Why We Must Ramble

Reflections on the Old North End Ramble 2014
by Coordinator Darshana Bolt

Great local businesses; porch-side bibliophiles; young writers; crooners; music-makers; painters; glass artists; sculptors; collagists; dancers; yard sailors; artisans; cooks; gardeners; ambulatory historians; publishers; queer wiffle ball enthusiasts; scholars; activists; orators; African dancers; astrologers; massage therapists; seed bombers; knitters; bikers; movers; shakers; dashing young North End euphophonists and red-swirling color guard girls getting MARRIED–yup, we’re looking at something like NINETY people doing stuff for the Ramble this year! Viva los people doing stuff!

There is a lip-smacking inauthenticity that clings to the word “authentic”–but what else could it be that endears such a saucy tangle of participants to the hearts of all? It would be silly to say that the Ramble is “non-commercial”–it is, in fact, a celebration of local enterprise! But there is something even more beautiful about sturdily hard-working North End entrepreneurs joining hands (and sometimes playing tug o’war and arm-wrestling) with anarchist collectives, refugee populations, street musicians, and schoolchildren to say:


I AM THE OLD NORTH END993939_10101627509614550_828186649_n
…and so is Ward 2 City Councilor Max Tracy!

DSCN4849…and so are these ONE World Market vendors, 2011!

DSCN4807.jpg…and so are Rajnii Eddins (of Bless the Child), Tree (of Atlas Joint), this adorable child, and MC Humble, 2011!

..and so are Brass Balagan and friends, 2013!

Maybe it’s the number of integral community members who have tied their favorite hankies onto sticks and set off for the big cities, or the tragedy that has struck us with the passing of cherished young jazz trumpeter Paul Brana just last week. But now, more than ever, there is an imperative to celebrate creativity and community in the Old North End, as the old tagline goes.
Rain or Shine.

There have been a lot of dark clouds hovering, and that’s all the more reason to keep shining.

What we love about this place and the people here; what’s made us all suffer through cold winters and come back sometimes thousands of miles–is that there is a GENUINE acceptance, support, and true kind of diversity within our interconnected Burlington communities, pouring power and meaning into exceptional everyday lives.

Acknowledging creativity and community at a time like this is essential. We need each other. This creative community, here in this little city, is a kind of wild living entity, filled with tenderness and history. We have to keep caring for it. We can’t let it die.

The old chestnut pinging off foreheads around “poor” neighborhoods that swell with artists in their midsts is the issue of gentrification–a serious force that has swept through areas of Brooklyn, Oakland, and countless other smaller cities, leaving longtime residents in the dustpan.

I think we can safely say, without being ostriches with our heads in the sand, that ain’t happening around here–though some of us are awfully fond of wearing plumage, we’re just too prickly!

It’s not happening as long as this grumpy Jewess can keep glaring at the college kid in the corner store; while he whinges, with unmistakable condescension, about Burlington’s “ghetto” (to the 20-year-old cashier who always call me “Hun,” no less!). And relenting. And inviting visitors to explore misconceptions about just what this place is and what it means to us.

“Arts festival” is a glimmering of a descriptor for the Old North End Ramble, but “brave vision of utopia” might be more accurate. Even if you are completely penniless, you can enjoy the Ramble all day this July 26th: you might even have a vintage penny handed to you–before, with art mosaics on the outer wall of Jamba’s Junktiques, you create another shining Vermont capital.

Some of us are millionaires (thank you, generous Ramble-helpers!), and some of us feel wealthy when we luck out at the food shelf (thank you too!).

What unifies us?
We are loud, we are strong, and we love each other.

Few places inspire such fierce pride, as evidenced by the belly of Tom Billings:

A bike-helmeted Tom recently stopped by Ramble Headquarters (the porch I share with Co-Coordinator Jeannie Waltz), eventually found and dug us out from under white drifts of sign-up sheets, and told us that he grew up in a three-room O.N.E. apartment…with twelve other people!

Old North End pride tattoos, he said, are quite common among middle-aged men who live around here.

Rather than fostering an environment where locals scowl resentfully at aloof hipsters as they bike up the rent (lookin’ at you, Oakland), the O.N.E. is a place where it’s pretty difficult to get down the street in a timely fashion–you’re apt to be showered with compliments, cheerful hellos, and amazing stories by half the people hanging out on North St. (half old-skool Vermonters, half new residents from all over the planet, and certainly half of the people who live around here, str8 chillin on the summer sidewalk!). It’s a fact that rents are ridiculously high in this gorgeous college town, and it’s driving out a lot of honest folk. Again–all the more reason to commemorate the beauty and life of this place, and make a push to hang onto that vitality by supporting ONE businesses, artists, and inhabitants!

As a humble Ramble vessel, I can’t think of anything more obnoxious than to talk about myself in the first person on the front page of our website…but folks, you’ll have to excuse me: I’m feeling sentimental.

I have moved perhaps thirty-five times in my life. I lived in at least twenty locations all over the U.S. while growing up before landing in the Northeast Kingdom fifteen years ago, then went on to nearly get knocked out by rock avalanches in the Andes, dance babies to sleep in Belgium, and be entranced by Cambodia, where I helped coordinate the Cambodian version of the Ramble for thirteen months before being taken down by a bout with typhoid fever (…possibly contracted after a thirty-mile bike parade in the sun brought thirty Cambodian artists and I into the impoverished countryside, so we could paint murals, lead art workshops, play music, and dance–while camping in unsanitary conditions and dining on mice roasted over a campfire on sticks, just like hot dogs. Check out the Cambo-Ramble! https://www.facebook.com/angkorartexplo)

295466_468496819881856_960622539_nArt-on-Wheels, 1961 Gallery, Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2013484655_468497586548446_1308089880_n

Art-on-Wheels on my golden lotus chicken bicycle, 201358260_468498066548398_630148112_n

pop-up art workshop in a village, 2013423031_468497256548479_881243663_n

participating artists, 2013

My first Ramble was in 2005, and that’s when I knew I’d found it for the first time–home.

While commercializing the Ramble into a slick semblance of its DIY roots is the furthest thing from anyone’s mind, there is a poignancy to the point we’ve come to.

We urge you to document, write, photograph, record, videotape, sketch–because there is something so sweetly and swiftly fading about a day-long thing such as this: it is bright, and then it is gone in a moment’s time, like the Nature of so many pre-Industrial poems.

Please, with your songs and stories and pictures and zoetropes, set this Ramble and this kind of Burlington down for future generations. There will never be another one like it.

I am the Ramble. I am love.

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