Every August we try to go to the Italian Feast Days in the North End.
Almost every August, we fail.
One year we made it twice. KK was an infant and we were really trying to do family things. I projected so much onto little KK as a baby, that I swore she was in tune with her Italian heritage as I pushed her up and down the tiny narrow streets in her Graco Metrolite. Looking back she may have felt some kinship, but most likely she was just content cause she is a nosy being, and festivals like that used to amuse her immensely.
They do not anymore.
KK is a bit on the anxious side.
So it was with delight that today, when we finally made it to the North End for the celebration of the Madonna Della Cava, she became enamored by the kooky lady playing the glass harmonica at the mouth of Hanover Street.
Before this fascination, KK had fallen a little in love with the Madonna Della Cava, the saint whose feast it was this weekend. When I looked up to see whose festival it was, up came a small little picture of the Madonna Della Cava, causing KK to declare "It's so BEAUTIFUL!" The story of the little mute boy, hundreds of years ago, dreaming of uncovering the Madonna and then telling his mother he must help find the Madonna-- how, I am not sure, him being mute and all and it kinda being an intricate story-- and then making his whole village go and do just that, struck a cord with my flair-for-the-dramatic daughter. You mean no one listened but he was RIGHT? And then they built a TOWN because of him? And now we can go "celebrate" with her? This is for me!
But before the Madonna, there was kooky lady.
The glass harmonica sounds spooky. It’s long and looks like someone has glued together a bunch of champagne glass tops, stuck cork through the entire thing, and then placed it on a spit. Ben Franklin thought it up. I do not think it ever caught on.
When we approached, the kooky lady was playing the theme from Harry Potter. Perfect for the glass harmonica (“doesn’t it just sound like that was MADE for this thing?” kooky lady exclaimed at one point), and also fitting for the very old and tiny streets of Boston.
H, who was asleep when we walked up to kooky and her glass harmonica, immediately woke up, music lover that he is. Katia stood transfixed.
“Where are you from originally!” She asked as she dipped her finger tips in little glass bowls and played, as a tourist kid wound the harmonica’s wheel.
“Arlington, Massachusetts!” I am proud of this. And it’s colonial, so I thought fitting.
I was wrong.
“Okay, so how about I play Twinkle, Twinkle Little…Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder…” and off she went.
I racked my concussed brain (that story is deserving of its own post, for sure) to try to remember if the author of Twinkle, Twinkle is from Arlington. Then I remembered it was Mozart who worked on variations of it and my head almost imploded and she was on to someone else.
“Where are you from originally!”
“Oh, oh! Okay! Want me to play the national anthem of Columbia?”
I don’t think this guy really did. I am pretty sure this guy felt he is an American.
She got out a huge book of sheet music and searched for Columbia.
“Can you hold my book?” She asked another tourist kid.
She began to play.
The man and his relatives, who had by now joined him, listened with respect. They kept mentioning something about hats, and laughing, but other than that were not too miffed she did not just play the American anthem for them.
When she finished she said something in very bad Spanish.
They gave her a dollar.
“Where are you from originally!” She moved on to a woman in the small crowd.
“Quebec City, Montreal.”
Kooky lady said something in even worse French, then said “How about Oh Canada!”
The woman groaned. No no, she said, not that. At first Kooky lady agreed “okay, not that” but then Kooky lady realized she had not other song for someone from Quebec City, Montreal.
“Then how about Harry Potter!”
The woman looked horrified. So Oh Canada it was. Accompanied in French, by Kooky.
When she finished, she got a dollar.
“Where are you from originally!” She asked someone else.
“Can you play Rocky Mountain High?”
“John Denver! But does that have a melody?”
“I dunno. Maybe. Try it.”
Kooky wet her finger tips and the tourist kid wound er up.
“How about Harry Potter!” She said just as her fingers touched the glass.
“Doesn’t it sound like it was made for this?”
The crowd began to break up. For most people, even those of us who are enamored with Harry Potter, the mention of him three times in five minutes makes an impression.
The crowd dispersed except for KK. And me and H with her.
And I remembered all of have a little glass harmonica player in us. That shy sliver that sometimes makes others back away. But sometimes it can make one person stand there, in awe, of what you are, which is unique, which in this case is a sixty year old lady who, okay, most likely has many cats, and spent money to have a glass blower make her this crazy ass thing Ben Franklin thought up when he wasn’t creating a new country or sleeping with lots of ladies and impregnating them or running around with a kite and that mouse who was his kindred friend.
Our shy slivers enjoyed your groove, Kooky. And I have had to accept KK is shy. Which is kind of a dirty behavior: you mean your kid is not that outgoing precocious kid who talks to anyone like she is a long lost relative, easing adults around that they are good and true? Shy kids tend to make adults feel really awkward, I've found. They talk and act goofy and get no response and blame the kid: oh, she's shy! they exclaim. To which I want to say "that, or she just has no idea how to process a grown up in her face staring at her hair, asking if she is a pretty girl, if she is an older sister, if she loves her mummy and wants you to get OUT of her FACE!" And, after the glass groove, we spent the rest of our time negotiating the festival. All the doggies, there with their human parents, terrified both kids, even the tiny toy ones, causing me to carry KK on my hip and push the stroller, diaper bag, and H with my free hand. It's natural and American for kids to love dogs, so no one seems to realize the grimaces on my kids' faces are signs of acute anxiety. The owners smiles bag as my kids point and screech "doggie! doggie!" and then try to shimmy back into my womb as the pet gets closer. "He loves kids! He won't bite!" Can you imagine meeting, someone at a party like that? "You're a teacher? My husband loves teachers! Oh, he won't--Okay honey, stop that! Stop now. Sit. He usually loves teachers, I don't know why he did that. Bad Boy!"
When it wasn't the dogs freaking my KK out, it was other animals. We bought fries and fresh lemonade and took them to a park to eat. Because I could not put KK down. Because of the dogs. And the sounds of the sound system being tested which she could not see so could not identify so felt scared by....We entered the park and KK looked furtively around. "But there's pigeons!" Which is H's cue to try to climb away to try to chase the pigeons down. I can't turn off the teacher in me, so I decided to use the moment: "KK, do you want to like animals sometimes, but just get a little nervous?" "YES!" she said. "Like those pigeons. They just might peck peck peck me. You just don't know." So we ate our fries away from all dogs and all pigeons.
And then slinked back to the festival.
I knew enough not to ask if anyone had to pee. I had used the porta potty, but KK is also terrified of public restrooms. With good reason. They stink. The vast majority flush on their own and get her butt wet and make this horrible whooshing noise that sends mortal fear rushing through her body. Once, in a Mobil station in Connecticut, I swore to her the toilet was safe. It was "manual" I explained. No motors. It would not, under any circumstance, splash water on her butt or make any noises. This violates one golden rule all should follow, no matter what color state you prefer to live within, when dealing with kids: never promise anything you can not fulfill. If you don't know the answer, tread lightly over that delicate ground. Or you will slip into quicksand and the last thing you hear will be screams and wails as you go under. But I forgot that rule. "It's manual!" Our ritual is I go first. To show all is okay. So I did. The only thing I noticed is my bare skin felt a little colder than it should. Indoors. On a sunny day, even in fall. I pulled up, she pulled down, and I put her on the toilet. And I was ill prepared for what happened next, as the water in the bowl began to whirl and whip around and a very loud whooshing sound ripped up and through the pipes and into the bowl, splashing ice cold water all over my poor KK. It was a humiliating moment for her and she was terrified. And never again would she trust me that public toilets were "okay, see? like mommy does?" So I barely ask anymore. Instead I try to soothe anxieties as she looks wide eyed at strange toilet bowls, wondering how they might betray us.
Despite her worry about the music (it's too loud! I don't like those drums!!!), she was enthralled as the Madonna Della Cava Society carried the Madonna relic through the streets. I was the very darkest person following the procession, I can tell you that. And forty years ago in Boston I am sure this would not have gone that well for me, despite my kids being part Italian themselves.
But for a little bit, we were not so shy, standing there listening to Ben Franklin's invention.
And Harry Potter does sound good on that thing.