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31 October, 2004

Hallowe'en in NYC

To end an already busy day, having visited the Statue of Liberty, the commercial district, Brooklyn Bridge, Bloomingdales and Central Park, we headed south again at dusk to watch the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade.  With only an approximate idea of where it'd be, we caught the subway to Union Square by about 18:00 and headed eastward along 14th St. towards the 'touristy' part of Greenwich, as that seemed the most likely parade route.

After only two blocks, we'd obviously found it. Seventh Avenue had been closed and crowd control barriers set up about 2 m from each curb; the pavement (US: sidewalk) behind them was already filled with people right across the pavement, almost to the wall. Yet, having overheard a police officer, we realised this was two hours before the parade itself. It took a while to even cross the road, and I don't remember how long it took us to grab a meal, but we found a good place to stand on the kerb by 20:00.
At about 20:45, we were still waiting for something to happen; I thought I could see lights in the distance, but nothing reached us until ~21:00.

I've provided a few comments with the photographs, but to summarise, the parade was certainly remarkable in its scale, with over a million spectators and many thousands of participants, but it didn't quite match my expectations in terms of splendour. I'd expected hundreds of professional-quality giant puppets and floats, numerous bands and original costumes, but it seemed that anyone who turned up at the start line in any form of home-made or store-bought costume had been permitted to join in. The result was that the dozens of impressive sights were diluted by thousands of people wandering along in almost everyday clothes. One of the park rangers we'd met at the Statue of Liberty that morning had advised visitors to avoid the implied debauchery of the parade, but there was little to even titillate. I will say that there does seem to have been at least one positive effect of the apparently dire Halle Berry film 'Catwoman', as that costume was well-represented....
By about 22:30, we were cold and with no sign of the parade ending or even changing in quality or tone, we left. Perhaps we'd only seen the rather ordinary preamble and missed a more spectacular later stage of the parade; it just seems odd that such a well-known and well-attended event was an apparent anticlimax. That sounds (characteristically) negative, so I'd better stress that though distributed thinly amongst an unimpressive majority, the better costumes and puppets were indeed very good.

A problem of leaving before the end was that we needed to cross the parade route to return to Union Square and hence a direct subway line to our 'home' station. The police were stopping the parade every 5-10 mins to allow cross town (vehicle) traffic to cross 7th Avenue, but were discouraging pedestrians from doing the same, so we had to dodge officers and take a circuitous route. Back at Union Square was one of the more memorable sights of the evening: a vicariously familiar (i.e. from films) view of a New York subway platform, populated by French maids, jesters, and superheroes. Another slight oddity was the short walk from Grand Central Terminal to the hotel, suddenly finding that the busy 42nd Street, Lexington Avenue, etc., felt comparatively quiet, even comfortingly familiar.

And so to bed.

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