Can I take a photo over there? – asked a young boy who has just arrived at our tent. Of course, I couldn’t understand him well but it was easy to guess from the situation. In front of our stand there was a painting of an angel with a hole in the place of the face. You could go behind it, put your face in the hole and ask someone to take a photo as in many tourist attractions. This is the symbol of the volunteering program in Plzeň 2015 (Klub Strážných Andělů), which we were presenting in the Melina Mercouri Day, a big open air event organized by Plzeň 2015 where many NGOs, cultural institutions and artists are showing their work.
The boy looks really enthusiastic. His first stop was at the Ponton stand (a nonprofit organization dedicated to leisure activities for children and young people). There, he could play some games, test his skills at foosball and have his face painted in a colorful way. He was showing it to us very proudly but after taking his angel photo, he quickly left for another stand. There were many things to be done and he was willing to participate in everything.
Just next to the river Radbuza, between one of the most beautiful spots in Plzeň, Kopeckého Sady Park, and the Anglické Nábřeží, took place Melina Mercouri Day. The main point was a big music scenario and around it almost 30 different stands and the omnipresent bus of Plzeň 2015 were occupying the streets. Cars weren’t allowed today and rain neither. The clouds which appeared during the afternoon weren’t finally a real threaten and sun was shining most of the time, making the day more enjoyable.
Some of the stands were promoting NGOs, like Cultura Africa with typical jewelry from the continent and photos from Sierra Leone; others were giving artistic workshops, like Animanie, Fotoklub or Tech Draw; others were specialized in children, like Rubikon or Koss; and others were selling special kinds of food, like the sweet pancakes of the Lions club or the delicious banana and caramel yoghourt I could taste from the stand next to us, the vegetarian Jagannáth.
While children were drawing, making t-shirts or looking at puppet theatre performances next to the bus of Plzeň 2015; teenagers were concentrated in front of the stage. The most active ones joined to the different street dance performances and support their colleagues in the ‘street battles’ while the other ones were just looking at them from the bottom, sitting on the wooden deck chairs that were around the park and enjoying the lively atmosphere that came from the scenario.
But it wouldn’t be fair just to talk about children or teenagers. It was a day for the whole family. There were a wide range of possibilities. Parents were not only there to take care of their children but also to get informed about the different organisations, to look at the theater and music performances and to enjoy the good homemade food, the drinks and the feeling that something is going on in the city and you just have to relax and enjoy it.
It was already late evening when Canticorum took the stage so that the spirits did not fall. Performing some well-known pop rock songs in a wonderful way they got to connect really well with the audience. Children, adults and old-people of every kind were dancing and singing with them showing that Plzeň can be really alive.
More concerts took place and song after song the night was coming and the program was about to finish. A beautiful videomapping over the river Radbuza gives it an end although I think that the atmosphere kept there for some time more, in the conversations of people who still stayed there to enjoy the hot night in the nice terraces around the park or in the willing of those who still had to work a little more disassembling the whole scenario…
Melina Mercouri was a Greek cultural minister and artist. She was the one who came up with the idea of European Capital of Culture, such an important issue for the future of the city of Plzeň. Could you imagine that in 2015 every day will be a Melina Mercouri Day? What is sure is that at least many people will work for it.
In my case my Melina Mercouri Day was not just to attend the different performances, to observe and take photos or to relax in the park with a beer. It was also to have the possibility to meet other Czech volunteers, to know what they are doing here, why they want to help or what they expect from the city in the future.
In the streets, in the parks, in a riverside… the best way of bonding is culture and it can be everywhere… If everyone has the opportunity to live and share the same experiences, to get to know other people from different likes and backgrounds… the society will strengthen its ties and will be more open within itself and for the rest of the world, which is the aim of Plzeň 2015 as well as it was for Melina Mercouri when she came up with this great idea.