“We used to come here for Easter sermons as children, but back then the stone building had stood straight-backed like a school teacher, hushing every childish giggle. Now the doors were wide open and the entrance was decorated with draping curtains of pink and yellow.”
This post is my 100th post on this blog! This page has been up and running since February 5th 2018, so that means a 100 posts in exactly one year and two months. Seeing as this blog began as an assignment for my former Creative Writing degree, I figured today I could show you a piece of writing I handed in as coursework, around the same time I started this blog!
So, the piece is from a module called Travel Writing, and it was written in January 2018. It is about the notion of “holidays at home”, and the ways that your hometown can surprise you when you start really looking at all the places you’re so used to existing in. For me, it was going to a festival my hometown puts on every year, for the first time a couple of years ago. Have a read, and thanks for sticking with me for a hundred posts!
“Maybe I Like Honey After All”
“You don’t have to buy the honey; you just have to taste it.” She grabbed my arm as I walked past her and shoved a spoon dripping with fresh honey into my hands. “Only local bees.”
I called her the Bee lady in my head. Her hands were rough; a worker’s hands. Wrinkles followed the lines of her face, the price of a long life well lived, and silver hair was gathered in a braid that hung down her back. She had decorated it with flowers for the occasion, greens and pinks and yellows.
“So many people think they don’t like honey at all, but that’s because they’ve only ever tasted the store bought kind.” She shook her head, making the braid dance.
“They don’t know how real honey actually tastes.” She winked at me. I thanked her and was about to leave, but she insisted on another spoonful.
I bought a jar.
I walked around the marketplace with my jar of honey in one hand and my friend linking arms with me on the other side, desperately wishing for more time. Time to explore the chaos I found myself in the middle of. It all seemed to be happening at once and I tried to see it all, to keep my arms open for anything that could fall into them. On the other side of the river, I could see my house. I was five minutes away from home, but I’d never seen my own home town, so alive before.
The Moon Festival was here, and so were we. The town was dressed for an annual party I’d never given much thought to, and in the middle of the square, the proud statue of a former king could be seen dressed in a pink tulle tutu. Bobbing over his head was an adoring crowd of yellow balloons. The market place around him was normally filled with elderly ladies selling cheap second-hand china from picnic tables, but now, it was covered a myriad of bright colours and languages.
The market stalls showcased vegan food, Jamaican incense and long, colourful dresses.The heavy scents hung in the warm summer air – it clouded my mind as I made my way from stall to stall, a glass of homemade apple cider in hand. Scattered around the market there were small stages where local musicians strummed guitars or picked on the strings of their fiddles. I couldn’t even begin to comprehend how this festival, this explosion of tastes and colours, could have existed in my own town for ten years without me seeing it before.
The sounds joined the smells from the stalls and the warmth of July, and along with all the flowers running down street signs and lamp posts, it created an atmosphere that felt like walking in a postcard. I loved it.
We discovered that the market place was only a small part of the festival. I ventured on from the busy stalls, down another narrow street, towards the main stage. On both sides, tall chestnut trees created an alley over my head and the sun shone through the leaves, a painting on the cobblestones. After a minute I stopped.
We were standing in front of the old church. Tall, white brick, with spires that looked like they were trying to touch the clouds. We used to come here for Easter sermons as children, but back then the stone building had stood straight-backed like a stern school teacher, hushing every childish giggle. Now the doors were wide open and the entrance was decorated with draping curtains of pink and yellow. The gardens surrounding the church had been turned into an oasis of cushions on the soft grass. As the graveyard was located elsewhere, on the outside of the city, there were no weary graves or monuments of people long forgotten, but bunting swaying in the playful breeze and pinwheels running, creating rainbows around us.
“I’ve never seen the gardens look like this before,” my friend said. We stood for another moment, looking at children running around with purple face paint dripping down white summer dresses, parents spreading out picnic blankets.
It was almost too easy to imagine a “Wish you were here” printed in italics over the picture in front of us. Bright blue letters on a sign made of drift wood proudly announced that these were The Moon Gardens; somewhere to rest tired feet and heavy eyes after a long day of new experiences. For us though, it was early afternoon and there was no time for rest just yet. We continued on our way towards the stage.
We showed our yellow “over 18”-wrist bands to the security guards outside the old Weaver’s square and entered. In front of us, a huge courtyard opened up. One side of the shoe horse building used to be the uniform weaver’s workshop not even a century ago. School trips to the the old buildings (now turned museums) were mandatory when we were younger, and frankly quite dull. Now, the square teemed with people. There was nothing dull about this.
The trees and the brick walls around us were decorated like the market; flowers and tulle everywhere. Graffiti signs told us where to exchange real money for “Moon Money” and where to pick up free water bottles. Groups of friends were drinking beer and old couples sipped wine from plastic bottles. People were sharing food from paper plates and poring over their flyers, excited for what was to appear on the stage.
While I was busy looking at all the people around us, my friend disappeared for a moment. She came back with two sealed orange tubes.
“Whatever that is, I’m not drinking it,” I told her, raising an eyebrow
She downed it. “Vodka and raspberry juice,” was all she said. I tried and failed to stifle a laugh. Shots from plastic tubes. I’ll try anything once. Suddenly the spotlights were turned on, illuminating the stage in more pinks and greens, and the loud chatter that had filled the square turned to quit murmurs. The crowd started to shuffle forward, wanting to be closer to the music. Then the concert started. A tall woman with dark hair, three guitars in a row behind her, and a modest band took the stage. With the still bright afternoon sun in her eyes, she took the microphone to her lips and enchanted the audience with the quiet melancholy of love grown and lost on the streets of Stockholm.
This, I thought, is so much better than all those museum trips.
The concert left us with that tingle in your skin that good music and a magical atmosphere is wound to do. The sun started to set at the end of the gig and after the concert, we decided it was time to sit down, catch our breaths and take it all in. On the grass, looking out over the river, a yellow tent, one of the many pop-up bars, was waiting for us.
The tent seemed to stretch on forever. There was no floor but soft grass, and one wall was missing. It was replaced by what seemed to be a thousand soft fairy lights on thin strings. The lights looked like fireflies flying on their wires, chasing each other as the wind stopped by to play with them. More lights were wrapped around the pole holding up the tent, around the bar and the bottles and the trees outside. As the sun had disappeared completely, the market vendors started to light the lanterns outside of their stalls as well.
I caught myself thinking that some of the lanterns were swaying dangerously close to the dresses and the shawls and the fabric of the stalls themselves, but I brushed it off. On a night like this, nothing bad could happen. We sat in silence, looking at the people strolling past, as drops of condensation ran lazily down the sides of our cups. No one had anywhere they needed to be, and it was a stark contrast to the energy we’d experienced earlier that day, when the market was filled with music and voices and the applause from the different stages. Now there was no rush, no time.
“It’s so weird,” my friend said, looking out over the river outside of the bar. I could see my house on the other side, just like earlier. “Why didn’t we do this earlier?”
“I have no idea,” I said, “but I’m glad we’re here now.”
I know this city so well, know all its nooks and crannies. When I was younger, this little town was the perfect playground; quiet streets, open parks and lazy rivers. Only a ferry ride away from the hustle and bustle of the city. As I grew too big for playground mysteries, I abandoned it, left its slow motions in favour of the big city rush, forgot it was even there.
I looked out at the river again, saw the newer part of town on the other side of the water. Here we were, sitting in history, music enveloping us and a calm tranquillity covering us like a blanket. I reveled in the feeling that there was so much more to explore about this place, so much I had never been aware of was even here.
I thought about the Bee Lady again. Maybe she was right. Maybe it was just like honey; maybe I just didn’t know how my city tasted. And maybe I liked honey after all.