Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum, so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.
Justice is itself the great standing policy of civil society; and any eminent departure from it, under any circumstances, lies under the suspicion of being no policy at all.
– Edmund Burke
Two weeks ago, hidden in a stack of junk mail and bills, we got an invitation. Not from a friend, but from our favorite source of coffee beans, Vices & Spices, to come celebrate their 42nd anniversary. I looked at it, smiled, showed it to my husband, and we said in unison, “Road Trip!”
Living in Los Angeles County, one of the largest counties in America, and by far the most populous, we sometimes feel an urge to head north, to beach towns like Ventura and Santa Barbara, home of Vices & Spices, or inland to Solvang and Santa Ynez, where life has a different kind of bustle, and there’s a little more breathing room. Nice sunsets too.
So last Saturday, we got on the road, only about an hour after the Panglossian time my husband had planned to leave. We had some overcast in the morning, but the sun came out before long, leaving just some low clouds curling over the mountain tops, and drifting down, thinning into nothingness.
Vice & Spices was jammed with well-wishers when we got there — all their indoor tables and chairs had been moved out under a canopy in the parking lot, and every chair was taken. There was excellent cake and of course several selections of coffee as party food — a thank you from management for our patronage. We bought three pounds of coffee, including one of the Obama blend — which they are now billing as “Historic” instead of “Optimistic.” We introduced ourselves to one of the co-owners, and had a chat about the store’s history and evolution, and their unique blends of coffee. He and his partner had gallantly stashed some single red roses behind the counter for long-term friends and loyal customers — I was so flattered that he pulled one out for me after our brief conversation.
A quick stop for a bottle of water to share with my unexpected rose, then it was on to Chaucer’s, Santa Barbara’s best bookstore. My husband found a nicely bound edition of all of Lovecraft’s stories, a real bargain at under $20.00 (his many yellowed paperbacks can now be donated and their terrifying covers won’t jump out at me from our sci-fi/fantasy collection while I’m browsing through it), but he also spotted a treasure for me: Women Trailblazers of California. I was thrilled to see how many of them were women I have never heard of — more ‘lost’ history for my monthly Women’s History blog on another site.
I also found new-to-me paperback mysteries by Donna Andrews, Carl Hiaasen, Alexander McCall Smith, and Victoria Thompson — all writers whose stories lift my spirits. A good haul for a pair of reading addicts — husband has to be much more selective than I am, because his reading time is more restricted — he can’t sacrifice sleep during the week and still function.
Next, lunch at Max’s. Very messy but delicious grilled sandwiches — chicken al pesto for him, and roasted eggplant with goat cheese for me. As I mentioned in a comment earlier last week, these establishments are within three blocks of each other. So much of the best of civilization in such a small area!
We had one more stop planned on the way back: the Ventura County Museum before, one of those good things that come in a deceptively small package. The rotating display of the George Stuart Historical Figures is featuring “Really Rotten People” — the last figure in the group is Vladimir Putin, preceded by Nero, Cesare Borgia, Vlad the Impaler, Countess Elizabeth Báthory (who bathed in the blood of virgins, sacrificed to her belief that doing so would preserve her beauty), and Henry VIII, among others. Then an updated and expanded display about the Chumash people who have inhabited the area for hundreds of years, with a video on their boat-building; and a new exhibit of work by two local Ventura artists: the unsettling “Secret Paintings” of Michael Pearce, and sculptor Bob Privitt’s pun-prone “Manipulations.”
The Magician, by Michael Pearce
Rockin-Red Ram Face by Bob Privitt
We got a reminder on the way back of just how crowded our county is — on the 101 and 405 Freeways, clearly misnamed, not even the “2-or-more-persons-only” Diamond Lanes were moving very well.
We took a break about halfway home, and got off so he could stretch his legs at his favorite camera store, while I perused our book purchases in the car, blessedly parked in a semi-shaded spot.
Home at last, I finished up Sunday’s post for ‘On This Day’ and then, pleasantly tired, curled up with The Praise Singer by Mary Renault, which I was in the middle of re-reading for at least the 10th time. As with all the other readings, some words I’d passed over leaped off the page as if new-written:
“Country festivals delight me, with their ancient work songs as the grapes are trodden, the oxen led round the threshing-floor or the millstone. They are simple, these songs, like the beat of the heart or the breath of life; and their sound mates with their meaning as simply as the beasts mate in spring. They were sung before there were bards or poets, and of them were we all begotten. They are still our kindred, if we know our craft. Pulse and breath set us our bounds, within which is found all mastery. Without pulse and breath, the body dies; without their measures the poet. But within their limits are the startled or the tranquil or the eager heart; the breath of ecstasy, or calm, or tears, or terror. What a possession is ours! Eighty years I have wandered through it, and have never reached its furthest frontier yet.”
Simonides was an historical figure — Renault has taken the few facts known about him, and the fragments of his work that have survived the depredations of the centuries, and given us a completely believable man, telling his first-hand story of the dramatic events of the years around 500 B.C., when the meaning of the word ‘Tyrant‘ was shifting from ‘one ruling alone’ to Despot.
“So I shall never waste my life-span in a vain useless hope,
seeking what cannot be, a flawless man among us all
who feed on the fruits of the broad earth.
If I find him, I will bring you news.
But I praise and love every man
who does nothing base from free will.
even gods do not fight.”
When one’s country is being laid waste by a Tyrant-Fool, it is good to reminded that all this has happened before, and the world is still with us. The stakes seem higher with each toss of the dice, but there is much the past can teach us about our present circumstances.
And there are still simple pleasures that should be enjoyed while hearts still beat, and lungs still breathe.