Saturday, April 13, 2013

Of Artists, Writers, Whales and Victorians

My lovely wife and I took a few days off to drive down the California coast to a small town called Cambria, which is just south of Monterey.  The drive along Pacific Coast Highway 1 is magical, particularly on a beautiful Spring day. We were in search of a little rest, a little inspiration and a little adventure.


We chose Cambria because of a nice deal on travelzoo at the famous Cambria Pines Lodge Gardens .  One picture of the garden intrigued us enough to go check it out as we are constantly looking for inspiration to help us in the development of our own Oakland garden, which has been doing pretty good thus far.  

About half way down the coast we stopped at Carmel-by-the-Sea. A quaint, if slightly hoity-toity beach town with million dollar homes that was originally an artist town. According to Wikipedia, "In 1906, the San Francisco Call devoted a full page to the "artists, poets and writers of Carmel-by-the-Sea", and in 1910 it reported that 60 percent of Carmel's houses were built by citizens who were "devoting their lives to work connected to the aesthetic arts." Early City Councils were dominated by artists, and the town has had several mayors who were poets or actors, including Herbert Heron, founder of the Forest Theater, bohemian writer and actor Perry Newberry, and actor-director Clint Eastwood, who was mayor for one term, from 1986 to 1988."

Many of the old buildings near the white sandy beaches seemed very European which reminded us of the time we spent traveling through France.  Sure enough, a French businessman had purchased Carmel-by-the-Sea in 1850 and the French influence is apparent in some of our pics.



"Jack London describes the artists' colony in his novel, The Valley of the Moon. Among the noted artists who lived in or frequented the village were Mary Austin, Armin Hansen, George Sterling and his protege Clark Ashton Smith, Ambrose Bierce, Upton Sinclair, Robinson Jeffers, Sinclair Lewis, Sydney Yard, Ferdinand Burgdorff, William Frederic Ritschel, William Keith, Alice MacGowan, Percy Gray, Arnold Genthe and Nora May French."-wikipedia
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George Sterling, Mary Austin, Jack London and Jimmie Hooper, Carmel-by-the-Sea.

 I suppose the sad thing, to me, is that the interesting artist talks, that happened between London and others, has now been replaced in Carmel by people talking about million dollar properties and the latest million dollar art work they just purchased.

We drive down the beautiful coast a few more hours and reach our destination, which is just a stone's throw from W.R Hearst Castle in San Simeon, the main inspiration for Orson Welles'  film 'Citizen Kane',
 
The stay at the Pines Lodge was excellent, and extremely affordable. For our package of  $119, two people get a nice room with dinner and wine, plus breakfast all included! The town of Cambria is pretty small, as you can imagine, and really the gardens were a real highlight.  Here are our pics:




About Cambria: For more than a thousand years, Chumash Indians lived in the Cambria area. By the mid-1850s they were largely displaced by homesteading immigrant ranchers from northern Italy and southern Switzerland.

Cambria has been noted in the past for logging, cinnabar mining, whaling, and as a major county seaport. By the mid-1880s, our population approached 7,000; however, the advent of the Southern Pacific railway to San Luis Obispo in 1894 signaled the decline of shipping, and Cambria relaxed into a quiet village.

According to legend, Cambria Pines Lodge was built in 1927 by an eccentric European baroness as her personal resort. She wished to live near Hearst Castle with its opulent lifestyle. Like Hearst Castle, her resort included a large Main Lodge building surrounded by smaller “guest” facilities for visitors from Europe or new friends made in America.

The baroness’s plan, alas, was shortlived. After receiving an ultimatum from her husband to return at once to Europe or live forever without him, she sold her Lodge to the Cambria Development Company.

The Cambria Development Company used the Lodge as its headquarters and as a gathering place for prospective buyers of land on Lodge Hill. By 1932, thirty-one log cabins had been added to the property.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Cambria Pines Lodge was known as a fashionable destination resort for travelers fortunate enough to set aside their concerns for a time. It was also a popular stopover for Mr. Hearst’s guests when a timely completion of the trip to San Simeon was made impossible by inclement weather.


The fascinating thing is that Hearst's castle was so remote and hard to reach in the 1930's because the Pacific Coast Highway hadn't been constructed until 1937.  So Hearst (then one of the most powerful men in show business and news media) basically dragged his celebrity friends up long, curvy and extremely dangerous mountainous dirt roads to spend time at his "Xanadu".  Today, you can gain access to the castle if you drive up a road to the visitor center, pay the entry fee and then hop on a tram and travel another 5 miles just to see the castle.

We left the following morning and gassed up the car at a service station which happened to be next to a bookstore with a "for sale" sign on it.  I stopped in briefly and spoke with the owner and imagined ourselves being a bookstore owner at some point.

Continuing with the theme of artists, writers and Victorians, we head back up the coast and make a stop in Big Sur at the Henry Miller Library which is located along the Pacific Coast Highway amid tall Redwood Groves.  This library, located in a one room shack, belonged to one of Henry's good friends and Henry would spend time there writing his scandalous works!  It's a very beautifully serene location and one should not be surprised if you are escorted into the library by a lone butterfly like we were.   




A bit about Henry Miller: In 1940, Miller returned to the United States, settling at Anderson Canyon in Big Sur, California. [14] He continued to produce vividly written works that challenged contemporary American cultural values and moral attitudes. He was widely critical of consumerism in America, as reflected in Sunday After The War (1944) and The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945). He spent the last years of his life at his home at 444 Ocampo Drive, Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, California.

While Miller was establishing his base in Big Sur, the Tropics books, still banned in the USA, were being published in France by the Obelisk Press and later the Olympia Press. There they were acquiring a slow and steady notoriety among both Europeans and the various enclaves of American cultural exiles. As a result, the books were frequently smuggled into the States, where they would prove to be a major influence on the new Beat generation of American writers (most notably Jack Kerouac) some of whom would adopt stylistic and thematic principles found in Miller's oeuvre.

I identify with Miller particularly on his criticism of American consumerism.  We don't have cable TV but while we were in Cambria, we channel surfed for about ten minutes on the hotel room TV and were instantly disgusted by the absolute garbage on nearly every one of the 52 channels available to us.  Miller would be spinning in his grave so fast, Anais Nin would probably hit him in the head to get him to stop. BTW, see the movie 'Henry and June' to get a glimpse of that artist's life.

Another hour up the coast into Monterey and we make a stop at a former French Hotel where Robert Louis Stevenson lived for a short time. This fine old adobe sheltered Robert Louis Stevenson during his visit to Monterey in 1879 to be near his lady love, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, whom he eventually married. While in Monterey, he wrote The Old Capitol. Map.  Stevenson is best known for his books, 'Treasure Island' and 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.'   Unfortunately, the house was closed that day but the lovely garden was open and we strolled around trying to imagine how Stevenson became inspired in this formerly rough, whaling outpost in the middle of nowhere.
 



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We continue up the coast and into Central California's agricultural heartland of Salinas in search of the writer John Steinbeck's Victorian home. We pass through miles of farm land and see migrant workers toil under the hot sun as Steinbeck did decades earlier. We find his beautifully restored home, which was built about a year before ours, and get a special tour courtesy of the workers in the gift shop.

This Queen Anne style Victorian was the birthplace and boyhood home of author John Steinbeck.  Built in Salinas in 1897, the Steinbeck family moved into the house in 1900.  It was opened to the public as a restaurant on February 27, 1974 —the 72nd  anniversary of John Steinbeck’s birth.  The house is operated by volunteers with a minimum of paid staff, and recently celebrated the 38th Anniversary.  Oprah Winfrey and members of her book club visited the Steinbeck House in September of 2003.  Her show was filmed on the front lawn of the House.



As beautifully a renovated Victorian as the Steinbeck house is now, the tour guide reminds us that the house originally did not have wall-to-wall carpeting and pricey wall paper in every room. When Steinbeck lived here, the walls were just plain white plaster and the floors all hardwood with a few rugs. His Salinas home was a frontier then and he often walked through the farms for miles in order to get to some place interesting.  It was through these long walking journeys where he was able to derive inspirations for many of his important works like 'Grapes of Wrath' and 'Of Mice and Men'.  See the Henry Fonda movie 'Grapes of Wrath' for a real look into depression era starvation in America.  It's still a powerful movie and timely today. 

Get out and see the world around you.  Things change but, in many ways, they stay the same too. It's understanding the differences that are the most interesting.

Cheers!

 

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