My first vacation in seven years, and here I am at a writer’s conference for travel writers and photo journalists at Book Passage in Corte Madera, California, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. No beaches, I am staying in a concrete jungle of business, shopping centers and homes alongside Route 101 that runs along the northern coast in Marin county just above the Golden Gate Bridge.
I began with a pre-conference one day field trip to find a story in the North Beach section of San Francisco – there is no beach here either. There used to be a beach before they used landfill to create the gateway section boarding the area between the ferry landing and this sweet colorful neighborhood.
I realize that I fell in love. A clean city, and a bit more relaxed than New York and New Jersey, we enjoyed all of the various sights, smells – garlic, and people, in what used to be the Barbary Coast – in gold rush years, and Little Italy – now overlapping a bit with the Chinatown and Vietnamese sections.
Italian restaurants and year-round outdoor cafes were resplendent, one more inviting than another. Stories of Francis Ford Coppola and Jack Kerowac writing in several places along our walk, and the famous City Lights Bookstore of the beat generation days led us into the area we were to write about.
People of all ages from around the world were strolling the many Avenues and hideaway side streets full of history, culture and inviting food. Relaxed, more relaxed, was what I felt here. I love outdoor cafes and as a writer I am always looking for an inviting one to hang out in and write.
There was no hustle and bustle here, no one pushing past, or ignoring others, fast walking – yes, aware of others – also yes. The rush was our class, which was a peek into the life of a travel writer.
We had the middle of the day to explore and find our story, share our first impressions at lunch, write it and read it to the group at the end. Throughout the day we were blessed with travel writer professional tips from our host Don George Editor at Large of National Geographic Traveler Magazine.
Since I am here for the experience and learning, and honestly it is my attitude not to stress over such things, I slowed down and allowed the story to come to me. It did not come easily. Some people were here to make connections and learn the nuts and bolts of the business from this important man. I am here to be and discover and take advantage of this amazing opportunity and see where it takes me in and outside of myself and maybe awaken new focus in my career.
That said, I was still stressed and after lunch I decided to slow down and just enjoy this place. Oh thank goodness I had let go of my no wheat, dairy and sweets, coffee and meat for two weeks so I could splurge and enjoy my birthday and this trip.
I may go back to this street after the conference this coming Monday, to sit at the sidewalk cafes, and explore to find the best Italian food and dessert. There were resident Italian men who had stories to tell and I hope to sit with some of them and bask in their tales and those of others along Columbus Avenue.
A few days in this city, or a lifetime, would be delightful from this vantage point. Although I am not a professional travel writer, I look at life in a similar way, drinking in what was calling to me with new perspectives and stories to be told. Seeing everyday as a series of stories and a journey of adventure, I found these fellow writers as my compadres and enjoyed each one of their unique voices and viewpoints.
I love to go to new places and imagine what it is like to live here, and find the best experiences to have and enjoy. There were no Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts in sight in this area.
With shop after shop of real Italian espresso and coffee and pastries inviting you at every turn, there is nothing better, all you have to deal with is deciding which one to choose?
In my relaxed space after lunch, when I was scheduled to be writing, I slipped into an art gallery, drawn in really, and open to what was pulling me in to experience. I was greeted by a painting of a goddess holding the world in her hands and then more gods and goddesses that I had seen before in photographs of Ancient old world statues.
These paintings were different, softer, with angelic sweetness and alive. The owner-artist later told me she paints in a classical style and was inspired put eyes into the paintings-the statues did not have eyes and that made them real. The artist Geri stands by her painting.
Her wall full of paintings of street scenes from various European locations were all magnificent in detail and feeling and magical as well. I was touched and still looking to see why I was being held in this place.
I found some photographers prints on the side in files and sifted through them quickly, only to be caught by a striking one of the Golden Gate Bridge lit up like a Christmas tree, with a full moon rising through colorful mist. Breathtaking, whew, sold-my first purchase. What a gorgeous memory of this special town and place.
I was compelled to continue and kept enjoying photograph after photograph of beautiful places, and was stopped at a scene of Venice. An ornate gondola in the foreground of a row of homes with iron railing balconies with vines of purple flowers dripping off them and some perky red potted ones below. Another hit of… mine – and another purchase.
I mentioned to the owner that I saw Venice and Old World history and beauty throughout the store. She said yes, she and her husband were married in New Orleans during Marti Gras, and they just celebrated their thirtieth wedding anniversary in Venice at the yearly carnival, which was more formal in theme and music than New Orleans.
That’s when I saw it-her, a decidedly feminine ornate purple-feathered mask, sexy, goddess like, and inviting, Hanging seductively on the wall, I had no idea why, but, I had to have her, and know her story.
Illicit, says the owner, Geri Arata Pruitt the owner of the gallery and third generation resident of this community. Tell me more, I say.
In the fifteenth century, these masks were expensively crafted and worn everyday in Venice. Gambling, love affairs and all sorts of dubious transactions were hidden with these masks. The Catholic Church allowed it because their coffers were filled from these people. By the sixteenth century they began to limit the masks public use to January first to the first Friday before lent each year. Lent was for repenting the sins.
When I looked at the mask I was stirred by thoughts, or were they memories, of the past where I might have been one of those illicit ladies? Elegant and flirty, with a bright jewel on the third eye point of the gold band around the crown, I felt the fun and folly of such a lifestyle, and also a wicked pleasure.
There catapulted into another world, and yet still in the gallery, I heard music, and felt my body dancing with a full skirted jade brocade gown. Cat and mouse games through the archways and ballrooms were flowing through my mind and senses. Water, gondolas, plush pillows and moonlight kisses. Romance, oh yes I remember…
I knew as I saw this mask hung on my bedroom wall at home, she would be telling tales and calling for more adventure. Delicious feelings continued. I knew that this mask is a calling for new intrigue and romance to unfold in my life now. She is being sent on ahead to set the stage. I will keep you posted.
What a fun adventure.
Enjoy your own journeys,