Monday, February 01, 2010


"In America, hardly anybody goes walking. They drive around in cars or they sit outside the house in rocking chairs. If you go walking in the country, people look at you." So speaks one of Peter Handke's characters in Short Letter, Long Farewell, a book I have tucked into my bag as we walk around San Diego in one of the few instances of sun. San Diego feels strangely halted in its architecture, especially around North Park. All the buildings could serve as backdrop for Back to the Future. Being a pedestrian becomes a running joke as well (er, walking joke), as cars never look for you crossing and you meet no one on the sidewalks.

We do take a car for a trip to Balboa Park and its Old Cactus Garden. There's already been a year's worth of rain in one afternoon, and the cacti respond with big alien blooms. Bulbous-trunked trees that sharpen to a point fifty feet up; tall, twisted gangly things with Phyllis Diller fronds, all orange and gold; blue flowers and stubby cacti. It makes perfect sense when a friend informs us that this is the region that Dr. Seuss grew up in. Suddenly, those uncanny landscapes of his seem not otherworldly at all, but rather, the markers of home. Sun on us, the moment conjures another quote from the Handke book, wherein the unnamed narrator suddenly tracks down famed western director John Ford.

"When the sun shines through and plays in the leaves, I forget that," said John Ford. "I also forget myself and my existence. Then I wish that nothing would ever change, that the leaves would go on moving forever, that the oranges would never be picked and everything would stay just the way it is."