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Sacred Places

Magical portals to the mindset of vacationlandia
Written by Barbara Rodriguez.

Illustration by Michael Witte

May can be the cruelest month for travel lovers. Spring break has come and gone. Summer vacation is but a dream.

And yet, May often demands a break, however short, from all things routine. But in a month filled with end-of-school commitments and planning for future travel, even a weekend getaway proves elusive.

And if a staycation is too big a commitment for May, I suggest that everyone has a special place in their hometown, a magical spot that somehow transports you into a vacation frame of mind for just long enough to tide you over to the next journey. For the psychic sleight-of-hand I’m talking about to be valuable it has to do the trick quickly. Less than an hour spent there must recharge you.

For me, these magical portals to the mindset of vacationlandia are plentiful. In Fort Worth, we are blessed with a world-class Cultural District. The museum row is extraordinary. Many spots at the Kimbell and Amon Carter art museums make me feel like I have gotten away within minutes. But for me, the single most magical spot — filled with so many memories that stepping into it creates a mental slideshow — is the Vortex, a steel sculpture by Richard Serra.

It towers outside the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. And while a weekend brunch at the Café Modern always tricks me into believing I am on vacation, walking through the sculpture first feels like a metaphor for stepping out of my day-to-day life.

I step inside the vaulting steel panels, textured with rust and leaning in to connect at the apex but for a small star-shaped opening like a camera’s shutter, and look up to the small framed patch of sky. It feels like a sacred space — like the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., or the Alamo — sites that prove to be far more powerful than you ever imaged.

Like the best of interactive art, Vortex is as much what you bring to it as it is the artist’s creation. It is a piece of art that has paced my son’s arrival at young adulthood.

We tumbled back into the car feeling we had traveled somewhere special that day.

Recently, feeling bereft of travel time together, we agreed to share a Sunday brunch. A seated meal-sized opening in a teenager’s schedule is a precious thing. I wanted it to be in a place where I had his full attention, where we might really settle in a bit and take a moment to appreciate our time together. The Modern came to mind and he agreed it was ideal. Getting a teenager’s buy-in on a place that doesn’t serve copious amounts of food is another huge win.

When we headed out brunch was all I had in mind. I wasn’t thinking of the sculpture that casts a shadow across the museum’s parking lot. But almost before I could park Elliott had jumped out of the car. “Oh my gosh, I have to go in there, mom. I’d forgotten how much I love that space.” With that, he disappeared inside the vortex.

Instantly I was transported to walking in the sculpture hand-in-hand with Elliott at age 5, on a snowy winter’s day. That was the first time we stepped into Serra’s time machine. I remember his little face turned up to the snow swirling madly inside the artwork’s wind-tunnel, hoping to capture the flakes on his outstretched tongue.

Stepping inside, I remembered another day — a wildly impromptu late afternoon stop at the museum after school — for no reason other than Elliott’s inspired idea that it was a good day for sharing echoes, another magical feature of the Vortex. At the odd time of day hour there were almost no cars in the parking lot. It was spring but still chilly and oddly still. A perfect day for sharing echoes, indeed.

He whispered, “I love you,” then giggled. I whispered his ridiculously long and oddly elegant full name and we both laughed. He let out a rebel yell and let it descend upon him, again and again. And with no visit into the museum, we tumbled back into the car feeling we had traveled somewhere special that day, somewhere farther and bolder than any quick dash through a curbside sculpture in our hometown could suggest possible.

Yet, somehow, at the beginning of this weekend’s stop I had forgotten the magic. Elliott had not. I watched his man shoulders disappear inside, then followed him in quickly enough to see his face light up. I thrilled in that moment of unbridled joy so often stoppered by the self-consciousness of adolescence. I reveled in revisiting the past. But this day, our briefest of brief staycations, when we stepped out and he opened an umbrella for me, put his arm around my shoulder and walked me into brunch, I stepped through the Vortex into my hopes for the future.

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