Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A Polish Parade and Lustrous Lights in Baltimore.

On Friday evening I drove up to Baltimore with Margie where we met Richard and a large group of others to join in the Polish Carol Singing Parade. This is an annual event, which has been held for at least 25 years, where a truck pulls a small trailer in which Polish musicians sit and play their instruments, sing carols, English and Polish, with hundreds of people following, also singing as loudly as possible. Originally in Poland horse drawn carts would rumble around Polish villages with carolers stopping at all the churches. We started at the Polish Home Club, where pamphlets with song words were handed out, and then off we set. Wrapped up warmly and in the midst of a throng of people, we didn't feel the cold.
Folk were dressed up in Christmas outfits and playing their own instruments as they walked behind. A TV crew was there, no doubt showing some footage that evening on the local news, we even saw a Grinch! Richard had brought his big camera and I constantly chastised myself for not bringing the Sony. My little G15 wasn't quick enough. I'd press the shutter button and the camera delayed for a few seconds, taking its sweet time to focus before it clicked, like someone clearing their throat before they speak. It was driving me nuts and I was sure I'd end up with a collection of blurred images or missed shots. But looking over the photos later, some of them turned out OK, and the blurring actually seemed to enhance the moment.
The crowd was huge and we all sang cheerily as we walked, police cars flashing lights and stopping traffic as we passed down cobbled streets and into squares. The Polish outfits were stunning but I worried that the women wouldn't be warm enough. I assumed underneath they had layers of thermals.
We stopped for a moment's quiet reflection at the G "Mike" Amiger Street sign, to honor Mike who had been a highly decorated and much loved police office in Baltimore. You could have heard a pin drop, I was impressed with the respect this officer had earned.
I took a video of the cart as the men sang and played a Polish carol. It was quite difficult keeping up, one minute it rolled nice and slowly, and then would suddenly speed up to get through intersections being held open by police. We also had to let them know that they had a flat tire, which was repaired later at a church stop; they had no intention of stopping the parade.
We stopped at a couple of Polish churches, one we couldn't enter because it was closed, but the Holy Cross, Polish National Church, had its doors wide open and we piled inside. We managed to find seats, and so could sit and admire the interior, feeling the atmosphere in which the Polish worship. All the lanterns were blazing, red poinsettias were bright as they sat on white marble, and the scent of incense hung thickly in the air, predominantly cloves. We sat through prayers and carols, all in Polish, some of us valiantly attempting to follow the Polish words. I failed miserably, unable to pronounce or even follow the strange words. After about 15 minutes we left to continue the parade, with everyone being handed a small bag with a couple of Polish style cookies inside.
Richard and I lost Margie and a guy called Phillip, who had joined us, so he suggested we went to the Polish Home Club which was just down the street. We hoped that by getting there early we'd be able to enjoy a beer and see the interior. But it was not to be, the place was already packed and people were being refused entry. I just managed to catch a glimpse of Polish dancers artwork on the walls before we were herded back outside where we discovered that we'd also lost the parade. So we placated ourselves with a few beers at our starting pub and waited for the others to return.
These were easily the best Christmas outfits I've ever seen, these two women had evidently put a lot of work into their tree outfits, which lit up beautifully.  Note the stars on top of their heads.
We didn't have to wait too long for the others and then decided to visit 34th Street, the most decorated street in Baltimore. I'd never been here before so was very excited as we walked towards the corner. Richard made me close my eyes and then led me into the center of the road before telling me to open wide. The street was incredible, bright and light, like a fairyland. Vibrantly colored bulbs were strung from every conceivable hanging place, across the street, windows, paths, steps and yards.I even tried to stand still and listen, curious if I could hear the hum of electricity. This street must have been visible from outer space. Everybody that walked up and down had their faces transformed into colored masks as they were bathed in the light from so many bulbs. But I couldn't hear any buzzing of power running along wires, although I could hear a loud snoring, and it was a while before I found a toy Santa on a ledge, fast asleep and emitting such loud snores that if he had been real, he would have woken himself up.
Peering into the side windows of the first house we could see a model railway humming through a brightly lit winter wonderland. Phillip and I even peered through the front door window of one house, seeing a family room decorated to the hilt, and wondered if the residents actually used this room. I would love to be sitting in there on Christmas morning.
Each house was decorated in a different theme, with trees and lights, blow up ornaments, and plenty of home made decorations. There were Christmas trees made from car wheel hubs or vinyl records, a Star Wars theme, (but this was a blow up R2D2, Chewbacca and a Darth Vader. Nice but not glittering or shimmering enough to warrant a photo). Mardi Gras decorations with pastel lights, a Tim Burton themed yard and of course, Baltimore's own Natty Boh made an appearance. I particularly loved the pure white Unity house and yard. There were even bicycles and wheels strung up with lights or made into tree shapes.
We finished the evening with dinner and beers before heading back towards DC. I drove home, with lights still softly glinting in my memory, and the sounds of polish carols and laughter still ringing in my ears. What a great way to start Christmas!

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