…we crown thee with blossoms today
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.”
— Queen of the May, traditional
We went a-maying yesterday. That’s a phrase I love, one you don’t hear much anymore. “Won’t you come a-maying with us?” It conjures up images of gay young ladies and gentlemen strolling through meadows and gathering flowers in their smartest attire, reciting at whiles bits of Dryden and Donne to each other, but not Coleridge. It’s an activity too unspecific in its goals to be well remembered in this age. In fact, I didn’t really know we were gone a-maying until we were nearly on our way home from a-maying.
Every year University Avenue (“the Ave”) is closed off from about 41st or 43rd up to at least 50th, a good stretch of the University of Washington’s main business street, and artists and craftsmen set up their booths and performers come to play. An assortment of food booths that gets broader each year lines both sides of 45th street where it crosses the Ave, and the whole affair — known as the University Street Fair — is extremely well attended. Yesterday was sunny and warm, it felt as though the late winter we’ve had here suddenly ended, so people came out in droves.
This is why I never get anything constructive done around the house.
One thing that captured our attention right away was the demonstration by Candeias Capoeira, a group of capoeira dancers. Capoeira is a Brazilian art form descended from African slave traditions that looks like a cross between break dancing and martial arts. A circle had formed and people started clapping, and one man started singing in what I guess must have been Portuguese. While the circle of his fellow capoeirists clapped and sang, the littlest practitioner stepped out and started jukin’ and jivin’ and twirlin’. When he was done, the next oldest stepped out. In this, capoeira and break dancing both share the “spotlight” format with the ancient art of flamenco dancing, wherein a spontaneous gathering of dancers will take turns “showing off” individually accompanied by the clapping of the others (in flamenco this is called palmas), someone singing, and sometimes also the playing of a guitar. It was fun to see little blond suburban kids performing this venerable and earthy art.
We have a collection of photos, starting when Mara was a toddler, of her staring worriedly at people dressed up in strange or extremely large customes at public events. There was a giant yellow hen at the Woodland Park Zoo’s Bunny Jump egg hunting event one year. We called her the Chicken Lady. Then there was the white-painted Fairy Lady at Folklife the last couple of years. Yesterday there was a cowboy riding a giant chicken. I don’t know why. Mara was amused and kept her distance. She was even a little leary of the balloon lady, possibly because she was wearing a tophat and vest and so looked a little mannish. Remind me to discuss the “uncanny valley” sometime. This was not that, but the ideas are related.
We had timed our visit to the street fair so that we would be able to see the MossyBack Morris Men. Morris dancing looks silly. And it is silly. Grown men with bells strapped to their limbs jumping up and waving handkerchiefs, is what it is. But it’s a very old tradition with dark and earthy roots in England’s “benighted” pagan past. These days it’s something that gamesome gents do in the vicinity of a pint of bitter. Still, it’s always fun to watch. I had a hard time getting decent photographs of the dancing because they moved so fast that they jumped out of the frame, and because I kept being distracted by the visual and metaphorical implications of the Jack in the Box sign directly behind them.
The Morrisers picked Angela out of the crowd of onlookers to be Queen of the May. They sat her down on a box (they told her that had they not been shorthanded that day she would have been sitting on one of their knees, and they apologized for the failure) and performed for her good pleasure, with the guitarist and the concertina player giving accompaniment and singing a song about the Queen of the May. Each dancer bowed before her, then each leapt as high as he could in front of her while waving his kerchiefs. At the end of the song they lined up and each one bent and kissed her on the cheek.
When the kissing line started, a man standing next to me who realized that I was the cuckold in this metaphor said “they didn’t tell you about this part, huh?”
I said I wasn’t particularly worried. Angela knew many lords a-leaping and she chose me, for good or ill. And besides, I could leap. I could leap if I wanted ta…