Pasadena and the Huntingdon

Trip Start May 26, 2007
1
6
15
Trip End Jul 06, 2007


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Flag of United States  , California
Friday, June 1, 2007

Friday. Appointments have fallen through or been rescheduled. Free day. Massive conscience debate chez Goliard. Work? Or go look at stuff? Compromise decision: head off early, look at some stuff, get back about 4.00 pm, work till bedtime. Can do. What stuff to see? According to the map Pasadena is fairly close, and there are two world class museums there - The Huntingdon and the Norton Simon Collection. However they only open at 12.00, although the Norton is open till 9.00 pm. Some work first, notes from a book I can now post home and off after breakfast and dropping off my clothes at the local Chinese(actually Korean) laundry.

The local breakfast café has real 'good ole boy' feel to it. The menu is heavily dominated by south items (grits, andouille sausage, biscuits and gravy) and the normal Californian Mexican cuisine. The staff re mainly Mexican, there is normally one American waiter and the owner who looks like Carl Perkins, the 1950s rock 'n' roll singer. My docket showed that I had been served by Jesus!

Pasadena might have been spatially close, but not public transport close. I had to take the train back into LA, then another one out to Pasadena, (no cross connections, unless you count an incredibly complicated sequence of FIVE bus changes!) And of course, no bus connection from the Pasadena station to the Huntingdon, instead a 3.5 km walk! All up 3 hours of travelling! A very footsore Goliard on arrival.

Pasadena is a very 'nice' town. Wide, leafy, shady streets, generally with magnolias.  Big houses. Impeccably maintained gardens. Scent of jasmine is all pervasive. Quiet. Very self absorbed people walking their dogs or getting in and out of 4 WDs. Every house had a sign advertising the name of the security company guarding it, with the attached sign "armed response"! And American flags outside many of the homes. I photographed one to put on the title page of this travelogue as it sort of captures the 'American Pie' flavour.
 
The Huntigdon was awesome. It is a 150 acre former private estate of the railway baron Henry Huntingdon, who had the grounds laid out as a botanic garden, and who built up a massive collection of French and British art (mainly 18th century) and a library of 6,000,000 items - incunabula (books printed before 1500), early modern British books, private documents of various authors (eg the journals, notebooks and letters of W H Auden) and a substantial collection of western documents and books, especially relating to the Spanish period and the integration of the West into Anglo America.

The gardens were just stunning. Some were formal - a Shakespeare garden featuring all the plants in the plays, a sculpture garden, a herb garden, a rose garden. There is a tropical garden, a subtropical garden, ponds and waterlilies, a desert garden and an Australian garden. But I was really stoked on the Japanese garden, incorporating a traditional tea house, bonsai displays, and a water and rock garden. Some utterly amazing bonsai including an olive tree, some beautiful flowering camellias. In true California style, various people were 'meditating' in the bonsai courts!

The gallery (the original home) is currently been renovated, so some of the paintings are housed temporarily in the associated Gallery of American Art. It is  a very thorough and comprehensive collection, and certainly gives a powerful sense of establishment art (academy of arts type stuff) in 18th and 19th century Britain and France.  Saw the original of the painting I hate most in the world, Gainsborough's Blue Boy. Sadly I wasn't allowed to photograph it, otherwise it would have become a dart board cover at home! Why such virulence? Well at primary school we had to read an awful book about a real pommy goody two shoes nancy boy called "little Lord Fauntleroy" whose first name was Cedric! And that bloody painting was on the book cover. You can guess how much crap I took for that. Hated that picture ever since!

So after booing and hissing at Blue Boy, I went into the library. Introduced myself as a member of FEEGI, a research group into early modern European expansion which holds its annual meetings at the Huntingdon. SO they very kindly showed me many treasures, delightfully well appointed work rooms for visiting scholars. I saw a Shakespeare folio, a Gutenberg Bible, with gloves I was allowed to hold a first edition (1587) Hakluyt! Early editions of travel narratives, British merchant correspondence regarding the India, Africa and West India trades, Spanish printed books dealing with the incorporation of California into the empire. Wonderful stuff. A bibliophile and scholar's dream. Invited to come back and work - collections are always available to scholars, perhaps give some seminars, both public and / or scholarly, publish in their journal. Imagine. Half a day working through old books and manuscripts, and then a long leisurely stroll and sit in the gardens. Scholasticus in hortum.

Kindly the staff ordered me a taxi at 3.30. I waited till 4.30, prat never showed up. Back o shank's pony. Huntingdon induced joy dissipated at the long walk back. Part of my objective for the day had been to post some stuff back home, and hence had a full backpack. The US has very few post offices, and none of the agencies that we have, so... eventually found one in Pasadena centre, at 5.03. Doors closed at 5.00! By now I was tired, foot sore and weary. I also wanted a toilet. Another problem in the USA - very few public conveniences, and the ones in cafes, etc (including McDonalds) are locked and you only get the key if you buy something. Compelled to enter an upscale burger place and order to drink to pee! But it was happy hour, beer was reduced and appetizers were half price. So dinner and drink or two.

Had wanted to go to the Simon Norton Museum, which was open late, but frankly was too stuffed. Sort of this far and no farther syndrome. Then there was the issue of getting home. By now it was dark and I was not exactly sure where the metro was. But also the idea of two hours of train ride (plus the walk to find it) in and out of LA was more than I could bear. I was having a nice conversation with some people at the bar, and they were frankly horrified that I was in LA without a car! Couldn't conceive of getting around on public transport. One of them, a very nice African American lady in superbly expensive designer clothes (she was in sales and obviously very good at it) even asked me how did one catch a train! Absolute car (and consequently oil) dependant.

Then there was an intriguing conversation about guns. They had all heard about he firearms buy back after the Port Arthur massacre and wanted to know if crime had gone down subsequently in Australia. I pointed out that firearms had always been fairly tightly controlled, and that gun crime, generally was rare, and more often within criminal subcultures than outside. This staggered them, they had all assumed Australia was a gun crazy place like them. One then asked: how come the pioneer heritage didn't continue? Then it clicked, they assumed Australian history was like American. Explained that in an arid country with poor soils and less variety of game, the American experience of settling the frontier in a log cabin and living off huntin' and fishin' wasn't really viable. Australians had always been mainly city dwellers, and the country side was divided into large estates with labour forces quite early. Gun culture never really became ingrained. Open mouthed amazement. Explained further that many violent crimes involved physical assault with fists or improvised weapons, like screwdrivers, syringes (that was new to them), baseball bats etc. The immediate response was: if people had guns that wouldn't happen. Pointed out the consequences - firstly in Australian law self defence had to be proportionate to the threat, you couldn't kill or severely wound someone who was only trying to frighten you or beat you up (that blew their minds) secondly, in our view he death of  a human was a greater tragedy than injury or robbery; third in most cases it was only money and insurance would cover it anyway, and fourth the escalation - the bad guys would then get guns too and where would be? Like the conversation in Berkeley about voting and citizen action, this left these people thinking deeply. I felt I had scored small victory for Aussie social democratic rationality over American redneck idiocy!

Had a delicious dish of Buffalo chicken wings - grilled chicken wins basted and glazed in a hot pepper sauce. Apparently the name comes from Buffal New York, where they originated. Tasty.

So decided about 8.00 to get a taxi home. Driver couldn't speak English, didn't know where to go, couldn't read a map. How can anyone in LA not know where Sunset & Santa Monica are? Rang his dispatcher who told him I was wrong, Santa Monica and Sunset didn't cross. Eventually after many passing cars were asked for directions, we found it, and I showed him the crossing. Arsehole cost me $65.

Very grumpy and tired when I got back to Silverlake. Pissed off at LA. Still had to book accommodation for the next night (an unexpected day longer as Mike asked me to come to San Diego on Sunday). I decide to be downtown, despite the bad rap, for convenience to the station, and I still hoping I can get from there to the Getty! Feeling down, and I think that came across in my e-mails home.
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