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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsOur Italy - Chapter 6. Is Residence Here Agreeable?
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Our Italy - Chapter 6. Is Residence Here Agreeable? Post by :freebie Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :1299

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Our Italy - Chapter 6. Is Residence Here Agreeable?

CHAPTER VI. IS RESIDENCE HERE AGREEABLE?

After all these averages and statistics, and not considering now the chances of the speculator, the farmer, the fruit-raiser, or the invalid, is Southern California a particularly agreeable winter residence? The question deserves a candid answer, for it is of the last importance to the people of the United States to know the truth--to know whether they have accessible by rail a region free from winter rigor and vicissitudes, and yet with few of the disadvantages of most winter resorts. One would have more pleasure in answering the question if he were not irritated by the perpetual note of brag and exaggeration in every locality that each is the paradise of the earth, and absolutely free from any physical discomfort. I hope that this note of exaggeration is not the effect of the climate, for if it is, the region will never be socially agreeable.

There are no sudden changes of season here. Spring comes gradually day by day, a perceptible hourly waking to life and color; and this glides into a summer which never ceases, but only becomes tired and fades into the repose of a short autumn, when the sere and brown and red and yellow hills and the purple mountains are waiting for the rain clouds. This is according to the process of nature; but wherever irrigation brings moisture to the fertile soil, the green and bloom are perpetual the year round, only the green is powdered with dust, and the cultivated flowers have their periods of exhaustion.

I should think it well worth while to watch the procession of nature here from late November or December to April. It is a land of delicate and brilliant wild flowers, of blooming shrubs, strange in form and wonderful in color. Before the annual rains the land lies in a sort of swoon in a golden haze; the slopes and plains are bare, the hills yellow with ripe wild-oats or ashy gray with sage, the sea-breeze is weak, the air grows drier, the sun hot, the shade cool. Then one day light clouds stream up from the south-west, and there is a gentle rain. When the sun comes out again its rays are milder, the land is refreshed and brightened, and almost immediately a greenish tinge appears on plain and hill-side. At intervals the rain continues, daily the landscape is greener in infinite variety of shades, which seem to sweep over the hills in waves of color. Upon this carpet of green by February nature begins to weave an embroidery of wild flowers, white, lavender, golden, pink, indigo, scarlet, changing day by day and every day more brilliant, and spreading from patches into great fields until dale and hill and table-land are overspread with a refinement and glory of color that would be the despair of the carpet-weavers of Daghestan.

This, with the scent of orange groves and tea-roses, with cool nights, snow in sight on the high mountains, an occasional day of rain, days of bright sunshine, when an overcoat is needed in driving, must suffice the sojourner for winter. He will be humiliated that he is more sensitive to cold than the heliotrope or the violet, but he must bear it. If he is looking for malaria, he must go to some other winter resort. If he wants a "norther" continuing for days, he must move on. If he is accustomed to various insect pests, he will miss them here. If there comes a day warmer than usual, it will not be damp or soggy. So far as nature is concerned there is very little to grumble at, and one resource of the traveller is therefore taken away.

But is it interesting? What is there to do? It must be confessed that there is a sort of monotony in the scenery as there is in the climate. There is, to be sure, great variety in a way between coast and mountain, as, for instance, between Santa Barbara and Pasadena, and if the tourist will make a business of exploring the valleys and uplands and canons little visited, he will not complain of monotony; but the artist and the photographer find the same elements repeated in little varying combinations. There is undeniable repetition in the succession of flower-gardens, fruit orchards, alleys of palms and peppers, vineyards, and the cultivation about the villas is repeated in all directions. The Americans have not the art of making houses or a land picturesque. The traveller is enthusiastic about the exquisite drives through these groves of fruit, with the ashy or the snow-covered hills for background and contrast, and he exclaims at the pretty cottages, vine and rose clad, in their semi-tropical setting, but if by chance he comes upon an old adobe or a Mexican ranch house in the country, he has emotions of a different sort.

(Illustration: SCARLET PASSION-VINE.)

There is little left of the old Spanish occupation, but the remains of it make the romance of the country, and appeal to our sense of fitness and beauty. It is to be hoped that all such historical associations will be preserved, for they give to the traveller that which our country generally lacks, and which is so largely the attraction of Italy and Spain. Instead of adapting and modifying the houses and homes that the climate suggests, the new American comers have brought here from the East the smartness and prettiness of our modern nondescript architecture. The low house, with recesses and galleries, built round an inner court, or _patio_, which, however small, would fill the whole interior with sunshine and the scent of flowers, is the sort of dwelling that would suit the climate and the habit of life here. But the present occupiers have taken no hints from the natives. In village and country they have done all they can, in spite of the maguey and the cactus and the palm and the umbrella-tree and the live-oak and the riotous flowers and the thousand novel forms of vegetation, to give everything a prosaic look. But why should the tourist find fault with this? The American likes it, and he would not like the picturesqueness of the Spanish or the Latin races.

So far as climate and natural beauty go to make one contented in a winter resort, Southern California has unsurpassed attractions, and both seem to me to fit very well the American temperament; but the associations of art and history are wanting, and the tourist knows how largely his enjoyment of a vacation in Southern Italy or Sicily or Northern Africa depends upon these--upon these and upon the aspects of human nature foreign to his experience.

It goes without saying that this is not Europe, either in its human interest or in a certain refinement of landscape that comes only by long cultivation and the occupancy of ages. One advantage of foreign travel to the restless American is that he carries with him no responsibility for the government or the progress of the country he is in, and that he leaves business behind him; whereas in this new country, which is his own, the development of which is so interesting, and in which the opportunities of fortune seem so inviting, he is constantly tempted "to take a hand in." If, however, he is superior to this fever, and is willing simply to rest, to drift along with the equable days, I know of no other place where he can be more truly contented. Year by year the country becomes more agreeable for the traveller, in the first place, through the improvement in the hotels, and in the second, by better roads. In the large villages and cities there are miles of excellent drives, well sprinkled, through delightful avenues, in a park-like country, where the eye is enchanted with color and luxurious vegetation, and captivated by the remarkable beauty of the hills, the wildness and picturesqueness of which enhance the charming cultivation of the orchards and gardens. And no country is more agreeable for riding and driving, for even at mid-day, in the direct sun rays, there is almost everywhere a refreshing breeze, and one rides or drives or walks with little sense of fatigue. The horses are uniformly excellent, either in the carriage or under the saddle. I am sure they are remarkable in speed, endurance, and ease of motion. If the visiting season had no other attraction, the horses would make it distinguished.

A great many people like to spend months in a comfortable hotel, lounging on the piazzas, playing lawn-tennis, taking a morning ride or afternoon drive, making an occasional picnic excursion up some mountain canon, getting up charades, playing at private theatricals, dancing, flirting, floating along with more or less sentiment and only the weariness that comes when there are no duties. There are plenty of places where all these things can be done, and with no sort of anxiety about the weather from week to week, and with the added advantage that the women and children can take care of themselves. But for those who find such a life monotonous there are other resources. There is very good fishing in the clear streams in the foot-hills, hunting in the mountains for large game still worthy of the steadiest nerves, and good bird-shooting everywhere. There are mountains to climb, canons to explore, lovely valleys in the recesses of the hills to be discovered--in short, one disposed to activity and not afraid of roughing it could occupy himself most agreeably and healthfully in the wild parts of San Bernardino and San Diego counties; he may even still start a grizzly in the Sierra Madre range in Los Angeles County. Hunting and exploring in the mountains, riding over the mesas, which are green from the winter rains and gay with a thousand delicate grasses and flowering plants, is manly occupation to suit the most robust and adventurous. Those who saunter in the trim gardens, or fly from one hotel parlor to the other, do not see the best of Southern California in the winter.

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