Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Travel ramblings, if anyone cares

HH and I are in Monterey for the 52nd annual Monterey Jazz Festival, which doesn’t start until Friday. Until then it’s vay-cay-shun. Which begins with our annual stop at the Swanton Berry Farm on Highway 1 for strawberry shortcake. Organic strawberries and real whipped cream on a sweet biscuit.

Changes to Swanton’s this year include more furniture inside, more jams (which you can sample by spooning them onto animal crackers), and a young plaid-shirted employee who claims to be the biggest Vikings fan born in L.A. He asked if we had seen the day’s game. We had not. We were on a plane, squashed like sorry sardines among the other pleated, folded, pressed and compressed passengers on the full flight.

At the hotel we talked first to the check-in person and second to the concierge. A concierge is someone you want to know and treat with utmost respect. The one at the Hyatt Monterey has been here for 20 years. So you can say to her such vague, nonspecific, beetle-brained things as “I picked up a card at a small Italian restaurant in Pacific Grove last year but left it on my desk at home” and she’ll say “Oh, you mean Joe Rombi’s, would you like me to make a reservation for you?” Crab cake followed by the Sunday spaghetti-and-meatballs special, with meatballs the size of cannonballs, and a nice chianti.

On Monday we drove to Moss Landing, which (according to the Insiders’ Guide to the Monterey Peninsula, an extremely detailed and useful book) is supposed to have a lot of antique stores. Maybe it used to but it doesn’t anymore. The recession seems to have kneecapped this little town on the shore of Monterey Bay. We were the only people in the shops we visited and the café where we stopped for liquid refreshment.

Moss Landing is, as of 2008, the new home of the Shakespeare Society of America, where we spent an hour or so talking with CEO Terry Taylor and where HH got his picture taken in two Your-Head-Here life-size cut-outs, one a knight and one a king. (See above for the king; the knight's on fb.) Taylor’s background includes a passion for the Bard, a degree from Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, and a career in consulting and cell phone sales. The Shakespeare Society building is full of prints, paintings, costumes, busts, scripts, books, and models of the Globe Theater. It is a charming, strange, and fascinating find in this town of 300 people.

Taylor pointed us up Hwy 1 to a dock that was installed for visitors in 2008 but was almost immediately taken over by sea lions. Posted signs warn against trying to rescue any and explain that overpopulation has led to disease and starvation. I’m not an expert at estimating the size of crowds but am guessing the dock held more than 1,000 sea lions. They were packed tighter than we were on our flight from Minneapolis. When the wind shifted, they smelled very bad. Make that very, very, very, very bad.

Back in Monterey, we walked the Monterey Recreational Trail from Fisherman’s Wharf along the ocean to the Seven Gables Inn in Pacific Grove and back again. Then dinner at the Monterey Fish House, another tip from Her Holiness the Concierge. Oysters on the half shell, crab ravioli, grilled artichoke, calamari Sicilian (in red sauce with calamata olives). Noisy, crazy, packed, delicious.

We sat at the bar. The man seated to our right was a physician who had worked at the free clinic in Haight-Ashbury during the 1960s, when patients included people like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. He urged us to spend at least one day in Big Sur, something we plan to do anyway, and offered specific suggestions: Buy chocolate-chip cookies from the Big Sur Bakery. Sit on the deck at the Ventana Inn. And walk barefoot along Pfeiffer Beach where, he promised, the surf sounds like jazz.

More photos--sea lions, houses in Pacific Grove, whatever--may come later once HH downloads his camera card.

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