adventures in the far east β€” of canada!

Pure magic (“ALALESTO!”)

In culture, food, friends, st. john's on July 27, 2009 at 2:17 am

Saturday evening, I went to the Lantern Festival at Victoria Park.

The event began since 2 pm, but I was exhausted Friday night (Jeanne and a coworker friend of mine went to see Orphan at the theater–a rare, decent horror flick, and Esther may become the new, evilest child to beat in the genre), so I slept in, and had a sloooow day. I did some chores, cooked some, and finally decided to go at around 8 pm. The march or procession was slated to begin around 8:30 or so, and it was a little over half an hour to walk to. Thankfully it was a cool night, some light drizzle had stopped so the march would go on, and so I trekked it happily with camera in tow.

In short, it was gorgeous, and the lanterns were utterly enchanting! I took 3 million and 8 pictures. Or so.

But first, some background. Friday, I was also helping Jeanne put up posters for the event around town; she was volunteering, and so would be there all day Saturday. Prior to the event, there were a number of free workshops around the city where you could go in and learn how to make a decent lantern, which she and a friend of ours did. I must admit–I did not do it because I thought it’d be lame. My first instinct was that it was for children, a silly bit of amateur craft designed to make you feel good about the project, satisfy the kids and their parents. A cynical view, I know, and one I regret…

Tangent! St. John’s, a small city with 10x less population than Calgary (fast becoming a favourite comparison of mine), is far more open-minded and liberal in its attitudes. See, this is counterintuitive for me, albeit in a delightful, welcome way: I’d always generalized that the bigger the urban centre, the bigger the mix of people, cultures, and lifestyles. With enough people, any minority will still number as a large group, making them not so alien, easier to relate to, encounter, and learn from. It works the other way of course–very few people will dispute that in very small towns, folk tend to have very limited experiences and be ultra conservative, and be much more likely to be racist, religiously hardline, and homophobic.

Here, however…as we put up Lantern Festival posters, we noticed there were Pride event posters (it was Pride Week here in the city until Saturday or Sunday) listing every event around the city, its venue, time, and without any vandalism. These existed right alongside other posters advertising bands, flea markets, dances, shows, etc. This may not seem significant; perhaps it is an isolated event.

But I doubt it. Karen told me about her friend or something who used to live here, a straight dude who supported the community and either put a mini rainbow flag on his truck, or a mini rainbow sticker. He never had a problem here…but then he moved to Calgary. And suddenly, he would sometimes find his truck tires slashed, the windows cracked, the paint scratched, and his siding spraypainted on; the last, she said, is a startling indication of vandalism done by younger people–it just can’t be 30 or 40-somethings or older running around with spray cans. After the guy quietly endured some of this, she told him, “Stop, it’s not worth it–it’s nice you support the community, but it’s not worth all the damage you have to pay for.” So he stopped.

Sorry, why is this important? Only recently have I become more or less certain my renter and her best friend are a couple, and so have a vested interest in the community. Tracy even told me outright that people here are very good with this stuff, and she feels safe. That’s when I told her it was too bad I couldn’t with any confidence say it’d be the same way in Calgary…

The longer I live here, the more I miss my good friends back home–but not the city.

Anyway, the Lantern Festival promised free entertainment (live music, of course!), food concessions, face painting, bellydancing, a magician, and so on, until the main event, fire juggling and acrobatics and the procession. For all my languor of that day, I didn’t take in the rest of this (Jeanne told me it was nice, but not amazing anyway), but I’m pretty sure I saw the best of it that evening.

Soon after bumping into John and meeting up with Jeanne, a rousing drumbeat began, accompanied by a bagpipe (sounding joyous, rather than the sombre tunes we’re used to on Remembrance Day), and together they led people on a march around the park if you cared to follow the leader. Little lanterns swayed on sticks, and people clapped along until the circuit was complete. Before long, the fire juggling, twirling, drumming, whipping, eating, blowing, sparring, etc began on the cordoned-off baseball pitch of the park. It rose to hills all along one side, and that’s where everyone sat amidst the trees to spectate and cheer.

It was a good show, but myself, I was more taken with the stretch of lanterns arranged up the hill and watched closely by fire wardens and volunteers behind yellow caution tape (later, Jeanne told me they strung all the lanterns together with invisible fish line, so it was a definite fire hazard should the general public be allowed in too close). As the sky darkened, the lanterns came to life–and what a setup they had! Is there any wonder why I took 22 trillion and 6 pictures? Unfortunately, many are blurry, because to take these images with a sucky digital camera, it takes several long seconds before it can gather enough light. And no one–no one–can stay absolutely still from head to toe until the picture is captured. I did not bring a tripod over to St. John’s, or have a much nicer digital SLR.

If it’s not apparent from the pictures, the setup they made (Jeanne told me it was not planned, but constructed into its scene based on what lanterns were available from submissions) was like a little city–there was a beautiful river and boats at harbour on the bottom of the hill with a lighthouse, city buildings spread out to one side with cars and buses, stars, suns, the world, and air balloons twinkling above, and some miscellaneous–like the drum set, the dragon, the puffins, the mushrooms and caterpillar… I’m disappointed many of the pictures are blurry (I have even more than what I’ve put here), and I’ve tried to choose the best here. Some turned out excellently–but I must say, these are still a poor substitute for the real thing! It really was enchanting that night–I felt like a kid again–and everyone was just marvelling at and enjoying the soft, wavering glow, the artistry, the gentle sway of those suspended in the breeze… As I said, it was magical.

After the show, Jeanne, John, and I headed to you-know-where for a drink and to chat some more. On the way home, I passed an awesome store that sold sheet metal, fronted by many tin men. It was hilarious. After a few drinks at Bridie Molloy’s, we all headed to The Rock House to take in Mercy, the Sexton, a very talented indie rock/pop group also doing pretty well for themselves. We met and spoke to the keyboardist Duncan prior to the show, and the backup singer/tambourine player Geraldine afterwards. Again, people here, performers even, are so willing to meet with you and talk.

Also ran into a group of my work friends there, so I visited between my friends. πŸ™‚ It was a lovely night, and I had a little too much to drink with too little food in me, so I had to indulge in some Newfoundland chips, dressing, and gravy (their “version of poutine”) at one of the sinfully delicious mobile concessions outside (the most popular here being Ziggy Peelgood’s, but John recommended to me Winky’s for their wedge fries); dressing is a term easily misunderstood (“More sauce?”), and is actually like stuffing. Very tasty, but something I’d typically avoid, but it was a good night, and we stayed at the show until closing (around 3:30 am) before trekking it back home in a soaking rain.

As a result I was tired Sunday, but not as bad as before. I may be getting partied out! Nevertheless, I still can’t wait for next week–the fabled George Street Festival. Oh my goodness, my brain’s going to explode! πŸ˜€

  1. OH, My Natrix, I guess you don’t want to come back after a year……I am so glad that you are having fun there all the time and nice pictures!!!

  2. Thanks Jessica. πŸ™‚ Aw well, it’s not that I don’t want to come back…I hope they keep me for a year. Maybe after that. I do miss everyone, but this city has been a lot more than I expected!

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