LA – SAN DIEGO
‘From the train I look into people’s backyards. I see their junk and their washing and whatever in the world they don’t care for. Out front is their public face and, inside, the soft underbelly of their lives.The train window is a cocoon for the voyeur with the legitimacy of a paid ticket. Staring into backyards is a bit like surprising a woman in her nightgown in the middle of the day: when we meet her later, we pretend we didn’t see.’
From My Pilgrim’s Heart
I am stunned, yes really, by how Mexican Southern California is.
I am used to Europe, where cultures stop at the border like the foot-stamp of a marching soldier called to halt.
I don’t know why the United States don’t hand it over, fix the border problem once and for all.
But of course it wouldn’t.
It’d just move it north.
Because even if Uncle Sam is built on their backs, that border crossing is a symbol of so much more than dust, community and Mexican signage.
Symbols, I realise in middle age, are everything for us humans, being. They are far more potent than true change, which is ours for the taking of the next breath; in truth we prefer the elusive intangibility of symbolism, for this requires us to reach – not for what we can touch, but for that which is unattainable.
I am a stone’s throw from Mexico. Fancy that. Tijuana is just down the road. Tijuana Brass. My mother had the record, that’s how come I can spell it.
If I had a car I’d be there. Instead I have only feet, supplemented by the centipede wheels of a train.
Which, by the way, dropped me at a rather beautiful old world station with two big blue words on the roof: SANTA FE.
I assure you, and me, I am in San Diego.
And who would have thought I’d need a jacket in San Deigo at summer’s edge? Lucky for me I brought one for the plane. It’s chilly outside!
Someone once told me I would love San Diego. Actually she told me I should move to San Diego, that it was my kinda town. Certainly it’s a lovely city, quiet, roomy. And, oh yeah, filled with lovely food.
Fiiiiiiinally I am outside LA’s fast food strip (thank heaven for for BCD Tofu House and their bubbling soon tofu broth). In Australia, corporate fast food outlets are a treat. I think. I hope. In LA, I got the feeling those fast food icons were feeding the nation.
And now San Diego. I am in the Gaslamp District – isn’t that beautiful?
The Gaslamp District. Tomorrow I will tell you why Gaslamp. Tonight, it’s all about food.
I roamed the blocks around Hostelling International (at $30 a night, seriously good value in the heart of the best the city has to offer), restaurant bar after gorgeous restaurant bar and as is the way with cities, I blink and I am in the land of pawn brokers and payday lenders.
And a gorgeous local who convinced me to try the ceviches.
It was happy hour. Half price starters and drinks. I happily settled in kerbside while the women fussed around me; ordered Salmon Ceviches and realised it was 10 past six.
Que sera, I”m here to tell you, I don’t mind missing the deadline and paying full price – the food was the best meal I’ve had in the US since arriving on Thursday.
Today on the train, day one of the Pilgrim Heart Whistlestop Book Tour, it was pilgrim food: a banana, two packets of chips and chocolate.
We left the city by the back door . . . could that be LA’s most beautiful river running through the patched cement drain ouside the train window?
OMG, couldn’t you weep for what was here before?
By the way – what was here before?
If I was a betting woman, I’d bet not those silly palm trees.
We chugged through a foreverland of LA industry. Again, this part of the country is like traveling through a foreign land, which of course it is. But you gotta understand, I’m Australian and we get our stories about the US from television.
It doesn’t look like this.
I sit back in my seat and laugh: Australians would have a fit if our signs were bilingual – I mean, they did during the height of the Japanese tourist boom when the signs in Surfers Paradise boasted square squibbles.
Of course the signs here must be bilingual – or mono lingual, i.e. Spanish. It makes sense, in that this is their country much more than any sweet smilin’ diamond crusted whtie person who aspires to making the country what it’s not – rolling green lawns and crystalline palaces.
Like white people everywhere, they’re hellbent on recreating England.
Finally, finally the infrastructure that supports our lives gives way to wide open fields … with a big orange ball in the middle. Could this be the famous Orange County? I figure it must be named for either the Southern Californian orange industry … or Dutch settlers. After all, the last station was called Anaheim.
We pass the field workers. We meet the ocean.
Oceanside the day is so grey there is no horizon.
Big houses give way to jagged hills. Powerlines march 2 x 2, hurrah! hurrah!, little eiffel towers planted strategically over the hills.
A border collie runs like the wind to race the train.
In ten days I will be in New Orleans. On Wednesday I will be headin’ down the line to El Paso. In Australia they make taco shells called El Paso. Then onto Houston. Then New Orleans.
For now, I’m happy to dream of tomorrow’s ceviches.
Wild salmon. Cucumber. Mango. Salsa. Tostadas.