Jul 152012
 

Next weekend, Petaluma will hold the annual Rivertown Revival, a celebration of Petaluma as a river city and a fundraiser for the David Yearsley River Heritage Center. This is a very cool event with a sort of family-friendly Burning Man ambiance—meaning, you’ll see people in lots of wild outfits, and amazingly decorated floating art boats, musical acts, etc.

But I have a very particular memory of the magnificently preserved antique downtown and riverfront of Petaluma, which is the glow of the short-lived paddlewheeler Petaluma Queen moored at the turning basin at dusk, her lights and bright stacks reflecting in the still water.

It was a moment from another time. Listening to the water lap at the hull, you’d swear that if you just stepped on board, she’d take you not on a dinner cruise, but down to New Orleans, and adventure.

To me, the attraction of the Rivertown Revival remains the original concept of the event–something along the lines of the dear departed Handcar Regatta, a somewhat whimsical, tongue-in-cheek but historically evocative journey back to when rivers and rails were our primary means of transport.

Though Petaluma wasn’t established yet, what that most brings to mind is the world of Mark Twain’s marvelous Life on the Mississippi. If you haven’t read it, do: it’s hilarious, and filled with the atmosphere of an era which—even when Twain wrote it—had already passed away.

So when I think of heading down to Petaluma next week, it’s not in Burning Man neons and faux fur or whatever all that is. It’s more along the lines of what you see here: working men toting bales on the levee in straw hats, sparks and coal smoke streaming into the sky from the bright columns of the the great steamboats’ stacks.

Think I’ll put on that yoked, blousy cotton shirt, and find me a broad-brimmed straw hat. Maybe stuff a burlap bag, hoist it onto my shoulder, and tote that bale for a day, down by the river side.

  One Response to “Coming Up: Petaluma Rivertown Revival July 21”

  1. I’ve found that even a single person can invoke the atmosphere of an era, so long as you wear it seamlessly, don’t break character, and don’t betray even a whisper of irony–if only for a moment. Long enough to create a memory in someone you interact with, or for a photographer to go, look at that, and capture an image in context that seems it could be decades…or centuries…old.

    For some people, that’s no kind of thrill: big deal. But I’ve always been a sucker for it. Very early memories of colonial mansions and ghost towns, French castles, Arizona Puebloan ruins, and the most amazing time fugue of all: touring the Custis-Lee (now Arlington) Mansion at Arlington Nat’l Cemetery, c. 1969. A woman in Civil War-era dress lifting the curtain of a window to watch a military funeral, with the horse-drawn caisson and riderless horse. An image that could have been from 1860, and I’ll never forget it. For a minute, I was there, then.

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