Friday, October 26, 2007

Coyote vs Raven

I ran out, grabbed the lunch box, and ran back. Through the three Jonesborough days it became my routine between session 2 and 3 - I walked down to the food tents, bought sandwiches and a bottle of water, and walked back to get a good place in the next tent.
The first afternoon I had absolutely no idea where to go; all the show titles seemed equally promising, so I decided to stick to one tent and see what happens. Well, I failed. On the way back from the food court, with the box and the bottle and my coat and my bag in my arms (I looked like a squirrel gathering for winter), I crossed the creek and - stopped. In the shadows of the Courthouse Tent there was a black, winged creature dancing for the sound of drums, turning and jumping, and I nearly dropped all the stuff I carried, and tripped over my own leg, hurrying to get a closer look.
When I am in a good mood, storytelling means tricksters for me. Not trickster tales (although I love them all), but the pure joy of mischief and fun, and wit and a tiny bit of magic, unruly art, colorful chaos. And Raven is one of the guys who immediately made my official Trickster Top 10 (and also the unofficial Guys to Sweep You off Your Feet Chart, but that's another story) as soon as I first read about him. And there he was.
Actually, it was Gene Tagaban, one of the New Voice tellers. And his voice, besides being new (well, every voice at the Festival was new to me), was deep and rich and... story-telling. Raven was not only on his drum (a beautiful one, though - I wonder what it is with me and drums...), but also in his blood. I sat and listened as he told the story of Raven and the Sun and the Moon and the Stars, and I thought: "Now, this is a trickster telling a story."
And the next one was a special treat for me. Raven tricks Coyote - I never ever heard two tricksters going against each other before, let alone two of my favorites (for Coyote is one nice piece of cake too), and (with the words of the storyteller) "It was GOOOOD!" The world of Native American tales is still all new to me - and I'm glad this was the first taste of storytelling I had.
(And, just to go with the trickster image, he has a good sense of humor too - made me laugh out loud, several times. Again, fortunately, this was not the last time I heard him telling...)
Last day, in the afternoon - the Festival is almost over, people like me gathering in the tents to listen to every bit of magic left for the last session... and there he was again, with Raven and Hawk bringing the fire (one of my favorite types of stories - the version I know is with Coyote, but he was still sleeping off the day before I guess... growing a leg back takes a while, even for a trickster:) He was the one who passed on the fire, and I'm most grateful to carry it with me wherever I go.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Jonesborough - A wonderful night to be dead

(Halloween in coming, and Jonesborough days are haunting me...)

I was lying on the grass, with hands behind my head, looking up at the sky and searching for the first star to appear. All around me, hundreds of people were doing the same, filling the dusk with a deep murmur of joy and anticipation. The wind was tiptoeing among the willow trees; the pavilion was glowing with a strange green light, and the fact that it was empty made the eerie harp music more... well, eerie. Saturday evening - time for the Ghost Story Concert.
I never really liked ghost stories, or any kind of "scary stuff" for that matter. I especially hate jump tales. We don't have Halloween. But I knew for sure that, once at the Storytelling Festival, I can't miss a chance to have a taste... of horror. After all, I thought, how scary can it be with such a crowd around me? Sure enough, there was not a free piece of ground from one end of the park to the other. And, as all good ghost stories begin, it was getting darker... and darker... and darker still...
"What a wonderful night to be dead!" the emcee's cheerful voice made me jump. Whoa, what a creepy way to be happy. Again, with Halloween missing from the family's medical history, the only experience I could rely on consisted of some late-night visits to the candle-lit cemetery, and some fire-lit storytellings in the summer camp... but everyone around me seemed to be familiar with this sudden morbid mood, so I pulled my knees to my chin and tried to settle in.
I was happy to hear a familiar, strong voice filled with music ringing out into the night: Heather Forest was on stage, I'd seen her before, and immediately put her on the list of my favorites. She could be scary, yeah, she could - in the summer sunshine of the afternoon before she froze the blood in me with the curse of the fairy queen on Tamlin. She was the one to open the night of horror. The Boy Who Drew Cats - a familiar story, I smiled, and let the music and the voice carry me. And then she announced that the next story was from Hungary. And I sat bolt upright again. She called it the Ghost's Gold, and though not by this title, but I knew the story, and caught my breath, not because of fear, but because of curiosity... I've never heard any foreign teller telling a Hungarian tale before. And. She. Was. Good. I started to realize how strong a story can be, if combined with music or song, and I rested my chin on my knee and smiled and listened and watched and relaxed and then she screamed and I nearly bit off my tongue. So much about jump tales.
While I was tasting my own blood, Bobby Norfolk came on stage, and, as usual, he was moving and telling and acting and playing and he looked like he enjoyed the tale as much as we did. Some children giggled in the background - I always knew kids were bloodthirsty and evil and best friends with all kind of creepy creatures, but I can imagine how much it would confuse me if I was telling the tale... and I giggled myself. After Taleypo, he came up with "the real stuff", the Florida legend of Uncle Monday, and I was struck again (without jumping, this time).
The Storycrafters gave a twist to the evening: they came with a tale of bittersweet love and sorrow so deep they made the audience let their tears fall without noticing... and the quiet song is still in my head after all these weeks, sometimes I catch myself humming it while walking back to the dorm after dinner, and it always make me feel... uncomfortable, to say the least... and when I meet all the colorful and happy Halloween decoration, I just smile. In addition, they came up with a hilariously funny rap version of the Golden Arm, and I've never thought that so many sayings concerning death can be crammed into such a short piece...
The sound of the evening train and its strong lights dancing behind the trees made a wonderful background, and a ten-minute break. The Ghost Train came and went, huge black monster in our horror-filled night, and, as usual, the Jonesborough crowd welcomed it as an old friend...
Gene Tagaban was already sitting between light and darkness while the others were telling; now he walked on stage with his drum, and seemed quite comfortable in the night filled with spirits and strange creatures. Actually, he sang for them, and because he is who he is (a very special storyteller), we all believed what he told us... (with his deep voice, the drum, and the usual nice sense of humor, of course). We clapped with our fingers, creating a strange low noise in the darkness, like something walking or dancing around, on the palms of hundreds of people... it was fascinating.
And it was Lyn Ford who was left, with the task to chill our blood for the rest of the night and the long way home. And she did. She told the ghost story, and she sang, in the nice and kind voice of dead girls who scare the hell out of everyone all the time... and again, the song remained, and I can't get it out of my head.
When I was back in my safe and silent room, I caught myself glancing towards the mirror, time to time. Yeah, I'd had nights with ghost stories before, stories which made the guys go everywhere together for several days... but I'd never been on the "receiving end" of the horror story business, never, let alone in a place like Jonesborough, where the "very best", the elite of scariness and creepiness and eeriness tell the tales under the willow trees and the green pavilion, and the Ghost Train haunts the night of whisper and sudden scream...

Jonesborough - When time stopped

"Don' worry, honey, ya're goin' to the South ya know..." she said, and she smiled. Half a dozen times I heard this sentence the week before the Festival, and half a dozen times I smiled back with having absolutely no clue what it meant. But at least it made me feel a little bit less nervous.
When I boarded the bus (the one with my own favorite Peter Pan painted on its side), and pulled my knees to my chin on the seat, resting my forehead against the window, I wasn't sleepy (which is kind of a miracle because it was 1 am), I wasn't scared (not like my parents on the other side of the World), I wasn't even anxious - all alone, in the back of the bus, I felt like I was part of something. I watched the lights along the road, and I started telling the story to myself:
"Every single year, on the same night, this night, wanderers of North and East, South and West, are on the road, all alone or with company, heading towards the same place, the same tiny town far far away, under the starts, under the moon, just like me, on the bus, on the train, in the car, on the plane, on sea and air and water they come, from their journeys; it doesn't even matter where they are, where they were before, how many thousands of miles they keep to themselves, some of them are already sleeping, already there, but not yet arrived - but tomorrow, with the light of dawn, they will be there. Just like me."
And so I shared that crazy 22-hour bus ride with hundreds of people, Tellers and Listeners alike, and I felt the same a hero would feel when the journey begins (well, not every hero, of course. Some of them would be like "Nooo, let me stay home!". But that's another story).
Tell me about sleep deprivation.

And the South was, indeed, beautiful. I saw forests and mountains and small towns and... well, more forests and more mountains and more small towns, and hawks and blue birds and lakes, and tiny white churches. And then, just before sundown, when we left the mountains and the road took a turn - I looked up, and I saw all the clouds turning from white to rainbow. Not gold and pink, and not circled by a seven-colored arch - their white just turned to colors, all over my head, and stayed like that till the sun reached the horizon (no, it's not an allegory. It's the wonder of light, copyright by Nature herself). And from that moment, time stopped for me, and stood still like a painting, till the end of the Festival.

In the first morning, with the rainwater slowly disappearing in the warm autumn sunshine, I couldn't help but stare. At Jonesborough. At the houses. At the people. At the Storytelling Center. At the tents. At the pumpkins. At the scarecrows. At the Storytelling Center again. At... basically everything. Time stood still, well, yes... but many times I ended up running to arrive on time to the first session of storytelling... running along the road with the tiny shops, the autumn flags, the hay bales, the sunflowers and pumpkins and scarecrows and the butterfly-shaped bench on the sidewalk. I never enjoyed being late so much...

But, really, I should be writing about the storytellers instead. So much about Jonesborough.

Before the tale

Before I plunge into all the details and the colorful bazaar of memories, I first have to say that the order I will speak about events has nothing to do with the real sequence of them, or my preference towards one teller or another... a little bit of this, a little bit of that, this is how we usually remember.
Probably I will upload some pictures too, but till then, fell free to visit my Hungarian blog, and check out the Jonesborough pictures there. Link on the left.
And now, back to the story.

Jonesborough - Beginning from the end

Yesterday evening, done with all my homework (well, most of it), finished with everything to do, I climbed into my bed, cuddled under the blankets, turned on the CD player, and listened once again to the voice of Dolores Hydock, filling the room with magical words: "A wise king... A vengeful queen..." and I smiled.
The hundred-thousandth time I did the same (or, at least, it seems so - I lost count), fortunately the CD is not worn out that easily, the tape would be in shreds. And still, I listened, all the way through the hour, and smiled and laughed out loud, and caught my breath at the end.
And I saw the king and the queen and Silence and the minstrels and the dragon and the battle... but I also saw in my mind the Creekside Tent with the chairs and the colorful crowd of people, the stage with the musicians, the sunshine, the train behind the tent... and, standing in front of us in a skirt of rags and staff in her hand, I saw the Storyteller, her twinkling eyes, her all-knowing smile, her hands, always moving to guide us along the journey. Every word I remember, every wink, every gesture - and I'm so sure that for a long-long time, it will be the same.
And when I think of those three days, this is one of the first pictures that come to my mind - the first, I say, but far from being the only one. And when I turned off the CD player and lay in bed, listening to the Connecticut rain's whisper on the window - they all came back to me.
And so begins the tale of Jonesborough.