Welcome to Creativity Month at The Gentle Traveler! Retreat suggestions, stories, interviews (yes, interviews!), book and gadget reviews, destinations, food, Gentle Travel Tips…this month is going to be crazy fun…
And that’s not all, so LISTEN UP!
Do you have writing, artwork, audio or video that is creative and also about travel? If so, send it to me! If it fits with the theme (and is in relatively good taste) I will publish it on The Gentle Traveler. Imagine….your name in lights (or at least in cyber-print!). Oh, the places you could go…
…Or maybe you already went and you want to tell us all about it. Or sing it. Or paint it. Whatever…if it is about purpose -driven travel or retreat, we want to see it HERE!
So let’s get right in to the creativity. If you would humor me, I would love to get the ball rolling with a little slice of life piece of my own. For the last two weeks, I have been hanging out in Sacramento. More of the nitty-gritty of what makes this city special (and some really cool pics) coming on Monday.
In the meantime, travel is all about those special moments, right?
Well, I had one of those the other day….
Sometimes what really makes a place what it is is not how sparkly the tinsel is around the window frames. It is the people you meet. Or rather, the people you bump in to when you are asking directions or looking confused or stopping for a coffee somewhere. Sometimes, you meet someone that represents the place you have landed completely.
For me last Friday, that person was Mr. G.
I was searching for water, like I almost always do when I arrive someplace new. I instinctively search out for a big body of it, something that reminds me of the Pacific Ocean or the Rio Grande, a place where the sloshing liquid is its own kind of vista.
I found a sliver of this in a piece of the Sacramento River that butted up next to a Westin hotel off the I- 5. While the whiz of traffic went by, we walked, the little grey schnauzer J and I, his whiskery profile making me feel quite dignified.
Here we are, taking a graceful stroll along the river. I could be a guest at the hotel, after all. Who would know?
“Can you tell me where this road ends up?” I asked the slightly portly fifty-something fellow with an ear bud in one ear and a microphone piece in the other. He was wearing a brown uniform that matched his dark skin. He had a cherub face and when he grinned, his eyes disappeared into wide slits. He reminded me of Santa Claus.
“It goes all the way to Folsom,” he said. “It’s a bike trail though. No cars.”
Folsom? As in the prison? I thought that was in Texas.
Turned out Cash was singing about a place just outside of Sacramento.
“So how do you get over there,” I asked, pointing across the river where sailboats bobbed in the choppy water. I have a thing for sailboats, like I do for trains (anything that moves people from one place to another, really).
“To get there you have to go all the way around. Up the 5 and down Jefferson and across the old Freeporte Bridge.”
He told me about the Old Sugar Mill, probably something he had mentioned a thousand times.
Then somehow, in a strange journey of conversation that started out with comments on the city of Davis and the Old Sugar Mill and ended up with economics and the state of union and the historical situation of African Americans, I came to find out that he was writing a book about that very subject. It was a personal odyssey really, he told me candidly.
I felt then like I was on a college campus. Walking the widen pathways of UCLA, UCSD or UNO (my three alma maters), one can expect a conversation to go something like this, and end with: “I am, in fact, writing a book about the subject…”
But in the parking lot of a rather generic looking hotel at the entryway to a bike trail that leads to Folsom County Jail? What are the odds?
It was a way of discovering himself as an intelligent, worthy, capability human being, he went on to say about the book. He realized through writing it and just through living that he had been placed in a world whose very existence was created on greed.
“This system keeps some men down while sending others to the moon and Wall Street.”
I didn’t argue. How could I? I agreed with him on pretty much everything.
Did he discover that he was indeed capable? I had to ask.
Of course, I thought he was, but what I or anyone else thought really didn’t matter much.
He said yes, he knew it now. He knew it well.
And I had a flash as he spoke of the industrial complex and sustainable living and the history of the railroad in Sacramento, that behind every mask, ever cloak and every uniform, behind every layer of skin color, whatever the hue, there lies an unknown genius.
Some express brilliance in a painting or a piece of music. Some turn it into a book. Others philosophize and ruminate and research and whirl into classroom determined to inspire others.
There will be no so-called learning here, only endless fascination! Those are the great teachers.
Yet others drift, hovering just offshore. They are just as brilliant, just as capable, but perhaps they have been in the water too long. They appear water-logged, defeated, and beaten dumb from the perpetual boredom of waiting for their ship to come in.
Suddenly I was twenty-six again. I was in Cuba along the Malecon, drinking homemade rum, smelling the dank saltiness of the water and listening to a street artist talk about Fidel, El Papa, with excited hesitation, his eyes brimming with love and distain at the same time.
He showed me a piece he had just completed that was for sale and then pronounced that he would run away with me if I wanted.
We will swim out to that ship. Do you see it?
He pointed to a few lights that blinked and reflected off the water like stray bullets.
You know, he said, the boat that you came here on from America.
“I flew in from Tijuana,” I said. “There are no flights here from the U.S.”
He shook his head. He could have loved me.
His art was gritty and realistic. It was beautifully sad like he was. It was raw and yet, it showed none of what made him human, really.
Not like the longing in his voice did, the moistness of his eyes under long lashes, the seething desire to expand beyond the borders of the wharf and Castro that was burning a brand of artistic desperation within him.
His pain made him real to me.
But I digress.
Mr. G was nothing like that street artist from long ago.
Mr. G was a bundle of joyous light.
Mr. G was lit with the fire of acquired knowledge and the continual acquisition of it.
Mr. G was centered in the knowing that there will always be more to learn, there will always be more ways in which we will want to be free.
Mr. G seemed okay with that. The artist on the wharf, understandably, was not.
They seemed like diametrically opposed personalities, these two brilliant men. So what brought them together so clearly in my mind?
It must have been the water, that rolling froth that connects us all, some of it made of saline and some of it fresh as rain.