Cowboys Riding Zebras

Trip Start Jul 26, 2005
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Trip End Aug 20, 2005


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Flag of United States  , California
Monday, August 1, 2005

On a day when we were mostly consumed by driving, we still managed to see: zebras; the Golden Gate Bridge under extreme fog; thousand year old Egyptian statues; five hundred year old French tapestries; a chair where Clark Gable might have sat; and a state fair consumed with cowboys where we had just missed seeing Journey play. But that's just the way California goes.

After a bathroom-necessitated detour through Golden Gate Park in San Francisco (the city was bogged under a wet, windy fog) I was excited to see the coastline of Big Sur---at least until I saw the road we'd have to wend and wind our way down to see it. I slept fitfully, nauseous, barely glimpsing the rugged green hills that press rockily down into the grey swell of the ocean. When we arrived at Hearst Castle (otherwise known as San Simeon National Monument) I was still woozy but perked up on the bus ride up the hill to the castle. This was another stop that echoed in the thirty-year-old footsteps of my parents' drive south to Mexico: another frustrated desire. They had arrived at Hearst late in the day only to be told that all the tours for the day were booked up. Annoyed, they appeased themselves with a handsome, full-colour photography guide book to the castle, which then languished on a shelf in our home for years. Around the age of 10 I discovered the book and fell in love with the ostentatious, lavish castle (although he flippantly referred to it as simply his "ranch") that William Randolph Hearst had created in the hills above San Simeon. At ten I wanted to to own such a place---especially the elegant swimming pools. Failing that, I wanted to visit.

Because time runs strangely in our family I had this request granted over a decade later. Despite another annoying tour guide (nasally voice, strange child-like hairstyle on a forty-five year old woman, obsessed with name dropping and chastising Hearst for the perceived sin of having a whole heck of a lot of money), the tour and the castle were fascinating. The grounds are lovely, and the guest house we were allowed to tour was beautifully appointed. The castle itself---well, it proves that money certainly can't buy taste. Rooms too large for comfort filled with antiquities whose sole beauty lay in just that---their age and cost. Clark Gable and other Hollywood stars of his time would have sat in these seats, the guide informed us, rubbing a chair. My favourite part of the castle remained what it had been as a child, the two gorgeous pools. The outdoor one is all done in white tile with a Roman colonnade surrounding it and white marble mermaids frolicking in the water. Inside the floor, diving platform and pool itself are laid with gold leaf and the blazing light standards are reflected in the dark, romantic waters.

"Here the rich and famous visitors would have come after a midnight movie for a romantic, late-night dip," the guide intoned.

"A pool of debauchery," my mother hissed.

On the way back down the hill on the bus we saw one of the remnants of Hearst's imported zoo: five zebras, roaming free in the grasslands.

We stopped for the night in Paso Robles, a mid-west California town, for lack of any other destination. The Mid-West State Fair was in progress and the smell of cow dung and the sound of cowboy hollers reached our hotel room until late in the night.
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