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Monday, January 11, 2010

In Steinbeck Country.

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.”


Greg January 11, 2010 at 10:43 PM  

When I lived in Santa Cruz I always enjoyed leaving the hippie/quake rubble of Santa Cruz and go to places all around there...even a walk from campus, down the hill and all the way to Capitola was kinda fun.

Mobius January 12, 2010 at 5:35 AM  

I love the fourth quotation. And I loved this blog. I shall have to look up Ed.

I always love the humor that it around us in the dichotomy of every day life.

tangobaby January 12, 2010 at 5:49 AM  

Hi Mobius,

I do hope you'll read about Ed and John and their journey together. I promise you will enjoy this book very much.

And do click on the quotes. They link to the images I took this past weekend and work very well together, IMHO.

Ed January 12, 2010 at 6:47 AM  

Great post and a beautiful set of pictures to go with each quote. Looking forward to getting out to SF!

Bossy Betty January 12, 2010 at 7:49 AM  

My son goes to Santa Cruz and has fallen in love with the area and I can see why! Thanks for your post.

d smith kaich jones January 12, 2010 at 8:28 AM  

I too have never heard of Ed, and will take care of that pronto. And yes, that 4th quote. I feel almost naked, found out. I do it for me, but . . .

Muchas gracias, Miss Tango.
:) Debi

will January 12, 2010 at 8:34 AM  

The Monterey aquarium is nice but the entire waterfront area was much nicer (real) when it was only abandoned canneries and small, local businesses. But now, the Disneylandish nature of the place is a sad commentary on how we treat our common past history.

corabela January 12, 2010 at 8:37 AM  

What a beautiful account of you and The Boy, sharing a moment in time by the sea with the simple joy of a book. : ) Of course I smiled. And the last quite made me wince a little. And then I remembered to believe that only half (I hope it's only half) of our country is "dying". The other half is coming around. I know, a generous estimate, but a hopeful one.

Mari January 12, 2010 at 10:51 AM  

My family were pioneers in monterey, watsonville and hollister. I always wish I could see the area through their eyes- must have been something back then! I wish I knew what my great great grandmother thought when she saw the pacific ocean for the first time. I love all Steinbeck, but Pastures of Heaven is a particular favorite.

Marilyn Miller January 12, 2010 at 3:21 PM  

I visited there last summer and was taken back by how much it had changed in the years since I visited before. The Bubba Shrimp Company was particularly a surprise to me. I did however really enjoy the aquarium. It is a beautiful country and shore line.