Albion Through My Eyes / Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful
Healing in the city of kindness
Walking down S. Hannah at 4:30 in the afternoon can lead to unsuspected places. It is my personal road to healing, and so you might see me treading this route regularly, as the sun starts to set. I became familiar with this section of Albion upon undertaking a pilgrimage to the grave of Otto F. Rohwedder, the person who invented the first automatic commercial bread-slicer and wrapper, a process that we now take for granted. My guides to Riverside Cemetery were Gail Reed, and Teri and Bruce Nelson, with whom I traveled by foot along Superior. Eventually, a week or so later, I reverse the course of this particular journey to Riverside devising, through trial and error, a different way to arrive there –– or here. The reference to the Edward Hopper painting that my friend Harley Judd Spiller makes in regards to my first photos of downtown Albion with its post-industrial aura dissolves as I enter an exchange with what could easily be one of painter William Turner’s masterpieces. I let light lead the way. The retiring sun is indeed my candle.
What I experience as I leave S. Hannah and set foot on the tee-ball park, a sport that is said to have originated in Albion and to have been invented by J. Sacharski in 1956, is neither a landscape nor what many commonly call the environment. Choreographer Anna Halprin’s words ring in my ears, “We are not part of nature; we are nature.” I open up to reflecting on this statement and stand at the very top of the field, at the edge of Hannah’s pavement and the soft grass. A moving car here and there. A dog barking from inside a warm house. Cold outside. All of a sudden, I realize that I am surrounded by fairly big trees. Elders. And we are positioned in connection to each other in a configuration that resembles an amphitheater. The trees on the side of the audience and I on what would be the stage. But curiously enough, our roles reverse, and I am the spectator, more like the listener to the voices of the wise rooted ones, who say to me in unison, thrice, “You are not on your own. You are not on your own. You are not on your own.” My eyes move around the semicircle making up the cluster of trees to acknowledge the message –– then a silence of some sort returns. This is when I see a hill covered by a quilt of snow and I opt for climbing it to see what is on the other side. From up there, I recognize the blue and yellow bandshell. Opposite to this are the two white houses that I recall passing during the pilgrimage with Gail and the Nelsons. I proceed to cross Haven Road with the thought in my mouth of the wild watercress that Teri foraged in the Forks and gave us to try. Sweetly bitter, an over the counter remedy for strengthening weak lungs and to rid one from a persistent cold.
There are many ways to get to S. Hannah at 4:30 PM, which is not really a time or a place, but an entry point into the ineffable. There, the cornfields are usually at a standstill, and a big hospitable stone serves as a seat from which to contemplate the horizon and enter in communion with it. Burning yellows, burgundies and fiery reds spill themselves all over the skies. Volcanic oranges result from the crazy mixing of colors. As I walk into the sunset, I pull from a Ziploc two chocolate chip cookies baked by Barbara McAuliffe. A gift. First I must remove the homemade mittens sewn by Diana Wade and put them in my pockets. Another gift. Corncobs scattered on the ground and half-chewed are evidence of deer presence on the scene. Other than that, plus the older man walking with a four-legged creature whom he addresses as Sweet Pea and the couple with a big black dog who pulls them towards me, there is only quiet. I pass the wooded patch past the cornfields before arriving at the cemetery. While walking within this in-between corridor I am given the impression that there is no one else in the world, but the delusional me who must surrender to the All and the One around me, which is really inside of me. Thoughts come and go trying to evade this dissolution. I think of the sun leaving Albion for the night and waking up Sahira, Jordi and Ornela, my Lebanese-Dominican and Argentinian family living in Hong Kong. Back on my feet, I sway in and out of the different paths at the cemetery, that is, until I follow a straight road. There I feel a strong pull, like from an invisible thread, from the top of my head, but my feet remain on the ground. I leave at that moment.
Healing in Albion is not restricted to one specific part of it. It can happen even in its commercial artery; yes, on Superior, and even on Eaton as it becomes I-94. Let me unpack things carefully, one by one. On one of my night strolls I decide to look into the window of Yesterday’s News and there I find Deb Myers at the counter. We chat before I look through the store’s inventory wanting not to come across something I would be compelled to take home. This does not work, and I fetch a yellow silk shirt with red tassels and a star applique on the back. I drape this over my left arm, and soon enough I encounter a hand-size porcelain figurine of the Holy Infant of Prague, which takes me with him! More conversation, then Jim Dean appears. More conversation on Albion and on cemeteries. Deb talks about one of her jobs as a youngster mowing at the graveyard. Jim tells me about his family connection to the grey house across from where I live on E. Cass. Time to go. Deb packs the two items in red tissue and hands me a brown paper bag. Another present. Superior is also where I meet Melissa Meszaros at the Dove, and before we know it we are talking about various healing modalities. There I learn about a scan that can shed light on the emotional state of my organs and I go for it. Karla Tripp tells me at The Dove that my heart is overtaxed and recommends three glasses of distilled water and one B-Complex pill a day. I add this to the list of remedies along with Albion’s spectacular sunsets and a face wash with cold water from the spring spigot at Victory Park.
Nothing could seem farther from a healing spot than I-94 with its sparse houses, continuous traffic, the fast food chains and the tree-less parking lot outside Family Fare, but that is where I hear a person call my name from a car and offer a ride. It is Hazel Lias. We talk about people she knows whom I have met during my three months here. Our ride ends with laughter as Hazel tells me to get out of her car when I ask her if I can interview her before I leave the town. “Of course we can talk,” she says, with a friendly smile. I see Hazel again not on wheels but on foot, walking towards the William K. Stoffer Clock Tower at the College on the overcast afternoon we broadcast the song with the street names of Albion. Hazel is not alone. As I stand by the structure from where the audio is about to project, neighbors appear slowly from different points of the city. I remember the chorus at the tee-ball park, and it is as if the trees that spoke to me are now here, reminding me that we are not alone, less so on our own; and that healing does happens in community.
Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful is the visiting artist at Albion College. He seeks to meet people in town. To contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org or 917-275-3990