Friday 3/11/06 - St. Patrick's Day Parade, African Hut, Bel Canto Chorus at the Basilica of St. Josephat

We woke up at around 9 and made coffee in the room while we were getting ready for the day. I was flipping through channels on TV when I came across the highly entertaining Prospecting America. We watched it for a while for a few laughs. It was folowed by Gold Fever, in which a guy was using a metal detector on Waikiki Beach in the middle of the night. There was so much to laugh at in this particular program. We particularly liked that he was staying in a multi-hundred dollar a night room and wearing probably a thousand dollars worth of fancy equipment, yet was thrilled at all the "riches" he found. A handful of junk that might have possibly been worth a total of about $50 if it were all real gold. He then proceeded to tell us how profitable his hobby was and how we could do it too. We thought this must be some sort of comedy sketch show but it was as real as it gets. Before being influenced to change our careers we decided to head to breakfast. We went down the second floor of our hotel to the Kilbourn Cafe for breakfast at around 10:30. Craig got scrambled eggs, grilled ham, toast, and home fries. I had Texas French Toast (sprinkled with powdered sugar) and sausage. The dining room offered exactly the same view as our hotel room but the food was really good and we would be starting the day with overstuffed bellies.

After breakfast, we headed back to the room and got ready for the Milwaukee's 40th annual St. Patrick's Day Parade. The weather was very sunny and nice, and as we walked to the starting point of the parade (the corner of 3rd and Wisconsin), we saw other people who were obviously headed to the same event. People pulled wagons with little children, etc. When we got to 3rd and Wisconsin at around 11:30, people were starting to gather. The staging area for the floats and marchers was neaby, and we could tell that things were gearing up. Kids sat on blankets on the curb. People of every ethnicity were here to enjoy the parade. The storefront across from where we stood was called Johnnie Walker's. It had a window full of some of the most pimping clothes that we had seen outside of Memphis: bright red suits, sequin-banded hats, shiny shoes, etc. The stylishness of the clothes stood in sharp contrast to the crumbling building. Politicians (especially the ones who had Irish last names) were taking this opportunity to stump. To his credit, when one district attorney candidate found out that we were from out of town, he continued talking to us about the city and he was curious what brought us to Milwaukee. Most other candidates simply said "oh" and walked off realizing we wouldn't be casting a vote their way. There were people selling various Irish-themed paraphernalia in every direction. I bought some bright green cheap plastic Mardi Gras-style beads so that we would look festive. These people took the parade quite seriously. Clouds rolled in making the sky a little gray and the air a bit cooler but we would still be comfortable for a few hours either way.

The parade started precisely at noon with a motorcycle and a selection of motorized couches and reclining chairs. This was soon followed up by the mayor of Wisconsin and a bishop. Bagpipers dressed in traditional outfits serenaded the crowd. Antique cars, a Ghostbusters-style ambulance, an antique fire truck, and an old paddy wagon drove by. People marching and riding in cars threw candy, beads, and oversized green coins to the crowd. It became a game for the children (and some adults) to scramble into the middle of the street to hurriedly collect it before the parade moved on. The Glencastle Irish Dancers were dressed in curly wigs and were accompanied by a float adorned with a castle and Celtic cross. Local media personalities drove by in convertibles. The Navy band serenaded us. Then the Cashel Dennehy School of Irish Dance danced by. A leprechaun rolled by on the Wacky Wheeler, which was basically a giant wheel. He climbed up and down it to control its movements. It reminded us of a TV show we had seen about manually-powered ferris wheels in India. Tiny ponies pulled a small wagon. The Ocean of Soul Dance Team from the Milwaukee High School of the Arts perfomed to drummers, bringing some funk into the festivities. There was a fire and police pipe and drum band. Sigmund "Behan" Snopek (the "Irish Piano Man") and a fiddler performed on a trolley car. There were people dressed as the Usinger's Sausage elves. An African American leprechaun cavorted with a frog in a tie-dyed T-shirt. It was all so surreal.

Bringing us back down to earth the local Army Reserves took the opportunity to pass out recruitment information to anyone who fit their demographic. The Kinsella Academy of Irish Dance marched, and the Brookfield Civic Band rode by in what looked like a giant sleigh. Some local beauty pageant winners rode by in convertibles. The most elaborate float was definitely Mo's Irish Pub. It was modelled after an Irish village. They had Irish dancers in full traditional costume and two singing guitarists performing on the back. Liberty Tax Service had people in Statue of Liberty outfits handing out Statue of Liberty hats. I managed to procure one of these. Sure, it wasn't Irish, but it was festive and silly and I enjoyed wearing it. The Trinity Academy of Irish Dance had a float with traditional Irish cottages on it. The parade concluded with an Eastern flair: Falun Dafa drummers and meditators. We were really impressed by the way in which so many cultures came together to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Milwaukee is truly a multicultural city, and everyone knows how to get into the spirit of the party.

As soon as the last of the parade had gone by us (at 1:30), there was a sudden downpour. People dispersed or congregated under awnings. We walked by Mo's Irish Pub, which seemed to be gathering a lot of post-parade patronage. We realized they had been serving beer out on the street and we decided it was good we didn't know that earlier as we had a lot of things we wanted to do. Starting beer drinking so early in such a festive crowd could easily have adverse effects on the evening plans. The storm soon passed and we continued walking. We walked down by Old World Third Street and saw a leprechaun crossing the street. We walked past Pere Marquette Park. There was a statue of the priest, and someone had gotten him into the spirit by draping green St. Paddy's day beads around his neck. We went back to the hotel for a short break and make plans for the next phase of the day.

We decided to head back out again at around 3. We walked up toward Lake Michigan, passing several nice churches and a cathedral along the way. Even the apartment buildings had a very different character than what we were used to seeing. There was a lot of nice parkland on the shores of the lake. We saw the Milwaukee Art Museum, which looked like a streamlined sailing ship. It looked beautiful with its white curves silhouetted against the blue of the sky and the lake waters. We decided against going into the museum though since we didn't have too much time before closing and we still had other things we were going to try to accomplish before evening. The late afternoon light really highlighted the intricate arches of the old buildings that we passed. Everything has so much character here. We saw the old Blatz Brewery buildings, which are now being converted into condos. The old Pabst plant loomed in the distance (apparently Miller is the only large brewer which is still Milwaukee-based). We went back to Pere Marquette Park, where they were having a Leprechaun Launch. Students from nearby Milwaukee School of Engineering had built contraptions (catapults, trebuchets, pneumatic cannons, etc) to see who could launch a stuffed leprechaun the furthest. We watched a couple of trebuchet launches but the setup time for each participant took a little too long so we moved on.

We walked back down to Old World Third Street to the African Hut Restaurant, which had intrigued us when we saw its web site. Since we will be going to Africa in several months, we thought that this would be a nice opportunity to sample some cuisine. The restaurant looked pretty unassuming and dead from outside, but once you passed through the entranceway you knew you were someplace unique. Animal print fabric adorned the walls, and there were many hanging African carvings and masks. There were educational posters showing maps of Africa and photos of its major cities. Along the bar were children's darawings and thank you notes for the African presentations that the owners of the restaurant had brought to local schools. It was a small restaurant but it was hopping. Larger parties would definitely need a reservation at peak times. We ordered Zanzi fries as an appetizer (sweet potato fries with a spicy katanga sauce). Craig had a Tusker Lager from Nairobi, and I had Malawi Burgi, a home-made fruit drink made with mango, papaya, passion fruit, and mixed with various rums. For an entree I got Senegalese beef yassa, which was very tender beef marinated in a wine sauce. It was served with rice, fried plantains, corn bread, and spinach. Craig got Jollof Rice (A Malian long-grain rice cooked in a tomato base) with vegetables and boneless chicken. It was served with stewed spinach and chicken with corn bread. Everything was very tasty. Craig just regretted that he wasn't feeling as hungry as he wanted. This meant he didn't get to eat as much of his food as he would have liked. The food was so good but we really had no ability to take leftovers away with us. We talked to the Nigerian proprietor and told her how much we enjoyed the food and we also told her about our upcoming trip to Africa. I had a piece of African sweet potato pie for dessert and we didn't end up leaving the restaurant until around 6:00.

After dinner we wandered back to our hotel to change clothes. I called the Bel Canto Chorus and was told that tickets to their Passion of Faith performance of Frank Ferko's Stabat Mater would be sold at the door. This was something we were interested in doing but didn't want to order tickets ahead of time. Now that we were in Milwaukee and feeling up to it, we called a cab and took the $10 ride to the Basilica of St. Josephat. It was a stunning building, inside and out. It was so ornate and really amazing to think it was here in a residential section of Milwaukee. Although we arrived early we decided to buy tickets immediately. The women selling tickets were very impressed that we came all the way from Massachusetts and were excited to see their performance. We bought reserved tickets along the center aisle. The interior was absolutely gorgeous, with ornate paintings adorning the walls and ceiling. Everywhere we looked we were awestruck by the architecture, the glasswork, the woodwork and the paintings. One painting in particular really disturbed Craig. We could not see the painting close enough but Jesus was in the foreground wearing red robes. Coming from behind a stone column was a figure dressed in blue robes wielding an axe about to hit Jesus from behind. He assumed it was supposed to be Judas but found himself staring at it very often throughout much of the evening. There was an ornate white pulpit and bright incandescent lights. It really was a magical atmosphere for a show even despite us being a little spoiled by seeing so many pieces in Symphony Hall.

Frank Ferko, the composer, gave a little speech before the performance. He talked about how and why the piece transitions from E minor to D major. He gave several warnings to the audience about one section of the piece which is particularly atonal. He asked that people please bear with it and he took the time to explain why it was written that way. It is the point in the piece where Mary is watching Jesus die on the cross and she just doesn't know when his agony is going to end. The portion of the piece is written so that even the choir doesn't know which voices will be highlighted or how long the section will last. It is up to the conductor's discretion and he would point to a particular section of the choir and they would respond until he chose a different segment to highlight. It was fascinating to watch and experience in such an elegant setting. The piece was about an hour long, and we enjoyed every minute of it. It was a stunning vocal performance. We realized that we must be a bit de-sensitized seeing the Boston Symphony Orchestra do all kinds of new works, because the "atonal" segment didn't strike us as particularly chaotic at all. We only knew this must be the section he was referring to because of the way the choir was being conducted.

The basilica wasn't in a very active neighborhood as it was mostly all residential. We realized that most people who had attended the concert had driven there. Our cab driver on the ride there told us that we would have to call for a cab to go home, but he didn't have a number for us to call. We were a bit unsure of how to get a cab back downtown. It would have been much too long to walk at night (approximately 4 miles) and it was starting to rain. Across from the basilica we noticed the El Salvador Restaurant. Neither of us were hungry since we were still full of the African food. We weren't even sure it was open but we decided to take a chance and walk over there. Once inside, we told the proprietor our plight and although he seemed to only understand a little English he understood and he sent one of his waitresses into the kitchen. Shortly afterwards she reappeared with a phone number. My cell phone didn't have coverage, so he used his telephone and made the call for us. He was really nice. Feeling a little uncomfortable for not actually patronizing the restaurant we got drinks while we waited for the cab to arrive. Craig had a Pilsener El Salvador and I had a Salvavidas Rojas (strawberry soda). We looked around at pictures of Salvadorian volcanoes, icons of the Virgin Mary, etc. We tried telling him that we have visited South America a few times and that we wanted to visit El Salvador someday but I don't think he really understood. We saw that one of the daily specials was lomo saltado. This was a dish Craig fell in love with in Peru and we laughed that we might have eaten here before the concert had we known about it. Soon our cab came and we hopped inside, me still carrying my glass bottle of strawberry soda.

Once in the cab, we talked to Adam, our Sudanese taxi driver. He told us that the name Adam, as well as Martin, were actually quite popular names in Sudan. We found this rather interesting and knew we would enjoy the conversation on the ride. Immediately we noticed how different he was to cab drivers in Boston. While we were waiting to pull away from the restaurant he started into the roadway on two separate occasions. Noticing another car coming he put it in reverse and backed out of the way. On the third try, nobody was coming so he finally drove off. As we got onto the highway he asked "how much did it cost you to come out of the city? I don't want it to cost any more than that to go back in because sometimes roads close and change around and I don't think that is fair to customers". We couldn't believe it. In Boston they would likely take passengers the long way just to increase the fare! Adam was very friendly and we could have stayed in his cab chatting all night. He really seemed to enjoy the fact that we took a genuine interest in him. We were very curious about his coming to Milwaukee to find work. Even after we arrived at the hotel, and paid him for the ride, he was still talking with us. He seemed to generally enjoy the discussion as much as we were. If another couple hadn't been waiting for his services we would have continued chatting for quite some time. Once again, it really struck us what a multicultural city Milwaukee is and we really enjoyed how friendly everybody was.

We made a quick stop back at the room and decided to head out for a nightcap. We walked over to the Water Street Brewery. The clientele wasn't as old as it had been last night and it looked far more inviting. We sat at a small booth near the bar. Craig, being rather indecisive about what beer to try in a new location, ordered a sampler (Bavarian Weiss, Honey Lager Light, Old World Oktoberfest, Water St. Amber, Munich Lager, Pale Ale, Raspberry Weiss, Black Lager, and Irish Stout.) Feeling slightly left out, being in a brewery and allergic to beer, I decided on a Smirnoff Ice. Finally feeling a slight desire for a bite to eat, and staring at a menu of appetizers, we ordered some "Brew Tons". They were a plate of large wontons filled with quesadilla fixin's. They were absolutely fantastic. Despite wanting to order more we decided to be reasonable since it was now getting late. The brewery had an extensive collection of tap handles, beer cans, and brewery trays from many different Milwaukee institutions displayed all around the room. It was far less smokey and loud than Moe's on Water had been last night. The music soundtrack was a lot better as well. We heard some bluesy Allman Brothers and all sorts of other classic music that just seemed exactly right for the occasion. Then, at around midnight, we were considering ordering another drink when the music changed to some really bad pop-country song about drinking Cherry Coke. This was about the worst possible thing for us at this point in the night and as soon as a second song came on with that typical pop-country vocal we took that as our cue to leave instead. It had been a long day so we went back to the hotel. I wrote in the journal, and then we went to sleep.
Antique Car, Milwaukee St. Patrick's Day Parade 2006

Marching Band, Milwaukee St. Patrick's Day Parade 2006

Wacky Wheeler, Milwaukee St. Patrick's Day Parade 2006

Mo's Irish Pub Float, Milwaukee St. Patrick's Day Parade 2006

Step Dancers, Milwaukee St. Patrick's Day Parade 2006

Pabst Brewery on the horizon

Blatz Brewery Building

Milwaukee Art Museum

Milwaukee Art Museum

Architecture, downtown Milwaukee

Basilica of St. Josephat

Basilica of St. Josephat

Bel Canto Chorus, Basilica of St. Josephat

See more pictures from this day

Previous Day Trip Overview

Back to Craig and Steph's Vacations
Next day

Read our guest book   Guest book Sign our guest book
Please send any questions or comments to
All photographs and text copyright 1996-Present except where noted.