The sun hangs over the deep blue sea of the Monterey Bay. Algae dance with the tide near a yellow kayak. Everything shines together, in an unexpected symphony. A barefoot child, a small hat on her head, picks up shells in the sand. Her father follows her, a tender look etched on his face. I want to understand Sanskrit, to speak the language of birds. The impossibility pushes me towards philosophy.
Somewhere in the world, right at this moment, someone groans in pain. Not far away, a joke makes another laugh, to the point of tears falling from their eyes. In Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama must be thinking about his lost kingdom. In Tibet, trinkets are now for sale and there are bureaucrats. From Oiapoque to London, children are born; stones and clay cover the bodies of loved ones, and weeping is covered by laughter.
All at once, and all together, although the brightened day in Monterey attempts to deny reality and make me believe that in that moment there is only happiness and calm – a sudden pause for the planet to take a breath. Then, everything returns to spinning. Guilt is the first thing I feel after that momentary breath. Guilt, yes. There is an unfinished story, and I came to look at the sea. Before this, I had cooked, I picked up deliveries, and when I opened them, I pierced my finger with the tip of the scissors. Intense, painful. Nothing about it matches the Monterey golds and blues.
Monterey’s colors are overwhelming. The city, for me, is synonymous with John Steinbeck. I can see the writer looking at this same landscape, listening to the waves as they rock the fish and seaweed. Steinbeck saw things beyond common sense. Then he imprisoned them in his books. The life of the vagabonds of this city, the mysteries hidden under the eyelids of an old Chinese man, the eagerness of the housewife who wanted curtains in a windowless house. Only he drank his life from the bottles of Bear Flag and noticed that the hookers slept for free with Doc, listening the harsh sound of a gramophone that played Bach (or was it Beethoven?). The fishermen, the boats, the smell of sardines, the cans – all tucked away between the pages.
What attracts me to Steinbeck – in addition to his literature – is to feel a palpable honesty in his texts and to perceive the good man he sought to be. This same man – so vigorous in his writing, able to speak of a profoundly masculine universe – is also the one who reveals an unparalleled tenderness. I do not forget his words in a letter to his friend Pat, examining what he had learned with the passage of time: “Are we more mature, wiser, perceptive, gentle?” A simple, direct sentence, said hundreds of times. But it always makes me shiver.
Out of curiosity, I open the book I bought this week. It contains Steinbeck’s diaries and letters from the time he was writing East of Eden, which is still my favorite book today. What would it have recorded from 70 years ago, on July 3, 1951? In the book’s yellow pages (I bought a used one), Steinbeck writes to Pat about the age-old problem of writers: procrastination strategies and their underlying reasons: “I’m going to stay home and work. Maybe finish this chapter, if not finish it today. I’m nervous about work. I got up and did other things that seemed to need doing. And I ended up cutting my finger that holds the pencil. Generally, this is evidence of fear of the work. I don’t know why it happens, as I feel I’m well prepared for this chapter. Maybe if I stop talking and just start, everything will work out. I will do that now”. I laugh from the coincidence.
There are marine animals clinging to the bridge’s pillars. Steinbeck saw others, just like them. I’m in the back of Doc’s lab. All is quiet, silent. If I had money, I would build a literary center here and in the afternoon I would watch the sea.
I close the book silently. Tomorrow, Sunday, is the 4th of July; it’s best to not hit the road when full of tourists (another good advice from Steinbeck). Work awaits me. It is a chapter that I fear as well, but one for which I am well prepared. Maybe if I stop talking and start writing, everything will work out. I will do that now.
The seaweed dances in the water, the smell of the sea takes me unhurried. The day dies so beautifully that no one doubts that the stars are all still, peering behind the mantilla of the sky.
It was a spring afternoon when I saw them for the first time. Reds, yellows, purples, whites, and oranges, they stretched out like watercolors as far as the eye could see, along the San Francisco Bay. Flowers.
Delicate, small, coloring the chaparral and stretching over the hills and cliffs along the Pacific coast of California.
They sprout without shame, without fear, without limits, indifferent to the danger brought on by the fierce wind that comes from the ocean and whips the steep slopes.
In the presence of the colorful rug they weave, it’s easy to imagine they are fragile. I touch their petals with my fingertips. Velvety, soft. The child that I still am wants to bring them along, to retain their splendid beauty for a few hours.
Now I understand why their full name is wildflower. They do not bow to might. Not even the brutal wind rips them from the ground.
Artemisias, lilies, milk glasses, poppies, elderflowers and wild mulberries, primroses, daisies, mallows and small sunflowers spill out along the way, tainting the route with infinite grace. To notice them, you have to be aware to what’s nearby. A difficult thing, since the sea is a snare for people’s eyes. The hypnotic waves roar and hurl themselves madly over the rocks. Dividing attention, in this case, is a wise gesture.
When one looks away from the immensity and captures the small beauty that sprouts a few steps away, it is possible to discover a new love. Its name can be poetic: fairy lantern, buttercup, baby blue eyes, morning glory…
The small flowers on the slopes awaken within an avalanche of sensations and thoughts. Motherly affection, metaphors, philosophical exercises. I leave these to the imagination of those who read this text.
I realize, for my part, that the flowers entangle me in their webs of dreams. As soon as I set eyes on them, something softens inside of me. I breathe in deeply the breeze that blows from the sea and allow a feeling of connection to something much bigger than me arise within my chest. As if my feet also had roots and all the stardust that made up my body suddenly showed proof of DNA. Veins, muscles, bones and blood pulse in time with the Earth’s heart.
Come here, join me – all things call to me.
Steinbeck is certainly proud to be mentioned in your sweet and sour text about the hardness of being a writer! I’ve been to Monterey but before you introduced me to him…
I remember it as a lovely place, just like you describe it.
Having hard times working here in Sampa, too, but finding time to meet special friends and have some fun, like watching the Elvis movie, which is a delicious program.
Missing you and your texts but certain that you’re doing your job even better than you usually do! 😘😎
Dear Marcio, thanks for the lovely comments! I’ll back soon. ❤
I’ll still be waiting!
Soninha, in spite of my poor English I felt the beauty in your powerful writing.
Soninha, dear! Another language, same fine and elegant writing style. Thanks for making me see the flowers and feel the beauty!
Thanks, my love.
My dear Sonia, Wise with Words! So much beauty and inspiration for ours days! I thank you, deeply. Andrea
So sweet, Andrea querida. Thank you so much.