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Photo by Amie Oliver
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Yesterday my partner-in-art, Amie Oliver, and I joined the massive lawn party that is the Monument Avenue Easter Parade that started in 1973 (see a history of the event, and slide show, here).
An exquisite Richmond afternoon brought out all the lovely spring fashions, big bonnets and dogs wearing bunny ears. The enjoyment is the conviviality and meeting and greeting as one meanders. In this way, we welcome renewal and new life.
Some Easter Parades have occurred in misty cold and others in near brutal heat. But the weather got it exactly right on Sunday. The Monument Avenue Easter is among the best things we get right here — like Broad Appétit (this will be its seventh year) the Two Street Festival, that last fall passed its quarter century mark, and the Richmond Folk Festival that will reach a decade since the National Folk Festival came here. These events came not from councilmanic fiat, either, or by decree, but because people wanted them to happen. All this, and Manchester's own Legend Brewery turned 20 this weekend, too.
And under that astounding sky a unique and great Richmond moment occurred.
The energetic Samson Trinh and members of the Upper East Side Big Band played the B-side of the Beatles Abbey Road. The magnificent and spirited rendition got me right there, and for reasons other than how few of those lads remain among us, and how long and short the time passed, more than that, how the music seemed tailored to the day and circumstances.
If you live here any length of time, you make mental adjustments. You either enjoy the juxtapositions offered by our city — or they make you crazy.
While the band played, north of the green medallion, the Virginia Blood Bank recruited for its Easter Blood Drive. A big red drop of the life-sustaining stuff danced its bloody heart out.
South of the bandstand, protesters of the Shockoe ball park proposal and the Monroe Park conservancy made their views known. They, too, danced. Around us, small children ran in the grass, tumbled, twirled and shrieked in their enjoyment. Some of them moved to the music, too.
Overlooking the entire wonderful scene, the imposing and unmoving monument. A bystander asked me, “Is that Robert E. Lee?”
“Yes,” I said, and indicated he plaque.
She laughed. “Oh, it’s in the shadow, I couldn’t read it.”
“Well, it’s not as long or as obvious and some others that have text-heavy memorials."
“What does all four hooves of the horse on the ground mean?”
“That he’s sitting on a stable platform.”
“Oh, I thought that meant he died in battle.”
“Well, he didn’t, and there’s no such iconography on the Monument Avenue statues, and by the way, that’s not Traveller he’s sitting on.”
“What? It’s gotta be.”
“No. The French sculptor Antonin Mercié decided that Traveller wasn’t heroic enough a steed, so he switched him out for a French thoroughbred who’d run off at the sound of a pop gun, much less cannon fire.”
“Well.” I pointed, “And you’ll notice, he’s a gelding. The masculine undercarriage was considered, eh, inappropriate.” “Oh. Well, but Lee could’ve ridden a gelding.”
“But he didn’t.”
“Huh. I guess I asked the right person.”
“Maybe unfortunately,” I replied.
(By the way, a few years ago, I attempted to spend 24 hours at the Lee Statue.)
Then the band started in on the final medley of Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/This Is The End. I got goose bumps — and tears. From the beauty and from the ugliness, too.
I imagined how a camera might swoop over Monument Avenue, over the heads of thousands of people, all colors, all types, gathered under one splendid sun, and then move out over the glistening, rushing river that birthed this place and turn back and seeing us all there, and rejoicing in the possibilties that make failures so much more disappointing.
Richmond, since we must carry that peculiar weight, then underneath its burden — and given that we are blessed with such fantastic music — we ought to dance.