The perfect bite: social reform, literature and a recovered silent movie

Chefs and foodies  speak of the elements on the plate coming together in the perfect bite! Although my tastes aren’t that refined, I recently enjoyed an equivalent experience when a particular slice of history presented itself to me in a unique blend of artistic components.

I first learned of the “Ramona” story  while accompanying my grandparents to the longest running outdoor play in the United States, the “Ramona Pageant.”

Ramona Pageant, San Jacinto

There are numerous “Ramona” streets and landmarks near my home. I went to high school on Ramona Street and my yoga class meets on the grounds where the old house referred to as the “birthplace of Ramona” used to sit–every day reminders.

It is believed that author, Helen Hunt Jackson, wrote much of her beloved “Ramona” doing research in the vicinity of the San Gabriel Mission, the site chosen for Ramona’s parents to wed. San Diego, another Mission city, holds claim as Ramona’s wedding place.

San Gabriel Mission

You may not be at all familiar with this book, but had you been living in 1884 when it was first published, its reach would have been inescapable.

California tourism was greatly encouraged by its overwhelming popularity, and as travelers arrived by rail, they flocked to see the locations and landmarks referenced in the story.

Ramona_San Gabriel

A contemporary and friend of Emily Dickinson and regarded by Ralph Waldo Emerson as one of America’s greatest poets,  Jackson was an accomplished writer prior to her most successful book, but she suffered a number of very personal and painful losses, and eventually traveled west to Colorado.

In Colorado she took on an advocacy role for Native Americans and developed a passionate pursuit of American Indian rights, in particular the Mission Indians of Southern California. 

“Ramona” tells the story of a mixed-race Scots-Native American girl who suffers racial discrimination and hardship, painting a vivid picture of unrest in Southern California after the Mexican-American War.

Was there a “real” Ramona? It gets a little tricky here, but it is believed that Jackson was certainly influenced by the Native American people she knew and her ardent passion for Indian reform.

The public regarded the book as primarily a love story, and on its own merit didn’t bring the public closer to reform measures, however, the author continued to be a very well-respected activist and reformer until her death in 1885.


The book, now free to the reading public as part of Project Gutenberg, has had more than 300 printings, been adapted four times as a film, and as previously noted, is very popular with Ramona scholars.

And speaking of those films…

In 2010 American silent film scholars finally came across the only copy of the 1928 silent movie “Ramona,” starring Dolores Del Rio and Warner Baxter, missing and presumed lost for decades.

Where has it been?

It is generally accepted that it was at least initially captured by Nazis during World War II and then taken from the Nazis by the Soviet Union. A Czechoslovakian film archivist found it in 1950 and the film remained in the Czech Republic until a recent team of American silent film scholars obtained it and brought it back to the United States.

In early June a good friend and I had the privilege of sitting in the historic San Gabriel Mission Playhouse,  just steps from where the original “Ramona house” once stood, enjoying this fantastic old silent movie accompanied by theater organist Bob Salisbury on the Playhouse Mighty 1924 Wurlitzer Pipe Organ.

There you have it.

Historical fiction, Southern California landmarks,  Mission era history, early California tourism, Native American rights activism, a stolen silent movie returned, and an absolutely fascinating woman, Helen Hunt Jackson.

The perfect bite!

You’re welcome to take a little walk around my neighborhood and perhaps soak up just a little bit more of the “Ramona” flavor if you’re interested. You’ll see by this video that I’m not alone in my enthusiasm and interest.

Wouldn’t this dedicated author and activist who feared her book didn’t make the impact she had hoped it would be amazed that 131 years later her work and dedication is still considered important?

There is so much more I could tell you about her, but perhaps one day you’ll find your own reasons to pick up a copy of “Ramona,” and you’ll be interested in learning more about Jackson, too.

Let me know if you do!



All aboard Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner…breathing lighter into a new week.




Autumn in Southern California is defined by cool, often foggy mornings, very warm, if not blazing days, and the closing out with very cool evenings. As the days grow shorter I do enjoy the warmth of an extra blanket on the bed, although, would it surprise you to know that we sleep with the French doors open all night? There are advantages to endless summers.

And to me, summer–even in October–is beach time.

I refer to the ocean, and specifically a day of sitting on the beach, as “my happy place,” and I’m always eager to plan a day to let the cares of life just sit somewhere else and wait for my return.



What if we took the train to drop us off right at the San Clemente Pier?




Sophia, Karina, Papa and Nan boarded Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner, leaving Los Angeles Union Station heading south to the Orange County beach city of San Clemente for a day at the beach without a concern about watching other people on the road or competing for prime parking space.

Despite the warm days the crowds aren’t as fierce in the Autumn months and we can sit and watch the surfers–young and old–soaking up the rays. The waves were calm, but that didn’t deter them from trying.


And then there were the other creatures that look for their food along the shore.


The day was perfect. The girls could swim–or at least splash around quite a bit–look for itty-bitty sand crabs…



And at the end of a long day, all we had to do was get right back on the train and head for home.



We will be doing this again!


And not a drop to drink…unless you’re a Pinniped

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I wasn’t really ready to come home from the Central Coast. Last weekend we headed north to the serenity and beauty of Cambria, mesmerized by the rugged coastline nestled within a forest of coastal pines and spectacular ocean views–and quiet.

In the Los Angeles/Pasadena area where I live–the San Gabriel Valley–early fall often brings temperatures higher than we experience in summer’s July. Accordingly, October is “fire season” and it’s not uncommon to hear locals comment about the “feel” of earthquake weather. There is no such thing, but there is something in barometric pressure or terrarium-like cloud covers or perhaps the squeeze that comes with unrelenting heat that brings a certain jumpiness.

Cambria was calling me. Notice the beautiful sunshine of the day and the fog rolling in with the evening.

I have said quite enough about our drought conditions, I’m sure, but while in Cambria we experienced a few new shifts in awareness and convenience that seem worth conveying.

This was the first time we visited the area and continually thought of Coleridge.

“Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.”

The Central Coast is experiencing severe drought. Residents are saddled with extreme personal water usage restrictions and struggle against the rationing with an economy dependent upon tourism, naturally leading to greater water usage. The future is uncertain. It makes me jumpier than the heat, quite frankly.

We were encouraged to re-use towels and not expect a routine change in sheets.  The coffee cups and water glasses were replaced by disposable paper. After years of being cautious about what we add to the landfills, depleting water sources makes that a very secondary concern. And in a fine dining establishment we were offered water bottles (think landfill again) and charged a nominal fee. It costs too much to wash the glassware and is too expensive in other ways to offer drinking water to thousands of tourists. It is risky business.

The coastal beauty of Hwy 1, San Diego in the lower south through Mendocino County all the way at the top of the state, is what I call my “happy space” and I never travel without thanking the State of California and the Coastal Commission for its many protections. California is highly protective of preserving the beauty of the coast and guards against development. It remains as pristine as possible.

So when we talk about desalination plants, I have to wonder. All this ocean….water…is it a resource? If we don’t learn how to live within the confines of water restriction even in times of sufficient seasonal rainfall, what course will we be forced to take? What is advancement?

“Will California — like Israel, Saudi Arabia and other arid coastal regions of the world — finally turn to the ocean to quench its thirst? Or will the project finally prove that drinking Pacific seawater is too pricey, too environmentally harmful and too impractical for the Golden State?” 

At this point all we can do is observe. I also pray for rain. And I totally, completely, unreservedly appreciate the beauty that we have and I enjoy sharing some of the little surprises you might not anticipate.

These elephant seals aren’t sitting around waiting for rain, are they? Do they seem worried?

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The Northern Elephant Seal Rookery at Piedras Blancas, just north of Cambria, is a wonderful stop along Highway 1. There are approximately 20,000 elephant seals at Piedras Blancas, but they aren’t all there at any given time.

Once nearly extinct because of hunting for blubber and oil during the 18th and 19th centuries, some saying the population was down to a mere 50 elephant seals, there are now breeding colonies from Baja to British Columbia. There are four major California mainland sites, and this is one of the best for close viewing.

From December through February numbers will increase during mating season, and I’d love to return in mid-February as the females wean their pups.

Turkey Vultures are vigilant sentinels along this stretch of beach. I don’t think I want to know.


Next post I’ll take you with me to “The Enchanted Hill.”


Hearst Castle is a wonderful way to escape the concerns of reality. What a place for fantasy–an excellent way to breathe lighter.

Enjoy your “weekend exhale,” my friends. It’s a beautiful, warm and sunny day here today–big surprise. Sun! But it is cooler and should be a lovely weekend. And I do love weekends!