Seascapes

This is the time of year when friends here in San Miguel head for the beach. Even now during COVID they can’t seem to resist the siren song of the sea. So they take all the necessary precautions and hop on a plane for a short flight — or take a bus for a much longer ride — to the Pacific coast of Mexico to stay for a few weeks at their favorite beach resort town.

Being a landlubber myself, and perfectly content to remain in this lovely landlocked old city of San Miguel de Allende in the country’s central mountains, I can’t really relate to my friends’ deep yearning for sand and surf. I’d rather walk on solid cobblestones than on shifting sand. And I must have been tossed one too many times as a small child in the surf at Jones Beach in New York to be drawn to the ocean’s waves. But I do love to see my friends’ beautiful beach photos on Facebook. Who doesn’t love seascapes?

A friend who is staying at Sayulita beach shared these photos on Facebook

As regular WOW readers know by now, I am currently obsessed with landscapes – especially making small watercolor paintings of landscapes I’ve been photographing here in San Miguel. (See my previous post, “Landscapes,” for the full story: www.bonnieleeblack.com/blog/landscapes/ .)

We amateur artists paint what we love and know, I guess, what is near to our hearts and filling our minds. But this new watercolor interest of mine (which feels like I’ve fallen in love) and my friends’ photographs of the Pacific Ocean on Mexico’s beautiful west coast have flooded me with memories of my beloved paternal grandfather, John Black, an amateur artist who painted seascapes.

I wrote about John Black’s parents Helen and William Black in my novel Jamie’s Muse – how and why, I thought, they came to emigrate to South Africa from their home in the charming village of Kirriemuir, Angus, Scotland, and how, I imagined, they came to an early end. And I wrote about John’s later life in my memoir Somewhere Child. Here is an excerpt from that memoir that tells the story of John’s obsession with the sea:

My parents were the children of immigrants who had settled in the same town in New Jersey during the early years of the 20th century. My father’s father, John Black, whom we called Pop, was a Scotsman, born in Natal, South Africa, in 1885, who was orphaned at a young age, sent to an orphanage in Edinburgh, ran away from that orphanage in his early teens, and came to the United States as a stowaway on a ship.

He later met and married a young woman from Glasgow named Jessie and started his own successful business as a house painter, the income from which his frugal wife amassed beneath the cushions of their sofa.

Pop was a quiet, unassuming man, tall and thin, who reminded me then of a smiling Abraham Lincoln without hair. He spoke with a thick Scottish burr, which I loved but sometimes had difficulty understanding. Whenever we kids would tease him, “You talk funny, Pop,” he’d just laugh. We’d never dream of talking to our own father that way; we were too afraid of him.

When my youngest sister was born, in August 1950, my other sister and I stayed at Pop’s for a week; and we found – in the course of our clandestine explorations – that Pop had a secret art studio in his attic, filled with clean canvases, tubes of oil paints, bouquets of paintbrushes in coffee tins, and dozens of completed paintings of many-masted ships on wild, stormy seas.

All day, in his white overalls and work shoes, Pop stood on a wooden ladder painting the interiors and exteriors of rich people’s houses. But at night, we discovered, when he came home, he stowed away in his own attic, where he stood at his easel in the dim light of one dangling bulb and created dramatic oil paintings of what he remembered of the sea.

Newlyweds John and Jessie Black

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

~ To see a map of some of Mexico’s better known beach resorts, go to:

https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1ZKEzajOclTj1eR38ige40g8u03AyBLtu&ll=24.28844327147846%2C-101.89876159999999&z=5

~ To read an up-to-date article on the 30 best beach towns in Mexico, go to:

https://travelmexicosolo.com/best-mexican-beach-towns/

14 thoughts on “Seascapes”

  1. Love your blog. In addition to sand and surf, it’s the warm weather that attracts me. I walk about with a skirt and t-shirt and a pair of sandals with a gentle warm breeze blowing off the water – the best! In the evenings there is a need for a light sweater or for long sleeves. No jacket, scarf, shoes or socks. That said, I’m looking forward to the cobblestones again as spring hits San Miguel de Allende.

    1. Thank you, Barb dear, for your on-the-spot input! Yes, the warmth is very appealing. Today in SMA it’s chilly and overcast. I wish I could teleport myself to the beach! — xx

  2. Lovely Bonnie. I enjoyed the memory of Pop. It reminded me of my grandfather who, after living in the US for 50 years and in spite of his education, spoke with a thick Armenian accent to his last breath.

  3. Dear Bon,

    Obviously, it is from him that you got your painting gene. I am more convinced than ever that you are meant to paint.

    I’m with you about the beaches. I haven’t been to a beach in at least ten years. I tanned for so many years that I’ve decided to do my skin a favor and not damage it any further. I do envy your being able to go to the beach in January. I had to force myself to go out this morning. It was eleven degrees.Yikes!

    Love,
    Paul

  4. Bonnie – I follow your art on FB – I think on Lois Davidson’s FB group site. My mother’s side of the family were Blacks who eventually settled in Texas. I am researching my ancestry , & who knows we may be related. I will check out your books & I would love to follow your blogs regularly! . Linda Coffey (Lyn Coff on FB)

    1. So good to read this, Linda! I’d love for you to follow my blogposts (there’s no cost). Just go to my website and click on the box on the left of the home page, then confirm your subscription when you get the e-mail requesting confirmation. And best wishes with your ancestry research! I did mine in Edinburgh at the National Archives, in person. But I’m sure you can reach their records online somehow.

  5. I’m with you Bonnie. Ever drawn to the mountains, not the sea. Maybe because I grew up in Northern California where the ocean is so very cold. When someone mentions going to the beach, my memory is of down jackets, hats and bonfires. So, in the mountains I’ll stay. Enjoy.

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