Cambria in February

Miriam Bernard’s tired eyes blinked open on a particularly cloudy Friday, February 18th. Though she usually awakes in a foul mood due to the ungodly hour, today was different. Today was a vacation day. This would explain why it was 9am instead of the usual three hours prior. Today, Miriam and her husband, Eric, were driving to Cambria.

Despite forecasts of rain and all-around dreariness, the Bernards decided not to pass up the opportunity for a four-day trip up the soggy coast of California. Eric packed his bags in what may have been the new Guiness world record for bag-packing, then assumed the “waiting-for-Miriam position” on the couch watching sports.

Miriam dug through her impossibly messy closet, trying to figure out how many pairs of shoes to take. She settled on four. Four days, four pairs – it sounded logical enough. She also decided she would need two large coats for the weekend, considering the frightfully cold forecast of 40 degree weather. This launched the Bernards into a disagreement, as Eric didn’t feel Miriam needed two coats. After their momentary kerfuffle, the couple stumbled out the door with several bags, Miriam’s pillow (which she never leaves home without), two dogs on leashes, and… two large coats on hangers. Miriam exited the apartment with a smug smile, feeling she had won the disagreement. However, she later learned she was the fool, for she only wore one coat on the whole trip, and, as luck would have it, left both coats in Cambria after the trip, leaving her coat-less for several days.

A quick stop in Diamond Bar was required to drop off the dogs at Eric’s parents, where they are always spoiled with attention and treats. Lunch at a fine German establishment called Weinerschnitzel left bellies full of chili and cheese for the four hour commute to California’s “Forest by the Sea”.

Eric and Miriam always loved driving together. Miriam, more than Eric, naturally, since she was always the passenger. Since childhood, long drives in the car were always a highly enjoyable experience for her. Especially when there was good music to be heard. Which is why Miriam had made a stop at the Yorba Linda Public Library the day prior – to be sure the car was ready to go with excellent tunes. Today’s choices included the likes of Nat King Cole, Rascal Flatts, Adele, Sublime, Bob Marley, and John Legend. Selections from Eric’s CD collection of mainly jazz and country also made an appearance.

The drive had been dry as a bone, until they reached the real estate building in Thousand Oaks with the giant roof. You see, Miriam has never monitored the drive to Cambria by miles, but by the landmarks passed upon driving there. And the building with the giant roof had, well, a GIANT roof. And that was the point at which it started to rain. Miriam found this quite wonderful, as she had always loved the rain, and watching the drops dance across the passenger window was quite the hypnotic sleep-aid. Eric however, being the driver, disliked the rain greatly and was very happy to see that it ceased one and a half hours later in the seaside town of San Luis Obispo.

That last hour of the drive, from San Luis Obispo to Cambria on highway one, was a splendid one, as the clouds parted and the sun cast dramatic afternoon shadows on the mossy green hills beside the coast. The roads were still wet, and as Morro rock came into view, Eric and Miriam agreed that Morro rock is indeed the most beautiful rock in the world.

And then they arrived at the serene home of Richard and Susan Masin – Miriam’s great Aunt and Uncle. It was their guest house where Miriam and Eric spent their first wedding anniversary, and their guest house where they would be spending this weekend as well. Their cape-cod inspired beach house is at the coastal end of a labyrinth of a neighborhood – probably the largest neighborhood in the whole tiny town of Cambria.

After an hour of visiting with Susan and Richard, Eric and Miriam settled into the guest suite, a quaint and adorable room of about 450 square feet, with a truly perfect view of the California sunset – on days when it’s not raining, that is. The two of them bundled up – Miriam in her khaki trench coat and Eric in his maroon fleece pullover – which was in fact the only warm item he took with him for the weekend. (It was later discovered that Eric’s record-breaking packing session was achieved only by the fact that he packed no jackets and no jeans, leaving him only the pair he was wearing for four days of sogginess. Eric is, by definition, a true man.)

The dinner destination typed into the iPhones was a unanimous one: Linn’s. This restaurant in Cambria’s East Village is like a figurative slice of fresh-baked pie. Warm, inviting, and with a menu full of comfort food, it is the cold and weary traveler’s dream come true. They also serve literal fresh-baked pie. The most famous of which is Ollalieberry pie, a tart and sweet little berry that causes even dessert-refusal-expert – Miriam – to succumb to its flaky crust, hot candied berries and vanilla bean ice cream. The half-priced Barbera was also a welcome plus.

A stuffed-to-the-brim Bernard family moseyed up the stairs and collapsed onto the murphy bed at the far end of the room. Twas movie time and the featured film was 300. As in, the spartan war flick which, despite its great reviews, consisted of little substance and mostly bad actors chopping off Persian heads in a manner that was far too CGI for Miriam’s taste.

As the two lovebirds drifted to sleep, heavy rains pelted the windows and the waves in the distance crashed mercilessly.

The morning brought a similar scene – more pelting rain and crashing waves. It was the perfect “indoor” type of morning. Pianist Brad Maldow’s Pandora station and the wild surf provided the soundtrack for a ridiculously relaxing few hours of  fresh brewed local coffee, Earl Grey tea, homemade banana nut muffins and Eric’s reading of A Tale of Two Cities and Miriam’s of Pride and Prejudice, respectively.

When a hankering for lunch crept into their bellies, the Bernards decided this dreary day was perfect for a British tea house in town called Tea Cozy. Upon arriving, they found it to be cozy indeed – with eight tables wedged like puzzle pieces into the two front rooms. Very moist patrons would enter the warm house, which smelled of about 50 simultaneous varieties of tea, and this inevitably caused a blast of storm-fresh air to surge through the door, as everyone seated inside scowled.

Eric and Miriam were at last seated at a table for two in a room with three other parties. One was a group of four young people – not native to Cambria – but all wearing The North Face outerwear, which caused Miriam to assume they were from Seattle, since it is common knowledge that people from Seattle wear only The North Face apparel and nothing else. Next to this group was a middle-to-upper-aged couple consisting of a very plump and outspoken woman and her mouse-like husband who wore perfectly round tortoise-shell spectacles. To the right of them was a group of six older women, all residents of Cambria, who, Miriam overheard, have been coming to Tea Cozy for many years. They were civilized and well-spoken women, and complimented the waitress on her choice of music (Beethoven and Vivaldi) stating that other times in the restaurant the music had been “positively dreadful”. The music was well-chosen indeed, the Bernards agreed, stating that the classical piano suited a rainy day.

They ordered “Royal Tea for Two” which included three sandwiches, an assortment of tiny desserts and Petit Fours, heart-shaped scones, and bottomless teapots – which was the selling point for Miriam, since tea is her favorite beverage, surpassing even the ever-delightful glass of wine. Usually.

With the exception of one heated discussion about the materials that compose flannel, Eric and Miriam had a relaxed and splendid little lunch, or late afternoon meal, or whatever you would like to call the type of meal that ends at 4pm. Left with the dilemma of their ill-timed but delicious food, the Bernards hopped into the car and drove to Cambria’s West Village (slightly West of East Village). There, they visited several art galleries in succession.

The first of which was inside Cambria’s old grammar school. It featured an artist who is a friend of Miriam’s Aunt Susan. Her name is Jeannette Wolff. Her work was eclectic and tongue-in-cheek and quite enjoyable. Then it was off to a gallery that featured a $3000 painting of Frank Sinatra that Miriam would have liked to stick in her purse if only her purse were the size of a large potato sack. There, they also discovered an enchanting artist by the name of William Phillips whose manipulation of light in his paintings rivaled that of the “light” master, Thomas Kinkade, himself. Or maybe God.

They meandered across the street into another gallery called “Visions of Nature” which Miriam decided sounded overtly environmentalist, and was dismayed – that is, until she saw the incredible caliber of the photographs lining the narrow walls of the gallery. They were exquisite. They were life-like. They were… just like being there. In fact, earlier in the trip Eric and Miriam had a debate about whether photography could effectively capture a majestic moment. Miriam argued that it could not, while Eric believed it absolutely could – if the photographer was a good one. Well, now, Miriam’s foot was placed appropriately in her mouth, as these photos spoke such volumes, it was truly hard to contain.

The experience was sweetened when the photographer himself, Bill La Brie, walked up behind them and began giving them a glimpse into the adventures he had had achieving such photos all over the world. Yosemite, Colorado, Arizona, even his hometown of Cambria. What a special and talented man. He gave the Bernards 45 minutes of his time as they listened, entranced by his experiences.

By about 5:30pm, the rain had stopped and the clouds had parted enough to create a dramatic twilight. With Eric inspired by all the photography, the Bernards hopped in the car and drove all of two minutes to Moonstone beach – Cambria’s “money-maker” beach. They hadn’t been at the coastline more than a few moments before they saw another photographer named Stephen White whose gallery they had also visited. It was very clear that Moonstone beach was Cambria’s premier sunset destination, because couples were arriving by the dozens with their cameras to photograph what hoped to be a beautiful stormy sunset.

There was a moment or two of glory, where the pink afternoon sun shone through behemoth billowing storm clouds and created what looked like heaven shining down on Earth. And all at once the magic was gone, as the sun sunk behind those same dramatic clouds. Everyone stuck around hoping that as it sunk lower into the sky, Mr. Sun would peek out once more, creating one of those neon red one-in-a-million type sunsets, but alas, it did not, and the air grew bitter cold as the light slipped farther and farther away.

Miriam’s boots sunk into the sand as she knelt to pick up a pine cone. The pine cone smelled of salt water, and represented one of her favorite attributes of Cambria – the fact that it is at once a coastal town and a forest. This is a dichotomy Miriam had seen only once before – on her honeymoon in Juneau, Alaska. The two locations actually possessed a surprising number of similarities, which is perhaps why she and Eric enjoyed coming here so very much.

Nightfall brought the need for dinner, which landed the Bernards at a local Mexican restaurant, ordering burritos and quesadillas smothered in cheese and salsa. Upon arriving back at the guest house, movie number two commenced, this time a comedy – one Miriam had never seen but Eric was quite fond of. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure turned out to be an excellent but highly stupid trip through history by Keanu Reeves and a nameless second actor who has no career outside of this silly little film. While not intelligent, it was highly entertaining, and then the Bernards slept as the last of the storm drifted silently over central California.

Sunday morning was gloriously sunny, and prompted a shorter relaxing and reading period, as a full day of activities in Paso Robles lay ahead. The day was Miriam’s absolute favorite kind: crystal clear due to the storm, trees and streets still glistening with moisture, billowing clouds speckling the otherwise deep blue sky, and GREEN. Green everywhere. Green grass, green hillsides, green as far as the eye could see. Rain is like the salt of landscapes, magnifying the color everywhere one looks.

The drive over Highway 46 can be described as no less than majestic and spectacular in every direction, and warranted two stops simply so Eric and Miriam could jump out and take picture after pointless picture, since no mere photograph could ever reproduce the crisp morning air, the breeze, the birds overhead, or the sparkling of the Pacific miles away in the distance. It had to be tried, however, and Eric’s photography skills captured the day quite well. At one vantage point, the view consisted of endless hills blanketed in the deep green grass, and far down below, none other than the world’s most beautiful rock – Morro Rock – spiking like an iceberg up out of the bay. What a day, ohhhh what a day!

The driving continued eventually, as the day’s destination was the wine-central town of Paso Robles, California. Neither Eric nor Miriam had ever been, and they were excited to explore the city together. The visit began at a very nice Thai restaurant called Basil, which they tried at the recommendation of Susan and Richard, and were very pleased with. The couple then took their time walking in the gorgeous afternoon sunshine around the town square, which was a park bustling with couples and families out enjoying the first sunny day in a week. They stopped into yet another gallery, which turned out to be a fabulous, innovative space in which the artists not only sold, but even created their art.

A woman named Joyce took the Bernards through the entire process of imprint art as she created a very clever piece of a cat. Much to their surprise, artist Jeannette Wolff shared a studio space in this building as well, but was not present at the time. Her studio partner, however, was, and Eric and Miriam struck up a conversation with this impossibly old man with a funny accent.. They never caught his name, but with a little prodding on Miriam’s part they discovered his accent was Australian. He had grown up near Melbourne but moved to Paso Robles after the war. WORLD WAR II, they learned, which confirmed all their theories that he was, indeed, the most ancient piece of art in the entire building.

Fully “arted out”, the Bernards took off up the road to a winery they had come to love through gifts from family friends Mark and Sonja. The winery’s name is Tobin James. Upon entering, it seemed more like a bar than a vineyard, as dozens and dozens of people were standing at the counter laughing incessantly and drinking. Eric and Miriam soon learned why, as the wine in Tobin James winery was free-flowing and did not cost the usual ten dollars that every other winery charged.

Eric and Miriam sniffed, sipped, swished and spit, as wine after mediocre wine was poured into their glasses. A few moments later, a large gaggle of inebriated women arrived with their limo driver, and the Bernards slowed their sips as they enjoyed the free entertainment. There were four young women and four older, which they soon learned was a group of college students and their mothers, enjoying a weekend of wine-tasting for one of the girls’ twenty-first birthdays. One of the men pouring wine, a stout Italian man who looked to have more muscle tissue in his Ed Hardy shrouded right bicep alone than in his entire brain, flattered the women with ever-so-slightly inappropriate comments. This they absolutely LOVED, seeing as some of these women were over the age of forty and fishing for compliments anyhow. Eric and Miriam rolled their eyes at the constant flattery, and scratched their heads when Tobin James’ own son walked out with a complimentary bottle of champagne and two logo-stamped flutes for the girls. Leave it to the drunk women to get all the attention. Never mind the pleasant-looking young couple who could actually TASTE what they were drinking. They were completely surrounded by NO champagne.

Upon exhausting the normal tasting list, the sweet and chatty wine girl asked if they’d like to try some reserve wines, which, apparently in wine country means the drinkable wines. They agreed and were sent straight into a Zinfandel euphoria that somehow ended with Miriam, debit card in hand, signing up for their wine club with Eric nodding emphatically in the background. Realizing over an hour had passed, Eric and Miriam decided they should move on, since wine-tasting hours were quickly approaching an end. They said goodbye to a pair of gentlemen who had hired a limo driver to drive them around wine country alone and they decided that with the money, that would be a great way to see wine country.

The final stop for the day was on the way home – a winery called Four Vines that supplied the Zinfandel toast for the Bernard’s one year wedding anniversary in Cambria a year and a half prior. It was a special wine, a special occasion, and they were excited to go back and sample more from this special winery.

One problem – Four Vines, once a traditional and sophisticated winery had been sold and renamed Cypher Winery. It is now a counter-culture, rock-inspired winery catering toward young people and decidedly NOT Four Vines. Anyone who knows Eric and Miriam Bernard knows that most things that cater to young people do not cater to them. However, already in the room, they decided to follow through with the tasting and give Cypher a chance. The first tip that this had been a good choice were the stemless Reidel glasses that came with the tasting. Reidel stemless are the wine glass of the moment, and it was exciting to the Bernards that they’d add some of these to their collection.

Although the wines had strange names such as Heretic (also imprinted on the side of their new glasses. Hooray.) and Anarchy, they tasted just fine. Even better than the wine though, was the conversation with a young man named Andrew. While his day job was pouring wine at Cypher, he, his wife and her Italian family had recently purchased a few acres of vineyard, and had named their winery Lago Giueseppe. Though this was a tiny and nearly unheard of winery, strangely enough, Miriam’s ears perked up upon hearing the name, because she had commented on it on their way into Paso Robles. She had noted that “Lago Giuseppe” looked like chocolate milk because of the storm (Lago means lake in Italian).  Andrew seemed delighted that the Bernards had heard of his family’s little vineyard and proceeded to write down his information so that they could someday visit Lago Giuseppe themselves.

The rest of the drive home was cozy and magical. Eric and Miriam arrived back at the Cambria coast just in time for the first real sunset of their trip. Feeling mighty fine, Miriam bounded out of the car toward the rocky beach, quite literally skipping and squealing with delight like a small child. Two wine-tastings and a breathtaking sunset is enough to bring the giddiness out of anyone at all. Eric was giddy as well, however, he hid it well  behind an air of calm. As Miriam threw off her shoes and leapt  into the cold wet sand, Eric followed behind taking photos of Miriam’s childish display as well as the sunset. What resulted were several beautiful sunset photos and several photos of Miriam looking very foolish.

Having partaken of delicious large meals in the last two days, Eric and Miriam had quite the smorgasbord of leftovers  complied in the guest suite’s mini fridge. So rather than eat out, they made their way back to the room and dined on a conglomeration of the previous days’ meals. They were just as delicious the second go round.

Then it came time for a very important time-honored tradition at the Masin household: Game night.  Susan and Richard ask very little of the guests they so graciously allow to stay in their guest house, but the one thing they ask for is a lively night of games. Now, even though Susan and Richard were feeling quite sick, the games still commenced. The night’s selection was a game called Quiddler, which turns out to be a card version of Scrabble, more or less. It requires strategy and a love of words. Miriam won the night with the most points, and as Eric congratulated her, Miriam felt a tinge of bittersweetness as she knew Eric agreed to a word-centric game even though these are not his favorite types of games. What a selfless man.

After games began movie night number three, a romance of the classic variety: Swing Time, featuring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire circa 1936. It was a charming and funny little movie, even with the somewhat disjointed plot. It was happy, musical and a great end to the evening.

Monday morning brought an early start, so Eric and Miriam could begin the long drive home. At 8am Richard knocked on the door with fresh-squeezed orange juice, further securing this enchanting house’s status as a bed and breakfast. The Bernards sat down to what would be their last breakfast in Cambria, at least for a while. As the morning sun sparkled off the water, the couple felt a bittersweet happiness. Miriam took time to write in the memory guest book in the room, and reflected on the joys of the weekend. After a little self-timer action on Eric’s camera, and goodbyes to Susan and Richard, the Bernards began their descent down the coast of California.

This time, the drive home was much more enjoyable as Eric was not required to navigate through heavy rains, as he had on the drive up. To the left was endless green, and to the right, endless blue. There is a mysterious charm about the vast Pacific ocean. A deep inky grey in times of storm, but the most beautiful sapphire blue when the sun is shining. Today, the water sparkled eternally.

Diana Krall serenaded the two as they sighed a satisfied sigh on the drive down. Life is wonderful. Upon driving through Santa Barbara, lunch time approached, and the obvious choice for the traveling Californian is none other than In N Out Burger. For those who are unaware, In N Out is the home of the best burger. EVER. Worldwide. This is not debatable, it’s simply a proven fact. If you are skeptical, go there, eat the burger, then try saying again that it is not the best.

With palm trees lining the shore, the sun-splashed Pacific in view and true California fare in their stomachs, the Bernards popped in a Bob Marley album and nodded to the feeling of the moment. The rest of the world may have rain, snow, sleet and hail, but Febrauary 21st in California? Well, let’s just say the Golden State is living up to its name. It was a golden afternoon.

And all at once, the trip was over. The Bernards hugged their happy dogs in Diamond Bar, then headed back to good ol’ Fullerton.  The stuffed animal Ella had chewed just before they left was still strewn across the floor. Remnants of champagne were still in the bottle from Thursday’s dinner. The flowers in the vase on Friday were now wilted. It was back to regular life. Miriam took the pine cone she had taken from Moonstone beach, held it to her face and breathed in. It still smelled of salt water. She placed it on top of the entertainment center and sat down to look at its new home. Life may not be a vacation, but the memories and relaxation from a little town called Cambria, provide a state of mind that makes regular life  just a little bit more charming.

The End.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jessica Bernard
    Feb 21, 2011 @ 23:11:01

    What can I say my dear sister? If this blog was a published short story I would pay a high price for it, save it in a special place, wipe the dust off years down the road and pass it down to my children as an example of their aunt’s extraordinary writing talents. What a beautiful memoir of your weekend.


  2. Julia Tavis
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 09:52:29

    Loved reading this, Mir. It really drew me in… You must make Richard and Susan a StoryBook of this (8×8), complete with the pics you took! Anyone who’s visited there will be able to relate and may get some ideas for places to go!

    Daddy and I had breakfast at Linn’s when we were there in August 2010. They have the best corned beef hash EVER! You’ll have to try Linn’s for breakfast next time…

    And finally, this line made me laugh out loud: “With the exception of one heated discussion about the materials that compose flannel…” There were lots of places where I chuckled or responded, but that line was hilarious, for some reason!

    Now I’m inspired to write about this trip that Daddy and I are on…


  3. Toofie
    Feb 26, 2011 @ 16:23:12

    This is definitely my favorite one so far! And I agree with Auntie! That line about the flannel had me laughing out loud for a minute or two.
    Mir, you are amazing. Please write a book so I can read it.
    Love, Toofie


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