Post 68 – California is enchanting!

It can be grey in May along parts of the US East Coast, and there weren’t too many swimming at Laguna Beach in California when we arrived. But the small town’s artwork was a delight and there were welcoming smiles along the seafront and at the kerbside cafes. We were staying close by at Newport Beach and the food was so good that I could feel some pressure around my belt as the possibility of second Marguerites loomed!

Our morning view embraced canoeists and windsurfers on a gentle estuary from the Pacific, but after coffee we set off for Santa Barbara: an enchanting beach resort with a long pier and a welcoming hotel. I was already imagining Henry Miller’s pre-WW2 adventures in Paris when we drove the next day up Highway 1 towards his big Big Sur retreat.

Along the way, there were beaches with hundreds of basking seals flipping their tales and half burying themselves in the sand. This 90 mile East Coast run is one of the best in the US, but my hands were still shaking on the car steering wheel as we crossed the awesome Bixby Bridge en route for the Pfeiffer Falls and Henry’s cherished homeland.

Tea on a sunny terrace at the Miller Memorial Library quickly had me back to Henry’s occasionally naughty escapades with loose ladies in Paris during the 1930s. I wasn’t sure if he was still as iconic as he had been in the 1960s, but one of the young interns at the Library smiled as she marked a page in Tropic of Cancer before passing me a souvenir booklet.

Miller was the one who first got me scribbling in holy Ireland, where his books were banned – but I got copies of the Tropics from a journalist friend who had smuggled them in from Paris. I was overwhelmed by the Big Sur ambience that had brought Henry back from Paris in 1939, and I wasn’t sure quite what the rest of our trip might offer. I was wavering as we continued along Highway 1 towards Monterey, but then we suddenly turned right and within a few hours we were in Yosemite, and I was once again bowled over by a California delight.

This National Park is truly the best I have ever visited: one is surrounded by huge glacier mountains and magical waterfalls cascading down for hundreds of feet. The luxurious Ahwahnee Hotel is a great place where our British Queen and various US Presidents have stopped off to enjoy the restaurant splendour in between their excursions around Yosemite.

It was hard to leave this fabulous US landmark, but Los Angeles beckoned with thoughts of  agents and producers in the Hollywood Hills – ‘So Phil, you do dark humor thrillers … now we were wondering if … perhaps …’ Well – who knows … almost anything is possible! But the highlight for me in LA was the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where I saw more Picasso, Matisse and Genet paintings than I ever imagined existed – it was fantastic!

There was a brief excursion to Mesquite in Nevada via Las Vegas for a family visit. This was quite different from East California. But there was great hospitality and some enticing charm. Vegas was like a fantasy world from our sixteenth floor at the Tropicana on the Strip. Almost everyone was smoking and gambling on the ground floor from the moment we entered the hotel. But the highlights were on the Strip – and my only regret is that we missed the Venetian on the canal with accompanying gondolas.

In Mesquite, we heard tales of a Mormon farmer who had allowed his 400 cattle to graze on State land but had refused to pay for the privilege. The authorities decided to seize his cattle, but there were problems. The farmer had called for help, which brought gunmen in from many southern US states. The authorities then backed off, but there are rumours that they will try again and there is apprehension in these remote desert regions about an impending war!

Our final trip was to Joshua Tree National Park, Palm Springs and Idyllwild. The Little San Bernardino Mountains were a treat, as were stories of first inhabitants who arrived in covered wagons and established farmlands in what for the most part were barren desert landscapes. Palm Springs wooed us instantly. We stayed in a charming little hotel, which had briefly been a home for Elvis Presley and got a free buzz downtown. Here, we encountered many pleasant gays and lesbians in and around the delightful Lulu’s restaurant.

Idyllwild was a total contrast to sunny Palm Springs. As we climbed up along a windy mountain road – suddenly, there was snow: not much, but what a contrast to Palm Springs. The village was cute, but parochial. During dinner and at breakfast the next morning we felt we were being overly observed … so we smiled agreeably, and then moved on.

On our final shopping trip at Fashion Island, which is close to Newport Beach, we discovered a large but welcoming Whole Foods Market with cafe tables outside where we could take a relaxing break. This was quite a contrast to our local branch of the same store in London, which is occasionally targeted by dubious characters who see nice Whole Foods customers as a soft touch for nervous donations.

So I guess I’m faced with a dilemma … for if those nice people in the Hollywood Hills make an offer on one of my dark humor thrillers … then … well … sunny California might beckon me back again from London!!

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