ON THE AVENUES: The Orange Occupation is here again, and as a precaution, we’ve baked a handy file into this cake.
A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.
It’s a parade to celebrate the harvest, and a very entertaining one. I always look forward to seeing it come past.
The brightly costumed children, the artistic floats, the uniformed marching bands, the varied animals — it’s a mobile pageant featuring a cross-section of the community’s past and present.
The parade is superbly choreographed, with clever twists at every juncture. Whether it’s your first experience or sixth — or even more — there’s something to like. Adults and kids alike crowd the streets to watch.
The sole drawback?
This parade occurs once every three years, and unfortunately, it takes place several thousand miles away in Poperinge, Belgium.
Well, which parade did you think I was talking about?
Poperinge’s triennial parade boasts nary a single lights-flashing police car, flatulent elected official, ear-splitting fire truck, snazzy showroom convertible, outmoded local political party or mobile sewage-sucking bureaucratic hunk of showpiece.
Rather, Poperinge’s procession tells the story of a time-honored social, economic and culinary phenomenon: the humble hop — beer flavoring agent, insomnia cure and a cash crop raised by many a Westhoek farmer over the centuries.
Back here in New Gahania, Harvest Homecoming began 50 years ago as a paean to the pumpkin, a nondescript gourd that may or may not be familiar to visiting festival vendors of Bangladeshi woven articles and Chinese trinkets.
Pumpkins have few redeeming qualities of their own apart from desperate last-ditch pulping into pies, which are edible only when spices are added to compensate for a complete absence of character — not unlike the Floyd County Democratic Party, if you stop to think about it.
The FCDP would be so much more interesting if meetings were held in a vindaloo joint or a couscouserie, and we have neither at present.
Besides, which substance makes beer taste better, pumpkins or hops? Seriously, pumpkin beers are so awful that when it comes time for a vigorous shampooing, your dog won’t even come out from under the chair until you produce a can of Bud Light Lime.
Although perhaps I’m digressing.
There was something else missing from Poperinge’s marvelous, family-friendly hop parade: a plastic fetus like this one, being handed (or worse, thrown) to children along the Harvest Homecoming parade route by Right to Life – or was it Dan Coffey’s Knights of Columbus?
It’s only a matter of time until Coffey demands a facade grant for Right to Life. I suppose embryos would make suitable decorative gargoyles, right? In truth, even a parade governing committee rule book the size of Jeff Gahan’s ego can’t cover every contingency, and America’s perennial obsession with sheer tackiness is difficult to evade.
Still, perhaps the committee needs to be more aware of such matters.
I’m just afraid they’ll move the embryo-flingers to a pole position nearer the front of the queue, in the hope they might block the view of anti-putsch NAHA protesters until the Democratic party chairman’s swollen head does the trick.
(As you’ve no doubt noticed, every third year after a trip back to Belgium, it’s very, very hard for me.)
Thankfully, that’s why we have beer – consumed uproariously, continuously, even intravenously; always hoppy, and never tainted with the vegetal detritus of Jack O’ Lanterns. Without beer, both New Gahania and Harvest Homecoming would exist as perilously unaltered states of mind, so as an alternative, why not stay drunk for a change?
A handful of Oktoberfests, and the stress just seems to disappear.
That’s right, pained citizenry. New Albany’s peculiar institution of Harvest Homecoming has arrived, and the Orange Occupation is manning checkpoints throughout downtown. I’ll be sure to erase the Poperinge stamp from my passport, lest my solitude be interrupted for immediate waterboarding.
One question alone has been on the lips of friends and foes alike: Our parallel cultural monopoly arm has been commandeering municipal resources for half a century, but can Harvest Homecoming’s monomania survive the sheer primal terror of two-way traffic?
Earlier this year, we sought entries in pursuit of an NA Confidential Top Ten list of Harvest Homecoming Coping Skills. Seven suggestions were received, each one a variation on a theme:
“Get out of Dodge and stay away until it’s over.”
No pumpkin ale, Sherlock. Last year the Confidentials took the most rational available one-way route away from the prevailing discord — specifically, the northbound lanes of I-65, which got us started on the journey to Madison, Wisconsin, and four classic days of cool blue sanity far removed from Nawbany’s civic daze.
Okay, okay; you’re right. My therapist wants me to work on that negativity, but you’ll kindly notice his office is located in Louisville.
Properly rendered, community festivals are just the sort of exercise to promote good times, unite the citizenry, help us bond through joy and better alcohol (on second thought, that’s a redundancy), and maybe provide another yearly excuse to conduct a spate of deep street cleaning – preferably, both before and after the crowds come through.
Unfortunately, when it comes to celebrations, New Albany prefers the ponderous legacy of suburban bludgeoning over subtle urban stilettos. In rhetorical terms, so do I, and yet my feelings about Harvest Homecoming probably are more nuanced than they often appear to be.
I like it just fine, except when I don’t, and then I dislike it very much.
At base, Harvest Homecoming is New Albany’s annual 800-lb municipal gorilla, or stated more mildly, it is the granddaddy of all festivals in this slowly recovering, stubbornly hidebound city.
The annual arrival of the itinerant carnie corps follows the opening Saturday parade, an increasingly dull “family-oriented” exercise, and then on the following Thursday the heart of the historic downtown business district is handed over lock, stock and storm water drain to Harvest Homecoming’s mysterious, Kremlinesque enforcement committee.
Four solid days of throng-crowded booths ensue, increasingly manned not by local indies but roving huckster mercenaries, dispensing foodstuffs, arts, crafts, politics and anti-abortion counseling, and completely disrupting any semblance of downtown commerce as it is meant to function normally.
Increasingly, this yearly disruption constitutes the flash point. For decades, there was little objection to Harvest Homecoming’s yearly occupation of downtown, because downtown was a ghost town.
Now it isn’t, and dynamic revitalization has a predictable way of igniting a revolution of rising expectations among a new generation of downtown business owners, investors and clients.
These are plain facts, acknowledged even by those refusing to lift a finger to do something about it.
As yet, there is no obvious solution to emergent dynamism’s clash with orange-hued conservatism, primarily because the low level of daily communication between various interested parties makes sparse dialogue between North and South Korea look like a beer hall sing-along in Munich — and City Hall couldn’t be bothered to exert a constructive word.
To a painstakingly slow and incremental extent, there have been concessions, and as Harvest Homecoming’s grand committee (finally) generationally reloads, the festival slowly enters into a necessary process of reinvention. May it proceed a bit faster, please.
But from the standpoint of newer downtown businesses, the root equation remains largely unaltered: Harvest Homecoming’s longtime business model is dependent on the existence of a moribund downtown grid cleansed of daily activity. Mercifully, this no longer is the case, although it counts for nothing when the Orange Occupation descends.
If anything, downtown will continue to grow even less conducive to the festival’s needs in the years to come, particularly as downtown residency becomes the norm, not the exception. Those upstairs apartments? They’re the 800-lb gorilla’s Achilles heel.
My personal nuances are these: I don’t dislike the idea of Harvest Homecoming, only its current implementation. I believe it can be adapted to take full advantage of potential symmetry between it and an evolving downtown business district, without sacrificing its tradition, and to the benefit of all parties involved.
I envision a downtown food and drink court on the current booth grid, one maximizing the uniqueness of our burgeoning dining scene, retaining space for booths while not blocking year-long purveyors.
I foresee a celebration of what downtown New Albany is, and is becoming.
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
I’m just the only one regularly stupid enough to dream aloud. For this trait, I’m sure to be punished.
Though increasingly, I don’t give a tinker’s damn. Next year at the Harvest Homecoming parade, maybe I’ll start tossing out some of these.