Day Two of our roadtrip was a day of wild extremes, one near disaster, a fast save and a quick sidetrip down a different historical path than the one we’d planned. But that’s the thing about roadtrips. You better plan that something will not go according to plan.

We started the day surrounded with the trappings of wealth. First at the Hotel Bel-Air, then at the Getty, which is nothing if not the greatest modern example of the kind of monument you can build as your legacy if you have billions. But I shouldn’t be harsh with old John Paul Getty. The Getty Museum is truly amazing. It would be worth visiting even if you didn’t go in the door and look at a single work of art. That’s coming from a person who once went through the Louvre, room by room, floor by floor, on a mission to look at every single piece of art in it. It took me eight hours. I didn’t even stop for lunch. I’ve mellowed since then.

I could have spent the entire time in the gardens and grounds. But Mom needed a Van Gogh fix.

I could have spent the entire time in the gardens and grounds. But Mom needed a Van Gogh fix.

Now I have a routine with art museums. I figure out what kind of art or experience I can ONLY have in that particular museum, then look just at a selected few of those works. So I hear the Getty has a great collection of Renaissance and Baroque art. Wouldn’t really know. I didn’t even check in those galleries on my way to see the “Painting After 1800” galleries. Mom can’t pass up an Impressionist painting. The Getty has lots, so that’s where we spent most of our painting viewing time.

See this fantastic ground cover. Guess what. Theyre ONIONS. Yup, The Getty is doing some great stuff with drought-tolerant gardens.

See this fantastic ground cover. Guess what. They’re ONIONS. Yup, The Getty is doing some great stuff with drought-tolerant gardens.

What I was really there to see was the Photography Gallery. I’ve been to two museums recently that promised me a treasure trove of prints from early great photographers. Both times, I’ve arrived to find the galleries closed or the bulk of the collection “on tour”. So the Getty was promising me what sounded like the most incredible collection, especially of the early photographers like Fox Talbot, the first photographer to use negatives, and the pioneers such as Atget, Matthew Brady, Ansel Adams, Stieglitz and Steichen. Well, maybe the Getty has these in the collection. Maybe they don’t. The sign said all that whole gallery was “closed for rennovations”. I’m starting to believe that NO museum has a collection of early photography. They just advertise it, then, in a giant shell game, keep making excuses about “tours”, “renovations” and “temporarily closed”. But I’m on to them. Some museum better show me those photographs and fast! I’m ready to blow the whistle.

The Getty is perched on a hill with great views of all of LA. Well, that is, if you could see LA through the smog.

The Getty is perched on a hill with great views of all of LA. Well, that is, if you could see LA through the smog.

With the photography bait and switch, I was done with the galleries and we spent the rest of our time out in the gardens, which are truly fantastic in an innovative, drought-tolerant, eco sort of way. Many of the gardens have sculptures in them and all of them are beautiful. There is even an incredible cactus garden that, unfortunately, you can only see and not touch. I spent a good hour running down staircases that seemed to lead to it, only to double back on themselves or dead-end like an Escher drawing. Finally, I found a docent who explained to me that the cactus gardens are meant to be viewed from above, “like an installation or a natural sculpture”. Fine. But some of us like to reach out and touch the Chollas.

That was the Good. The Bad, well, I’d warned Mom that after the Hotel Bel-Air, it would be all downmarket. But like Alan Greenspan and Hank Paulsen, I didn’t know how down the market would be.

Right across from the Mission, this place has the BEST Indian jewelry and souvenirs. And Juan behind the counter can tell you all about where Nixon hung out.

Right across from the Mission, this place has the BEST Indian jewelry and souvenirs. And Juan behind the counter can tell you all about where Nixon hung out.

I’d booked in for the next two nights at a charming looking little place (at least on the Internet) called the Capistrano Seaside Inn. It was billed as a 1930s beach hideaway frequented by movie stars in the day. Well, the day was a long, long time ago. And I don’t think the rooms have been cleaned since then. That beach view? Well, you can kind of see it. That’s when the trains aren’t rolling by just across the road and blowing their horns so loudly the windows rattle. It didn’t even help to find out the train was The Atcheson, Topeka and the Santa Fe (Judy Garland fans, stand up.) Old movie associations will only take you so far, even with my mother.

 

The Old Adobe Restaurant has preserved Nixons favorite table. The fajitas were great. No one could tell me if Nixon ate them with ketchup.

The Old Adobe Restaurant has preserved Nixon’s favorite table. The fajitas were great. No one could tell me if Nixon ate them with ketchup.

Shaken, we dropped our suitcases and headed back to San Juan Capistrano for dinner and a quick look around. That’s where we ran into Richard Nixon. Sort of. I thought San Clemente was his stomping ground. But all the shopkeepers had Richard Nixon stories. And when we found out his favorite restaurant was just around the corner, we had to book.

 

Now, I knew that Richard Nixon was a man who put ketchup on his cottage cheese, so I wasn’t expecting fine dining. But the Old Adobe Restaurant was a hoot. Part of it is the old town jail, which I thought must have given Nixon a frisson with his fajitas. They’ve even preserved his favorite table and chairs.

 

Thought it was funny that these buckaroos were outside the Wells Fargo. They said they were going to rob it. Then admitted they were preparing for the parade tomorrow. When I asked who they were representing, they said The Drunks of San Juan.

Thought it was funny that these buckaroos were outside the Wells Fargo. They said they were going to rob it. Then admitted they were preparing for the parade tomorrow. When I asked who they were representing, they said “The Drunks of San Juan”.

Fortified with a Margarita, a Pacifico and a steak fajita, I tackled the manager of the Capistrano Seaside Inn, got my reservations cancelled and booked into the Best Western down the road. After all, there must be a special place in Hell for people who take their 76 year old mothers to hotels where they might get hepatitis from the towels.

 

As we finally snuggled into clean sheets in a spotlessly clean room, we congratulated ourselves on how narrowly we’d escaped. Just like Nixon with that handy pardon.

Miscellanea

More pictures of Day Two here. And NO, I didn’t post any pictures of the Hotel From Hell. Just use your imagination. Besides, I didn’t want to stay in the room any longer than I had to.

When you first enter the Getty, you may think, like I did, that you are seeing a bust of Richard Nixon. It’s not. It’s J. Paul Getty. But I’m telling you, Nixon is everywhere down here.

A reporter from the Los Angeles Times contacted me wanting an interview about our “pilgrimage to the Mission.” Seriously, we’re meeting at the Junipero Serra statue. I’ll be the one wearing a red carnation in my lapel.

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