Tuesday, March 20, 2012

(The Day After) St. Patrick's Day

Royal Academy of Art
Sunday morning we went to see the David Hockney exhibit at the Royal Academy.  When we saw the HUGE line out front, we were glad we had bought our tickets in advance!  We walked right in.
Line for the Hockney exhibit
We weren't allowed to take any photos inside, and it was very crowded, but we enjoyed the exhibit.  I was only vaguely familiar with Hockney's work, and this exhibit focused on his large-scale paintings of nature scenes, which he paints in bright, vivid colors.  Most of his work was done in the English countryside, so I was surprised to see a small gallery at the end featuring paintings of familiar scenes in Yosemite.  These were done in October 2011, possibly specifically for this exhibition.  They made me a little homesick...  I searched through the gift shop for prints or post cards of the Yosemite series, but they didn't have any.

When I bought the tickets a couple months ago, I had no idea that not only would London be hosting a massive St Patrick's Day celebration on March 18, but that the parade would be passing right in front of the Royal Academy.  I couldn't have planned it better!  We came out of the museum a little before noon, just in time to stake out a prime spot along the parade route.
The start of the St Patrick's Day parade
The parade had all the elements you'd expect in a St. Patrick's Day parade, and a few you might not...
Firebird float
decorated antique vehicles
Local Irish groups
Irish dancers
Marching all-accordion band with cheerleaders
The wearin' o' the green
The Olympic rings
Japanese ladies in green kimonos

People who wanted to re-use their costumes from the Notting Hill Carnival

Hari Krishnas
Yes, really!  Hari Krishnas in leprechaun hats
Bolivian dancers
It was quite a parade!  If you've been reading my blog for a while, you might be wondering why I don't have a picture of the Hat Man wearing a crazy, shamrock-covered head sculpture.  It's not because he wasn't there!  We did actually catch a brief glimpse of him during the parade, but he was across the street and our view was blocked by one of the big flatbed trucks.  By the time it had gone past, he was a block away.  But he definitely had a seasonally-appropriate hat on.

After the last group had marched past, we grabbed lunch at a pub and then headed down to Trafalgar Square for the second half of the celebration. Because it was a chilly day, people were snapping up hats, flags, and other accessories to make up for having to keep their green clothing hidden under warm coats.
Flags and hats were selling like hotcakes
A stage was set up in the square, with a lineup of performers including Irish music and dance groups.  It had clouded up and gotten a bit chillier than expected in the afternoon, but there was a huge crowd.  It probably helped that there were several stalls selling beer and hard cider around the periphery of the square.
The party in Trafalgar Square.
We worked our way down into the crowd to listen to the music of Four Men and a Dog, but the audience seemed distracted by something else.  I got up on my tiptoes and saw this shirtless guy in a funny hat climb onto one of the fountains.  He lowered his jeans to show everyone his festive underpants, and then pulled them back up, buckled his belt, and did a comical dance around the lip of the fountain before the security guards got him down.
Exhibitionist, or just a few too many?
There was a high percentage of redheads in the crowd, including this lovely girl next to us who attracted the attention of the paparazzi as she sat on her mom's shoulders.  (The guy taking the photo asked her not to smile, and just "look normal.")
Photograph me, I'm Irish! (she was dressed all in green except for her coat)
Since it was hard to see the stage from where we were standing, we worked our way over towards the other fountain so we could at least see the video screen.  On the way, we got a glimpse of the Olympic countdown clock.  Only 131 days (from Sunday)!
Olympic countdown
We managed to find a good spot behind a lady in a wheelchair where we could see the screen AND the stage.  Much better!  I was amused to see several security guards in waders walking around in the fountain.
Wading for something to happen...
We watched a dance group called Hammerstep perform a mix of Irish dance and Hip-Hop.  It was entertaining, although it wasn't so much a blend as a bunch of white dudes doing Irish dance around a black dude doing Hip-Hop.
We were getting a bit chilly and peckish, so after that performance, we ducked into the Crypt at St Martin-in-the-Fields across the street for tea and scones.  (I can't believe I just wrote that sentence!)
In the Crypt
With warm hands, full bellies, and empty bladders, we went back to watch the final musical performance of the day, the High Kings, from the edge of the square.   The emcee announced that there were 12,000 people in attendance, which did not surprise me.  I have never seen so many people in Trafalgar Square, not even for Chinese New Year!  Nor have I ever celebrated St. Patrick's Day with so many actual Irish people...
St Patrick's Day revelers
The crowd dances to Irish folk music by the High Kings
Another eventful day in London -- from highbrow art to lowbrow party, it was a lot of fun.

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