Monday, May 12, 2008

Via Squalida

Among the many pleasant diversions here in beautiful southern Ohio are the various street parties that crop up around Athens in May and June. This past weekend was the occasion of one such party (really, parties, for many different streets were involved) known locally as Palmerfest, named for Palmer Street, where it had its humble origins God knows how many years ago (it has been an institution here since before I was hired in 1996). I almost always forget that these things are going on until too late. In this particular instance I had no idea that Saturday evening was the beginning of Palmerfest until I tried to drive over to Christ The King Parish, one of the local Catholic Churches, for Confession. Getting there requires driving down Palmer Street, which I did without pause, only to find myself navigating through the Athenian version of Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. Hundreds of already intoxicated students (well, sure, it was nearly 4:00 in the afternoon, after all, and I suppose anybody would be well into their cups by then) were wandering aimlessly about in the street, which is all of 300 feet long. Fortunately I did not have any new sins to add to my Confession after arriving at my destination, even though many of these students were very scantily clad.

When I got to Confession I found that my usual Confessor was not there, and the substitute was a priest from another city. It was then that I remembered that it was Pentecost, and the Bishop was in town for Confirmation. All of the local priests were up at Saint Paul's, the other Catholic Church in town, getting ready for the 6:00 Mass. I went home by a different route and reminded my wife about Confirmation, and we decided to go to the Vigil Mass because the daughter of one of my colleagues was being confirmed at that Mass.

Now, my most tenacious fans may remember reading this post from October of 2005, in which I noted that the two Catholic parishes in Athens are only a couple of blocks from each other, both on Mill Street, which runs orthogonally to Palmer Street. Palmer Street is closer to Christ the King than to St. Paul's, but it basically bisects Mill Street and, hence, the Fest really ought to be called PalmerMillFest or something like that, because all of Palmer and most of Mill Street are student rental housing, and it's just one Big Party pretty much all of the time, but especially during PalmerFest. At any rate, because of the Fest I couldn't find any place to park near St. Paul's, and we wound up having to park in a parking structure in downtown Athens. As we walked over to the Church we were passed, in all directions, by many scantily clad party-goers, many of them staggering as they waddled about in their spiky shoes or dirty sneakers.

The Mass itself was absolutely beautiful (though, like any Mass at which a Bishop is presiding, the Homily was both dreadful and forgettable at the same time--the only thing I remember about it now is that it was too long), and I literally got tears in my eyes watching my friend's daughter get Confirmed. The place was packed, and my family and I had to stand at the back, but in a way that gave us something of an advantage, because standing around back there gives one a pretty good view of what's going on everywhere else. After Mass we waited out in front of the Church to say hi to my colleague and his family, and, of course, a lot of other people were doing the same thing (well, mutatis mutandis, of course--they weren't all waiting to greet my colleague and his family). I expect that many of these people, having come to see their young relations/friends getting Confirmed, were from out of town, which is why it was particularly unfortunate that Pentecost occurred on the same day as PalmerFest (I'll bet those liturgical types really regret getting rid of occurrences and concurrences now!). One of the first things I saw, upon emerging from the Church, was a young man lying with his back up against a telephone pole, listening to two young girls saying such things as "I thought Church was on Sunday" and "What is all this shit?" When the Bishop emerged, wearing his bright red Pentecost vestments, there were peals of derisive laughter all around (the irony was, of course, totally lost on the bumpkins who had come into town dressed as though for a high school prom when in fact all they were going to do was get blasted and soil their thongs).

I didn't learn until later that, as bad as this scene was, it had actually been much worse earlier in the afternoon. Remember how I noted that St. Paul's is up Mill Street from Christ the King. In my post from 2005, linked to above, I described a Eucharistic Procession from St. Paul's to Christ the King, lead by this self-same Bishop right down Mill Street. That was on a Sunday morning, however, when most of the locals are still sleeping it off. It turns out that on Saturday afternoon, when things were just getting cranked at the big Fest, there was another procession, this time of Confirmands from Christ the King up to St. Paul's. As one parishioner recounted the event:
I had a long talk by phone with Mayor Wiehl this morning regarding the general sense that the 'fests' are growing into a much larger problem. My family personally experienced this on Sat. night before (6pm) and after (7:45pm) at St. Paul's Church which was located too close to Palmerfest. Our 35+ kids to be confirmed actually walked from CTK up Mill to St. Paul's before the service. It was an embarrassingly surreal experience and out of town relatives who aren't desensitized as we are were appalled.
Some people sure are testy about a few moonings and boob displays on the way to Mass. Get over it, people, hedonistic pagans have rights too, you know.

Talk about running the gauntlet. The thought of parading past house after house overflowing with debauched immoralists while all dressed up as for Church rather than for prom at the age of 15 is something that I hope does not come to haunt my dreams. I suppose some of the kids may have thought the whole thing was a hoot, but my experience has been that other kids find such things rather distasteful, and most parents certainly do too (or ought to). Ohio University has little control over such things, and I doubt that there's much that city government can do, either. But Ohio University has been working pretty hard to overcome its reputation as a "party school", and one hopes that embarrassments such as this will provoke an even great effort to find ways to maintain some sort of decorum, at least when people are looking.

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