Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ah-yeah! California 2011 (Part Three)

Gary is the older brother I wanted and never had. Life is funny that way. When you're a kid, you never think you will eventually have a life in which people step in and become second mothers and fathers (or maybe surrogate mothers and fathers, if one or the other was MIA, or your biological parents weren't so hot) or the twin sister you never had (I wanted one of those, too). No, even when you're lucky enough to have a younger brother who is the. best. brother. ever. (yes, I dare you to argue that point with me. How many sisters can honestly say their brothers were their best friends growing up?), we wish we had an older brother (and a twin sister). Of course, I never envisioned an older brother who would do things like drag me up the stairs by my hair (like a friend of mine's older brother did when we were in elementary school) or step on my hand with a thick-heeled boot when I refused to give him a cigarette (like one of my teenage friend's older brother did. I was surprised he didn't break any bones and very impressed that her only response was a calm, "you bastard"). No, my older brother (besides bringing cute friends over to the house. Isn't that the main reason girls want older brothers?) would share great books with me, teach me all kinds of cool stuff, tease me but never stoop to cruelty, and be protective (but not overly so) of me. It's best to wait for that sort of brother to come along outside the nuclear family unit. When we arrived at his house, after another beautiful and easy drive (I imagine, like everywhere, one can take a long drive in California that isn't beautiful, but based on my experiences, I haven't yet found that drive), he reminded me that it had been two years since we've seen each other. Nonetheless, we easily picked up right where we'd left off, as if we still see each other every day.

He gave us a tour of his fabulous house, which is open and airy -- all white walls and hardwood floors. I like the way his house is arranged. An open kitchen/dining/living room area divides the master bedroom suite from the three rooms on the other side of the house (he's turned them into a guest room, a magnificent library with three walls of built-in bookshelves and comfy leather couches, and a computer room). The views front and back are wonderful. Morro Bay's best feature is Morro Rock, which rises up off the beach in a startling way, and it can be seen beyond Gary's garden (someone needs to tear down his neighbor's house, so he'd have an even better view of it).
In the back yard, he's got wild flowers and hills (in Maine, those would be called "mountains," but in California, they're merely "hills"). Apparently, the cows practically walk on his patio when they come up to graze, but I must have scared them away with my Lancaster County cow smell, because they never appeared while we were there.
Back in 2008, Mom and I had driven down from Monterey to Big Sur and eaten lunch at Sierra Mar, the restaurant at the Post Ranch Inn (an inn where one can only stay if she's won the lottery jackpot but where, if one has planned, she can eat an extravagant lunch for the price of dinner for four at most restaurants in New York City). Gary was the one who'd told us about this place, so I asked him how long a drive it was to Big Sur. He told me two hours, which seemed like a perfectly reasonable day trip to me, so we decided that's where we'd go on Wednesday. We made plans for Mom and me to go to San Simeon on Thursday to see Hearst Castle and to stop at Piedras Blancas beach, which is basically owned by elephant seals (truth be told, I could easily have spent two days just watching elephant seals -- in fact, it's a good thing I don't have a house that overlooks a beach like that. I'd never get anything done -- but I'm not one who likes to impose my idiosyncrasies on others in large doses -- small doses are fine). We dined that night on a delicious dinner made by Gary of a large salad with chicken, fresh bread, and sweet strawberries (ingredients bought at his local farmer's market, which I'd have the pleasure of visiting later). I slept like a baby in that perfect setting.

I got up early the next morning, grabbed Gary's copy of Armistead Maupin's Mary Ann in Autumn and settled down in the library to read (at some point, I got up to spend some time staring out the living room window, contemplating the gorgeous view, and then went back to reading). Eventually, Mom got up, and we enjoyed a breakfast of boiled eggs and buttered sour dough toast (kindly bought by Gary at my request. If any of you ever plans to have me as an overnight guest, that's basically my favorite simple breakfast). Shortly thereafter, we set off for Big Sur.

We didn't get too far before Gary began to worry that the road might be closed due to washouts over the winter. We stopped in Cambria, and, while there, he called to have his fears confirmed, which meant a much longer, and less scenic drive. At this point, he offered skipping the whole thing, but by then, I was bound and determined to get back to Big Sur, a little piece of heaven on earth (I mean, how often do I get there?). Thus, I have only myself to blame for the fact that I was completely exhausted by the time we got home that night (so exhausted, in fact, that I readily agreed to Gary's idea of just having snacks for dinner).

It was so worth the exhaustion, though. Yes, the drive was long and involved some of those winding, curving roads along cliffs that can easily spook me (when they don't remind me of Bugs Bunny cartoons), but Sierra Mar was as wonderful as I remember, and the views from the restaurant are stunning. See what a gorgeous day we had and what I mean about that Pacific blue?
Basically, you eat your lunch on the side of a cliff looking out over all that blue. The only disappointment was the martini Gary and I each ordered. The restaurant was out of Bombay Sapphire gin (who ever heard of such a thing? Especially in a restaurant where you basically spend $30 just to sit down?), and instead of going with my instincts, which was to order the Beefeater, I (always so impressionable) decided to try the organic gin, also offered, once Gary decided to order it. I should have just tasted his. I don't know what those organic producers are growing, but it seemed more like licorice than juniper berries.
We lingered over lunch and then walked down and around The Post Ranch Inn's property. You can look either at the mountains or the sea (my favorite kind of place. Must be all that Scottish blood in me). Then we stopped at Nepenthe to do a little gift shopping. I bought a few things for Bob, as well as some bath salts for myself.

On the way home, we stopped off in Carmel. Okay, if I lived in Carmel and had tons of money, I might easily learn to love shopping. There are so many wonderful shops lining the streets, and not your typical "mall in the village" -- no Limited or Gap in sight. They even had a lovely-looking lingerie store. If we had not been with a male host who was kind enough to indulge things like the wool shop (where Mom bought me a stunning red wool jacket) and a pet store, it would have been my first stop. Once shopping is done in Carmel, one can go get an ice cream (Mom and me) or a lemonade (Gary) and then walk down to the beach to wade in the water. Yet again, I slept like a baby that night, sweet dreams and all.

Thursday morning, we had a change of plans. Mom decided she was very tired and not feeling quite right, so I suggested maybe she needed another day of rest, sleeping and reading. I didn't particularly want to go to San Simeon without her, so my plan was to skip that and just go see the elephant seals. Gary, who had had no interest in going to San Simeon, agreed to join me for the seals (in fact, he agreed to drive). First, the three of us had breakfast at a place he likes, a sort of upscale diner. Feeling particularly adventuresome (oh, who am I kidding? I'm always adventuresome when it comes to food), I ordered the fried green tomato eggs benedict, which may sound a little odd but isn't at all once it hits the taste buds. I loved it.

More clear skies and warm temperatures accompanied us on our drive to the elephant seal beach, and then we were there. Oh my! Gary had promised seals, and he didn't disappoint. There's a long boardwalk above the beach where gawking humans can stand and stare out over the beach that seems to be more seal than sand. Some of them bounce around and spar in the water, but this time of year (as I discovered from reading the signs and talking to a park ranger), they're molting and mostly just lie around and sleep.

Many of them line up by the water's edge, looking like gigantic sardines without their tin boundaries. Others station themselves farther up the beach, either in sardine fashion or solo. Occasionally, they will use their flippers to toss sand up onto their backs.

I was mesmerized (which is probably why I took a total of 24 pictures on the entire trip and got home to discover that 6 of them are of elephant seals). Yes, they've turned sleeping into an enviable art form, but sometimes they get up and drag themselves down to the water to cool off, or up the beach to a different spot (I guess when the riffraff comes to shore and moves into the neighborhood), or they just roll over. It's hard to describe the sounds they make. A cross between a howler monkey and a lion's roar with a little bit of growling and barking dog thrown in is the best I can do, based on other animal sounds I've heard.

Eventually, it was time to drag ourselves away and have some lunch. This we did at Ragged Point, sitting outside, looking down on their gardens. On the way home, we stopped off in Cambria, where I discovered a little wine shop that offered tastings. I'd been in California for a whole week and had yet to taste wine, so I decided this would be a good place to do so. The wine was, for the most part, good, and I bought a bottle for Bob. This was where I proceeded to think I'd lost my camera (because, I, Ms. Epitome of Oh-So-Calm and Efficient, can't be with Gary without having some sort of "crisis"). I'm not a big picture-taker (which you may have guessed by now), and this probably wouldn't have been so devastating if I hadn't just taken all those pictures of the seals. Somehow (I guess because I was in California), I managed not to have a complete meltdown, and, eventually, I discovered it was just tucked away in his car in a place that wasn't obvious.

Back to Morro Bay and Gary's farmers' market -- this one, your standard outdoor market. They had everything you can imagine, even little pesto pizzas and raw milk (which I'm used to buying right off Amish farms here in Lancaster County). I bought some cherries for myself, and my thoughts turned, yet again, to thinking maybe I could live in California. (What is it about good farmers' markets that make me think I could live in a place? Maybe it's the fact that I seem to live in the farmers' market capital of the world right now).

We headed back to the house where Mom had, indeed, had a very relaxing time. She'd immersed herself in Gary's biography of James Thurber and was sitting outside on the patio, reading, when we got home. Shortly thereafter, Gary fixed me a gin and lemonade, which went straight to my head (I guess because it was on top of the wine). Sad to say, that did not stop me from having another one. By the time we headed out to dinner, I really was way too relaxed and tipsy, which, sad to say again, did not stop me from tasting more wine before dinner or drinking it with dinner. That's the most I've drunk, I think, since the last time I had mint juleps with Ms. Musings back in 2007. Needless to say, I don't remember much about that evening, but Mom promises me I didn't embarrass myself. What's a vacation, though, without one good night of letting your hair down and drinking too much (especially less than a month after you've lost your job)?

Because I was on vacation (or because Gary's house is magic. I can't decide which), I slept fine and had no hangover when we got up at 5:00 the next morning to drive back to L.A. Not only is that the most I've drunk since 2007, but it's the most I've ever drunk without suffering a hangover. Gary was up to see us off, and I was quite sad as we drove down the drive that it seemed, a mere minute before, we'd driven up for the first time. I'm sure I will drive up it again, some day, but who knows when?

After an uneventful drive back to LAX, we said "goodbye" to sunny California, as we boarded our plane and headed east. We were welcomed home at midnight by an exhausted Bob, waiting up for us, who was extremely glad to see us. Accompanying him were an overwhelmingly exuberant puppy, and a cat who was, not exactly exuberant, but who showed, in his own way, that he was happy I had returned.

That's it for the California saga. Now we can get back to books (TBR challenge and Once Upon a Time challenge updates, as well as last month's CT mystery book club read, coming soon). But before we do, tell me: who wants to head west with me next time?


Stefanie said...

Glad you had such a nice time! Too bad you didn't get to Hearst Castle though, it's really amazing. But I guess all those seals were a fun substitute :)

Carrie#K said...

Hearst Castle is pretty interesting. Last time I went, the zebras were grazing on the hillside on Hwy 1 and my guest was so excited. I was blase. Zebras graze all over California! was the implication. Darn tour guide gave me away.

There's a really nice restaurant in Cambria next time, called Moonrise. Right on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

Glad you had fun!! Now come back and visit me next time.

ZoesMom said...

I would love to take a trip like that with you! When do we leave?

Emily Barton said...

Stef, I'll have to go to Hearst Castle next time. It just couldn't compete with the seals, though.

Carrie K, I will come back and visit you next time. Promise!

ZM, ASAP! (Gary would love to see you.)

litlove said...

What a lovely time you had - I love the look of that house. Alas, if you had me with you, I'd have insisted on just staying there and enjoying the beauty of the scenery with a good book! (I am very lazy on holiday). Although the seals are hypnotic, too!