Out West

Well, yesterday I handed in my grade sheets for my courses, so I’ve finished all undergraduate teaching duties for the calendar year! Time now to turn to all those things that have been piling up waiting to be done. Eventually, this will mean research, but in between there are various tasks, from writing letters of recommendation to reviewing grants, fellowship applications, and more.

Mostly, I just want to disappear for a while. Leave the planet for a bit and go walkabout, like I did last year’s holiday season. That might happen, but I have to be partly available for a little while for a number of duties. Either way, I need to get out of the old mode, and into the more contemplative one. In order to begin the resetting, I decided to hide away from campus entirely and in the afternoon visit one of my other offices… the beach.

I had some errands to run out in Santa Monica, such as picking up my boots from that great boot repair place (where I’d dropped them off to get stretched a bit… the miracle repair I told you about before had resulted in them a bit stiff and slightly tighter on the slopes, and so I thought I’d try a stretching of a few days), and so this fit well. I figured I’d just stay there until the evening.

I have a love-hate relationship with Santa Monica. It sometimes annoys me a lot, and seems to be a place that is so squeaky clean that all the flavour of real life has been drained out of it, to be replaced by mostly smugness…. but at other times, I’m very happy with it, since it has a number of gems that I like a lot.

If the truth be told, one of the main reasons that I like to go over there is the tarts. Your eyebrows are raised, so I suppose I should explain. There’s an awful lot of English people in Santa Monica, and so one of course pretends not to be one when one is near another tudor house such person (and I am sure they do it too – I do not know why), but there are times when one blows one’s cover deliberately, and then you must blow it big time. One of these times is going into an English shop (yes, they have them in Santa Monica – full of overpriced Marmite, Cadbury’s Flake, Hobnobs, Ribena, Twiglets, Rich Teas, etc – priceless flavours that cannot be created here) to get some prized item. I don’t get the overpriced things except in an emergency (I’m either fine without, or pick up a few things on a trip over there, or someone visiting brings a few things), but then there is Tudor House (click left for larger).

Although it is a bit embarrassing to walk into a place with that name and with huge Union Jacks floating outside…. this is readily overcome since there is a little counter at the back with freshly made jam tarts. A little piece of England. There are other things too (variosu meat pies, for example), but I go for a lemon tart (for only $1.00 !!)… and always leave with three tarts in a neat little pink box. Sigh. Lemon, Apricot and Raspberry this time. Very tasty with tea. Or coffee. Or bits of sand that might inadvertently get in as you try to eat them along the beach (click for larger):


… and then it is off to the pier and the beach for a bit of a stroll and a think:

santa monica pier

Oh, yes, you can tell it is Winter time (Northerners, please don’t get too angry at me) for at least two obvious reasons. There are wisps of Wintery cloud up there, and the sun is very low in the sky in the middle of the afternoon. It makes for nice photos, fewer people (I thought that the folks with the beach umbrella were either taking the mickey, or British tourists, for a moment, but they weren’t – it was indeed in the mid 70s not long before the sun set 45 minutes later. I think it is a bit warmer than normal. Not sure), and long stretches of beach with just you, the birds, and the unusually high number of bikini- or underwear-clad models being photographed for some reason.

Anyway, after my constitutional it was time to retire to a cafe and consume good coffee and work a bit. The plan was to go to a funky cafe down in Venice, the beach down the way:

toward venice

shutters on the beach…but the sun was setting fast, and I’d lost too much time to walk all that way before working. So I decided to stay in Santa Monica and visit the giant wedding cake that is Shutters on the Beach. At times, this hotel seems to be full of people discussing their tennis lessons and the like, but you can ignore it. The cafe downstairs (Pedals on the Beach) is great, but this time I went upstairs to the lobby and took a table looking out to the post-sunset red sky, listening to the chatter for a while, and working through a pot of satisfyingly excellent coffee.

I wish I could tell you what I was working on, but I cannot. I’m reviewing a newly written popular science book for a publisher, and it is just a delight to read. There were some points where I was truly and pleasantly overwhelemed by that warm feeling you get when someone appreciates and explains well to the public the sheer wonder of our world and what we’ve learned about it from deductive scientific reasonsing. This book is going to be fantastic, and it is a real honour to help bring it to you. I’m thinking I might base my course on it the next time I teach the general education course Physics 100 (I taught it this semester), which is supposed to be all about them appreciating scientific inquiry. It would be perfect, and a welcome break from working from a standard textbook for that level course.

I was expecting to breeze through it fairly quickly, but I’m going more slowly since although it is a page turner (oh boy it is!) I got into scribbling little notes and suggestions here and there because it is such a wonderful piece of writing, I want to help catch the little bits that might have been missed here and there due to copy editing errors or suggest a few improvements here and there. The author will probably mostly ignore me, but I don’t mind.

It is going to be a great book, and it was perfect timing to work on reading that subject matter just when I am trying to reset myself into contemplatative mode.

An excellent afternoon. Better get to bed now. I have two or more hours of preparation tomorrow morning for a three hour intense committee meeting with colleagues from all over the university. We are charged by our Provost to search for a new Dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, one of the most crucial (and arguably one of the hardest) jobs in the University, with few equivalent positions in any other system. How to find the “right person” to do this is a formidable task. A lot of net casting and sifting to be done…. and a great deal of deliberations in the meetings to come. If only I could convince them to have the meetings on the beach…


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19 Responses to Out West

  1. Jude says:

    Posts like this are part of the reason I love your blog.

  2. Aaron F. says:

    Oooh, what great picutures! Normally, I would whinge about how ridiculous it is to call 70 degrees “winter,” but I can’t talk — it’s been in the 40s and 50s here for the last few days, and I must say that I’m enjoying it. ^_^

    Of course, when Michigan’s snow is gone forever — along with the Ross ice shelf — I know I’m going to miss it. :'(

  3. spyder says:

    Thanks for the reportage from some of my old stomping grounds. I guess that your comment about how squeaky clean and lifeless the place can be is best exampled by Shutters, once the home of junkies, a cult rehab center, then Pritikin, etc. The very sand you were walking on is laden with toxic materials and the storm drains still bring hazmat dangers each and every day to what “appears” to be tranquil nice water. But there really is nothing like those long tidal flats that come in the winter months from the more diverse seasonal tides, the silt from the winter storm surges, and the scouring of winds. Those sunsets, always golden during the winter months, are a wonderful reminder of some of the best days of my life. Thank you

  4. Carl Brannen says:

    With those kinds of clouds, you should be able to spot sun dogs. Meanwhile, a ways up the Pacific coast from you, we just had a wind storm.

  5. nc says:

    Americans can’t ever have beans on toast! You need to put marmite on the toast before putting the beans on. Vital. Are you sure they have no marmite, flake, jam tarts or hobnobs? Perhaps they have them under a different brand name and you’ve not had time to search them out in WalMart or whatever?

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  8. Jon says:

    Random visitor from Google image search here…just had to say that’s the most gorgeous photo of the Santa Monica Pier I’ve ever seen.

  9. Clifford says:

    Jon! Thanks!…. I’ve noticed that people have been linking to it a lot. That’s nice to see.



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  12. Randal says:

    Stumbled on this quite by accident. Felt like a vacation just reading it. Thanks.

    British food has always taken it on the chin in the US, and I don’t think it is deserved at all. Gotten addicted to meat pies, and starting to see tarts like the ones shown here quite a bit about town these days.

    How do you think all the new fancy American beers rate against the old traditionals from UK?

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  14. Agnes says:

    Hello, is it okey if i using the beatuiful picture of santa monica pier to by bloggheader?


  15. Jess says:

    I’m from Australia and I’m coming to the US next year, I can’t wait! I’m going to the Santa Monica pier and judging by your pictures, it’s beautiful! I only know it from video games though, so it’ll be so awesome when I finally see it for real!

  16. Clifford says:

    Thanks Jess! I hope you enjoy it when you arrive!


  17. Nick S. says:

    Hey, I was wondering if I could use your photo of the Santa Monica Pier. It’s really breathtaking.

  18. Clifford says:

    Hi! Sure. Go ahead, as long as you give an appropriate photo credit: Do it to either my name or the url http://asymptotia.com/2006/12/15/out-west/



  19. Nick S. says: