March 18th, 2011
We celebrate—and I use the term loosely—St Patrick’s (Paddy’s) Day here in a big way. How many other Canadian universities actually take an entire day off in honour of the blessed saint of all things Irish? The March holiday always draws out a bit of spring fever. It’s an unofficial start of the silly season, too, as everyone starts anticipating more light, warmer days, and, most critically, the end of classes.
The weather being pretty mauzy this week, I took the university tunnels to get to point B. A curious figure started coming into focus as he advanced towards me. It was a young man, briefcase in hand, sporting very cool wrap-around sunglasses, a dark, smart pin-striped suit, and one of those oversized green felt hats only a mad Irish hatter could concoct. He was so normal, except for that comical prop atop his noggin, and he seemed totally unselfconscious about its conspicuous presence. But that’s not all that amused me. Walking behind him were three international students, Asian and Middle Eastern, who had likely landed on these shores pretty recently to pursue some graduate degree without ever having seen anything quite so odd before. I should have asked them all to stop for a picture. It sure was a surreal culture clash moment. Imagine being a visitor to this northerly isle and encountering perfectly conventional looking people suddenly turning up in gear like that in March. I wonder what that does to someone’s notion of what the locals are all about.
That evening I was at the movie theatre, lining up for some overpriced air-popped corn. I couldn’t help noticing a fair number of people wearing green, as is customary, and all manner of begorrah paraphernalia. Anyone who was really Irish was probably cringing at the site. Most outlandish was a young woman of colour, more Caribbean than African, wearing a shocking pink dress, white stockings, impossibly high black heels, and an obviously homemade hat to honour the Saint’s Day. Words can’t quite describe the hat but it’s worth a shot. It was an enormous invention, like an oversized chef’s hat, decorated with large cut-outs of green and white shamrocks and with a wide green brim that kept falling over her eyes. It was hilarious, and she seemed completely delighted with the attention her getup was drawing from the nachos gallery, even though she could barely walk in those heels. What bravado. Talk about cultural accommodation.
It’s easy to dismiss the self-indulgent antics of St Paddy’s Day, especially when you wince at all the fiddle-dee-dee out there, loathe wearing green and are disturbed by the imbibing of excess beer of that colour, but I think I would miss it, if all that silliness disappeared entirely. March 17th definitely marks a moment when dirty old winter starts to yield to a much more genial climate, and so what if we all seize this time to do very foolish things? For goodness sake, someone just paid over 100,000 dollars to buy Kate Middleton’s ‘see-through’ dress at auction. Don’t tell me the world isn’t inherently wacky right now.
Here, anyway, St Paddy’s Day is an occasion for letting go, a form of carnival, and a healthy excuse for some vulgar social release after months of grey dreary days. And these days, with nuclear clouds forming over poor besieged Japan—the Job of all nations–and Nature taking revenge on a world that has worked relentlessly to wipe Her out, a bit of corny, vulgar silliness seems all the more refreshing. I just can’t get the image of those three puzzled-looking international students following the guy with the big green hat out of my head. Fortunately, it didn’t say Kiss Me, I’m Irish.