Saturday, May 21, 2011

Cannery Row

 Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses. – John Steinbeck, 1945

Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a chi chi dress shop, a jazz bar at happy hour, a chocolate house, a fish restaurant, another fish restaurant, a souvenir outlet, an ice cream parlour. Cannery Row is the renovated canneries, the Monterey Aquarium, little crowded galleries, carefully tidied history and the forethought of the city fathers in 1958 who changed the name of the street from Ocean View Avenue to Cannery Row to tie it forever to Steinbeck’s novel. – Annette Freeman, 2011


Ready for both sea lion
and literary reference spotting
My hotel room in Monterey looked out over Monterey Bay and swimming in Monterey Bay was a cheerful sea lion, munching something he or she had found at the bottom of the Bay. The hotel had provided a pair of powerful binoculars so I could see the contented expression on the face of the sea lion. I also spent some time scanning the horizon for whales, said to be plentiful all year round along this bit of coast; but as so often with whale watching, the anticipation was all there was.

Here in Pacific Grove, just outside of Monterey city, the hotels and tourists have taken over where the sardines left off, as they so suddenly did in the 1950s, having been fished to extinction by unsustainable industry. Instead of docks and fishing boats and nets and canneries and processing plants, there followed desolation and unemployment; then clever real estate speculation and finally redevelopment. Overhead bridges used to cross Cannery Row from the sheds along the wharf to the processing plants on the other side of the street. There are three of four left (one at least I suspect is a reconstruction), keeping the distinctive touch of the old days. A handful of the old tiny fishermen’s cottages survive; and John Steinbeck (who was born in nearby Salinas and lived in Monterey for a while) gets a statue on one street corner.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

At the end of the Row stands the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, with some excellent displays and a fervent message: sustainability. Cannery Row learnt that lesson the hard way. 

The kelp pool, washed with gallons of sea water every day, has a school of sardines, so the old days are invoked. The spotted jelly fish are amazing; the seahorses and Leafy Sea Dragons delightful; there are flamingoes (flamingoes?), turtles and penguins - rather stretching the 'Aquarium' description, but making for great displays. The Spotted Jellies were perhaps my favourite. I could have watched them all day.

A Leafy Sea Dragon.
Isnt' he (or she, or possibly both) delightful?

On my way south to Monterey, tooling along California’s scenic Highway One in my hire car with Roy Orbison turned up loud, I stopped for lunch at the boardwalk of Santa Cruz. Few signs are left of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk’s heyday of Bathing Beauty competitions and tea dances at Coconut Grove. Today the Boardwalk is still a well-patronised fun fair, but the rides are modern and safe and the food is of the hot dog and fries variety. I had my lunch on the Boardwalk. This may have been a mistake.

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