Tuesday, October 25, 2011

One of the amazing things, to someone like me more familiar with the spaghetti-snarling roads of England, is the casual way that long road trips are undertaken in California. Our weekend jaunt took us eight hours up the Redwood Highway, through the famous 'Avenue of Giants' and literally through a tree, to Arcata where Anja's daughter Kaitlyn is studying at Humboldt State University - visually thrilling all the way.
Arcata is a delightfully boho little coastal town, full of gaily painted wooden buildings dating from the 1850s when it was first established. Dress code is hippy/sporty, as if the entire population listens to the Eagles on headphones while jogging. The entire population, actually, more than doubles during termtime: of the 17,000 inhabitants, nearly 8000 are students. On Saturdays there's a Farmers Market in the Plaza - a large grass square with a statue of William McKinley, a few palm trees, a blue-grass quartet called Striped Pig Stringband and the Occupy Arcata encampment, all surrounded by fruit, veg, flower, and cookie stalls.
There's a lively cafe culture in the admirably compact town centre, but Arcata's major attraction is the wonderful wild fowl sanctuary that's actually a water treatment plant, where you can see hundreds of sea and marsh birds. We saw pelicans, sandpipers, avocets, egrets and herons - including a black crowned night heron in a tree only feet away.
Good times, with lovely people, and some great meals too... here's Mo & me snapped by Anja choosing a starter of Rumi's Lovechild from the esoteric menu of culty self-styled 'cafe at the end of the universe' Three Foods, a misnumber if not a deliberate misnomer.

So now we're back in El Granada, an even longer drive partly because we took the even-more-fabulously-scenic coast road and also became caught in a truck-fire tailback coming out of San Francisco. Since I wasn't driving, I took the opportunity to finish reading Jonathan Franzen's Freedom which I'd recommend to anyone wanting insightful context to America politics and society, or just anyone who wants a really gripping read. As well as following stories of his annoying yet endearing characters, the novel offers shocking & sad truths about the depravity and inevitability of capitalism. The American experiment of self-government is statistically skewed from the outset, his narrator reflects, because it wasn’t the people with sociable genes who fled the crowded Old World for the new continent; it was the people who didn’t get along with others. Nevertheless it was good to see students in the posh Uni campus up the hill have united - in principle if not in location - with the transients & campaigners in the town centre in support of the Wall Street anti-capitalist protest and plea for peace.

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