The Santa Cruz Boardwalk

We arrive early and are greeted by screams and shouts of joy, the roller coaster whizzing past above the main entrance taking passengers on a joyride across the Santa Cruz boardwalk. The walkway sits upon the beachfront, a wooden construction designed as an amusement park. On one side are shops, game stations, rides and roller coasters, and at the other end is the beach, lined with tents, swimmers, and other beach goers relaxing in the ocean water and sunshine.

The food stalls are alive and thriving as queues back up onto the wooden path for visitors. Churros, jumbo burgers and boardwalk fries, giant Texas doughnuts, ice cream, and other varieties of sweet and savory snacks are on offer. The options are vast and overwhelming, especially to the children who point and tug at the arms of their parents. Inside one of the small tent stalls sit two caricature artists, asking us to come over for a portrait. I reluctantly walk away, wondering what I would look like as a cartoon caricature. Their work shines and pops from their canvas, and they have no shortage of suitors within a few minutes. As we continue further, one of the main attractions are the carnival stations designed for visitors to win prizes. Baseball throws, soccer shots, and simple point and aim games invite visitors to try their luck in winning stuffed animals, toys, and other fun amenities to take home. The boardwalk is filled with bags and strollers holding oversized stuffed toys and colorful prizes.

We finally decide on food options, enjoying lunch before strolling once again through to the opposite end of the walkway. There are hundreds of families making their way across the crowds, carrying their carnival winnings, shopped items, and their small children. The young people are thrilled to be surrounded by the treats and amusement park rides. The east end is covered from the sun, designated as a space for souvenir and surf shops. We purchase a few gifts before heading back out for a final taste of ice cream. Seated on a bench near the entrance, we bask in the early afternoon heat for before bidding the Santa Cruz Boardwalk goodbye for the summer.

Route One

The scenic drive along route one in California, sandwiched between a coastal view of sea and waves is of special significance. The voyage of around fifty miles to Santa Cruz is a winding road leading between rocky cliffs and grassy hillsides. To one side, the lush green hills and jagged rock cliffs, a mixture touching upon the rural Icelandic landscape and Scottish hill sides, invites travelers into an exploration of fresh nature. On the other side, the sandy beaches leading out to the cool currents of water, is an invitation to beach lovers. The mixture of low-hanging clouds sets the scene for a warm morning and early afternoon.

We drive along the coast with the destination in mind, cruising to capture the views and beach side air. Between the thick knolls and steep descents to the ocean, we pass walkers, parked cars, and narrow lanes of isolated patches of roads. Every couple of miles, we see vendors selling locally grown fruits and vegetables, a delight for lovers of greens. On offer are avocados, strawberries, and a variety of other healthy organic treats. We stop to appreciate the vegetables and fruits on offer before continuing on our route.

Within a couple of more miles, we spot the morning surfers by the dozens. They paddle their way out into the water attempting to catch waves to surf into the shore. They glide, carve, and ride the waves, falling often but also spinning and twisting, showcasing their skills and experience. We find a bench to sit on and watch the surfers breeze through the waves. The beige sandy beaches are dotted with large shrubs of seaweed and old decaying logs.

There are many beaches with rest areas, and we stop sporadically, eventually finding our way to Santa Cruz. The waves of cars and traffic form a densely populated patch and we sit through the traffic before reaching the parking lot. This is a sharp contrast to the isolated beach strips on Route 1. Finally, we arrive at the Santa Cruz boardwalk and begin another adventure.

Successes

I saw a man today
immersed in his work
I bought my coffee and took a seat
I watched him scribbling hard
but his words I could not see

His colored pencils were strewn across the table
the blues, reds, yellows and greens
He was hunched over and serious
writing at a fast pace

“Another artist”, I thought, “and maybe one with purpose”
His hands worked with energetic intent
I turned my back and faced the street
my eyes locking in on his reflection in the window glass

He wrote and read, read and wrote
while other joked, laughed, and spoke

I heard of the building of a wall, of economies, of celebrity and their falls
I listened to the background music
and could have sworn
that I heard it all

I lost track of time but when I turned to leave
the artist had escaped
had left the building in haste
seemingly without a trace

I gulped down the last droplets of coffee
and walked over to dispose my cup
and inside the large trash containers
was the compilation of his work

A rainbow of penciled paper upon paper

Somewhere in the early hours of the morning
when the day had just begun
when the sun had emerged to shine
when fresh coffees were brewed and breakfasts stewed
he had given up and walked away
leaving in tatters what he carved in such fury and passion
his words and work
never to see the light of another day

Downtown San Francisco

I have known the colorful city of San Francisco for a long time. When I stepped into the train heading to the city to visit my favorite locations, I took a seat and peered out through the stained-glass window into the suburban landscape. The train swayed from side to side, grinding to halts at the different stations as it made its way downtown. The train wasn’t crowed, the few people that were along for the ride immersed in their own world of phones, family, and newspapers. Turning on my headphones, my music guided me into the city, letting me settle into my seat and relax for the minutes as we dived into and surfaced through the tunnels on our way to Powell Street.

Leaving the BART train service, I purchased a quick cup of coffee. The sight of the hundreds of different tourists speaking different languages, the locals marching on familiar ground, and various daily workers assured me that I was near the heart of the city. I stepped onto the escalators and glided up to the street level. The familiar sight of the cable cars and grand shops made it the city that I had witnessed many months ago, and one that I fondly remember as close to home. The street vendors, preachers, and hustlers worked alongside each other on the sidewalk, reaching out to the tourists in exchange for cash. The shops at the Westfield Mall were glamorous, the building boasting a vast collection of luxurious amenities.

Despite the traffic and construction work from road to road, children ran and played on The Contemporary Jewish Museum courtyard. The ground sparkled a yellowish white, a gentle mixture of splashed sun and stone. Looking across the road to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, a few people lay napping below the trees, pausing for their daily siesta.

Slowing my walk to take in the sights, I was lost between the buildings, alleyways, and city blocks but reemerged outside the familiar location of the SF Museum of Modern Art. The museum, as usual, took me into its safe and familiar hands and I spent a couple of hours in the galleries before my return to the suburbs. The beauty of San Francisco, sometime harsh and sometimes sublime, with its nooks and nuances, doesn’t daunt or overwhelm and neither does it disappoint in its stature. The recognized establishments for art, the striking street graffiti, the libraries and book shops, the gourmet food, and the dive bars, and all the small and large pieces of the city hold loosely together to form the beautiful city by the Bay.

How birds learn to fly

One day I saw a bird

I watched her flap her wings and walk on her little legs
she pecked and foraged, she pointed her beak at scraps of food
The cars drove by but she didn’t flinch much or move
eating what she could find
finding out quickly what she could and couldn’t do

She soon found a mate
and then had ducklings
Waddling along so gently
their flock of plenty

I counted nine but there were more
they walked in line
and lived and swam together by the shore

When I went down to the bay
I watched them float
one by one the row of ducks
hovering over water, swayed by the currents
the boats raced past
and they clung close by the dozen

When I saw them last
they looked happy as could be
quacking and flapping, the two ducks and their babies

But when I counted the ducklings, I could not see
I saw one, I saw two, and finally, I only saw three

How nice and fine it would be
to be a bird of the sea
How nice and easy it must be
to flutter my wings and think I was free

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

A trip to the SF Museum of Modern Art was an experience I anticipated for months. The gallery was especially crowded on this Sunday afternoon, most queuing for the special exhibition of the iconic pop artist Andy Warhol. The entire museum, as usual, was a spark of vibrant modern art, with photography, installations, sculptures, and painted artworks arranged throughout the many floors of the museum. An avid museum goer for many years, I shifted between the different floors exploring and soaking in what I could within the space of a few hours.

The allure of the many temporary exhibitions was a new adventure. The top floor hosted a range of pieces about change in communities, especially within certain areas of Great Britain. It was as enlightening as it was sad to hear the different perspectives of locals who had experienced societal changes in the evolving, and often times regressing economic landscapes of England. There was a harmony and understanding despite the uprooting of the norms and constant uncertainty that made such communities not only bond in their own unique ways, but eventually stronger in their evolution from industrial towns into the unknown. The perspectives on display were skeptical and reserved, just as they were hopeful for the power of change to touch their communities.

An exhibition on the errors of photography was particularly interesting as it uncovered accidental and “erroneous” works of visual art. Opening the question of whether there are rights and wrongs in elements of good photography, the “art of mistakes” showcased many works that held onto their own enigmatic success despite being creations of unintended consequence. The blurred, lined, and distorted photos, especially when brought together and curated for exhibition at SF MoMa, created their own story formed through the many individual pieces on display.

Before bidding farewell to this beloved museum, I quickly glanced over the many permanent works playing part of the gallery on the first floor, ranging from the classic French impressionists to the much-coveted Mark Rothko and finally to one of my favorites, Edward Hopper, to satiate my appetite for exceptional artwork. An exit through the museum gift shop highlighted the many wonderful works of literature and artwork in book form, as well as souvenirs and replica paintings. Departing any museum is usually a walk of sweet sorrow, but one that always begs and expects a return.

The Bay

The days spent on vacation on the sunny West coast are always a pleasure. There is little to get in the way of the light breeze of the Bay area and the tepid weather falling upon those who step outside for a piece of California sunshine. The occasional seagull, the long roads winding between cities, the strip malls and convenience stores, are a staple of this part of the Golden state. There is little to get in between the warmth and freshness of morning breaths, and the calm of the evenings on the inner roads.

I walk through the streets, driving occasionally if necessary. There are parks sporadically placed throughout this district, and crowded plots of land just as there are neighborhoods spread with mansions and orange trees. I wonder about the presence of mountain lions as I walk through the parks only to feel a slight chill when I step into spots of shade.

Further inland, the hot weather and hills are pleasant on the eye. I walk into a small market to purchase fresh fruit and a coffee. Seated at a window inside the store, I watch the cars drive by drenched in the midday light. This is another corner of the Bay area, equally beautiful as it is on the opposite end.

The fog descends over the city in the mornings, covering the hills as I cruise through on the highways on my way around the city of San Francisco. The city of San Francisco is always crowded but exciting to explore. The events, small cafés and restaurants, and rich cultural heritage are a staple of my experiences. I venture into the city from time to time, driving over bridges and into the horizon of skyscrapers and highways, as I have over the past twelve years, and each time, I feel as if I am waiting to discover something new.

Madrid: Day Four

The final day in Madrid was a slow Sunday spent walking again through the various parts of the city. The morning promised another hot day, and my early coffee was enjoyed in a familiar small café near to our residence.  We spent the early hours in relaxation, leaving home around midday to explore the cracks and corners of the city while making our way through the familiar parks for an evening dinner at a friend’s home.

We traversed the city again on foot, taking in the sights and sounds of the weekend after a small lunch.  Arriving at the Thyssen Museum, we were immediately greeted by the greatness of the masters of historic and international art. The salmon pink walls of the main lobby, and the impressive collections of gothic, impressionist, and contemporary art were all a pleasure for art enthusiasts. The countless pieces of artwork were impossible to enjoy in the space of a few hours, but I did my best to absorb the essence of the paintings and the magnificence of the gallery. I was content to sit in some of the rooms, to get lost in the paintings from the different corners of the world, and to be alone amidst the crowd of visitors, my eyes lost within the works of the greats.

Soon thereafter, we walked through the Indian and North African neighborhoods near to the Sol area immersed with restaurants, grocery shops, and people of multiple blends to finally reach our friend’s apartment hidden away on a silent side street. The cobble stones and narrow road took us to the building door, where we were led to a rooftop looking over the city. We indulged in a culinary feast and conversation into the evening.

The city of Madrid was a long-awaited experience, my first on the Iberian Peninsula and likely not the last. There was a familiarity in the lifestyle and a feeling of a bond with the culture that I have not experienced since my months spent in Panama, and a connection to the city. Seated in the metro with my luggage, my heart fluttered on the way out to my next destination. I would be leaving behind the city but carrying the experience of Spain with me for a long time to come. The architecture, parks, the monuments, and the bustling corners will remain framed inside for years ahead.

Madrid: Day Three

It was a long, hot day in the Madrid streets, drawn out with bouts of drizzles and siestas. A morning walk through the neighborhood took me to a small bakery designed for breads and breakfast. I enjoyed my hot coffee and pain au chocolat and soon thereafter stood on a nearby street corner watching the morning scenes of Madrid unfold. The sunshine glimmered off the shop windows and placards, and I took in the sights and sounds of the city during its calmer hours with relish.

A grandmother walked alongside her grandchildren through a main street. Their attire was expressive in its simplicity and beauty, the children dressed in all white, pointing at the different store fronts and hobbling through being guided by their grandmother. A crowd of Dominicans were gathered at their church, awaiting entrance to their morning service, and the many shops on the street began opening their door to customers. In the late afternoon, a sapping heat still hovered over the city. I stepped outside for a soft drink and immediately back into our residence for dinner preparations.

The simple pleasures of life are easiest enjoyed on vacation and this day was no different. The core of the day was spent visiting the Madrid Zoo and aquarium and, in the evening, we enjoyed a light but hearty movie and food together. As darkness descended upon the city and the temperature cooled to bearable degrees, I decided to spend the remainder of the evening reading and writing before bed.

Madrid: Day Two

Walking through the streets of Madrid to accompany family to their morning destination, I was soon alone to explore Goya and its proximity. I walked through the narrow streets and across the larger roads and found myself at El Retiro park, a historic location and one of the largest parks in the Madrid area. Apart from the joggers and countless panting dogs out on their morning stroll, the park boasts a beautiful architecture, statues of a magnificent and historic nature, narrow dirt paths shrouded in greenery, and a wide asphalt road leading through its heart. The elderly residents were also out for their morning exercise, and I explored as much as possible given the sapping hot weather.

As I later walked through the city blocks, passing shops and boutiques of many flavors, I was transported to feelings of being in Mumbai in the midst of blistering summer. The atmosphere in Madrid boasts a rich culture, a mixed but proud Spanish heritage open to liveliness and conversation. The locals gathered in cafes and parks for their breakfasts and brunches, and I found myself in a small patisserie enjoying a croissant, watching the cars passing through on the crowded streets.

Afternoon lunch was enjoyed with friends and family including portions of bread, paella, and other local culinary delicacies served at an outdoor patio restaurant. Cold water and soda did wonders to thwart the clutches of the dry heat. An afternoon retreat back to our residence was followed up with coffee and relaxation. The staple pleasures of a summer vacation were fulfilled with the addition of an afternoon siesta.

The evening was enjoyed at a restaurant near the city center area of Sol, entrenched within a shopping mall. Roaming the boisterous streets of Sol was a grandiose experience, where tourists and locals alike gathered in force to shop, take photographs, and soak in the atmosphere of a classic Madrid scenery filled with historic buildings, sights, and ambitious street merchants. After wandering our way through the crowded streets into a store front entrance, we were afforded the luxury of a dining room to ourselves. Our company of fifteen were without doubt some of the louder and more energetic customers in recent times. Many local dishes were on offer, and we ate and drank into the night, emerging into the streets of Madrid hours later for a taste of renown hot chocolate and churro at the twenty-four seven Chocolatería San Ginés. The basement of the Chocolatería was lined with stone tables and mirrors, and the walls were covered in a vintage design with dark green paint stripes and photos of celebrities who had passed through the establishment. I enjoyed a small taste of churro and chocolate, and a large bottle of water to keep hydrated. The metro eventually landed us back to our residence in Goya to cap off the day a great success.