Road Tripping with My White Friends
(Actually, they're not white.. Gena is from New Zealand.. Siobhan is Puerto Rican... Pat is from the Phillipines... Geoff --- ok, Geoff is white.)
Sunday, July 13, 2014
Now Playing: Thelonius Monk - Who Knows
I just finished a 12 page paper for one of my post graduate courses. I'm sitting in an artsy living room in Ocala, Florida. Reading Andy Warhol's diary. On my birthday, June 19th, 1986, he wrote that he told his friend to adopt a "Harlem Baby". Cracks me up. Could've been me.
Anyways, this house is like a museum of Chinese art. It's everywhere. Even a big Buddha that's like the same size as me. There's a pool in the backyard but I'm nervous about dropping my phone in it while I write, so I'll just keep laying on this faded denim couch. So comfy.
From last Saturday, all the way to this very moment, I have been feeling good. I want to think of another word for good but I'm lazy. It's also been a lazy week. That's how it's supposed to be though. It's summer.
Gena, Siobhan, and I started out in Savannah. We stayed at the Hilton .. Felt real regal .. Sat on the balcony, over looking the entire city. I sat out there in the middle of a crazy thunder storm.. Half-perplexed at the site of these white kids playing in the pool, even though it was raining... I told Siobhan, white people with money don't care about lightening. She laughed. I love how I can say anything that is on my mind when I'm around her and G. They're never offended.. They know my heart. They know I don't mean no harm.
That night, Gena and I decided to take a stroll around the city. It was around 10 PM or so... We walked under the stars and dim street lights, passing horses and carriages, and cutting through a garden. She named it Valencia's Garden. It was filled with yellow roses, white daiseys, black-eyed susans, and 5 feet tall sunflowers.
Savannah is the oldest city in Georgia. I always heard that it's a spooky town. So as we walked, I asked Gena to tell me a ghost story. She did.. It was about a man at the end of the hallway in her old house in New Zealand. The house was said to have been built on a burial ground...
One night, she was in the living room, sitting on the couch, looking down the long, dark hall, when she saw a man.
"Was he wearing anything? Like a hat?" I asked her..
"I can't remember. But he turned around and smiled at me. Then, he just walked away."
Scared the hell out of me.. But it was too late to go back to the hotel and hide under the plush white covers of my bed because we reached our destination: Whitefield Park, an almost 200 year old negro cemetery. Although no one would ever know because there is no sign that indicates anything of the sort. G read about some kids who did a project on it for a graduate class.. They were trying to get it recognized by the city.
The legend is, back in the late 1800s, the whites didn't want the blacks to be buried with them, so they slated that land for all black bodies to be laid to rest. But after about 60 years, the state decided to use the land to build homes. So they started moving the bodies to another graveyard on the other side of town. Can you imagine how angry and hurt the families of these people must have been? How do you just move bodies to a whole different grave site.. Worse than that though, they didn't even move all of the bodies.. They left many of them there, only moving the tombstones.
I put my hands on an oak tree, closed my eyes, and said a prayer for all of the souls that were laid to rest under it's roots. I thought about all of the flowers that I looked at when we walked through the garden, which was only a couple of blocks away.. I wish I could have picked each rose and every sunflower, so that I could place them around the park for all of my ancestors that were once buried there.
Gena and I sat in the pretty white gazebo, quietly, in our own thoughts. A man walked by..
"I wonder if he knows... I wonder if any of the people that live here know.." She asked, as I asked myself the same questions.
"But the people who were buried had to have been high-society blacks." Gena made a good point. "They wouldn't just bury anybody, I'm sure."
"So true. It's just wrong that they don't even pay homage to the place by at least putting up a sign.. But that would probably bring the property level down." I said, sitting in the dark ..looking around at the big, old, colorful homes that surrounded the park.
Sunday, we left. Before leaving we stopped at boutique, filled with unique pieces, created by art students at the college next door. I bought a silver ring. Kinda expensive but totally worth it. It has a small inscription that reads, "This too shall pass".. When ever I am upset, I call my Great Aunt Lorraine and she always, always tell me, "Let not your heart be troubled. This too shall pass." For that reason alone, I just had to get it.
We also stopped at Juliette Gordon Lowe's house. She's the woman who started the Girl Scouts. When I was a little girl, I never dreamed of going to her house... Her real house!
Never really realized how fortunate I was to have been a Girl Scout until now. You know, my grandmother never let me spend the night over my friends' houses because one of her cousins spent the night at a friend's house and died when the house caught on fire.. but if there was a Girl Scout camping trip or sleep over, she'd let me go. And she always put my patches on my sash. Kandy had the vest.
Rhonda and I lived for the dude ranch. Horse back riding and making t-shirts.. Then those ski trips ..Staying up all night, talking about the boys. Man, if it wasn't for Juliette Lowe, I don't know what my childhood would have been like.
As I stood outside of the house, my mind went back to Ms. Creasy, her daughter Danielle, and I on a camping trip. We were in the 3rd or 4th grade. Ms. Creasy woke us up before the sun rose and we hiked up this really steep hill. When we got to the top, I stood on a rock, and Ms. Creasy renamed me "Little Big One". I'll never forget that.
Before I got back into the car, Siobhan said, "One day, there will be a Valencia Clay house." I paused and saw it .. Like I really saw it...
We rode for a few hours until we finally made it to the next stop on our road trip, Melbourne, Florida. Palm trees and fushia hibiscus flowers filled the front lawn. As soon as I walked into the house, I looked past the stainless steel kitchen appliances and big screen tv to see the pool that was in the back yard.
"How long are we here for?" I asked, excited and taking it all in..
"A week. We're here until Saturday." Gena and Geoff answered me.
Geoff and Pat had only arrived a little while before us. We all put our bags down and headed to a seafood restaurant. I ordered a lobster. It was my first lobster. It was also my last lobster. It was nasty. And I hated the process of trying to get it open. No one should have to do that much work to eat something. Hell no. Never again.
The next morning, I woke up at 8:30 AM, took out my Americanah book (which I've been reading since my trip to Thailand.. Don't know why it's taking me so long to finish it...) and got into the pool. I'm grateful to who ever invented the air bed that floats in the pool. I laid out there for hours and repeated that morning ritual every day for the entire week... Along with painting water color pictures with Siobhan .. She was doing a visual journal, while I would rotate between doing my writings, painting butterfly pictures, and working on my mixtape.
We ate very well every day too. Gena cooked lunch and dinner ... Pat and Geoff would do breakfast.. And we ate at this restaurant, the Jungle, which looked hella cheesy inside and was gluten free. Surprisingly, everything there, especially the black bean soup, was delicious.
Ok.. So, I wasn't going to tell anyone back home about this but we also went to a physic this week. It was my first time. Initially, I wasn't a believer.. But honestly, that lady knew some real stuff... But she didn't predict anything that I didn't already have faith would come to pass. That's all I'm going to say about that.
When we weren't having pool time a
or beach bumming, we were thrifting. Who would've thought Melbourne would be thrift store heaven?! Pat and I really racked up. In one of the stores, we met an 80-something year old white woman who told us about how she used to travel from Conneticut to Harlem.
"We used to get our tattoos and our records in Harlem! That was over 60 years ago!" She told us, as she pointed to a scar on her left shoulder, showing us where her first tattoo was before she had it removed. As we drove to the next thrift store, we all wondered whatthe tattoo was of and why she had it removed. Maybe religious reasons.. Melbourne is a very Chatholic city.
Now, I'm in Ocala, home of the best biscuits I've ever had. I have to say, I like Melbourne better .. Only because we could walk to the beach and chill with manatees and sea turtles or just watch the zebra butterflies that flew all around the pool .. It was the perfect summer house.
But Ocala gives me a different type of inspiration.. The pool in the backyard is real serene and all of the art in this place is mind blowing. Siobhan's motorcycle riding Godfather, whom we all call Uncle Malcolm, owns this place.. He also has an apartment close to his job in Tampa. He's 66 and has lived all over the world, from New York to Europe to Asia. For the holidays, he's taking his 88 year old mom to Paris. How can I not be inspired? Did I mention he's black? Not that it matters but it does. Only because I have never seen anything like this. I don't know anyone in my family who has been able to do all of that. This is a new definition of living for me. I promise, this is where I will be (not necessarily Ocala) when I retire... Even before I retire! I need a summer home with a pool, close to the beach, and enough money to take my granny to Paris for the holidays.
I wrote countless pages in my journal this week. Self reflections, poems, dreams, plans, short stores.. I've just been enjoying being at peace. I didnt want to post the obligatory, "I'm on vacation" pictures on my blog or Instagram/Facebook.. I didn't want to work on "building my brand". I just wanted to wake up and read and write and read and sleep and wake up and lay in the sun and read and write and sleep and dance to Madonna and laugh and eat.. I mean you get the point by now right? No over thinking. Just living. And that was the best part about traveling with (EL) educators, we all appreciate the same things: solitude and reflection.
This trip, which isn't even over yet, has truly exposed me to so much outside of my world. A priceless experience. From the people we've encountered, to visiting the art museum today, where I was able to watch Siobhan sketch the ancient pieces that she was most drawn to within 60 seconds. They told us we couldn't take pictures. "This is my way of saying eff you!" She laughed and whispered, as she continued to sketch with one hand and hold her journal with the other. Pure talent.
I guess I should go to bed now .. After all, it is 2 AM.. we're headed to our next stop in the morning. But before I go, may I just say, cheers to having friends of friends with private beaches!