Random memory brought on by an equally random YouTube clip.
I stood in a moist subway car, catching my breath and adjusting the awkward luggage tugging at my shoulder. I watched yet another pair of buskers, beggars, handlers – whatever you call them – begin what was going to be a contrived performance of song and dance.. a dramatic re-enactment of their daily struggle.
These were two boys carrying a drum and an accordion. They were maybe 9 and 13, maybe brothers, maybe Middle Eastern – maybe just a good Roman street tan. They looked more.. real. There was a purposeful manner in the way they walked through the car, stopped, set up their equipment and began. They were here on business. No hand drawn signs, puppy dog eyes or lip-syncing loudspeakers. No take-pity-on-me-I’m-so-tired-and-sore-and-poor faces. Nothing most of these people dragged with them.
For a moment I was scared they would be awful. What would the people around them think? What sort of verbal abuse would the boys have to endure? More importantly, what displaced humiliation would *I* have to endure? What would I have to pretend not to see or hear?
To my surprise, and relief, the boys were genuinely good. And, they actually seemed to enjoy themselves – something every performer should take into consideration: your public will be more entertained, more willing to give, if they don’t feel bullied into obligatory enjoyment. (Don’t let them know you’d rather be elsewhere. God. Rookie mistake.)
Anyway, they must’ve been playing familiar Italian songs because every now and then I’d catch a glance of someone bobbing along with the tune, clapping in time, or just craning their necks to get a better look.
Nearing the end of their performance the younger of the two weaved around us collecting donations until, at the end of the car, a priest (or some other religiously dressed person) stopped him to strike up a conversation. It was such a light and playful exchange I felt like I was in an “urban” family movie.
Once the boy had done his rounds he brought his brother back to the other end of the car to speak with the priest. You could tell he was the type of religious person to joke around with the kids but gather vital life-sustaining information at the same time. He gave them more money than he needed to and, with cheers from the women collected around them, he got the brothers to play another song.
This time it was clearly a popular tune. The women clapped in unison, started singing the words and attempted what must’ve been the typical foot-stomping Italian dance that went with it – a wobbly subway dance, but still some choreography there.
The group continued this way for some time, bouncing in and out of tune, until an old woman, who’d been glaring for some time, finally stood up and shushed them. Only the priest seemed to notice.
Being a ‘man of the people’, he somehow turned the situation around with an, “Okay boys, big finish!” and created a perfect moment in which to end the song. I was amazed at the tact and ease with which he assuaged both groups.
The boys left the train at the next stop and, I’m sure, went on to do many other similar performances. But the air was buzzing, and you could really see the tenuous connections between people. Connections between complete strangers. It was heartbreaking – in an ecstatic joyful way.
What is that called?