I happened to be on Cannery Row this weekend for a few minutes. Immortalized by John Steinbeck and now completely gutted of all history and sense of time and place, the conglomeration of "art galleries" (the Thomas Kinkade National Archives, and no, I am NOT making this up, is just a few blocks away), t-shirt boutiques and ice cream vendors are all that stand for what once was.
I had to laugh, sadly. The Thomas Kinkade National Archives made me chortle with incredulity while simultaneously making my stomach turn. (It is a hope of mine that The Painter of Light will disappear into history with the passing of our generation. At least Disney tried to infuse his view of what our saccharine world should be with a bit of humor, and I can't even imagine Uncle Walt establishing his own National Archive in his own lifetime...but I digress.)
But what a very strange, feeble attempt to educate the t-shirt and seashell-buying tourist trade: the prevalence of banners on every lightpost up and down the street, rainbow colored banners sporting folksy caricatures of Ed Ricketts and John Steinbeck, the reverse sides of the flags bearing quotes about Doc and Cannery Row.
I don't know about you, but as much as I have loved reading Steinbeck, I hadn't even heard of Ed Ricketts and The Log from the Sea of Cortez until about six years ago, when The Boy took me on a trip. We parked by the ocean and we sat in his vintage Jeep; he read long passages of this book to me while we watched the gulls dip into the waves and kept on the lookout for otters. Since that time, The Log from the Sea of Cortez has become one of my most favorite books. Not because it was read to me aloud, with much love and sense of sharing, but because it's a wonderful book about friends. And science. And the love of learning.
People lurching full-bellied from the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company (to think that the legacy of Hollywood pablum Forrest Gump is a seafood restaurant) to the Thomas Kinkaide National Archives will never know what those flags fluttering above their heads stand for.
Traveling to and from the Monterey Peninsula this weekend, through what I call Steinbeck Country: Salinas, Watsonville, Castroville—reminded me of the reality of what he experienced. What he wrote about. His travels, the poverty, and the love he encountered along the way. I've posted some images on flickr, with the corresponding quotes below. I have to imagine that these quotes, this sort of brilliance will survive all Thomas Kinkades and t-shirt vendors, even if the places he wrote about will never be again.
“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”
“Many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased.”
“This I believe: That the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual.”
“We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say -- and to feel -- ''Yes, that's the way it is, or at least that's the way I feel it. You're not as alone as you thought.”
“A dying people tolerates the present, rejects the future, and finds its satisfactions in past greatness and half remembered glory.”