The parade day was the worst weather. It was the coldest rain possible (at about 37 degrees Fahrenheit) and the wind was blowing it horizontally. I walked to the architecture school to work on some personal projects—this is code for JSTOR access—and I felt the cold in my lungs, in my stomach, under my armpits, everywhere. All the streets were closed off in the nine squares of downtown New Haven and police were hanging out at streetcorners; I kept my hands visible and did not make eye contact.
The parade day was not St. Patrick’s Day either; it was March 10. Why hold it then when you could hold it as Sunday and St. Patrick’s Day align? The organizers preferred the cold rain. A few days before I had seen the tops of daffodils peeking above the soil in the planters along Chapel Street and felt a tinge of sadness at the thought that the feet of drunken Southern Connecticut residents would be trampling potential buds into mulch.
The cold rain prevented that from happening. There were fewer people lined up on Chapel Street for the parade than would normally have been strolling on a Sunday without a parade. Maybe four people on one side of the street, five on the other. A janitor came into the Dean’s office to watch from above.
Police on motorcycles zigzagged back and forth down Chapel Street, clearing the parade route of any straggling pedestrians (there were none). The parade started with one phalanx of policemen; they were followed by a phalanx of firemen; then another group of police; and finally some bagpipers.
Of the perhaps six groups of bagpipers in the parade, about half played American patriotic songs such as “America, America” rather than traditional Irish or Celtic tunes. At the heads of these pipers marched flags in the following combinations: American, Irish; American, Irish, POW; American, Irish, Marine Corps, POW; American, Irish; American, Irish, Connecticut, Marine Corps, Army, Navy; American, Irish. All groups had to be represented by national flags and symbols of military organizations.
More police groups, more firefighters, a few national guard groups. An occupation, a show of force. A reminder to all of who the city belongs to.
Toward the end of the parade some life crept in: two radio station floats blasting the loudest phone conversation imaginable, playing Nirvana songs as if Kurt Cobain wouldn’t have hated everything about those radio stations, about those floats, about this parade—Cobain’s masculine voice stolen to charge the atmosphere with anger while ignoring the lyrics which mock it all.
There was only one group representing a non-police, non-military, non-Irish culture: a group of school girls dancing to African drum music. Water in the desert.
Finally the police motorcycles came back through zigzagging, claiming the space of the street for themselves one last time.