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Hats Like Sneezes, Playing at Aristocracy and Other Notes From Royal Ascot

Now no one is playing at aristocracy. Women take off their high-heeled sandals and dangle them from one finger. Men hug each other. The racetrack understands this dynamic, the swell of emotion at the end of the day, and there is a singalong at the bandstand.

This is where I was at 6 p.m., among 1,000 people singing. All day I had been having conversations about England, about Ascot as some apex experience of Englishness. The outsiders wanted to be near it, the insiders wanted it back. I was thinking about what I love about my British friends, how they do not take themselves so seriously, that thread of humor that is almost anarchic. The bandleader was playing American songs, “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”

Then something interesting happened: The band struck up “Rule, Brittania,” that hymn to British dominion over nations “not so bless’d as thee.” Some sort of electric current went through the crowd; a tall man beside me drew the air into the bottom of his lungs and commenced singing like a bassoon; people were waving Union Jacks on sticks. The crowd seemed to expand, with — what was it? patriotism? nationalism? On the overhead screen, there was an image of a young blonde, her hair illuminated by sunlight. The song so lifted the spirit of the crowd that the bandleader started it up again.

I was struck by how martial the lyrics were, how odd they sounded in a world without sea battles. I turned to a man standing near me — he was black — and asked if he thought the lyrics were a little colonial. He barked a short, sarcastic laugh, and said, “Yeah, just a little.”

Then a woman named Rebecca, who was wearing a big, floppy polka-dot bow, jumped in. She was white, an insurance agent in her 30s, and she felt uneasy, apart, in the singing crowd. “I think it’s colonial, and I hate it,” she said. “I used to sing these songs in school, and they were just our songs. Now they’re football hooligan songs. Someone else has claimed them.”

She did not want to tell me her last name, though — something about the conversation was hazardous — and she made her exit, threading her way out of the densest part of the crowd to where her friends were waiting.

Source: NYT > World

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