Thursday, February 14, 2008

Santa Barbara in the Summer

Last summer my husband and I went away probably three times -- just short little trips, just the two of us, overnight. We have a couple of inexpensive places that we stay at in Los Angeles -- we keep an eagle eye out for bargains and scoot off when we can.

So, last summer, on a weekend to Los Angeles, my husband started driving on the 101, north. I looked over at him, askance, and he just looked pleased with himself. A while later, I realized that we were driving off to Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara is about ninety minutes away from Los Angeles, heading north. It is a beautiful place and has a lot of meaning for us. Back in the day, when we were first dating, my husband was going to the University of California, Santa Barbara. It is a really beautiful campus.

When we were dating some years later, I would drive to Santa Barbara to visit him or he would drive down to visit me. When we got engaged, Phil moved down to this area, where he grew up. It always feels like an anniversary when we go back.

The drive up the coast is always lovely. (I didn't take this picture, btw.) I have fond memories of getting out of the car and braving the waves with my sister here. We got drenched.

The first glimpse of the ocean is great.

We drove down into town and got out. Most weekends, there is usually a street/craft fair going on. It is a great setting, right along the water. We get out by Sterns Wharf and decide to wander aboot. Phil is the king of parking and gets us a slot right close to the beach. As we get out, we see this van. It is very Santa Barbara -- quirky, individualistic, and little out there.

We walked up to the wharf and then back.

There are lots of lagoons in Santa Barbara and lots of water birds.

I just liked the slightly disreputable look of this.

That is the wharf up ahead. I worry when we drive on it, because I don't believe that it will really hold the weight of the cars.

Bougainvillea should be the official flower of Santa Barbara. You see it everywhere, spilling over the wrought-iron, splashed against the whitewashed walls. SB is very Spanish in its architecture.

We walked up and down the beach, looking at the wares. There is mostly handcrafted stuff. Phil gets a great hardwood yo-yo for our eldest son. I remember getting Phil one about ten years ago on a similar trip. The yo-yo is gorgeous.

I took this picture because I love quail. We have lots at home and now that spring is coming, you start to see the little quail families scurrying across the road. I would put these in my yard, with no hesitation.

There are lots of handmade stuff for your yard. This picture is for my brother-in-law, who is a plane buff.

These are just the sort of new-agey odd crafts that one finds in SB. I would get one if it was a model of the solar system.

... And finally. I took this picture, just because it is the sort of thing that my daughter would draw. The bees made me laugh.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Edzell Castle in June

Rowan sent me this, a breath of summer. I think that the pictures are just wonderful. Enjoy!

(I wonder who the mystery monk is?)

Back in June, I stravaiged to Edzell castle.

It had been more than ten years since my previous visit, and I had fond memories of the place. There had been actors in mediaeval dress back then, promenading around the wonderful formal gardens: ladies in velvets and silks, and monks in sober habits. None were very sober, however. It is a cheerful and uplifting place.

The castle was the seat of the Lindsay family, who acquired it in the mid thirteen hundreds. It began to fall into disrepair after the Jacobite rebellion in 1745, the castle having been mortgaged to raise funds for what turned out to be the losing side. Asset-stripped and pillaged, the castle eventually became the property of Historic Scotland. The wonderful formal gardens were restored in the 1930s.

The gardens are indeed breathtaking. They were the vision and design of Sir David Lindsay in the early sixteen hundreds. Whilst the castle reflects the Scottish baronial style in the tower building, the famous politician and poet carved out an Italianate villa for himself, the walls marking the garden boundary decorated with intricately wrought panels depicting the liberal arts, planetary deities and the cardinal virtues.

I was much taken with the idea of arithmetic and geometry being construed as liberal arts. I can see that there is a fluidity in the anti-chaos of mathematics. I am just out there in no man’s land, clinging to the rules for the use of the semi-colon, and feeling all ineffectual. I can’t count for toffee. Running out of fingers is a big issue for me. Am in awe of anyone who can make equations tally without looking up the answers in the back of the book. I could not make them make any sense, even peeking at the answers. “Huh?” was the only syllable ever uttered by me in relations to maths.

It is late June, and it is raining. Raining down in sheets - rubber sheets, of the sort one comes upon with a sense of chagrin in hospital, knowing that, in spite of all intimations to the contrary, you are deemed as potentially incontinent. The rubber sheets are a bald statement that no quarter is given. Rules are rules. People leak.

Today, the sky is behaving like a stern hospital matron, shaking the rubber sheets with a gimlet eye, the solid walls of rain snapping at my calves and shoulders, and nipping me into line under the soggyfying road atlas I have liberated on the quiet from my stepdad’s car. I need a proper brolly for stravaiging aboot this place. I want to take photos, to wander and enjoy. I do not want my butt electrocuted, by means of celestial moisture entering the hallowed portals of my MDA Vario. An icon of twenty-first century design, it must be kept warm and dry at all costs. This merits a dash to the souvenir shop, in search of potential portable shelter.

The little souvenir shop sells tickets for the touristy stravaigs around the property. It is incorporated into the castle outbuildings, and is very compact and cute. Tins of tartan toffee shoulder for prominence with ancient maps, postcards of lofty peaks shrouded in mist, tasteful Nessie tees and neat pens and pencils in livid hues, sporting little impressions of the castle in black ink. Whoo hoo…there are brollies. The custodian is cheerful and talkative. We are the only visitors on this rainy Saturday afternoon, and he is keen to talk to us.

He tells us that the white peacock Lena has stopped to feed her cereal bar to, has been away to Scone Palace, the coronation place of the monarchs of Scotland, to engineer a surge in the peacock population there. She has returned home, stepping proudly and regally, her chicks destined for a life of luxury and much admired-tail fanning. Janet…I think her name was Janet. I could call to check, as I am a pernickety researcher…but I feel too silly. You will just have to take my word for it.

I reach for the small telescopic umbrella in a maroon and green tartan. The custodian informs me that it is Lindsay tartan, which is a nice touch. Deft. Nevertheless, when unfurled, it does not seem to reach very much beyond the contours of my bahookie, which means that the aforementioned Vario is still in peril.

Umbrellas should have handbag room. I trudge back to the shop to purchase an enormous golfing umbrella emblazoned with a St Andrews cross, which is very patriotic, but will probably feel like William Wallace’s battle claymore in my puny hands. They cost fourteen pounds…but needs must. Somehow, in those few minutes of stepping onto the cobbled courtyard, the shop has miraculously closed, and the guy disappeared. Am left wondering if it is the Brigadoon souvenir shop, doomed to appear every hundred years, excite the public with its wares, then blitz back into the ether with a crafty chuckle.

The rain lessens to a smirr, so the stravaig becomes a pleasure. My first port of call is the hefty tower. The walls are extremely thick, and the whole edifice has a very pleasing boxy sense of self-worth. “Try and buldoze me, ya bass. Pinch ma stones for yer fireplaces fur hundreds o’ years. Just try it. Ah’m still here!”

I am never keen to wander up spiral staircases with windows open to the elements, but the rest of the family do, and Lena waves from a high vantage point, held securely by my stepfather.

Lena loves old castles. She has enthused over Stirling, and is enthusiastically investigating and questioning every nook and nuance here. The cobbled courtyard is at its finest in the heavy rain, the colours of the stones and the dark green moss growing between them brought into sharp relief against the lush green of the gardens stretching out beyond.

The gardens are unusual and spectacular. The hedges are meticulously clipped into a repeating latin motto,

and enfold beautifully maintained beds of deep red roses. It is a true feat of gardening, and leaves one more than a little agog.

The walls with the fab-tastic frieze panels are full of plant-pot sized holes, designed for songbirds to nest in, and to hold displays of trailing summer blossoms. Even now, with the nest holes filled with chicken wire to avoid bird-poop damage to rich red sandstone, the effect of the original cannot be silenced. The seventeenth century chaffinches, thrushes, blackbirds, sparrows and robins are filling the sweet summer air with their calls, resonating down through the centuries.

There is very little sense of this garden being lost to an age of bygone spendour. It is very much a glorious present. You can see what the architect had in mind, what Sir David Lindsay envisaged and etched out for himself and his family to enjoy. It is bold and clever and opulent, and you want to raise your fist in accordance with the fruition of his dream. The summerhouse at one corner of the garden is beautiful: decorative, but like the rest of the gardens, not in the least overblown. It is smart, neat and gorgeous.

Edzell castle is a place I will return to. Can imagine myself there, if only scrubbing a doorstep, or peeling potatoes in a sooty vault. I think it would have been a fun place to be, whatever one’s status. It has that sort of atmosphere. “Yeah. Look at this! It is something special, and you are welcome to come by and share.'

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Just a little difference in geography ...

... going down historic Route 66

So, now that your eyes are full of the lovely green of Aberdour ... Off to the desert of Southern California.


In the summertime, when it is a blistering 120 degrees, I can feel my eyeballs desiccating, rolling around in their sockets like raisins in a cup.

We took a trip this summer to Las Vegas and I took a few pictures on the way. As my husband says, it is a trick to find someplace that is actually hotter than home, but we managed it.
We traveled down fabulous Route 66. The name should conjure up traveling down the highway in the 1950's, wind blowing through your hair, big sunglasses and all.

Nowadays, it is a little less glamorous. We are traveling to Las Vegas. I decided to take my husband there for a romantic weekend of sleazy casinos and Spamalot!

I love Monty Python. Just to let you know, I don't like to gamble. I find casinos a little scary, as people look a little like rats in Skinner Boxes, pressing the bar on a variable-ratio reinforcement schedule ...

Every so often, when we are in Las Vegas, I will gamble.

About a dollar.

And then I get bored and wander off to do ... well ... almost anything else. What I do like about Las Vegas is the beautiful view at night, and the hotels, and the way all of the big hotels have a theme. I love the Luxor. Especially at night. I don't know who thought up the UFO attracting beam, but I find it delightful.

And I love lowering the air conditioning to about 50 degrees and sleeping under a pile of blankets. That is probably my favorite part.

So, I surprised my husband with tickets to Spamalot, which was very nice. However, one must travel through a whole lotta nothing to get there. Join me for a virtual drive down Route 66.

We head up Highway 62, and turn right at the Marine Base. The day (as usual) was clear and bright.

You can see the faintest of little white boxes in this picture -- the landscape is dotted with them.
I am not exactly sure about this, but I think that these are old homesteads, back from the time that, if you put a house on the land and lived on it for some period of time, you got the land.

Here is the same thing, a little closer.

The houses come in all sizes and colors, and some seem to still be inhabited, but all are tiny.

Some have been abandoned for years. I wonder what it was like to live here in the relentless heat of summer. No running water. No air conditioning.

Some have been lived in more recently. I wonder how much water you would get in a year -- not enough to even fill one cistern, I would think.

We stravaig on, toward the salt flats. The road curves and we begin to see some hills.

The salt flats are ahead.

This is a genuine salt mining operation. There was also a former borax mining site here.

The official name of this stretch of desert is The Devil's Playground.

It does seem otherworldly. Whenever we drive through here, we get out and walk on the salt. It is like walking on panes of glass -- it crunches and splinters underfoot. I usually cannot resist looking for a piece to taste. There is something beyond salty, and this is it. The minerals make the salt bitter. You can only taste it for the briefest second.

Did I mention the extinct volcano? The Devil's Playground, indeed, has it all. You can just see the crater in the distance.

We head to Amboy -- which has a wonderful history. It has been an Army depot and a railway stop. It has been abandoned. More recently, someone bought the whole town and is trying to preserve it. As you drive into town, looking through the back view, the first thing that you see is an old church.

On the opposite side of the street, is Roy's Diner. I love the quintessential 50's shape of the sign and the building is just wonderful. You can buy shirts and batteries in what used to be the old gas station and cafe. It is now a store. A lot of bikers sit in the shade.

The post office is open.

But I don't see any customers.

A view of the church from the front. The steeple has a bit of a list to it.

This used to be a school, I think.

Now totally abandoned.

As we leave town, we pass a tree and it first looked like there were a bunch of birds roosting. As we passed, I saw that they were really pairs of shoes.

I had my husband stop the car, so I could really look. There is one pair of little tiny shoes.

I asked my husband if he had a tender sentiment that he wanted to immortalize, but he just looked at me. He was not feeling the romance. However, we did have a lovely time in Las Vegas -- despite the suffocating heat.