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January 03, 2008


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Dennis Brennan

Ah-- I didn't know you were in town for New Years. Welcome.

I had some uncles and cousins who were in the Ukranian American string band (even though they're Irish/Lithuanian and have no particular claim to Ukranian heritage that I know about). The string bands are the aspect of mummery that I'm more familiar with than the fancies. I wasn't even aware that the fancies paraded any more-- I thought they just did their thing in the Convention Center to ticket-paying spectators.

My wife, who's from LA, finds the Mummers to be very disturbing. "Let's see-- we get a bunch of drunk South Philly steamfitters and other assorted union-types, get them to dress up in sequins and ostrich feathers, hand them a banjo and tell them to march up Broad Street. What country is this, anyway?"

A propos of nothing, the intersection in your picture above the fold (where your blue friend is strutting) is the site of at least three Toynbee tiles, which I've mentioned in passing before. "TOYNBEE IDEAS IN KUbricK's 2001 RESURRECT DEAD ON PLANET JUPITER". I've been seeing them around here since I was a kid. Nobody seems to know for sure what's up with them.

Noel Maurer

Hey, Dennis,

I am not remembering the Toynbee tiles. What are they, again?

We're in Philly not irregularly, because Amma isn't quite done with classes. We'll be back during the end of the first week of February (say after February 5th) --- I'd be happy to get lunch or dinner in Center City somewhere, if you can.

I agree with your wife. I suspect that it's a result of having grown up in New York, where most regional folk culture (for lack of a better word) was deader than a doornail by 1954.

(Carlos, please correct me if I'm wrong --- baseball fanaticism doesn't count, obviously, and nor does the kind of excessive Catholicism so common in Windsor Terrace. Also obviously. Maybe stickball works, which I have seen in your neighborhood, if played by children that we would have considered immensely fat back in the day.)

It is weird. But then again, I kinda like it. New Year's, men in dresses, people waving the flags of countries they couldn't place on a map. I mean, it's Philly. The Greeks haven't been Greek for a generation, the Italians haven't been Italian for two, and most of the dudes holding up that Chinese dragon had no visible Chinese ancestry.

So while it isn't very Californian (or New Yorkish, or upscale-burb-of-Chicago, or any other part of the real America) but what's not to like?

Jussi Jalonen

There is no such custom that I know of in this country. I own several firearms, so I think I'd be aware if such a custom existed.

(For simple safety reasons, one should _never_ fire into the air, but that's a different thing, and not relevant to this carneval.)

But emigrant groups have their own peculiar traditions, and I suppose that this may date back to some obscure incident from the New Sweden era.

(Another example of emigrant traditions that have nothing to do with the mother country: the "Finnish" pasty.)


J. J.


New York City has had regional folk traditions and culture, like the San Gennaro festival or the Saint Patrick's Day parade. But things get commercialized or politicized or disseminated on a national scale very quickly here -- even really mundane stuff, like tagging styles or the morning bagel.


I'm from Philadelphia and am truly disturbed by what I saw on tv. I mean sure, it is all about fun and is an interesting tradition, but it's also just so incredibly bizarre. A bunch of overweight typical Philly men one day a year just decide to put on their fanciest sequens and dance around like they're in the Bolshoi? Of all people these guys are possibly the most unlikely people you'd ever imagine doing that and yet they do.
Also when you see some of these sets and the elaborate costumes and consider the tens of thousands at LEAST some of them spend on it all to be used for just a couple of minutes- and then look at say, the US debt or even more pressing a place like Armenia where it could go so much further- you get wondering about priorities.

Also I want more Armenian history posts! Bring em on!!!

Noel Maurer

Can't help you on Armenian history, Paul, since I don't know any ... but I'm not following as to why straight men dressing up in sequins and dancing in public is so bad. After all, the money wasn't going to fund Sudanese refugee relief if they didn't have fun ... and didn't you enjoy Custer's Last Dance and the roller-skating dragon?

Ohmigod ... Paul, you got me to sound like Bernard. Scary.

Dennis Brennan

Toynbee tiles. There's a wikipedia article which I guess is as comprehensive as one might expect for such a silly and esoteric topic. (Come to think of it, I believe that it was Carlos, not me, who first brought up the subject-- I assume that he checked my edit history on wikipedia (User:Spikebrennan) and noticed that I've uploaded a few photographs of 'em.)

In short, it's a weird street art phenomenon (like those stenciled "OBEY" things with Andre the Giant's face), apparently epicentered in Philly, but the tiles have appeared as far away as South America and Europe. They're these linoleum tiles that some unknown person is placing in street pavement. Most consist of messages that are variations on the "RAISE DEAD ON PLANET JUPITER" theme; some also have fragments of what looks like a longer (but no more coherent) political/sociological crank rant. There was apparently a large complex of them on Chestnut street (there are links to photos of it in the wikipedia page) that had a long, rambling message-- something about Knight-Ridder, the USSR and Jews.

Nobody seems to have a clear idea of what this is really all about.

Bernard Guerrero

"Ohmigod ... Paul, you got me to sound like Bernard."

I was gonna say....


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