About five days after mum left I embarked on a road trip (actually train and plane trip) that would take in Paso Robles, Hearst Castle/San Simeon, Monterey, Salinas (all in central California), Portland and Seattle. I was very much looking forward to it as it was going to be all about my own interests; no-one else’s stuff; no compromises. I suppose you might think my entire time here has been like that, but this felt different. I was truly by myself; no-one could reach me or distract me from my aims. I can honestly say that those ten days spent travelling on my own were the happiest time I’ve had since I’ve been away. There is something so pacifying about moving around; I’ve likened it to pushing a baby round in a pram or driving it round the block to calm it down. (That’s what people do right?) Some might say that only feeling mentally at peace when in motion is about denial of feelings or reality. Maybe it is.
The only real moment of stress came early on in the trip. After a tranquil train ride that took in some magnificent coastline, I arrived at Paso Robles (a small town in the wine-making region of central California), got to my hotel, and was told by the receptionist that the tour to Hearst Castle that I’d booked through them did not include transport to the castle. (The castle is a 45-minute drive away from Paso Robles and there is no direct public transport.) Why would the hotel and the castle even have such a tour deal operating if there was no transport? I guess it was all about kickbacks on tickets and room prices. Anyway, I was very distressed, and had to wait till the manager came in the next morning to get it resolved. Probably worried about a potentially scathing review of his establishment on Trip Advisor, he decided that a young girl who worked at the hotel would drive me to and from the castle. Score!
Hearst Castle was built by media magnate William Randolph Hearst, whose life was chronicled in the so-called greatest film of all time, Citizen Kane. Hearst was grandfather to kidnap victim/one time member of left-wing militant group the Symbionese Liberation Army, Patricia Hearst, with whom I have been obsessed for many years. The castle sits high above beautiful rolling green hills and looks out onto the Pacific.
The most interesting thing about Hearst Castle is the collection of art and artefacts WRH accumulated. And I’m not just talking things your average art collector would have; he had things like Ancient Roman portals and Ancient Egyptian statues. Apparently in the early 20th century there were no restrictions on taking such items out of their countries of origin. Crazy stuff.
The girl from the hotel had promised me that after she picked me up we could drive a little further along the beach to see the elephant seals, which she hoped would be out lying on the beach. And they were! Dozens and dozens of them. This little bit of coastline is pretty much the last stop before you hit the famous, rugged stretch of coastline known as Big Sur.
I spent one more day in Paso Robles wandering round town, drinking wine and reading in the park. That night I took the train to Salinas, birthplace of John Steinbeck. I had been reading Cannery Row (beautiful book) and finished it on the train not long before we pulled into Salinas.
My exploration of Salinas was to take place two days hence; early the next morning I caught the bus to Monterey, where the actual Cannery Row is found. It is a pretty town with a substantial history – under Spain and Mexico it was the capital of California, and it was in Monterey that California was ultimately claimed by the US, in 1846.
Cannery Row was quite touristy – the most interesting thing for me was probably the fact that the laboratory of Ed Ricketts (Steinbeck’s closest friend, a marine biologist on whom the character of Doc in Cannery Row is based) was still partly standing.
The next day I visited a museum housed in one of the many adobe structures in Monterey, went to the house where Robert Louis Stevenson once lived (though I couldn’t go inside) and had a look at the Royal Presidio Chapel, which dates from 1794 and is the oldest stone building in California.
After that it was back to Salinas, where I visited the Steinbeck Museum, looked at Steinbeck’s childhood home which is now a chichi restaurant, and went to the cinema (it was getting cold and dark) while I waited for my train to San Jose. Oh, and I also had dinner at a Thai restaurant which full of couples, because it was Valentine’s Day. I didn’t really care. They all looked quite bored.
I caught the train to San Jose and stayed at an airport hotel; the next morning I flew to Portland. I got a good vibe about it from the start: it seemed very ‘manageable’ (unlike LA) and had something of a Melbourne feel about it (although it is not as big). Portland is known for its microbreweries, hipsters, PC attitudes, coffee and, best of all, Powell’s – the world’s biggest independent bookstore. I know some of you watch Portlandia – well, it’s pretty accurate. We all like to roll our eyes at hipster/leftie culture from time to time, but it was a relief to be somewhere like that after being in a badass town like LA for so long. You got the feeling that if anything happened to you someone would actually stop to help rather than leave you for dead, which is how you feel in LA.
I stayed at a ‘hipster’ hotel called the Ace, whose foyer (sorry, lobby) was full of coolsies drinking coffee and stuffing around on their laptops. I have to admit I loved the place – it had some character and felt more like an apartment building than your usual sterile hotel. Right next door to the hotel was famous Portland coffee house Stumptown (Stumptown is Portland’s nickname – I guess it’s something to do with the early logging industry.) I made friends with one of the staff there who gave me a free coffee on my last day to wish me safe travels. Great people in Portland.
I spent my days just trailing around and enjoying it immensely. I spent hours in Powell’s on the first day, and was served by an extremely hot English guy. I explored most of the downtown area, where I was staying, and crossed the Willamette River (which runs through the city) to the SE side to check out the scene there. The Portland International Film Festival was on, and I caught a film based on the early life of Goethe. (The Sorrows of Young Werther is one of my favourite books.) I visited the Museum of Contemporary Craft, where they had an exhibition about artists’ books. Portland was also very coeliac-friendly so there was no stress about eating. I have to say I was really, really sad to leave.
Next it was on to Seattle. The further north the train got the more water there was: so many lakes! We went through famous riot grrrl town, Olympia, which made me smile to myself, and shortly afterwards the train pulled into Seattle.
I don’t think I expected Seattle to be so scenic. It’s built in between the Puget Sound and Lake Washington, and is home to another huge lake, Lake Union. In the distance you can see snow-capped mountain ranges – the Cascades and the Olympics – and there is one huge, fuckoff stand-alone mountain, Mount Rainier.
I happened to arrive on the weekend of Kurt Cobain’s birthday, which was weird. I had actually wanted to go and see his house and the famous bench in the park next door on which fans had scrawled their tributes to him. And guess what – I did. You know me! There were a few other fans there paying their respects.
After that I went to the famous Pike Street Market, and on the Sunday I visited the Experience Music Project, housed in a Frank Gehry building that looks not unlike the Walt Disney Concert Hall here in LA, but more colourful. It is basically a museum dedicated to the history of popular music; there is a also a sci-fi museum in the same building. It was ok – a little dorky I guess – lots of interactive stuff. I did get to see the guitar Kurt used in the ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ video, though.
That is pretty much my trip. I returned to LA absolutely exhausted, promptly started getting sick and didn’t do much for about a week afterwards.
On another subject completely: a few of you have expressed interest in seeing what my place looks like and now I finally have some pics for you. I’ll only be living here for four more days – very strange.
And here’s a photo of me in Venice today.
So, what insights can I offer about my very serious and important personal development during my time here? Nothing too earth shattering, really – I think I know myself pretty well these days, which I’d want to, given that I have spent a hell of a lot of time and money looking deep into my psyche over the years. I didn’t have any expectations of this trip – maybe some hopes, but not expectations – and I’m pretty comfortable with the fact that it is what it is, or has been what it has been.
The one thing that has come out of it for me, though, is that I realise I need to be much, much more proactive in getting personal stuff off the ground. Some women dedicate their whole lives to this shit! (Though I’m secretly pleased I’m not one of those women.) Part of this involves being more open with my friends about the fact that I would like their assistance in this regard. So, some of you can look forward to me hitting you up for help when I get home! (Single friends, you’re exempt.)
George and Alison arrive tomorrow and I’m looking forward to the rest of my time in the US being about silly fun and rock ‘n’ roll. I’d love to say that I’ll do a post on SxSW but I know I won’t. I’ll have to tell you about it in person, when I see you, in a few weeks’ time!
So, thank you all for reading. I hope you’ve been entertained and maybe even feel you know me a little better now. Remember that apart from love, art, pets and trying to be an OK person, life is about experiences. You know, having them. I truly believe that.