I’m all about visuals, but during this Boston trip, sounds have led to adventure. So when Dave, Paul, and I heard the sonorous blatt of tuba and trombone as we headed home at the end of an evening playground romp, we changed course to investigate.
A jostling, foot-tapping, dancing crowd, drawn as we were, had gathered in yet another playground near Davis Square. Dave lifted Paul onto his shoulders and we inched in and angled for a better view.
The musicians were a motley group of older men with graying hair pulled back in ponytails. Most wore black shirts, shorts and socks, and we bobbed and swayed along with them. Heavy on horns and snare drums, they played a loose New Orleans jazz that flowed into a jerky Arabian accompaniment for the belly dancers.
Belly dancers! My heavens! Three women in garish, burgundy harem garb tapped finger cymbals and gyrated gleefully in unison. Ample, naked, midriff flesh rippled, as trained, while two apparent acolytes followed the lead of their seasoned mentor, a middle-aged gypsy with flowing raven tresses. They spun and gestured, their penciled eyebrows arched, scarlet lips upturned in come-hither smiles.
“Wow, Paul! What do you think?”
What was the child to think? And could he hear me over the tinny din and eager applause of the crowd? From his perch on Dave’s shoulders, he watched intently, his face impassive, his gaze unwavering as the women wiggled and tapped their cymbals.
The music wound down, and the dancers shimmied to the side. In a quick, smooth transition, the Dead Music Capital Band took their place. Yes, their faces were painted skull white, and yes, fake blood dripped from a hatchet in one musician’s head, but their extensive horn section and bass drums produced a powerful, swelling, fill-your-chest-with-joy volume of sound.
We’d grasped that Halloween in the offing would explain the blood and skeletal affectations, but still….”What’s this all about?” I asked a woman near me.
“It’s the Honk!” she said.
Oh, that explains it….
“The parade is tomorrow! Starts at noon from Davis Square!”
Well! As we wheeled Paul home to dinner and bed, he stretched out and relaxed in his stroller, satisfied by the evening’s entertainment. We still had no idea what was going on, but sure as hell, we would be at Davis at noon!
At 12:00 on the dot the next day, the three of us joined thousands of other enthusiasts on the sidewalk on Mass Ave. Paul was back at his station on Dave’s shoulders, his expression still inscrutable, which seemed about right given last night’s introduction.
By now, Dave and I had Googled the Honk and learned this was the 12th anniversary of the “Festival of Activist Street Bands.” Last night, the message had not been the focus, but this morning, the full array of Boston’s diverse population and social consciousness was literally on parade. Stilt-walkers, cyclists, floats, and bands marched or danced or wheeled on by, exuberantly proclaiming solidarity with groups and causes close to home (a faculty walk-out) and across the globe: climate change, clean energy, Black Lives Matter, LGBT rights, peace on Earth, Dreamers, and Freedom for Tibet.
Lady Liberty was well represented in green foam headdresses and large-scale statues, her promise of equality and welcome deeply meaningful for this city of immigrants, for this country of immigrants. And my heart was lifted, in these troubling times of competing fears and worries, to see so many people out creatively declaring their commitment and concern.
While Paul remained transfixed more than overjoyed, we delighted in directing his attention to the startling mix of outrageous fantasy and the comfortably familiar portrayed in vibrant costumes, crepe, and papier mache. “Look Sweetie! What’s that?”
“Yes! An elephant!”
“And look! Butterflies!”
“Yay! Whoa! Check it out, Paul! A dragon!”
And so, in being with our grandson, led by our senses and open to opportunity, we happened upon the Honk with its belly dancers, bands, community … and dragons.