Mayday is a day when my very own city feels like an entirely different place. The standard daily rhythms play on, but I and my Morris community are living in a sort of parallel dimensional warp universe for a day. Sometimes the Muggles can see us, particularly if they are expecting us or are aware of us or perhaps just generally aware that there are other ways of being, but often we are invisible to them. We can be dancing a set at evening rush hour in downtown Minneapolis and downtown workers walk right by us, with no evidence that they see us at all or even hear the bells and instruments. Because we are not part of their understanding of how people dress and behave on a city street, we don't exist at all. This particular phenomenon was much more pronounced in Boston the night I visited Commonwealth Morris Men for an evening's tour through the Back Bay. Several people literally walked (or in one case biked) right through a set that was dancing in a wide section of the walkway in the Public Garden, without any visible acknowledgment of the dancers. I feel genuine pity for those folks, locked as they are in their own minds and incapable of seeing the fun and colorful things that exist all around them, but also because they are going to get hurt someday.
The day begins with a pre-dawn wakeup, which is difficult but it holds the excitement of a special day. Knowing that scores of Morris dancers all over the Twin Cities (and even the whole country) are getting up as well feels very nice to me. This year in particular nearly my entire team took the day off work, which meant that we, as a group, were having our own holiday in the midst of a standard work day. We were dressed in kit, we danced around the cities, we went as a group to lunch, we met up with the other dancers in downtown Minneapolis in the early evening. Does this help explain my sense of living in a parallel universe for a day?
There were many great moments for me, but I keep playing over and over the glorious time my team head just after breakfast. In recent years all the dancers have gone for breakfast at a local restaurant, which does its best to accommodate such a large group but if 75 or a hundred or more people all show up at a restaurant at the same time it simply cannot work. There have been problems in the past, with people having to miss breakfast or the first gig of the day. So for the last few years my team has sponsored our own potluck breakfast, and one thing my team does well is food. Matt and Deb make frittatas, and Douglas always comes up with something fancy, and different people bring amazing huge bowls of fruit salad, and some people make scones the night before (which makes them fresh so early in the am). I bring a few dozen bagels and lots of cream cheese and this year I brought tag ends from Cheese Day which Andy counted up as totaling 15 different kinds of cheese, plus French butter from Butter Day. After breakfast we dance at the school attended by Bob's boys, but this year our dance time wasn't until 10am. We considered doing a brief set around the corner from Bob's in a little park alongside a major commuter traffic road, but instead we sat in Bob's living room and with the encouragement of his wife Julie and a couple of friends of Bob's and Julie's we sat and sang. We sang Mayday songs, and chorus songs, and seafaring songs. It was sweet and relaxed and lovely and just the best time of the day. The frustrating thing is that you can't force a perfect little singing session like this -- you just have to wait until the stars are in the correct alignment and the time and mood (and food I suppose) are all right. It was all right.
The funny thing is I had just explained two nights previous to our new member Michael that we're not really a singing team. And there we were, just our team, being an actual singing team in all of the delight that entails. The key, I think, is critical mass. For there to be a good singing, you need a critical mass of people who can lead many songs, plus a few people who maybe can lead a few songs, plus a few more people who enjoy singing along with choruses or harmony where the song calls for it. On top of this you need a group that truly and unashamedly loves just singing, without embarrassment, and that's the part that is dependent upon mood and situation and why you can never guarantee or even predict when Grace will descend in this fashion. What I've temporarily concluded is that our team has close to critical mass for being a singing team, very close, but it took Julie and her friends to bring us just over that edge into the wonderful morning time.
Here was my day: Up at 4:15 am to get into kit and pack the car with food for breakfast plus my bass drum. Off to the morning dancing space. 90 minutes of visiting and dancing with the other Morris dancers, plus a little singing. Off to Bob's to set up breakfast, eat, and sing. Off to Lolo and Smack's school to dance. Lolo and Smack's school is across the street from Birchbark Books, Louise Erdrich's store, and the folks from the bookstore came and asked us to dance in front of their store. Then we hauled off to New Brighton to dance at Nat's son's school.
We even sang a verse to the Padstow Mayday song about it earlier:
And when it comes 11, then what will we do
For summer is a coming today
We all will go and dance at the school attended by Roo
In the merry morning of May
After Roo's school we had lunch at a fine Mideastern deli right next to the location where we were to meet up with some other dancers: A Tai Chi studio in St. Paul. That was enough for most of my team for the first part of the day, including me, but a couple of folks continued on with the other dancers. I went home where Alice and David (Morris dancers from Omaha) had arrived for the weekend to attend their daughter zurizip's college graduation. They (and Alice's mother) are staying with my upstairs neighbors. I had a brief but pleasant visit and then I washed up all the breakfast dishes from my part of the pot luck and fell into a deep deep nap. I emerged from the nap, put on kit again, and headed off to downtown Minneapolis to dance for 90 minutes with the other teams down Nicollet Mall. At dusk we went to an Irish pub for food and beer and song and some more dance.
At the end of it all I slept well and deeply and happily.
[Photo of Ramsey's Braggarts Morris men at dawn on Mayday 2008 taken by Nat's co-worker Dorothy.]