Although I didn’t know it at the time, the drive to Santa’s Village began on November 9th when we left Tiiu Poder’s cozy home in Antigonish. No longer an effective candidate for his previous Working Dog position in the California redwoods, our beautiful shared English Lab, Harry, was in town to audition for the role of mascot at Aphrodite, an upscale fashion salon in the upscale (for Nova Scotia) college town of Antigonish. A few hours away from other Maritime towns where most NS women who wear designer duds and strut their stuff live their (for Nova Scotia) upscale lives, Aphrodite offers the discerning woman access to the kind of high fashion they can’t find at Wal-Mart and Frenchy’s.
( Well, maybe they could find it at Frenchy’s if they weren’t TOO discerning and didn’t object to previously worn designer duds.)
Under the tutelage of Ms. Poder, the elegant entrepreneur saved from tedious perfection only by fabulous skills in the kitchen and a sense of humour irreverent and outrageous to the extreme, Harry made the switch from Working Farm Dog to Canine Fashionista in a blinding blond flash. Having once chased deer and raccoon away from my son’s lovingly planted gardens in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Harry took to designer labels and pats from fashionable Aphrodite staff members with beautifully manicured nails like a duck-dog to water. With never a passing thought for the chores and friends he’s left behind, he now wanders from show room to dressing room, flicking his golden tail at some of the best dressed matrons in the small Canadian Province. He gambols along the Atlantic each morning as he takes his morning constitutional with Tiiu, and dreams doggie dreams in the warmth of his bed while snowflakes randomly drift across a porch overlooking Cape Breton Island. The only slightly disturbing fly in his Antigonish ointment has been planted there by Olly-Bob, a huge, also golden, Maine Coon who laid prior claim to Tiiu’s home and hearth and is not that thrilled about the lazy California interloper now stealing his hugs and pats and place at the foot of Tiiu’s antique bed. Given his way, Olly-Bob would send Harry packing back to the Santa Cruz Mountains faster than a high class call girl could write a receipt with a crayon.
Sue, the Other Mother who had transformed Harry from a Macho Mountain Lab into a willing and happy version of an 80 pound Paris Hilton teacup decoration, wept her way through several provinces and a few states as she drove away from Antigonish. My husband also sobbed his way through Maine after he said “Adieu, mon doggie ami”, and Chris, his Original Mother in Santa Cruz, choked back tears as she searched for Harry’s most recent record of shots to mail to Nova Scotia. Harry, meanwhile, was viewing the latest promotional videos from designers in Sweden and Montreal, thinking about spring hemlines and trying to figure out how to talk Tiiu and her excessively chic Aphrodite assistants out of extra doggie treats.
As we all know, loyalty among Labs, most men, all bankers, and Detroit car dealers has always been greatly exaggerated.
In any event, our path to Santa’s workshop led from the mid-Atlantic to Washington, DC, across the US to New Mexico and Phoenix and eventually to California where the spirit of Christmas is eclipsed by the latest in Kardashian Christmas wear and stolen Target credit card numbers. Fortunately, it is also defined by friends and family and almost Edenesque natural beauty. As if Big Sur beaches were not sufficiently extraordinary, I was able to revisit Crystal Cove on the way to see my best friend in Laguna Beach a few days ago and fell in love all over again with SOUTHERN California.
I have often introduced Carole as my oldest friend which is inaccurate both because I have friends I have known longer as well as friends who are actually older than she. However, I have known her for a very long time. When we were both single Moms in our 30s, she lived in Crystal Cove, then a community of old beach shacks south of Corona del Mar, inhabited in the late 40s – 90s by sand and surf homesteaders who happily traded good plumbing for the sound of surf hitting the shore as they fell asleep each night. Carole met a handsome, free-spirited Crystal Cove resident when my late husband and I rented a small apartment attached to his house one 60s summer. Within what seemed like the blink of an eye and a hastily executed separation agreement, she and her two sons took up residence in Stan’s “big house” or more accurately, Stan’s “big beach shack”. For the next five or six years, our sons enjoyed the pleasures of beach life along the California Coast and learned all there was to know about body surfing, skin diving, cooking abalone and building big sandy dreams. Albeit brief, it was a glorious time for both residents like Carole and regular visitors like me and my children to Crystal Cove.
Once the Irvine family sold the Crystal Cove property to the State, they renovated the old beach shacks, brought them up to code, put in parking lots, removed the trailer park down the beach and opened the entire community up to legal renters considerably less scruffy and probably less fun-loving than we at least fancied we were.
Still, no State official could take anything away from the wondrous coastline, the sound of the surf pounding against the sand, and the pleasure of jogging along winding white sand beaches. Renters of 2013 are probably just as enchanted by Crystal Cove as were the old homesteaders of a few decades back and certainly the first come – first served rental process is more democratic than it was in the “old days”. These days if you can pay the rent, which is modest considering the isolation and the view, you can have a cabin with working plumbing for a long weekend. Driving past Crystal Cove on the way to Carole’s current home overlooking another winding, white sand Laguna Beach, I could not help but indulge in a little nostalgia for those halcyon days in the 1970s. The Moving Sands of Time notwithstanding, those may really have been “the best of times”.
We have now moved on to enjoy Christmas Day in Arizona and are rediscovering the wonders of desert life. In addition to the Chihuly Exhibition by starlight at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix, the stars over the desert on any given night are a visual miracle. The miles of mesas and mountains, the low-rise adobe houses scattered around the foothills, the acres of saguaro and other ocotillo, many creatively and irreverently decorated for holiday tourists, and the silence found only in truly holy places like deserts and mountains, are all here for the taking. Of course, if you’re five years old and listen really hard, you Can hear the echo of sleigh bells as Santa and his flying reindeer soar high about Scottsdale and Camelback Mountains and head back to poles North and beyond.
As it turns out, Santa’s Village, like a woman’s place, IS Everywhere.