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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FACES & VOICES: Passing Faces Play Roles in Street Theater




When I was a child, my mother used to tell me it was rude to "gawp at folk," which in northern English dialect meant that I should not stare at strangers. But I could not help it. Wherever I was, on buses or in parks, I found the people around me more fascinating than any film.


Still, I enjoy nothing more than sitting and watching the world go by. Where better to see the human parade than at Pushkin Square on a summer evening when love is in the air?


There are two kinds of people: those who are self-absorbed and those who see others. Or rather, we all operate in these two modes at different times. It is well known that love is blind and lovers have eyes only for each other. Among those who live by seeing are traders and beggars.


And so, as dusk fell, I took my seat for the theater of the street. A pale youth sat beside me on the bench, pretending to read a book of poetry though not, I think, Pushkin. On my other side was a girl, apparently waiting for someone.


The key is not to speak to those you observe, for then you get facts that disturb your fantasies. For example, that these two might be made for each other and would go off into the sunset together after their respective partners failed to turn up.


Other couples, happily united, glided through the square like the bewitched characters in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Flower sellers stood about, alert to the possibility of getting a good price for their lily of the valley, while bag ladies hovered by the benches, in hope of picking up empty beer bottles cast aside by careless lovers.


A pair strolled past, the young man in a formal suit, the girl long-legged in a red mini-skirt and wedge shoes like moon boots. Gravely, he presented her with lilies. He was courting a creature from outer space.


The next couple, I thought, would soon be married. His arm encircled her waist as she buried her face in a bouquet of white tulips. But would they still be happy, five years from now?


Nearby, two young women with dyed blonde hair were deep in discussion. A man joined them and for him, their hard, practical faces suddenly adopted the mask of charm. How terrible, the mating game. Only the children, playing in the fountain, and the very old were free from its tyranny.


A woman with a mane of red hair hung on to the arm of a man in a leather jacket, who was clearly in love with himself. "What nonsense are you talking?" he said to her, while she caught the eye of another wolfish-looking man.


A pair of tramps stopped right before me and, in drunken voices, began an argument. The woman wanted to go one way, the man another. They pulled at the grubby bag between them, each trying to convincethe other. Then as suddenly as they had started the spat, they ended it and went off in harmony. What was it, years of habit or shared misfortune that held them together? It was a kind of love.


Detachment is a great blessing but sometimes the lonely observer longs to be involved. I stood up and bought two bunches of lily of the valley. Why two, I don't know. Then suddenly I spotted an acquaintance I had not seen for months. "These are for you," I said, handing him one bunch of lilies. "This is for you," he replied and like a magician, produced from his pocket a pink duck. It was so funny that we both fell about laughing and all the eyes in the square swiveled to stare at us.