Wednesday, April 29, 2009

And so it's farewell Half Moon Bay. I've had my last long walks beside the windswept sands & roaring rolling waves, with carpets of bright iceplant and cedars silhouetted against that impossible cobalt sky, my final rock scramble with only pelicans and egrets sharing Moss Beach with me. No more visits to the exciting city-ness of San Francisco and Santa Cruz. No more maple porridge & Peruvian coffee then back to my laptop for my morning stint of writing, with the chickens peering in through my window. California I'm missing you already. Thanks Mo, Anja, Kaitlyn, Erin, for taking me into your home, and thanks to everyone who made this trip such a privilege and a pleasure.

So, on a scale of 1 to 10, how much did I enjoy my month in California?
I'd give it a straight 12.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

After dreamy days of mostly meandering and writing, the end of my stay suddenly starts to bustle with spoken word. Bazaar Cafe on the north side of San Francisco has an Open Mic Night and Mo and I were lucky to both get spots and an appreciative audience. Then I have Skype interview with the very lovely James Nash for podcast out next Friday, then a spot at Cafe Lucca and then on Sunday an interview for KZSC Santa Cruz radio with Kevin Spitzer on his early morning Conciliation Sunday programme. The trip to Santa Cruz, with its sealions, superb surfing beach and buzzy Boardwalk, turns out to be the icing on the sumptuous cake of my California trip - especially the ride up the coast on the back of Kevin's big deep-throaty black BMW.
As well as being a radio presenter with an easy laid-back charm, Kevin is a poet and philosophical entrepreneur, using his experience of native American culture within the bigger picture of his experience of world travels and life generally to create a theory of 'Transformative Re-frames'. We finish our conversations over breakfast at Aldos down by Santa Cruz harbour, and then take Kevin's dog Wing for a walk down to the lighthouse, watching pelicans preening and cormorants diving in the bay.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bulletin 4 from Half Moon Bay...
We've had a couple of mornings of sea fog. It's like a pot of paint-water has been spilled across the vivid coastline colours, thick white tendrils unfurling dramatically into the cornflower blue sky. Undeterred surfers loom faintly like a ghost army of silkies. Now we're back to the familiar cloudlessness, with temperatures in the high 30s. Sitting with a café freddo in a Mezzaluna afternoon under this improbably blue sky, I'm thinking about making a poem about El Granada in April & start to make a list:
Long surfing waves surging endlessly for miles,
Wind sweeping peachy sands impeccably smooth,
Ice plants, creamy & plum pink, smothering the dunes,
Cedars twisting into sculptures, eucalyptus rustling.
Sandpipers paddling, cormorants grooming,
Garboesque seals lounging on outcrop rocks,
Crabs scuttling, lizards... being small and lizardy.
Ginger barking me into playing ball on the lawn,
Kaitlyn puzzling over the objective correlative,
Sowing onions with Anja, Mo's songs, Mahi-mahi taco at the Flying Fish Grill...
The poetry is the list,
The being here is bliss.

California seems very far away from home (5253 miles, to a crow with stamina) but Dee Allen's poem - see link in last post - is grimly close to the G20 violence. Time difference means I'm just about to set off on another sunny walk while it's midnight in the UK and I have Rob da Bank on as I finish my laptop work stint for the day. He plays a Dop track I can't find on Youtube but it's this Bukowski poem: The Genius of the Crowd.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

To encourage my aim of walking every coastal path in striking distance, Mo took me to his building project above the cliffs at Moss Beach and loosed me there like a homing pigeon, except without wings and -more significantly- a sense of direction. He pointed me south and said 'Remember the tide's coming in' and I set off, scuttling like a Purple Shore-crab across the boulders along the rim of the ocean. I know the type of crab because my route took me through the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, 'one of the most diverse regions in California' according to the pictureboard. Volcanic action has shaped the rocks into huge hoops which are a haven for all kinds of wild life: while I was focusing on some comatose seals about thirty pelicans came flapping slowly past.
"Seals don't hate us, honey, they just want to be left alone" a woman was consoling her child.
Keeping the Pacific on my right and the skyline hills on my left for about 3 hours brings me back to the harbour where I can watch the windsurfers riding the long waves with a gigantic fig icecream. Me, not the surfers. They need their hands free.

The Haight is the hippy area of San Francisco, a bit like Glastonbury but harder-edgy and with more sunshine. Mo and I had a mooch around the coffee bars and a browse in Amoeba music shop and then headed for Diamond Dave's open mic night.
Diamond Dave boasts the longest running poetry cafe in San Francisco. "On that street some call Haight and some call Love, I turned 30 in that golden summer of '67" he tells us, and introduces us to the eclectic audience: "We have a representative of the British and Irish working class, coming together to prove that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, isn't that beautiful?" Guest of the night was a self-styled beat in Ugg boots nostalgic for the murk of his drug days, but better stuff came from the floor readers, a few similarly self-indulgent but some sharp and topical. Highlight was Dee Allen whose poem Face Down moved the agenda from rainbow-tinted nostalgia to powerful political protest at the recent killing of Oscar Grant by two Bay Area Rapid Transit police officers.

And I'm now again lost for words. Here's a few more images:

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Vegetable connoisseurs may be fascinated to know this region boasts the title 'artichoke capital of the world'. Duartes restaurant, at nearby Pescadero, has made a sturdy reputation by supplying an enterprising range of artichoke-based dishes to hungry or curious visitors. I was both, as we'd been walking the cliffs to watch basking seals and soaring cormorants, and the artichoke ratatouille was delicious. Deep twilight as we drove home, a rim of mystical pink separating silvering sea from darkening sky.

After ten days' nomadic exploration, I've become a connoisseur of cafe coffee. Discounting Starbucks, obviously, I've sampled Peet's (the gold standard, according to "zealous customers known as Peetniks"), Sam's (plentiful & free with breakfast), Raman's, New Leaf, and I can tell you with confidence that Mezzaluna down by the harbour wins by a Half Moon Mile. For one thing, it's served in a real cup, and actually served too, so you don't feel like a mere middleman on the disposable beaker's journey to the bin. And they make the best Americano in the Bay. I reported my findings to Mo and he said "Well they would, they're Italian."
Other discoveries:
- Blackbirds here sport scarlet epaulettes.
- PAM means jack of clubs. 'Tis in the Scrabble dictionary, so 'tmust be so.
- Huge full moon, Rain Moon, blazing like a magic lantern above the chicken shack outside my window.

Two open-mic events - my favourite was Cameron's English Pub - and a visit to the theatre.

The Coastal Repertory Theatre is a pleasant purpose-built venue - it’s where I saw Godot last year (in fact Mo was recognised and hailed for his ‘phenominal’ Pozzo) - with a very long stage. For their production of Sam Shepard’s True West the director’s decision to use the length worked against the sense of intrusion and family claustrophobia in this story of a screenwriter challenged by the arrival of his drifter brother. This play has been hailed as a masterpiece, simultaneously "clear, funny, naturalistic, opaque, terrifying, surrealistic", as a metaphor for "the two sides of the American present: one sophisticated, cultured, ambitious, and successful; the other alienated and outcast, raw, wild, violent... each is the double of the other, emphasizing that despite the American belief in starting anew, the past is never over but continues to intrude into the present." (Or as the review in the local paper put it: "Bottom line: As tough as things are, we can still laugh. And, after all, there’s always someone worse off.")
It's a strong theme, however you interpret it, and whether or not it's significant that the dramatist's intelligent screenplay is trounced by the more commercial pitch of his degenerate sibling, but for me the real drama is in the interaction of the brothers and the play didn’t need appearances from either the producer or the mother. Sam Shepard himself says it's not intended as "symbolic or metaphorical or any of that stuff. I just wanted to give a taste of what it feels like to be two-sided. It's a real thing, double nature. I think we're split in a much more devastating way than psychology can ever reveal."

Still on the subject of theatre: "I want to be genuinely shocked. I want plays that shine a light into the darkest recesses of the human soul, that lead the audience on a journey that leaves us breathless and invigorated even if we've been terrified and deeply shaken by what we've seen. And while I'm not asking our current playwrights to be as great as Shakespeare or Euripides, I am asking them to remember that those are the heroes of the tradition in which they work."
Louise Kennedy reviews for Boston, but I found her rant at the current state of theatre in THE WEEK over my breakfast coffee, picked out as a Best Column. Playwrights, she says, shouldn't attempt to compete with the 'heightened version of reality' of films and television. "In moving away from the essence of drama - that is, the subtle and expert use of language and carefully developed action to illuminate human life - toward thrill-seeking and adrenaline jolts, playwrights give up their own most precious gifts.
And the audience? Jaded by the unnatural shocks of electronic entertainment, we remain unmoved by its awkward imitators, and hungry for the real, visceral, cathartic thrills that true theater can provide."

On Saturday I varied my coastal path route by walking along the beach, which for most of its two-and-a-half miles was disconcertingly deserted for a holiday weekend apart from clusters of birds, possibly having a Hitchcock conference. I started thinking about all the warning signs: HAZARDOUS WAVE CONDITIONS EXIST EVEN ON CALM DAYS - WAVES CAN SWEEP PEOPLE INTO THE OCEAN before eventually reaching civilisation in the form of windsurfers, a scramble-up-able cliff, and a cafe.
And now it's Easter Sunday, the chocolate bunnies are risen, and I am unbelievably nearly halfway through my stay in paradise... must find a wicked apple before I go.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

April in California... I loved it here in Autumn so I'm back for a month to write and to walk. The writing's up to me; for walk routes, my friend & host Mo has drawn me a sketch map of El Granada and its environs. We're about 400 yards from the Pacific here, with a coastal path all around Half Moon Bay. The snag is Highway 1, which also hugs the coastline, lies between me and the sea.
Mo's map shows two options: I can take the back roads to the harbour, where traffic lights allow the (nippy) pedestrian a chance to dash across the 6 lanes of ceaseless traffic, or I can creep through the (nearly dry) drain under the road at El Granada.
And then I have the freedom to walk for miles with barely a sound but birdsong and the rolling breakers. And the wind - this wind would skin a goat, Mo warned me before I came, but the sun is strong and the sky so immensely high, so densely blue. I see only a few other people on these paths, but they greet me like they've been recruited by some Californian 'Let's make visitors feel cherished!' campaign, offering smiles, handshakes, even names.

After a week of retreatful days & early nights I went along with Mo to a music evening - a gentle event but pleasant. I can't play guitar or sing so I offered a couple of me pomes.