Having time is a form of luxury but it can also be an art, something I learned by meeting a remarkable man on a remote beach in Colombia.
I noticed the sandcastle from the moment I stepped onto Playa Blanca, near Cartagena de Indias, but only as I got close did I notice all the intricate and remarkable details it featured. As I stand in front of it, a tanned man in a faded hat approaches me with a smile, inviting me to take a closer look.
Having travelled for a few months now I have acquired a rather relaxed style lately, not caring much about the time, dates, which day of the week it is and so forth. I was therefore rather disappointed when I found myself opening the conversation with an all too familiar question, one that sums up the fact that my mind is still on a schedule: “How much time did it take you to build this?” He smiles, shrugs and replies: “I don’t know. Time is not of importance. All I know is I have been doing this for some 30 or so years.”Meet Alonso Gomes Gomes, a Colombian artist who spent the last three decades traveling and building sandcastles on beaches around South America. His work is full of little details and I am inclined to ask him about his background, where he learned his trade, who he was inspired by (Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said in 1959 that ‘God is in the details’, might this have influenced his intricate work?). I am even more impressed as I hear that Alonso had never studied any art, that he had never seen a university or architectural school from the inside. Instead, an injury at an early age found him sitting on a beach at some point and while contemplating on his life he started playing with the sand. 30 years later and he has racked up quite a collection of impressive sandcastles, as a faded photo journal he keeps in his small tent proves.
Alonso says he likes Gaudí but having never been to Barcelona and being without a computer it is a rather vague inspiration. His art might be temporary but it gives him a sense of purpose and the value of working with natural elements, being outside all day and not having to worry about time is all that matters for him. His little tip bucket manifests his philosophy, it reads Arte es Vida, art is life. He shows me a handful of shells he’s collected on the beach earlier that morning and while they might look average at first, on second glance they are each unique and ideal for decorating his castle: a small shell will become a mushroom, a conch shell will add to the castle’s rose garden, and a small piece of coral will support the main gate.
This is his form of luxury and I envy him for it. He admits money is tight and many people here don’t have the means to support his work but he never planned this kind of life, instead, “Life planned this for me. We all have a purpose in life, and this is mine.” Nonetheless he is a happy man and happy to share his passion with others: he even gives courses to passersby. Soon after our conversation I find myself in the sand, a spatula in hand, carving windows into a tower, forming little doors and building a staircase leading up to it. Were it not for the tide, my tower would still be there but it’s already gone. I guess lesson one is: Don’t build too close to the water. While others would get mad, disappointed or upset that their work was in vain, Alonso is past that stage, he is in a different realm. He sees the disappointment on my face as I stare at the collapsed structure and asks: “What’s wrong? Just build another one… Unless you don’t have time?”
Where is my spatula?
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