On the drive down the coast from Santa Cruz to Monterey the scenery was stunning, most of the time. The last few miles, we headed inland along Highway 1 across flat, fertile plains, dedicated to agriculture. The fields were full of people hand picking artichokes and sprouts. We saw signs advertising kiwis and strawberries too. These fields stretched out as far as the eye could see, between the sea and the mountains. Despite the obvious fertility, there was something else, the vastness, the intense human labour. This was a place where people worked the land by hand. Unlike the vast corn fields, that glow in the sun, this was not a place of beauty.
I had not then made the link between this valley and John Steinbeck. He was born and raised in Salinas, the town sitting in the middle of this plain. He sometimes worked the land to earn some money as a teenager, but mom was a teacher and dad was in business, so they were comfortably off, as you can see from the house.
We visited the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas and had lunch in the family home, now a restaurant run by volunteers. Having read Mice and Men recently, I knew immediately that this was the landscape that it had been set in. What surprised me, was how much he had written and the diversity of his work, he was even involved in a Rogers and Hammerstein musical, Pipe Dream, which flopped.
I was also interested to learn he and wife number three lived in Somerset for a short while and his best friend was a marine biologist Ed Rickettswho did some ground breaking work in the Californian coast.
What interested me the most was that in the sixties he took himself off in a camper van to tour the USA with his poodle, Charley as a companion. He documented this trip in a book called Travels with Charley. As someone who is currently on a mini road trip in the states and on the first stage of a round the world trip, this book is now on my must read list.
Bill Bryson has been my travel writer of choice till now. I suspect that I will be adding Steinbeck to the list.
We ended a busy day at Cannery Row, just to neaten of the Steinbeck connection. Now a place dedicated to entertainment not the sardine industry, with upmarket shops jostling against tourist tack and high end restaurants next to family chain, it’s a good place for a Friday night dinner.
And because it was there, we could resist posing for these photos outside the place we ate.