Saturday, December 31, 2005

Time Tunnel

Crosseye stereogram. View with crossed eyes, relaxing one's gaze and focusing on the "center" image. This is a variant on another stereogram, "Floating Time", made with a travel clock that I bought before my trip to Australia in 1991. The clock's city dial let me know different times around the world

On the eve of 2006, journal memories from New Year's Eve 1989....

Journal excerpt, January 1, 1990, 5:20 PM

Spent a calm day, after last night's revels.

I left early for First Night, arriving at Park Street station around 2PM. My friend B had called in the AM, hoping to be up next weekend, expressing regrets that he couldn't be up here. After we spoke I felt antsy. The rain outside had lessened to a light drizzle, and I ached to get out and go to the festivities.

After I emerged from Park Sta. I was met with the Resolutions exhibit "Totem." Men clad in overalls black and white handed out magic markers and pieces of wood with string loops.

"Resolutions!" they called to the crowd. "Find a wife! Find a husband! Stop smoking!"

The many-headed totem was painted green, with large eyes and mouths. It was adorned with layers of resolutions that gave it the effect of scales, or fur. Or crests. Some were simply names. Some proclaimed Happy New Year! Some were personal ("Get my wife back" was one) and others were global calls for world peace. Some were religious, invoking Jesus as Salvation.

I took a wedge and wrote on one side, "Don't take things toooooo seriously!" (followed by a smiley-face) and, on the other, "Peace, Love, and Blind Faith" (using a peace sign and a heart). It was the latter that faced outward when hung.

I took in the ice sculptures, walking from Boston Common through the Public Gardens and to the Westin Hotel. Castles, jousting knights, a New Moon. Pepsi, this time, was sponsoring part of the festivities, adding commercialism to ritual. Young men and women dressed up as Pepsi soda cans congregated in the Hynes Auditorium, wearing hats resembling pop tops. Silver tights, silver shoes.

Puppets were beginning to gather outside the Hynes. Not people. Puppets. Giant masks, fish, penguins. Two examples of "living sculpture: life imitates art" walked to and fro, by a London palace guard. The living statues looked like figures straight out of Magritte.

Neither the Janus heads nor the banners from last year were there. I made my way to the Berklee Performance Center to hear Jelly Roll Morton, Louie Armstrong, and others as performed by the Yankee Rhythm Kings. At the Hynes I'd taken in an exhibition of traditional folk dancing.

My boots were perfect for sauntering through deep puddles (which increased exponentially in number and depth as the day and the rains wore on), but for walking city streets they left much to be desired. I started getting into the spirit of First Night at Berklee, amidst jazz and ragtime. Then I made my way back to the Hynes and scouted about for people needing volunteers. Stopping at the head to listen to drummers and percussionists rehearse a potent, primal rhythm that had me swaying in my walk. Blood-pounding music integral to the magic.

Close to the rear of the parade, huge fish mounted on poles leaned against the wall. Three poles to a fish. It was there that I volunteered.

I met L, up from Connecticut and originally from Atlanta. She'd been living in Massachusetts for a bit over a year, and this was her first First Night. She was completely wide-eyed, taking in the puppetry, the folks on stilts, the beacons of light that wavered across the sky.

Rain sheeted down as we assembled. A runner from further up came back to inform us that the crowds were an estimated 20 deep. Ahead of us were giant horses, and people waving orange banners and cheering.

Eventually we were off. Two fish proved early casualties to the wind and rain. L and I assisted with a third, and traded off between fish and noisemaker (steel bowls, nails, and streamers on a pole). We tussled with the wind, which often threatened to blow the fish and ourselves first into the crowds on our left, then our right.

By the time I reached the finish I was soaked -- and the finish this year was further away, in a church basement beyond the Public Gardens. Here the puppets were being slowly dismantled. A short woman wearing a tinsel wig of many colors shouted to the volunteers to be careful, move slowly, the steps to the basement are wooden and uneven.

L and I lost track of each other there, and I took off to find my way back through the Common -- now in darkness illuminated by light-encrusted trees -- and have dinner. A large Italian sausage from a stand sufficed -- even their protective tarpulin leaked rain. Earlier, before dark, I'd walked through a Public Garden shrouded in fine mist, fog obliterating skyscrapers and the tops of weeping willows. Add in the early "foghorns" and noisemakers, and the effect was truly magical.

At night, the Parkman Bandstand was eerie with neon lights and dancers performing "The Eleventh Hour of Virtue and Vice." What I saw was neither virtue nor vice, but rain splashing up from the bandstand and off the feet of the dancers. By miracle, none of them slipped. Three dancers -- one man, two women -- traveled around the bandstand in perfect synchronization -- dripping from one-piece, form-fitting leotards.

My original plan to stay in the Hynes gave way to finding the closest performance space. I entered St. Paul's Church to hear the Melisande Trio -- whose performance (notably, Susan Miron's performance) of Ravel's Sonatine en Trio (arranged for harp trio by Carlos Salzedo) blew me away. I couldn't take my eyes of Miron and her relationship to a full-length, golden floor harp that stood perfectly aligned with a great gold cross that hung suspended from the ceiling, its bars of equal length, with a central circle and an ironwork square. A pre-Christian cross that had me thinking of cardinal points, the circle of the year, the medicine wheel.

Beneath, Miron -- in tremendous good nature (and reminding me in looks and gesture of Carol Burnett) -- masterfully fused with that harp. Her harmonics for the Introduction and Allegro for Harp (also Ravel) left me awestruck. I'd recognized the flutist, Fenwich Smith, from the Boston Chamber Music Society.

Then it was to the State House -- historically the first time, we were told, that the lobby was opened to the public -- to hear the Village Gamelan: court music from Java. Very similar to the Balinese gong music I have -- and I replaced the portrait of Lincoln and statue of Washington with a mental overlay of Indonesia: gongs reverberating through island forests.

From there I went to City Place, to hear Full Circle perform. Fusion jazz (in a single day, I have heard ragtime and early jazz, classical, Indonesian court music, folksongs, and fusion jazz). City Place was crammed with festive crowds. Karl Lundegren, the group's keyboardist and composer, asked, "Which of you out there have the big horns?"

He was answered by what sounded like the blaring of crazed moose, accompanied by cheers from the others.

"And the little horns!" he encouraged.

The moose were replaced by crazed pygmy elephants. WJIB, another First Night sponsor, had gone around with its "radio" truck, giving out kazoos. These were put into play, too.

Lundegren said, "I'm going to give you a real nerd's delight. At the count of three...."

At the count of three, horns large and small blasted away. Get it all out of your system. When they finished, one errant horn blew again.

"It's okay," Lundegren told the reveler, smiling, and added, "We'll call you." Delightful.

Their music charged me with a force similar to that of the Procession drummers. I swayed in my seat, humming along to tunes like Southern Crossing and Gold Shoes.

Then I joined a milling crowd that headed down to the harbor. Shoulder to shoulder, whirling noisemakers and blowing horns. Like lemmings marching to the sea -- but festive lemmings, marching not to death but to renewal.

I arrived 10 minutes before midnight. Walking past the court house clock I gazed up: all 4 faces were ringed with countdown lights. Now, each ring was only 1/6 lit.

I worked my way slowly through the crowds. Outside the Marriott a group of young teenagers lobbed snowballs at the walls and windows. One hotel reveller made himself a willing target, opening his window a crack. Eventually one snowball found its way home, and the hotel guest closed his window and shut the curtains, albeit temporarily.

The final countdown filled me with a thrill. At the stroke of midnight the fireworks display broke loose and I was whoopin' and hollerin' with the rest of the mob. 1990. New Decade. I kept seeing a young girl sitting in the Brooklyn living room, drinking sangria, spilling a commemorative red drop on a page in her Believer's Log diary as '73 became '74. Watching TV as the Times Square ball dropped, surrounded by her parents and our neighbors from across the street. There was something very special about that night -- the journal, my inner world, the New Year. That image kept returning to me, overlaid with the realization of just how far I've come.

Components include further-altered bits from "Postcards from the Cosmos" (close-up of a dirty window); an old transistor clock radio from the 70s (it still works!); and an overexposed shot of a 40-watt lightbulb. May you all have a happy, healthy, and wondrous New Year!


Blogger leslee said...

I went to the one of the very first First Nights in Boston, in the late 1970s. There were hardly any people out. I recall following a map and going into some church basement and being given kazoos to join in the music-making. I remember a couple of other notable times - '87/'88 with the boyfriend I had at the time, and it was so cold we ended up sitting in the piano bar at the Westin watching people tramp through the lobby. And in 90/91 with the guy I ended up living with for a couple of years; it was the first night we slept together. Alas, I don't think I've been to it since.

Sounds like you had a wonderful time - then and now. Not so cold in Florida! Happy New Year, Elissa!

6:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can you believe I've never been to a First Night? When did they start it? I don't rememeber it when I lived near Boston (Ileft in 1978). In 2002 I was in the area and did see the Boston New Year countdown on TV. I couldn't understand what they were all riled up about. I did go to Times Square once for New Years. It's over rated in my opinion.

I love Magic Art! and all variations of playing with my eyes for new effects. That was the part I liked best about church as a girl and probably why I love kaleidoscopes so much. I saw all number of clocks with the cross-eyed relaxed gaze...sometime 1 or 3. At first I couldn't make them cross...but the tip to relax them helped.

9:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh I just now see that Leslie said First Nights started in the late 70s. I did go out dancing on New Year's Evee. Of course, they had noisemakers and champagne etc. I don't care about crowds or the big whoopeedoo...but I love to dance and so put up with it!

9:51 AM  

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