Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Journeys: From Los Angeles to Riverside

The world flashes by as we touch the ground. I've been to L. A. by car and by train before, but this is my first time to fly in. My conversation with an IT consultant from Southern India on migration, culture, and history mingles with the site of green, tiny flowers on the airstrip, and palm trees.

I brave the fabled Los Angeles freeway system to arrive safely at the Glendale Hilton, a tower of refuge.The next morning's breakfast of eggs florentine surrounded by classical music, a sunny-funny-cute-latin-waiter ("Oh, you're gonna kill me! I forgot your tea. My bad.") and (wow!) a small live orchid growing in a dish right there on my table in the art deco-styled dining room next to Serbian party-goers recovering from hang overs. You know you're in a metropolitan area when you hear more than 3 languages before noon.

Driving, again, across textures and layers of Los Angeles...the Burbank border to East L. A. hills, adjacent to gangland homeland. Meeting friend-Lewis who lives in an uptown tent outback. Visiting with my god daughter as we lie on the bed, holding hands. Playing skin the cat, singing "Bill Grogan's goat," and talking writing with her 9 year old son. I tell him linked short stories are "hot" now when he shows me his journals, reads me one of his stories and tells me his plan to write several and put them in the same book. I describe linked short stories to him as "little ponds linked by creeks rather than the ocean novels are." Lewis cooks us chile dogs and R. delights in taking our orders and serving us lupper (lunch/supper) in bed.

The next day, driving again...this time the good surprise of an easy drive to Riverside and intuitively slipping into the Mission Inn Hotel without directions, even. Service is best curb-side from the valet-boys who greet me, along with peels of bells from the wedding chapel. Inside, it's competent, but a bit cavalier. The structure and people-watching make up for it, but I think they are missing a bet here. It's ever a problem with destinations that are such strong draws they no longer have to try anymore.

The Mission Inn Hotel is so stunning and so vast, that I could stay here an entire week, exploring just here, and not do it justice. But, I have only a short time to settle into my room and go meet Tinka Friend, the worship coordinator for the Riverside Unitarian Church. She wisks me off to her sister Janet's apartment in a nearby Mount Rubidoux Manor to celebrate Mable Harris' 100th birthday.

Janet has meticulously put this 2-hour celebration of life together, followed by a reception. There's music, poetry, memory, prayer, stories, tears, laughter, proclamations from the mayor and the governor, and food...quite and extravaganza!

They've been kind enough to include me in the program and I read my poem "Grace" (for four generations of Grace's from "Sightlines: A Poet's Diary")...followed by Tinka and Janet signing the hymn "Amazing Grace." Grace is a theme that ripples over and over throughout our afternoon together and we feel the graceful presence of Mable Harris as she sits on the dias in her gold brocade gown wearing her queen for the day tiara. And, she is, indeed, every inch a queen, make no mistake about that.

Tinka, a generalist such as myself, has also photographed the event. We retire to Janet's apartment to download the photos on the computer, a process we all take for granted now, but remains magical. Tinka and I then segue to the next part of our day, fellowship over supper and preparing for the morrow's service.

"Segue." I love this term. [Wikipedi: In music,"segue" (pronounced /?s?gwe?/) is a direction to the performer. It means continue (the next section) without a pause. It comes from the Italian "it follows".] I recall the first time I saw it as a performer in pit orchestra playing for high school musicals. What an elegant term for transition...even the sound of the word lends a softness to the joining of our days.

Over dinner, Tinka's husband Nick joins us (wearing his Superman colors) as does Dennis Dettloff, who'll be playing bamboo flute and cello tommorrow in counterpoint to my poetic voice...my other voice, if you will. Dennis is "Mr. Mom" to an active band of "ladies" as he terms them. Easy, witty, warm...good company all.

We retire to the Riverside Universalist Unitarian Church, just about the prettiest sanctuary you'd want to find anywhere. Tinka, with Nick's help, busies herself arrangin a symbolic altar for the service, making a tree of life for the children's story. Dennis and I go over the three places where his musical voice will join mine tommorrow, and give us all needed respite and repose to sink more deeply into our topic of impermance and mortality.

By 9 p.m. Dennis and I are satisfied. "It's going to be beautiful," he says. Nick whisks me back to the Mission Hotel and one of those nice valet boys opens my car door, all service with a smile. I tell them they are the best part of the service component at the hotel. "We've been trying to tell them that!" they joke back.

Then, reeling back through my day to remember my floor number and my room number. Yup. There it is...and that was that day.

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  1. Weaving in and out, over and under and through the day with you here is refreshing. Celebrating 100 years, embracing languages bouncing from walls, and tasting those eggs. I smelled those eggs as I read. I now continue my wander and wonder with you through LA as you connect, reconnect and catch those peaceful moments that are in between those you share. Safe travels. Ken

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