Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Coast, Conference, and Cuisine-- Bouchercon Part 1: The Coast and Big Sur

We drove from SoCal to Bouchercon 2010 in San Fransciso, which means that we seriously overpacked. Okay, I seriously overpacked.

Fog hiding the ocean. Looking south from the deck of the Nepenthe.
Husband Charlie and I decided we'd break up the drive and spend a night in Big Sur. It had been a couple of years since we'd cruised Highway One.  When the weather is fine, driving that stretch of coast from Morro Bay to Carmel is transformative. It makes me want to write a love song to California. I hummed some instead. Yeah Cali, you're broke, you've got a lot of problems, but this native daughter loves U and your golden self.

We almost had the road to ourselves.  A light shifting fog moved through the air, making mirages of ocean and foothills that would suddenly appear out of the mist only to be just as quickly erased. White fog ran down canyons like streams from Heaven. Quicksilver ocean melted into dove-feathered fog. It was mystical.

Soundtrack into Big Sur: Jazz Round Midnight: Chanteuses and selections from Beethoven.

Big Sur is like a hippie Fantasy Island--a different place and era cut off from the rest of the world. It's not easy to get to. There's sporadic cell phone service. The physical beauty is imposing and makes everything else seem trivial. The French, German, Italian, and British visitors outnumbered the Yanks, adding to my feeling of being in a strange land.  My cell phone displayed a scary red emblem instead of the signal strength bars. Took me a little time to ignore that silent scream. Freedom from the CrackBerry.

I'm a sucker for a pretty photo of a sunset.  From the Nepenthe. 
We reached the Nepenthe in time for the sunset. Charlie trained another bartender how to make a Vesper martini.  We split a Calistoga artichoke appetizer, a Nepenthe's Ambrosia Burger, and a giant basket of fries. Behind us, a group of folks was discussing the "Julie and Julia" movie. A man at the table didn't know who Julia Child was. Others there filled him in, but agreed that she was still alive yet "elderly." Decisions... Reveal myself as an eavesdropper and inject myself into their conversation to set them straight or forever hold my peace?  I practiced silence and turned my attention to the sun setting behind twin fog banks which garnered a crowd with cameras.

When the sun made its final dip into the ocean, there was discussion of seeing the green flash. Very cool, waiting for that fleeting event.

We stayed in a simple motel along the Big Sur River. There were Adirondack chairs in the river, perfect for sitting on a hot day.  Even though the river was more like a creek after our dry year, I realized how rarely I experience a river. The cement-shrouded L.A. River doesn't count. I let the cool water run over my hands and touched the smooth pebbles on the bottom.

I awakened at some point during the night. It was strangely dark. Black dark. No display on the nightstand digital clock. No lights from outside. The power was off. I wondered if the rest of the world had disappeared like in one of those early 1960s horror movies inspired by A-Bomb paranoia in which the people seem to have evaporated, leaving their cars with full tanks of gas and the keys in the ignition. What if the world outside Big Sur was gone?  Deciding there was nothing I could do about it, I rolled over and went back to sleep. In the morning, the digital clock was flashing the wrong time. The world had not disappeared.
I had plenty of company snapping this beauty.

Every time I visit Big Sur, I hear its siren call, as have many others, including Henry Miller, who rolled in and didn't leave--for a while at least. Big Sur whispers to me, "What are you doing with all this stuff?" I think, you're right. I'm gonna shed my baggage, the Samsonite in my hands and the crap in my head, and stay. Stay and make necklaces out of stones and bones and write crazy prose and not care if anyone reads it and live out the rest of my days. The next morning, just like the power outage, the moment passed.  After a lovely breakfast on a deck above the river, we pushed on to San Francisco and Bouchercon. 


  1. You know what, Dianne? I'm a fan of your books. But this is my favorite thing of yours I've ever read.

  2. Aww, thanks, Petrea! It was fun to experience and fun to write about.

  3. Really makes me wish I'd hitched a ride with youse guys. Sounds great. Nice pics, too.

  4. Missed you there, Eric! It was fun. I'll post my observations about the conference later this week.