Last day in San Diego – Stay Classy

Notice the difference in the photo, not beer but ice cream. The others are more of the usual.

We had lunch at a place called Union in San Diego’s Gaslight district. Food was good, but we wanted the ambiance of the outdoor seating.

San Diego is very pleasant. It is fairly green in the winter, since the Mediterranean climate here features warm and dry summers and rainy winters. A local friend, Dana P. Eyre told me that this winter was indeed rainy, but not outside the normal. although there have been droughty winters in the last few years.

We go back on Tuesday, not sorry to have missed the snowy weather back home.
We also visited the San Diego Botanical Garden, as you can see in picture #4. Last is the entrance to the gaslight district, the San Diego old town.

Despite California car culture, San Diego is a very walkable city. It has a good troll line. We dropped off the car a day early, since we didn’t figure to need it here for the last day.

Link from my first visit to the Botanical Garden.

Salton Sea, Borrego Springs, California

We had a beer-less lunch today in a little village called Borrego Springs. We drove from Palm Desert to Temecula in a very round about way, first going south the Salton City and then west through Borrego Desert Park.

The Salton Sea was created by accident in 1905 when water from the Colorado River broke through dikes and flooded the flat land below sea level now the Salton Sea. This “lake creation” has happened periodically in history. Water fills the basin and then evaporates. In the deep historical past, this was part of the ocean, the Sea of Cortez reached farther inland during warmer periods. In the much cooler times of the last ice age, it was part of a big freshwater lake. When California became part of the United States, there was no water. It was called the Salton Sink and was like a smaller version of Death Valley.

This incarnation of the Salton Sea is living longer because it is fed by irrigation runoff from the Imperial Valley. For some years, levels were actually rising, but more efficient irrigation has produced less runoff. The Salton Sea is now evaporating faster than it is being filled. It will become an ecological problem, as the salty dust exposed by evaporation becomes dust in the wind.

Salton City is odd. It was platted out in the 1960s as a resort community. The streets are laid out in a grid patter and have names like “Harbor,” “Marina” or “Coastal Breeze”. None of those things apply to today’s Salton City. It is mostly empty. I was surprised to learn that the city is actually growing. New houses are going up. Why not? They already have the grid. It is a depressing place, however, like visiting a Twilight Zone city.

We drove along the Salton Sea and saw parts of the Imperial Valley, the most productive agricultural area in the world. But it is not really pretty. It is like an agro-industrial place, very flat and productive.

As you leave Salton City, you go through some depressing piles of dirt, but these are full of campers. Evidently it is a good place for off-the-road. Borrego Springs is a pleasant little place. I imagine it is pretty hot in the summer.

First two pictures are us at Borrego Springs. Next is CJ driving the convertible. It was a bit too cold, but since we paid the big bucks, we wanted to use it. You can see a lot more from the open car and the mountains past Borrego Springs were attractive. Picture #4 is Salton City. That is the middle of two, really. Lots of lots available. Last is Borrego Springs.

— Okay. A day w/o beer is like a day w/o sunshine. We had the Diet Coke for lunch, we we walked over to place called Karl Strauss not far from our hotel

Had some great beer. I did the flight first and the winner was one called X Rye Zeeb. The X is just for show. The Rye is for one of the big ingredients and the Zeeb is the name of the brew master. It was a very smooth IPA. It would not meet the German purity law (Reinheitsgebot) since includes rye, but it was good beer. Chrissy had an Irish red.
Our pictures show the event. In picture #4 I am looking serious. I have been told that I smile too much so people do not take me seriously What do you think of my serious look?

California highway

I drove from LAX to San Diego Airport, starting along I405 to I5 in the early morning gloom.  I had gone up to LA with our Brazilian delegation.  They had onward flights from LAX, but I was unable to change my San Diego reservation w/o it costing more than a new ticket.  Just as well. I spent the night at LAX Marriott and hit the road early to catch my 11am flight in San Diego. I could have left much later, as it turned out, but I like to be sure to be on time.

Even early on a Saturday morning, there was traffic, not bad but you never got the feeling that you really left the city.  The radio had some oldies including “Ventura Highway.” Ventura is the other direction but it seemed appropriate for me too.  I kept on thinking of all those songs from the 1960s about Southern California. It must have been an interesting place back then.

The freedom of the road is not what it used to be.  It is easier to drive on the Interstates, but they are pretty homogeneous.  You can still go on the blue highways but they are mostly drained of commerce.  The Interstates did their job.  You can drive all over the place w/o really knowing for sure where you are.

Great stories are usually about journeys.  The Odyssey created the genre.   The story requires unexpected challenges, discomforts and dangers to be confronted and overcome.  Life is easier on the highways now, but we have fewer stories.  My trip from LAX to San Diego was easy and predictable.  My greatest challenge was exiting at a rest stop that had no bathroom (see above).  While that seemed very pressing at the time, it wasn’t; not exactly the same as facing the Cyclops.

My picture up top is a pull off on road.  There were no facilities there.  Below are stairs at the convention center.   It reminds you of one of those Aztec pyramids, but I think there are even more stairs in San Diego.  People were running up and down in exercise reminiscent of the myth of Sisyphus.

Southern California

Our Brazilian delegation went to Los Angeles to explore connections with California universities. We met a bunch of university representatives at the Brazilian consulate in LA. I hope that some permanent matches were made. Diplomacy in many ways is the art of matchmaking. We put the partners together, maybe help them find their common aspirations, but others have to do actual connecting.

Anyway, it was a pretty sweet deal for me and I was flattered that our Brazilian partners wanted me along. That is another function of diplomacy, BTW – diplomatic cover. Our official status helps open doors and legitimize. I know these kinds of values are very soft and I underestimated them for most of my career. I was looking for the cash-value-concrete result. Those come, but sometimes long after. Our value is often part of the process. We are like oil (some might say grease) to smooth things along.

I have been surprised to find that people sometimes remember key phrases from the short speeches I make. I have some stock phrases, but I try to tailor to the circumstances. That is why I rarely know exactly what I will say until I hear what others have said and get a feel for the mood. This is one reason why I know that I should not seek work in contentious issues or ever try to be a spokesman. I do not stick to my talking points. In a field like higher education exchanges, you can get away with this and even prosper doing it. I would not be so lucky trying to “fix” official statements. A man’s gotta know his limitations. Interestingly, this particular limitation hasn’t kicked me very often during my long career in public diplomacy, although I have avoided some “career enhancing” jobs that would have put me in harm’s way.

My pictures are from USC, except for the statue of John Wayne up top, which is in front of the Brazilian Consulate. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are big supporters of USC. Spielberg was denied admission to the cinema school, but he doesn’t hold a grudge. Imagine how successful he could have been with a decent education.

The Heisman Trophy was won by OJ Simpson. They told me that it is the most photographed among their trophies displayed. They don’t take it down, since OJ was found not guilty and (if the glove don’t fit, you must acquit)– anyway – the OJ that won the trophy was not the same man on trial for murder. This unfortunate incident was in the far in future.

San Diego NAFSA

I am finally getting around to writing up my notes, a few weeks late. I went to San Diego for the NAFSA conference. I usually would not attend such a thing, but this was the last time I would have to be with some of our Brazilian friends and my final attempt to help make sustainable connections between U.S. and Brazilian educational institutions.

Most of my work consisted of meeting people and attending receptions. I know that most people consider this a perk of the job but believe me when I say that is work for me. I enjoy talking to people; I even like public speaking. But going to reception is less fun for me than writing reports. I don’t like and don’t do well with the small-talk. But I recognize the importance of being there so I was where I could see and be seen.

I cannot complain about being in San Diego, however. It is a pleasant place and I had a pleasant time. I stayed on Coronado Island. It is right across from the Convention Center, where the NAFSA meeting was held. You catch a ferry to get there. It costs only $4.25 and takes only about five minutes. It would have been a little more convenient to stay in the hotel actually at the convention center, but not very much and the hotels there cost a lot more. None of them were available for the per-diem rate. Anyway, I liked the idea of commuting by ferry. It is a very civilized way to go.

Coronado Island is a delightful place. It would be a little too neat for my liking to live there permanently but it is really nice to visit. There is a bike/walk/run trail along the ocean. My hotel had a view of the bay. I walked almost all the way across the island my first morning there. I had to do laundry and evidently there is only one Laundromat on the island. The guy at the hotel said that they could send it out for me, but I am not going to pay a couple dollars to wash a t-shirt. Anyway, it was a nice walk. Because of jet-lag I work up really early and started in the pre-dawn twilight. The place seemed very safe. There are a lot of retired U.S. Navy folks around and they tend to be orderly and peaceful.

My main “problem” and my excuse for not writing in real time is that my computer charger died. I could not find a new one anywhere in town where I could walk. They all have the equipment for telephones. So after the battery went dead, I was w/o computer for a couple days. It is strange how you become accustomed to computers. I wrote in my notebook and I do enjoy actual writing, but it is a very different experience. I think I am more open and honest with myself on paper, since I am pretty sure nobody, probably not even I will ever read it. But on those occasions when I do read, I find it more banal, maybe because it is harder to cancel a line and rewrite with pen and ink than to insert or delete with the computer.

My pictures show the convention center.  Next is the Brazilian section.  They let me hang out there.   The next two pictures show the ferry landing and the ferry.  The next picture is taken from my room.  You can see the convention center across the water and why it is an easy water commute.  Finally is a big fruit boat.

Salton Sea & Wind Blasted Rocks

We left the Joshua Tree National Park and keep on going on a little road toward the Salton Sea. (Above is Interstate 10 in the distance.)  The area is below sea level and w/o irrigation it is a hot and desolate place.  With irrigation, it is a hot and productive place.  This is the Imperial Valley, one of the most bountiful agricultural areas in the world, where a lot of our lettuce, grapes, berries and broccoli come from.

The Salton Sea is a fascinating accident related to the irrigation. In 1904 the irrigation dikes broke and almost all the water from the flow of Colorado River poured into the below-sea-level desert depression for almost three years. The escaping water had created a vast fresh-water lake.  It is so big that you cannot see across it.  Had they not fixed the dike, the Colorado River probably might have simply changed course and eventually found its way to the Gulf of California by alternate means. (This, BTW, happened periodically with the Mississippi.   If not for human intervention, the Mississippi probably now be following the route of the Atchafalaya River, bypassing New Orleans.) Geologists say that the Salton Sea has been formed and dried up many times in the past w/o the intervention of man.  You can see the Salton Sea chronology at this link. 

At first it was great.  People put in fish and the bred fast in the warm and empty waters.  But the water in the Salton Sea didn’t stay fresh for long.  The salts and minerals from the lake bottom soon dissolved in the water and with no outlet to the ocean, it was in the same situation as the Dead Sea.  It is getting saltier and saltier.   Many of the fish are dying out.  The only ones still thriving are tilapia, which can survive almost anywhere if the water is warm enough and are now being used for cat food. 

The dying of the Salton Sea is a problem from several points of view. Migratory birds have become very fond of using the Salton Sea as a stopover.  If it becomes a dead sea, it cannot serve that purpose.  The State of California is trying to “save” the place, but it is hard to see what they could do, short of breaching the dikes again and sucking in the Colorado River.  It “benefits” from some irrigation discharge, but this is not water of the highest purity. The Salton Sea is essentially a big puddle, with no reliable sources of replenishment or discharge.  It is a very temporary lake and in a moment of geological time it will return to its former condition.

We almost got to Mexico on the last leg of the day’s journey. We caught I-8 in El Centro, California.  Not too far along the road, we were stopped at an immigration checkpoint. I didn’t know they had such things except at the border.

The road to San Diego is very interesting.  The first set of mountains look like a pile of stones.  If you didn’t know better and they weren’t so massive, you would think that humans dumped and piled these rocks.  It just doesn’t look natural. As I wrote earlier, the wind really blows out here.  They have signs on the roads warning about the high winds.  The winds sandblast the rocks, and everything else, and knock off the rough edges.

As we got farther west, the mountains became green and beautiful.  In other seasons the grass is probably brown, or golden as the Chamber of Commerce might describe it, but the green was really nice. Below is another picture of Chrissy.  Sorry to post so many, but she looks good and really liked the car.

We ended up at the Courtyard Marriott at Liberty Station.This used to be a Naval Training base and now it has been redeveloped into hotels, shops and restaurants. It is very pleasant if a bit too neat, see below. Chrissy has already left for Washington. My flight is a little latter so I am writing this at the airport.It has been an interesting visit to California.

El Camino Real

The Spanish established a road, El Camino Real or the royal road, from San Diego to San Francisco to connect and supply their missions and forts.  Today I-5 and U.S. 101 follow the route and we drove along both today on our way from San Diego to the Hearst Castle in San Simeon.

The route is marked with bells suspended from question mark shaped pipes.  These are good promotion and the reason we noticed that we were on the route. 

I originally rented a Chevy Cobalt and I used it to drive up to the botanical garden mentioned in the last post, but it was such a crappy car that I took it back to Alamo before I picked up Chrissy.   Chrissy always said that she wanted to drive a convertible, so I splurged and surprised her with one.  It was fun to drive in the convertible on the coastal highway and we look forward to more fun when we drive inland to Joshua Tree National Park. 

Below is Chrissy with the car.

The coastal highway goes through some beautiful county.   The part I like the best is the oak savanna.  I think they call them oak woodlands out here.  The ones along the coast tend to feature California live oak.  They are similar to oak openings in the Midwest, but the California hills are more majestic, especially when set against the Pacific surf.  The park-like widely spaced oak forests make a truly pleasant environment.  They are maintained by frequent low-intensity fires and are endangered when fires are too carefully prevented by humans.

Above is an example of the oak savanna/oak woodland biome.  Below is the road ahead north of San Luis Obispo.

El Rancho Grande

The Spanish settled southern California with a network of missions and ranches. These ranches were self sufficient economic and political entities and were very large, the size of a county, with a wide variety of possibilities. Cattle and other livestock raising was the biggest activity, but the ranches were also industrial producers at least on a small scale. Above is the view from the rancho veranda and below show the thick adobe walls that keep temperatures constant.

The model of the rancho was the Roman latifundia. Like the rancho, the latifundia was set up as a type of colonization entity designed pacify the colonial area, produce valuable economic results and give the  rich and powerful but restive individuals something to do far away from the capital.  Spain was colonized in this way by the Romans and it made Spain one of the most important centers of Roman culture, in many ways more thoroughly imperial Roman than Italy itself. It is no surprise if the Spanish employed the system in their own colonies, even if not directly copying the system.  It was in their cultural DNA.  Besides, it fit well with their imperial needs and was well suited to the Mediterranean type environment found in California.

The ranch house immediately reminds you of a Roman villa.  It spreads out over a large area with veranda and a beautiful open garden area in the middle. It must have been a really great way of life … at least for the ranch owners.*  Large latifundia type setups in Latin America are sometimes blamed for the class structures and challenges of democracy there.

As in all empires, there was the element of oppression. The workers were not entirely volunteers.  This would include the indentured Iberian colonists and more directly the native Indians, who provided much of the labor as long as they lasted.  Native Californians were not technologically advanced and they were not numerous. California just did not support the kind of advanced societies found in Mexico and parts of the Southwest.

Southern California is an interesting natural environment. It is fantastically rich, but only when developed by human technologies. In its natural state, California provides neither the challenge nor the payoff that historians like Arnold Toynbee credits with stimulating civilization. In other words, it was fairly easy to survive at a low, generally nomadic, level of technical sophistication. But moving beyond that was difficult, requiring technologies that were a couple leaps too far to make it from low level to higher one. As the saying goes, you can’t jump a chasm in two hops.

The modern Southern California “natural environment” is largely a human creation, from the non-native crops and trees to the vast aqueduct system that brings water from many miles away. You can see the finely shaped, non-native date palm above as just one example. It goes down to the bug level.  Many of California’s most productive crops require pollination by honeybees imported from Europe or Asia. Left on its own, the place is really a semi-desert.

I will keep the rancho and the latifundia in mind when I go to Brazil. Brazil had a similar system of colonization and Portugal shared Spain’s Iberian-Roman heritage. In Brazil they were called fazenda, in much of the rest of Spanish America the system was known as hacienda.

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* This ranch paradigm in the Spanish colonial version is not like what we saw on the old Westerns. This is not the Ponderosa or even the Big Valley (which is in the California setting). If you watch the Cartwrights or the Barkleys, you see that the sons do almost all the work.  It would be amazing is a couple or three young guys could run something as big and complex as the ranch and still have so much time left over for all sorts of adventures.