Finding Meaning On The California Coast

Do people still ascribe to the myth of California as the place of the  endless summer ? A worry-free existence of plucking oranges off trees,with the surf as sound track?  If so , the setting is  surely somewhere along the California coast. The coast is where we all end, be it on wagon trains in Oregon, Okies on Route 66, or a harried commuter who takes the 38 Geary to the beach. The vast  tableau of the ocean is empty canvas, one on which the viewer can sketch dreams, search for some elusive truth. It’s also a great place to  build a bonfire or surf. Really  either one is fine; the truth searching or the surfing. The myth, or reality, of the coast is about both.

At the beginning of the year, on my way home, I took my time, spending a couple of days journeying up the coast. This was not a rigorous tour, though I did have a couple of destinations in mind at Lo Jolla and San Simeon, along with visits with a few  friends, and a stop at a hermitage for meditation.  The coast worked its magic, triggering much thought, not just about my own professional detour of the last two years, and what may lie ahead this year, but the relationship of  this extraordinary landscape on those who work, live, and ponder; along the coast.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older
Then we wouldn’t have to wait so long
And wouldn’t it be nice to live together
In the kind of world where we belong

You know its gonna make it that much better
When we can say goodnight and stay together

Wouldn’t it be nice

Working: The Salk Institute in La Jolla

High on an ocean bluff north of La Jolla sits one of the 20th centuries architectural masterpieces, Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute. Louis Kahn , perhaps more than any other, embodied a near monastic approach to architecture. His total devotion to his craft resulted in his work being so unique in a field, that ultimately differs little from other design arts in its mimicry of the current fashion. His  total devotion to his craft also led to a somewhat tragic existence, he carried on separate concurrent marriages and families, (one son eventually wrote an incredible documentary about this – “My Architect”). His life ended on the floor of a Penn Station bathroom, broke, his briefcase still stuffed with architectural plans.His devotees spread out across the land after his death in the 70’s , and a number of them became entrenched at the University of Buffalo where I went to school, where this  monastic approach  was passed down  in the form of too many all-nighters on those cold Lake Erie nights. But I digress.

We visited the Salk on a beautiful Southern California afternoon. Kahn’s concept for the institute was 2 lab wings flanking a serenely deserted plaza, with space infinite to the ocean beyond. The effect is mesmerizing:

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Urban Ambles Travels Part 3- Las Vegas

May 10,2010

I was returning to my rental car, parked in a lot at Valley of Fire State Park, north of Las Vegas, an exotic land of ruptured red rock amidst the incessant beige of the Mohave desert. And there was a crowd that had formed around the rear of the car. My God, I thought, what’s wrong. A flock of French tourists had gathered, and one by one, they were taking photos…….of the Alabama license plates on my car. “C’est magnifique!” one declared. Then two others wanted their picture taken with me, assuming I was an Alabamian. I did not dissuade them, in fact, I laid on a thick southern accent- “whach y’all think uh these red rocks, somthun’ aren’t they?” It was  an absurd moment, as was later watching all the French tourists in pearls and pocketbooks navigate the desert sands. Welcome to southern Nevada!

The French- captivated by Alabama
Intrepid French Explorers

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