Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Queen Califia and the Snow Storm

In Escondido, according to a guidebook I got out of the library, is a sculpture garden by the artist Niki de Saint Phalle. She was famous for her curvy voluptuous outsized women, called Nanas. Usually painted in bright colors and patterns, these were only one of her themes. She grew up in the US and Europe with money and looks ( modeling for a while) and hung out with the likes of Christo ( wrapping the sea cliffs in sheets, yellow banners in Central Park) and knew the surrealists Dali and Magritte.

I was only idly curious, what I had known of her work seemed sort of naive and whimsical, but it is the only big work of hers in the US, so we set off for the city park where Queen Califia’s Magic Garden is installed ( all paid for by Niki)

The garden wall is a ring, 60’ in diameter, composed of 6 fat snakes rippling along the top of a 4’ high, 4’ wide wall. We enter through a gap, into a short maze made of black, white and mirrored walls of tiles, and then enter the central courtyard. In the middle is a gigantic 5 legged creature, with a bird head, wings, and standing on its 15’ high back is the Queen herself, robust and black with skin tight golden armor, flowing silver tresses and a blue falcon. Arranged around her and her great bird are 25’ high totem poles with strange heads, and clinging creatures.

Every surface is mosaic, some with ceramic tiles, polished semi-precious stones, others with mirrored glass tiles, iridescent. The figures are a tumult of colors and patterns and textures, swirling and gleaming in the sun. The underlying shapes are mostly bulbous, rounded and swollen, and features such as eyes or mouths are simplified almost to cartoon status. It is hard to be in here without touching all this smooth or bumpy color, running my hands over the surface of the shapes.

It is mostly very compelling, but also disturbingly childlike, I think because of the fat curvy quality. No danger here, but quite a lot of power, elemental primal power, womanly power, sort of round and soft, but also indomitable. The colors and textures and the sheer size of it are terrific.

And who is this Queen ?

“Know that on the right hand from the Indies exists an island called California very close to Earthly Paradise; and it was populated by black women, without any man existing there, because they lived in the way of the Amazons. They had beautiful and robust bodies, and were brave and very strong. Their island was the strongest of the World, with its cliffs and rocky shores. Their weapons were golden and so were the harnesses of the wild beasts that they were accustomed to domesticate and ride, because there was no other metal in the island than gold. And there ruled over that island of California a queen of majestic proportions, more beautiful than all others, and in the very vigor of her womanhood. She was not petite, nor blond, nor golden-haired. She was large, and black as the ace of clubs. But the prejudice of color did not then exist even among the most brazen-faced or the most copper-headed. For, as you shall learn, she was reputed the most beautiful of women; and it was she, O Californias! who accomplished great deeds, she was valiant and courageous and ardent with a brave heart, and had ambitions to execute nobler actions than had been performed by any other ruler — Queen Califia."

– Las Sergas de Esplandián, (novela de caballería) (The Adventures of Esplandián), written around 1510 by the Spanish writer Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo

Oh hurray, California was named after the dusky queen of the Amazons ! Powerful women who did without men (mostly), did it all, and brooked no nonsense, and black besides. And there she is, glistening in the sun, fat and round and surrounded by equally fat and round creatures and symbols. It all only makes sense on a sort of corner of the mind level, I don’t quite know exactly what it means, only sort of, maybe in a former life. A bit like the strangeness of Bread and Puppet, but not so thin and dark.

Yesterday was Valentines Day. I got my fabulous dinner out three days before, at the Marine Room, right by the ocean, stupendous food and service. For Valentines Day, we had 4 inches of snow. We were being interviewed for local TV when it began as ice pellets that made the metal museum too noisy to film in, and then it turned to snow and kept at it until after dark. The temperature was 16 in the morning, and we ran out to record what only happens here every 4 years or so. One guy says it did 17 inches once. Since the members all live in San Diego and it never snows there, we had to take masses of picture of the RR museum in the snow. It was pretty showy and black steam engines look great with snow on them. I, however, wish it hadn’t. The weather people didn’t see it coming and they had to close the interstate down for nearly 24 hours. Not enough equipment, and the CA drivers, oh my. “ Look at meeee, in my SUVeeee whopeeeeeeeeeeee thud.”. Many of them driving up to the mountains on purpose to see the snow.

And out in the now soggy field, frogs are singing! Where did they spend the rest of the dried up, wind blown, sun blasted year?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Workamper Job Fair

The RR museum sent us to Mesa AZ to a job fair presented by the folks at This outfit acts as a clearinghouse for both employers and employees, pretty much aimed at RVers who want to work at campgrounds and campgrounds that want to find them.

There were about 30 employers there and lots of potential Workampers. There were a number of seminars during the 2 days to explain the idea and help with resumes and what to expect. A lot of the attendees appeared to be first timers at this, looking a little flustered, and taking information from everyone to digest later.

The first category to decide is if you are working for paid $ or just working to pay for the site. Since the RR museum is only volunteer, we lost a lot right there. Normally working about 20 hours a week for a full hook up is about average, and we have that. But, there are a lot of things about being here that are very different.

There are no campground amenities, no “comfort station”, no pool, no shuffleboard, no tennis. We are out in the middle of nowhere, Walmart is 40 miles away, nothing but rocks and sagebrush. We are 1 ½ miles from the Mexican border, which scares a lot of people. We told them that the Border Patrol’s big depot is right here, but you could see the worry on some of their faces. And hardest for many, we are a little down at the heels, too many derelict pieces of RR treasures, and dry and sandy and given to winds.

The best thing we have to offer is TRAINS. So we made a huge bulletin board with a 16 page poster of our train in Tecate, Mexico. It was interesting to watch people go by, many just glanced, but anyone who loves trains came over like a shot, including some women.

We talked and explained, Don had a slide show running on his laptop. Of those who were drawn to us initially, many seemed to like the idea, even though we were honest about what we have and don’t have. I am hoping that we reached people who have done the working at the campground deal, want a change, don’t mind being out here and like trains.

In idle moments we watched the other booths. Next to us was a guy selling membership in an RV transport system. For $55, you got the book, the CD, a video and were signed up to get information on what RV’s needed to be driven where. It seemed to appeal to a lot of people, and the guy gave seminars about it. Seems a lot to pay.

On the other side, a concessionaire for the stores at Yellowstone had a big team, recruiting hard. Across the way were the Disney folks, and then mostly campgrounds. We were glad we brought props, the bulletin board, a map and the slideshow, as some recruiters were just there with nothing and didn’t get much traffic.

We workamp because we would be bored to tears just sitting around at a campground. We are not resorty people, I guess.

On our way home, we picked up 4 gate actuators, 200lbs each, which was putting Darth through his paces, but we steamed up the mountains just fine.

We won’t really know if we accomplished anything, since someone else will contact the people who expressed interest, and I guess until they turn up and actually stay on, it’s anyone’s guess. But we got to have a road trip, found a terrific restaurant in Mesa ( Blue Adobe Grill) and gave the Airstream some exercise.