The best kind of day ends like today did. I left the office a few minutes early and walked down along the waterfront to the Old Spaghetti Factory to meet my wife and daughter for dinner. We do this once a month or so. I always have the (unsavorily named) Potpourri — four kinds of sauce over spaghetti noodles. Angela ventured into the veggie lasagna tonight (verdict?: “meh…”) and Mara usually orders spaghetti with tomato sauce and, like her parents, a green salad with bleu cheese dressing. For desert there’s spumoni, of course, in little pewter dishes.
We always ask for a seat on the west side so Mara can watch the commuter and freight trains go by. As a digestif, we walk across the street and ascend to the Seattle Art Museum’s new Olympic Sculpture Park by way of a little path that winds through a grove of — hmm, I suppose now I think about it they’re probably quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides), along with native currants and blueberry bushes.
Tonight there was a little troupe rehearsing a moving dance they’re performing in the park tomorrow — by that I mean that they’ll be moving through the park as they perform. With them was a man tuning up what looked like a six-foot-tall hookah with strings attached to it. It was shaped like the lamp from I Dream of Jeannie, with a large metal resonating chamber at the bottom and twisting strands of metal winding in planty fashion to the top, where the 16 strings were attached. It was loaded into a Radio Flyer red wagon so he could play it while it moved.
I asked the man what the instrument was and he said “It’s a stamenphone.” Indeed, it looked like what you might see inside the flower of a hermaphroditic plant: stamens around a metal ovary and pistil. It was really quite a beautiful instrument. It looked unmanufactured, like he’d made it himself, and I asked if there was another of its kind, and he said “No. It’s my own invention.”
“Oh, so it’s THE stamenphone.” I wondered, and he said yes it was. (A little research post eventum turns up that this man was most likely Ela Lamblin, creator of the stamenphone, and that the instrument “hums and wails empyrean melodies, evocative of whales and cellos and mermaid songs.”)
We sat on the grass and watched the group get ready. Several of the performers were in wheelchairs, and all of them wore royal blue shirts. An electric fiddler (the fiddle was electric, not the…nevermind) started playing a staccato music in a minor key, and the stamenphone man began striking the strings of the stamenphone (you can also use a bow, apparently) to add a kind of spooky tonal volume as yet another guy pulled the wagon with the black handle in front and they all marched off in a line. The dancers followed the musicians and did expressive hand and head movements; the ones standing also crouched and dipped, and then they moved on a bit and stopped and did it all again.
We run into little surprises like this fairly often, and I’m really glad because it means Mara’s experience of the world is richer for it. Who knew that the world’s only stamenphone would be drawn by red wagon right in front of us this night, followed by blue-clad performance artists? We felt like kings and queens of serendipity to encounter such a treat.