better at catching the intensity of the feeling of that crowd. There was a rock solid comraderie, a human union, a silent, appreciative coming together to celebrate that now there was an independent Romania. And that it was at last advanced enough to join the club of independents that is becoming the European adhesive.

I guess you have to have lived through being a captive to really know what it is like to be free. That’s a long way back for an American. A part of our essential essence, but more like a sense memory than a reality.

At this parade, I was very proud to have been a witness. And maybe I understood one more tiny bite of this ripe Romanian apple I have chosen to dine on.

Romanian National Day

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