(ST. JOSEPH, MI) - It's a scene completely worthy of George Seurat.
Yet it's more modern. It's today. I'm sitting on a bench in Silver Beach County Park, just off Broad Street, almost directly across from the Krasl Art Center. It's the last day of June.
For the second year in a row, I was invited by Krasl Art Fair Director Sara Shambarger to talk about art collecting. Once again, it went well and this time around, the crowd was more enthusiastic about art and collecting.
Anyway, I've returned from lunch at Schu's Grill & Bar with Sara and her husband George, a charming guy with a great sense of humor and high tolerance for Sara's enthusiasm for art which matches my own. Don't be fooled. George loves art too, but back to the OTHER George.
I'm taking a break here along Lake Michigan. What I'm seeing is probably your typical beach scene. Like an art fair, the sights and sounds are intoxicating. Directly in front of me, hot beach bunnies are daring the sun to leave them tan-less as they lay and engage in idle chat. They sky is doing that blue thing that it does as rainbow umbrellas pop about like tiny polka dots on canvas. Beneath them, revelers are hiding and seeking amid thin slices of shade.
There are six volleyball games going on where co-ed competitors are clearly more intent on basking than winning. Off to my left, I see two lifeguards, a male and a female, perched high above, both wearing dark shades and looking stereotypically, “too cool for school.” They're quietly awaiting their Baywatch moment. Suddenly, the young guy stands up and with megaphone in hand shouts …
"PLEASE MONITOR YOUR CHILDREN’S ACTIVITIES! WE HAVE YELLOW FLAGS POSTED DUE TO THE WATER TEMPERATURE TO AVOID HYPOTHERMIA. THANK YOU!"
Ignoring the announcement, people are playing tag, tossing footballs and toting bags, chairs and towels, but they're mainly spread out on the silky, inviting sand. Many are strolling by me in both directions.
"Hi Lindsay!" a guy says to a hot, blonde babe behind me. "I didn't know you were going to be here too," he says.
Here comes a young couple now with their two shelties. Clearly, these little dogs have walked this path before. Cute dogs. As the shelties frolic, seagulls soar and dive for food along the shoreline and behind my bench. They're hungry and noisy.
"Eeek!" "Eeek!" "Eeek," they screech.
Oh yes. And there’s the lake. I've just counted 31 boats on the water ... a few yachts, sailboats and lots of sea-doos. Two guys are paddling by right now in a yellow canoe. They're using a lot of muscle power, but it looks like fun. They're heading toward a long pier anchored by two lighthouses. One is red, white and blue and looks idle, while the other is smaller with flashing lights. So much is going on right now ... there goes an old lady riding past me on one of those old-fashioned bicycles specially built to charm observers on days like this. There are hundreds of people in all colors, shapes and sizes here. Many are wearing bikinis and trunks and flip flops that make that, "smack!" "smack!" sound against their feet as they saunter by. Yet it's not crowded. It's perfect. Bits and pieces of conversation pepper the breezy air which is thick and smells like water mixed with human breath. Clear and clean.
"Where are you guys?" a woman asks on her cellphone. "Look, we're over here near this sculpture!" she says, standing on her tip-toes and waving to someone made invisible to me by the distance.
Yes, it's your typical beach scene ... a beach party, if you will ... but it's also awash in magic. Perhaps it's because we're in an art resort town. Maybe it's the spirit of the pre-holiday weekend. Maybe it's me. I think that it's really about the serendipitous nature of the public park. Aren't public parks great? If they're done well (paging Frederick Law Olmsted), each one becomes a little oasis of civility and relaxation. Surely, George Seurat knew that. Check out his famous "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" painting and you'll definitely agree.
Everyone here seems to be enjoying themselves. That includes me. No one comes to a beach or a park to have a bad time. It's all about creating a fantasy ... a getaway ... living in a perfect landscape painting. Maybe that's the magic. The trick is not the park, but what we bring to it. We envision having a good time and a good time is what we're having ... even in the midst of a city struggling in a struggling state that once boomed and zoomed from the bustling auto industry.
The downturn is sad, but here we are nonetheless creating magic. A scene that would make George Seurat pee his pants and get out his paints. If he were here, I'm convinced he'd be sitting in this very spot painting these very words. What artist worth his salt could resist such a tempting platter of sea and sand?
We get so caught up in the business and busy-ness of life that we forget to stop and savor simple, yet grand moments in the park. We make business our main purpose, but shouldn't the picture be balanced? “A Saturday Afternoon on the Bluff of St. Joseph.” Sounds good to me.
During my time on this bench, some of the same people have walked by in both directions. Clearly, they're wanderers, but what else should one do on such an anointed day? Perhaps paint this essay? The scene before me is begging to be caught on canvas. Where are artists when you need them?
In short ... blue sky, white sand, bright sun, gentle water, free time and big smiles. It's the way life ought to be. We brought it with us. Magic and contentment.
Inspiration by Seurat ... George, that is.