Professor Joe Goldblatt
Breathless, I finally reached the third floor after slowly climbing step by step whilst using my walking stick to help insure I would safely reach my destination. For over one week I had been researching where I could purchase 12 small Saltire flags for me and my friends to proudly wave in the upcoming Tartan Day Parade in New York City. I had experienced many failed attempts during my search for Saltires. One flag company listed upon their web site on Google all of the flags they carried and then upon arriving at their address I discovered a 30 story office building had been constructed on top of the ruins of their long gone flag shop.
The second attempt also was a missed opportunity as the owner had suddenly closed for a few hours to erect flags somewhere else in New York City. His neighbouring business owner offered to pass my card along to him and when I expressed in frustration my many failed attempts to locate flags I exclaimed in frustration, “What happened? New York used to be the one city where you could find anything in the world!” The small business owner lowered his head and shook it from right to left while saying in deep shame from the damage caused by the pandemic “Not anymore.”
Finally, at long last woman named Leah returned my telephone call and told me to meet her in her shop the next day as she believed she had my precious Saltires. She then added “I will need to rumble around in the basement to see if I can find any for you.” I imagined he descending into a dark underground chamber, occasionally blowing dust off of small boxes, in search of my wee Scottish flags. I also hoped that one day the demand for our Saltire flags would be so great that she would no long have to descend to the basement in search of our national symbol. A few hours later she called me back and proudly announced “I have them!”
After collecting my twelve small Saltire flags, my wife and I continued our journey to the meeting point for the first Tartan Day parade held in New York city since the start of the pandemic over two years ago. Earlier I had dressed for the occasion by assembling all of my kilt kit to proudly display the Clan MacGoldblatt tartan for all my New York friends to admire. As we made our way through the streets of New York, dozens of normally fast walking strangers stopped to admire our tartan and ask “What’s the occassion?” When we explained that today was Tartan Day they all smiled, told us how much they love Scotland, and even a few raved about their visit to our bonnie land.
Upon arriving on 44th street to join our friends in the queue for the parade we could sense the palpable excitement as dozens of Westies were led by their proud owners, folk dressed in tartan and those performing on pipes and drums made their way to their position. We were told that the Scottish actress Karen Gillian would be our grand marshall and one fellow marcher told me she had just walked by with her entourage. Funny, in Scotland I do not believe people have an entourage but I assumed that in New York it was de rigueur, even for a Scottish lassie from Inverness.
The parade suddenly stepped off and our chests all rose with pride as we turned the corner of the narrow 44th street onto the much wider sixth avenue and witnessed for the first time tens of thousands of New Yorkers waving our national flag and cheering for my beloved adopted country. As we turned the corner, for the first time after living in Scotland for fifteen years, I suddenly thought of Scotland now and forever, as my own home country.
Within my marching party were six New York University students from central Mongolia who I had invited to join us. They confided to me that this was the first time they had marched in a parade and that they would never forget this experience of joining the Scots in our parade. Alongside our students were friends from Boston and Arizona. My high school friend Mary and her partner had purchased tartan just to wear in the parade and told us how proud they were to be part of something so happy and positive, especially after many months of sadness and uncertainty caused by the pandemic and now the war in Ukraine. They raised their arms high to wave to the New Yorkers waving from high above in the skyscrapers towering above us.
Several years ago I discovered that there were two other men named Joe Goldblatt in the USA. We became friends through social media and I invited them to join me in New York for the parade. One of the Joe Goldblatts made the journey with his wife all the way from the state of Arizona to march beside us. In advance of his arrival I carefully notified others including our Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary that there would indeed be two men named Joe Goldblatt in the Tartan Day Parade, just to avoid any confusion and also add to the merriment of the occassion.
When my wife offered to take our photo she commanded loudly over the banging of drums, “Joe Goldblatt, look this way!” We both suddenly turned left as we thought the command was for each of us individually and then we convulsed in gales of loud and long laughter because now we were long separated twins.
As the parade finally reached the reviewing stand that was a double decker bus where our beautiful grand marshall was carefully perched, I proudly waved at our Cabinet Secretary and introduced him to my friend Joe Goldblatt and he smiled broadly to welcome another Joe Goldblatt to Scotland in New York. I then turned to our grand marshall and shouted to the former Dr Who star “I love you Karen!” and placing my hand upon my lips threw her a big kiss. She returned my gesture by throwing me her own big kiss and I turned to my Arizona friend Joe Goldblatt and said , “Just so you know, this is not typical Scottish behaviour.”
However, as he and I and hundreds of others in the parade with Scottish ancestry or affinity for this unique land and her people witnessed the pride, passion, and love for Scotland from tens of thousands of New Yorkers, we knew that the future of our country is now boundless. The wind is at our backs and whether you are Mongolian or Joe Goldblatt, you do not have to search too far in the future for symbols of our future success. Because on this Tartan Day, in this parade, we found them in abundance upon 6th Avenue in New York City and as we marched forward with a proud spring in our steps, so did our country in the eyes of the world.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University. He is serving as visiting professor at New York University in the Jonathan M Tisch Center of Hospitality in the School of Professional Studies until mid May.