I realise that I haven’t posted for a while – access to wifi in California was sporadic – but now a few flights after my latest post, we’ve finally arrived to destination, Vancouver.
A lot has happened since leaving our dear van, Budgie, in Essex. I flew to San Francisco where for a week, with a bit of jet lag, I worked my way through the city uphill and downhill, hiking, cycling, thrift store shopping with my dear friends Farida and Christophe who is very much in love with the Dirty Harry town. He told me so many of its fascinating stories, anecdotal and historical, of its origins and building and subsequent rebuilding in the aftermath of the big earthquake, but also more recently of the influence of all the new money born in the 90s out of the dotcoms and all the Googles, Facebooks, Microsofts and Apples, and of the fortunes made and lost, but mostly made. As we walked, cycled or drove, he explained the history of SF’s neighbourhoods: the latino Mission, the gay Castro, Chinatown, Telegraph Hill and its parrots, the gentrification of Noe Valley by the Google crowd, the Russian migration, the grimness of the homeless haunted corners of Tenderloin. He didn’t forget to mention the movies, the coffee in the Italian neighbourhood where Coppola wrote The Godfather and the iconic places in Vertigo, and how the cemetery had to post a sign discouraging tourists from looking for Carlotta’s grave, and of course Dirty Harry and Portero hill which I climbed by bicycle.
Meanwhile Ed went on a reconnaissance expedition in Vancouver and found us a cosy little flat, one block from the beach, two steps from a big park in the swanky Point Grey, adjacent to trendy boho Kitsilano – where all the good yoga studios and organic shops are. I now call it Hampstead-on- the-beach. Ed then came to meet me in SF and we borrowed Farida and Christophe’s Subaru to drive all the way down to L.A. for Ben and Jessica’s wedding in Santa Monica.
Our first stop on this Californian trip was Boulder Creek near Santa Cruz. Never heard of it? Well, I’m not surprised as this small town is cosily hidden in the mountains where the most amazing specimens of redwood trees can be found. If you have a chance to do the SF to LA road trip, I recommend a night there before heading to the California 1 highway. Unlike many towns in the US, you won’t see any Starbucks, Safeway, Gap or any of the widespread franchises. Instead, on the only downtown strip, you find an organic supermarket, a family owned taqueria, Los Hermanos, a friendly coffee shop, and then there is Mac’s, which is possibly the most insane and exquisite antique shop I’ve ever been to. To me Mac’s is not only an antique shop but rather a quirky museum of all sorts of everyday objects from the past century.
Another landmark of Boulder Creek is Brookdale Lodge, a famous getaway for the famous, the infamous and the outright crooked. In the 50s, it was the second most popular resort in California, attracting among others Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and the well-known jazz and swing bands of the time. There is still the viewing window on one side of the now empty swimming pool where women initially dressed as mermaids would cavort but later in the 50s, guests would pick the naked lady of their desire.
We were lucky enough to stay with Ed’s American family in a wonderful house overlooking the local golf course and surrounded by mountains and redwood trees.
Next was the One to Santa Monica, I had made the same trip 10 years ago with Farida and Christophe in their convertible Cadillac El Dorado at the time and the beauty of the Pacific coast had captured my imagination ever since. Unfortunately, on this occasion the weather was particularly foggy which spoiled the experience a bit. But we hugged the misty coastline with its turns, highs and lows accompanied by Salif Keita, in a dreamlike state and agreed with Ed’s cousin, Adam, who told us before leaving, that driving the One was like a trance.
We stopped at San Simeon to watch the seals and sea lions roll lazily on the beach, and behind us, lodged in the mountains, was Hearst castle, which inevitably brings to mind the eerie beginning of Citizen Kane. In the evening we had dinner in Solvang, a theme park looking Danish village in the middle of Santa Ynes valley, and were served by waitresses dressed in worn out traditional polyester outifts with Skechers sneakers. We spent the following day in Santa Barbara where I used to teach and had a great Mexican lunch at my favourite place in Paseo Nuevo, and it still has no name.
In Santa Monica, I was awfully grumpy and walked down 3rd street promenade furiously, truly put off by the juxtaposition of all the GAPs, Apple Store, Urban Outfitters, and so forth, everything being somewhat too impeccable for my taste. One shop had a notice clearly aimed at homeless people, deterring them from sitting or sleeping on their sidewalk. Meanwhile Ed had a much more enriching experience and surfed the famous Malibu wave.
The wedding was the loveliest there could be, and at three in the morning, Ed and I ended up eating a slice of pizza from a tiny place that seemed – telling from the pictures that were hanging on its wall near the counter – really proud to also serve Ben Stiller.
We drove back to SF on the less glamorous highway 5 – stopping once again in Boulder Creek – and then spent a week seeking Vietnamese Pho because we caught a terrible cold on a rainy day. Christophe and Farida moved just before Halloween from their lovely flat in Telegraph Hill to the lively Castro where we spent our last couple of nights, seeing all kinds of extravagant characters in the streets dressed up as dark angels, convicts, ‘find Willy’ and many more.
Finally on Sunday Ed flew to Canada and I joined him on Monday, and soon I will write about our exploration period in Vancouver!