Sun and snow in Arizona

BEFORE WE DEPARTED for the USA in January 1995, three months before the expected due date of the baby, who was in my wife’s womb, we consulted our obstetrician. We wanted to know whether it would be safe for my wife, Lopa, to travel at this point in the pregnancy. Our obstetrician saw no reason why we should not make the trip but warned us:

“Make sure you have good travel insurance because a premature birth in the States will bankrupt you.”

We spent much of January 1995 driving around California and neighbouring Arizona. What we had not expected was the weather. We had wanted to visit Death Valley but were advised against it, not because of the heat but because of the bad winter weather there. On arriving at Yosemite National Park, we were turned away in order to buy snow chains for the tires of our hired car. Returning with the chains we ventured into the snowy wilderness that Yosemite had become.

Later in the trip we crossed a so-called desert, probably the Mojave, the first I had ever seen. It rained nonstop and instead of sand there was plenty of green vegetation. I was disappointed as it did not match my preconceptions of desert appearances. We were travelling east towards Arizona, a state that until that trip I had associated with heat and deserts.

One of our destinations was the south side of the Grand Canyon. We were really glad that we had the snow chains with us because without them it would have been impossible to reach our rented cabin close to the edge of the canyon.

We were adequately dressed for the cold but Lopa was terrified that she might slip in the snow and fall, possibly risking the health of our unborn child. We found her a tall, stout branch and she walked in the snow, looking rather like  Mahatma Gandhi on a march as depicted in many statues in India, but dressed in padded clothing.

We arrived at the Canyon after nightfall. The next day, the sun was shining, and the sky was blue. The snow still lay thickly on the ground, on the trees, and in the canyon.

This was my first visit to the Grand Canyon and the snowfall enhanced my enjoyment of this spectacular place. The snow had fallen in such a way that it had only landed on the upward facing surfaces of the many strata that make up the walls of the canyon. This exaggerated their appearance in a positively aesthetic fashion. The Grand Canyon under snow made our visit memorable and exceeded all my expectations of the famous site.

From the Canyon, we drove south to Sedona, which is famous for its vortices that some people. including me, claim to be able to feel. Though not far south from the Canyon, the weather had improved considerably.

When we reached Phoenix, a city south of Sedona, winter had become summer. Whereas the temperature at the Canyon had been below freezing point, at Phoenix it was at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

From Phoenix, we drove west towards Yuma and San Diego in south California. On the way, we traversed a stretch of land that confirmed my preconceptions of what a desert should look like. It was neither soaked with rain nor lacking in sand dunes. On the contrary, it was hot, deserted, and sandy. And we saw occasional cacti. At last, at the age of almost 42 I had seen my first ‘real’ desert.  Since then, I have seen a few other sandy deserts including the vast wastes of Kutch in western India.

Although our obstetrician in London was unconcerned about our journey, everyone we met in the USA on that trip was horrified that we had undertaken it. Our holiday in the USA was a great success and our baby daughter arrived intact and healthy in early April. I cannot say for sure whether her in-utero journey across the Atlantic and around parts of California and Arizona is in any way responsible for her love of travelling, but there is a possibility that it was.

Route 66

MY MOTHER’S ANCESTORS included a Seligmann family, which can be traced back to the area around Ichenhausen Bavaria in Germany.

In January 1995, we visited Arizona in the USA and drove along a stretch of Route 66 on our way from Lake Havasu City and the Grand Canyon. On the way, we spotted a tiny settlement called Seligman . Even though its name differed to my ancestor’s family name by having only one ‘n’, we felt that we should make a small break there.

Seligman on the Santa Fe Railway is named after Jesse Seligman of JW Seligman & Co, who helped finance the railway and others in the area. The founder of the company was Jewish from Germany. Many German Jews who migrated to the USA with surnames ending with a pair of consonants, such as Seligmann and Wolff, dropped the final consonant on arrival in the States.

Seligman looked like a typical ‘boondocks’ place. It was just what I expected to find in the Wild West despite the dismal weather and the snow on the ground.

We came across a pen in the centre of the town. A weathered notice next to it said that the enclosure contained an ageing buffalo that was once displayed at Buffalo Bills Wildwest Show. My wife suggested, frivilously, that she should should into the pen to pose for a photograph next to the sign.

Despite being 7 months into pregnancy, she began climbing the fence around the pen, and stopped suddenly. What we thought was empty, was not. The pen housed an enormous, sleepy, aged buffalo. She had a lucky escape!

Later, we arrived at the Grand Canyon where the snow fall had been heavy. We were fortunate to see this spectacular geological area decorated with snow.

A town in California

 

Just after Christmas in 1994, we flew to San Francisco in California (USA) for a four-week holiday. My wife was in the sixth month of pregnancy. Before booking our trip, we consulted her obstetrician at St Marys Hospital in Paddington, London. We wanted to know whether it was safe for her to travel at this stage in her pregnancy. The obstetrician did not mince her words:

Yes, go ahead, but make sure that you have good travel health insurance because having a premature birth in the United States might well bankrupt you.”

After spending a few days with friends who live across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, we rented a car, an upmarket Toyota, one of the nicest cars I have ever driven. We drove all over California south of San Francisco. Also, we visited the Grand Canyon and saw it under snow. This was a very beautiful sight because the snow had fallen in such a way that the many stepped strata that line the walls of this spectacular gorge were accentuated. We admired this while trudging through very deep snow. In order to enjoy this, we had had to purchase snow chains and to learn how to apply them to the wheels.

One day, we drove south from the snow-covered Grand Canyon to Sedona, a town famed for its vortices of energy. It was a distance of 106 miles. Yet in that short distance the weather had changed from Arctic to summer. And, the following, day we drove further south past Phoenix and Yuma and then through a southern Californian Desert to San Diego. Even though it was freezing up at the Grand Canyon, from Phoenix to San Diego it was so hot that we had to switch on the car’s air-conditioning.

From San Diego, we spent a few days driving along roads close to the Pacific Coast. We visited most of the historic mission stations between San Diego and San Francisco. We also stopped at Nepenthe in Big Sur, where the writer Henry Miller once lived. The building in which the writer lived was open to the public. While we were visiting it, my pregnant wife needed to use a toilet urgently. Without making any fuss, the guardian unlocked the toilet that Miller used to use and allowed my wife to relieve herself.

Being fans of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, we visited some of the few buildings that the great architect had designed along the route we were taking. One of these, at San Luis Obisco (between Los Angeles and San Francisco), was a particularly lovely medical centre, the Kundert Medical Clinic that was built in 1956.

On the final day of our road trip, I looked at the guidebook and spotted something that I did not want to miss. To reach it, meant adding 60 miles to our already long (300-mile journey) journey. The place that caught my eye was about 90 miles to the east of our destination Marin County on the left bank of the River Sacramento. The small settlement is called Locke.

Locke is in the wetlands of the Sacramento River Delta. In the 1860s, work was undertaken to drain the malarial wetlands. Many poor Chinese labourers were hired to do this work at disgracefully low wages. In about 1912, the settlement of Lockeport, now called ‘Locke’ was established by three local Chinese merchants. Three years later in 1915, the Chinatown in nearby walnut Grove was destroyed by fire. The Chinese community then moved to Locke and a town grew. Because the Californian Alien Land Law of 1913 forbade Asians buying farmland, the Chinese in the area leased the land from a George Locke.

The town’s population reached 1000 to 1500 in its heyday. It acquired a reputation for its gambling halls, opium dens, and brothels. At one point, according to an article in Wikipedia, it became known as ‘California’s Monte Carlo’. In the 1940s and ‘50s, the towns population dwindled because many people migrated from Locke to major American cities. Currently, there are only about ten people living there.

By 1995 when we drove into Locke it was already a ghost town, a lesser-known tourist attraction. However, it did not disappoint us. Most of the main street’s buildings were picturesquely decaying. They were all made of wood, and no doubt highly inflammable. The place looked like a rundown set for a cowboy film, except that it was for real. One of the buildings that had housed a gambling salon, or maybe a brothel or opium den, was open to the public. Its original dingy décor had been preserved. All that was missing was a haze of opium smoke and the poor Chinese workers squandering their hard-earned money.

From Locke we drove west into the setting sun towards Marin County, pleased that we had made the detour to see the fascinating remnant of a far-off era. Our daughter was born three months later, having travelled several thousand miles around the American west in utero.

Time zones and … O Juice

clock

 

I am writing this on the 30th of March,  the day after that on which the UK was scheduled to leave the EU, but did not. This day, Saturday,  is in the last weekend of March. Early on Sunday morning, we shift from Greenwich Mean Time to British Summer Time, by advancing our clocks by one hour.

In late 1994, while we were on holiday in California, we decided to drive over to the State of Arizona to see Lake Havasu City. After London Bridge was dismantled in 1968, its stones were carefully labelled and sent to Lake Havasu City, where it was reconstructed. By 1971, the bridge had been re-built in a picturesque lakeside position where it has become one of Arizona’s major tourist attractions.

After settling into a motel, we wandered over to a restaurant. For the duration of our evening meal we were the only diners. I ordered ‘New York Steak’, which turned out to be strips of beefsteak. Soon after taking our order, the waitress returned and asked: “D’ya want it with or without O Juice?”

I had never heard of eating steak with orange juice, so I said:

“Excuse me, what did you say?”

She replied, slightly impatiently: 

“O juice, you know kinda gravy.”

What sounded like ‘O Juice’ was the waitresses attempt to pronounce the French culinary term ‘au jus‘.

After eating our meal, it was only eight o’clock. We asked the waitress where were all of the other diners and why was she clearing all the tables and stacking the chairs, getting ready to close the eatery.

“It’s  getting late you know”

“But it’s only eight,” we retorted.

“Nope, it’s nine,” she informed us.

We had not realised that by crossing from California to Arizona, we had moved into a time zone one hour ahead of California.