A trip to Carmel brings peace to a hectic world

"Carmel-by-the-Sea" sounds a little presumptuous. A place where rich people go to be alone, much like Garbo. After a few days there, I change my mind. CBTS is only 1 square mile in size but its rough edges are all gone and what remains is as smooth as the front fender of a Rolls Royce.

There are no street addresses and no mail delivery. You must go to the post office to get your mail. Addresses are either north or south of Ocean Avenue, and on the east or west side of the street. West is always the ocean side.

CBTS originated as an artist colony (circa 1880-1920). Today art galleries have replaced the artists. The town has become an artist's pallette. Mexican haciendas, Hansel and Gretel cottages with swirling slate roofs, and Cape Cod shanties are a milieu of architectural styles. Gawking at the homes is not only permissible, it's expected.

On the commercial side of the ledger, there are shops with names like Linens and Such and Lady Fingers Jewelry. Eating places like Friar Tucks, The Forge, and Il Fornaio, having menus with English subtitles. At Il Fornaio, I fall under the spell of a waitress of such sophistication that I declare that "the term waitress doesn't suit her at all." She replies, "goddess, will do nicely." This perpetrates a cheery falderal during the meal and when it's time to leave, I say "all I'm looking for is 'unconditional love." She instantly replies, "you'll have to find that within." A therapist couldn't have said it better.

Watch fob size sports cars flit in and out among the many BMWs and Mercedes. No one is hurtin' for money. For some, these are third or fourth homes. While walking down Ocean Avenue, the main drag, I think to myself, "I feel cleansed." I was carefree, light hearted. I had become rich by association.

Ocean Avenue culminates on a crescent shaped beach of pearl white sand. Rocky shoals at either end jut seaward giving waves a good excuse to fling themselves at the rocks sending a frothy spray high into the air. Hidden in a forest with an on shore breeze gives the village pleasant weather year round. Sounds perfect, but in all honesty, 161of those days you can plan on fog.

I stop in at the visitor center to get the lowdown on what it's like to live in CBTS. "People like us (meaning retirees) find plenty to do....we don't just sit around, we volunteer for plenty of causes." Even Clint Eastwood took a turn at bat and served a term as mayor.

On another stroll, I visit the premier real estate office in town. He looks like Denzel Washington, blue blazer, dazzling smile and completely willing to chat with visiting peasantry. "To answer your question, I have properties from 3/4 million to 11 million, which figures out at $1,000 to $2,000 a square foot"

I'd heard that the zoning was stringent and pressed on for the gory details.

"Although I'm not permitted to quote legalities, I can say pine trees can be pruned, but to trim an oak tree requires a permit. The Coastal Commission has just implemented the critical view shed ordinance, which means new construction must be shielded from public view and that means in 30 or 100 years from now we'll still have the same natural look we have today."

I admire forward thinking, even if it means toeing the line.

By the third day, I've adopted "CBTS" and absorb as much beauty as I can. Beneath the shade of big sycamores, I marvel at the jumbo cherry red cyclamen, yellow, purple and orange primrose. A life size bronze of Nureyev stands in front of an art gallery. With sinewy muscles, oriental cheek bones, and powerful thighs I expect him to spring into the air at any moment. Right next door is Clint Eastwood's "Hogs Breath" restaurant with "Dirty Harry Burgers"on the menu. Ballet and burgers, hand in hand. Anything goes in CBTS; just don't get caught being ordinary.

I hear dripping water and notice a small sign above an archway; "The Secret Garden." A long shadowy walk way between buildings beckons. I have the time, so why not check it out? Tall bamboo on one side, ferns and greenery on the other. Every few feet is a wall mounted or ground level miniature water device.

The fragrance of oriental incense drifts from a door to a book shop. Finally a canopy. Wind chimes wiggle melodiously, a cacophony of water sounds from a congregation of water dribbling devices; statues, prayer flags, a gong or two, scented soaps and hundreds of artistic doo-dads for sale.

"The Secret Garden" is an anachronism, an oasis of calm, a respite from gridlock. I poke around the bunny-hole size book store.

A title, "Crones Don't Whine" caught my eye and seems to typify the Alice in Wonderland reality of "The Secret Garden."

The Cardinale Coffee Roasting Co. is in an alcove behind two dress shops and is my daily hangout. It's in a Spanish style patio. Copper rain gutters, soldered together with lead hover over arched windows. A gathering place for people who covet leisure, a place to observe and eaves drop. "I'm voting for the first one that promises universal health care for pets" puts the 2008 presidential campaign in perspective.

When it's time to leave Carmel-by-the-Sea I have just one wish. I hope I find the same serenity and sense of well being I found in such abundance this time.

n Ron Walker is a Smith resident.


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