Monday, November 05, 2007

Steinbeck pilgrimage Part I

Monterey and Cannery Row

If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm a big fan of author John Steinbeck. My favorite books of his are Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Cannery Row, and Tortilla Flat -- the last two of which are both set in Monterey. One of the reasons I decided to travel to California was so I could visit the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas. What better way to enhance my Steinbeck experience than to explore the town in which two of my favorite stories take place?

Tuesday morning on Cannery Row

Cannery Row's trademark "crossovers". These were originally constructed as passages between the canneries' packing houses and their warehouse space on the opposite side of the street.

It was a beautiful day on Monterey Bay. The radio was blaring ominous reports of fires and hurricane-force offshore winds down in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas, but the weather in Monterey was sunny with calm winds, and cool, dry air. After taking a few photos along the bay, I found a place to park and set out to explore Cannery Row. Discovering the "real" Cannery Row among amidst all of the tourist schlock is a tall order, but with a little patience and a keen eye (and intelligence gained from web sites such as the Cannery Row Foundation) it's possible to find such Cannery Row mainstays as Ed Ricketts' lab (Ricketts served as Steinbeck's inspiration for "Doc" in Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday), the Wing Chong building (inspiration for Lee Chong's Market), and the Bear Flag. It was interesting to find some of my preconceived impressions of the neighborhood confirmed, while others proved to be inaccurate.

Ed Ricketts' lab at 800 Cannery Row

The inventory inside the old Wing Chong Building included a selection of Steinbeck titles.

I didn't have much use for most of the touristy stuff -- quaint coffee shops, upscale hotels, trendy bars, t-shirt shops -- although I did buy a couple postcards at Wing Chong's to send to the kids, and I picked up some chocolates for K and Mom at the Ghirardelli Store. I would have liked to visit the Monterey Aquarium if I'd had more time. Then again, it was crawling with junior high school class field trips, so it would have been better to visit on another day. One observation -- everything seemed to be named "Steinbeck this" and "Cannery Row that". And the banners along the street were a nice touch.

banners along Cannery Row

Other highlights included Steinbeck bust (located on Cannery Row itself) and Ed Rickets bust (located on the corner of Cannery Row and Drake, where Rickets was killed in a grade crossing accident with a Southern Pacific train). The former SP right of way is now a paved, multi-use recreational trail, ideal for walking, jogging, or bicycling. And the view of Monterey Bay was very nice, especially just after sunrise when the last remnants of a pre-dawn fog lifted.

Ed Ricketts' bust, along with a wide-angle view of the area. (The bust is located just to the left of the railroad signals). Ricketts lost his life here in a 1948 accident when his car was struck by a Southern Pacific train. Today, a paved multi-use recreational trail occupies the former railroad right of way.

multiple uses of the Steinbeck name

Had I found Tortilla Flat?

Before I headed up to Salinas, I drove up one of the hillsides above Monterey to see if I could get a sense of what the "Tortilla Flat" neighborhood might have been like. It was harder to pin down than Cannery Row was, since Tortilla Flat per se never existed in the real world. Still, it wasn't hard to imagine Pablo and Pilon hiding their jugs of wine in the weeds, or the Pirate's canine entourage escorting him into the forest to hide his daily wages. And with a phenomenal view of hills and ocean, this was one of the most scenic areas I visited during my trip.

Coming next... a visit to the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas.
nr: John Steinbeck - East of Eden
np: Grateful Dead - "Me and my uncle"

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