It is March 18, the day after St. Patrick’s Day, and I feel I have let the parade pass me by. I am consoling myself with a buttery, bottomless bowl of scallion-flecked Colcannon, and the knowledge that others feel the celebration bursts through the entire weekend.
Missing the parade, the grand march up New York’s Fifth Avenue, is not the norm for me. I had spent the last few years perched at the tenth floor window of a skyscraper, close enough to the street where I had a sharpshooter’s clear aim down 44th Street, west to the Hudson River. But yesterday was a Saturday, and the streets were slushy and slippery from Friday’s sleet storm. I decided to putter around the house in my fuzzy, fleece robe, watch an old movie, and commune with our cat. Even so, I felt envious of those who braved the mess to enjoy the festivities, spilling in and out of pubs all over Manhattan, garbed in any hint or hue and cry of green they could get their hands on from the back of their closets and drawers. Green is not a color most people wear any other time of year.
I was there last year, and the year before that and the year before that. Each year was the same, my walking commute cutting through the gauntlet of hundreds of police officers as they casually mingled, waiting for the official order to formation on 44th Street near the assembly point for the marchers. As it got later into the morning, I would watch from my office window as more of them collected, until the intersection was a swath of navy serge.
Because we were working, my colleagues and I never actually got to see the parade up close and personal from a curbside, even though we were only two blocks away. I’d always felt a little cheated, so close yet so far. But last year was different, serendipitous and special.
It was well after 5 p.m., and I was headed home, heading toward the Hudson River where I would catch a ferry for short passage back to New Jersey. I was tired and grumpy and put out from a typically grueling workday. I waited and watched at the dock for the boat to come in, an inconspicuously black-clad commuter among many other black-clad commuters, until my eye caught the kick of a kilt.
The piper stood at least a foot taller than I am, the wool of his socks clinging and stretched around his massive calves. I didn’t want to stare, but everyone else was just as delighted for the diversion from a dreary day. We boarded the boat, and I took my customary place outside on the front deck, as close to the edge of the bow as we were safely allowed. I needed the wind smacking my face and tangling my hair. I lost sight of the plaid piper as the boat backed out from the dock. We were about a minute into our ride in the open river when I heard it, that twisted, buzzing whine of breath coaxed and wrought from deep down the piper’s lungs transformed and released through the sack clutched at his belly.
There is no other sound quite like it. Everyone was transfixed by the bleating, keening, humbling cry winding through our ears and our heads. Five minutes later, I alighted from the ferry in a trance. My day at the office was centuries away. I was serene, in a state of grace. Amazing.
1 pound potatoes, peeled and boiled until tender (I used Yukon Gold)
1 full, healthy bunch scallions, cleaned and chopped into approx. 1/3 inch pieces (or equal amount of cabbage or kale)
3 tablespoons butter
¼ cup milk or cream
¼ teaspoon salt
In a small skillet over low heat, sauté the scallions in the butter until they are partially softened and browned. Sprinkle them with the salt, stir and set aside. Strain the boiled potatoes from their cooking water and return to the pot or a bowl. Mash the potatoes by hand or with an electric mixer, adding milk or cream incrementally until they are soft, fluffy and free of lumps. Carefully fold the prepared scallions into the potatoes. Serves 2-4, depending on appetite.