During our luxurious time in Southern California, Jenni Fagan and I have been kindly attended to by our glamorous and exuberant tour organizer, Karissa Kary, who took us to, among other places, a cafe in Long Beach where we saw porpoises, and where there was a Hookah Lounge. She also took us to our interview at U of California Irvine’s KUIC with Marrie Stone. (https://www.barbarademarcobarrett.com/writersonwriting/)
On Friday Karissa drove us south from San Clemente, through surfer towns, to San Diego. She was patient with what looked like a miles-long traffic jam at times (“It could be much worse”) and was generous about sharing and pointing out the highlights to us, including the fairy-tale vision of the San Diego Mormon Church and nice natural coves and cliffs. She took great pleasure in being able to use the carpool lane, and explain to us some of the rules—e.g., there is no weaving in and out of the carpool lane, but one must enter and exit only at designated spots. Though she lives in the Ozarks, she seems like a California gal to me.
(Side note: Though we think of southern California as sunny, we were there during “June Gloom,” apparently the grayest month of the year. Still, it was plenty bright and warm for us. Other side note: the bumper stickers on the truck included one advocating California succeed from the United States, and another with Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again” plus a vanity plate “Rip2Uth”)
San Diego is not a big town, Karissa explained, and it’s pretty expensive to live there, so most of the Hispanic landscapers we saw in yards probably lived out of town. My old high school chum Lisa lives about 30 minutes inland, near where she teaches math to seventh graders. She rents something like a pool-house that’s about a third the size of my house, for about three times the biggest monthly mortgage payment I’ve ever had to make. The view is worth it, she says. She also says it’s easy to hide oneself away in this life, and so she tries to get to the beach once a month.
Karissa decided to take Jenni and me to see the Hotel del Coronado, built in 1888 (“For us, this is very old,” she tells Jenni, who owns a house in Edinburgh that is over two hundred years old). This means crossing the two-mile-long bridge across the bay from San Diego to Coronado—a bridge said to be third in number of suicides in the United States. We ended up eating at one of the restaurants in the amazing hotel (no sense fighting rush-hour traffic on the way back), with a great view of the ocean. There we had a remarkable meal that included a Amuse-bouche at the beginning (a bite of silky pate Foie gras in a dish-spoon) and a nice surprise at the end (homemade caramel chocolates, which were super creamy and even tastier when I salted mine). This hotel is the favorite American hotel of many people, and twelve presidents have stayed there. A good portion of the movie Some Like it Hot was filmed there. Some feel that this movie, which starred Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, is the best American comedy of all time.
Among the hotel’s claims to fame is that it is the second largest wooden-framed structure in the United States. Info about the hotel: https://hoteldel.com/
One particularly exciting and unsettling thing about this hotel is that it is at the end of the runway for the North Island Naval Air Station, and several times the sound of jets landing was deafening for a minute or so. Maybe two smaller planes and then a C130 Cargo plane. I kept awakening slowly from my relaxed state by bursting out from under the restaurant awning too late to get a good photo—same as what happened with the pelicans I wanted to photograph these last few days. Too much pleasure and enjoyment can be detrimental to documentation.
Two super interesting American fiction writers who hailed from the San Diego area are Theodore Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, and L. Frank Baum, original author of the Oz books, and both were said to have spent great amounts of time at the Hotel Del Corona. The shops in the hotel are called the “Del” shops, and beautiful cloth-bound copies of books by these authors of kids’ books. are available. Jenni assured me that both authors have continued to be popular in Scotland, perhaps as popular as here in the US.
Lisa my high school chum joined our table mid-meal and shared the following observation about the work of Dr. Seuss: when we read Dr. Seuss in the Midwest, we used to think, “Look at those wacky trees and crazy outer-space plants.” Well, when you are wandering the landscaped streets around San Diego, a Midwesterner or a Scottish woman might well observe that the plants look like they were invented by Dr. Seuss. So maybe this is one of those times where truth is stranger than fiction.
And some similar comparison could be made between the local paradisiacal landscape and the marvelous, fantastical Land of Oz.
Recently Frank Baum’s reputation has suffered a setback; in Louise Erdrich’s recent book, LaRose, she brings to our attention two editorials written in 1890 in the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer (South Dakota) by a young L. Frank Baum, in which he advocates nothing short of the wholesale slaughter of all remaining Native Americans.
There is no evidence anywhere that he apologized for these youthful writings or that he changed his mind or his beliefs–maybe he assumed nobody would ever see them. His ugliness is confounding for us Oz fans, and I have been re-reading the Oz books, trying to see any meanness toward diverse and varied peoples in those pages. And I’m aware that he was famously supportive of women’s rights and was very active and vocal in the women’s suffrage movement.
This has been worrying me, because several of the Oz books appear in my novel-in-progress, and so I want to understand what there is to understand about this issue. I want the good of Baum without any of the not-good.
Theodore Geisel, who wrote as Dr. Seuss had his own youthful political ugliness. During the war, as a young man, he created political cartoons that showed not only his passionate opposition to fascism, but a racist view of Japanese and Japanese Americans. He later went on to apologize and to try to make amends, including the whole book, Horton Hears a Who. Here is an article that discusses the issue:
Throughout his life he never shied away from the limelight on political issues, and you can read more on Geisel’s political commentaries and opinions at the link below.
I am reminded that the book Green Eggs and Ham contains only fifty unique words. Kind of amazing, just fifty words, none of them fancy, can capture the imagination of generations!
I was glad that my dear classmate could join us Edinburgh Outriders at Coronado. Mostly the people we have visited on our journey are progressive or liberal or at least Democatic voters. Mostly on this trip we have visited artists, writers, and scientists, as well as people with various kinds of advanced degrees, and these people are generally uncomfortable about Trump’s presidency. Lisa did vote for Trump, and she seems to feel okay about his presidency, or at least doesn’t see what all the anti-Trump fuss is about.
Beforehand, Jenni might have been less than eager to someone of Lisa’s political bent. And I’ll confess that as soon as politics came up, Lisa and I began to argue a little. But you’ll be glad to hear we four had a pleasant and lively conversation at the dinner table. We talked about the Outrider’s adventure, the Brexit, and Lisa’s job teaching math in a public school, among other subjects. We shared photos of Lisa’s four grandchildren and Jenni’s son and Karissa’s son (five of the six were biracial, and I mention this only because we often make assumptions about race across the political divide).
We talked about the movie Hidden Figures, which explores the historical fact of a group of black women did much of the calculating necessary to launch the American space program in the early sixties. Lisa said she was glad things had changed, that we’d moved on—she added that it didn’t seem fair to judge people in history according to today’s standards. Karissa noted that it was important to her that society recognize the injustices of the past before moving on. So we talked across the famous divide between cultures in America without much trouble.
During an after dinner stroll, while Jenni and Karissa sat on the sand, Lisa and I talked about math education (like Lisa, I am certified to teach math in the public schools, like Lisa I’m a tall blonde), and she and I shared thoughts about how we hope that all students grow up to know whether or not they’ve really gotten the 30% off the shoes that the sign promised they would get. She mentioned some new research and new methods of education promoted by British Mathematics Education Professor Jo Boaler that shows nearly anyone can learn math with the right attitude, that the notion of a large percentage of the people being incapable of learning math is just plain wrong. Lisa and I both lament every time we hear someone say, “Oh, I’m just no good at math.” There’s no need to keep alive the illusion of this artificial divide of the math-abled and the math-disabled. No sense at all in acknowledging such a division.
After our walk, Lisa and I came upon Jenni of Scotland and the Karissa of America on the beach. There we were, four women, two of us about 55 and two of us about 39, in a beautiful and expensive and parcel of the world with an ideal climate and compelling landscape, gazing out at the vast Pacific ocean just after sunset. Behind us Mulan was playing two sides of a giant screen set up between the hotel and the beach, a girl’s empowerment film, and apparently one approved of by all six children whose pictures we saw, and all three moms. I’ll have to watch it myself one of these days.
Here’s the bridge in the daytime and at night. It doesn’t have much of a guardrail to speak of.
Info about bridge: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Diego%E2%80%93Coronado_Bridge
For more info about the Outrider project, which has paired up Scottish and American writers to travel the New World, created by the Edinburgh Book Festival https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/outriders
also follow Jenni Fagan’s blog https://thedeadqueenofbohemia.wordpress.com/
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