Monday, July 22, 2002

Well, I'm back...

I'm back at my parish, after two weeks of vacation. As I mentioned in my post from last week, I spent much of the time out on the East coast. I have a number of friends there from my years in graduate school (at Catholic University in Washington, DC) and and seminary (my first two and a half years of seminary were at St. Charles in Philadelphia). I got caught up with some old friends I hadn't seen in a a while, and I made a few new friends. It was an enjoyable and productive trip.

Upon returning to St. Joseph, I was immediately plunged into the highlight of the summer here, our town's annual Venetian Festival. About 250,000 people descended on our little lakefront burg for our celebration of summer. We had the usual round of concerts by second, third, and fourth tier musical groups (the headliner act was the Beach Boys), the usual carnival rides whose appeal lies in their appearance of unsafety (the Zipper is my personal favorite), and the usual booths selling overpriced food of dubious nutritive value. For me, the best part of the weekend was the fireworks display Friday night. Our rectory porch has an ideal view of the fireworks, so I was able to sit on our porch, drink a rum & coke, and munch on chips.

The rest of the festival was, I must confess, rather tiresome for me. I admit this with some trepidation, for I fear I will be accused by parishioners and townspeople (many of whom work quite hard to organize the festival) of lacking in civic-mindedness. But it's not that I lack enthusiasm for my town: I truly enjoy living here. It's a great town, I like living on Lake Michigan, and I love my parish. But I don't enjoy crowds or extreme heat, both of which seemed to me the principal features of the weekend.

I am willing to consider that my reaction to the festival is merely a manifestation of my own misanthropic temperament. So I invite those readers of mine who enjoy getting out into massive throngs of people in 95-degreee + heat to tell me why they think it's fun. Because, frankly, I don't get it. As far as I'm concerned:

Being outside in 95 degree heat (with it's usually attendant 95 percent humidity) is tolerable per se, given that one is sufficiently provided with refreshing beverages such as gin & tonic, Pimm's & soda, and/or mint juleps, and given that you are in the shade and that one doesn't have to move around too much.

Crowds are tolerable per se as long as they are at a distance and you don't have to mingle with them.

Overpriced food of dubious nutritive value is OK, as long as, after having sampled some of it, you can either go home or to a decent restaurant to have a real dinner.

Sitting on the ground surrounded by 200,000 people for two hours to listen to a has-been musical act just plain isn't ok, in my estimation.

I went down to the festival on Saturday evening for a while. I talked to some parishioners, had an Elephant Ear and a lemonade, and mingled with the vast press of humanity.

I was struck by the general demeanor of the crowd. I presume that most of the people there, many of whom had travelled some distance, had come to "have fun". But I did not see many people showing evidence of having fun. I saw many people grimly shouldering their way through the crowds; I saw parents snapping at their unruly children, and I saw idle teenagers leering at passers-by. The only people I saw who showed evidence of "having fun" were the parishioners I encountered who were "working" at various booths. The experience made me recall something C.S. Lewis once wrote about the modern quest for "fun", and how we moderns substitute excitement and "fun" for Joy.

If I'm merely showing my misanthropy, then please tell me. But someone out there, please explain the appeal of things like this, because, as I wrote above, I just don't get it.