On any day in Washington D.C. you can walk into a culture war, or a gender bender, or a deeply heartfelt protest march about anything.
And on special days you can walk through things like the Turkish Festival.
Not everyday can you get a henna tattoo while listening to Turkish jazz musicians (did you know Atlantic Records was founded by a Turk?) or enjoy a Halal sandwich while watching a wedding dance performed by two men in costumes barely masking the fact they are rubbing their bellies together – and loving it.
But that is what I did today.
Okay, I didn’t actually get the tattoo, but I thought about it.
While I was in line for a sandwich, my 16-year-old son, a saxophonist about to perform with the Blues Alley Youth Orchestra at the east end of the festival, texted me that he had forgotten his neckstrap. He couldn’t do his solos without something, something. Did I have any string? I left my husband, beltless, to deliver two slim alternatives–the belt and a flashdrive lanyard—to the greenroom.
The first tent I knocked on was full of gypsies in what appeared to be belly-dance uniforms. So sorry. (Oh my god, do you own stock in a mascara company or what?)
The next tent was filled with overdressed teens in steaming nervousness. The temperature inside the ‘greenroom’ had to be a full 20 degrees higher than outside. I spotted my son immediately.
I handed over the goods.
Wearing the goose-shit green REI belt recently removed from my husband’s shorts, the kind that clips with a little plastic ‘snap,’ as a neckstrap, this tenor sax cat was not on his game. The flat reed was not to blame, my son said later, he just wasn’t having a good day.
The Turkish kids who went before him were awesome, he had to admit, even though they stole one of the American kids’ songs, Cheesecake. The Blues Alley kids did their best considering the circumstances, first performance of the season, only two rehearsals behind them, lots of seniors, lots of talent gone on to college.
But the magic arrived with the Turkish singer, whose name spelling I can only guess as “BeJesus.” She sounded like she stepped out of the 1940s with a dress to match. Welcomed onstage to perform with the Americans, she sang “A Tisket, A Tasket” as though it were a love song. “I lost my little basket,” she lamented.
The boys in our band crooned the harmony. “Was it red? Was it green? Was it blue?” But instead of singing her part, she accidentally picked up the back-up parts, singing “Was it red? … then she realized it mid-note … but did not flinch.
She smiled a little smile and made the song into a child’s game, knowing full well what she had done, recognizing the teen boys were singing the same part she just sang.
She went with it.
The boys drooled.
I watched a small child in front of me who had a Turkish flag painted on his cheek play a hand-slapping game with another, stunningly handsome dark skinned, curly-haired boy with deep dark eyes. My husband saw the flag and started to take a picture.
An older woman behind us stopped him “Do you think you should ask the parent before taking a photograph of the child?” she asked in an ancient accent.
I had been to journalism school. I had taken the law class. “This is America,” I wanted to say. “This is a public place. He can photograph and publish whatever he wants without any permission whatsoever.”
But I held my tongue. Was the woman asking a legal question? Or was she being a citizen of the village, protecting its children. Who were the parents? Did either of us even know them?
My husband put his camera away.
I watched as all the Turkish musicians regained the stage, invited by the director of my son’s group. For a few songs, all of the kids jammed together. It was a beautiful thing.
I did not question the woman behind us. She is right, I thought, to protect all children from potential harm. But her innocence, I realized, is what was being protected. How long did she have to live? A decade? She has probably earned that innocence and I decided to let her keep it.