Euro Dreams on the Central Coast

 

vineyard

From my window I am watching a deer walk down the hillside, long-legged and dainty. I can also observe the fact that my neighbor has not yet taken down his Christmas lights; he never turns them on but the wires hang in electrical festoons, the kind that when ignited imitate icicles.  (No judgement here, honestly–I’m just commenting on the sights.) I can’t see the ocean from here–there are too many obstacles and besides, none of the windows face that way. In the morning though, when I went out to get the paper (old school kind of girl that I am) I could hear the sound of waves. It was high tide.DSC_2402

There’s a full moon, tonight–hence the extreme high and low tides and the rumbling of the sea.It’s called a minus tide when, like today, low tide falls below sea level.

It’s early June with loud ruminations of summer. The vendors at the farmers’ market offer corn, berries, zucchini and white peaches. Although it’s really not quite time there are tomatoes (although not yet from my favorite vendor though, who prides himself on dry farmed green zebras and delectable melons. Not yet, he tells me.)DSC_2254

Days like today with the white clear sun unimpeded by fog remind me of Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. I think of the opening scene, where Nicole Diver lies on the beach wearing pearls with her black bathing suit, translating a recipe for Lobster Americaine. Everything is ahead of her.boullabaise

 

*     *     *     *

Pause.

And now it’s July–the era of the super moons. And suddenly everything is flipped. After the 4th it always feels as if summer is slipping away. I’m making a list of things I want to do in the next few weeks (I started it on the back of a receipt while waiting for an order at Cambria’s Mainstreet Grill): Go to the Mid-State Fair, visit Big Sur and Nepenthe, take pictures at the Mission San Juan Miguel, attend a concert, take a boat to one of the Channel Islands.  These are all local expeditions, mind you.

Posted in What Does Local Mean? | Comments Off on Euro Dreams on the Central Coast

A Visit to The Secret Garden

Like so many girls I read Francis Hodgson Burnett’s the Secret Garden when I was in the third grade. A sort of lonely, disaffected, out of the mainstream child myself (at least that’s how I saw it) I identified with Mary Lennox and like her fell in love with that beautiful, walled, secret space.garden3

Although I’m not a competent gardener, I keep trying to create small yard spaces where trees and foliage protect me from sight and where I can retreat with a book.

I also liked the Bruce Springsteen song of the same name because it celebrated a similar idea–the notion that we may flirt, or love, or have relationships, but there is some secret, hoarded, (perhaps gendered), essential aspect of the self that remains aloof and contained.garden2

So you can understand that when I heard about The Secret Garden in SLO I had to go there right away.

It’s not exactly a garden, nor exactly a shop. It’s more like a flowery alcove tacked on to the back of a larger store. Tucked away in an alley, the Garden must be accessed from the walkway that runs along San Luis Creek. It’s lovely–people sitting in the sun at little tables, kids splashing in the water where you can see fish that are reportedly California brown trout. The shop is surrounded by plants, and consists largely of shelves stocked with mason jars all filled with greeny herbs and blossoms.

The owner–Kristen Sherritt–is devoted to the ancient art of herbal teas, and also stocks tinctures (made by Ruth, a woman who farms the herbs and formulates her compounds in nearby Arroyo Grande) and local arts and crafts. There are teas to perk you up, potions made with (innocent California) poppies to make you sleep, and teas derived from mint, from rose petals, from ginger and orange. Everything is organic, all of it mixed and bottled in SLO, most of it grown locally.

I know–it sounds a little like I’m visiting the witch doctor (but after all, what were witches but wise women and herbalists)–but there’s something sort of fabulous about it all. I swear I slept better after sipping my mug of Poppy Persuasion and felt more energetic and optimistic after starting the day with Synergy. And the jars filled with dried violets, cinnamon, pansy and lavender are undeniably beautiful.garden4

On one of my visits I chatted about Nabokov and Willa Cather with Erin. On another I spoke with another charming young woman about the impact of moonlight.

I can’t speak to the power of herbs but as always I’m struck by significance of neighborhood, by the ways stores or restaurants or food trucks can just pop up and transform the way we see the world, and by the way people constantly reveal some element of their secret selves.

Posted in What Does Local Mean? | Comments Off on A Visit to The Secret Garden

Game of Thrones, Madmen, Other Trivia (and a Little Whining About How Nobody Takes Me Seriously)

Okay, about Game of Thrones–I’m not talk’n, I’m just saying–is there anyone else in the whole universe who sees the obvious, obvious, resemblance between the current HBO favorite and Uncle Willie’s Richard the Third, plus the whole violent, racy and often loutish history of the British War of the Roses?

I’ve tried to explain this fact to many individuals, only to be met with indifference and/or denial. There’s no dragons in the play, people keep telling me.

Honey, Shakespeare didn’t need dragons.

After each episode of G of T I try to talk about other girls who were forced to marry a cousin to cement power, or old kings of England who were also referred to as “The Mad King,” and about particularly sadistic heirs to the throne who are fortunately taken out before they can do any more harm because even citizens of the 1400s had a threshold for exactly how much gratuitous sex and violence they could take.

And if you’ve ever watched Richard III you know it’s all about being willing to do anything–kill your brothers, murder your nephews, possibly rape your niece–to secure power.

No one’s listening.

So I have to say I felt a certain amount of glee yesterday when I discovered people blogging about the relationship between the Starz mini-series “The White Queen” and G of  T. The White Queen is, of course, Elizabeth Rivers, granny to Henry VIII and a key player in the so-called Cousins’ War (another name for the multi-generational violence between the Houses Of York and Lancaster). Doesn’t the very name–The Cousins’ War–say it all?

This is not all in my head. Game of Thrones and the book series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, are based upon are a popular re-telling of an old story.

I want to be on the record.

And here’s my next prediction–Spoiler Alert!

This is how I think Madmen will conclude (mostly in 2015). Megan will (probably) not be murdered (unless she dies this season) but she will have a very close brush with the Mansons. Sally will experience the counter-culture in an entirely different manner and go to Woodstock just a few days later. Roger will die (he could be murdered). Joan (and their mutual son) will inherit Roger’s stake in the agency and Joan will rule the roost (along with Peggy). Betty will be a politician. In the final episode Don Draper, perhaps divested of everything he cares for, will go to an A.A. meeting and announce “My name is Dick Whitman.”

I know Madmen creator Matthew Weiner always references Betty Friedan. But viewers might also consult Richard Yates’ deeply disturbing novel, Revolutionary Road. (It came out in 1961, the same year that Catch-22 and The Moviegoer were also published, a perhaps not unrelated fact.)

I know you’re thinking what in the world does this have to do with localism?

I’m still pondering that. I could make an argument that localism is, in part, about listening to our own observations and not just accepting global dictums. But I’m not in the mood.

Just put me on the record.

 

 

Posted in What Does Local Mean? | Comments Off on Game of Thrones, Madmen, Other Trivia (and a Little Whining About How Nobody Takes Me Seriously)

Local by the Light of the Moon

Here’s a mystery. The moon is very far away and yet, last night, as the earth blocked the moon’s bright light, the almost surprising darkness felt real and immediate and heavy.

(I know. A picky person might argue that it was the darkness that was local, not the missing moon. But I disagree. The thickness of the darkness that enveloped us corresponded to the earlier brightness of that round and present moon. Moreover, it was caused by our own shadow. Our shadow! And one’s shadow is pretty darn local, don’t you think?)

I’m suddenly feeling that spring vibe, eating asparagus and strawberries and wonderful organic blueberries that came from a nearby fabulous (if a little too costly for regular consumption) farm, wondering when the first stone fruit will be in season, and once again thinking about the whole concept of the local.

I read an essay the other day that challenged the very idea and virtue of local living. Basically the author argued that localism is just provincial thinking.  The local market, he contended, is not more virtuous than the global market and therefore just as prone to the abuse of workers and the corruption of the land.

On some level this is no doubt true. It would be difficult to insist that people on one side of the country are decidedly more honest than those who reside on the other side. But it also seems to me that proximity generally provides more transparency and that the chickens you see wandering and pecking in the dirt are more likely to be well cared for than those who live in dark secrecy in vast and contaminated corporate chicken houses.

But I find that such accounting is incomplete anyway because–inconsistent and shallow as I am–debating only the morality of localism neglects the pleasure.

Last night I ate asparagus and new peas that I bought from a kind man at the farmer’s market in Riverside. I combined the vegetables with wild rice from the lower section of California’s Central Valley. (I had just read an article in Harper’s about the great debate concerning quinoa. It comes from the Andes–clearly not meeting anyone’s definition of local, is–according to some–so over planted that it depletes the mountainous South American soil, and currently causes ill feelings between the Bolivians and Ecuadorians who claim quinoa as intellectual property and will not allow it to be cultivated elsewhere. Heavens! What’s a local girl to do?)

Happily I learned that wild rice has similar attributes to quinoa. Quinoa is a kind of green (who would have thought) that is somehow related to spinach. Wild rice too is a green of a sort; it’s a type of harvested grass. Like quinoa, wild rice is high in protein, relatively low in calories, low in fat and ranked low on the fabled glycemic index. At first I worried that the consistency of wild rice is different from that of quinoa, but I discovered that mixed with a bit of California brown rice the wild rice was a very satisfactory substitute. The exotic recipe became home grown.

Even the moon is local sometimes.

 

Posted in What Does Local Mean? | Comments Off on Local by the Light of the Moon

The Saxophone in the Riverbed

 

Just like I vowed after the hurly-burly of the now seeming long ago holidays, I’ve been living pretty quietly these past weeks. No quests conducted at the mall, no too opulent meals, no real shopping (except for a trip or two to Trader Joe’s). I’ve been cleaning out of my closets, eating a lot of greens and counting the days ’til Carnival.old californiaIt’s like a prelude to some weird kind of postmodern Lent–looking inward and doing without.

I’ve taken it as an article of faith that out of the silence the real will emerge–what I really need, who I am really am, what I really like.

And a couple of days ago a sort of sign appeared.  In a goofy sort of local way.

For a number of years I heard occasional music drifting up like smoke in the daytime from the riverbed behind my house in Riverside, music from some kind of brass wind instrument. In the beginning I thought perhaps I heard a trumpet or a coronet somewhere down in the sand and vast stands of bamboo. There’d be scales at first and then the blues would start, sometimes nearly imperceptible and other times the tones as full and golden as in a concert hall. And after really listening, I knew the phantom played the sax.

DSC_2238

I wondered who it was, of course. A homeless person maybe, who pulled his wind instrument out of a battered shopping cart and out there with the coyotes and bobcats and wild dogs offered up a kind of grace.

Or it could have been a city dweller, someone who lived too close to others to give full power to his instrument. I pictured a man in sandals who lived in a tiny apartment, or maybe someone from a highly regulated housing development coming out to serenade someplace where he wouldn’t hear the neighbors banging on his walls. (Not to be sexist, but for some reason I pictured a man.)

But I hadn’t heard anything for a good while.

Then on Wednesday I laced up my shoes and went for a walk in the new park that sits right next to the river. By the time I’d walked even a few hundred yards from my house I could hear it. The saxophone man was back and this time the music was coming from the park. And he wasn’t just playing scales this time. It was a full-on concert.

There in the very center of the park, standing by the covered picnic tables while children played with their mothers on the nearby slide, was my mystery musician.

I looked to see if maybe he had his case open for donations, and felt bad because I couldn’t find even a dollar in the pocket of my jacket. But no–no open saxophone case, no empty cup or handwritten note.

“He goes away if anyone goes close to him.” Another man, running the mile loop remarked to me, under his breath, as he whipped by.

Sure enough. I saw a woman say something to him and the man stopped playing. He sat down on the picnic bench and took out a book.

Maybe 20 minutes later though, after the woman left with her three noisy children, I heard those beautiful blue notes again. Even at the far end of the park I could hear the perfect round, full sad sound. The man finished the song and then stopped again. By the time I rounded the corner and could peer over at the benches, Saxophone Man was gone.

Yesterday I ventured out into the rain, hoping maybe that between showers the music man might appear again. But no such luck. He performs on his own time.

The late Kurt Vonnegut once wrote an essay about why he was walking to the store to buy an envelope (rather than just ordering writing materials on-line, or, faster still, just sending an email). He talked about the fun he was going to have, the good looking women he would see and the fire truck he would wonder about as he wandered through the town.  Vonnegut suggests that one can order anything from anywhere on earth, but that pleasure and surprise require presence (rather than data entry skills).

Saxophone Man reminded me of Vonnegut’s sentiment.

The real concrete of our own neighborhoods will always trump the virtual global marketplace.

And one authentic saxophone, its unconstricted umber sounds drifting like smoke into the gray sky, beats everything.

DSC_1943

 

Posted in What Does Local Mean? | Comments Off on The Saxophone in the Riverbed

Ask the 3 Kings to Bring Local Gifts

old treeO.K.

I’m dreadfully behind. And there were a million things I wanted to talk about too. I wanted, for example, to chat about shopping locally on the day after Thanksgiving, about going to little stores and gossiping with merchants rather than wandering about the mall.

I had ideas about locally produced feasts and gifts you could actually make yourself. (There’s nothing more local than that. And I promise, no bean necklaces or children’s handprints or anything similar.)

But November happened. (I’m an aunt!) December followed. I’ve been remiss.

Truthfully though, today–tonight–on the feast of the epiphany, as I drag the tired tree out to the curb for green waste pick-up tomorrow, I’m struggling a little with the notion of localism.

At the end of the year no less an authority than the New York Times editorial page suggested that certain words were finished: kale, artisan, local. They’d become cliches. On to the next trend.

trashAnd truly,  if localism is to be more than a trend it has to be more than a mere recitation of what someone had for dinner, or a report on a popular restaurant  or even a recipe (with kale or otherwise).

Moreover, it can’t just be about saying no–no Spanish bacon, no imported almonds, no bananas, mango or papaya.

When I was in graduate school I took a course from a professor who was obsessed with a post-Reformation religious group called the Anabaptists. No one liked them much. The Inquisition named them heretics and Voltaire made fun of them (although actually the only very nice person in Candide is an Anabaptist). They stood against possessions, pageantry, ornamentation, fancy food and–death knell for the movement here–sex. Forget the historical gloss; my point is that saying no all the time doesn’t usually make one popular (whatever Republicans in the House say).

It has to be about embracing yes.

Yes to the moment you’re in–not where you wish you were or where you’ll be next week or in ten years. Localism has to about being here now.

A sentiment that is very vague and even maybe slightly banal.

From my birthday, which falls in November, through tonight, it’s been a non-stop holiday. Over-consuming–gifts, purchases, food–has become the daily norm. In the way that people fast or drink only celery juice (or whatever it is that they drink) to rest their internal organs and detox, I want to not buy things and rest the parts of my brain and soul that must process my purchases. I want to say yes to the rest of the world and all the other portions of my life that are not connected to the mall. I think the mall is very far away from local (even if you can walk there).

When I don’t shop I find I have a great deal more time (time to write on this blog, for example). I don’t lose the moment. I’m saying yes to my own time–not railroad time, or corporate time, or movie time. (NPR just ran a fabulous hour-long segment on the history of time and how tie as we know it is an invention of the industrial revolution and, more specifically, the railroad industry. Once upon a time we had morning, or lunch time or nap time or bedtime.) We had seasons.

I’m saying yes to what’s already here. I find sometimes that in the pursuit of the new I forget what I already have–a scarf, a sweater, perfect yoga pants. A poem.

I’m saying yes to fruits and vegetables that I don’t even recognize at the farmers’ market (like those delicious but weird Buddha’s hand citrus fruits). And yes to the frozen local strawberries still in my tiny freezer from last summer.

Yes to avocados. And to See Canyon honey crisp apples.

You can read any number of memoirs that detail the perks of not shopping for a year. (I have to say that I don’t want to be the crazy lady who comes empty-handed to a wedding and says that her presence is the gift. It’s not my intention to do anything that dramatic. I won’t do an all out fast either but I’m considering a spending a day living on fruit and fruit juice.) My plan is simply to be more mindful and to look in my own (very local) cupboards first.

The local is what’s at hand, in every sense of the word.

From what I heard, the three kings went into their own closets and treasure chests (seeing as they didn’t have Costco at that time) and trundled out some gold, frankincense and myrrh to give as presents (things that wouldn’t be set out by the curb a week or so later). Local stuff.

Like my man O. Henry said, that’s how the magi do it.

Posted in What Does Local Mean? | Comments Off on Ask the 3 Kings to Bring Local Gifts

Hippie Homeschooling: It Doesn’t Get More Local

carlton-readingAs you know, I’ve been seeking out local forms of entertainment–truly indie bands, tiny restaurants,  small farms and town museums. Last week I saw my friends Lisa and Bob–The Bellrays–play at Riverside’s Art Museum, at an opening for largely unknown Inland Empire artists. They sang their own fabulous soul–soul not just as in genre but in spirit–music to a full house and then dashed down the museum steps because they were leaving in a day to go on tour. As Lisa and Bob say, “Blues is the Teacher. Punk is the Preacher.” This week I got to be part of an act.

Unknown

cellar door

Blue West Books is a small indie press focusing on literature from the American southwest. Cellar Door Books–a small, brick-and-mortar, independent bookstore–sponsored the launch of the new press and readings from some of the authors. The event was covered by two small town newspapers. Mark Smith, winner of a number of literary prizes in the Austin community read from a collection of short stories, The Knave of Hearts. Carlton Smith–no relation and author also of Coyote Kills John Wayne–read a selection from his novel Hippie Homeschooling.  I read some poems from my own new book, On Kevin’s Boat.

We drank wine from the Central Coast. Friends came, as well as a number of people we didn’t know. And I have to say, there’s nothing more local than a free-standing, non-corporate, town bookstore. These stores have become an endangered species.

mark-reading

I read somewhere that the average American college graduate reads fewer than a single book each year. Books are becoming antiquated, like the places that sell them. These booksellers are heroic–encouraging readings, sponsoring programs, creating literary communities and insisting that people meeting over books is still important.

Interestingly, some people predict a rise in independent stores, as behemoths like Borders, Barnes and Noble and even some big box stores–ironically, the very institutions that forced them out–struggle and flounder. Chain stores can be replaced by Amazon, but as of yet there are no substitutes for real people with genuine voices and authentic ideas.

So here’s a new mantra: celebrate localism by going to a local independent bookstore. And buy something!

Small store, small press, real present authors and some genuine friends.

 

Nothing could be more local.

me-nepenthe

Posted in What Does Local Mean? | Comments Off on Hippie Homeschooling: It Doesn’t Get More Local

September 21st: The Autumnal Equinox

DSC_2440

Do you know that today, theoretically speaking, if you carefully balance an egg on its tip it will stand? (I’ve not had good luck with this stunt, but physics assures me of the fact.) This is the day when there are exactly as many moments of light as there are of darkness and after midnight tonight we tip inexorably into that great maw of blackness.

Today too, according to legend, the veil between the visible and invisible worlds is very thin, lending perhaps power to insight and human endeavor.

Again, I speak theoretically. My power has extended today only to drinking coffee while reading the newspaper (an ancient habit to which I still cling), visiting the farmers’ market and finding (for the first time in a while) fabulous mushrooms which I took as a sign of impending autumn and the spiritual need of risotto. I also dropped by Trader Joe’s and bought some pre-fabricated meals for my son (please someone tell Michael Pollan that I do know everything should be home-cooked almost from its inception and I promise to recite a rosary in partial compensation for my slatternly ways). In a little while I will cook said risotto and then I will meet very dear friends to go to a little local theater to see “a British golfing farce” (say what?) performed by amateurs who dote upon the drama.DSC_2429

Don’t think I’m being snarky.

This is actually what I want–comfort and love and humor (dare I say irony) in the increasing dark hours.

The former editor of the now sadly defunct Gourmet Magazine entitled one volume of her memoirs “Comfort me With Apples,” and I personally have always found solace in certain foods. And while I have nothing at all against apples–indeed some apple slices with a bit of cheddar cheese and even maybe a touch of brandy in a snifter seem to me to be a fine fall treat–there are other culinary items too that hold the grim reaper at bay. (In fact, I have an apple tree, one that suffers though from frequent attack by the raccoons.) DSC_2433Localism not only resists The Man in all of his global guises but it also makes world capital and the diminishment of time just slightly easier to stomach.

I told you about the mushrooms.

But at this moment of the Equinox, suspended as we are between seasons, we have summer’s stone fruit, fresh figs, berries and tomatoes as well as hard-shelled squash–the delicata, butternut, kubota, and even a few small pumpkins, brussel sprouts, celery root and yams. We can chew on the bounty of theoretically) incompatible moments.DSC_2438

Risotto is surely a kind of comfort food. So is bouillabaisse. And soup with barley and butter beans (of which I had a bowl this noon, frozen left-overs from some other meal. I would enclose a photo but I ate the entire bowl before I thought of it.) And what of peaches with fig jam? Homemade chili and tiny potatoes steamed, sliced and served with a bit of olive oil? What matters the darkness when we can have apple pie and zucchini bread?boullabaise

And nothing is more local or more sustaining than the love of friends.

Posted in What Does Local Mean? | Comments Off on September 21st: The Autumnal Equinox

Labor Day Blues–Sort Of: Goodbye to the 93 Days of Summer

DSC_2411

For me Labor Day has always been the day of reckoning. In the old days school didn’t even begin until after the last dusty, starter-fluid enhanced bits of charcoal briquet had been consumed and the oily traces of ribs and potato salad rinsed away. Things are different now–school starts in mid August, we know chemical enhanced coal isn’t good for you, and fatty ribs and sun soaked mayonnaise are not really very much better.

I don’t care. For me summer occupies those perfect days that open on Memorial Day and close with Labor Day weekend. Of course it’s Labor Day.

(I know all you factual people; summer doesn’t officially end until the equinox on September 21st. It still feels like–not because of weather or anything but something much more internal–fall.)

There was very little wind this weekend but we sailed in our tiny little boats (made for harbors and fresh water) anyway. The coast was unseasonably hot. There was little or no fog and the sun shone down on all of us. Spinnakers failed along with occasional tempers but mostly everyone near the water these few days seemed aware that these clear balmy days are a kind of fleeting gift.

I scrambled home from the water, greasy with sunblock and sweat to entertain my in-laws. In an sort of what-the-hell, it’s all over anyway mood, I decided to serve only local produce to my meat-loving visitors. We ate locally made, gluten-free wheat crackers with hummus (bought from a purveyor who makes it in SLO in a group kitchen), a salad of arugula, orange and fennel, purple potatoes that were boiled and then sauteed, grilled eggplant, zucchini and tomato, fruit salad and a faux ice cream made with coconut milk. Everyone seemed stuffed and satisfied–my brother-in-law ate more than I’ve ever seen him consume–except my adolescent nephew (for whom I’d already ordered an extra-large cheese pizza). I cut basil and made pesto with California walnuts  and dressed up the remainder of a jar of nut butter into a spicy peanut sauce.

DSC_2425

This summer for me has merged the terrible with the lovely and has been both brief and endless, so much so that it’s difficult for me to account for exactly what we ate, except to say lots of local vegetables. And it ended on a high note.

We know we’re not immune to tragedy but at least our stomachs are full. As we sat in the thickening dark, some of us sipping Central Coast wine, I felt a kind of communion. We consumed summer and in some strange way that season of extended light and greenery would stay with us, glowing and verdant in those small liminal moments between waking and the weight of responsibility.

CSC_2421

Posted in Adventures (and Misadventures), What Does Local Mean? | Comments Off on Labor Day Blues–Sort Of: Goodbye to the 93 Days of Summer

Love’s Labor’s Lost: A Meditation on Central Coast Shakespeare and the California Mid-State Fair

Is love’s labor ever really lost? I mean, love’s like a poem, a sailboat or a perfect, vine-ripened, sun-warmed tomato–inefficient and ephemeral. Their value is found in the moment of experience.

And that exquisite moment is found on the lawn in River Oaks (in Paso Robles), sharing sandwiches and summer salads with friends, sipping wine and watching the players of the Central Coast Shakespeare Festival perform WS’s play, “Love’s Labor’s Lost.”

photo-21

It’s a sort of strange comedy, ending as it does not with marriage but with death. The King of Navarre and his two pals (reminding me of certain graduate students I’ve known in a slightly scary way) decide to devote themselves to study for three years, resisting the call of love and all that might be associated with it. They take stern vows, but practically as soon as they have made them they encounter the visiting Princess of France and her  BFFs. The men are immediately smitten, but in ways familiar to all adolescents, determine to hide their affections and forsake their pledge. Quickly discovered and mocked, the men nonetheless win the attention of the Princess and her consorts. But the women remain unconvinced, for if the men could so quickly break their vows to chastity and scholarship will they not similarly foreswear their oaths of love?

Still, the women are nearly won over when real life intrudes upon the drama; the King of France has died and his daughter must return home. Saddened, the women leave their lovers, promising their suitors that if the men can hold fast to these new promises of love for a year and a day, the girls will seriously consider their offers.

Love’s labor is lost, overwhelmed by the larger demands of the world. And the audience is left with an enigma; does the play offer a happy ending or not? It’s a post modern play that can be read as one likes–nothing is determinate.

photo-22

I’ve seen several productions of this play over the years, but nothing as charming as this version. It’s the third year I’ve attended the Central Coast Shakespeare Festival, and each time I have the same reaction. The language feels more fresh, the humor less studied, the emotion more real than I ever experienced elsewhere. The sets are sparse, the costumes seem largely culled from old boxes and consignment stores, the stage is tiny and the lakeside park where the play takes place is adjacent to a golf course and housing tract.

Nonetheless. It’s another expression of localism.

In their simplicity the plays emerge as true labors of love, always somehow getting to the heart of the foolish human condition.

Speaking of the human condition, I also attend the California Mid-State fair annually where a great deal of humanity is also on stage.

When I was a kid growing up in So Cal, the L.A. County Fair was a major attraction. We were given free tickets at school and attendance at the “Piggy Fair” was ritualized. My family always went twice. We generally went on the first Friday that the Fair was opened, often with another family, eating a picnic on the wooden tables and then cruising the Fun Zone (a region of which my father was most dubious). We rode the big ferris wheel and the then new monorail and on one memorable evening the ride broke down and we had to climb down–escorted by firemen–on long ladders. Fabulous! We also always came for one long Sunday when we ate fair food, perused the barns and watched Scottish bagpipers dance and wail.

(I was also traumatized on one of these days. On a trip to the hog barn I observed a mother sow with her litter which included a tiny runt. The other larger piglets pushed it out of the way as they nursed and the baby pig sat whimpering in the corner. I asked my father about it and he said it would certainly die. “Die?” I screamed. I wanted to take the pig home, an idea quickly nixed by my father. I cried. It was my first encounter with mortality and the brevity of life.)

I pay homage to these days at the local fair. I’m not really up to a 12 hour visit these days, so we generally arrive in the mid to late afternoon, watch the animal shows where we learn to distinguish between a “stocky” young pig (aren’t all swine by definition somewhat stocky?) and a flat-backed blue ribbon prize winner. (Although it’s somewhat disconcerting to see the 4H kids treat their animals as pets and then sell them for dinner. Ah well, I’m not a farm girl.) We taste the winning olive oil, sample local wines, examine photography and listen to a concert (sometimes free, sometimes paid for). This time we sat under an oak tree as the light faded listening to Steve Tyrell (an old-school style crooner who became celebrated for his singing in the film “Father of the Bride.” This is usually not exactly my thing but it was actually delightful).

What does cotton candy have in common with Shakespeare?

The sweetness can’t last.

Yeah, yeah, I know. You can buy a snow cone machine to keep at home and every English major has volumes of Shakespeare. It’s not the same.

The play’s the thing.

My friend Gail made a zucchini pasta topped with raw tomato sauce. Tom made a fresh cherry clafoutis and Lisa fixed lemon bars. I served out sandwiches made with pastrami or avocado and green salad with balsamic dressing. We drank wine and lemonade and I sat close to my sweet sister-in-law. Like the Princess of France’s vacation, the moment can’t last.

The end of summer is in sight.

The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.

Pick your moments. Be present in the localism of your own life.

Nothing lasts forever.

So what?

Posted in What Does Local Mean? | Comments Off on Love’s Labor’s Lost: A Meditation on Central Coast Shakespeare and the California Mid-State Fair