So yesterday, Brett and I decided to go to the Academy of Sciences; we hopped the F-Market Muni, but got side-tracked at the Port SF Ferry building — farmer’s market, art festival, tons of people. We wander through the arts side, stopping to listen to a lanky, scruffy black guy beating out infectious rhythms on tin cans and plastic tubs; across the street, aM steel drum trio had the air singing with metal. We chewed on the best bagels we’ve ever had (OMG, Posh Bagel Co, PLEASE come to Ohio, PLEASE…), went into spasms over juicy-sweet organic white peaches, stood for long moments sniffing the combined smells of fresh basil and sun-warmed tomatoes, and slurped down coffee, enjoying the sun and color and fountain, and weird funky art.
We walk back over to the Muni stop; I happen to spot the Cupid thing a ways off — I kid you not, somehow San Francisco decided it was a GOOD idea to put this ginormous sculpture of Cupid’s bow & arrow at the butt-end of the Embarcadero, near the Bay Bridge (check Google Earth for pics, but pics just don’t manage this thing’s sheer massiveness idiocy). We wandered down to check it out — passed by an elegant black lady wrapped in colorful scarves sitting on the sidewalk, her tiny watercolors spread out in front of her, glimmering in reds and blues and purples in the sun, a copy of the Mandala Tarot deck in front of her. I figure her for a street fortune-teller; the wind picks up, a couple of the watercolors blow off, we chase them down for her and bring them back. She grins and makes a comment about even the wind fighting her today; we just laugh and wander off to check out the Stupid Cupid Thing.
Yup. Big. Massive. Stupidly Cheesy Pop-Culture Crap. Great view of the Bay Bridge.
On the way back, we pass the lady again; I slow, caught by the brightness of her tiny watercolors, and squat down to get a closer look. Lovely, intricate jewels of color, intersecting lines and shapes that suggest form and picture, but never…quite…go all the way. I notice her tubes of paint, true gallery-quality watercolor; the paper’s the thick textured watercolor stock — we’re not talking “just another homeless street beggar” here, that stuff’s some serious commitment effort. She’s talking, now, and I look up — much older than I’d thought, at least 50 and likely 60ish, originally, her eyes filmed over and unable to focus, bony and lanky to the point of starved, wrapped in faded yellow head-scarves and long thin African style robe (dashiki?). Sitting there, easing to sit onto the concrete, I just listened.
Her husband of 50 years died a couple years back; she’d lost everything when that happened, could only follow her art, could only make these little jewel-like watercolors, her art calling her so hard that all she could do was follow, the only healing she could find, through spirit and God, through creating beauty, through sitting here, near the Bay, at the butt-end of the Embarcadero, away from the tourist crowds just to be close to the wind and the water and the gulls. And yes, she was well away from the tourist crowds, away from even that Farmer’s market and free-wheeling art fair just up the street. She didn’t care. She had to create. She had to have her art. No, she didn’t do drugs, didn’t do booze, just her art, only her art.
I don’t know how long I sat there, listening. My legs got numb from sitting curled on the concrete; I was entranced by the colors, by her story, her rhythms, drawn into those little jewels of art spread in front of her, a Tarot-spread of watercolor and beauty drawn from pain. Just listening, only listening.
I finally had to get up — staggered from no-feeling in my legs, me and Brett steadying each other. I didn’t take any pictures of her; taking a pic would just’ve reduced her to yet another tourist attraction. We did buy one of her watercolors, geometric stained-glass in a three-inch square; we were her first customers of the day, she tried to give us a second, Brett gently refused, asking her to pass the beauty to another person. And we wandered off, Brett tucking the little watercolor into his inside jacket pocket. It now sits on our hotel-room desk, glowing in the early morning light.