Essay: Eastwood, California

This weekend I spent a night in Carmel.  It was my fourth or fifth visit in three years - this time, the occasion was my third wedding anniversary.

Carmel is two things: 1) a cozy, pre-Kinkade seaside village that is infused with an odd but authentic charm, and 2) an embodiment of insistent delusion.  It has much in common with Disneyland, except that Walt Disney's concept involved paying a fee to experience a specifically-constructed mythworld.  Carmel, on the other hand, is a real town, where human beings live and play.  Like a lot of places in California, Carmel was designed to resemble something it is not - in this case, an English village, complete with stone cottages, sweet shops, and a population that tends toward the spirited elderly (Clint Eastwood and Joan Fontaine, to name two).  But unlike most other places in California, Carmel actually feels like the thing it wants to evoke - it is cozy; the buildings are charming; the local businesses are well-run; and the whole place has a certain unique character, despite its derivative origins.  Is this simply time at work, adding natural wear and tear ("personality") to the mock-everything buildings?  Or is it the diligent product of necessity, i.e., Carmel's dependence on tourism?

It really doesn't matter, although it's an interesting question for those who, like me, tend to be preoccupied with California's inability to generate, absorb, and process authenticity.  Because there's something simultaneously phony and genuine going on there, whatever it is.

We walked down Ocean Avenue toward the beach, and down the dunes and across the sand, remarking on the unusually large breakers.  Nobody surfs in Carmel, but it was ideal day for beginners.  We walked south, toward the Pebble Beach golf course, both of us in a pleasant haze over the good weather, the foreign tourists (many of them hilarious), the cute shops, and the amusing dogs playing on the beach.  Close to Pebble Beach, we spied groups of asinine golfers moving across the fairways, throwing away hundreds of dollars just to be a tool in a little cart for an afternoon.  

As we turned to backtrack to the hotel, I noticed that a blonde lump I'd mistaken for a boulder was actually a sea lion.  It was conspicuously alone, and I immediately assumed it was the latest victim of the unusually large die-off that continues to plague central coast beaches.  I phoned 311, but Monterey County has no such service.  Trudging back up the beach, we scanned for anything like a lifeguard or ranger station, but there were none.  Then it hit me: Carmel could not possibly accommodate any symbol of life's inherent danger.  I don't ever remember seeing a police car in town, or a meter maid, or an ambulance.  Who knows how long the sea lion had been lying there; when we left it, it was still heaving occasional breaths and struggling to move.  It felt impossible that, of the hundreds who had surely passed it by before us, no one had alerted the authorities.  

Only in Carmel, a seaside town nestled in a pine forest, could this stricken ambassador from the natural world appear so alien and alarming.


  1. Anonymous9:34 AM

    This is a good blog post, Casey. You articulate the essence of Carmel quite well.

    "California's inability to generate, absorb, and process authenticity." --
    So true. Obviously this is highlighted to me more now that I live in LA, but it is true of the whole state in differing ways. Well put.


  2. I enjoyed reading about your time in Carmel. It was great meeting you today at Peet's.