On New Year's Eve Richard, Margie and I drove up to Philly to watch
the Mummers Parade, a yearly event held on New Year's Day since the
1800's, I saw scene this outside the McDonalds where we stopped for breakfast and thought it looked like a robot trying to pick up a concrete block. I added the face. We also had to stop to get a camera memory card for Richard and a coat for me, I couldn't believe I'd forgotten such an important piece of clothing, but found one in Walmart for $20, although it was bigger than I had wanted.
The Mummers Parade is America's oldest folk festival. I have never witnessed the
parade but had been many years ago to the finalists' show, an indoor
affair where the winners from each division would perform. The
parade itself is held rain or shine outside starting early in the
morning and finishing late afternoon, its participants practicing and
then putting on a main show in front of judges at the City Hall before
passing through the center of the city, the streets flanked with
spectators. There are 4 categories, these are in order of show; fancies,
comics, string bands and fancy brigades.
The last time I'd seen the Mummers was in 2005 when Bill Bowen Jr. made a lasting impression as Captain of the Fralinger String Band. I was excited to see the actual parade for the first time. We booked into our hotel room, after standing in a long line that snaked around a corner to the reception, the waiting made more tolerable by staff handing out tiny plastic drink ware holding champagne. I managed to snaffle four of those. We dumped bags and took to the streets to find the preparation area of the parade participants.
There were huge backdrops leaning against walls or free standing, hand painted or decorated with plaster, glitter, ribbons, sequins all in gloriously bright vibrant colors. U-Haul trucks filled with more props and costumes were parked in long lines down the sides of the streets. I posed next to a huge mammoth who was missing some of his trunk, no doubt a part that would be added later.
It was incredible to see so much work left here outside, and I prayed it wouldn't rain; art pieces that had taken weeks to complete and which would come together in the morning to create a themed world of wonder. Crew members were working assembling power lines from generators, enabling huge plaster and fur creations to become living creatures, or to light up a prop or create a glitter or smoke explosion. Costumes were being pulled along on racks while a peek inside some of the vans revealed more costumes or staff grabbing a hot drink. It was a freezing cold and windy night but nothing would stop production now, these parades go on regardless. None of the crew minded our nosiness, everyone was cheerful and motivated, constantly moving, like bees in a hive, assembling their works of art. Even though sometimes when I felt I was being a little too intrusive, my concerns were quashed by smiles or jolly greetings from the crew members. We were free to inspect all elements of their mastery, getting up close to marvel at the intricacy of the decorations on the outfits or the artwork on the backdrops. We saw a huge gorilla head, lumps of plaster ice that looked so convincingly real that I had to touch it, huge Chinese style dragon heads and fantasy creatures so fabulous that this sneak preview we'd witnessed positively commanded us to return for the main show the next day. I could barely wait.
Richard suggested we warm up with a cup of hot chocolate so we left the crews to carry on working into the night while we sought the sanctuary of Max Brenner's Chocolate Bar. The aroma as we entered was intoxicating, the air was thick with the scent of cocoa, and the warmth inside was welcome. I watched while a bar man created the Chocolate Martini above and was then handed my hot peanut butter and chocolate creation, which didn't warrant a photo since it was in a boring plastic disposable cup, but regardless, it was delicious.
We sipped and walked down Broad Street towards City Hall, a huge elaborate creation designed to be the world's tallest building, but overtaken by Washing DC's Monument and the Eiffel Tower before it was completed in 1901. It's topped by a statue of the city's founder, William Penn.
We had time for one beer before we sat down to dinner at Nom Wah, a Chinese dim sum restaurant that served some pretty good dumplings and other tiny tasty dishes. We packed away about 12 dishes between us before we waddled out onto the street and back towards City Hall to inspect the Christmas decorations at Dilworth Park. This is an area which has been transformed from a concrete walkway into a green and friendly space with an ice rink and sparkling lights decorating a large tree and a small park area.
Affection and devotion were in the air tonight as families and lovers lined up to have their photo taken under the LOVE sculpture and a couple were also posing for wedding photos under an archway of twinkling lights. As midnight approached we found some space inside a bar near the hotel and swigged cheap sweet champagne as the ball dropped and voices cheered in the New Year. But we had no plans to remain and continue any further alcoholic consumption, for the following morning was to begin bright and early. We walked the short distance back to our hotel, put camera batteries on charge and fell asleep to the sounds of partying in the hallways and below on the streets.