Monday, June 7, 2010

Our weekend in Santa Catalina

Leslie and I had a most amazing weekend cruising over to Catalina. Our hosts invited several of us along for the excursion aboard their lovely boat, Still Learning. It was such a perfect weekend that I don't know to start or how to describe our adventures without many of you thinking that I have once again slunk into most exaggerated hyperbole.

I have close to one thousand pictures from our two day excursion. We dined like sybaritic swine, with several snack periods mixed in with our four daily meals. The women outdid themselves with serious cheese and fruit trays, duck breast, roasted chicken, several salads and an obscene amount of chocolate. This was another episode of the bordeaux fanciers meeting the pinot noir aficionados on neutral ground for a sit down tasting.

Anyway not to get too far ahead, the 7:00 departure started with a most auspicious omen. We parked near a large tree at the dock that was positively boiling with blue herons and brood. There were at least six nests in the tree, with lots of stray herons hanging around on idle branches chatting away. All barking like pterodactyls and feeding their large juvenile clan. I have never seen anything like it in my life. Then found another tree where the same thing was happening. Blue Heron Woodstock and quite a blast.

I talked to a biologist friend today who says that these heron rookeries are fairly common but it was a new one on me. And I have lived next to a nesting pair for the last 22 years.

I could have stayed there and shot pics all morning and plan on returning with the right lens in a day or two. Should be unbelievable.

We were introduced to our captain, Vince, and got on our way, everybody really happy. Overcast, but the ocean totally calm.  Soon we found ourselves in the middle of two large dolphin pods, who took turns riding our bow and just jumping around having a really good time. We really enjoyed their visit, everyone on board being people that really appreciate nature. It was helpful that Doug, who owns the boat with wife Retha, is a P.h.d. marine biologist with an encyclopedic memory for flora and fauna. And real smart in a lot of other ways.

Had a gold colored bird tailing us for a while, finally landing on a rail but eventually taking her leave. Couple seals but no blue whales. Drunken and gorged, we lay on the deck like idle manatee. Just as our skipper had surmised, it was clear around the island.

For those that have never visited the Island, it is a bit more Cycladeian than Polynesian in spirit, or perhaps italian, with structures filling the scoop of the cove like bay at Avalon in a manner like Mediterranean villas. An arid island that offers the visitor a look at what mainland california may have resembled in a better day. For those wishing a little more background on the twenty two mile long member of the Channel Islands, here is a wikipedia link. Originally inhabited by Tongva Gabrieleno Indians, then a spot for your odd pirate and movie star. Zane Gray, Errol Flynn. When we had our second home in Catalina in the sixties and seventies, it was Hugh Downs, the Duke and Jim Bacchus. Very hispanic then, but I am getting ahead of myself.

We caught a water taxi and walked up the hill to our pepto bismol painted hotel, the St. Laurent. The Laurent has the really small rooms you might see in Paris or New York and an overdose of chintz that probably triggered my allergy. Not a dump but not exactly cared for. We had a charming view of a lattice screen and I managed to pinch my finger between the bathroom door and the television cabinet.  We walked over to the casino to get a look at the interior, but we were late for the daily tour so we stopped off at El Galleon for cocktails (cosmos for me) then back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.

The dinner menu at the M Restaurant located at the Hotel Metropole read like some really incredible foodie joint, a cut above the normal island fare, and we were primed and ready but it didn't quite necessarily measure up to all of our expectations. We started with crab cakes and chicken curry spring rolls. The spring rolls were admittedly delicious, perhaps a tad juicier than I am accustomed. We asked our server specifically about the existence of red peppers in the crab cake and he assured us there were none. Surprise. Even with the dreaded pepper out of the equation it would still have been a pedestrian affair.

I looked at the promising entrees and was vacillating between the New York Strip and the Niman Ranch pork chop with the peach glaze and went for the pig. It was supposed to come with mashed and carrots and arugula and instead came on a pile of limp french fries that were said to be infused with truffle oil, with real truffle essence, I was assured. Right. Cold and stale and tasteless and nothing else on the plate. I'll wager no self respecting truffle ever ventured closer than a mile to that plate. No garnish. Nothing. The kitchen didn't get a mainland delivery and we were all having our meat item on a pile of fries. Of course, all truffle fries in the world must pay homage to the vaunted truffle fries at the late Laurel restaurant in San Diego. These were not in the same solar system. Leslie offered a bite of her ribs and when I took the plate a small insect walked out of her entree which I casually smushed on the bread plate. For the last half of the dinner, the ADD 9 year old at the next table walked up and down, up and down, the ramp - until his mother came over and pulled his arm out of joint.

But the wine that our friendly enologists brought was incredible as always and we made it a great time in spite of the food. Actually, my chop was delicious. Nice pairing with peach. Jim's rare steak came out totally overdone and then the cook overcooked the replacement one to medium well in spite and we waited another 40 minutes for it to arrive. And it sucked. After dinner I ran over to the confectioners for the salt water taffy of my youth. It used to be in an old kiosk and now it was an upscale shop. Still good. We all headed back to our rooms and all slept soundly.

Now to the true confessional part of the blog post. I spent the years 11 to 12 as your basic garden variety juvenile delinquent. I got into a candy stealing kick. Lighters. I plied my trade on Catalina like Willie Sutton would eye a lonely Iowa bank. Hung out with a crowd of similar losers with similar skill sets. We were heavy into squirt guns and would terrorize the local population, including soaking the doughnut shop and the aforementioned Hugh Downs. Road around on our spider bikes and coughed on pilfered marlboros.

Truth be told, I hated the place because it was the favorite haunt of my truly wicked stepmother, who trained her yorkie to nip at my ankles until it drew blood and tried to screw her way around the small archipelago. My dad eventually caught on and sold the place and lost the witch, thank god. But I hated the place as a kid. Always got sick on the seaplanes. Anyway one day I kiped a superball from Leo's drugstore and the local sheriff came by and let me and my folks no that I would be exiting the island, and was never to return in my mortal flesh. So 41 years later, I was taking my chances.
Oh and to those of you who might not feel so comfortable with me around the family silver after this cyber confession please believe that it was the last time in my life I ever stole anything. Although my memory ain't much anymore...

I managed to walk into the joint without the flatfoots slapping cuffs on me and breathed a silent sigh of relief. Was whistling that old Concrete Blonde song, "You can never go back to the scene of a perfect crime." And smiling with the epiphany that the curse of the evil stepmother had finally been lifted. Catalina was once again a wonderful place for me.

Anyhow, we woke up the next day and hoofed it over to the waffle shop, which was a nice 50's affair and then rented golf carts and traveled up to the native botanical garden and the Wrigley Memorial, both just fantastic, in a horticultural and architectural sense. Twenties Spanish Revival, heavy on the moorish with a little hopi thrown in. Saw lots of great Catalina tile everywhere we went.

I took an awful lot of pictures and don't want to run the poor blog engine down. If I get a chance I will post them later. Had a lot of fun. Wish I had brought my 10-20mm Sigma wide angle lens.

We continued driving around the island past the zip line, near Descanso, past the great houses on the hill, all acting like kids and having a great time. Even went back to my youthful ways and harassed the tour bus driver.

We piled back into the boat and had a clear and mild voyage back across the lake. Found another dolphin pod. We all drove back totally satisfied after the best weekend imaginable. Thanks to all of my compatriots and the skipper too. Thanks R & D!