18 September 2016

The Unicorn Is An Asshole, And Other RenFayre Tales!

The Inwood Renaissance Fayre is a hardy urban flower, that, once a year, grows near the orange-and-gray-striated cliffs, that enfold and protect the Cloisters. On this cheery weekend, even the most hardened New Yorker's heart is melted- or at least, very slightly defrosted- by the sight of a decidedly urban population that has suddenly morphed into a court of jewel-toned-velvet clad minstrels, swoony princesses with inverted ice cream cone hats, and rather naughtily-attired three hundred pound flower fairies in shimmering rainbow eyeshadow, fantastically botanical headpieces...and very little else.
God, I love this town.
Brightening a neighborhood that not so long ago was considered "dangerous", the Inwood RennFest has now accumulated thirty seven years worth of peculiarly New Yawk Wonderful. I love how so many different cultural identities meet and then shatter into a kaleidoscopic, and adorably Anglophilic, mosaic of shared, forced joy.
One especial favorite of mine is the Puerto Rican Bagpipe players band, called the "MacGordon Clovers". I walk by and watch three big guys staring worriedly at their pipes as they warm up, and then, apparently relieved to remember that horrible squeaking is the whole POINT of bagpipes, they relax and launch into a Socttish march. 
I hate bagpipes. But "Boricua Bagpipes"? fill me with delight.

Knights with Brooklyn accents you could hew with a broadsword, call to each other cheerfully across the asphalt glen, ringed with the booths of perspiring, magical purveyors of RennKitsch. Drooping elves caper heavily in the heat, and seem like they are about to doff their pointed caps  and invite you to try their wares...until you hear a muttered "ahh, to hell with it", and they stay where they capered.
You move forward, pushed by a sea of perspiring but determined celebrants.
And what is this? On a greensward, or a patch of grass that looks suspiciously like a ball field?
It's a TOURNAMENT!
Yes!There is a tournament, with real horses. Real, really BIG horses, with big, cheery, valiant sweaty guys on them. These noble knights are sweating profusely, because it's 92 in the shade and as humid as a bellydancer's armpit, and they are gallantly arrayed in velvet and wool with a rather cruel topping of genuinely heavy steel armor. One noble gent, in his early 60's, is possessed of the features and bearing one would expect to see in a Connecticut country club: the straight nose, slightly bleary blue eyes and Anglo Saxon chin wobble took him from WASP clubman to Noble Lord with no effort, although I am worried he'll keel over from heat induced thrombosis before he has a chance to be gored by the other knight's lance.
The horses are draped in heavy velvet baronial , um, drapings...you know, those horse drapings you see in children's books and tarot cards and never until you were writing about them thought to ask what the hell they're called. Anyway, since PETA is a no-show, the show goes on.
  The gorgeous young gender neutral person who is acting as the Blue Knights Page, brings a huge wooden lance to the Blue knight. The Blue Knight is the showman of the bunch..he makes his attractively piebald horse rear and whinny and do that "legs pawing the air' thing that I just realized i also don't know what it's called,. a flourish? Anyway, the horse does the Cool Horse Thing, and everybody cheers, wildly, and we're away!
-No, we stay here. THEY're away. 
The horses thunder towards each other, the lances are lowered, and then...The pages hold up yellow plastic rings, and the lances go through those.
I admit to being slightly disappointed. I secretly wanted bloodshed, and intestines spilling out, and King Henry to be crippled for life and take it out on Anne Boleyn, but I got yellow rings and I'm cool with that, I guess. I mean, I couldn't do that, so yellow rings are fine.
They also sword fight, and the swords are metal and every body gets all "oooh scary!" but they just knock the plumes off each other's helmets and then the knight makes his horse do the Cool Horse Rearing Up and Pawing The Air Thing. Google it. At this point, I'm too hot.
The Tournament Has Ended. It was certainly the best Tournament I have ever seen in a New York Park. Horses and everything. Awesome.
Many of the children in the makeshift metal stands have never seen a horse in the horseflesh before, so when the Black Knight, who is white, as opposed to the White Knight, who is African American, trots over, post joust, to let the groundlings pet the velvet muzzle of Sir Frederick The Steed, a lot of children surge forth...and then scamper back. Much like the French warriors at Agincourt. Then they bravely overcome their misgivings, and a hearteningly diverse sea of tiny hands, reaches towards the enormous beast. You hear "ooooh soft!!" -said with surprised joy..and "nice horse?" , said as a tremulous prayer. My New Yorkers heart grow stwo sizes in a moment. And then immediately shrinks back, but it was a nice thirty seconds.

Elisabetta and I are steering three children through the largest crowd I've ever seen at a public event, and that's saying something. Two six year old boys and a girl who is "free and a harf", as Yseult, E's daughter, grimly announces when strangers, so diverted by her strawberry blonde curls and aqua eyes, that they totally miss out on her permafrown, stop to chortle over her. Emilia has a way of dropping an invisible cement block on the cooing of kindly strangers. "Go WAY", she growls, as they back away slowly, realizing too late that the lap dog is actually a very tiny Rottweiler. As each of them are chased off sheepishly, explaining to each other that she seemed so adorable, Emilia grins like a Viking triumphant after a bloody raid. 
I worry about that girl.
We elbow our way up a mountain of people coming rapidly downhill, and I have a brief glimpse of what it might be like, to  be Hannibal escorting his elephants across the Alps. (Note: I had a great great grandfather named "Hannibal and the Elephants Robinson". -Not relevant: just always wanted to tell someone that. -As you were.) Then we finally attain Castle Clemence, The Grail of Heart's Desire: in less lofty terms, that means we got into the air conditioned Cloisters, and we all lean gratefully against the cool stone walls.
I leave them and go to the ladies room, where the line is so long that a bored precocious 12 year old boy and I have a Mime-Off. He'd been sitting on the bench, obviously waiting for his mother and sister, and was amusing himself by pretending to be in a glass both, outlining the invisible walls with the flat of his hands. Mime 101!-I took that class! So I look over at him and slowly pull myself up, making myself much much taller using- an Invisble Rope. 
He lit up like a Christmas tree. Soon he was next to me in line, and we were trading off Sorry Mime tropes like there was no tomorrow. Was at the point of giving up ever getting to pee and instead giving in and buying a black beret and stripped boatneck chemise (such as mimes wear) and possibly taking the kid to Central Park to infuriate passersby, when suddenly the Secret Handicapped Stall in the side wall opened and I darted in, completely unethically. The kid was gone when I got out, but I consoled myself by singing "I'm Hennery The Eight I Am" with a young gentleman who was crooning it quietly to his new bride, possibly as a warning, as we walk up the chill gray stairs. He looks surprised, and a little chagrined, but we finish the song whether he wanted to or not, and I stride off victorious towards my tribe.
Then I see the Unicorn.
Not the delectable yet melancholy tapestries, no: but a Furry, Six Foot Unicorn. I guess it was a man in costume, but I was so grateful that other people seemed to be able to see him too, that really, I didn't care. It was Not the Dreaded Acid Flashback my high school driving instructor had warned us about. It was an actual fake Unicorn, a fluffy and oddly disdainful Unicorn at that, and he had his own PR guy with him. A man whose professional title was "Unicorn Handler". The PR guy seemed unctuous and smarmy, and kept holding a little blinking box up to the Unicorn's face. A light meter? A Geiger counter? It was weird.
Also...'
The Unicorn was regally disdainful of the children swarming up to see him, as he posed for the photographs his handler/flunky was taking fawningly... Although he was IN THE ACTUAL UNICORN ROOM at the Cloisters, DRESSED AS AN ACTUAL UNICORN, the Unicorn was pretending he didn't see the kids, and as he swanned gracefully about, posing for pics, I realized with blinding clarity that:
This Unicorn was an asshole.
Maybe all Unicorns are stuck-up...I don't know, it's been a long time since I was in the state rumored to be most attractive to unicorns, and haven't been truly pally with one since, so who knows. But really, dude: chill on the attitude. Being mythical doesn't make you Beyonce.
We had a spartan lunch of sandwiches , water and chips in the cafe garden...imagine my surprise, when, graciously offering to pay for everyone!, (how much can two sandwiches be?), I hear the girl at the till cheerily sang out, "That'll be sixty one dollars, please!" There was a long line; Yseult is threatening to turn into the combination of Shirley Temple and Vesuvius that she has since patented, and I don't  want to look like a cheapskate in front of toddlers who well might be my future demographic, so I tip her ten bucks with a flourish, mentally strap on my empty wooden barrel, and prance away.
I eat every bite the kids left behind. Hey. money isn't cheap.

As the day gets less hot and more crowded, Elisabetta goes to get the stroller...which she has left a mile away. In a New York park. Miraculously, it is untouched: Apparently, there is an honor code among stroller owners: if you park your buggy in the agreed upon Impromptu Stroller Corral, you can also leave your bag, your bottle, and any stray emeralds you've been meaning to put in the vault, without fear of degradation.  Kind of amazing.
As we are waiting for her to come back, we see A Marvelous Magic Show Is Commncinge, Sic, and we trot over to sit in a ring of hay bales, to watch the late middle aged, slightly bitter hippie, Bill-Maher-lookalike-with-sixty-pounds-extra, magician. There is a classic New York Yenta standing behind us (when her son urged her to take a seat on a hay bale, she visibly recoils, and says "on STRAW? You want me to sit on STRAWWWW?") and she keeps up a critical commentary during the entire show. As the magician keeps moving the children in front back, and back, and backer, she says, "What? What is he going to do, that needs the children so back? What? Juggle fire?" (pronounced "fiyuh") Tame elephants? What? He needs so much space? Why?"

We watch-me warily, the kids with sheer trust and joy- as the guy winds up his spiel and does...Card tricks. In an outdoor show with three hundred kids, in an open arena..Card tricks. He makes the cards smaller- not that we could see them to begin with- and he does slight of hand, and the six year old Luca next to me says "he has cards in his other hand", in a a "hey, I'm smarter than a grown up" surprised and pleased tone of voice. Luckily, Elisabetta comes back just as the guy was pulling what he SAYS is a jack of hearts from his bodkin, and we trundle off towards safety and the blessedly magician-free car.

As we drive home, towards brooklyn, and bedtime, and for me, a beer, god willing, the kids start to get sleepy. Adorable Yseult falls asleep cradling her brother's blue dragon scooter helmet, and her snores mingle with the previously slightly aloof Luca's voice saying what are, to me the sweetest of all words, to his Mom:
"Mom, can we have Peri over to stay? Please can we please?"

That was, to this hardened New York broad who is also a godmother to two kids she loves more than PBR, sweeter even than the music of the MacGordon Clover Pipes.

Of course, pretty much anything is. But still.

Blessed Be!



The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

          The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter



Couples living out truthless mimes
Making comfort in ruthless times;
Your raging heart, your gentle eyes-
You learned so early to temporize:
Irrational passion may not seem wise-

-But it's true.

No matter how rueful the renunciation;
No matter the guilt by association;
No matter the undisclosed location...
It's true
And some real part of you always knows
That: Even when all of the doors seem closed:
I am the one for you

Whatever that thing that happened, was? 
Started out as a "why" and the answer's: "because"
It stayed in my blood as a physical buzz
It stays in my heart as a pink cloud of fuzz

You'll make the choice of a sensible stay-
And I'll make the choice to be truly away.
But baby, i will always remember today

As it was

There's truth behind bullshit, there's courage with fear
If you come and find me, might let you back near
And that is the closest this woman, my dear,
Can come to telling you I will be here.

9/1/2016


10 March 2016

"Last Letter From Stalingrad, 1943"

Last Letter From Stalingrad, February 5 1943
by Peri Lyons, c 2016 all rights reserved

(Author's note: In 1976, a mailbag came to light in the archives of the US Army. It was filled with letters.
These letters were written by German soldiers. In 1943, the German army abandoned the soldiers it had left in Stalingrad, leaving them to die of exposure and starvation.. These letters were written by the men, when they knew no one was coming back for them. The ltters were never mailed.
I found these letters in a book, and, although of Austrian Jewish descent, I was moved by the words of men I grew up thinking of as enemies.
.This is a reimagining of one of those letters.Who this man was, and why was he was "avoided by men", I will never know.-PL))

***************************************


Last Letter From Stalingrad

Dear Monica
There are four of us here
For the first time I have friends
other than my friends, the stars.
(I couldn't look up from my telescope, Monica.
Not then. You know why. I was avoided by men.
So I looked at the sky.)

This letter will take two weeks to reach you
It will all be over by then
Do not believe what you read in the papers
of what they say has happened here:
What are the judgments of others, to you and me?
Monica, the time is too serious now to joke:
You were always my best friend.

I have always thought in lightyears
But I felt in seconds.
On this beautiful night
Andromeda and Pegasus are right above my head
I have looked at them for a long time
I shall be very close to them soon
My peace I owe to the stars, Monica
Of which you are the most beautiful to me.

Around me everything is collapsing
An army is dying
Day and night are on fire
And four men busy themselves with their job
We measure temperatures
And report on cloud ceilings
Here too. I have much to do with the weather.

No one, no one will come for us, Monica
There is no one to come
The clouds are rather low this evening
They make a pattern I have not seen before

I want you to know my secret, Monica
No human being has ever died by my hand
I have never loaded my pistol
With live ammunition.
I should like to have counted stars
For another few decades
But I suppose nothing will come of that now.

I have always thought in lightyears
But I felt in seconds
On this beautiful night
Andromeda and Pegasus are right above my head
I have looked at them for a long time
I shall be very close to them soon
My peace I owe to the stars, Monica
Of which you are the most beautiful to me.