Wednesday, November 01, 2006

getting silly in New York

I went to the Village Halloween Parade last night. It is such a quintessential part of the city that almost everyone I encountered yesterday asked whether I was going. I just couldn’t miss it.

The weather was wonderful, warm and still, and the half-moon lit up the few scattered clouds that were visible between the looming buildings. The whole city seemed to be walking in the same direction I was, sweeping me along with the crowd descending on downtown 6th Avenue. It amazes me how in New York, in the center of the densest crowd, I can be inextricably engulfed and propelled ahead without anyone touching me. New Yorkers are very protective of their personal space.

Quite abruptly our forward motion halted, and the crowd around me spread out along the police barriers on both sides of the street. Standing on the raised sidewalk, I could just see the street ahead over the sea of costumed people in front of me. The atmosphere was festive, and the street colourful and vividly lit. People gathered in the windows of the buildings above us, and on one rooftop someone had set out candles and fairly lights on all the railings. A party of costumed children were gathered in another window, and several families had stationed themselves in the upstairs windows of a MacDonald’s restaurant across the street. Police officers walked purposefully up and down the street, or gathered in groups of two and three along the barriers. Most people in the gathered crowd had made some effort to dress up, and it gave the whole area an unreal atmosphere. I had put together a rather demure school-girl outfit, with a knee-length tartan skirt, knee high socks, blazer and berret, and felt almost over-dressed in amongst the mostly very skimpy outfits about. Womens’ halloween outfits generally leave rather little to the imagination. In amongst the short-skirted nurses, air hostesses, sailor girls and inevitably numerous little devils, I also spotted several Marilyn Monroes, George Bushes, and Queen Elizabeth IIs, Neptune, Mozart, Mickey Mouse, Tweety, the Statue of Liberty, Madonna (in various guises), and even the Empire State Building (which would have been great if the weather had been properly autumnal, but must have been incredibly hot in the unseasonable warmth). And that was before the parade even began!

At around 19:00, some dancers and a group carrying hand drums appeared, presenting a colourful, though somewhat demure spectacle. Several minutes later, a group of mounted police rode by, and then, in the distance, the sounds of the approaching parade became audible. The bystanders’ excitement increased, and for the first time someone actually came into physical contact with me as the crowd surged forward. I had been concerned about not being able to see, as was the man to my left, who brought a little three step ladder with him, on which he perched precariously in the middle of the crowd. I needn’t have worried, though. The parade was opened in ernest by several stilt walkers: a fairy, clowns, and miscelaneous colourful costumes, who towered above the crowds, before a series of enormous glowing puppets on tall poles swished and twirled their way into view. The were spectacular. Dragons, witches on broom-sticks, skeletons, swarms of dragon flies, schools of fish, and finally, about a half an hour after the beginning of the parade, a pumpkin patch, with huge, orange, glowing Jack-O-Lanterns, smiling punpkin flowers, and trailing, wiggling tendrils of pumpkin vine that dipped periodically into the crowd on the side of the street. They danced and swirled up the street, accompanied by percussionists and the appreciative mutterings of the crowd, before gathering at the nearest intersection around a huge, glowing cauldron with red, yellow and orange fabric flames rippling out of it, and performed a ritualistic dance that brought the whole scene to glowing life.

Behind the puppets were a series of floats, featuring everything from the adopt-a-dog foundation to KISS, interspersed with marching bands and general costumed folk. The costumes were fabulous, too. There were plenty of George Bushes, with various political messages attached, uniforms from every branch of the armed services, medieval, roccoco, victorian and pioneer costumes, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, Bananas on bicycles, Sponge-Bob, Dr. Livingstone, Coco Chanel, a giant Dunkin’ Doughnuts cup, half a dozen sperm chasing an enormous egg (it had to be seen to be believed), an old man riding his walker at top speed down the street, flashers with various amusing, surprising and sometimes baffling messages hidden under their coats, dogs in prisoners’ stripes and pumpkin outfits, a daschshund dressed up as a hot-dog, being towed by a woman in a Mac Donalds costume, drag queens in all shapes and sizes, a piano (I am presuming she considered herself an upright model), darth vader (there were several, again, but one came up behind me while I was looking at something else, and gave me quite a fright), spider man, super man, bat man, and various other super heroes in costumes of any colour you could imagine, more devils, angels, fairies and princesses than I could ever have counted, and a bunch of cheery-looking police men who enjoyed repeated requests for photographs with skimpilly-dressed girls in various uniforms. Quite a night. If I get more creative with my costume next year, I might actually consider joining the parade.

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