Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Gazatteer: The Hamlet

View of the Hamlet
the view from the foot of the Mountain

History


The Hamlet started off as an artist's colony in the early part of the twentieth century. The planners envisioned a community made up of artists and musicians living and working in little, low-rent cottages next to the sea. The City was just a short trip away on the coast train. The houses they built were simple, with a bedroom, a living room, enclosed gardens and studios. As with most of the romantic speculation that happened on the coast, it ended up being a disaster. Only a few cottages survive, and the dream of an artist colony never found purchase.

Montara
the ubiquitous Monterey Pines

Primordial Associations

When I was tiny, my mother drove me to the Grammar School for ballet lessons. The auditorium was always drafty (and the faded velvet curtains always musty), but 500 lb Esther-at-the-piano played waltzes for the exercises, and her great bulk was enough to heat the room with music. Built in 1915, the Grammar School seemed to ooze magical erudition, from its tower to its forbidden basements. Even the symmetrical flights of stairs were loaded with symbolism, winging the humble pedestrian from the ground to the heights of learning.

When I was older, my mother drove me to the same neighborhood for piano lessons. I poured my heated adolescent energy into mastering Brahms. I thought I was a great player, and I loved the loudness of a real piano (oooh, that square yard of vibrating wood, mine, all mine!).

Main St
The Manse, the Old Highway, the KB and more Monterey Pines

My parents bought The Manse in the early nineties, a rancher built in the fifties by a retired naval doctor who didn't want to stray far from the ocean (it was complete with a root cellar and a garbage burner). By that time I was on my way to college, but I did have the chance to play the piano while watching the waves crash on the cliffs below. If you look carefully over the door of the basement, you can see the words "leave hope behind, all ye who enter here" scrawled in pencil. I don't know who wrote it, it was there when we moved in.

The Monterey Pines

They don't look like pine trees, to an uneducated observer they might look like cypresses. They are the dramatic thespians of the landscape and they have completely overrun The Hamlet. Its nearly impossible to find a corner where they haven't sunk their twisted roots deep into the dirt. When they cling to the edge of the cliffs they are in the throes of wrestling with the wind. When they settle inland, they reign like kings, cloaking their kingdoms in endless twilight.

The Crows

If the Monterey Pines dominate the space between the sky and the ground, then it is the crows who are reign supreme in the air. The air roils with their calls. Sometimes hundreds of them sit, cackling madly, in a single Monterey Pine. Their black feathers blend into the blue-green shadows of the piney foliage. My mother confessed once that they talk to her when she hoes the artichokes, and, even more shockingly, she talks back to them.

The Weather

The Bronte sisters never visited The Hamlet, but they understood its atmosphere well, from the wind-blasted heaths, to the sodden gray fields and the oppressive gray skies. Its not green enough to be the Northwest, nor is its disposition sunny enough to be included with the rest of the state. It is the silent, blue-eyed, calvinist great-uncle, with his knobby blue-veined feet in the freezing waters, looking north, and dreaming of faeries.

The Present

Unimaginative people have since built a lot of ugly houses, but they are easy to ignore once the traveler finds her way into the dusky heart of the foothills where on some street corners, it is still 1915. The Hamlet currently doesn't have any big box stores, a cathedral, a freeway offramp, an airport, a taqueria or even an affordable DSL connection. Since it sports its own lighthouse, one could approach it via the ocean but approach is all the sailor would be able to do, as there is no place to dock a boat.

2 comments:

John B. said...

This may be the best one yet--not that the other Gazetteer entries have been slouches. This one feels more emotionally-attached to the place described; the others have a lighter, docent-on-the-tour-bus feel to them. That's not damning with faint praise, mind you. This one just digs deeper. Must be your mother's tending her artichokes.
Magical.

H said...

My professor lives in an old rum-runner house in the Hamlet. They used to ship rum from the distillery, along the railroad (now the highway) to her house in the early 00's of 1900.

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