Saturday, 4 December 2010

Cleddau Crew Fly Home

Wednesday 1st - Friday 3rd December
    It was a 0520 start from San Marcos on Wednesday morning - and by jiggling with the plus 3 hours to Philadelphia and the plus 5 hours to Manchester I calculate that "door to door " time was 21 hours, aided by aircraft keeping to time and fast westbound jet streams.
    We sat at the bottom of the hill below the Cal State University railway station bridge for simply ages, a red arrow barring our way and absolutely no traffic moving.  We began to discuss shooting the light and became aware that another car had pulled in behind. Finally the lights changed, and the car behind appeared alongside - the distinctive black and white of a California Highway Patrol car. It was a wise decision then to stay within the law...
    Again we bowled out to the coast and down the Interstate 5 freeway. Traffic was moving fast, four and five lanes of it at at 75 plus, vehicles under and overtaking as they do, rarely with
any signal. About twenty minutes north of San Diego, sharp hills on all sides comes a totally arresting view, one that is so extraordinary that I remember cross-questioning Cal Son about it on our very first visit in 2003. Very, very close to the freeway, but slightly above it, stands a sugar-white twin-spired building, the two towers each embroidered by four, I think, pinnacles. Lights always flood out of the building and external floodlights wash over the whole structure.   I've not been in it, I seem to remember that it is not open to casual visitors - it is a Mormon Church, officially the San Diego California Temple. Now, (perhaps not there on our last visit?) the church is overlooked by a tall rather brutal slab of a building with a gentle arcing roof, a hotel, I suspect.  Again I am struck by the impression that the sort of planning regulations which require sympathetic development with the locality and the natural environment are not the case in California.
    By the time we reached the airport the sky was just lightening. Despite the huge controversy in recent weeks over enhanced security checks which started at this airport we were soon smoothly through to airside. Some travellers bury their heads in their laptops or sleep while they wait.  The Captain is inclined to gaze at aircraft movements while I stroll the terminal. Here white rocking chairs at various viewpoints encourage rest and relaxation. Visible from the ground floor and the departure level is the Spirit of St Louis, a life-size model of Charles Lindbergh's monoplane. The current art exhibition is provided by ceramicists from Spanish Village and of course there are as well the stunningly beautiful wax and yarn pictures created by Native American artists and relating to their mythology.    
    It was about a 5.5 hour flight to Philadelphia. The take-off over the city is fascinating, up over the watery lagoons of Mission Bay, out over the Ocean, a turn back towards first beaches, then houses, roads, ridges, canyons and very soon rocky heights. Fifteen minutes or so on and a city appears, Palm Springs (?). Then the long haul high above the desert, sand, unmarked by road or human activity, rocks, ridges, the distant vista of water, occasional watery trails, more rocks and ridges... Eventually green geometric shapes appear, rectangle, square and circle, irrigated cultivation grabbed from a hostile environment.
    We touched down to 46 degrees F at Philadelphia Airport, a huge international hub. Crowds thronged the terminals, many in the winter dress of East Coast temperatures. A jazz quartet entertained diners at the food court; curly-bearded Santa sought out younger travellers for a word or two of hope and expectation. Large photos and information line the corridors detailing the history of Philadelphia's Liberty Bell. Those laden with dollars or credit cards can enjoy wide-ranging shopping opportunities.  We plumped for a slice of quiche, salad and a cup of hot water with a teabag. Northern accents gathered around us, four "Corrie" women nearby, one still in light top and sandals. A Florida or Las Vegas Girls' trip? Seven hours then strapped into the Manchester-bound aircraft and despite news of Gatwick's snow-enforced closure we touched down one minute ahead of schedule. Wonderful sight: Techno Son-in-law's father was there to meet us, his arms full of extra coats and fleeces! 
    Later on Thursday Boatwif went to meet the Cheshire One from school: she trundled out, tights and extra socks under her warm trousers, bundled into thick coat, scarf wound round the neck, fleece hat pulled down over the eyes. What contrast: just two days earlier Cal Mom had urged Cal Guy to find his coat, so casually abandoned in school the previous day.  "You'll need it," she'd said, " it's really cold today, it's not going to get above 63 degrees Fahrenheit!" ( about 17C)
    So back at home, first view was of an icicle suspended from the outside tap. But all was well inside.  If only I wasn't awake, jet-lagged at 5am, considering writing just one last blog...    

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Hilltop structures and far views

Monday 29th November
I suppose yesterday (Monday) was about photo opportunities, feasts for the eyes
and reminders of previous delights. Cal Boy and Cal Girl ("Call me Cowgirl,
Granny," but that's a sock story) were back in school; Cal Son was back at work;
Cal Mom was preparing for this weekend's craft fair so the Captain and Boatwif
took to the roads. Down the coastal freeway we bowled (as that's the easier one
to follow) searching for Mount Soledad. We'd been there once before - and have
tried to follow its fortunes, the Federal lawsuit (ongoing) and the landslip
(road rebuilt). On top of Mount Soledad stands an enormous white cross, part of
a memorial to US Forces veterans. From the top the view is - breathtaking. Our
previous trip up there had been during "June Gloom", quite early in the day, so
visibility was limited. The Memorial records the names and service honours of
about three thousand servicemen and women.  It is unique in that it is the only
memorial to include photo images. 70% of those recorded are still alive. Just a
few are not American, one being Winston Churchill, his plaque right next to a
RAF Flight Lieutenant who had flown missions over the River Kwai. As for the
lawsuit: well, it's about a religious symbol being on federal land. Yesterday at
about 11am skies were blue, the view extended far and wide - even to the
offshore Mexican islands.   
We drove on, further south to another hilltop view, Point Loma, a spit of rocky
land that overlooks San Diego's vast natural harbour, the naval area, the US
Navy Air Arm runway, Hotel Coronado and the city skyline. In 1542 Cabrillo,
(it's uncertain whether he was Spanish or Portuguese), entered the San Diego
harbour with a flotilla of ships from Mexico. An exhibition, a film and a great
white monument commemorate the conquest. Elsewhere information boards detail the
mountain ranges, the commercial and military shipping and aircraft that might be
seen. On the highest point stands the old lighthouse, fitted out as in the
nineteenth century and open to visitors. Overlooking the Ocean side are
viewpoints for the annual whale-watching season when Gray Whales are on their
migratory route from the Arctic to Baja California. Far below are the
"tidepools", a magnet for those keen to explore coastal marine life. There is
always much to see, whether it is naval aircraft on exercise, or coastguard
cutters, or pleasure boats, or submarines, or cruise liners - or even birds
(condors?) and squirrels, one sniffing yesterday around our picnic. And always
there is that deep evocative steady noise of the foghorn, warning craft of the
treacherous shores.

In the outhouse behind the lighthouse was a small group of school pupils
earnestly seeking answers for their worksheets. Fourth grade they were, (Year
5), on a field trip. In fourth grade, apparently, the history and geography of
California are studied. Two separate people told us that this is the best time,
winter, not summer. One spoke passionately about the light and shadows in the
desert, only about a two hour plus drive eastwards. 

A time check - too long to drive a diagonal route across town to Balboa Park but
time to do that promised mission back to the bookstore. The "Dutch Lady" of the
Captain's Satnav directed us thrillingly across the city to feed onto a
magnificently complex freeway interchange. Traffic at 2pm was already heavy
("Shift change", says Cal Son) but we made our way up the inland freeway to
Escondido, the Captain there able to recover via a Starbucks latte. Still no
luck with the plan to photograph the book written by the friend's cousin: it was
indeed in stock, its single copy reserved in the backroom for a customer. Sorry,
Belfast, I did try ...! 

Time for bed; suitcases are packed; tomorrow we leave. An 0845 flight out of San
Diego, check in time one hour before, car return before that, early morning
traffic... the alarm, I am told, is set for 0430. We should be back on UK soil
at 0845 on Thursday morning at Manchester. 

If the journey is particularly eventful I'll file a report. Meanwhile, from
starry California - goodnight.