Pasadena – and the Journey to the High Desert

Aah – California! From our arrival at LAX (to strains of “We could have danced all night…” in baggage claim), to an 11 p.m. salad (three-inch high pyramid of spinach with toasted pecans and strawberries) – California announces itself.

Our younger son’s office is in Pasadena with two favorite museums nearby. At the Norton Simon, a walk in welcome warmth from our hotel, I wanted to see a special exhibit of a 1969 visual art piece by John Cage (a recent article about Cage left me admiring his engagement with the creative process). Cage created this piece after Marcel Duchamp’s death and titled it “Not Wanting to Say Anything about Marcel.”

Cage screenprinted words (selected by using the “I Ching”) onto pieces of Plexiglas held in wooden stands or lithographed onto one piece of paper. According to the (helpful) accompanying statement, Cage aimed to take anything personal out of his reaction to Duchamp. In spite of that (or because of it), the words have an eerie beauty. You puzzle over word bits and occasional image without making “sense of it” – words not saying anything about Marcel.

The library at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens contrasts with the beautiful gardens, the light low, the air cool. The main exhibition hall displays real treasures – you walk through centuries of books – from a Gutenberg Bible to exhibits about contemporary authors who have chosen The Huntington to house their papers. We saw a manuscript page from “Wolf Hall” – like a glimpse of Mantel’s mind at work. The handwritten page hinted at how she might get down quickly the movement through an episode or chapter in longhand – to be fleshed out in her inimitable, rich way.

In a special exhibit honoring Charles Bukowski, a case held a little set-up of his belongings – his typewriter, a well-used wine glass, a radio tuned to a classical station, and pens. The pens surprised me – not ballpoints, but the pens he used to make expressive little drawings, which were often part of the broadsheets published by small presses who supported him early on. To accompany a poem entitled “Pastoral,” Bukowski drew a lamp and a man in an armchair, both sitting on a squiggle of ink that is a braided rug.

We left The Huntington to head east for a weekend getaway with our son and his sweet friend – driving Interstate 10, San Gabriel Mountains to the left, past the Santa Anita race track, palm trees, and wall-to-wall houses. In the car we ate sandwiches and a great beet salad for me (gathered along with breakfast and hiking food from a two-story Whole Foods with an escalator for people and one for carts! So easy to thrill this country mouse.)

Our destination was Joshua Tree National Park, and just before we turned off on Highway 62, we passed twirling windmills dotting the landscape. They spin, not together, but with irregular cadence as each catches or not, the breeze. Like some Cristo installation these inanimate, animated objects, tall and white, wander across valleys and up ridges to whirl against the California blue sky.

And then – Joshua trees!

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