Hoboken traditionally celebrates St. Patrick's Day with a big parade the first Saturday in March. When I was new in town (March 2008) and hadn't witnessed the spectacle, I went to the parade eagerly and enjoyed myself. At that point I was living on Hudson Street between 6th and 7th, and I staked out a place for myself in front of Benny Tudino's pizza parlor. There was a big crowd, mostly lined up in front of the bars on Washington Street for all I could tell.
There were vendors selling green beads and boas of green feathers, green t-shirts and funny hats. I watched the parade, enjoyed a slice of pizza, chatted a little with some of the revelers, but was not quite with it enough to see it for what it was--a drunken mob scene made up of mostly college kids that would last long into the night. I was home shortly after 1 P.M. and could still hear the roar of the crowd from my third-floor walkup all day long. I reflected on St. Patrick, the Irish, the human need for carnival, and parades I had seen in my lifetime. On March 17, I went to a nice bar and ordered an Irish Coffee. I was disappointed that the bartender just poured some Irish whiskey into some stale coffee left over from the morning and served me that in a cup. No real Irish here. I mentioned my experience of the parade and was told that most Hoboken residents vacate the area on the day of the St. Patrick's parade and leave the celebrating to out-of-towners, mostly college kids looking for a place to get knee-walking drunk, and a certain amount of gratuitous violence, contained by an augmented police force.
The next year I didn't bother with St. Patrick's Day or its celebration. Last year I went to a matinee on Broadway. Yesterday was parade day, so I traipsed to New York again, this time in search of a nice French bistro where I could have a light meal and a cineplex that was showing some kind of offbeat movie.
The movie I found was Barney's Version, which stars one of my favorite actors, Paul Giamatti. It was playing in the West Village, which is one of my favorite places to be in Manhattan--I used to work there at the old Fairchild Publications on W. 12th Street, and I defy anyone to find a better neighborhood for young, bright, semi-artistic people to work in in New York. The area is haunted for me now, and browsing there is sure to stir up memories and create an experience unto itself.
I walked on West 12th looking for a nice place for a little Frenchy meal. There was an Italian place right where Il Bambino used to be, on the corner of 12th and University Place, but I can get good Italian anytime in Hoboken, so I veered onto University where I saw a sign that said Jack Bistro and ventured in. It felt very French, and very noisy--obviously a favorite for weekend brunch in the neighborhood. I ordered a bowl of onion soup dreading the plunge through the cheese toast to the roiling-hot deliciousness beneath, but I needn't have worried. The soup was served in a big white plate and the crouton was a slice of oblong ciabatta covered in melted Gruyere. You could actually pick up the toast, nibble, and place it back on the soup to soak up liquid. I never had the dish served this way and shall never forget it. Excellent food, excellent service, and a tab of $7.89 or thereabouts. I hope that cafe lasts a long time; I intend to return. At the bar as I was leaving two young beauties in green t-shirts were asked, "Excuse me, but are you on your way to Hoboken?" and they said they were.
I, on the other hand, was on my way to the 13th St. Quad Cinema, where the movie awaited me. Paul Giamatti played an obnoxious young man, not unlike the Duddy Kravitz of a previous book and film, fumbling, hustling and conning his way through life, but this one is saved by an angel of a wife and has a decent life in spite of himself. I also couldn't help but be a bit reminded of The Heartbreak Kid, for reasons that will be obvious to those who see both movies. Beautifully done, the movie includes a great turn by Minnie Driver, an actress who has not touched me much before this, Dustin Hoffman, who never fails to touch me, and an actress I had not made note of before named Rosamund Pike. As the angel-wife, she is flawless and awesomely good. You might say "too good to be true," but don't forget, this is Barney's version of the story. I loved the movie, but at times it is difficult to take.
As I left the theater a lady in the row behind me said, "Are you Jewish?" and I said I wasn't. Then she said, "That was the most Jewish movie I've ever seen--it had it all!" And I said I agreed it was very Jewish, but that it had universal appeal. We were both wiping our eyes.
Coming home, I got the train and decided to take the Light Rail in Hoboken instead of walking through the milling crowds in green t-shirts. Unfortunately the Light Rail was diverted through Jersey City, but, as I had to change trains at the Newport stop, I ran into Macy's and bought some costume jewelry. I ended doing what I liked on this odd day in Hoboken--basically I got out of town, lost the madness that is connected to St. Patrick's Day here (and Mardi Gras in my hometown). Sometimes the best plan is to wait until the 17th and reach for a glass of Bailey's in honor of St. Patrick then, if you do anything at all.