Pittsburgh has already arrived; so let's bask

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You'll always remember Friday. The people who make these things happen couldn't have asked for anything more than that -- except maybe for the god of weather to smile on their efforts, and they got that too.

It's happened before, this convergence of cultural events and civic spirit into one gigantic, citywide party, but this time felt different -- and not just for me, I hope.

Indoors there were galleries bursting with art of every kind and people of every kind. There was Heinz Hall, where cellist Yo-Yo Ma lent his inimitable presence to the Pittsburgh Symphony on a stage draped in otherworldly bowers of vines, hydrangeas and moss. The immediate standing ovation -- in other concerts often unearned -- felt this time like an irresistible celebration.

Outdoors, many thousands more were celebrating. The setting sun kissed their heads with gold as the giant yellow rubber duck from a Dutch artist made its maiden voyage on an American river. They watched with the open-mouth smiles that accompany laughter. It sounded like joy.

Off and on through the evening, the gallery crawlers and symphony-goers and duck watchers mingled on bridges and streets. Whether in ball caps or ball gowns, it was all good.

You were the luckiest if you got to take in two of Friday's stellar events. Most of us had to choose just one -- or catch glimpses of a second "happening" from cars stopped in happy gridlock.

A new friend at a post-concert dinner said traffic was such a nightmare -- but a good nightmare! -- that she ditched her taxi and just walked from the North Shore to Heinz Hall, high heels be damned.

And how serendipitous that was, because she got to watch the giant duck gliding up to the Clemente Bridge. She passed us her iPhone so we who'd been trapped in unmoving cars could see the photos she'd snapped. While we gaped at the pics, her husband consulted his iPhone to check the Pirates' status.

Good news from Cincinnati -- another win! More of those wide, laughing smiles and then dessert under the stars.

There have been a few such magical nights in our recent past: I remember sitting with my children on a picnic blanket on the banks of the Allegheny, watching a theatrical recreation of the sinking of the Titanic. That was in 2004, at the Cultural Trust's first "Festival of Firsts." The drama, complete with real flames and surging water, should have been sobering, but the night was too magical to take away any lesson other than the blessing of being alive.

A few months later, magic bathed an entire, sun-drenched April weekend. By day, people filled the streets and lay in the sun wherever they found a patch of warm grass. By night, crowds poured in and out of every Downtown venue, mixing with jubilant fans leaving the Pirates come-from-behind win over the Cubs. Fireworks were in the air, and fireworks were in our eyes.

But back then, when the magic happened and a day or a whole weekend bordered on paradise, we seemed to greet it with a certain wariness, a bit of disbelief.

We Pittsburghers, battered for so long by any ill wind that swept the country, couldn't quite believe that something entirely good had come our way. So we hung back, looking for the dark lining behind that silver cloud.

Or we overdid it, celebrating with a giddiness that bespoke embarrassingly obvious need. Our city was like Sally Field finally winning an Oscar, saying to the universe, "You like us -- you really, really like us! ... Right?"

We latched on to any magazine's "Best of" or "Top 10" list: See, world? We are a great place to live, raise kids, enjoy art and culture, stretch a dollar, buy a house, you name it. See? See?

What was different on Friday was the absence of that old insecurity. It was simply a great evening in a great city where great, uplifting, life-affirming things regularly happen.

We've recovered. We're healthy again. We have nothing to prove. What has to be said: Great moments in the life of a city don't happen without lots of work behind the scenes.

Many people have worked very hard for years, with little fanfare, on the hard tasks of holding steady during the lean years or rebuilding after collapse. Friday night was one of the nights where the payoff for their hard work pours out into our streets, floats on our river and takes flight in our spirits.

Lean times may come again, but we'll remember the joy and we'll know it will return.


Ruth Ann Dailey: ruthanndailey@hotmail.com.


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