16 April 2008

"Oh, It's Paisley"

Heading north, crawling up from Big Sur, I encounter more and more cars, lots of sporty things, convertibles, weekenders as it is Saturday, coming south. Carmel and Monterey are getting closer.

This makes me sad, which is odd as Monterey is one of the jewels of the coast. It is the old Spanish capital of northern California, sits on a spectacular peninsula that juts north like a fortified redoubt, no doubt a reason for its being selected to serve. The husband of a high school friend of ours was a career army officer, and regaled us with stories of his posting to Monterey to learn Italian prior to going to Vicenza. Part of my desire to come here was his glowing memory of the place.

But coming into the area after two days of splendid near isolation, it was a letdown. The road widened, the traffic thickened, the sort of roadside life that could be anywhere slowly returned so that traffic lights and shopping centers and housing developments were the landscape I saw. True, the trees became more lush and green, a green that verged toward dark blue or even black compared to the pale and yellow hints of the sere coast I had watched for the last two days.

Famous Carmel was all but invisible from the highway, signs pointing me to the beach reminded me it was still somewhere near by. My guidebook recommended taking scenic Seventeen Mile Drive which snakes through the golf course studded world of lower Monterey and upper Carmel (including famed Pebble Beach).
I do not play. Where do people find the time? But I remember a friend from a fifteen years ago who explained the allure of the game. “In tennis or other competitive sports you are so busy playing you can never stop and enjoy what you do. But in gold you hit the ball and then watch it. And every now and then you get off a really good shot and it feels so good, that’s what makes you keep playing.” Makes sense. But where do you get the time?

Anyway, I take the scenic drive, which is a toll road that costs, get this, $11. I can ride the entire NJ Turnpike for almost that much. Yeah, you say, but it wasn’t this pretty. No it wasn’t. But I can guarantee it’s not $11 worth of pretty. I saw greater, finer, more beautiful sights earlier in the day. There were seals here, and a well known pine that takes a nice picture, but in the end it was just a long drive past a bunch of houses and golf courses.

I was thirsty and did stop at Pebble Beach to buy a soda. That’s closer than most duffers get, and as close I ever need to go. It is beautiful, but in the end it’s a golf course not the Grand Canyon.

Back on the highway I plow through Monterey proper out to the neighbor town of Marina which grew up around another of the many military installations here. This one is not like the posh language school in Monterey. I can see the burrowed vaults that hold ordinance for the maneuvers they do here. In the town I find my hotel, rest my feet, and decide I should at least see Monterey and so drive back into town as the sun sets. The old village that has been carefully spruced and glittered and is appealing. The main street is busy with people, well equipped with restaurants and bars, plenty of shops. I walk the length of the strip, from the actual old Spanish houses at the north to the mid 20th century intersection with confusing traffic at the south.

After a quick snack of spanokopita at a hole in wall Greek diner, I walk back up the street. My cash card doesn’t work for some reason (it turns out to have expired that week) and the British Goods shop with Aero bars and Marmite and Mashy peas is closing up.

A small movie house is here. Now thinking of my trip overseas seven years ago I see they are playing “In Bruges,” a movie in the “Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels,” genre, but set in Bruges. I loved Bruges (Brugge in Flemish as it is part of Flanders) and decide to see it.

The movie is grim and gruesome, with the black humor I expected, and lovely views of the places there. Years ago I bought a DVD called Aria, which had filmed settings of operatic arias. The Lute song from Die Tode Stadt (which is set in Bruges) is filmed there and that song which is so ravishing, set amid the canals and renaissance houses of Bruges, have forever engraved that poignance in me. The movie evoked the music even as the actors shot themselves to death in wildly bloody fashion.

At the hotel later a girl’s softball team across the hall thumped and slammed doors well into the evening. I cruelly wished Ralph Fiennes (the uber villain of the movie) was there with his narrow diamond lit eyes and massive handgun.

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