12.4.90 Yosemite Valley
I had to stop, just to write the above: Moody in Yosemite.
In front of me the sugar icing of Yosemite Falls floats down; behind, the craggy mass of El Capitan. But Tioga Pass is closed still – there is snow visible everywhere. Everything is so vertical – and greyly white – not Lakes at all. The trees too – huge vertical firs – are not human in scale. [Ahead of me, a woman gets out of a car, takes a model ship, holds it to her eye, and looks along it at the Falls…] Temperature in the 70s, 80s… Also, the incongruous chapel, like something out of Brothers Grimm. Further along, back to the 120, a shallow, glaucous stream. In the distance, another waterfall, like a cloth of white linen pulled off a high ledge. Everywhere the rocks stained with striations.
At the Cedar House Lodge – pleasant situation across the foothills of Yosemite. An unpretentious motel - $45 a night for a self-contained cabin. I am in the restaurant now – surprisingly busy. Outside, the smell – grassy and warm – of evening.
US TV fascinates me, snake-like. Is this the future? Multimedia? So vacuous, so slick. I went for a couple of Cokes in the attached bar earlier. Mindless slobs in there, braying.
Already I am afflicted with the sense of burden of writing this stuff. Do I write about the last four days? Probably, but not now…
I've said little about my routes, so far. From San Francisco airport, I took 101 to the huge toll bridge, then to Livermore (past signs for the Lab), Stockton, then to the 120. I passed a hill with a skyline of Quixotic windmills – three-bladed rotors catching the wind. Eerie in the slow, synchronised gyring.
Everything very tidy – the grass as if clipped. Teams of men picking up litter along the freeway – there is almost no litter anywhere. Obsessive. Driving along, I scan through the radio stations. As I move I lose and gain them.
In a diner in Jackson. Film posters on the walls. One – "Twist around the clock" – features a group called "The Marcels". Clear blue sky, brilliant hot air.
OK, where do I sit? - On the shore of Lake Takoe, at 6000 feet (hello, Kashmir), at 80 degrees F au moins – having booked a room at the famed Sonoma Hotel for tomorrow – yee-ha. Directly opposite me, the last remnants of snow-capped peaks – the rest are only lightly sprinkled with snow. A few fluffy clouds behind – in front, a clear blue sky with a huge X of vapour trails – it looks like St Andrew's cross. The air is cool like water, the sun hard. The lake is a great light-blue sheet. I'm staying at the Travelodge here - $70, nothing special. A bulky pine tree spreads its long needles over me.
So how did I get here?
Rising early, I drove down to Mariposa through valleys illuminated by a clean, low sun. I passed a lay-by; a bloke and a woman stood by their camper. He signalled for a lift. As usual, I ignored him, then noticed that his bonnet was up. So I stopped: some bit of his motor was broken. We talked – or at least I did in asking questions. He was pretty incurious, made no comment on my accent. I asked if he'd been abroad: "where?" he asked…
A glorious road from the gloriously-named Mariposa. Rolling, verdant countryside (where are those sheep?), good fast road. Through Sonora – very pretty, lots of wood-built shops with Western-type verandas. Same for San Andreas (whoops...the San Andreas…?) then to Jackson (vide supra). Up to 50 for a long haul to the Echo Summit Pass. Along the way, I see lots of signs absolutely insisting that I put chains on my tyres – is this another Scott of the Antarctic? We just keep on rising – 5000 feet, 6000 feet, 7000 feet – then down. Lake Tahoe heaves into sight – as well as the airport. I stop off just before Tahoe City for lunch – a "small" pizza of which I hardly eat half… On the way I drive along a road sandwiched between two waters. The development has been very discreet along here, and even Tahoe City itself is a one-street town of something approaching charm.
The radio stations: mostly pap (not pop) music. Others more quirky. The evo stations, and classical music – but also one on self-improvement. Quite good really.
Up early (5.30am), trying to move towards GMT. To the lake – a silvery morning, cold (6000 feet). The sun rose peachy, the clouds like bunched satin. No real reds. Big expensive brekker. Then up to Truckee, easy ride to the Interstate to Sacramento, then to here, a coffee shop (the smell of freshly-ground coffee of all kinds). Huge cafe crème and weighty muffin (pumpkin and nuts). The day overcast at first, with high, filmy clouds, but hot. Napa - "historic" – neat, small, every-so-tidy. Café at corner of 1st and Main.
I read the second chapter of Jay Gould's "Wonderful Life" yesterday – a good story. I'm interested to find some sloppiness in the writing (repeated words) and a tendency to quote Shakespeare at the drop of a hat. His structure seems too loose as well. But good for all that. [Bikers everywhere – very California.]
To return to Yosemite a little – I'm conscious I've skipped. That Tioga Pass was closed (9,500 feet) was a pity, since it limited greatly what I could see. Striking though was the verticality and relentlessness of it all – unlike the Lake District. [Long hair too seems de rigueur.] The tree-clad valleys in particular grew monotonous in their grandeur. Only the glistening streams humanised.
A long winding road from Calistoga to the sea at Jenner. Into Napa Valley, the towns are more and more attractive – St. Helena especially. Very rich, neat, a beautiful row of blossoming trees. Winding roads to Jenner, mostly beside a river. It all reminds me of Cornwall or Ireland – even the weather has turned here – huge grey blankets of clouds rolling in. The estuary runs parallel to the beach – mud-grey – then hits the sea with force. On route number 1… Easy journey across to Sonoma – or rather near to it: bloody awful signposting meant that I spent nearly an hour driving back and forth along 12 and the environs, looking for it. It was worth it.
I write this in an ever-so slightly tipsy state – courtesy of the complimentary half bottle of wine. I sit now (naked after a hot bath) on the three-quarters sized bed reaching at 45 degrees into my corner room (number 4). To wit: the bedroom reminds me strongly of my stay at San José in Almería. The same slightly Spartan feel – and the same (ish) dark green towels, flower in a pitcher and ewer, and simple, classic furniture. Here it is American – dark woods – fine bed, large wardrobe commode, with books, nice half-settee (what is the technical term?), corner washbasins à la Duchamp and Museo Fortuny, and a bathroom with a huge claw-footed bath – deep and wide and hot. Everything very harmonious.
The hotel sits in the corner of the square – which is Sonoma. The town itself is very pleasant – unusually, it has a large space containing the town hall, and nicely matured shops around it. Then a nineteenth-century (?) theatre, now a cinema. The shops are touristy, but bind well. The streets off the square's side end quickly. The trees and water remind me of St. Stephen's Green.
I took a coffee on the patio here. It occurred to me – à propos my/everyone's seeking of perfect moments – that these points of repose – the moment when we say "now, I am happy" – are what holidays and tourism are about. If so, I have been so fortunate – a constant succession of such moments. [god, this wine – Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc 1988 – is knocking me out…]
To the restaurant for dinner – where unfortunately I am almost completely blotto from the wine – having fallen asleep a couple of times. And I have no money with me...ha! Dinner – oysters, what the hell – and swordfish – plus a glass of white Zinfandel – which has arrived...red (?) The dining room is rather amiss. It is like some seaside hotel dining room: panelled to halfway, chintzy wallpaper, cloying repro pictures, fans and pipework, and at one end a stained-glass window. I am wearing my suit; no one else is… The food - especially the swordfish – is excellent. A wild apple and apricot pie for dessert...
Before I forget: Taiwanese pork strip soup, sweet rice, oysters with spinach and swede fritters (?)… (no – turnip). Finished – and quite disgusting it was too – especially the gelatinous oysters. The restaurant is called "Taiwan", and serves Taiwanese food as its speciality. Pretty busy, clean looking – but yuk.
Up very early – 5.00am – trying to get body clock back. Cold, overcast day. Brekkers not until 8 – down in the lobby, laid out on garden-type tables. Orange juice, coffee, a muffin and...nothing. Ho-hum.
Down to Highway 101 – to the Golden Gate Bridge ($2) – shorter than I remembered [a phone is ringing – with that quintessential US phone sound – the herald of who knows what mystery….] Then driving around San Francisco – great larks, especially the mega-steep roads – easily 1 in 3. Then I spend a long time trying to park – the less said about why the better (hello Smoo – and what does Smoo rhyme with…?) Ha-ha – in doing so, somebody shunts me up the back – nemesis – but no real damage.
Then out to the Bay Bridge – after finding roads closed and ending up going the wrong way. Very long bridge – with double-decker above. Turnoff for University Avenue – post facto turns out to be right. Walking around before lunch, I notice many cinemas – one showing "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover"...civilisation arrives. Otherwise not as picturesque as Harvard. Perhaps because of Easter. Not many students obvious.
Thoughts on US driving: essentially cautious – 55 on the freeway, but only just. Signal quite well, rarely jump lights – che contrasto. Some cars are gross – I saw a van yesterday – a Dodge – that was big enough to put a Mini in. Many Jap cars – looking increasingly stylish – cf. the new Mazda soft-top – very nice, wouldn't mind one myself.
At Larry Blake's R&B Cafe – one of the few decent-looking eateries (ha!) around here – surprisingly. But after my Taiwanese, I can't really face the long trek to the potential Cambodian near the Freeway. Next time, perhaps….
A pleasant afternoon, whiled away up here by the campus. I drove up to look at the Durant Hotel – looks like a prison block, but pleasant enough inside. I'll hopefully get up early and drive down first thing. To the university art gallery – nothing special (small exhibit of Egyptian art…), but the brutalist concrete was quite interesting. [Glass of Fetzer Sundial Chardonnary 1988 – yummy.] Across to the campus – a motley collection; nice grass with stream, campanile à la Venezia. Reminded me of Harvard Yard.
Then across to The Musical Offering: very civilised – CD shop and café. St John Passion playing. I bought 2 CDs. Pleasant place to dally – reminds again of the bookshop/café in Boston. Then more wandering hither and thither, looking for a restaurant. End up here finally. It is wonderful how at home I feel in California, America – nearly everywhere now. "One World" and all that. Once again, my break has been pretty idyllic. I'm also pleased with my body's ability just to cope and keep going.
16.4.90 over Nevada
Up at 4am – to watch "Purple Rain" – Prince's unfamiliarity with the gentle art of kissing is embarrassing. But who is the bint? The plot is dreadful too: cardboard cutouts flipping arbitrarily. Onto the Freeway, across the Bay Bridge ($1) – so much traffic – and it's 6.30am on Easter Monday. Don't these Yanks ever stop? Clearly not. Just as their compulsive selling and buying never stops. The whole country is about consumption. It is embarrassing to hear even the classical music stations break randomly into paeans about their printers (wha??) and the constant "sponsorship" – ads by another name. God help us if we go the same way.
It is very strange – I cannot imagine what would happen to the US without the act of buying and selling as the primary principle. In the UK it is far more peripheral – instead, people concentrate on hobbies – a very Brit thing. Here, people follow fashion – the idea of a personal – i.e. unusual – activity is viewed as dangerous, "un-American". In fact, most activities here are either self-improving, manifestations of wealth and success, or types of instant gratification. They (the Yanks) are so goal-oriented that they seem unable to do anything for itself. Ever met a US whippet racer or pigeon fancier? Clog dancer? The latter possibly, but only as a social activity, not an anti-social speciality as in England.
It is bound up with Yuppiedom: by definition, yuppies come from nowhere – they are nouveaux riches. A such, they are de-racinated, without – or denying – their aboriginal traditions. Instead, they want to belong to their new set – and so mindlessly adopt the latest fad. Hence the US, a traditionally classless society – and so rootless.
At the airport I sat where I sat four days ago, and where I sat 18 months ago. There was a group of Hawaiians – one huge bloke. I thought yesterday that if Asians were similarly huge, they'd be frightening. We patronise them for their smallness.
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