(Franz Bischoff painting of the Arroyo Seco)
Early evening. This is my favorite time of day. It’s also my favorite time of year.
Early April, not too hot, the green starting to explode on the hills… Jasmine, that fragrant, heady harbinger of Spring. The quick, look-fast-or-you-miss-them sunsets.
Those smells in the air, the light getting longer. Better than the straight up hot spotlight that daytime and noontime give you – it burns me, more than just my skin. It’s so bright, nothing is hidden – it wants in, and I don’t let it. I haven’t let it. California has not been my home for 15 years.
I’ve just lived here; it’s never felt like “home.” Mostly because i didn’t want it to – I loved Canada, and as much as I loved Canada, I loved Boston a hundred times more – my heart broke leaving it, but now, fifteen years on, the heartbreak has lessened ever so slightly, and I am OK that I did. I’ve grown up in California, in more ways than one.
I first visited when I was ten or eleven, some tween age. My parents and I drove down from Canada to visit relatives here. It was July, I do remember that – we were trying to get there for my birthday but didn’t quite make it. We stopped off in Utah or Oregon somewhere; Mum and Dad bought a cake and surprised me with it at the hotel pool, where strangers and newly-formed friends sang to me. We drove for hours and hours, and made it the next day, and then, when my Aunt scooted me out of the kitchen that night, my feelings were hurt, I didn’t know what was going on. Then came the cake out of the darkness, half-eaten, the writing smooshed, “Hap Birthd Ber” only visible, with candles on it, and I felt special. Two nights of birthday cake and two nights of singing. Another relative made me feel like a princess – “I’ve got a special gift for you!” My eyes lit up and I smiled… “What? What is it?” She pulled out a little velvet bag and said softly, “Make-up!” It was Clinique – a boatload of samples and “specials with purchase” that you get when you buy a certain amount.
I couldn’t breathe. I spent the rest of the night, and the subsequent days we were there, highlighting, bronzing, glossing… I was in heaven. Best tween girl present… ever.
My Aunt got me a powder blue lunchbox, with Vinnie Barbarino on it. The rest of the Sweathogs were on the inside, plastered round the thermos, with their stock sayings next to them, grinning out at me. But there Vinnie was, with his long, feathered dark hair, that goofy smile… and what did I say? “I HATE Barbarino!!” Ugh. Ten year old kids can be brutal. I did go up to her afterwards and thank her and gave her a big hug. She was smart – she knew that thing would be a collectible in a few years… too bad I don’t still have it, I might be a gazillionaire!!
The place where we stayed is less than a mile from where I live now. Same town, one major street down the hill. I pass by that house every day on the way home from work. The big palm tree out front is gone, and the ivy’s been replaced with some grass and some terracing, but I still remember it. Their house was so beautiful – it had a pool, and a cabana, a big patio, huge flowers, ivy everywhere. When we went to Busch Gardens the day after arriving, I snipped a flower off the huge bush (were they peonies?) and my Aunt put it in my hair for me, in a beautiful big bun. This place seemed unbelievable. The sun was shining all the time. There was so much to do, and everyone seemed happy and casual. Shorts, tees, flip-flops. My cousin had a yellow VW Beetle and she drove me around, telling me about the enormous tortoise at Knott’s Berry Farm (or the Zoo, one of the two), that was so huge, you could sit on him and he’d walk around. I’m pretty sure my eyes popped out of my head.
Anyway… I’ve gone off on a tangent. What i really meant to write about, was that for the first time since I’ve been here, I feel at home. Is it because I’m a homeowner now? Or the fantastic job? The sense of not having to do everything the way other people do things here? Yes, there are lots of fun things to do, and be, and see. But, the one thing that California does promise, is that there is something for everyone. Literally. I’m 25 miles from the ocean, maybe less, and I haven’t been to the beach in years. And that’s OK. I love the ocean, but not the Pacific. I can’t smell it when I wake up, like I did the Atlantic in Boston. It’s different. And that’s OK.
You all know I’m soft on Joni Mitchell. Have been since I was a young teen. “Blue” of course, was a seminal album of the 70s. Like “Frampton Comes Alive” was standard issue to rockin’ teenagers in the suburbs all over, “Blue” was standard issue to the emo teens of my day (how cool IS it, really, that artists and their works are used as measuring sticks in the passing of time? A lot of other great stuff happened, but music and the arts help break it down for us, in ways we don’t even consciously comprehend. That’s why I loved theatre so much, especially as a teenager. I loved going to those amazing architectured halls and seeing that immediacy, that intimacy, feeling and seeing people having those forbidden things – emotions – and feeling them along with those on stage, and being able to take the lesson, without the horrible consquences. What magic. It’s still like that for me today too, but I’m so annoyed with the cell phones, the candy wrappers, the nose blowing…).
Joni talked about Paris, France. Reading the news and it sure looks bad (it always looks bad in the news, don’t it?)
That was just a dream some of us had
Still a lot of lands to see
But I wouldn’t want to stay here
It’s too old and cold and settled in its ways here
Oh but California
Oh…but California… indeed. Will you take me as I am? Will you take me…as I am? Will you?
I hope so. I’m taking you as you are… and you’re lovely.
California, coming home…