I admit to feeling a bit down this last week, an accumulation of isolation, some family skirmishes, and my messy garden. The pandemic intensifies small pleasures but it also enlarges what might at other times have been small piques. Hoping for a bit of mood restoration, Stephen and I put on our masks and walked the five or so blocks to our friends’ home–Blair Kilpatrick and Steve Tabak, wife-and-husband Cajun musicians, among other things. Since the beginning of the shelter-in-place order from Governor Newsom, they have settled onto their front porch on Ada Street, at 4:00 each day to play an assortment of Cajun tunes.
Since the very first time I heard it, Cajun music has always heightened my mood. That first experience was many years ago on a local radio station, featuring Michael Doucet and his group Beau Soleil, who would be performing that evening at a local coffee house. Ever since then, I’ve loved listening to the music, although I’ve never become the dancer I wish I were. It doesn’t help that Stephen, who has a superb sense of rhythm, refuses even to try. “I can’t control my feet, just my hands,” he claims. On the rare occasions we go to Ashkenaz, we mainly stand on the sidelines, clapping, my body aching to throw itself into the dance.
It was a bit after four when we turned down our friends’ street yesterday, and immediately the sharp notes of a fiddle beckoned. We arrived in front of our friends’ home just as the waltz they were playing ended. A woman standing in the street, listening and clapping, and several people carrying boxes from a van parked across the street into the back of the house next door were on the scene. We chatted with our friends a bit about the darkness of these times, our collective limited exposure to the outside world, and shared some tips for food shopping on line.
When we stopped chatting, Blair took up her red accordion again, Steve slid his fiddle under his chin, and they began playing “Lacassine,” a song in which the husband threatens his wife with an end to their relationship. Toward the middle of the song, a car pulled up and a couple got out, nodded to our friends and began dancing. Right there on the sidewalk, in front of the driveway, about ten feet from Stephen and me. Seasoned dancers, he slender with gray hair, she short (she later told us she was French Canadian and often referred to as a bassette or short woman), an orange sunhat flopped on her head.
Watching these two dance the two-step, then the waltz, and even the Cajun jittterbug, light on their feet, stepping and tapping, I was carried away to better times, before Covid 19, before George Floyd and the latest riots, before the sharp inequality in our society emerged so tragically—to a huge roomful of couples circling the dancefloor, eyes bright, smiles breaking out on face after face, couples beaming at one another, bodies twirling, hips swaying, hands clasping and letting go.
Our friends played song after song, “Jolie Bassette,” “Cher Ti Monde,” “Jolie Blonde”. . .and after a short time my body burst into dance. While Stephen listened and appreciated, I boogied, sidestepping, twirling, circling, tapping Stephen on the shoulder every once in a while, the fiddle and accordion music circling me, slithering into my ears, my nose, my mouth, until I could no longer tell where I ended and the music began.
There I was, in the middle of the Corona Virus Shelter-in-Place on a street in Berkeley, California, dancing my heart out!