Monday, December 31, 2012

Eloise and the Uniform

I am usually shy about taking pictures of people.  It's so much easier taking a photograph of a building or a work of art.  Permission is never needed.  (Well, not always.)   While in Istanbul, howevever, these school girls approached me.   They reminded me of my favorite doll, Eloise.  Like her, they wore navy blue uniforms with white Peter Pan collars.

The crowds at the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia were noisy and the lines were long.  These girls were as bored as I was and happy to have something to do while waiting.  "Getting bored is not allowed."  This was Eloise's motto.  Kay Thompson created this delightful six-year-old who lived at the Plaza Hotel in New York in a series of children's books that I read over and over as a little girl.  Who wouldn't want to live at the Plaza and have crazy adventures?
  Oh, my.  Who wouldn't want to live at the Plaza and have crazy adventures?   I never realized how much an impact Eloise had on my life until today!
Mimi loves Eloise, too!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Gargoyles of Notre Dame

World Heritage Sites

The crowds were horrific the day we visited this important gothic cathedral.  With guidebook in hand, we were Good Little Tourists and dutifully read the passages on gothic architecture and blue rose windows as we rubbed shoulders with complete strangers.  Built during the 11th-13th centuries, it is one of the few remaining masterpieces of the medieval era.  The history within these walls is the history of western civilization itself.  Both King Louis XIV and Napoleon were coronated here.  In the 20th century, all 1500 seats were filled for the funeral of Charles de Gaulle.

But stale perfume, bad breath and body odor made me run up all 455 steps to the Bell Tower for some fresh air.  Only then, did the real magic of Notre Dame set in.   It is the stunning views of Paris guarded by hundreds of mythical, grotesques that filled me with wonder.  I stayed among the gargoyles for hours.  Give me monsters with horns and wings and beady eyes over elongated apostles any day!  And this is precisely what the Catholic Church intended.  There were still a lot of pagans out there roaming around.  They needed to be converted.  How to do this?  Scare the living crap out of them, that's how.  Bring them inside, teach them about heaven, convince them to get baptized so the devils on top of the cathedral wouldn't drag them down to a place of fire and brimstone.  It worked.
  Of course, there is another, more practical reason gargoyles were added during the construction of the cathedral.   In architectural terms, a gargoyle is a grotesque with a spout.  It comes from the French "gargouille" which means "throat", and was used as a way to convey water from the rooftops of medieval buildings.  These little guys had very important missions:   Protect the masonry and convert the pagans.

    Because our hotel was not far from the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the gargoyles were never far from sight.  At night, they entered my dreams and carried me over the rooftops of Paris.  I tell you, those early church fathers knew what they were doing!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

On the Banks of the Seine

World Heritage Sites

Mornings do not exist in Paris
I sleep until noon
Linger over espresso or a glass of red wine
Until the lines into the Louvre disappear

Bridges lead me to Moroccan restaurants
where couscous overflow
I embrace the Victor Hugo nights and disappear
Along the banks of the River Seine

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Tower of London

World Heritage Sites

For Christmas, Mimi gave me an 872-page guide to the Unesco World Heritage Sites and I've been reading it non-stop since yesterday morning.  It inspired me to review some of the sites I have been to--nearly one hundred of them! 

The Tower of London was added to the list in 1988 because of its significance in human history. The original castle was built in 1066 by William the Conquerer as a symbol of Norman power.  The castle with its four turrets was built strategically on a bend in the River Thames.  It served as the gateway to London, providing both protection and control over the Saxon population.  The term "towered over" came from this massive building.  There was no doubt in anyone's mind who was in charge.

Today, the Tower of London includes many buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat.  Many tourists go there today ( like me) to see the collection of Crown Jewels and the Royal Armories.
 The Beefeaters or Yeoman Warders, dressed in historic uniforms, guard the tower and give the tours.  Our guide was both knowledgeable and entertaining.  One of the most endearing stories he told was the legend of the ravens.  These big black birds live in the Tower gardens and if they ever leave, the monarchy will fall.  So, of course, their wings have all been clipped!
Ghost stories also abound.  When princes disappear and queens get beheaded, this is what happens! 

This historical site is an excellent place to begin your tour of London.  The reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I are covered in detail by the Beefeaters who bring alive these fascinating and important times in English history.  Afterwards, my travel buddy and I went to a pub.  We clinked our mugs together and toasted, not the past, but the present--happy to be born in the 20th century!

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Santa Claus Icon

This jolly old guy lived on top of Santa's Candy Kitchen on Santa Claus Lane in Carpinteria for 52 years.  A big Frosty the Snowman kept him company a few stores down.  Such roadside attractions were all the rage in the 50's and 60's when mom, dad and the kids hopped into their new Ford station wagon for that annual family vacation.   Anyone traveling on the 101 between Los Angeles and San Francisco back then, remembers this 20 foot icon with nostalgia.

My travel buddy grew up in Carp.  As a teenager he worked on Santa Claus Lane at St. Nick's Cafe, washing dishes.  Like many locals, he was deeply saddened when Santa became too unstable to stay afloat.  It came down in 2002.  Since then, he has found a new home along the same freeway, a few miles down in Oxnard.  Local businesses now sponsor a toy drive every Christmas on the vacant lot pictured above.  Santa has been repaired and repainted.  Happily, he continues to salute us on our annual trips down Memory Lane.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
May all your travel wishes come true.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Old Point Loma Lighthouse

This romantic cape cod style lighthouse still stands at the tip of Point Loma, watching over the San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean.  It is a beautiful memorial to the history of navigation, which played such an important role in the admission of California as a state.  Once word spread about the discovery of gold in 1848, ship traffic increased along the coast.  Population exploded.  It was absolutely imperative to build a lighthouse on this rocky shore.  Too many people had already lost their lives.  The Point Loma Lighthouse was the first one of eight, which the U.S. government built on the Pacific Coast.
On November 15, 1855, the lightkeeper climbed these spiral stairs to the lantern room and lit the light under the new Fresnel Lens for the very first time.  To see the powerful beam of light illuminate the night sky must have been an astonishing sight.  It could be seen 28 miles away.  Lighting the wick of the kerosene lamp night after night never lost its fascination.  

 Captain Robert Israel and his wife kept constant vigil of the lighthouse and the seas for many years.  Thousands of lives depended on them.  They knew that without the light, ships would crash into Point Loma's rocky shore and sink.  It was a lonely existence, but a happy one, as well.  They raised a family of  three boys and one niece here.  They kept goats and chickens on the property and grew their own vegetables.  The lantern had to be kept meticulously clean and the kerosene full.  Therefore, their days were filled with chores.   In the evening, the family played cards, played muscial intruments and worked on crafts.  Making frames out of seashells was a favorite hobby.  Their work is on display in the little musuem which was restored in 1980 with period furnishings.

The Old Point Loma Lighthouse continued to operate until 1891 when a new one was built closer to the tip of the point.  Despite the powerful beam of light, fog and low clouds sometimes obscured it because it was situated too high up.
  The Fresnel Lens in the adjacent museum is a thing of beauty.  It was designed by French physicist Augustin Jean Fresnel in 1823 for use in lighthouses.  The multiple concentric rings of glass enabled the light source to emit a narrow horizontal beam.  The modular construction made disassembly and assembly easy, a very important factor when working in tiny lantern rooms above the lighthouses.  Unfortunately, Fresnel died in 1827 before seeing his invention installed in hundreds of lighthouses around the world.

Going out to the tip of Point Loma in San Diego to see the Cabrillo National Monument and the lighthouse makes for an enjoyable afternoon.  Fascinating history.  Breathtaking views.  It doesn't get much better than this.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Cabrillo This and Cabrillo That

Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo.  As I travel up and down the state of California, I notice many Cabrillo Streets, Cabrillo Schools,  Cabrillo Parks, beaches and several monuments.  Cabrillo.  Cabrillo.  Cabrillo.   Just who the heck is this guy?  I have a vague memory of him being a Portuguese navigator, but why is his name plastered everywhere?  Why him?  So I set out to find out.  First, I read Harry Kelsey's excellent biography Cabrillo.  He's the chief curator of history at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles, so I figured he knew what he was talking about.   Well, interestingly enough, the great navigator was neither Portugeuse nor named Cabrillo.  Secondly, I made a journey down to San Diego to see the Cabrillo National Monument and visit the adjacent museum.
 The truth is, little is known about the man until he started to rise in the ranks of Cortez' military expeditions.  Kelsey thinks he was born in Spain, not Portugal.  Most likely in Seville around 1500.  The museum is wisely vague about it, saying he was born on the Iberian Peninsula.  At any rate, he came to the New World as a boy and learned to read and write as a merchant-adventurer.   He was one of many Juan Rodriquezes in Mexico at the time.  Wanting to distinguish himself,  he added "Cabrillo" to his name.  I have to admit, it has a nice ring to it.

He also became a skilled crossbowman and mariner.  Cortes recognized the young man's abilities and put him in command of a group of men.  He was loyal, confident and well-liked and rapidly rose through the ranks.  By 1530, he had become a leading citizen in Santiago, Guatemala.  Of course, he seized vast quantities of goods and precious metals along the way.  He also captured local natives, branded them and sold them into slavery.    But that's what conquistadors did back then!

Although he took an Indian wife and had three daughters (who all married conquistadors!), once he started to acquire wealth and status, he sailed back to Seville and married Beatriz Sanchez de Ortega.  He and Beatriz had two sons.  He started building ships to be used in Governor Alvarado's explorations and trading expeditions.  Cabrillo sailed one of his own vessels to Peru.   In 1542, he was summoned to Navidad, Mexico, to prepare for a voyage to California.   This voyage was short-lived and deemed a failure.  But it is this voyage that secured his place in history.

On June 27, 1542, Cabrillo set sail on the San Salvador to explore the new coast all the way to China.  Or so he hoped!  Two other ships accompanied him.   He was to fill in the blank spaces on the map, find new trading opportunities and good places for Spanish settlers to live.  After three months, he anchored in what is now San Diego Bay.  The statue in his honor at Point Loma, marks the spot "where California began."

He continued north to discover San Pedro Bay, Santa Monica Bay, the Channel Islands and our own Santa Barbara. It took him two attempts to get around Point Conception, but he finally did, sailing all the way to Monterey.  He missed San Francisco Bay.  It was not to be discovered for another 200 years!

It's interesting to note that the reason he turned south again was the extreme weather during this time.  The mountains around Monterey were covered in snow.  The climate did not begin to warm until the mid 1800's.  His intention was to winter over in the Channel Islands.  On Christmas Eve, he ordered a party ashore for water and the Chumash Indians attacked.  Cabrillo, seeing that his men were outnumbered, gathered a relief party to rescue them.  As he jumped out of the boat, he broke a leg.  Gangrene set in and he died on January 3, 1543.  It's unclear to me which island he was on.  Records indicate it was San Miguel, but a stone with the initials JRC was later discovered on Santa Rosa. 

San Diego Bay

Point Loma

His fleet arrived back in Navidad on April 14, 1543.  Mendoza was not happy.  No gold was found.  No exotic spices.  No new trade routes to Asia.  Cabrillo's family suffered because much of his fortune had been spent in building his ships for the expedition.  It's taken hundreds of years for history to recognize Cabrillo's contribution.  What his men brought back was Knowledge.  The Spaniards now knew more about this mysterious land to the North.  They knew about the people who inhabited it.  They had a more accurate map.  They finally realized they were, perhaps, biting off more than they could chew.  It would take another two hundred years before Mission San Diego would be built and Spain would finally begin to colonize the land Cabrillo had "possessed" for the king.

Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo.  Schools.  Monuments.  Beaches.  Parks.  Boulevards.  All named in his honor.  Finally getting the recognition he deserved.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Morro Rock

We Californians like to call this rock The Gibraltar of the West.  It may be a bit of a stretch, but it is impressive the closer you get to it.  No doubt about that.  Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo named it "El Morro" during his historical exploration of the California coast.  The name stuck.  To the Chumash, it is sacred and they have been given permission to climb it for an annual solstice ceremony.  I'm jealous.  For the rest of us, Morro Rock is strictly off limits ever since it became a California Historical Landmark in 1968.
What boggles my imagination, however, is its geological origins.  It is what scientists call a rhyolite volcanic plug.  It is all that remains of a volcano that was active 20-some million years ago.  Rhyolite is the granite like mass of molten magma.  It solidified in the vent pipe of the volcano before reaching the surface.  It is harder than either volcanic ash or even the softer rock surrounding it.  It is one of many "plugs" in this area that together are called the "Nine Sisters of San Luis Obispo County."

Because of its location, at the entrance of Morro Bay, it is the most famous of the sisters.  It has been an important navigational aid for centuries.  At 581 ft., it is not the tallest, but definitely the most impressive.  Bishop Peak is the tallest, at 1,559 ft.  This summer (when it's not so cold and rainy) I intend to explore all the others.  Even climb one, if I'm able!
There's something hauntingly beautiful about a metallic ocean and an overcast sky.  I took a long walk along the harbor.  Morro Bay is a charming little town, filled with seafood restaurants and gift shops.  During the summer, the harbor is filled with kayaks.  Not today.  Today, it was just me and a few soaking wet pelicans.   I bought some fish and chips "to go" and ate alone in my van. 

I thought of all the places I still want to go.  No sooner do I cross one destination off that list when countless others are suddenly added.  Like today.    I came here to see one rock and it has led me to eight others.   Life is one endless trip, isn't it?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana

Along the Mission Trail

This may be the only mission along the trail that has an entire exhibit in its museum dedicated to a movie star.  Bob Hope and his wife Delores are buried in the garden behind the church.  They were married for 69 years.  They were rich, famous and Catholic.   I guess it makes sense.  Sort of.  This mission is in la-la land, after all.  Its history is linked with the origins of Los Angeles.  When Fr. Fermin Lasuen began scoping out land suitable for another mission in 1797, he found the land already owned by Don Francisco Reyes, the mayor of the Los Angeles pueblo, to be perfect.  It is unclear whether the don was given the land by the King of Spain or was merely squatting.  At any rate, he obliged and allowed the mission to be built.  He was even the godfather of the first child born here.

This mission has been destroyed by earthquakes several times over the years; the most recent in 1994, when it sustained $1.9 million in damages.  Each time, it gets a facelift.  Consequently, it looks very new.  The yellow paint glows in the sun.  The large expanse of lawn is green and freshly mowed.  Because it is an active church within the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, it takes some imagination to realize it was once inhabited by the native Americans who lived in the San Fernando Valley surrounding it.  Instead of six-lane highways, there used to be fields of wheat and corn, a massive vineyard and several heads of cattle.

It is the 17th of the 21 missions in Alta, California.  The "San Fernando" part of its name refers to King Ferdinand III (1199-1252).  Through military and diplomatic efforts he expanded Castile into Southern Spain.  In a 20 year period, he reconquered the Iberian Peninsula from the Islamic kingdoms of Al-Andalus.  He turned the mosques into cathedrals and was therefore, canonized in 1671 by Pope Clement X.
The Convento
  There is an excellent museum located in the Convento or Long House.  This two story building was completed in 1822 and is famous for its 21 Roman Arches.  It often served as a hotel because of the mission's proximity to the Los Angeles pueblo.  The rooms have been beautifully restored.  The La Sala, which was used as a reception area, is one of the largest and most elegant rooms found in all the missions.  The bishop's room is furnished with a gorgeous bed and the library is lined with hundreds of old books.

My favorite two rooms, however, were the Santos Room and the Madonna Room.  If you love folk art, be sure to check out these two areas.  The wooden santos, collected from all over Latin America,  predate the mission itself.   Although many of the Madonna statues were destroyed in the Northridge eartquake, collectors the world over, have donated more so there are now nearly 200 paintings and statues of Mary in this exhibit.  I especially loved the ceramic Eskimo Madonna, dressed in white fur.

Allow a full two or three hours to go through the various museums, see the elaborate altar and stroll through the gardens.  My travel buddy and I enjoyed our afternoon here.  It's an oasis of serenity in the middle of L.A.  No wonder Bob Hope wanted to be buried here!