A gorgeous tent like a sheik’s portable desert palace sprang up sometime during the night in the field across El Colegio road. It’s made of purple velvet, red and gold brocade with three peaks on its roof that stretch toward heaven. I think of Aladdin and his lamp, Ali Baba and the forty thieves, and Ozma of Oz. The tent stands in a place of its own apart from the rows of awnings and vendor’s booths that fill most of the field. It’s the annual Isla Vista Pleasure Faire. There’s a wooden platform under a tree where the raspy-voiced lead singer of Alexander’s Timeless Bloozband belts out “Love So Strong” while a harmonica wails.
Josh points to the red, purple, and gold tent. “I wonder what that is.”
I lean against him and he slips his hand into my back pocket.
“It’s like something in a fairy tale,” he says.
“It’s magical,” I agree. “I think it just winked into existence. There’s something holy-looking about it. We should definitely check it out.”
Holding hands, we approach the tent. The heavy fabric parts and a man who could be King David steps out. A circlet of braided leather like an everyday crown holds his reddish gold hair in place. His red beard is trimmed to about half an inch. He has a big nose with flaring nostrils and piercing blue eyes that take in everything about us as we walk across the field. He wears a green robe belted at the waist and hand-made leather sandals on his feet. King David all the way, like something out of the Bible. I wonder if the Ark of the Covenant is in that tent.
“Greetings and welcome!” the man exclaims.
Josh bows. I do a clumsy curtsey with his hand still in my pocket.
The kingly man spreads his arms in a sweeping gesture. “And what, fair lady, does my tent look like to you?”
“A religious monument,” I whisper. “A temple.”
“Come in and see.” The man holds the door flap open for us and we all step inside. Medieval-looking leather goods of all kinds are spread out on wooden tables–belts, purses, sandals, hair ornaments, knife sheaths, sword scabbards. “This is my shop,” the man says. “I make things here, so it is indeed a religious monument because making things is sacred.”
A petite woman in a red brocade dress steps out from behind a fabric curtain between this room and the back of the tent. An impossible mop of brown curls frames her face and cascades down her shoulders. Stepping into this tent is like going back in time, stepping back into the old stories. Josh and I in our jeans and tee shirts are out of place, intruders from a different time.
“We have visitors, Esther,” the man says.
“Welcome,” she says. “My husband Solomon made all these things. Aren’t they great?” She grins at him and at us.
Josh and I go from table to table. “This stuff is really beautiful,” I say. How can we not buy something? I just hope we can afford it; all the hand tooling is going to be really expensive.
Esther holds out a leather barrette. “This would look beautiful in your hair. I really envy you your hair, so long and straight.”
What a blowmind. To me, my hair is dull, boring. It just hangs there. “I have always wanted curly hair like yours!” I take the barrette; it’s hand tooled with a floral pattern. “I love this. How much is it?”
Esther and Solomon laugh. “Take it! It is absolutely free!” Solomon booms.
“We have a tradition,” Esther explains. “Wherever we go, we gift something to our first visitors. It brings us luck.” She hands Josh a belt with a brass buckle in the shape of a lion’s head. How did she know he’s a Leo?
“Wow! Are you sure?” Josh stares at them, then the belt, lips parted, eyes wide. I know he would have bought that belt anyway, he’s so into being a Leo.
“Yes! Take them,” Solomon grins at us. “Our first visitors are sent to us by God. What we give you is our gift to God.”
I put the barrette in my hair while Josh tucks in his shirt and threads the belt through the loops on his Levi’s. “Thank you so much,” he says. “We will never forget this.”
“We’ll tell everybody about what groovey stuff you have,” I add.
Solomon opens a couple of panels in the tent and makes a big door… the store is open. Lots of people are already crossing the field toward us.