All week long, I thought about the parable of the unclean spirit, by Sara Eliza Johnson:
“You can’t remember ... Your loneliness isn’t welcome here, you know, but still you walk the dream-lit village, looking for someone gentle enough…”
Walking through the city, along the concrete streets, forgetting and remembering duel.
The green spaces remind me.
For years, we’ve encountered Earth Celebrations of the East Village, art parades and dramas, dueling garden spirits and machines, oil spills and renewable energy, an opera of urban conflict and models of regeneration.
These are spaces where we find fellow souls in the dream village Johnson sees.
I saw them in Brad Will and Elizabeth Meixell in that Spring 1999 Earth Celebrations, dressed as garden creatures, marching from garden to garden, welcoming and inviting us all into their nether reality.
Saturday 2021 was a similar kind of day.
There was Eric, who always participates, chatting away as the puppets marched through the village streets, from garden to garden, looking for something.
Its better to believe in and embrace that abundance, says Eric, to offer that image of a dreamscape.
But this is also New York City, where kids bruise their knees on the sidewalk and bulldozers pave over paradise, displacing friends of the garden.
Still green spaces remain, taking shape out of the ruble.
In a garden you always have a friend.
“Look a baby,” I said to the little one 15 years ago after she scraped her knee on Avenue B, pointing her at Eddie Boros’ ‘Tower of Toys,” a 65-foot-high garden sculpture, full of toys, at 6B Garden.
It was one of those moments when our quiet kid found a bit of love of the whimsical in this concrete jungle.
“Man oh man speak up and tell us something true and how are we to proceed to find the lost city,” writes Lawrence Ferlinghetti, nearing his hundredth year in Little Boy.
I’ve spent the last two decades looking for that lost space, as the city reinvents itself, neighborhood after neighborhood, developers rezoning away their distinct details.
The tower in the garden, the green spaces seem to evoke a lost world.
Some days, I think I’m getting closer to finding it, sitting contemplating the ecological city we find in the gardens of the East Village, bikes and gardeners zipping to and from, ideas moving, mixing their own distinct models sustainable urbanism.
I certainly felt it outside the 6th Street Community Center greeting friends getting ready for the parade, greeting Chelsea and Dee Dee and their compostable cargo bike, along with the other participants.
Standing at the 11th Street Garden, listening to sing their compost song, “Get wormy....don’t throw away that food waste...make it compost....”
I felt it walking through the streets with the others carrying puppets, thinking about the garden heroes, exploring the eco metropolis, the gardens created out of sweat equity. They seem to represent the best of what the city can be, with eyes on the street, classrooms for urban ecological education, community organization, and green development. The irony of course is that each garden that improves the city, makes it more livable, and marketable.
These are spaces where we learn from each other, create art, sleep, dream, and find something else for ourselves.
The dance performances are more majestic each year, dueling bodies in the garden, a swirl of red, purple, green, and yellow, battling tides and spills, outrageous fortune.
It’s a long majestic march.
After two and a half hours, I have to peel off, dropping my puppet off at Howard’s Community Center, where other volunteers were leaving materials and recharging.
A three-hour tour would be ideal for us.
The opera of the ecological city has to be sustainable itself.
After the rain, the teenager, who used to be scared of the old Gaia vs the machine dance performances in the parade, joins me at 6B, walking through the garden, looking at the flowers, wondering about the space where the old garden Tower of Toys used to stand.
It was there from from 1985 until 2008 when the city tore it down.
The eco city is always opening and closing, repelling and renewing, inviting us to find something here, something of ourselves, even when we forget. Sometimes a green map or a procession helps remind us.
They help us remember in this dream village.
PERFORMANCE – Compost Song – Nate & Hila
PERFORMANCE – Dance to the People “Birth of a Garden”
Performer Credits: Maira Duarte, Michelle Applebaum, Joanna Stone, Nicole Touzien, Annie Hudson.
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Birth of a Garden Dance – Dance Entropy – Valerie Green
Pollution Pirates – Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space with Time’s Up, Jim Simopoulos
Battle – Pollution & Covid Monster – Keith Saari
Orator – Armand Ruhlman