VERY SPECIAL PEOPLE – Very Special People is a book by Frederick Drimmer. Mostly, the book explores human oddities (sideshow freaks) within the idiom of circus performers. Conjoined twins, hairy/ bearded, little people/ giants and fat/ skinny. The book is excellent, but my favorite part isn’t written by Drimmer. Hands down, the best section of the book is The Elephant Man by Sir Fredrick Treves. I’ve always been captivated by this eccentric character; conflicted by a horrific youth, later famous and adored near the end of his life. To me, it’s beautiful the way he was treated kindly by the doctor, with generosity and love. He deserved special care as someone who was fragile; not able to fend for himself. It’s the ultimate tale of human compassion.
OCEAN BEACH AND CLIFF HOUSE – Ocean Beach and the Cliff House are located on the Great Highway in San Francisco; at the far west foot of Golden Gate Park. Ocean Beach is a huge open park with ample parking: fishing, surfing and walking are enjoyable pastimes. The Cliff House is currently a restaurant and bar. The site location has considerable San Francisco history. Playland at the Beach and the Sutro Baths had swimming, rides and concessions; since the late 1800s. The 10-acre parks are gone now, but take a walk nearby. You can still find the Sutro Baths ruins and the Camera Obscura at the site. You can also visit many of the vintage amusements at the Musee Mecanique, located at Fisherman’s Wharf Pier 45.
PETRIFIED MAN – Petrified Man comes from the book, Selected Stories of Eudora Welty. For the purposes of this review, I will only discuss the short story (not the book in its entirety). The author conveys the character’s voices so remarkably well. That is, several women sitting in a beauty parlor, enduring the tortures of beauty treatments. The majority of their conversation is focused on men. For that reason, the battle of the sexes theme is apparent. The title refers back to the Medusa myth and a man in a freak show, turned to stone. Another highlight in this book is the short titled, Why I Live at the PO. Surprisingly, A Worn Path isn’t included in this selection.
MISSION SOLEDAD – The mission church, named for Our Lady of Solitude, might be characteristic of what settlers came across in California’s early days. The church is isolated, surrounded by huge fields of produce crops. It’s nowhere near a freeway exit situated in-between Gonzales and Soledad. One of the great things is the way this mission depicts history. Inside, there are several rooms of historical artifacts. Outside, the crumbled ruins of adobe walls of the original church.
CALIFORNIA MISSIONS – The California Missions, a Sunset Pictorial, is the story of El Camino Real. The Royal Road, first used in the late 1700’s, established missions for Spain from San Diego to Sonoma. The foot trail became a stage coach route; then a railroad and today the principal highway linking north to south. The book is packed full of photos and illustrations, a must have for anyone interested in California history. Each of the twenty one mission churches is very unique; some shoehorned into dense urban settings while others remain within a peaceful valleys, reminiscent of the mission’s pastoral history.
INDIANS OF THE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST – Indians of the American Southwest by Steven L. Walker is a good topic resource. It’s not a typical book, as the focus is photography; there are 64 pages, so it’s really more like a magazine. The focus on photography isn’t a criticism, because many of the photos are beautiful. The photography aspect is important so the reader can envision the monumental natural settings and cliff dwellings. The title however is VERY misleading; the primary focus of this book is on the Chaco Anasazi. There are much shorter sections on a couple of other tribes and ancient inhabitants, along with arts and crafts. I think this book should have included articles on the Acoma or Navajo, but it didn’t. SIDENOTE – PBS (PUBLIC TV) has an excellent documentary on the topic of Chaco Anasazi culture, THE MYSTERY OF CHACO CANYON, see below for the link. Or, enter the title in the search field of the PBS website to pull up info on the documentary.
MONTEREY BOARDWALK – Did you know that Monterey has a rich cultural and historic significance in California? Monterey’s port and wharf were the major entry points to the north, prior to the California gold rush in 1849 (when San Francisco became the dominant port and financial center). Also, Monterey was the original state capital. Where sardines and fish used to come into port, now the boardwalk has a lot to offer visitors. You can find restaurants, fishing cruises, whale watching, gift shops and art galleries. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is world famous for its exhibits. The line goes around the block so make sure to check the website before heading out to the aquarium.