People-watching

A few years ago, my wife and I were walking in Portsmouth’s Market Square — people-watching, of course. My wife was dressed as a monarch butterfly and I wore the plush orange skin of a human-size red spotted newt.

Strolling alongside us on that night were hundreds of nightmarish figures, glowing ghosts, bloodied ax murderers and a troop of shambling zombies who would suddenly assemble into choreographic precision to the tune of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

It was October 30, natch, and we were participating for the first time as walkers in the awesome, free-form, volunteer-run, community-supported Portsmouth Halloween Parade (read all about it on page 48).

I had seen the parade from the sidelines before and knew that the crowds along the parade route were often dressed up as colorfully (and horrifically) as the paraders. Peering out through the mouth of a newt, I could imagine I’d been swallowed whole by a mutant amphibian and this was my last look at the world ­— a Lovecraftian nightmare village where monsters parade while other monsters applaud from the curb.

All Hallows’ Eve was originally believed to be a day when the world of the spirit and the world of the flesh briefly overlap, allowing spooks and mortals to commune, so perhaps it’s not strange that the boundaries between the street and the curb would similarly vanish on Halloween parade night.

Only a few days before, we had been on those same streets dressed up in different costumes. We wore our VIP lanyards (press privilege) and were looking as stylish as possible while mixing with good-looking people streaming from the packed Music Hall to one of the many parties that fill the nights of the Portsmouth Film Festival (see page 10).

Of course, Portsmouth is not unique as a tourist-friendly town having two crowd-pleasing events in the same month, but both of these spectacles were born in the last 25 years, during my watch as editor of this publication. I knew that both were not products of some professional agency or downtown development organization, but simply ideas developed by local people who wanted to have fun and make some waves.

As cool as it is to watch people dress up and parade — either as cosmic vampires or as Hollywood insiders — what I enjoy most is watching people create things that are larger than themselves; things that have a life of their own and, if set free, will live and grow and delight subsequent generations.

The weekly downtown Arts Market that takes place in non-winter months in Concord (going on its 11th year) is such an invention, created by a newcomer who wanted to help the Capital City lose its rep as City in a Coma. Concord today is so lively with music and downtown markets that you have to admit, something happened. Maybe something as simple as that one great idea helped to kick off the revival.

Back in August, I was pleased to finally make it to an Amos Fortune Forum at the Jaffrey Meetinghouse. For one hour, until the ceremonial ringing of a handbell, a speaker presides over the hall and an attentive audience listens to a “lecture” on some useful, enlightening topic. The series, started by a small group of locals, has been cranking along now for 73 years. Perhaps that format reminds you of the viral contemporary events dubbed TED Talks, as it should. (By the way, keep an eye out for the first Concord TEDx, October 12 at Red River Theatres on Main St.)

One thing all these events share is “people watching” at it’s most entertaining and instructive. But be careful about watching from too close. Just like a monster parade that threatens to suck you in and turn YOU into a monster, you might find yourself  no longer watching from the sidelines but participating as a speaker, a parader or a member of a volunteer organizing committee.

Not quite as big a deal as being swallowed by a giant orange newt, but close.

Categories: Editor’s Note

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