Monday, March 18, 2013

The Irish (as in one Irish lady with a cello) take Bucharest

Conversation between myself and Laura, my Romanian friend, earlier this month:

Me: Guess what? I'm going to be in Bucharest for St. Patrick's. I'm bringing green stuff.
Her: What? St Patrick's?? What is that? I don't think we celebrate this day here.
Me: I think I will bring a green wig.
Her: No. This is not a thing here. Do not bring the wig.
Me: How about a shamrock tiara? I saw it at Target. I'll bring you the tiara and we will drink green beer.
Her: Green beer?! Huh? No, we do not have green beer here. And don't bring the tiara.
Me: Do you think there will be a parade?
Her: Why would we have a parade? We have no Irish people here.
Fast forward to yesterday, March 17th, St. Patrick's Day.  Google has revealed that the Irish consulate, who I am going to assume has a very generous amount of time on its hands, has indeed planned a parade, which is to pass directly in front of my hotel.  It is the first year that they do this and their skills at promoting this event still leave a bit to be desired.  Not one Romanian that I speak with regarding the parade has the slightest idea what I am talking about.  They are clearly skeptical, believing that perhaps Google translate has led me astray.

The parade is scheduled to begin at 3:30pm.  It is now 4:15pm and traffic still flows freely down Calea Victoriei.  Friends, colleagues and hotel staff begin eyeing me- and my green wig- with some concern.

Finally, around the 4:30 mark, a lone police officer stops traffic and a two-block long procession of trucks, festooned with orange, green and white bunting starts making its way towards us.  There is no music.  There are no people on the trucks.  The first truck has the word "Happy" on it.  The second one "Saint" and so on, spelling out Happy St. Patrick's Day, Romania, a sentiment  proudly proclaimed to the east side of the street.  Us west-siders are looking at reversed letters.

First impressions amongst my party:
"Is this a political protest?"
"Why is there no music?"
"I think we are on the wrong side of the street."
"Are we sure this is not a funeral march?"

Seeing as five minutes had passed and the entire procession was already history, we did what everyone else was doing.  We joined in.  Mixed in with the random parade followers were some traditional Romanian bands, a couple of vaguely Celtish hipsters and the one Irish-looking kid the consulate was able to muster up.

The one thing we all had in common was that none of us knew what the hell was going on, but whatever it was, I liked it.  While most parades, by their very definition, have a clear delineation between participant and spectator, this one was a wholly different animal.  Instead of the very static act of standing there and watching the event go by, you were, by necessity, an active part of it.  I was photographing the parade and others, in turn, were photographing the chick in the green wig and her tiara'd friend.  I can't recall the last time I enjoyed a parade so much.

Laura, rocking her tiara.

Once we reached the old town section of the city, the procession briefly halted.  Some river dancing types climbed aboard one of the trucks, clomped around a little bit and just like that, the trucks all took off.  They did so at a speed which made it apparent we were done following them.  As happens on most evenings in Bucharest, our collective attention turned to the old town, which happens to be home to most of the bars and restaurants.

There, smack in the middle of the main street, was a large stage and lo-and-behold, there was an actual Irish person on it, a singer by the name of Vyvienne Long.  She was not playing traditional Irish songs, instead playing her original songs (and one White Stripes cover -something you don't often hear on a cello).

She was great and I can only assume that there were a number of other acts following her but it was cold.  Like, really really cold, so in keeping with the spirit of the day, we moved our party to the Gin Factory, an Irish pub named after a British spirit.  Somewhere around the 2nd or 3rd round, we began spotting kilts.  This was either a Guinness-fueled delusion or the band had arrived.

Fortunately, the band was very real and they, too were quite good (although here, I must concede that my assessment may have been influenced by the afore-mentioned Guinnesses- Guinnessi?) It also became apparent that we had exhausted our supply of actual Irish folks.  Our bagpipers were Hungarian.
Shoe bells!!

They were continuing on to another bar, and like good groupies, we decided to follow them.  However, one thing that groupies are not known for is extreme loyalty, and there was a U2 cover band on the main outdoor stage.  The weather had improved.  This band: also good.  Also not Irish: they were Italian.  But who doesn't like U2 sing-alongs?  So forget the Danny Boy and bring on Sunday Bloody Sunday.

By this point, we had marched in a parade, drank Irish beer and watched 3 different Irish-ish musical was clear that Bucharest had discovered St. Patrick's Day.  As if to highlight this fact, as we were turning to leave, we noticed one of two things was happening.  Either the ufo landing scene in a sci-fi movie was about to take place or they were busting out a St Patrick's Day laser light show.

With my green wig, I felt equally prepared for either possibility.  And to just think, Laura had suggested I leave it at home. 


  1. So amazing the conversation betewn you and Laura,and you are right to bring the green wig for you and the green tiara for Laura, finally you enjoy the celebration of St Patrick and look so pretty.

    Congratulation for these beautifull presentation and for yours professional photographys of the event.

    Your Mom

  2. Awesome report, Berti! Enjoyed reading it... :-)