Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Mendocino, Mendocino
Where life's such a groove,
You blow your mind in the morning
The Sir Douglas Quintet sang that many, many years ago and in many ways it’s still true.  The spectacular ocean views, the flower-covered headlands, the dark forests just on the other side of the coast highway, they're all still there.  This is the view from our son and daughter-in-law’s front yard; the construction tape marks a massive landscaping project currently underway, which fortunately is mostly on the other side of the house, I say "fortunately" because it would be a shame to disrupt that view.
We were lucky to have two full days of sunny weather while we were there. The first day we took the grandchildren to Glass Beach, which isn’t a sandy beach but rather a rocky area known for the quantities of sea glass that wash up there.  Every time we go we collect at least half a sandwich bagful, and Martha Stewart gives instructions on how to drill holes in it so you can use it for beads.  Of course you could also wrap it with wire, and of course I haven’t done either of those things yet, but I have the glass and I have the tools, and one day I will. I’ve promised myself.  But mostly it’s just such a joy to go there with Geneva and Dante, to turn them loose with their own zip-lock bags and to climb over the rocks with them and poke among the tidepools, to gently touch the fleshy, flabby sea anemones, to just watch children doing what children should be doing instead of spending so much time in front of computer and TV screens.  And I love taking photos of them when they're busy and not conscious of the camera.  Little girls, especially, get taught to "pose" in ways that make them seem calculated, affected, and fake, when real beauty lies in spontaneity, for instance, in the joy of running over rocks in rubber boots or, like Dante, climbing into a crevice in the rocks to see what might be there.

These seals were basking on rocks just far enough away that we could watch them (and they could watch us) without fear of actually disturbing them.
 The second day was more typical Mendocino weather, cool and gray, so I went into town to Compass Leather, where I bought my favorite purse a couple of years ago.  It’s gotten a lot of use and was showing it, and I’d been unhappy with the results I got when I tried to clean it.  The owner, whose name I should have gotten and who does beautiful leatherwork himself in addition to selling that of others (and other items) cleaned and waxed it for me at no charge and explained the qualities of leather as it ages, so that now I can appreciate the patina my bag is developing.
      Towns like Mendocino rely on recreational shoppers and diners for their survival, and after the first time I visit a place and cruise the galleries and shops, I’m not really into that, but I do like Mendo’s local yarn store (where I got 3 skeins of gorgeous wine-colored yarn on sale for $2 each!) and bookstore, as well as Rubaiyat Beads, across from the Mendocino Bakery, where I found the perfect gift for a friend whose birthday is coming up in early August.
      Mostly, though, I just like being there, and my only disappointment, as it is in most places we visit, lies in not having time to just wander and sketch and breathe.  No doubt I’ll use some photos as the  basis for paintings, but I’d love to have the time to just go out alone with my art supplies and real feel my surroundings and try to express them on paper.  I suppose that is one of the true poverties so many people face, a poverty of time.
       But our four days there were enriching and inspiring, especially the time we spent with the grandchildren.  On the second sunny day, while Dante was in preschool, we took Geneva to the local cemetery, a place she’d been wanting to visit for some time.  The Mendocino cemetery is beautiful in a rather gone-to-seed way that’s much more welcoming than carefully manicured acres of lawns, and it has graves dating back to the 1860s, many of Italian, Portuguese, and Irish settlers: “So and so, born in Ireland, native of County Mayo….”  She said it was her first time in a cemetery, but as previous posts have shown, I like visiting them.  They're peaceful, usually scenic, and you can learn a lot about a place from its graveyards.  (We also went to one at Fort Bragg, just a few miles north--it was very well-kept but much less interesting.)
On our last evening we took the family to dinner at a lovely restaurant a few miles south of town, with a spectacular ocean view and excellent service that almost (but not quite) made up for the rather ordinary food; most of it was okay, the desserts were very good, the beet-and-goat-cheese appetizer even better than that, but our daughter-in-law’s fish stew (which I almost ordered) was all but inedible, and nothing else was very impressive.  Even so, it was a nice evening.
       It seems funny to me how much I enjoy travel, and visiting family and friends, but when it’s time to leave, I’m always ready to go. I miss my house, my garden, and especially my kitchen.  We returned to scorching heat and I don’t mind it – yet.  Guess Dorothy was right: “It’s so good to be home.”

Thursday, June 3, 2010

California Dreamin'

Some places just seem to recharge my creativity, especially in northern California (San Francisco and northward), especially Sonoma.  We try to go there every year, first to visit our dear friend Diane in Sonoma for a few days and then on up the coast to Mendocino to see the California grandkids, and their parents, of course.  My home and heart are in the desert, but we all need a change sometimes. Sonoma is so filled with the sweet green breathing of plants that it immediately refreshes my soul. I’m not just talking about vineyards, but of course the vineyards are beautiful.  This is the view from the end of Diane’s street.
For years Diane has collected salt and pepper shakers, but selectively, only couples, and it’s been fun to search antique and thrift shops, estate and yard sales, for new members to add to the little community.  They all seem to have individual expressions and personalities; I’m quite taken by the little Dutch couple in the middle, while the one on the far left seems like she’d be a bit of a gossip and busybody.  I’ve been thinking of some kind of creative project that would involve all these little people.

The first full day we were in Sonoma we went to Quarryhill, a remarkable botanical garden with a focus on Asian plant species, many of which are rare or even endangered in their homelands.  Paths lead visitors up and down gentle slopes, around ponds filled with waterlilies and ducks, and into hidden nooks where it seems quite possible fairies might come out to dance after the humans have gone for the day.
We also went to an art show on the plaza in the middle of town, put on by a group of plein-air painters who’d produced their paintings just the week before.  The artists were all very accomplished and the paintings quite lovely (and expensive), but similar in many ways, from size to subject matter to the palette of colors almost all of them seemed to use.  Perhaps that’s why I was so taken by this artist’s work, with its sharp lines and clear, bright colors.
Back at Diane’s subdivision, we went for a walk and visited Temelec Hall, built in 1858 by one of the members of California’s Bear Flag party.  This grand building is within the boundaries of the subdivision and residents can use it for gatherings.
    And this is one of four identical little cottages at the corners of the garden at Temelec Hall. I suppose they’re toolsheds or pumphouses or something similarly practical, but doesn’t this one look like it belongs in a fairy tale?  Perhaps if it was smaller, some of the salt-and-pepper people could live in it.
     The weather was unseasonably cool while we were there, but our visits to our friend and to Sonoma always warm my heart.  With temperatures here in Tucson predicted to reach 106 by Sunday, I wish I could have brought back some of that cool weather!