Our younger son Marc lives in San Diego so we, happily, decided to spend much of January and February living in a down-town condo nicely situated in the Little Italy district. We knew that we would escape the cold of a midwest winter, but little did we guess that we timed it just right, and side stepped a cold snap with an appalling sequence of nasty, record-breaking cold weather.
As we sat out on our San Diego patio for al fresco meals- average daily temperature was 68 degrees- we enjoyed being warm and read of a weather Armageddon, sweeping much of the rest of the country, conceptualized as a “polar vortex.”
Being raised in a village on the East Coast of Scotland I have enough of a Celtic heart to be able to cheer on West Coast natives so I found myself at Petco Park (the home of the Padres baseball team) as Andy Murray (from Dunblane, Scotland), represented Great Britian as the GB tennis team battled the US.
The Davis Cup game was played on 250 tons of crushed stone and 75 tons of red clay spread over the specially built court. The court, with a seating capacity of 8,000, was set up as a mini-stadium in the middle of the baseball arena, an exciting architectural creation, and a delight for me, as Murray (the 2012 Olympic gold medalist) won his match and Britain eventually defeated the US by a score of 3-1 matches.
The last time that happened on US soil was in 1936! Murray is not the most charismatic of athletes but it was fun to watch the 2013 Wimbledon champion in action. After his famous Wimbledon success a British newspaper gushed- “Finally, after 77 years, 15 Prime Ministers, 3 Monarchs, Brit man Wins Wimbo.”
As senior citizens Penny and I have, quite recently, embraced the theatrical attractions of opera. We were able to attend the opening of the San Diego Opera’s 49th season. The performance was Leoncavallo’s passionate “Pagliacci” at the Civic Theatre. Before the show San Diego Opera Artistic and General Director Ian Campbell, in his welcoming remarks, pointed out that opera does not come cheap. He outlined “Pagliacci” expenses totaling nearly 2 million dollars. The production drew on no less than 89 cast members, a 67- piece orchestra, a crew of 65, and 324,120 watts of electrical power!
“Pagliacci,” at least in this production, ended with a triple killing so there was no shortage of explosive action. On stage, we were thoroughly engrossed and entertained. One of the nice things about absorbing a music distillation is that what pleases someone (us) does not necessarily engage the expert. Critic James Chute, writing in the “San Diego Union Telegraph” said this of the principal tenor, “[His} voice sounded unsupported in it lower registry and seriously strained at the top… It was like watching a pitcher working without his best stuff.”
Another high point of our San Diego stay was an evening sojourn at the “Horton Grand Theatre.” The show was a comedy take off of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 famous thriller film, “The 39 Steps.” The story is based on John Buchan’s 1915 novel of the same name. The hero of the plot is Richard Hannay. In Hitchcock’s film a memorable sequence shows Hannay clambering along the outside of a shuddering, shaking train as it crosses the Forth Road Bridge in Central Scotland. David Humphrey, playing Hannay, as he scrambled and clowned his way on the stage, mimicking hanging desperately to a train compartment, was a dramatic clown possessed of extraordinary athleticism. The total cast of only four were not just funny but, in handling a multiplicity of roles, displayed rare acting excellence.
While Richard Hannay cheered us greatly a trip to the Globe Theatre in Balboa Park dashed our spirits. We decided to see Shakespeare but a Shakespeare unvisited. We had never seen “The Winter’s Tale”. Sorry, this performance did not satisfactorily deliver to us what many writers say is one of Shakespeare’s “problem” plays. The first three acts are all about psychological drama.
The final two acts are layer open layer of comedy. The conclusion (a happy ending?) has Hermione coming to life (or has she been dead?) as her statue becomes animated. All I can say is that with our balcony seating, of the four people on my right, two left at the intermission and the other couple napped. During the “comedy” scenes the packed theatre audience reaction was applause that was no more than a light fluttering of hands. Perhaps our reaction is jaundiced. If in San Diego in 2014 do give the Globe your attention. They are doing “Othello” (June 22-July 27) and “Two Gentlemen of Verona” (Aug. 10 – Sept. 14).
On one of our day trips we visited the town of Carlsbad, a short distance north on the California coast. It is the home of the Gem Institute of America. If you like precious stones they give a wonderful morning tour – which is free. They will, however, give you a security inspection and you have to submit a photographed driving license. The GIA was founded in 1931 to evaluate gem stone quality. In 1953 the GIA developed its international diamond grading system buoyed up by its four c’s formula – cut, clarity, color and carat weight. They will tell you all about that incredible ring that Richard Burton bought for his wife Elizabeth Taylor.
For us San Diego’s greatest attraction – apart from the Mediterranean warmth and sunshine – is that the downtown landscapes, and the harbor seascape, make for a myriad marvelous walks. Short strolls, pedestrian plods, and longer perambulations are never less than idyllic.
The San Diego Bay is home to the massive “Midway”, the iconic US aircraft carrier. It has 60 exhibits and 29 restored aircraft. A great family place to visit as it has snack places, a gift shop, and a restaurant. Our choice is to explore visiting ships. This time around it was the US “Independence” built in Mobile, Alabama and commissioned in January 2010. Very much a warship of the 21st century it looked more like a water borne spaceship then a vessel. A trimaran hull, a speed of nearly 50 knots, and steered by joy sticks instead of steering wheels, the ship seemed as if it had been drawn up by a modern day Jules Verne.
But again, who can beat a vacation trip that turns a blind eye to snow, ice, blistering cold and.. a polar vortex?
Scott A.G.M. Crawford is a professor emeritus at Eastern Illinois University and a freelance writer who lives in Charleston.