Sunday, 27 May 2007

Week 16 : Monterey To Moss Landing

As Amy and I walked down from the Presido of Monterey to Fisherman’s Wharf after spending a somewhat uncomfortable night on a park bench I whistled “It Happened In Monterey” to keep her spirits up. Stopping to check the lyrics and noticing the line “I met her in Monterey, in old Mexico” I realised I had made a mistake. That was another Monterey, that was another country. It’s a bit like that Monterey – Monterey, California that is – it’s a surprising place and even a bit of a confusing place at times.

For example, as we were taking a shortcut from Arbrego Street to Pacific Street we passed “
Stevenson House – the Home of Robert Louis Stevenson”. Could this be the same Stevenson, the archetypal Scotsman, the creator or Treasure Island and Kidnapped? Could this be the sickly son of the famous Stevenson family of lighthouse builders? The answer is, of course, yes. Stevenson stayed here in 1879 (just for a few months be never let it be said that Americans don’t know how to make the most of the history they have) to be near the love of his life and his future wife, Fanny Vandergrift Osbourne.

The literary surprises continued as we hit the seafront just north of Fisherman’s Wharf and discovered a flashy collection of shops, bars and restaurants that is the 21st century
Cannery Row. The old fish canning plants that formed the heart of the area that Steinbeck wrote about so memorably are long gone, replaced by designer outlets and theme bars. As Amy remarked, “that’s progress”.

Progress is less noticeable amongst the picturesque chaos that is
Fisherman’s Wharf. Here you will find a hotchpotch of shops and restaurants strung out along the wooden piers. During the height of its commercial power, Monterey was one of the most important fishing ports in California and the centre of the sardine industry (it was sardines which were packed by the Cannary Row plants). Originally built in 1870, part of the main pier collapsed in 1923 under the weight of 20,000 cases of sardines which were waiting to be shipped out. To get a flavour of the wharf today, have a look at one of the holiday videos available on YouTube. Although the sardine industry came to a fairly sudden end in the late 1940s when the shoals of sardines fell victim to over-fishing, you can still catch the tang of fish-scales in the air. All that fish can be a bit overpowering, so Amy and I bought a couple of burgers to eat as we made our way around Monterey Bay.

Main course over with, we began to think about something to round our dinner off. Amy quite fancied donuts but I reminded her of the whole purpose of our coast-to-coast walk and suggested something healthy like fruit instead. At which point we serendipitously arrived in the Monterey suburb of Del Monte. So what were the links between this sleepy suburb and the world-famous food company? Were we in for another Monterey surprise? There were clearly no vast canning warehouses here, nor any food processing plants. A visit to the Del Monte
company website told us that the headquarters of the company were situated to the north in San Francisco. But the history pages on the website gave us the origin of the Del Monte brand name. It was first used in 1886 for a premium brand of coffee which was supplied to the fashionable Del Monte Hotel in Monterey. The hotel is long-gone – repeatedly attacked by earthquake and fire - and on the site today is the Club Del Monte which styles itself as “the Queen of American Watering Places”. It is now operated by the Navy’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation Department. From their website, it was unclear whether they still served Del Monte tinned fruit, so we gave it a miss and continued up the Bay.

The military theme continued as we made our way north. This is what used to be Fort Ord, one of America’s biggest military bases. It was from here that thousands of troops were shipped off to Korea and Vietnam. As long as you weren’t en-route for combat, Fort Ord was seen as a good posting with its close proximity to the Californian beaches. The site of the military base was taken over by California State University, Monterey Bay in 1994 when Fort Ord closed down. And now the young people who graduate from this sun-kissed corner of California go on to more peaceful destinations.

Monterey had one last surprise for us. We spotted a poster for the
50th Monterey Jazz Festival which will take place in September 2007. The poster was headed MJF and was clearly for a jazz festival. Back home in West Yorkshire, when I am not walking Amy around the rainy streets, I help with the organisation of the Annual Marsden Jazz Festival (MJF) which takes place in a village on the edge of the moors. Could our fame have spread this far? But as I read the list or artists appearing at the American version of MJF - Diana Krall, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubeck – I knew I was either day-dreaming again or dealing with a very different festival. I comforted myself with listening to Diana Krall’s latest CD on my MP3 player. After all, recorded music must have been the first example of virtual reality. If Edison had not opened the door to the virtual concert, and pushed the boundaries of technology backwards, perhaps Amy and I would not have been virtually walking the streets of Monterey 130 years later.

When we had been planning our week’s walk a few days earlier, I had drawn Amy’s attention to the town of Castroville and told her we must pass through there. It would be a good joke, visiting a town which appeared to be dedicated to modern Americas’ greatest enemy. I could write something funny in the Blog about it. But the joke was on me. When Amy and I arrived in the town we found not a joke but an artichoke. What we had failed to realise – silly us – was that Castroville styles itself as the “Artichoke Centre of the World” and our visit coincided with the 48th Castroville Artichoke Festival. What a time we had. There was a parade, there we agro-art exhibitions and there were demonstrations of how to cook artichokes. It is a little known fact – other than to people who have spent a couple of days in Castroville during the Festival – that there are hundreds of delicious ways to serve artichokes. A few of the recipes can be found on the
Festival website. Amy and I did try a bag of French Fried Artichoke Hearts and then quickly left town feeling ever-so-slightly queasy.

Our week finished back on the coast at Moss Landing which is described by its Chamber of Commerce as “a quaint, historic fishing village that is full of hidden treasures and enjoyable activities”. Other than the rather ugly power plant and the mud-banks, it was. No surprise there then.

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