Cup of Coffee on May Day

Cup of Coffee on May Day

Cup of Vienna coffee. Photo from:

Cup of Vienna coffee.

Photo from:

May Day, Mayday.

The May Day demonstration in Vienna gave us a jolt even though it did not look like a real demonstration. Not to immigrants fresh—10 days, to be exact—out of the country that celebrated that holiday with abandon.

Why the jolt? Well, to begin with, we completely forgot about the holiday; it was left behind with everything else we had escaped by the luck of the draw. And, in a knee-jerk reaction, any reminder of before-10-days-ago translated to fear.

A relaxed crowd of smiling and chatting people strolling down the streets was no demonstration. There were no platforms with waving men in felt hats to wave back to. No military parade. No military at all. No chains of soldiers along the curbs to keep everybody inside.

As a matter of fact, some so-called demonstrators popped into cafés along the way for a cup of coffee then rejoined the flow. Or did not rejoin. We watched them openmouthed.

There was no reprieve in USSR from participation in the May First and October Revolution holiday demonstrations that followed military parades.

We gathered at a specified location, received placards and flags and waited our turn to pass by the platform teeming with men in gray coats and felt hats.

Loudspeakers hailed the working people of each country on the globe: “Long live the industrious people of Angola!” We, the horde, responded “Hurray!” After several hours of that, what a relief it was to drop off the props and head home!

I should have talked about the May First holiday before posting about the May 9 Victory Day. But I forgot it as I had forgotten it 40 years ago in Vienna. It came to mind today when – blame the blundering ways of internet search – a picture of demonstrations in Europe stared at me.

Before you ask, there is no error in the “May Day, Mayday” title—though its two parts have nothing in common except the identical sound  that laces together the distress call and the International Workers’ Day, also known in USSR as the Day of Solidarity of Workers of the World and, in post-USSR Russia, as the Day of Spring and Labor.

A little history. May Day as a pagan spring holiday is largely forgotten. But as a symbol of working people struggle it began on May 4, 1886 in Chicago (Haymarket affair) and is commemorated in Europe. Mayday comes from the French m’aider (“help me”) accepted as a radio-era replacement of SOS in Morse code.

Oh, and last military parade in the USSR took place in 1986, five days after the Chernobyl disaster. The report about it was delayed in order not to overshadow the celebrations.

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