A number of excursions recently to downtown LA – a place of a thousand flavors- it’s dirt and it’s grime, it’s old art deco buildings and the motifs that sometimes get lost amongst the construction, the plywood, playbills and graffiti. Here, in this foyer, a ceiling of mosque-like moulding leading to pricey lofts extolling the virtues of the thriving Downtown LA art scene. There a bit of an art deco sidewalk, half of it left, beneath a layer of old bubblegum, ten billion foot prints and car soot still shines tiles of red and gold and white and blue, partitioned off by golden brass fronting against a store selling stereos, karaoke machines, congos and trumpets. The neon signs and blitz and bling reflect on the 20’s style lines underfoot. Around the corner you see a curving arch overhead, twisting and twining with intricate grandeur, welcoming you into the marketplace of a dozen shops selling nintendo knock offs, hair extensions and piñatas. Delicate corners and cornices drop down to boarded up windows, the smell of urine and mexican grocers, sewing machine repairs, and parking garages, art galleries, sushi restaurants and a 50’s style diner replete with jukebox and checkerboard tiling. This is the old town of Downtown LA – the part that came before the sleek glass and steel and polished granite high rises exuding modernity and shunning this dirtied rough and tumble corner that moves into the fabric and fashion districts, lying in the shadow of the business centers. The corner where, with a bit of dusting off, one might find architectural treasures, if only one knows how to look.
Juxtapose all of that with the rocky coastlines of Sonoma and it’s an intense contrast. There – there is no ‘modern’ vs ‘rough and tumble’ – no new cliffs that transition to mexican grocers and burrito shops and the odd stylie sushi bar. There – the cliffs are the cliffs. There is no difference from the top to the bottom other than the smoothness of the lines – how much one section has been smacked and sculpted by the crashing waves more than another. The waves come churning in – wham! bam! ka-boom! Into little inlets that drop down between the rocks and then up! – up along the sides of great jutting corners – no angels or gargoyles upon those corners, no sculpted fleur-de-lis. Just raw rock, at times sharp and craggy, at other times stippled – pock marked like sand after a hard rain and then dried to a hardened shell. Along these lines, echoing the rhythms of sea, wind, and storms, we might cast anthorpomorphized suggestions of a face or the reminiscences of a body, a hand, a heavenly choir. All of it left to the imagination of one or another and the ground left to the cast offs of the ocean- kelp and other types of seaweed, smoothed by the sea driftwood, the elbow of a lobster, red and dry in the sun, or the body of a crab, brittle and speckled in delicate patterns, waiting to be divided up and cast back to the sea.
Later we walk amongst tall tall redwoods – 1200, 1400 years old – walking inside them where we were silent and still. Their stillness is comforting. It is like an ancient blanket knit by thge most compassionate and caring of elders that doesn’t stifle but instead incites within us a sense of ease, a sense of peace and envelops us in a holding that doesn’t constrict, a grandeur that doesn’t yell from the rooftops but instead whispers in rounds and creates one long bass note bottom vibration that is supportive, nurturing, warm. It is a subtle mystical experience.
I take those experiences with me onwards into this life that I lead. The Downtown LA cityscapes with their business suits and dirty streets, the homeless and the hipsters – the cornices and pillars – the cliffs and crashing waves – the salt air and deep fogs – into the sunny San Francisco skies, hills and valleys, gold rush era granite mason buildings with their own sense of urgency that has been tempered with the passing of time into the friendly neighborhood cafe (one of which, the Blue Bottle Cafe, where I was led that last time I was there, had the best cappuccino I’ve ever had.) – and on and on and on into the redwoods and their solid spirits and delicate undergrowth of sorrel and sword ferns to the cab driver who is new at all this to a morning talk, in the fog of the Pacific, with the white bearded old man, herding his sheep, sharpening his knife, talking to me about the doves that live in his barn and how lovely it is to take the squab (a young yet-to-fly dove) add a nice dry rub, stuff an onion up inside and bake it at maybe 350 or 400 degrees. And now I know… And all of the experiences, and how they are perceived, support a movement – onwards, upwards, inwards – through life.