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Almost four years ago I enthusiastically reviewed Elizabeth C. Ward’s Coast Highway 1 as “a fairly essential Coast Road Read,” and now Ms. Ward returns with another must-read for California coast enthusiasts or for anyone who enjoys a good mystery: Death in a California Landscape.

Set in Laguna Beach, Ms. Ward gracefully depicts the type of people who characterize Laguna: “Everyone who’d lived in town more than a dozen years knew Millicent. They called to offer help or stammer out their grief. They all expressed shock and disbelief. The Laguna family, that great, motley collection of eccentrics and artistic sensibilities, beach lovers, wildlife activists, gay, straight, old, young, every political philosophy on the map, con artist, best selling novelists in view houses, unsold poets living out their Waldens in the canyon, physicist and feng shui counselor shacked up together, the larger than life egos; this whole sprawling, prickery, generous, opinionated, cantankerous Laguna family was coming together to stand by one of their own.”

The callers phoned Jake Martin, the same Jake Martin from Ms. Ward’s Coast Highway 1, returning as our noir narrator and unintentional private eye. Jake’s dear friend Millicent is found shot to death. Detective Swann suspects foul play, maybe even suspects Jake.  Jake knows that Millicent, albeit in her eighties was full of life and not planning to die.  Jake senses murder, but why and by who?

Millicent was the last living member of the original California plein air artists who painted the landscape that is now covered with cities sprawling across the hills and along the coast. Could the killer be one of those who make their fortunes off subdivisions and model home communities? The art museum curator informs Jake, “Developers are the largest collectors. They seem to feel that it is their responsibility to preserve the vision of the land as it was before they sliced it up and built malls and housing tracts on top of it. One would think they’d want to get rid of the evidence of what it was before they ruined it.”

To solve the mystery in Death in a California Landscape we travel with Jake Martin up and down the California coast from Laguna Canyon to Crystal Cove, with a few trips up to Newport Beach, a side trip to Ensenada, and then north to Big Sur. Death in a California Landscape delivers on its title by including the scenery in the text. Jake Martin puts us in the passenger seat as he drives up the coast, “I drove PCH through the coast cities to the traffic circle in Long Beach, north on the 405, then west to Santa Monica and Coast Highway 1. The morning fog burned off just past Oxnard where the road widened and 101 came in from the valley. From there on the sea was blue, the kelp beds rising and falling in the swells until the road curved inland and the sea was lost behind it. I turned onto the narrower and less traveled Coast Highway 1 towards Morro Bay and the Big Sur. I made San Simeon by eleven. Hearst Castle shimmered in the distance, sun turreted and dream veiled, a mirage that had floated out of the Arabian Nights, taken a wrong turn somewhere and come to rest on the far crest of the California foothills. From there on the road began to climb along the edge of the Santa Lucia range. The Big Sur is not for the faint of heart. Cliffs drop a thousand feet straight down into the Pacific Ocean on one side. Mountains rise steeply on the other. The road unwinds between the two.”

Elizabeth C. Ward’s Coast Road Mystery, Death in a California Landscape, serves as a retreat from the holiday frenzy this December. Download to your Kindle or pick-up the book. Death in a California Landscape also makes for a fine gift. Happy Holidays!

Click for Ms. Ward’s website.

 

 

 

 

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While Holly’s Honey Wheat Berry Bread dough rises in my warm kitchen, let me tell you of a good book about the California coast which provides three things: Intimate Authenticity of the place, a History about how and why people settled at that location, and snippets of Experiences with the Coast Road.  My Nepenthe, by Romney Steele, also forks out exceptional recipes from the restaurant’s kitchen.

My Nepenthe is a cookbook memoir written by Bill and Lolly’s granddaughter, Romney Steele, who menu planned, cooked, and served at Nepenthe’s Cafe Kevah.  Romney’s family harkens to old California, back to the second-half of the 1800s, when her great-great grandfather, Albert Gallatin, built the Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento.  Romney’s great-grandmother, Jane Gallatin Powers, grew up in the mansion, and then married San Francisco attorney, Frank Hubbard Powers.  Frank and Jane established the artists’ colony at Carmel-by-the-Sea and invited artists and writers to reside there to paint and write.

In 1949, Frank and Jane’s granddaughter, Lolly, together with her husband Bill Fassett, created Nepenthe atop a projection of Big Sur’s steep land, situated a few hundred feet above the Pacific Ocean.  Bill and Lolly commissioned Rowen Maiden, a former student of Frank Lloyd Wright, to develop their plans.  Romney writes, “My grandmother imagined an open-air pavilion for good food, dancing, and Sunday afternoon concerts, a place for people to come and forget their worldly cares.  She worked closely with Maiden to achieve her ideas.”

Nepenthe functioned as both home and restaurant.  “Bats and termites called the cabin home when they (Bill and Lolly) first saw it, and deer and rattlesnakes hovered.  My grandmother planted a grapevine that continues to trail up the front arbor.  My grandfather took jobs in the highway and in construction. The creation of Nepenthe Restaurant, a poet’s paradise carved from the hillside and formed to be one with land and sea, would follow.”

You read My Nepenthe two ways:  As a memoir, enjoying family photographs of good times and gorgeous meals at the restaurant, and also as a cookbook, by following its delicious recipes at your home.

As a memoir, My Nepenthe tells us of Big Sur through the lenses of each decade:

  • In the 1950s, “With a newly-minted highway and recovering economy, and Henry’s (Henry Miller) emerging fame after the ban on his Tropic books lifted, people flocked to Big Sur and hence, to Nepenthe.”
  • “The vigor of the ’60s brought a surge of interest in the coastal hamlet of Big Sur.  Hearst Castle in Cambria opened in 1959, bringing tourists from the south, and in 1962, the Esalen Institute opened its doors to the Human Potential Movement, drawing its own illustrious crowd.”
  • The Nepenthe Cheeseboard and the Vegetarian Chef Salad appeared on Nepenthe’s menu in the ’70s.  “The minute a waiter carried it (the Cheeseboard with generous hunks of cheese, fat slices of dark black bread, and fruit served on a board and accompanied by a glass of port) out to a table, surrounding tables asked for it too.”

After reading the book as a memoir, a memoir of Big Sur’s changes, a memoir of the restaurant Nepenthe, and a family memoir, you too will be inspired to cook.  My kitchen smells heavenly when making both, “Day At The Beach Minestrone Soup” and “Holly’s Honey Wheat Berry Bread.”

The Nepenthe telephone booth’s history is noted in My Nepenthe.  Lolly worried that they would be burdened with constantly answering the phone, “Everybody will call call to see if there was fog or not.”

Buy My Nepenthe.

 

 

This post written by Anneliese Agren

Currier & Ives lithographed the West for the railroad.  The coastal scene above presents a California that is both abundant and simple.  A magnificent mountain peaks above clouds.  Ships harbor in the distance and a man walks with his burros towards the village along the coast road.

Idyllic.  Edenic.  An untouched world available to possibility.

Other lithographs of the West by Currier & Ives.

Sharper colors displayed at David Rumsey.

Someone paid $5,175 for one at Christie’s.

This post written by Anneliese Agren

Jeff Horn’s website.

This post written by Anneliese Agren

Forever Stoked 6th Annual Artshow

Saturday – September 17, 2011

San Bernardo Creek Ranch – Morro Bay CA

The FS Studio/Showroom is located on a gorgeous 1200 acre ranch where they unveil most of their newest work. Many FS artists will be in attendance.

Emil, born in Paris, France, moved to Los Angeles, California in 1928.  Emil taught painting in Laguna Beach and had many friends in the art scene there.  Emil was also a special effects artist for 20th Century Fox Studios.  The buried Statue of Liberty seen at the beach in the finale of Planet of the Apes is a matte painting done by Emil, as well as the original 20th Century-Fox “searchlight” logo, beyond those notable achievements, he won a 1963 Oscar for his work on Cleopatra.

In his art, Emil typically used pencil and oil, but his most widely-known works are his watercolors.  Emil’s watercolor paintings burst with bold use of color.  In addition to Emil’s appreciation for California’s untouched sensual landscape, Emil’s work included environmental concerns. Emil’s paintings display a variety of country and cityscapes around southern California.

“Winter Sun” is currently for sale at William A. Karges Fine Art.

 

Alex Schaefer paints PCH at the intersection of Corral Canyon Road.

Alex does not omit the modern details.  Emphasis upon the painting’s foreground directs the viewer’s focus onto a traffic signal holding cars at red stoplight.  Stop.  Focus.

The sand-squatting hulk of a grey concrete west highway residence takes up center space of this painting, and the beach itself, although public visitors have to stay “seaward of the mean high tide line.”  A smudge of an orange 76  ball announces the gas station.

Telephone poles.  A singular streetlight.  Shadows lengthen across PCH suggesting late afternoon.  The light is cool, so perhaps the season is winter, which would account for the noticeably minor flow of road traffic.

The coast road leads the eye north past Latigo Cove.  Gratefully, here Alex indulges the viewer in an undeveloped landscape of muted colors of grey-green-brown, although this cove is heavily developed with the four-level Tivoli condominium complex, and many townhomes and single-family residences.

Phone and power lines form a wave pattern above the highway at the top of the rise.  The pale sky, relatively indistinguishable above the horizon.  A bit of each blends into the other.

Sandstone.  Asphalt.  Sea.  Amarenth.

La Jolla Cove, painted by Alex Schaefer in 2009 ::

and here is the same view, painted in 1936 by Alfred Mitchell ::

Alfred Mitchell (1888 – 1972), “La Jolla Shores, 1936.”
Oil on canvas, 40 x 50 inches

Instagram

I said, Let’s go to Los Olivos! Totally not considering situation. As we drove into SY Valley, smoke, ash, just like all last summer in Big Sur. Firemen all over Solvang.👍🏽👨🏽‍🚒🎖❤️ #ThomasFire, Lat. 36N. Smokey 200 miles north of #ThomasFire. A charm of finches, gold and emerald, lit up this sycamore with singing and chatter.

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Days until manuscript completion

Final DraftNovember 30th, 2013
Dot i's and cross t's.