California Dreaming – Happy Birthday John Steinbeck

As we headed south toward Monterey on our Californian road trip, we noticed how the landscape seemed to suddenly change. We were driving across a vast dark, almost menacing plain, which was such a contrast to the colourful pumpkin patch

Pumpkin Patch

Pumpkin Patch

rolling hills and vales we had driven through earlier that day. 

Fields around Salinas

Fields around Salinas

Once settled in Monterey we sifted through the leaflets in the motel reception for ideas of what to do in the surrounding area. We thought we would only be staying one night and move on south after visiting Carmel (Phil was convinced we would bump into Clint) but that was not to be. There was so much to do in the area.

I discovered we were not far from where Steinbeck was born and raised and, having recently read Of Mice and Men with my Make Friends with a Book group, I was keen to visit.

We headed back to Salinas, a town surrounded by the dark and never-ending fertile plains we had driven across the day before.IMG_1741

And immediately I understood how this landscape would have influenced Steinbeck’s writing. There were people still toiling in the fields and digging up vegetables by hand just as George and Lennie had. This was a farming system that seemed very labour intensive.

Steinbeck was no stranger to such work himself, he worked on the farms in his summer holidays. I am sure he met people then who would become the basis of some of his characters.

I cannot say I liked Salinas. It was a featureless town built on a grid. The car park was full of big station wagons with number plates like this. IMG_1696It was a gritty place with gritty people. A real contrast after San Francisco with its hills and Bay Area. Yet near to the National Steinbeck Center art was fighting back.

And I discovered that in addition to the gritty novels that he wrote Steinbeck was famous for, he was also a traveller. He had lived in England for a while and had also been on his own road trip of America, documented in the book Travels with Charley. IMG_1710He had a pretty cool vehicle to travel in.

We had lunch in his former home, which I wrote about in this post Lunch with Steinbeck Dinner with Forrest.

The National Steinbeck Center is definitely worth a visit. I just wished I could share the experience with my friends at Bleakhouse Library who I had shared Of Mice and Men with in my Make Friends with a Book group.

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And I definitely agree with this.IMG_1703

Happy birthday John Steinbeck. 112 on February 23rd 2014.

I have just discovered that in two days time it is your birthday, whilst looking up the links for this post. Synchronicity, perhaps?  The Celestine Prophesy, which helped me understand this concept is also about travelling. And it has just occurred to me that I will be looking at camper vans on your birthday. Not planned, only because I have won free tickets to the Caravan and Camping Show. Perhaps it is meant to be? So, that like you, I can go on another road trip. 

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Lunch with Steinbeck, dinner with Forrest

Chats about California today reminded me of this. Would love to go back and spend more time out there.

travellingcoral

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On the drive down the coast from Santa Cruz to Monterey the scenery was stunning, most of the time. The last few miles, we headed inland along Highway 1 across flat, fertile plains, dedicated to agriculture. The fields were full of people hand picking artichokes and sprouts. We saw signs advertising kiwis and strawberries too. These fields stretched out as far as the eye could see, between the sea and the mountains. Despite the obvious fertility, there was something else, the vastness, the intense human labour. This was a place where people worked the land by hand. Unlike the vast corn fields, that glow in the sun, this was not a place of beauty.

I had not then made the link between this valley and John Steinbeck. He was born and raised in Salinas, the town sitting in the middle of this plain. He sometimes worked the land to earn some…

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Lunch with Steinbeck, dinner with Forrest

20111022-070926.jpg

On the drive down the coast from Santa Cruz to Monterey the scenery was stunning, most of the time. The last few miles, we headed inland along Highway 1 across flat, fertile plains, dedicated to agriculture. The fields were full of people hand picking artichokes and sprouts. We saw signs advertising kiwis and strawberries too. These fields stretched out as far as the eye could see, between the sea and the mountains. Despite the obvious fertility, there was something else, the vastness, the intense human labour. This was a place where people worked the land by hand. Unlike the vast corn fields, that glow in the sun, this was not a place of beauty.

I had not then made the link between this valley and John Steinbeck. He was born and raised in Salinas, the town sitting in the middle of this plain. He sometimes worked the land to earn some money as a teenager, but mom was a teacher and dad was in business, so they were comfortably off, as you can see from the house.

We visited the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas and had lunch in the family home, now a restaurant run by volunteers. having read Mice and Men recently, I knew immediately that this was the landscape that it had been set in. What surprised me, was how much he had written and the diversity of his work, he was even involved in a Rogers and Hammerstein musical Pipe Dream which flopped.

I was also interested to learn he and wife number three lived in Somerset for a short while and his best friend was a marine biologist Ed Rickettswho did some ground breaking work in the Californian coast.

What interested me the most was that in the sixties he took himself off in a camper van to tour the USA with his poodle, Charley as a companion. He documented this trip in a book called Travels with Charley. As someone who is currently on a mini road trip in the states and on the first stage of a round the world trip, this book is now on my must read list.

Bill Bryson has been my travel,writer of choice till now. I suspect that I will be adding Steinbeck to the list.

We ended a busy day at Cannery Row, just to neaten of the Steinbeck connection. Now a place dedicated to entertainment not the sardine industry, with upmarket shops jostling against tourist tack and high end restaurants next to family chain, it’s a good place for a Friday night dinner.

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And because it was there, we could resist posing for these photos outside the place we ate.

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