Sunday, July 3, 2011

By the Beautiful Sea Part 2

It's good to visit Laguna Beach on a weekday when everything, including the beach, is less crowded, and if you're willing to walk a couple of blocks you can find a free parking space. We found ours up the hill a bit, across from the high school and some charming cottages; there are five of these in a row.
     Our first destination was the beach, after we got some coffee, that is. En route to Starbucks we found this welcoming sign to make us smile.
Happily caffeinated, we made our way to the beach. I took off my sandals and rolled up my jeans to wade in the surf; I got my jeans wet anyway, but didn't mind.
We couldn't tell if the tide was coming in or going out, but it washed up a lot of seaweed and then arranged it artistically in the foam. Nature's art is so much better than ours (but we keep creating anyway).
The beach is in the middle of town and draws all kinds of people (and seagulls, of course),
and there are good public restrooms with outdoor showers for hosing off the sand and salt. As we headed that way I heard someone playing the "Blue Danube Waltz" on an accordion, so I dug in my bag for a dollar and followed the music. The accordionist apologized for not accepting tips! We chatted a few minutes and I told him that earlier Joe had remarked that for some reason, every time he drives Sam's (my uncle's) car, he hears the "Blue Danube Waltz" in his head.
     On the way back to the car we came to two lovely churches, side by side. The first was Episcopal and not open on a Wednesday afternoon, but we thought the second, the American Catholic Church, Saint Francis by-the-Sea, might be.
We didn't actually know what the American Catholic Church was, but we soon found out. As we approached the entrance, we met a woman who said she was about to open it up for a tour and we were welcome to join, then she let us in and talked with us while she lit the candles and turned on some music. It turns out that her grandfather, Percy Wise Clarkson, had built both this church and the Episcopal church next door, where he had first served but then left that pulpit to follow his own vision by establishing the American Catholic Church in the early 1930s. It was revolutionary and far ahead of its time in its insistence on racial and gender equality and Bishop Clarkson's ideals, now familiar to many of us since they've become part of New Age philosophy and spirituality, are beautifully recorded on the rafters of the sanctuary.
The sanctuary is tiny, seating about fifty people at most, but beautiful, and most certainly a sacred space.
While we waited for the tour group, which turned out to be another couple plus their tour guide, Bishop Clarkson's granddaughter, Jessica deStefano,  told us more about her grandfather, his church, and its current bishop, who is ill, so there are no masses at this time, though the church itself is open on Sundays from 9 to 10 for meditation and prayer. We learned later that Jessica is an artist - Joe found her website,, where you can see her and some of her lovely work, some serious, some delightfully whimsical.  We wound up joining the tour and enjoying it very much. The other couple were very nice, as was their guide, Lorraine Brown, who turned out to be a U of A graduate; we knew we looked familiar to each other! I tried to find her online but couldn't, nor any listings for tour guides in Laguna Beach, but I think she'd be a wonderful one, if only we knew how to get in touch with her.
     When we got back to Sam and Vera's, Joe googled American Catholic Church; it does exist outside Laguna Beach but Saint Francis by-the-Sea seems to be independent of the national organization, which is very small. It is located at 430 Park Avenue, just up the hill from Laguna Beach's main street, and although there's no website for the church itself, it's mentioned on several others. The contact phone is (949) 497-4678.  It's well worth a visit. 

     Our serendipitous tour of Saint Francis marked the end of a great day of exploring: hiking, picnicking, strolling along the Dana Point harbor, wading in the surf, and not going into a single shop or restaurant, except for that one necessary brief stop at Starbucks! How wonderful it was to top it off by spending time with friendly and interesting people who introduced us to a piece of history we hadn't known about and its beautiful setting. Mark Twain was right: "...nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people."

Saturday, July 2, 2011

By the Beautiful Sea 2011

 On Tuesday Joe and I flew over to visit my aunt and uncle in Corona del Mar, Orange County, CA. We left as the temperature was climbing to 115 in Tucson and arrived on a cool (mid-70s) and beautiful sunny day - we could smell the sea air as soon as we stepped out of the airport!
On Wednesday my aunt and uncle generously insisted we take their car to go do the tourist thing, and they didn't exactly have to twist our arms. We always enjoy going down to Laguna Beach but this time, in a spirit of exploration, we drove through  LB and headed farther south, though not too far. At Dana Point the highway seemed to run out, literally, so rather than get on Interstate 5 we decided to explore what had become Las Ramblas Drive (or Road, or something) to its dead end, where we found a trailhead leading up a hill that promised interesting views. It was time for a hike!
These thistles are prickly and probably non-native, but they have their own beauty, I think (and they made me want an artichoke - one of their cousins - for dinner!).  One of my favorite novels, Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, has a supernatural and not very nice character called "the man with the thistledown hair." Well, here's some thistledown. Lovely, isn't it? It's easy to imagine what a headful of such hair would look like.
At last we neared the top
and looked down the other side
to where too many people live in too many houses rushing all the way down to the sea. But it's not hard to see why so many people want to live there, especially on such a gorgeous day. We enjoyed the view for a while and then (temporarily) turned our backs on all that civilization and started back down.
On the way up, the trail reminded me of these lines from Christina Rossetti (though she wrote them in an entirely different metaphorical context):
Does the road wind uphill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.

In the next picture you'll see the end of the road, where we parked; if you can pick it out, the tiny little dot on the far left of the wider road on the left is my uncle's car, so you can see it was a bit of a climb, especially as we circled the hill rather than going straight up, choosing the longer rather than the much steeper trail (though we did take the steeper trail going down, which in retrospect wasn't terribly smart). 
 We were hungry by the time we got back to the car (no surprise) so we stopped at a grocery store, bought a big deli Greek salad and some sushi, and ate our picnic on a park bench at the Dana Point harbor. Then we walked some more, around the shops and up and back the full length of the harbor and all its marinas, which are lovely but would be more interesting if 99.9% of the boats weren't painted white.
We tossed pennies into the water for luck, and I wondered what the story was behind the cell phone down there in the water. Maybe its owner's luck had run out somehow . . . .
The nicest part of our walk was the park that runs parallel to the breakwater,

where people were enjoying the water, where I learned that Dana Point is named for Richard Henry Dana, Jr., who wrote the classic Two Years Before the Mast (which I've never read, but now I think I will),
and where we made the acquaintance of several of the dramatically colored Dana Point population of California ground squirrels. Some of these friendly little guys are almost entirely white, while others are more like pinto ponies or appaloosas, and they're not afraid of people at all, no doubt because they're used to being fed. I felt guilty that we'd eaten all our lunch and had nothing to offer them.
Feeling relaxed and refreshed by the cool sea breeze, and having fallen in love with Dana Point for its charm, its relatively small size, and its relative lack of pretension, we headed back the way we had come, stopping for a while in Laguna Beach on the way, but I'm afraid you'll have to wait at least until tomorrow for the second half of that day's adventure.