Canada

Block street party

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One afternoon on the way back from the park with my daughter, I met Yvonne. She was standing in front of the house with her son. I had never seen or met her before but I recognized the boy playing on the sidewalk. We used to spend our mornings with him and his nanny at the local playground.    

A year later our kids attended the same preschool.  Yvonne and I would meet then more often and casually talk. One day she invited us to come to a Block street party, which she was organizing at the end of summer.

I thanked her for the invitation, but I couldn’t make any promises. We had plans for that Saturday to go watch a ceremony in front of the Parliament Buildings. Prince William, Princess Kate, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and many other dignitaries were coming to visit our city. Several days in advance I agreed with my husband and a friend to go and see this once in a lifetime event.

We enjoyed the atmosphere in the inner harbour. On the red carpet were speakers and officials taking turns while people watched from down on the lawn. Some spectators arrived in the early hours to get a good spot, while others, like us, joined later. We followed the event across a big screen, commenting on the opportunity and taking pictures.

I did not feel like going home, but our daughter was rushing us. She wanted to get back to our neighbourhood and play with her friends.

We parked in front of our building and went on foot, as Yvonne’s street was closed to traffic. We used the opportunity to walk right in the middle of the street climbing slowly up the hill. I looked around and noticed that each house was packed with people. To me, that was very strange. I passed by every day, twice a day actually, in the morning and in the afternoon and usually, it was quiet. I sometimes would see someone fixing something or a couple sitting on the porch, but never with this much liveliness like today. Probably they are just enjoying the last days of summer, I thought.  Fall was almost upon us.

When we arrived at the top of the street, I looked down and realized what this was all about. The sight reminded me of some childhood gatherings, where a small place would celebrate a big event. The only difference was that instead of the event being held in a square or at a park it occurred right on the street. Tables and chairs were in the middle of the road, and across from them, close to one house, was a small stage. The band was playing, but not too loud. It was already late.

– I didn’t expect this – I told my husband when we walked down the street.

 Yvonne spotted us.

-You managed to come?! – she said.

-And you have no idea how glad I am! – I added commenting on the atmosphere.

Kids were running freely all around while the grownups were chatting, nibbling on food and listening to the music. 

-You should have come earlier – Yvonne mentioned that some friends had already left.

The party lasted for another half hour. I used the time to rush through the streets, talk to some of the mothers and greet the kids from the preschool. I was happy, I encountered smiling, dear faces, but also at the same time sad. – I wish we had come earlier – I said out loud but primarily to myself.

I spoke to Yvonne later about the party. I was wondering where she came up with the idea and how she organized such an event.

A block street party is just one of the many events listed in a city program. To be able to register and get a license, you need to first collect signatures from all the residents on the street.

-My neighbour had the idea – she pointed to the house across the street. – I joined later.

That was surprising! I was convinced that she was the only one in charge. Yvonne is known as the person who initiates change and advocates for the community.

-The main idea was for people to come together and meet each other. As you know, people move all the time. Sometimes I don’t even know who is still living here and who has left.

While she was showing me the houses of neighbours she hangs around with, our children were having fun playing with table tennis balls.

-I was amazed when I saw a bunch of kids playing in the middle of the street like we used to do. That’s not an image you see these days, is it?

-I know – I responded. It felt like home.

The preparations for the Block party begin several months in advance. Every year Yvonne has to notify in writing all the neighbors. After that, she starts preparing tables, chairs, plates, cutlery, ice cubes, garbage cans, and wasps traps etc.

-What do you consider being the biggest responsibility? – I asked.

-The band – she showed me the house where one of the guys lives. – They are professional and participating free of charge. Usually, they practice repertoire for weeks in advance and on the day of the party, they come early to set up the stage and prepare the equipment.

The best way for Yvonne to thank them is to make them dinner. And it has to always be something special because they are mostly vegetarians.

-In order to maintain this kind of party – she continued – we must respect some provisions, like for example we cannot have alcohol and we must keep the noise to a minimum. There are also regulations that say the event must not be publicly advertised, nor on the radio or posters.

For this party that wasn’t even necessary. Satisfied residents were quick to spread the news. The first year, they brought their acquaintances and friends, and after, they started talking about it on various occasions, on the street, and in our local parks.

– Throughout the year several people asked me about the block party. Many of them were waiting for you to announce the date – I said and realized she wasn’t aware how much people appreciated everything she does.

Nothing changed with the next block party except that an invitation card arrived a little early, at the end of August. We didn’t want to miss a moment, so we rushed to arrive on time. It seemed, however, that we were again late. The street was full of people.

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(photo: Wendy)

All the neighbours were coming by, bringing trays of homemade food to the tables. They were full of treats: bread, pies, meat, salads, sausages, fruit, and ice cream. People were peeking onto each other’s plates and asking about the dishes as they greeted each other. We knew most of the neighbours, although some very little, but we also met a new guy. He was from New Zealand.

I mentioned to him that we lived on the street below and showed him the preschool. I tried to call my daughter and introduce her, but without success. She enjoyed riding her bike with friends. He said he also had a daughter and a son. That summer they moved onto the street next to the park. I nodded because I was sure I knew which one. I raised my hand to greet our friends while listening to our Guatemalan neighbor, praising the kebab he just tried.

– Where did you buy this meat? -he asked.

– At a butcher shop – my husband replied pointing in the direction – across the street from the supermarket.

– Oh, the Moroccan guy? I also buy meat there, but it doesn’t have the same taste.

– You should marinate it with some seasonings and leave it for a few hours – my husband described the process by listing the spices he used: salt, vegeta, rosemary, Hungarian paprika, and thyme.

– Now I know and I’ll try to make it. It’s delicious.

The block street party had just started and I was so immersed into it. We were jumping from one topic to another and conquering the planet without an effort. I would refill my juice while we were talking about Canada and drinking it in with the image of Central America or New Zealand in my head. In one moment, we would loudly comment about Victoria and share our common experiences, and in another, we would be silent and listening to an original one.

Even though I was standing in one place, or sitting on a cozy garden chair, I was under the impression that I was traveling. Maybe that was the reason I fell in love with this block street party, I thought. I usually try to avoid small talk. It’s not my specialty, nor need. But in these gatherings, small talk always bring amazing discoveries. Somehow the conversations remain stuck in my head for months and I keep revisiting them over and over. In these moments, if you meet me by chance, be prepared. I might sound very strange. The close ones swear I would often say: I don’t feel like going anywhere anymore.

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