Yaz and I recently bought a little house in the tiny and storied town of Palm Springs, California, which is nestled in the Coachella Valley facing a big picturesque mountain — the San Jacinto Peak — that looms over this historic desert town like a loveable beast.
This desert spot is another one of those dreamy California destinations, a place like so many on the western edge — no basements, no radiators, no copper piping and few historic statues. It is packed with mid-century history and long before that, the yore of Native Americans and generations of searchers, roamers and misfits.
Then, there is the history of music celebrity: Sinatra, Sonny and Cher, Liberace and Barry Manilow and the slew of contemporary musical acts who now play at the Coachella Music Festival.
The rocker, folkie Joni Mitchell preferred California to Paris. Katy Perry wrote “California Gurls” as a West Coast anthem in response to Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind”.
The odes to California outnumber any other nostalgic tunes about a place as an ideal for all things that promise to somehow make us happy — from Tupac’s California Love to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Californication.
Road trips invariably end in California, because it is the end of the rainbow.
My favorite Southern California author Eve Babitz wrote, “I knew just by reading this guy, Nathanael West, that he was probably one of those icky East Coast guys with glasses who got mad because when he came to L.A., all those starlets preferred producers or cowboys to him.”
That was written in the 1970s before the nerds too discovered California. Brains were always a part of the California tapestry, it just took a tech revolution for others to see it and for East Coasters to finally take a bow to a different form of genius that they could never have.
The San Jacinto Peak makes you seem small in the scheme of things. When you stare at its mass and proximity, it can dissolve any big shot-ism that you may suffer from. Like the sea, a big river, or a sprawling lake, these things of nature slap us down, set us right and spawn gratitude.
Then there is the light. In our homes, outdoors and on our faces, light expresses optimism and wonder and can infuse us with a rosier outlook. Sunshine defines Southern California, explaining why fewer people honk their horns, why you witness fewer fights and why people are ready to apologize. I have never lived in a place where people say “sorry” more often and why they invariably end a squabble quickly with the expression, “all good.”
Thanksgiving week, yeah. Yaz loves the Native American history in the Coachella Valley. She adorned our new home with some of their historic images, their ceremonial dress and accessories. As a native of North Africa, she identifies with their nomad culture.
Recently, we were discussing the sovereign nation concept with some local real estate people. They were boo-hooing the checkerboard of property ownership by the Tribes and how the lack of rules on their land holdings makes it difficult to control bad development.
Sovereign nation means the Tribes do not have to live by the municipal zoning or building rules, even though they generally do.
After one of those discussions, Yaz snarled, “They are upset by the design of a four-story condo project, really — we took most of their land, destroyed their culture and left much of their population destitute. I don’t really think that we are the ones getting a raw deal.”
Happy Thanksgiving. I am filled with gratitude. And no one makes me more grateful, than you, my readers.
Email Brad Inman