Monday, March 19, 2007

St. Patrick's Day in Denver

My wife and I were walking through the pedestrian mall that defines the center of downtown Denver where we ran into three large groups of people. First, there were dozens of spandex-clad teenaged volleyball players who had slipped out of the convention center and the Crossroads Regional Qualifier. As a group, they were uniformly healthy looking, taller than usual, and their presence in Denver was a symbol of prosperity. After all, in how many countries do they have volleyball tournaments attended by thousands of young women many of whom come from thousands of miles away? This was also the reason we happened to be in Denver.

It didn't help (or maybe it did) that the escalator inside the Denver Convention Center had a laugh track. Better than elevator music I guess in putting people in a good mood, but it was the first time I've ever experienced anything like that. Supposedly they put it in because the laughter causes people to look down to see where it's coming from and thus it has the byproduct of also making them watch their step on the moving surface. We decided to look around instead.

The second group consisted of hundreds of green-clad St. Patrick’s Day celebrants. As my wife and I tried to walk to what we thought would be the banks of the Platte River, we noticed the mall was filled with bunches of folk, many of them with ruddy complexions and red hair, who seemed to be wandering between a bagpipes player, a full blown celebration complete with Celtic music, and several bars/pubs.

Not being Irish, I always found St. Patrick’s Day confusing as a child. It had something to do with pinching people and Christianity all at the same time which gave me the impression that the Irish must be oddly violent. My parents weren’t Christian, so they never knew to remind me to wear green that day. I remember the favorite trick was that you would put green on your body but cover it up, so when someone tried to pinch you that gave you the right to hit that person. I suspect this was a very local version of the St. Patrick’s ritual though.

One year, my dad,who owned a Chinese restaurant that happened to have a bar, decided that it might be good for business to put up shamrocks, serve Irish stew, and pass out green leprechaun hats. It sort of worked, but he never had the energy to do it again. Still, that was the first time I ever realized that a major part of the holiday had to do with the license it gave even non-Irish people to get drunk on a weekday or in the daytime if it happened to fall on Saturday or Sunday.

In any case, I never did make much sense of how anyone would have driven snakes out of Ireland. I also did some research and at least one version claims that St. Patrick had been a Britain who had been kidnapped by Irish pirates or terrorists early in his life. Allegedly Patrick became Christian and then got his revenge by converting the island to Christianity. Given that modern Irish history is marked by a generations-old war between two different Christian sects (apparently European history is haunted by some Christian version of the struggle between the Sunnis and the Shiites), I’d say that St. Patrick definitely got his revenge for having been kidnapped by Celtic terrorists.

Finally, the third group was a blocks-long column of anti-war protesters. This weekend was the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Many of them were wearing green. Some may have done so because of St. Patrick’s day. Some may have been members of the Green Party. They were marching away from the Union Station at one end of downtown towards the state capitol building. I didn’t see many tv cameras, but there were hundreds of marchers.

More than any American city I’ve been in, Denver still has signs of its origins as a railroad crossing point. Since the Transcontinental Railroad was the product of a mixture of Irish work gangs coming from the Omaha side and Chinese crews working from the Sacramento side, the whole St. Patrick’s day connection sort of resonated for me. Sacramento’s downtown also has a pedestrian mall running through it, though the capitol building is off to the side of the mall rather than at one end of it.

I was momentarily taken with these three strands of people crossing in the middle of Downtown Denver on Saturday March 17 and the way they intertwined. Actually, they literally intertwined on the “alternative-energy” bus system that runs through the middle of the mall. In the last four years, I’ve always felt both extraordinarily fortunate and sad at my daughter’s volleyball tournaments about the big picture. I see thousands of young women whose families have the discretionary income to send them to these tournaments often in hopes of getting a college volleyball scholarship. At the same time, they’re not a whole lot younger than thousands of other young people who are enlisting for military service. The marchers reminded me that both Americas seem to be moving side by side with very little awareness of how the two potentially fit together.

It wasn’t that long ago when bombs exploding in otherwise public places almost always seemed to be in Belfast and had nothing to do with Moslems. In fact, there used to be a joke about a man who gets accosted from behind in a dark alley in Northern Ireland. With the knife touching his back, the assailant says,”Tell me now, be ye Catholic or Protestant.”

Unable to see who is behind him, the man cleverly says “Wow, I must be the luckiest Moslem in all of Ireland.”

It was a beautiful afternoon Saturday. The sky was clear. We could see the Rockies in the distance. It was warm enough that we left our coats behind in the hotel room. We have so much to celebrate. Maybe when my daughter is our age, she’ll be able to think of invasions and terrorism as a thing of the past like snakes in Ireland. Btw I looked it up, the only evidence of snakes in Ireland comes from pre-glacial times, centuries before Christ. Now there’s a weird thought. Could Christianity be the product of whatever happened prior to global warming?

It was so beautiful on Saturday afternoon that I thought someone was going to pinch me to wake me up. Totally off topic, but we watched Ohio State play Xavier later that afternoon at the ESPN zone. Xavier’s the Catholic school, but Ohio State’s players must have been Irish. What we thought was the bridge over the Platte turned out to be a walkway just beyond Union Station.

If this had all been a dream, I imagine it would take me years to figure it all out.



At 3/20/2007 08:39:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish we would start talking about pro-peace instead of anti-war.

The principle is the same as what's called an embedded command. If you say, "Don't fall off the ladder," the embedded command is "Fall off the ladder" because in order to simply comprehend the statement, you have to quickly imagine falling off the ladder. So, instead you should say, "Hold on to the ladder." Or instead of "Don't forget to pick up the milk," you say "Remember to pick up the milk."

Pro-peace requires at least an instant of imagining peace in order to comprehend the phrase -- so you could say that it's a micro-embedded command.

If only we could invest billions in brigades of volleyball players and watercolorists and not spend one cent on one bullet.

At 3/21/2007 08:45:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

There were definitely some pro-peace demonstrators in the march. I'd say most of the signs were "Anti-War" since they read "No" "Stop" "End"....

I was hoping we'd spend the money on more laughing escalators.

At 3/22/2007 01:41:00 PM, Blogger None said...

Sadly.. I dont know if we could imagine peace. What would that be like? Our "leaders" would have too much time on their hands. They would surly have to kill an Archduke.. or something.

Being Irish, I always found St. Patrick’s Day confusing. I never got the "green" beer thing. Nor the events that often followed. But, somehow, I've always subconsciously worn green that day. This year I started to notice the number of people wearing green shirts on the day after.. oops..

At 3/23/2007 09:24:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

The weirdest thing about current world politics is that much of it is still the aftermath of World War 1. The Archduke business was Serbia and Montenegro, the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the consequences of colonization in Africa.

So even Irish people don't necessarily get St. Patrick's day? That makes me feel better. I don't drink and I don't take any joy in pinching or being pinched, so I just never got the whole thing.


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