The white boy is putting on his brown leather beret.
I say ‘boy’ because he can’t be no more than 18 or 19. He is beanpole skinny, with a long brown ponytail going down his back. If I was twenty years younger, I would’ve instantly fallen in love with him, pretended to mind my own business while surreptiously following him. As it is, I’m finding him too androgynous for my tastes, his face too delicate, skin too pale. I am bemused to see that he, too, is heading towards the Capitol Square and the Art Fair, all alone.
I reach the Square just as the first few raindrops fall. Jon told me there was a storm front headed our way, so I was glad I took my umbrella with me instead of leaving it in the car. I didn’t think I’d stay long anyway; I would see as much as I could, then head back home. Being out by myself is more of a treat than seeing the art. I could take my time and linger as long as I like, without worrying about people being bored or confused, or just wanting to get to the next booth.
So I was able to stare at the tree woman statue as long as I liked. She stood about half a head taller than me, green leaves for hair, acorns a band holding them back, creased bark for skin, mushrooms sprouting out from her shins, moss on her cracked feet. As people flowed around me, I studied the tree woman, walked around it, noticing little details: she had small boles for knuckles. Her teeth and eyes were human. She had four feet. I walked around her, thinking that couldn’t be right—her back and buttocks curved as human, but something else stood behind her, like a stump—I couldn’t exactly tell. As I studied the feet, what I took for a thick boll of acorn and mushroom behind her heel was actually a baby, curled in a sitting position on the ground. That made me wonder: mother, child. Did father get chopped for firewood, leaving behind the stump of his feet?
The rain began in earnest. I ducked into another stall, marveling at a line of children silhouetted against an African moon, led by a pied piper(site is under construction for now). Another stall held huge Moroccan domes painted on flat stone plaques. More plaques within held scenes of Tuscany, and Egyptian hieroglyphics. As I talked to the artist, soft piano music played from a speaker set on the curb. Beneath it, water gushed through the gutter, a river canal in minature. Another stall held small statues of old woman, all of them sitting on the ground, laughing uproariously. I didn’t want to leave—I wanted to know all of these old women, wanted to sit at their feet, hear all their stories. I think I know what to get my grandmother for Christmas.
The rain did a good job of winnowing out artists. Some rushed to close their stalls, packing things up, zipping up the tarps so you couldn’t see inside. Others kept their stalls open, knowing that the rain would drive passerbys inside. And some artists didn’t mind their art getting wet at all. One artist talked blithely as water poured around her and her painted tiles, some sitting in water an inch deep, colors bright, shiny wet.
I wandered over to see brass wire dancers high above me. The gray sky their stage, their audience below, they spun and danced, undeterred by the rain. The artist detailed how they were made—they started out as clay models, then made into larger wax replicates. Then thin wire lines are overlaid upon the wax until they cover the models completely. The wax is melted away, and what is left is a wire frame in the form of dancers, light, aery, but full of vibrant motion. Human mobiles, I thought, watching a pair of dancers pirouette around each other in the wind.
The streets soon emptied of passerby. The only people were left were those like me, unwilling to let rain stop them. I saw Brown Beret Boy again, perusing vases, his satchel slung over his back. A pair of women called out to me, yelling that I need a martini, and when I looked, they stepped aside to show a huge painting of said martini. I swung around the north side of the square (east? northeast? I get so confused on directions), and there, coming down the mostly empty street, was another black woman. She had no umbrella–her hair was her umbrella. Thickly splayed as a split-open fig, her hair drunk in the rain with wild, abandoned joy. She did not hurry as she strolled towards me. I slowed my pace to watch her pass, and she smiled at me.
"There’s benefits to going natural," she said.
I turned to watch her, envying the thickness of her hair, envying how easy she made it look to enjoy the rain.
I reached the corner and entered a booth that held photographs of all varieties of people. A Buddhist monk boy studying. An African couple and their baby staring off in the distance. Beneath them were printed short quotes. As I studied a Haitian girl sitting in an overlarge chair, the people at the booth next door started shouting "Free beer! Free beer!" Because of the rain, they needed to close up shop quick. Everyone around them cheered. I would have gone over, but then a photo caught my eye—an elderly African woman staring at the camera with mischevious eyes, holding a pipe stuck jauntily in her mouth. The quote below it read Well-behaved women seldom make history. It reminded me so much of the laughing old women from the other stall that I started to laugh. The photographer, who had dreadlocks that put mine to shame, came over.
"You like that one?" he asked.
"It’s awesome," I said.
"It’s yours," he said. He pulled it out, wrapped it in a bag, and gave it to me with a hug.
There are benefits to going to an art festival in the rain.
There wasn’t much to see after that. Actually, there was a lot, but it all blurs in my mind. The only other thing that stood out was passing landscape photography and freezing in place. "Is that for real?" I asked, staring at a castle too richly hued, water too bluish-green to exist. I went in, and goggled at white sandy terraces, weathered walls with a single brilliant green door. Seeing the pictures online don’t do it justice. At that point, I wished Jon was there with me to see it.
But then my stomach noisily reminded me I was hungry, so I went to Michaelangelos and treated myself to a decaf mocha and a slice of apple pie. The slice was huge, filling up most of the plate with apple and crust. The mocha was sweet and hot. I sipped and watched a guy play with the 360 feature of Google Maps. The scenery he zoomed into didn’t seem much at first—mostly alleyways filled with cars. A wall covered in grafitti. As he passed some storefronts written in Spanish, I suddenly realized he was looking at a 3-D view of somewhere in Mexico. Intrigued, I watched him click on a street, squint at the screen, then follow the street down. He did this several times, zooming out (and confirming my guess that it was somewhere in Mexico) and then zooming back into the 360 view. When he started looking at what appeared to be a single paved road, bordered by vast tracks of greenery offset every so often by a dirt road vanishing into the undergrowth, I couldn’t stand it no longer.
"What are you looking for?" I asked.
"Oh, just looking," he said.
"Have you ever been to Mexico?"
"Me? Oh no. Never been. Don’t want to. It’ll take too long to get back."
As I exited Michaelangelo’s, I unwittingly got into a conversation with a homeless guy. He was old, swarthy, the smell of alcohol ripe on him. He’s been living on the streets for many years. Actually, I surmise this—he’d start off talking clearly but then his voice trailed into mumbling, then silence, so all I could do was shake my head in agreement as his lips moved silently. I thought of extricating myself, but people kept pushing past him—a guy pushing a stroller yelled "EXCUSE ME!" when he obviously had enough room to manuever around. So I held my tongue and listened, even when tears began rolling down the old man’s cheeks.
It reminded me of my dad.
It could have been an obvious ploy. It could have been he was full of regret. Or maybe he a weepy kind of drunk. But I gave him some money and told him to get something to eat. He took it and looked at me. "Can I tell you something?"
He gave me a large toothy grin. "You have yourself a good day. I mean it. Have a good day." Then he tipped his hat to me, bowed, and walked off.
Think I’ll heed his advice.