January Days South in California
©Charles Shere 2001
for Richard and Marta
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1: The Road to Ojai 4: Pasadena 2: Bombay to Brentwood 5: Barstow to Death Valley 3: Downtown Los Angeles 6: Bishop, Mono Lake and Tahoe
6: Bishop, Mono Lake, Tahoe and home
In Bishop the El Rancho Motel warned us not to clean fish in our rooms, and the Fire House Grill reminded us that culinary ambition too readily scoffs at the challenges of unavailable provender, uninterested clientele. Liver and onions should not be a difficult dish to produce: there's plenty of beef in this part of the country, and onions ship well. But liver must be carefully sliced so it all cooks at the same speed, thin so it can cook quickly and not turn leathery; and the onions have to get a head start or they'll be undercooked. It's a dish every grill cook needs to master, one of the Basic Ten Techniques I would say. One always hopes for the best, and one's regularly discouraged. (Oh how I look forward to Venice this summer! Fegato venexiano at Montin!)
The next morning's walk took me down past the RV parking lot to Main Street, which is to say Highway 395. A couple blocks north I found, of all improbable things, Kava Coffee, a combination gift-and-postcard shop and coffeehouse run by a Lithuanian immigrant. Back at El Rancho my Veronese sculptor was getting a motel coffeemaking lesson from the retired pastry chef: it wasn't hard to convince them of a preferable breakfast back at Kava before continuing the drive north.
It was still cool, now with a little cloud cover. Fabulous scenery, Sierra to the left where Ansel Adams had left them, basin and ranges stretching off to the right. There was of course no possibility of crossing those mountains south of Highway 50, so we continued north. We pulled off the highway into a picnic area once or twice, photographing curious tracks in the deep snow by the roadside, and at Mono Lake we had to put on the chains to pull back out of the parking lot -- a four-wheel-drive RV smiling at us as it sailed past. I pretended, of course, that I knew what I was doing. I'd carried those chains a number of months, but had never used them: better to get used to them here, off the road, on a sunny day, than use them for the first time during a snowstorm, in the dark, with trucks and cars slushing past.
Mono Lake was magnificent. The word is getting tired, but there are few others. It was even sublime, perhaps. It was not frozen over, but there was a good deal of shore ice, and the landscape had that curious wintry look, like a color photograph of a monochrome subject. In the distance the various mountains and ranges each wore uniquely textured slopes, accentuated by the low light on the snow, which piles up differently on terrains of different grains -- rubbled boulders, or conifer forests, or smooth bare soils.
Why does Carson City always seem so attactive in principle, so ordinary in fact? We though we'd find pleasant dining and accommodations, but settled for coffee and a Danish and a drive around town. Only the old mansions on the west side of town seemed interesting, and they weren't about to take us in.
On, then, to South Lake Tahoe; where the only problem was choosing a motel. We settled on the Best Value Inn, formerly Parkwood Lodge, choosing it from the AAA travel guide. It has surely degenerated since the AAA investigated it, but it was cheap enough. But where to eat? We went to Caesar's:, thinking there must be an Italian connection there. My notes say "okay salad; gloppy chicken saltimbocca; okay creme brulee. Rabbit Ridge Sangiovese: good." Then Lindsey lost a dollar in the slots -- I've never known her to be interested in them! -- and Richard won eleven on three spent, which pleased him greatly.
I won't bother with the Best Value address -- you probably don't want it. The next morning we found acceptable caffe latte nearby, though, and we were home that afternoon.
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