Thursday, June 17, 2010

San Diego: contextual information and general impressions


Hello! I'm back. Back from the land of painted toenails and stucco.

Despite budgetary concerns and timing follies we spent last week getting to San Diego and back. We initially picked San Diego simply because it was equidistant from our friends; it is about a twenty hour drive from either Portland or Denver, ignoring traffic, which you simply cannot ignore if you are traveling through Los Angeles. On the way Anthony and I made a brief stop in Berkeley to scope out a bookstore and eat ice cream. We stayed a long weekend in the city and then came back along the seaside.

Though I brought my paints with me I didn't actually break them out at any point during our journey. Because of the window-breaking incident in Vancouver I also didn't bring anything of substantial resale value, and instead relied on pen-and-ink note taking to capture the spirit of what I was seeing. I am fairly pleased with the results, though if I had it to do over I would block out a good three days to be left to my own devices in Balboa Park. With paints.


Sometimes when you travel in a place as wide and homogeneous as these United States, you experience the disorienting sense of never having traveled at all, because of the familiar scenery. The actual natural scenery is distinct, but the cities themselves tend to bleed together, particularly if you are from the center states. One Village Inn is every Village Inn, with only subtle variations in decor or layout. Not so with San Diego. Having been no further south than San Francisco for several years, San Diego -- while still filled with the familiar chains -- was still indisputably different. The houses stacked up on the hills were almost uniformly in a Mexican style with tiled roofs and stucco "adobe" walls making arches and other shapes that one can't do with wood and paint. On our second day we learned that San Diego was the home of the late Dr. Suess, and it isn't surprising. The odd house shapes, the odd tree shapes (all wavey lines with blots of leaves on the end) were things we were calling "Suess-y" before we even knew for sure.

It also wasn't the blistering heat of the far south I had been worried about. San Diego is far south, but it's also next to the ocean, which has been giving us an unseasonably cool late Spring up here in bridgetown, and it seems like everywhere along the coast is having their own dose of the same. Dani bemoaned how "cold" it was, but I was happy to get some sun at last. And quite a bit of sun. Despite the mild temperatures we managed to break out the sunscreen and peel off sweaters while doing some of our exploring. Almost all of us received a gorgeous tan on the bits we had exposed (except Anthony, whose incandescent paleness reflects sun rather than absorbs it).

Of course, we were still shamefully pale compared to the locals. I think the kind of sunlight you get that far south must be different than the kind we get up here, because I don't think I've received quite as deep and even a tan on my hands, arms and feet in YEARS.  I have been walking around in shorts, sandals and the same 3/4 sleeved sweater up here when it's been sunny out, and I turn the color of weak tea. Then I stand around the zoo for half a day in the same clothing and I am the color of caramel.

There is also something different about the quality of the light at that latitude. It's hard to describe to regular people, and I didn't really try that hard other than to mention it to Anthony a few times. I don't think it is mere sun-beaching that had the colors looking washed out and desaturated. Even the overcast mornings didn't give the pigments a break, something was missing and it failed to lift the colors out of the landscape a bit. We saw more white, yellow and orange, a lot less of everything else. Perhaps it's simply vitamin D floating around in the air clouding the outlines. In any case it heightened the sense of Elsewhere for me, and it made the powerful home-pallet that much more vibrant when we crossed the state line a week later.

I may have only noticed this because I was really trying to look. Part of the reason I avoided taking pictures was because I didn't have my good camera. But it was also to do with my concern that taking pictures -- for me -- tends to make me lazily glance over something that really deserves to be paid attention to. As I try and coax a style out of the scribbles I think the most vital thing is to always work on it. What better way than to try and capture the essence of a new thing I am seeing?

I will share some of these images with you, as I share some of the stories or interesting things we saw.