Saturday, July 10, 2010

Road Trip

In which we cruise California’s Central Coast

Motored south last weekend for a little R & R.

The first stop was Salinas, a town I have passed through many times – as many others have – but never stopped in. Salinas has a struggling, quaint little “historic” downtown that takes about 20 minutes to walk around, but which has recently gotten a boost from the National Steinbeck Center, which opened a few years ago. I didn’t venture into the museum itself – let’s face it, writers’ lives are spent at typewriters and are not all that interesting. But I did wander down to the Steinbeck House, a few blocks away.

Steinbeck House, Salinas, California

John Steinbeck and the Red Hat Ladies
This is the house where John Steinbeck came up. It’s a lovely old two-storey Queen Anne Victorian, built in 1897. It is now a restaurant with a funny little gift shop in the basement. It is, of course, an E Clampus Vitus literary landmark. Satisfactory!

Among the other bric-a-brac and books in the gift shop, I noticed a table full of ladies' hats, all red. I asked the chatty shop-keeper if Mrs. Steinbeck – that is, the author’s mother – used to wear a red hat...

Then I got an education. The red hats, she said, are for the “Red Hat Ladies…”

“The what?” I asked.

The Red Hat Society, she explained, is a club for women over the age of 50. Most of them are empty-nesters, widows, divorcees, etc. – basically women who have lived respectable lives who now just want to get out and have a little fun with the other gals. Their signature is that they all wear red hats.

Evidently, the Steinbeck House is a common stop for Red Hat Society tour busses, probably because Oprah Winfrey brought her show there back on 2003. In a sense, they’re kind of like the Clampers for women. I heartily approve. Go Red Hat Ladies! Still, it makes you wonder what ol’ Steinbeck would have thought…

On a mission from God
After buying some fresh cherries from a roadside stand, I proceeded southward to San Luis Obispo. I’ve been there before. My Pops took his journalism degree at Cal Poly and I have all kinds of pals from there. It is a lovely town with a delightful little river walk along San Luis Creek. Of course, I had to visit the historic Mission San Luis Obispo, built in 1772.

The mission is named for Saint Louis the Bishop, or Saint Louis of Toulouse, a French nobleman of the 13th century. I am hard pressed to understand exactly why he was canonized, but there it is. “Bishop’s Peak,” a lovely hill that was once an ancient volcano, is one of the town’s anchoring landmarks.

Detail from inside the Mission at San Luis Obispo

San Luis Creek River Walk, San Luis Obispo, California

The flower garden at the Madonna Inn

The Gold Rush Steak House at the Madonna Inn

One of the local crazy ladies and her parakeet in downtown SLO

Hearst What?
Hearst Castle isn’t.
That is, it is not a castle at all. It has no ramparts, no defenses except for its commanding position on a hilltop overlooking the Pacific.
It is, rather, architect Julia Morgan’s greatest aesthetic failure. The place is a nightmare of wretched excess and abject consumerist vulgarity – a hodge-podge treasures looted from the world over.
And I loved it.
Do yourself a favor, though. If you go on a tour, take one late in the day, or the twilight tour. Otherwise you will be surrounded by screaming brats who don’t know how to shut the hell up while the adults are talking.

Hearst Castle front porch

Wm. Randolph Hearst's view

Hearst Castle north belltower. Get your damned head out of my shot.

Guest house at Hearst Castle, with a copy of Donatello's David on top of the fountain

Fountain made from statuary plundered from ancient Egypt

Diving platform in the indoor pool

How do you get out of a Roman bath? With a marble ladder, of course!

The ceiling of the "refectory" at Hearst Castle. The panels came from a 14th century church wall, which is why their heads are all leaning to the right.

Bunny caught on camera at the Botanical Gardens in SLO

My first ever pic of a California quail. They're usually too quick to capture on pixels. Also at the Botanical Gardens in SLO.

This little fellow is very fond of fresh bing cherries

Morro Bay marshes from Black Hill

Morro Rock from Black Hill
One Up
Though a forth or fifth generation Californian, I’ve never travelled Highway 1 between SLO and Monterey, so I decided to do it on this trip. I was not disappointed. Big Sur – the sometime home of Henry Miller and Ken Kesey – did not disappoint.

Island of the Lighthouse at Big Sur

The lighthouse at Big Sur

Friday, July 02, 2010

Don't Forget What Country You Live in This Weekend

In which we go all patriotic

Happy 233. That is all for now. Stay tuned for my weekend report from San Simeon, better known as Hearst Castle.