Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Champagne, Cat Stevens and Coronado Island: Why This Woman Writes
I float in a sun warmed peanut shaped tile pool, watching the breeze flip the palm fronds against a turquoise San Diego sky sipping a mid day mimosa because Cally, the woman for whom I was house sitting, had encouraged me to drink the champagne in their wine cellar as they were no longer partial to the bubbly stuff. She and her husband had also told me to smoke their cigars since he suffers from angina which the cigars seem to aggravate. Generous as their offer was, I had yet to even look in their humidor.
Rippling reflections of the afternoon sun on the water are cast against the 6 foot tall prickly pear, oak planked door with its cast iron hardware, and the adobe arched wall above it. Chimes sound, doves coo. Pretty nice for my first day in the trenches here at Coronado, California.
The City of Coronado evolved around National Historic Landmark, Hotel del Coronado, which was built primarily by Chinese immigrants in 1887 as a real estate draw by its developers during a land boom. Although the scarcity of lumber in the arid desert environment first impeded development of this grand but wooden Victorian Queen Anne Revival resort, once completed the red roofed wonder was first in the world to offer electric lighting and oil furnace heating. Edison himself approved the final installation.
A salt water pool, Japanese tea garden, and ostrich farm lured princes and presidents, as well as a host of Hollywood starlets. It served as the backdrop for several novels and movies, including Some Like it Hot. However, although it was the setting of Richard Matheson’s novel Bid Time Return the movie version, Somewhere in Time, was filmed at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island north of Chicago.
Started as a seasonal Tent City similar to that which founded Washington Grove outside Washington, D.C., permanent vacation cottages eventually replaced the tents that had been erected south of Hotel del Coronado. Unlike Washington Grove however, Coronado’s makeshift canvas city that flourished for almost forty years had nothing to do with summer revival meetings. The tents outfitted with electric lights served as the Hotel’s economy rooms for seafaring families on a shoe string budget. A century later, tourism is still the bread and butter of this small suburban community and the Hotel del Coronado, now with a four star hospitality rating, is still a world class draw.
As the synchronicity that seems ever present in my current life would have it, once sold to the government, North Island, now a military training facility, served as the starting point for Lindberg’s transcontinental leg of his New York to Paris 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. I had recently visited Vikingsholm Castle on Lake Tahoe built by Lora Josephine Knight, the primary financial backer for his trend setting flight. Everything’s got a reason or a season, as the saying goes, which is always a good reminder that all is as it should be and I am exactly where I am meant to be.
As I am known to say often, it’s the simple things. As the sun faded with the yawning day on my final night in Coronado, I turned on the hot tub. While it warmed up, I poured myself a Hennessy and grabbed myself a cigar from the humidor. It had been a relaxing, productive and enjoyable week.
I had read each book that Cally, in her infinite wisdom had suggested I read: A Woman’s Word: Travelers Tales; The World’s Wickedest Women; and the Griffin and Sabine Extraordinary Correspondence Series. And, I had done tons of writing. In fact, I had been writing all day. I’ve been filling in the gaps of my around the country 2010 travel journal, picking up where I had left off months ago, determined to finish it. Thinking it will make good reading in the end, I had pasted the last few days staring at the computer screen, immersed in memories. The kind you don’t think of every day.
I think often of that trip and of the comradery I shared for 120 days with a former schoolmate. It was the best trip I’ve ever taken and the best season spent of my life thus far. But there are memories of that time I don’t think of every day that my recent writing had unearthed. Like, the fears or the insecurities we normally tucked deep into our pockets, the human aspect of ourselves that we hold preciously private, the frailties, the delicacies. Like the incidental things found spontaniously and symbiotically humorous and the smoothness of being in synch with time and place and each other. The ease and lightness of just BEing. Like Griffin and his muse Sabine, I had begun to doubt whether it had all been real or whether it was a figment of my own imagining.
As easy as it may appear to you, this is not an easy thing I do, this remembering, this writing, this putting into words the often indescribable. But, it must be done. For me--I must do this. Not just for the sake of “the story”, but to gain some sense of it all. I believe that everything happens for a reason and that there are lessons to be learned in everything I do (and don’t do). A seeker savoring souls and secrets, I write to learn, to understand-- myself as much as those around me, life and the forces behind it. A weaver of words, I write to untangle the nest of yarn left in the basket on the table, to roll it into neat skeins that are then stacked in a cupboard by color and texture, closed in a closet for future possibilities.
I write, too, to feel an acceptance of myself like the castle hung tapestries with pictorial exposed woven by catacombed queens cloistered behind stone walls--each stitch, each color chosen for the sake of personal pleasure and artistic sensibility, cognitively without the fear of editorial censure or the restraint of self annihilating criticism.
It was a cool evening on the Mexican border as I slid myself in the hot tub and watched the blue solar lights strung in the trees and throughout the walled garden come on in the fading light. Nestled down deep into the frothing warmth, I was in fine spirits listening to Cat Stevens since it had been eons since I’d last heard him. And because he reminded me of when I was young, growing up. Because he reminded me of home—of where I had came from. 'Tis good to remember this from time to time and I have come so far that I often forget.
Sitting on the edge of the tub is a red-capped, white bearded garden gnome I had found tucked under a jade hedge. Setting him poolside, I raised my cognac and my cigar to the traveling tinker and sang along to “Hard Headed Woman”.
Looking out across the attached pool, I was aware that I hadn’t swum in it the entire 13 days I had been staying there. Setting down my cigar, I pulled myself out of the hot tub with my palms planted on the tiled rim where hot water flowed into cool and slipped over the edge into the still blueness in a single silent fluid motion. There had been a rare thunderstorm in the late afternoon and there were many pine needles and eucalyptus fronds floating on the surface. I swam to the far edge and back before slipping back into the warmer water again. It is often in moments like these that a universe of truths is revealed to us and I was opening myself to once again receive them.
A small thing, I know, but important for me to have done it before leaving. As important as filling in the blank portions of last year’s travel journal had been over the course of the last few days. I’d be embarking on new adventures over the next few months and had felt the impulse to finish writing about past ones before doing so. My unfinished business had been completed, loose ends neatly tied.
The lion headed rabbit sat in his mesh tunnel watching me as he did every night. Venus shone above. The doves were cooing in their cote behind me. I had been baptized into a renewed faith that I was a woman of value above and beyond those I love, above and beyond the inked words I stamped onto blank pages, above and beyond plans and aspirations. That my life thus lived has had purpose and that my life not yet lived did too. That in the unknown there is potential looming.
I could and would face tomorrow’s horizon with a serene smile and a sigh in conscious comprehension that no matter where I traveled next, no matter where I would next rest my head, I would savor each delicious moment as I had when I was a child licking watermelon sherbet off a wooden spoon. I am old enough to know that hind sight makes gratitude easy like breathing and sweet like July cherries, and that the best of who I am is in my living liquid.
As I later packed my bags to leave, I could see that in the morning with my load secured on my back and my hair flying in warmed wind I would relish the solitary sound of my footsteps grinding the slate flagstones and I would again embrace all the universe would send my way. I would live lustily without the storm of doubt and without the rug burn of resistance. I would live as a woman who is a mother and is a lover and is so much more with faith in her fortune.
Posted by Ruth Newell