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294. California Road Trip (Part 7)

Hello listeners and welcome back. This is part 7 in this series which is based on my recent trip to California. I didn’t expect this to be a 7-part series, but it just keeps going because I’ve found more and more things to talk to you about! It’s like the podcast episode that refuses to die, it keeps coming back for more! It’s like the Lambton Worm or something – just when I think I’ve finished it off, it gets longer! I think this will be the last episode, but who knows. Time seems to shrink when I’m recording episodes of this podcast. An hour seems to disappear in just a few minutes because I get really involved in what I’m saying. I wonder if it’s the same experience for you. I hope so.

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If you haven’t heard the previous 6 episodes in this series then I suggest you go back and listen to them first. So far I’ve talked about lots of things including the history of California, some British & American English, Venice Beach, Segways, Baywatch, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hollywood & Celebrity Culture, Hotel California by The Eagles, Yosemite National Park, bears, The church of Scientology, an interview with AJ Hoge from Effortless English, a biography of Robin Williams, and descriptions of the things I did and saw while on my honeymoon with my wife.

In this episode I’m planning to talk about San Francisco, earthquakes, the hippie movement, customer service, the California coast and some more British and American English vocabulary.

A lot of what I am saying is transcribed on the page for this episode at teacherluke.co.uk. Look for episode 294.

*I’m expecting a package to be delivered by the postman at some point, so you might hear a knock at the door or the buzzer. It goes ‘buzz’, so it’s not a doorbell it’s a buzzer.*

Let’s get straight into it.

August 16
Cemetery & view of Golden Gate Bridge.

Fisherman’s Wharf & tourist area. Sea lions that weirdly arrived in the harbour just after the 1989 earthquake. Why did they suddenly arrive after the quake? Perhaps their previous social spot had been damaged or something like that. I’m not sure.

Cable car. Long delay and pretty grumpy service but it’s a great experience, hanging on to the side of the car as the driver pulls various weird levers, making the car move up and along the steep streets. We met an American couple who had been married for over 30 years. The wife did all the talking. Apparently they’d been to a Giants game (baseball) and he had caught a loose ball that had flown into the crowd. Apparently this is quite an honour in the states. You can keep the ball.

I met AJ Hoge in the afternoon. Listen to the previous episode for that interview.

That evening we ate dinner in a really well-reviewed Japanese restaurant just near our hotel – Sanraku – incredible sushi! This is the best Japanese food I’ve ever had outside Japan, and I had a load of sake and a couple of beers. Sake is really nice and a little dangerous to drink because you get drunk without realising it because it has such a light taste.

August 17
Earthquake in the morning!
A bit about earthquakes.
Tectonic plates.
They move against each other. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes they press against each other.
Sometimes pressure builds up and then the plates suddenly move at the fault lines. This causes ripples of movement through the ground, or the whole ground to suddenly shift position. The movements, ripples, vibrations or whatever you want to call them can last some time, and they can cause huge amounts of damage.
If the quake happens off-shore, then there’s likely to be a big tidal wave or tsunami after the event. As the ground is displaced very quickly, it can displace massive amounts of water. For example, it might cause the water level to rise suddenly. Imagine filling a plate with water and then tipping the plate slightly. It would cause some of the water to run off the side of the plate. It’s like that but on a much larger scale of course. The water has so much volume and mass that it is almost impossible to stop. When it reaches the land it carries lots of earth and all kinds of detritus with it, turning the wave into an incredibly powerful and unstoppable wall of destruction. You can see footage of this from the Japanese tsunami of 2011. What a tragedy that was (although the Japanese showed characteristic strength and determination in the way they recovered from it).

It pretty much impossible to predict an earthquake, but it seems that along the San Andreas fault at this particular spot near San Francisco, there is a really big earthquake every 70 years or something, and the big one is long overdue. In fact, the whole region of California is subject to earthquakes quite regularly.

Earthquake Myths and Facts
Here are some myths and facts about earthquakes, from the U.S. Geological Society website.
www.usgs.gov/faq/taxonomy/term/9830

San Francisco style
Everyone’s wearing sports gear and they’re all really health conscious. They’re constantly in their gym gear and they look very active and healthy. In fact, being healthy and looking after yourself seem to be important aspects of life in this part of the country.

Acai bowls
My wife persuades me to switch to these instead of the big plates of pancakes and its a good move.
Acai are berries that grow in Brazil and apparently they contain everything you need. Vitamins, nutrients, amino acids and all that stuff. These acai bowls are popular all along the coast. They’re a bit hipsterish, but they’re good. The acai berries are turned into a kind of powder, which is mixed with things like almond milk or hemp milk, and frozen fruits, and then blended to form a sort of sorbet. This is then put into a bowl and mixed with granola, nuts, cut banana and strawberry, and is topped with coconut flakes or other things. They’re really good and they keep you going for ages without making you feel bloated. In fact, you don’t feel that full, but you’re not hungry either, and it gives you plenty of energy and no guilt.

My wife is now on a mission to make acai bowls popular in Paris!

Haight Ashbury
We then walked towards the Haight Ashbury area. The plan is to walk all the way over to that part of town, picking up some coffee on route. Then we’d walk through HA, pick up lunch at Wholefoods there, and eat a picnic in Golden Gate Park where apparently there is live music every Sunday. I’m quite curious about Haight Ashbury, because I’ve heard about it and read about it so many times, especially in documentaries about music and art from the 1960s.

History of Haight Ashbury & the Hippy Movement
What happened in Haight Ashbury in the 60s? What was the hippy movement all about?

There was a counterculture movement, a youth movement in the USA (and in many other places of course) that started in the late 1950s but really gathered momentum in the 1960s, seemed to peak in the middle of that decade, and was pretty much over by the early 1970s. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, as I know that a lot of you listening to this are fans of the music that we associate with that time, and you may well know as much about this subject as I do, but nevertheless here is a brief history of the hippy movement.

This was a subculture and ideological movement which started with the beatniks earlier in the decade. “Beatniks” – that’s kind of a nickname given to the movement that came before the hippies. The beatniks were writers, artists, intellectuals and radicals who were united in a general feeling of dissatisfaction with the status quo. They rejected materialism (e.g. the idea that happiness in the USA can be found by marrying, getting a steady job, buying the right home with the right car, and the right modern accessories in your home and all that kind of square thinking). The Beats were more interested in soul-searching and trying to find some deeper meaning to life. This seems pretty normal now, and part of the dominant culture these days. Everyone has their soul-searching teenage period where they write a diary, write poetry and get all deep and meaningful. Well, that was common for teenagers of my generation in the UK, who got into indie music, started dressing like goths and smoked self-rolled cigarettes. The beats were the first to do that (although I expect there were other movements in Europe that did essentially the same thing, like the Bohemians). The Beats were heavily inspired by jazz musicians like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis and like this kind of jazz music, life for the Beats was a free-form search for truth and inspiration in the creative process. It was like a big improvisation with no boundaries. Sounds pretty groovy, hip and cool right? In fact those are words that come out of that time. All of them were probably coined by jazz musicians, but the beat generation appropriated them, or at least used them too. So, if things were good they were ‘cool’, or ‘hip’. You ‘dig’ things which are ‘cool’. The opposite of ‘cool’ was ‘square’.

We associate the Beat movement with certain writers, who are called the Beat writers, or Beat poets. These are people like Jack Kerouac, Allan Ginsberg, William S Burroughs and Ken Kesey. Some of the beats were into buddhism, sexual liberation and drug use. Out of this subculture came the hippies, who pretty much based their whole way of life on the ethos of the beat generation, and used books like “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac as a starting point for their own rejection of materialism and ‘normal’ life.

The word ‘hippie’ comes from the word ‘hip’, meaning ‘cool’ or in tune with this way of thinking. People also used the word ‘hipster’, but now we know we use the word ‘hipster’ for another kind of modern subculture – those uber-cool people who you find in East London who grow their own denim butter, have long beards and skinny jeans, use no electricity, ride fixie bikes, reject mainstream products in favour of vintage or handmade stuff, reject the dominant political system, and live in an apartment paid for by their rich parents. They’re similar to the beat generation or the hippies but today’s hipsters just seem to be more interested in just being cooler and more culturally aware than everyone else, and don’t have the same sort of communal spirit or mission as the hippies did.

Anyway, a whole generation of young people in the USA and in other parts of the world in the 1960s were really influenced by the beat generation and took on their values, and pushed them further – not everyone did this – not everyone at the time was a hippie. No, it was a subculture after all, but enough people lived the lifestyle for it to be a significant cultural movement. The hippies took it a bit further and embraced the whole concept, forming communes (shared living communities) in certain places – notably Haight Ashbury in SF and Greenwich Village in NYC (where the likes of Bob Dylan were playing protest songs and folk music in cafes).

The introduction of certain drugs, especially LSD into these communities really accelerated the whole movement, along with certain key events like the escalating conflict in Vietnam and the release of records like Bob Dylan’s first album, and albums by the Beatles. LSD was a drug that was created by accident by a pharmacist/chemist. It ended up being appropriated by the hippie movement because of the way it gave users incredibly transcendent mind trips, which made the hippies feel like they were experiencing things on a whole new level of consciousness. The innocence, youth, energy and vitality of this movement peaked in 1966/1967 particularly in the community of Haight Ashbury where, according to the accounts of lots of people, there were all kinds of open, free gatherings of people who took LSD, danced, made love and generally were very peaceful and transcendent, when they weren’t organising protests against the Vietnam war or other injustices. The hippies were for harmony with nature, sexual liberation, the use of drugs for mental liberation (aka consciousness revolution), peace, free love, communal living and eastern influenced spirituality. For the hippies, their immense optimism, fuelled by psychedelic drugs and perhaps a certain amount of naive idealism created the feeling that their love was going to change the world, and that there would be a sort of consciousness revolution which would cause the whole world to realise a totally new way of thinking and to start living in peace. The soundtrack to this period was albums like Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band by the Beatles. The thing is though, all the drug taking and free love did not come without a price, and it was naive of the hippies to think that their lifestyle was sustainable. True spiritual transcendence could not be achieved by simply taking a 2 dollar hit of acid, and many people just ended up mentally damaged by their use of LSD, and when harder and more addictive drugs like heroin arrived, the scene became much darker. In fact, hard drugs and other things like the later threat of AIDS pretty much killed the innocence and youthful spirit of the movement.

The optimism of the hippie movement and its decline were really well described by writer Hunter S. Thompson in his book Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. There is one particularly famous passage in which he describes the essence of the movement as like a wave that travelled across the country, then broke and flowed back again, leaving a sort of cultural high-water mark, or a cultural mark on the country. This is probably Thompson’s most celebrated bit of writing. There is a film version of the book, directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Johnny Depp, who does an amazing acting performance in the role of the main character, who is a version of Hunter S. Thompson. Let’s listen to the scene from the film when Thompson talks about Haight Ashbury and the hippie movement. This is Hunter S. Thompson, played by Depp, in 1971, looking back at the previous 5 or 6 years, surveying what had happened before.

Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas – The High Water Mark

The Woodstock Music Festival was probably the culmination of this whole movement. It didn’t take place in San Francisco, but near New York. That was a massive happening, with hundreds of thousands of people who gathered together to celebrate love and peace, with some of the great bands and musicians of the time, like The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Crosby, Stills & Nash playing the soundtrack.

The end of the dream came with a few events that showed the dark side of all that drug taking and chaos – Charles Manson, Altamont (a Rolling Stones concert that involved the Hell’s Angels who killed a guy), hard drugs and their damaging effects, AIDs.

How does this relate to that Eagles song? They’re singing about people damaged by loss of innocence – the same people who used to be idealistic, but ended up lost in decadence and the temptations of sex, drugs and rock & roll.

Talking of rock & roll, let’s listen to George Harrison, who of course was a member of the Beatles and someone who was at the heart of this whole scene. Here he is from the Beatles Anthology documentary talking about how he visited Haight Ashbury in 1968 expecting it to be a kind of hippie heaven of peace and love, but in fact by 1968 it had become quite a scary place with lots of people just living in the street, begging and taking hard drugs (he described them as ‘bums’). I think it was quite a shock to him and that’s when he decided to stop taking LSD and he sort of rejected the hippie movement and instead chose to embrace Indian transcendental meditation – a much more disciplined and well-established form of spiritual exercise.

George Harrison (originally from Liverpool, UK) – Haight Ashbury 1968

What’s Haight Ashbury like now?
It still has that general atmosphere, but the original feeling is long gone I think. But it’s still a really cool place, and I was very interested in visiting it in order to see what it was really like. Now it’s artisanal coffee shops, a mix of branded clothing stores and unique clothing boutiques. Really it’s just another tourist destination where you can buy Bob Marley posters, hippie clothing, bongs, pipes and fake retro t-shirts. It’s a bit like Camden Town or something. It’s not a genuine place of consciousness revolution any more although there are still some communes of hippies living there and I think that there’s a lot of housing which is offered to homeless people, or people of no fixed address. In the surrounding streets I saw quite a few homeless people, or homeless looking people and people who seemed to be suffering from mental illness, or on medication for drug addiction. You also find some interesting murals painted on the walls with anti-capitalist messages written on them. That’s partly the feeling of the area, but also there’s a sense that the place is a bit of a tourist attraction. There’s Nike store there for example, which is like a temple to individualism and materialism.

Many people think that the place is not what it used to be. I can’t help feeling a bit sad about this, because the hippies were onto something good. Their intentions were good, but maybe they were idealistic and naive. Maybe they were reckless with their drug use and their free sex, or maybe their movement got crushed by the establishment. Anyway, now in Haight Ashbury there are just remnants of those old values. Lots of organic shops and incense and stuff like that, and certainly some people who believe in ethical and sustainable living, but still a sense of increasing commercialisation. I wonder about some of the locals who have lived in the area for a long time and who now find themselves living in a commercialised tourist attraction.

I think I may have come across one of these people during a visit to CVS – a chain of pharmacies that you find all over the USA. We went in to buy some bottled water. We chose one bottle of Californian water and one bottle of Fiji Water, which is bottled in Fiji and then shipped to shops around the world, including California. We got to the counter to pay and the middle-aged woman who served us just said, in a very passive aggressive manner, “Yeah, why NOT buy bottled water from the other side of the world”.

I recognised the sarcasm, and immediately felt judged. What was she really saying?

Guilt trip! This made me feel pretty bad for a while, until I snapped out of it.

What do you think? I expect most of you are thinking – ignore her, she was being really rude! And you’re right, but…

I think she had a point to be honest, but I’m not sure if she made it in the right way. (I mean, giving someone a guilt trip about a product they are selling someone may not be the best way to get your message across, or maybe it is – it had an effect on me!) The woman was certainly rude to me, but does that matter if her point is valid? I wonder what it must be like for her working in CVS, while having these values. Maybe she doesn’t have to work there, maybe she has no choice. Who knows. I don’t even know her background, but just that one comment tells me a lot. What do you think? Did she have a point? Is it wrong to buy bottled water which is sourced in another country? Should the woman have said something to me? Is she a hypocrite for working in the shop even when she disagrees with some of the products it sells? Let me know your thoughts as usual.

I did have another couple of experiences with slightly passive aggressive, weird behaviour.
Another guy by the side of the road who seems to be homeless, tried to attract my attention: “Oh did you drop something…hey!” I just kind of shook my head and smiled a bit, but said no. He said “oh no it’s just my brain entrails you’re stepping on” There is a slightly bad vibe from some of these old hippies, but nothing more than that really. I didn’t feel unsafe there or anything, just a bit freaked out by some of these people.

In the park there was a guy who could have been homeless, or mentally ill, I’m not sure really. He was busking, and by busking in this case I mean playing classic American songs, like Motown, The Beach Boys, Elvis on a loud tape player and just singing along – loudly and badly, like a bad public version of karaoke that nobody wanted to listen to. There were three youngish people sitting on the bench next to him, looking pretty awkward because this guy was pretty loud and acting quite crazily and I think it was a bit off-putting for them. After a while they got up to leave and didn’t really acknowledge him or give him any money, and he said “Hey, thanks for the tip!” – A pretty passive aggressive comment considering they hadn’t given him a tip. I think they were a bit put off and possibly slightly scared of him, and they didn’t respond but kept walking away. He repeated, louder and louder “Hey, thanks for the TIP!! HEY THANKS FOR THE TIP!!!” – a slightly disturbing moment, but nothing bad actually happened.

Despite some of these little scenes had a really nice relaxing time in Golden Gate Park, even though there was no music when we were there, except for the “thanks for the tip” guy. We lay on the grass reading and napping a bit, digesting our food.

More Audiobook Recommendations – www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke
Let’s continue to look at a few recommendations for California-related audiobooks you could download free by going to www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke

The two books I’d like to recommend are associated with the Beat movement of American literature, which was so important to the values of the later hippy movement.

“On The Road” by Jack Kerouac
This is probably the book which inspired the hippy movement more than any other. This is what is written in the summary for this book on audible.com: Few novels have had as profound an impact on American culture as On the Road. Pulsating with the rhythms of 1950s underground America, jazz, sex, illicit drugs, and the mystery and promise of the open road, Kerouac’s classic novel of freedom and longing defined what it meant to be “beat” and has inspired generations of writers, musicians, artists, poets, and seekers who cite their discovery of the book as the event that “set them free”.

Do you fancy listening to an actor read that book to you? Visit www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke to sign up to a trial membership. You can download any audiobook you want, and then either cancel your membership and keep the audiobook, or continue as a member and enjoy more audiobooks every month.

“One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey
Ken Kesey was part of a group of writers called The Merry Pranksters, which also included a man called Neal Cassady who was one of the inspirations for a principle character in On The Road. Kesey and the Merry Pranksters were a group who advocated a particular way of life that inspired the hippy movement. The Merry Pranksters sounded like a cool and funny bunch of people. They drove around America in a big bus. That was the inspiration for The Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour” film. Basically, Ken Kesey is a very important figure in the American counter cultural movement of the 1960s. A key writer in the Beat generation. Beat writers like Kesey influenced so many important cultural figures that followed them, including pretty much all of the famous rock musicians who emerged from the 60s and 70s, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Byrds, Neil Young and everyone else basically. They’re the ones who defined that whole lifestyle that is now so globally pervasive.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is the story of a charismatic criminal who ends up in a mental hospital when he’s not really mentally ill. He fakes it in order to avoid prison, thinking it will be much easier. What he discovers is that the mental institute is far more sinister than he’d imagined, and he ends up in a great mental power struggle against the strict nurse who runs the hospital. It’s all about the corrupting nature of power, about fighting against the establishment, about the fine line between sanity and insanity, and the idea there is something rotten at the heart of the American administration. What’s more, it’s just a great dramatic story, terrifically well written with some fantastic surprises. The main character is a lot of fun, and the evil Nurse Ratched is a great villain.
It’s sad, joyful, moving, and powerful, particularly at the end. There’s also a great film of this book, starring Jack Nicholson.
You can download the original version, narrated by Kesey himself (abridged and only 3-4 hours), but I recommend the 50th Anniversary Edition read by actor John C. Reilly (who I’m sure you’d recognise if you saw him – he’s a brilliant actor, with a really distinctive voice). It’s unabridged, so you get the whole book which comes to 10+ hours of audio.

End of Part 7. Part 8 coming soon, and I’m sure it will be the final chapter in this series. :)
Haight Ashbury

292. California Road Trip (Part 5)

Hi listeners, I hope all’s well. Here’s part 5 in this series which I’m doing about my California road trip. In this episode I’m hoping to talk about these things: The Church of Scientology, Yosemite National Park and our slightly dramatic adventure there, more British and American English, and if time I’ll talk to you about San Francisco, where among other things I met and interviewed AJ Hoge. So let’s get started. [In fact I only managed to talk about Scientology and the Yosemite experience – British & American English, and AJ Hoge will be in the next episode].

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While recording this I’m also doing a live-stream on Periscope. You might be thinking – oh, I wish I’d known about that, I would have watched it! You can watch the videos of the live feed here: (and there’s about 45 minutes of extra stuff in the videos that you don’t hear on the podcast)


The Road Trip Continues… 11 August
Prepare to drive to Yosemite – we go to CVS and stock up on water and other supplies, program the SatNav (GPS) to take us via Bakersfield and Fresno, then up Highway 41 into Yosemite, where we have managed to book a spot in a camping ground. We’re both really looking forward to being in the fresh air in the mountains.

Before leaving we stop for breakfast in a recommended cafe where they do awesome pancakes with whipped cream, maple syrup and free refills of coffee. We park the car and walk up the street and then suddenly come across a huge imposing blue building. It’s massive and weirdly painted bright blue. It’s the headquarters of the Church of Scientology. At this point I’d like to talk a little bit about Scientology, which I consider to be a fascinating and (here’s that word again) mysterious aspect of California life.

What’s the Church of Scientology?
Here’s a recording I made at that moment.
Play the first recording.

It’s a religion, and quite a controversial one. Some people call it a cult. Some of its members are famous celebrities like Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Apparently the church has a lot of influence in Hollywood, and lots of people think it’s really weird and secretive. There are even suggestions that the church has been involved in criminal activity, threats – again these are just allegations, but it’s pretty mysterious and fascinating, like something from a mystery novel.

I recently saw a really interesting documentary about Scientology, called “Going Clear” in which lots of ex-members (people who decided to leave) of the church explain what it’s really like, and they don’t say very positive things. In fact the documentary seems to suggest that it’s a power-hungry cult which takes money from its members and threatens them with retribution if they try to leave. There are also suggestions that the church committed crimes like burglary, theft and intimidation in order to avoid having to pay a huge tax bill to the US government. Bold claims indeed. What’s really going on in this blue building?

A brief history of Scientology
This time I’m going to paraphrase a summary of Scientology that I’ve found on the “For Dummies” website. “For Dummies” is a series of books that help to explain various complex subjects in simple terms. You might know the series – they have distinctive yellow covers. It’s a really good series and they have books on almost every subject. A quick look at the For Dummies series on Audible shows titles like… (read some titles).

Recently I’ve been listening to the audiobook version of “British History for Dummies”, and it’s really good and yes I got that from Audible. You can get it too if you want – just click an audible button on my site or go to www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke and sign up for a trial and you can get a free audiobook. You could choose one of the “For Dummies…” books. Just search Audible for “For Dummies” and you can see all the books available.

Anyway, For Dummies also have a website with clear and fairly brief summaries. So, let’s check out the summary for Scientology. You can check the link here: www.dummies.com/how-to/content/what-is-scientology.html
So, what I’m about to say is based on information in that summary, but also what I learned from the Scientology pamphlets I’ve read and what I learned from several documentaries I’ve seen.

The church was set up in 1953 by a writer called L. Ron Hubbard. Hubbard was already fairly successful as a writer of both science fiction stories, and then self-help books. His most successful self-help book explored the relationship between body and mind, and he called it Dianetics. This book became the basis of the religion he then set up called Scientology. Some critics say that Diabetics is just quackery (not proper science or psychiatry) he only set this up as a religion because it was a tax-dodge. In the USA religions don’t have to pay tax, so Hubbard is criticised for having a cynical reason for making his religion in the first place – so that he could make money, or worse – that he was just power-hungry. Whatever the reason, Scientology was set up as a religion in the USA.

Hubbard is loved by the Scientologists, but viewed with a lot more suspicion by many non-members of the church. For example, the French government, who considered him to be a fraudster and tried to convict him of customs violations in the 1970s. “Britain, Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Venezuela all closed their ports to his fleet in the 70s. At one point, a court in Australia revoked the church’s status as a religion.” (Wikipedia page en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L._Ron_Hubbard#Life_in_hiding) These are all reasons why he went into hiding in 1970. To go into hiding means to leave the place where you live and go to a place where nobody can find you. He was the leader of the church right up until he died in 1986.

What do Scientologists do?
You can walk into a Scientology centre in many cities in the world now, and have a counselling session. In fact you might be invited in for one. When I used to live in London I used to walk past the Scientology centre in central London and they would sometimes as me if I wanted a stress-test. I always said no because I felt it was just a way for them to get me into the centre. I imagined it would be like this:
“Hi, are you feeling a bit stressed today? Would you like a free stress test?”
and then you go in and they check you out and tell you that you’re feeling all stressed out and that stress is really harmful and that they have all the solutions to how to combat stress and live a more effective life – and it’s Scientology. “Here’s a leaflet” or “Would you like to sign up to a course?” and then you’re in.

Sounds okay doesn’t it? I expect it is helpful at the beginning, for many people. It’s just not for me.

A counselling session at the church is called an audit. Essentially, this is a bit like a psychotherapy session. You’re invited to share deeply personal things in order to free yourself from emotional burdens. It sounds a bit like Freudian psychoanalysis doesn’t it? In fact Scientology completely rejects psychoanalysis. Apparently, Scientology is the only way. During these auditing sessions you are hooked up to a machine which is called an E-meter. According to scientology this can measure your thoughts, well – it’s not just as simple as ‘thoughts’ – apparently it’s related to immortal spirits from space which inhabit our bodies and prevent us from living a healthy and happy life. Auditing allows us to set these spirits free, which makes us feel better. Critics say the e-meter just measures electromagnetic energy in your hands and is no more revealing about your mind than a crude lie detector test. But, according to Scientology if an e-meter is used by a Scientology minster then it really works. Freeing yourself from levels of emotional burden in these auditing sessions is called going clear, and there are different stages of clarity. In order to achieve those levels of clarity you need to do more and more audits, share more and more personal problems, and also contribute more and more things to the church. This costs quite a lot of money as courses of auditing are not cheap, and all of this goes to the church, and also all the private and personal things you’ve said in auditing sessions are recorded and kept by the church. The aim is to free yourself of all your emotional burdens and achieve a state of perfect clarity. Apparently the church of Scientology is very rich as they have purchased some incredible pieces of real estate around the world, such as this massive building in Los Angeles. It’s not clear exactly how much power they have. Some say they exert some influence in Hollywood’s entertainment industry.

What do Scientologists believe?
Scientologists believe that people are in fact just receptacles for immortal spirits which came down to earth many years ago. The church doesn’t like it if these spirits are called aliens. Because, it sounds bad if you believe in aliens. It sounds a bit mad doesn’t it. So let’s not call them aliens. Apparently, these immortal ‘spirits’ live within us. They’re trapped inside us, and they can only be freed by going through auditing sessions, until you get to the top of level of clarity when I guess the aliens, sorry spirits go somewhere else. I’m not sure of the details of what happens to the spirits, or if we are the spirits, or what they look like.

OK, fair enough I suppose! We’re all entitled to our beliefs. What’s so controversial about them?
Here’s what’s written on the page from Scientology for Dummies, by Scott Barnes: www.dummies.com/how-to/content/what-is-scientology.html

Scientology is one of the most controversial religious movements of our time. Many people reduce their world view to nothing more than a cult that brainwashes its members and then fleeces (cons) them by charging outrageous fees for some auditing classes. Critics lambast the church for its rejection of established psychiatry, and many people take issue with the church’s “Celebrity Centres,” which are facilities that are technically open to the public but primarily serve the most famous Scientologists in the arts, sports, and government (think Tom Cruise, Isaac Hayes, and Nancy Cartwright).

Reports from some who have left the Church of Scientology are even more incriminating and include stories of church members being held for years against their wills at “rehabilitation camps” for violating certain policies, or sending members to go through the trash of the church’s critics and former members to find material to blackmail them into silence. In 1979, several Scientology members were convicted for participating in the largest theft of government documents in U.S. history. Scientologists have also been accused of tampering with witnesses in court cases and even murder.

In response to these claims, Scientologists state that their religion is genuine and that the movement has been distorted, and that they are being persecuted.

Among the criticisms are: Scientology preys upon people who want to make it in Hollywood by suggesting that they can help, then they force them to stay in the church with the suggestion that they can harm their careers due to their extensive connections in the business, they illegally resisted an investigation into their accounts by the IRS (the US tax office), they bully their members and they blackmail high-profile members like Tom Cruise and John Travolta into staying in the church – remember the church has recordings of all those extensive and deeply personal auditing sessions. These are all allegations and criticisms which have been made against the church – not necessarily my thoughts. I haven’t decided what I think of them yet and I’m just curious.

Is it possible that all of this sinister stuff is going in within these imposing blue buildings that we saw? I wonder…

Play the second recording.

I decided I’d try and talk to someone. I felt a bit excited and a bit nervous because I know the church can be a bit touchy about people doing recordings or making documentaries about them, which I guess is understandable. Anyway, I decided that I wanted to talk to someone so I went over to some of the people in uniform who were walking around the building. I spoke to a woman who was very nice and normal, of course. I told her I was making a holiday diary, and that I had just come across the building and wanted to interview someone about it. She took me into the building and I spoke to someone in reception. I made a recording afterwards.

Play the third recording.

What do you think about Scientology?
The woman I spoke to seemed very happy and proud to be working at the organisation. The place looked very smart and clean. Many members of the church say that it has helped them a lot. But what about all these allegations? Tell me what you think? Is the church a cult? Is it a force for good? Is there a church of Scientology in your country? What do you think?

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is a huge national park, and probably one of the most stunning parks in the world. Most of the tourism there is centred on Yosemite Valley, which is full of meadows, a river and pine trees, and some accommodation and camping grounds. Around the valley you have incredible granite rock formations including stunning mountains. There are granite rock faces like El Capitan, Half Dome, Sentinel Dome and so on, also some of the highest waterfalls in the world. The whole thing combines to be a stunning place to spend time camping, cycling, hiking or rock climbing and it is visited by about 5 million people per year. There are a few roads that go round the central part of the park surrounding the valley. 95% of the park is wilderness and hardly any people go there except experienced hikers, climbers and campers. You might know Yosemite from the Apple Mac operating system. At the time I’m recording this podcast, the most recent OS for mac is Yosemite (I believe the next one is called El Capitan – also a rock face in Yosemite National Park). So if you have a Mac with Yosemite, you’ve probably seem desktop images of the place. It’s absolutely stunning. Being there is a bit like being inside your own Apple Mac, but obviously much much better than that because nothing can compare to seeing it with your own eyes.

We drove out of LA and the through back end of the Hollywood hills. Handsome countryside with a highway which is great for driving. But the land soon becomes flat boring farmland. The driving is fun in the Camaro, which comes into its own on the open highway (which is rarely open because of all the cars). I realise that I’ve hardly put my for down the whole time. Most of the driving in LA has been slow cruising or edging forwards in traffic.
I floor the Camaro with some space ahead and it reveals masses of hidden power, roaring and leaping forwards with yet more revs all the time. It seems to have about 9 gears and they’re all RAAAAA!
We eat up the highway and eventually arrive in Fresno after about 4 hours. Fresno, aka Mall-land. It seems to be one giant shopping mall. I guess we’re in the commercial district but there is just open mall after open mall. We pick one with a Wholefoods and get sushi, which is not that great. Wholefoods is like Mecca to us. London has a few, Paris none.
What’s great about Wholefoods?
They’re normal in USA but this one isn’t that great, or maybe the expectation was too high.
It’s freezing inside and boiling outside.
We wander around mall-land looking for supplies.
Then the drive to Yosemite in the mid/late afternoon. A couple of hours.
The landscape gets more and more interesting as we climb up and up the winding highway. Wonderful driving and lovely smell of pine cones and pine trees. We drive with the windows open and the sun on our faces through the trees.
Eventually we’re in Yosemite and we glimpse views of stunning granite formations but keep going. We go into a tunnel and on the other side (tunnel view) the whole valley opens out on the left side. It’s my Mac desktop but we’re actually there. Can’t see properly from the Camaro. Terrible visibility.
After an hour of driving in a daze we arrive at our campsite.
Describe the tents.
Friendly atmosphere. Our tent is situated pretty well.
There are strict regulations about bears.

Black Bears in Yosemite
This is bear country and they are all around the park. They come out at night to go on missions into the valley to get food.
Apparently they have over 2x the sense of smell of a bloodhound, are very intelligent and more curious and confident than dogs, they have huge claws and padded hairy feet which make them silent. You must not keep any food or scented products in the tent or car. Everything has to be in the bear boxes which are very sturdy, made of metal and bolted to the ground. Apparently if you leave food out and then turn your back, they can appear and start feeding. Apparently at night, all the black bears head down into the valley under the cover of darkness. Slightly scary.
Naturally it’s pretty exciting to be sleeping in a basic hut with just a curtain separating us in bed and the bears which I imagine to be wandering around our tents at night.
I don’t have to imagine much because that night a bear has a go at the bear box just next to our tent. I hear it trying to open the box before moving on to try another one and another one. I later hear two people walking past talking about the bear they’ve seen. I was frozen solid in bed the whole time.
Apparently if you come across one you should shout at it angrily to try and scare it away.
I wonder what I would shout at it.
What should you say to a bear? What’s the appropriate thing?
I wouldn’t want to be too rude but at the same time it would be necessary to talk in rather strong terms.
I suppose indirect language wouldn’t work.
You have to be direct and clear, yet reasonable.
I’m joking of course. I think I would just scream at it and swear and say any old nonsense.
I imagine some of you would be a bit cooler.
Not me – I’m from the UK. We killed all our bears years ago, and made them fight dogs and other cruel things.
I imagine that any bear meeting me and hearing my London accent would not be that friendly.
So, no need to be cool. Freaking out and panicking is the order of the day here.
The place has a lovely summer camp, hippie Boy Scout feel to it, although it’s a bit crowded and there are lots of kids. It would be nice to have the place to ourselves of course but that’s impossible.
Dinner in the Yosemite Lodge down the road. Modest canteen food. Bought some tourist stuff like a cap and some playing cards.
Then bed after making sure all food and smelly stuff is in the reinforced box, then draw the canvas curtains – definitely not reinforced. Tie them with a good knot. Will it make a difference?
Of course bears won’t be interested in us, but apparently they’re really curious. We’re wearing mosquito repellent coil things. They’re quite interesting and smelly. Maybe a bear will find it interesting.
I would. “Oh what’s that on your wrist” – would the bear equivalent of that be “roar! Let me poke my head into your tent and bite your arm off, or just maul you a bit (because that’s what large dangerous animals do, they maul you).
Slept pretty well in the open air, despite these thoughts in my head and an actual bear or two outside the tent. Had to go to the loo in the night. I did so, noisily, checking the toilet quickly for any bears that might be in there hanging out or whatever. I did my business and had to look over the top of the door before leaving the cubicle, just to make sure there wasn’t a huge bear waiting for me. But it’s all fine.

12 August 
Breakfast in the canteen and then a day in the park.
Stayed on the valley floor on bikes. Packed lunches. Wanted to hike but closed. Apparently there was a fire up there.
Amazing seeing the granite up there. Gave me the desire to climb, but that’s not an option without climbing buddies, and my wife hasn’t really done it before. Bikes are a bit awkward – beach cruiser type things. Mountain bikes would have been better. Still, it’s very peaceful and incredibly fresh. Sunshine and cycling are quite tiring so we end up chilling by the river.
I’m a bit worried about tomorrow. What can we do that’s fun and takes advantage of the proper rugged landscape without being too challenging?

That night I drive us back up to Tunnel Point to see the sunset. We end up staying to look up at the stars, lying on our backs. It’s immensely beautiful as there is hardly any light pollution, so the stars are all revealed in their glory. Millions and millions of tiny points of light. Our galaxy the milky way is so rich that it appears to be like a mist across the sky, but in fact it’s a dense collection of many many stars. We see constellations like Orion’s belt and the plough. Driving back through the valley my wife sleeps in the passenger seat and I stop the car again to lie on the bonnet and look up at the stars some more, but I get totally freaked out by the total darkness around me! We sleep soundly that night, ready for a pretty early start in the morning.

13 August
Early start.
Big breakfast.
Coach trip up to Granite Point. Driver very amusing. 26 years and he has perfected his routine. Full of jokes and dry humour and the story of Yosemite. (What’s the story)
Native Americans.
Granite Point.
Panoramic views and start hike.
Some concern over the preparedness, but in fact we’re well prepared. Our shoes are not climbing shoes, but I think some of that is just marketing, and anyway some of the more recent climbing shoes don’t have ankle protection. 8 miles of hike, mostly downhill. Some uphill bits. Some tricky steps. Should take 4-6 hours.
We do the first 3-4 miles without problem except my wife rolls her heel slightly on a rock. As she’s walking she steps on a small rock, and her heel flexes a bit to the right as her foot slips slightly. I worry for a moment if she’s sprained it but she says she’s fine and carries on.
Amazing views.
Stop at Nevada falls, dip our feet in the pools of cold water, chill out and eat sandwiches.
Time to leave and my wife’s ankle has ceased up completely.
Very painful to walk on and we face 5 miles of downhill trekking. Should take a couple of hours normally but it takes us about half and hour to do about half a mile. She’s holding my hand and using me as a crutch. We have to stop. We’re stuck.
Lots of people stop to ask if we’re ok. People are amazingly nice.
Two women called Jenny and Susan stop. Apparently they’ve just done a training course in safety and first aid.

They take our situation seriously and give us water and food, and then call search and rescue for us. I feel bad for not having done this earlier. Anyway, search and rescue take a full description of the injury and say they’ve sent a ranger up to meet us. Suddenly we’re in a kind of emergency rescue situation with the authorities involved. My wife in particular is gutted and embarrassed. They tell us not to move. We wait for about an hour and then the ranger arrives. Apparently he was on the trail already but he made good time to get to us. I’ve bound my wife’s leg in a bandage given to us J and S. The ranger has crutches and more supplies of water and food. He also has material to give the foot support with a splint.

According to him we should climb back up and then down another way. We realise this is going to take us hours and hours of slow and painful movement for my wife. She’s really pissed off and sorry. So am I.

We walk back the way we’ve come, up to the waterfalls again and it’s slow going. Poor wife has to struggle with crutches or one crutch and my shoulder. Very slow. A 2-3 hour trek looks set to take 5-6 hours. That’s a long time for my wife to hobble along a rocky trail up and downhill on crutches with one ankle in pain and unable to take her weight.
But she’s brave and determined. Every time Josh or I asks if she wants to take a break she says “non!”
She’s determined to get down the trail to the bottom, as quickly as possible.

Describe the trail and the things we saw.
Peregrine Falcons nesting above us.
We talk to Josh and he tells us various things:
There are about 5 fatalities from accidents per year.
That sounds like a lot, as if it’s a really dangerous place, but when you consider that about 5 million people visit every year it’s only 1 in a million who die. Imagine London with its 7 million residents. How many deaths are there in London per year? A lot more. So which is the more dangerous – trekking in Yosemite or cycling to work in London?
Nevertheless, there have been some pretty gruesome accidents, usually as a result of stupid tourists who have no sense of safety or no respect for the nature of the park.
Apparently one of the most common forms of death by accident is from people falling over the waterfalls and falling hundreds of feet to their death on the rocks below.
Apparently they jump around on the huge boulders at the edge of the waterfalls with their cameras and selfie sticks, edging forward trying to get the perfect photo or selfie and they edge forward a little too far and suddenly they’re over the edge.

What happens when a tourist falls off one of the highest waterfalls in the world and lands on granite rocks?
Apparently the rangers have nicknamed it the human water balloon. You can imagine what that looks like to the other trekkers and tourists who witness it happening.

Josh tells us other tales of tourists who are unprepared for the wilderness of Yosemite, even though there are numerous warnings written all over the park.

People who attempt to scale the half dome – a huge granite dome thousands of feet above the valley floor with a sheer vertical drop on one side. It takes at least 12 hours to climb up. Most do it over several days. It’s a proper climb for experienced people and it ends with a long ascent up the dome at a 45 degree angle. To get up there you have to hold onto steel cables which have been bolted into the rock, and use crude wooden blocks also bolted to the granite. Some people lose their grip and down they go. Others lose their cool and panic, with the same result. They fall all the way down to the bottom.
The search and rescue Rangers are called up to the mountainside every day. Sometimes it’s necessary to do helicopter rescues.
According to Josh, this year a woman fell from the half dome but didn’t fall to her death. Instead her shirt got caught on a sharp bit of rock and she hung there for two hours before being rescued.

Earlier that day, Josh had to rescue a guy who had fallen out of a tree. Apparently he was climbing the tree, messing around and he fell out and landed badly on a rock. His ribs broke and pierced his lungs. Josh thinks he probably didn’t make it.

This puts things in perspective somewhat. But still, the crutches and the assisted descent are definitely necessary and we count our lucky stars that it’s not worse. Josh tells us that we’re well prepared with water, food and a torch. Yesterday he rescued a Chinese couple who had tried to climb the half dome without knowing what they were doing. It’s at least a 12 hour climb, often more. They’d started after lunch and were quite high up, coming back down when they realised they would never get to the bottom before sunset and then they’d be stranded in total darkness on the trail. Not fun spending a night out there without food or shelter, especially when you know there are bears around, even 9 foot long mountain lions, although they are rare.
Josh heard the couple screaming for help on the trail, and assisted them to the bottom.
Again, 5 million people enter the park every year. Not all of them know what they’re doing.

We continue to make very slow progress down the trail. My wife is in a lot of discomfort, but mainly she’s frustrated at not being able to go faster. Each step is a mini challenge because of the crutches – she has to place them carefully, and then place her foot carefully too, making sure she doesn’t have to put her weight on the bad ankle.
On the plus side, we get to walk with a ranger and we get the sunset on the trail, with magnificent views of the half dome and other domes in the valley. Again, this all seems so familiar to me because of a computer game – this time it’s Red Dead Redemption, which is set over 100 years ago, and you’re basically a cowboy gunslinger in the wild west. The landscape is very faithfully reproduced in the game, and there is a mountainous area with bears which is really similar to the landscape in Yosemite.

As the sun stretches through the trees onto the trail we are basically alone at this point as it gets to about 8pm. We should have been back 3 hours ago but we still have a long way to go. In this quiet I keep expecting to see a bear cross the path in front of us. Everything seems so still and peaceful that I’m sure any moment now we’re going to come across a bear.
Anyway, the main challenge is to get down the mountain, never mind bears and lions. It’s very rocky, there are lots of steps and boulders and so on. It goes on and on forever until eventually we’re walking in the total darkness with torches on our heads.
I carry my wife for some sections, and it’s a chance to go much faster.

Eventually, after ages and ages, we finally get to the end of the trail at a huge water tank, which is like some massive UFO looming out of the darkness. From there we’re all picked up by a local police officer in his 4×4, which is absolutely huge, like many of the cars. It’s giant, with massive tyres. My wife sits in the cab with the police officer. Between them there is a gun rack with several massive semi-automatic rifles, a shotgun and a few handguns. A typical American cop car! Not only is it a tremendous relief to be off the trail and back in civilisation, but we get a ride in what feels like a tank! The police officer drives us through the forests in the closed area of the park, back to where our car is parked at Yosemite Lodge. We stop at the police station and Josh goes in to get us some food. It’s 11 o’clock and we haven’t eaten since the sandwiches at the waterfall. Josh comes out with two US Army meal rations. These are field packs for soldiers and they contain everything for a full meal including macaroni cheese, tea, coffee, a fruit desert, bread, salt, pepper, butter and the whole things heats themselves up without needing fire. Bonus!

In the end, we are completely knackered and go straight to bed, exhausted after I carefully inspect my wife’s ankle. Thankfully it’s not too swollen or discoloured. In fact, I think she escaped bad injury and her ankle will be fine if she rests it. The next 36 hours will be pretty inactive, with a long sleep and then a fairly long car journey so she can rest it.

End of Part 5! Part 6 coming soon…
Granite Point View

291. California Road Trip (Part 4)

Hi everyone, here’s part 4 in this road trip mini-series. How are you? Are you keeping up with all these new episodes? I suppose if you’re listening to this it means you are keeping up, but don’t feel rushed. Take your time, listen to them at your leisure, in your own time and at your own speed. I hope you’re finding this series interesting. In this one I’m planning to cover these things: Hollywood Boulevard and celebrity culture, an analysis of the mysterious lyrics to Hotel California by The Eagles, a visit to the extremely wealthy area of Beverley Hills, some more differences between American and British English vocabulary, the church of Scientology and then Yosemite National Park.

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Let’s see how much of that I can actually get through in this episode. I expect there will be one or two more in this series before we get back to normal podcasting as usual.

L.A. Continued… Hollywood Boulevard
I can’t remember which day this was as I’m losing track of time, but it doesn’t matter. At some point we took a walk along Hollywood Bld – that’s the one with all the stars on the ground and the names of celebrities. If you make it as a celeb, they put a star on the pavement here and you know you’ve made it because hundreds of tourists walk all over you and spill coke and ketchup on you every day. That’s the American Dream isn’t it.

Walking along Hollywood Blvd, and looking at the stars there, I wondered – how do you actually get your name on a star here? (Not that I want to of course) I just wondered – who decides which names are added and how does it happen? Since then I’ve done a bit of research (I read a TIME article based on an interview with a member of the selection committee – you can read it here: newsfeed.time.com/2013/07/16/how-to-get-a-star-on-the-hollywood-walk-of-fame/), and so…

How to get your star on Hollywood Boulevard
Essentially anyone can apply, as long as they have $30,000 dollars to spare, but the application will not be accepted unless it meets these criteria:
1. Do some iconic work in entertainment.
This means that you have to have produced something genuinely notable and celebrated in the entertainment world, like made a popular film, done some great acting on TV or in movies or made some music that’s popular enough to have made you famous. The emphasis is on accomplishing some expertise in the entertainment field, which means that reality TV stars are excluded, because it’s not counted as proper work. So that means no Kardashians. But they do accept animals. In fact several animals have their names embedded into the ground there, including Lassie and even fictional animal characters like Kermit the Frog, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Weird. You also need to have been working for at least 5 years. The main point is that this is a tourist attraction for the entertainment industry, so your name needs to be famous enough to attract tourists to come and see it. Apparently it’s working because the street is jam-packed with tourists and it’s almost impossible to actually walk along the street in some places.
2. Promise that you really want a star.
All applications require a signed statement from the applicant saying that they really want one, and that they will come to an unveiling ceremony if the application is a success. Basically, the star selection committee that is in charge of the process wants to make sure the celebrities are fully prepared to come and promote the addition of their star on the pavement. Again, this is to make sure it gets the proper media coverage, and those tourists keep coming with their dollar bills, their mobile phones and their instagram accounts.
3. Pay $30,000.
That’s how much it costs to enter the application process. Usually it’s not a problem for celebrities to pay this because other people pay on their behalf, for example management companies or other sponsors who have an interest in the person become more and more famous. Half of the fee goes to the Hollywood Historic Trust which maintains the whole street. The rest is used to pay for the paving stone with he star embedded in it, and also the security and photographers at the unveiling ceremony. It seems that people’s desire to be recognised as a famous person is what fuels the economy around here.
4. Impress the selection committee.
It’s a bit like a job interview process I suppose. In your application you need to impress the committee and show them what you’ve achieved in your career, proving that you really are a big star.
5. Choose your spot on the Boulevard.
It is possible to choose where your star is placed. The bigger you are as a celebrity, the more control you have over this. Do you want to be placed in front of McDonald’s or in front of the famous Chinese Theatre Cinema where all the premiers happen? Your power to negotiate this depends on your status in Hollywood. Apparently Clint Eastwood, a high ranking member of the Hollywood establishment, was accepted by the committee years ago but never completed his application, but nevertheless they have kept a space free for his star in a prime location – in front of that famous cinema. That’s how much of a star he really is in Hollywood – they’ve kept the best space free for him. Muhammad Ali didn’t want people walking on his name, so the committee agreed to put his star on the wall – the wall of what? You might ask. Ali’s name is on the wall of the Hollywood and Highland Shopping Centre. I wonder if you can buy a George Foreman grill in that shopping centre.

So that’s how you do it, if you’re interested.

What’s it really like there on Hollywood Boulevard?
Essentially, it’s like a bigger version of Oxford Street. It’s full of cheap attractions and huge crowds of tourists, and it’s a bit tacky. You can’t get much decent food there except burgers and pizza. I don’t recommend it really.
As we walk along the street, squeezing between people, we see names of people. Most of them are dead. There are loads that I’ve never ever heard of.
I’m struck by the thought that fame is fleeting. I mean that it doesn’t last. What’s the attraction of fame? To be so well-known that your name is embedded into the ground or onto a monument so people never forget you. Maybe people are attracted by this because they feel like it’s a way to live forever. But true long lasting fame is only gained by a tiny minority and even then it isn’t immortality it’s just a version of yourself that lives on in popular culture. A ghost.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: L.A. is a mysterious place.
I’ve tried to describe this already in this series. It’s just a general feeling that’s hard to put into words.
There’s a lot of light and dark here. Movie stars shine bright, and there’s so much glamour, but there’s also poverty, homelessness and broken dreams. So many young people have come to L.A. and then ended up corrupted by the place, or hurt by their own idealism and naivety. Some of them died young in tragic circumstances. Think of the girl Peg Entwhistle who jumped off the Hollywood sign in 1932, or young movie stars who died or hurt themselves as the result of a dangerous intake of drugs. River Phoenix for example. He was a fresh faced young movie star and musician, who died from an overdose on the doorstep of the Viper Club, which at the time was owned by Johnny Depp. Why so much oblivion?

Also, so much of the writing, films and music – the really good stuff at least, seems to be essentially about some sense of a loss of innocence, the end of the American dream, the darkness under the surface of American values or dealing with vice – particularly in the form of alcohol and drugs, and the dark side of these things. As if California represents the highest attainment of the American Dream, and is also the place that can turn into a grim and empty wilderness of the soul. Think of the detective stories of Chandler, the songs of The Eagles (not as sunny and nice as you expect) and other bands, the writing of Ginsburg, Bukowski, Burroughs, Kerouac, the comics of R Crumb and so on.

I realise that I’m talking about slightly dark themes here, in what you might have expected to be just a description of a romantic honeymoon. Well, we did have some really nice romantic moments together of course, and there was plenty of sunshine and good times, but as well as that we had a really great time getting to know the place and soaking up the atmosphere of the places we visited and one of my aims in these episodes is to get under the skin of California a bit.

Let’s consider some songs that deal with the things I’ve been talking about.

Songs about California
One example is the song Californication by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Californication Lyrics here.

Also, we could go back to “Hotel California” and explore the meaning of the song. In fact, let’s do that.

The Eagles – Hotel California – Song Meaning
Click here for the full lyrics to the song: www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/eagles/hotelcalifornia.html

There are loads of interpretations of the meaning of this song, including some pretty far out suggestions that it’s about satanism, drug addiction. I think the latter is far more likely than the former but let’s see.

Here is a summary of the song’s meaning – both the narrative of the lyrics and the themes the song explores. In fact, this song seems to sum up pretty well what I’ve been trying to say about LA and the excesses and dark side of the American Dream.

In this part of the podcast I’m going to read from a page on Shmoop.com. Here’s a citation and a link:
Shmoop Editorial Team. (2008, November 11). Hotel California Meaning. Retrieved August 25, 2015 from www.shmoop.com/hotel-california-eagles/meaning.html
So, if you want to follow what I’m saying just click the link above.

LA movies
LA Confidential, The Big Lebowski, Beverly Hills Cop, Pulp Fiction. Any film noir like Chinatown or The Big Sleep.

Beverley Hills – this is a really rich town, which is undeniably beautiful and well kept with palm tree lined streets, lovely properties and very smart shopfronts and boutique stores but some parts of it are filled with unbelievably fake looking people with loads of plastic surgery. There are Kim Kardashian clones everywhere with butt implants that mean they can’t walk properly. The streets are full young guys in rented sportscars which self-consciously zoom between sets traffic lights. It’s quite ridiculous and fairly ugly really.

And yes, I did just mention Kim Kardashian.

I always thought I would never mention that family on this podcast because I don’t really like what they do. I mean, I think it’s a bit empty and I don’t know why they’re so popular but if I’m going to talk about celebrity culture in L.A. then how can I do it without mentioning the Kardashians (reluctantly).

Who’s Kim Kardashian?
She’s the daughter of a rich West Coast socialite, and a powerful lawyer. She’s famous for being famous. She’s like Paris Hilton basically. That’s how she first became known in the media, as a friend of Paris Hilton. What a claim to fame! “So what do you do Kim?” “I hang around with someone who doesn’t do anything”. Wow, that’s like being famous for doing even less than nothing! So she’s famous for being friends with someone who’s famous because she’s famous. That’s actually quite impressive. Well done! Maybe that’s the appeal. She makes it look easy. Then in 2003 I think she decided that in order to get even more famous that she would have to actually do something, so she released a sex tape. That’s basically a home made porno. Classy. In my opinion, that may be the quickest and least respectable way to make a name for yourself in Hollywood, but fair play to her – it worked. She then continued to sell off her private life in a reality show called Keeping Up With The Kardashians in which the viewer is invited to follow her and her sisters through their pampered and vacuous every day life.

An example of what happens in a show?
I just had a look on Wikipedia for some show summaries. Here’s what I found from a random entry in series 3 of the show. “Episode 22. Khloé faces pressure about her weight when she decides to do PETA’s “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” campaign. Kris and Kourtney confront Kim about her shopping addiction. Kim gets laser eye surgery after struggling to see herself in a mirror at a dance rehearsal. (I imagine that was a huge crisis – not being able to see herself) Bruce is anxious to talk to Kendall and Kylie about his colonoscopy.”
What’s a colonoscopy? That’s when a doctor inspects your colon by sticking a big camera up your bum. Ok, so you’ve got the general idea.

My problem with the Kardashians is that I don’t get it. I don’t get the appeal. I must be wrong because Kim is one of the most followed people on Twitter and it seems that everyone seems to love her. So, I must be wrong – so if you’re a Kardashian fan, let me know why. I’d love to know the appeal.

Is her reality show popular because we just like to look at the lives of the rich and famous? Is Kim Kardashian a role model? Apparently, for some people she is a woman who has taken careful control of her image and is now rich and successful as a result, like Beyonce or something. But, it helps when you start out rich in the first place, doesn’t it? And at least Beyonce can sing and dance. What can Kim Kardashian do? Well, she can take good selfies. She can use Instagram well. She can market herself well. I suppose that’s it isn’t it.

She married Kanye West, the rapper, which I imagine only happened because Kanye West is not allowed to marry himself. Yes, he loves himself, or that’s what people say anyway. Maybe Kim Kardashian fell in love with him just because she was so impressed by the size of his ego. Surely nobody’s ego is as big as mine, she thought – but then she met Kanye and couldn’t resist his charm, and by that I mean his media status. Good luck to them, I suppose. Maybe I’m being cynical and they just really love each other. Well, if that’s the case – good luck to them! I hope they stay together and prove me wrong, and everyone lives happily ever after.

What do you think? I’d love to know.

More American English & British English
These words are all related to food in some way.
UK word – USA word
Chips – Fries
Crisps – Chips
Biscuit – Cookie
Jelly – Jell-o
Jam – Jelly
Sweets – Candy
Treacle – Molasses
Candy Floss – Cotton Candy
Aubergine – Eggplant
Courgette – Zucchini

ukulele-soprano-debutant“Californication” Lyrics & Chords
www.tabs4ukulele.com/bands/red-hot-chili-peppers/californication.html#null

End of part 4. Part 5 coming soon…
Hotel California

290. California Road Trip (Part 3)

Hello, welcome back to the podcast. This is part 3 in what could turn out to be quite a long series about my recent trip around California. Normally I tend to focus on British things in this podcast but every now and then I go travelling somewhere and report back on what happened. This time I went to California on my honeymoon. The itinerary for the trip was to fly to LA, then drive to Yosemite National Park, then across to San Francisco, then down the coast back to LA and then home again. In this series I’m telling you about the trip, but also I’m branching out in order to ramble on about the history and culture of California and some of the differences between British and American English, as well as some other subjects.

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At this point in the series I’m still just a few days into the holiday, and there’s plenty more stuff to cover. In this episode I’m hoping to talk about Venice Beach, Baywatch, Segways, the grammar of telling stories and anecdotes in English, some facts about the Hollywood sign, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, British and American English vocabulary related to driving, the dark side of Hollywood and celebrity culture, and an analysis of the lyrics to the song “Hotel California” by The Eagles. That’s a lot of subjects to cover, so I’d better get started right away!

Saturday 8 August
Drove to Venice Beach which is just along from the world famous Baywatch Beach (Santa Monica beach).
Long Boardwalk with lots of shops, cafes and bars.
People performing and busking.
Muscle beach.
Skate park.
Bikes and segways.
The Segway – the most stupid invention of all time?
What we need is some way of propelling us forwards at just a few miles per hour (you mean like walking speed?), but with the ability to go slightly faster (what, like running speed?) facing forwards so we can see where we’re going, with our hands free so we can hold coffee or mobile phones. How on earth can we do it? (How about our legs sir? We could just walk, jog or run.) Don’t be ridiculous!

And the Segway was born – bringing human laziness to new levels. And you thought escalators and moving walkways were bad enough, now the Segway. It’s very hard to look cool or even dignified on one of these things. I imagine there are some people who cruise around on a Segway all day and then go to the gym to run on a treadmill in order to stay fit. Something doesn’t make sense here. OK, so it doesn’t produce harmful emissions, but neither do your legs. Sure, a person can fart – that’s an emission, but you can still fart on a Segway so it’s the same. Maybe it’s for people with mobility issues, but it seems that in order to use a segway you need the full use of your legs in order to stand on it the whole time, and balance properly. Well, I’m sure it must be useful for something – like maybe doing specific jobs, but it seems a bit silly to use one when you can just use your legs to do exactly the same job. It seems like reinventing the wheel to me. (This is a phrase which means doing something unnecessary – like working hard to do something which is already done by something else)

“Introducing a new innovation in green personal transport – legs!”

Went to the beach or sunbathing. Really huge beach covered in pristine bleached sand.
Swam in the sea. Big waves.
Surfers.
There are lifeguards, exactly like in Baywatch but somehow I expected (or hoped) that it would be more like Baywatch there.
Baywatch: A show which I think was ‘single handedly’ responsible for bringing a whole generation of boys into puberty – no pun intended.

But it was pretty normal, compared to the TV show. I mean, the people looked pretty normal. It wasn’t just hundreds of David Hasselhoffs and Pamela Andersons everywhere, except for me and my wife of course.
Shopping in the huge outlet mall. The place looked like Bowser’s castle from Super Mario Bros. Totally fake modern place that was vaguely like a castle and a huge castle courtyard.
Bargains on jeans. 4 items for the price of one pair of jeans back home.
Seemed incredibly luxurious. Big marble toilets with acres of space.
Yamashiro restaurant in the evening for a romantic candlelit dinner with a stunning view of the city. The restaurant was amazing, with Japanese gardens in the middle and lots of sliding doors – like the scenes from Kill Bill.
Amazing views of the city.
Delicious sushi.

STOP! Grammar Time – A Note on the Tenses Used in this Episode
Usually when you’re describing what happened in the past you use past tenses (past simple, past continuous, past perfect) and so on. So far I’ve been using past tenses in this series of episodes when talking about what we did, but as I’m now reading from the notes I made during the trip, I’ve noticed that I wrote it all in present tenses and it feels tempting to slip into the present tense while reading it. Why? This sometimes happens when we tell stories that we want to make engaging, captivating and in-the-moment. Past tenses accurately report past events, but past tenses can be quite remote. They place the action in a finished time period. When people tell long stories, they sometimes slip into present tenses in order to avoid this remoteness, and make the action and events seem more real and captivating.

Also, using present tenses to tell stories and anecdotes is more common in spoken English. In written English it can be frowned upon (some people don’t like it) but the main thing when writing is that you stick to one perspective (either past tenses or present tenses, throughout). For example, a person at a dinner party might begin telling a story about their holiday using past tenses but then might subconsciously switch to present tenses to make the events more immediate, and that’s considered ok. But if a novelist writes a story and some of it is in past tenses, and other bits are in present tenses, it’s usually considered to be sloppy writing unless it is obviously a stylistic choice. What I’m saying is: you might notice some moments where my tenses move from past tenses to present tenses and this is more acceptable in spoken English than in written English. As my podcast is presented to you as primarily a form of natural spoken English, that should account for this.

Past tense version: So we were sitting in the Japanese restaurant and eating sushi, having a lovely romantic evening, when suddenly loads of ninjas dropped down from the ceiling but I wasn’t worried because I’d spent 3 months in the mountains learning the ways of Chinese kung-fu and so I dealt with them all, and went back to the sushi.

Present tense version: So there we are eating our sushi, having a lovely romantic evening when suddenly loads of ninjas drop down from the ceiling but I’m not worried because I’ve spent 3 months in the mountains learning the ways of Chinese kung-fu, so I deal with them all and then go back to the sushi. (The present tense version is more immediate, and more common in spoken English, although it might sound a bit colloquial).

Slipping into present tenses when telling a story is usually a subconscious thing, rather than a planned thing. I think people just end up using present tenses when they’re recounting events as they actually happened. So, let’s see if it happens to me while I continue to tell you this story.

Another point: This habit of slipping into present tenses that I’m talking about… This doesn’t mean that you don’t need to use past tenses. It’s not a loophole which you can use to avoid making sentences with complex past tenses. This is not a way for you to completely avoid having to deal with irregular verbs and past participles and auxiliary verb conjugations and things. No. If you get a grammar test at school about narrative tenses and you use present tenses, you can’t justify it by saying “But sir I was just using present tenses to make the story more immediate!” Sorry, it doesn’t work like that. You still need to master past tenses before you can abandon them in certain cases. You need to know the rules before you can break them. You need to have full control of the language in order to make these subconscious shifts in tone. So, keep studying those past tenses, practising and being mindful of how you’re using them. If you want to listen to a podcast episode about using past tenses (simple, continuous & perfect) to tell stories, check out episode 29 which is called “Mystery Story / Narrative Tenses”. It’s one of the most commonly listened-to episodes of my podcast. It’s got a short story featuring The Doctor from Dr Who, and a full explanation of how to use narrative tenses properly, pronunciation drills and everything. Click here to check it out: www.teacherluke.co.uk/2009/11/12/mystery-story-narrative-tenses/

So, you can study the tenses directly. Alternatively, don’t worry about it too much and just let the words wash over you and focus on the general meaning of what I’m saying to you, and imagine yourself there and just focus on the meaningful content – the more natural and contextualised English you hear the better it is for your acquisition of grammar at an almost subconscious level, creating that sense of instinct for what is correct or incorrect usage.

Anyway, on with the story…

Sunday 9 August
Breakfast and then took a drive up into the hills for a trek. (Am I using present or past tenses? I’ve become self-conscious now, so I’ll probably stick to past tenses, but I’m sure that if I get carried away with the story I’ll end up using present tenses… we’ll see)
The whole time in LA I felt very bizarre deja vu. This was of course because of the films and movies I’d seen, but more specifically because of Grand Theft Auto 5, which is very accurately modelled on LA, down to lots of small details. I felt exactly like I was in GTA5 a lot of the time. It’s an amazing game.
Stopped off at a pharmacy on the way. Vast.
I think you get the idea – everything in the US is big. Big cars, big buildings, big beds, big meals, big people. Although we didn’t see many of these huge, fat Americans that we all hear about. I think that’s because in California people are generally a lot healthier. Still, people in general are larger than in the UK.
Park the car and begin a trek into the hills around the back of the Hollywood sign.
Very dry. In fact the whole state is on high alert for forest fires. There are fires burning in various parts of the state all the time. California has been experiencing a severe drought for years. In LA they redirect water from hundreds of miles away in the Colorado River Basin. The water then gets used by rich people in Beverley Hills to spray in their gardens to keep their lawns green. Again, pretty crazy right? Welcome to Los Angeles.
L.A. is a city with a little mountain range running through the middle of it (Ok they’re hills not mountains) and if you like hiking a bit then it’s worth going up these hills.
We do get amazing views of the city sprawling away on both sides.
Arranged in lines.
Mild hike behind the sign and then down the right hand side.
Views of the sign.
Here are a few quick facts about the Hollywood sign:
– The sign is about 45 feet high and was originally built in 1923 when it was originally put up as an advertisement for a huge real estate company selling top quality real estate in Hollywood. The company was called Hollywoodland. In fact the sign used to say Hollwyoodland, but the ‘land’ part was removed and the sign became an icon of the region of Hollywood, and everything that represents – glamour, movies, fame etc.
– In 1932 a young actress called Peg Entwhistle committed suicide by climbing up the sign and jumping from the letter ‘H’, falling to her death. Apparently she was depressed because she couldn’t make it as an actress in Hollywood. Ironically, her death made her quite famous.
– The sign used to be covered in lightbulbs, which must have looked pretty cool when it was turned on, but the bulbs didn’t last long as they were too expensive.
– The sign was repaired lots of times and almost completely rebuilt in the 40s, but in 1978 it was in such bad condition after the O fell off and tumbled down the hill and also some arsonists set fire to one of the letter Ls. The city decided to repair it and it cost over $250,000 to do that. Who came up with most of the money? Hollywood’s celebrity class. In fact PLayboy owner Hugh Hefner organised a big party at the Playboy Mansion in order to provide the money. Rock star Alice Cooper also provided money to help repair the letter O.
– It was replaced in 1978 and while the work was being done there was no sign there for 3 months.
– The sign is owned and protected by the city of L.A. and there’s quite an advanced security system which monitors the sign 24 hours a day.
In fact you can’t actually get that close to it. There’s a big fence surrounding it, and a big telegraph aerial. You can get around the back, like we did, but you can only really see the letters “HO”. But when you hike around to the front you can see it pretty well, and it looks cool. Again, it’s amazing to actually see something that you’ve seen so many times on television. But it’s not just the power of TV. It is a great location, with some attractive landscape and a really good view of the city below.
We ended up quite far from the car and got lost in the winding streets under the sign. Lots of properties nestled in to the hills. Attractive places and no doubt expensive but not as expensive as other places like Bel Air etx.
No phone reception so kept walking.
Then uber back to the car.

Life in LA is life in a car.

You never drive above about 60mph. I wonder why there are so many powerful sportscars. You never drive over about 50-60 mph. Sums up the place a lot. It’s more about show and image than about practical living – for some people. In fact there are plenty of ordinary people living in LA, who drive ordinary cars, and who do all the ordinary business of life. There also happen to be plenty of rich movie industry people here too, rock stars, and their children. In fact, one of those rock stars is Anthony Keidis from The Red Hot Chili Peppers. He used to live in the Hollywood Hills, and he sang about them too. In fact, I’d now like to recommend another audiobook download for you. So, here’s some more promotion for Audible – that company that provides loads of audiobooks, and they’re giving you the chance to sample their service for 30 days and that includes a free download of any book you like. Here’s another California related book you could get…

Audiobook Download Suggestions
“Scar Tissue” by Anthony Keidis
This is the autobiography of the lead singer of The Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Chili Peppers have an amazing story. They’re from L.A. originally, they’ve been going for about 3 decades, they’ve been through numerous guitarists, ups, downs, deaths and near deaths, epic highs and devastating lows, and yet they’re still going. Anthony himself was a heroin and cocaine addict during much of his career and in this book he tells his own very personal story of growing up in Los Angeles and his experiences of living with his Dad who was basically a drug dealer to the rich and famous. He talks about struggling for years with his experimental band the Chili Peppers – doing intense live performances, sometimes naked on stage, developing their funk-rock sound which ultimately catapulted them onto the world’s stage. You can hear exactly what was like and listen to descriptions of all the complicated things that went along with that stardom. It’s a powerful story, full of sex, drugs and rock and roll but also a genuinely moving and candid account of Anthony’s success, strengths, weaknesses, friendship, personal hardship, the music business, his addiction and his eventual recovery from addiction. The book is an international bestseller and you can download the audiobook version from Audible. Get it free by going to www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke, or click one of the Audible buttons on my website.

American & British English (Part 1) Vocabulary Related to Cars & Driving
*A note on British and American English*
As you are well aware, there are, broadly speaking, two types of English – American English, and good English, I mean British English. (Just joking – I’m not one of those Brits who has a problem with American English) There are other types of English too of course, like English in Australia, South Africa, Ireland, India and so on.

Can Brits and Americans understand each other? Yes, they can – except for some slight misunderstandings sometimes, there’s no problem in understanding each other.

Really the differences are in the accents, vocabulary, spelling, some grammar and the culture or communication style.
There are definitely some differences in vocabulary. Sometimes these cause misunderstandings. E.g. I said “Are you in the queue? ” and the woman just looked at me. Then I worked out the problem and sad “Are you in line?” and bob’s your uncle. The vast majority of the words we use are the same, but there are differences that are worth knowing. These differences may be more obvious when talking about different systems (e.g. our political and legal systems are a bit different so we’ve developed different terms to talk about them) but in general English there is a relatively small group of key words that are different and it’s worth knowing them all. I’m going to go through a lot of those words with you in this series of episodes.

In terms of culture, although we speak the same language, we don’t necessarily think in the same way and this can cause some problems in communication. For example, Brits tend to be more indirect in their use of language as a way of being polite, diplomatic, tactful etc. It can seem to be a more complicated message, but we see it as being more respectful and considerate. We don’t want to seem bossy or aggressive, but the Americans might take it as weak, unclear and even unsincere (not just the Americans) E.g. “I was wondering if you could…” or “I think there might be an issue…” instead of “Could you…?” or “There’s a problem”. I’m not saying all Americans are direct all the time, but in my experience I think there is truth in what I’m saying. If you want more evidence, read this article written by a Brit who’s done a lot of business communication in America www.forbes.com/sites/sungardas/2014/08/14/lost-in-translation-overcoming-the-language-barrier-as-a-brit-in-america/ So, there is a bit of a difference in communication style and culture, despite the fact that we speak the same language. The old saying goes “Britain and America are two nations separated by a common language” (which I think was said originally by George Bernard Shaw, an Irish playwright and one of the founders of the LSE – not the London School of English, but the London School of Economics).

Accent or dialect can cause problems, particularly stronger regional accents. To be honest I think this is more of a problem for Americans understanding Brits (and other forms of English like Australians, South Africans, Irish etc) I think the average Brit would probably understand most American dialects and accents, but the average American might have trouble with some local British dialects. For example, in the USA they often require subtitles on TV when someone with a strong non-American accent is speaking (e.g. a local Brit from Liverpool, Glasgow or Newcastle). I’ve seen interviews on US television with actor Colin Farrell that had subtitles to help the Americans to understand what he was saying. He’s Irish and has a fairly strong accent, but it’s not extraordinarily difficult to understand in my opinion but apparently it was necessary to provide subtitles for the American viewers, even though he was speaking English. However, I doubt that a UK audience would need subtitles for an American, even if they have a strong accent from pretty much anywhere in the country. I think this is because in the UK we are exposed to lots of American English from TV and films – even the really colloquial stuff, but British English is comparatively less known in the USA due to lack of exposure.

The Brits and Americans do spell some words differently as I’m sure you’re aware (famous differences are things like colour/color and theatre/theater) and there are some differences in grammatical usage, but that’s less obvious and as a result less problematic.

Anyway, the point is – there are differences between British and American English but the vast majority of the time we can understand each other without any problems at all. If you’re wondering what kind of English you should learn (which you’re probably not wondering to be honest, because if you’re listening to this then you’ve probably decided that you like British English, and you’re right of course – you are wise wise people indeed) But seriously, you can choose to learn British or American English, or a bit of both. In fact, I personally think it’s ok to mix it up a bit as long as people understand what you’re saying.

For your learning of English, I’d say the main things are that you’re able to identify the difference between a British and American accent, and that you know the main differences in vocabulary. For more information about the differences between UK and USA pronunciation, listen to a previous episode I did on this subject – Episode 14 “British and American Pronunciation” teacherluke.co.uk/2009/10/19/episode-10-british-and-american-pronunciation/.

The subject of British and American English is really interesting and very relevant so I’d love to come back to it in the future but for now, here are some different British and American words. I’ve chosen ones that are related to driving.

Let’s see how many you know. I’ll define the word first – try to guess it. Did you come up with the British or American version, or both? Let’s see…

British Word – American Word
Petrol – Gas (gasoline)
Petrol/fuel tank – gas tank
Caravan – Trailer
Lorry – Truck
Junction – Intersection
Tyre – Tire
High street – Main street
Windscreen – Windshield
Motorway – Freeway/Highway
Number plate – License plate
Bonnet – Hood
Pavement – Sidewalk
Boot – Trunk

End of part 3. Part 4 coming soon!
California3

289. California Road Trip (Part 2)

Here’s the next part of my description of my recent trip around California. This is a description of my honeymoon, but I’m also going to tell you about the cultural, geographical and historical context of the places we went to, and I’ll give you some practical tips and teach you some British and American English too. This is part 2 of the California series. Let’s carry on.

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In part 1 I told you about the itinerary for our trip, some of our first impressions of arriving in L.A., some notes and advice on customer service and dealing with waiters & staff, some stuff about the car, an audiobook recommendation and California’s marijuana laws. So, let’s carry on in this episode. First of all, I’d like to give you a brief history of California, because it helps to understand what the place is all about when you learn about its history.

A Very Brief History of California Source: michaellamarr.com/cahistory.html A paraphrased and reduced version.
California is known as the golden state, because of the sunshine but also because of the gold that was found there in the mid 19th Century. But let’s go further back to consider the first people to have populated California, a long long time ago (but not in a galaxy far far away this time).

Small Donate ButtonPeople arrived in California about 12,000 years ago. They were descendents of the people who travelled across the Bering Strait from the Asian continent about 40,000 years ago. They travelled into North America to follow food – migrating herds of animals probably. At that time it seems that Alaska and what is now Russia were connected by an exposed stretch of land which later was covered over when the sea level rose, separating America and Russia (or the Asian continent). Those people became the first Native Americans. They eventually found their way to the area we now call California. They lived there in various tribes in different parts of the state, undisturbed for a long time.

Then, in the 15th and 16th centuries, Europeans began travelling across the Atlantic and America was ‘discovered’. It was the Spanish, with Hernando Cortez initially, and then other explorers who were the first Europeans to enter the area that we now know as California after fighting the Aztecs and developing a Spanish colony in Mexico. The Spanish attempted to settle in California and find a route they could use to sail their ships from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast, but they the failed to find one after lots of attempts, with some competition from Sir Francis Drake who to the English is a great explorer, but to the Spanish is a pirate who raided early Spanish settlements, stealing lots of their silver. The Spanish found it hard to settle in California because of the difficult access from the Atlantic side and because of clashes with the native people so they ignored California for about 150 years, although they had named the areas of America that they’d ‘discovered’ and claimed “New Spain”.

It’s not entirely clear how California got it’s name but it seems that the most popular theory is that it comes from a romantic adventure story by Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo called “Sergas de Esplandian” or “The Adventures of Esplandián” (1510). This story tells of a mythical island called California, which is populated by a race of beautiful and powerful Amazonian warrior women called the Califia who are ruled by the formidable Queen Califia. In the story, which was a very popular and well known one, the Califia were warrior women “of vigorous bodies and strong and ardent hearts and of great strength.” The queen and her warriors would go on adventurous missions, fly around on griffins (griffins are legendary creatures with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion; the head and wings of an eagle; and an eagle’s talons as its front feet) that lived on the island and would capture and kill men they come upon during their travels. Any man found in their domain they would eat. Califia or California in the story is presented as a mythical place near the real world. The island is described as a kind of paradise filled with gold and precious stones.

The original Spanish settlers who came to the area first thought that California was an island, and perhaps it was similar enough to the mythical island in this story that the settlers were inspired to use that name. The story was well known and popular enough, and some believed it was based on an older myth which was part of an oral Spanish tradition. Some people may have believed it was true and this place really existed. Maybe they thought they’d arrived there for real, or maybe they were just inspired by a good story. It’s not entirely clear, but what we do know is that, essentially, California is named after a beautiful and powerful Amazonian warrior queen, who used to fly around on a griffin and eat men for breakfast. Pretty crazy, right? It sounds like something from an Arnold Schwarzenegger film from the 80s or something. It just shows that California has had a fairly long tradition of grand, glamorous and sexy myth making and story telling associated with it.

In 1765 a man named Jose de Galvez, who was an official to the Spanish king decided it was a good idea to have another go at claiming New Spain properly, before the English or the Russians did it. He managed to convince the King to let him go on a mission there, with the intention of claiming the land and spreading the Romain Catholic faith. Although it was a very difficult mission with lots of hardship, ultimately it was successful and several missions (Christian bases) were set up on the Californian coast, including Monterey Bay and San Francisco. The Spanish missionaries managed to convert a number of the local natives into Catholicism, but this was largely due to the threat of violence or because they pacified the natives with offerings of supplies and tools that they’d never seen before, although saying that I’m sure the natives were also genuinely impressed by these new people who had arrived and may have seen them as being sent by god. Again, things didn’t go completely smoothly because there was resistance from the locals who did fight back, but in the end the Spanish were numerous enough and powerful enough to withstand these resistance movements from the Native Americans, even though unfortunately this meant that a lot of native people were killed and severely punished in the process. This is all part of the story of how the Native Americans were eventually almost completely wiped out in the long population of America by Europeans.

The Spanish settlers and missionaries built forts at strategic locations up the California coast. These were basically protected bases which helped them defend their territory against angry natives or possible invasion by other countries wanting to take this beautiful and rich land that they had managed to claim. To provide food for the people in these missions or forts, pueblos were created around them. These were basically towns with farms that could produce food. These places eventually grew and developed to become cities like Los Angeles, Monterey and San Francisco.

Then there was a war of independence in 1810 which ended in 1821. This is a similar story to the war of independence against the British which was fought on the other side of the country. The colonies in New Spain were fed up with the way they were being ruled from Spain and felt they didn’t have enough freedom or independence. The people of New Spain won that war and set themselves up as an independent government under the name of Mexico. The Mexican government took control of New Spain and decided that the missions had too much power, and closed them, freeing up the land previously owned by the missions. The priests in the missions were still allowed to operate churches there, but the land was to be divided between Mexican settlers and the Native Americans. The thing is though, the Native Americans had no real understanding of the concept of land ownership so they either didn’t want the land, didn’t understand that it could be given to them, or didn’t know how to deal with it because they’d been living in the missions so long that they were now dependent on the Spanish and Mexican settlers who ran the place. Some native Americans managed to return to their way of life, and some tribes of natives in California had managed to avoid being captured by the missions so there were still Native Americans in California at the time, but the coastal colonies continued under Mexican control. The Mexicans in California did lots of trade with people from many other places during this period, which enriched the area with the influence of different cultures. Presumably these traders came from Russia, Asia or Europe.

Some people, mainly fur trappers, managed to make the very difficult journey from the East coast by land. Remember that it took me 6 hours to fly from New York to LA? Well in the early 19th century it would have taken years to make the journey and in the beginning only the toughest and wildest people could make the journey, which was essentially a massive exploration into unknown wilderness populated by native tribes and dangerous wildlife like grizzly bears. But, some fur trappers made it to California in the first half of the 19th century. These fur trappers were really tough explorers who travelled west in search of valuable fur pelts – basically the skin and fur of different animals. Beaver was perhaps the most sought after pelt. Why? Because beaver fur was used to make top hats in Europe. You know those tall hats the Victorians used to wear? They were made from beaver fur. It’s light, strong, glossy and warm. Perfect material for a good hat, so there was plenty of demand for beaver fur as well as other animals. The first fur trappers must have been very tough guys who were almost as wild as the natives they met along the way. In fact many trappers got to know the natives and learned a lot of their knowledge to help them survive in the American wilderness. Imagine the challenge of crossing rivers, mountain ranges, deserts, canyons and forests. We’re talking about epic journeys.

By the mid 1800s the independent Nation of the USA was very keen to extend its territory to the west, in order to populate and claim that whole stretch of North America from east to west. In fact the prevailing ideology of the time was a strong feeling that the United States had almost a god given right to claim the land, and that it was the destiny of the USA to do so. This is the idea of manifest destiny – That the USA felt the land was theirs for the taking and that they had the god given right to take it. James Polk was the president at this time and he decided that he wanted to take the lands of Texas, New Mexico and California. Texas was a country in its own right at the time after having broken away from Mexico, and New Mexico and California were still owned by Mexico.

By this time – about 1840. More and more settlers had followed the fur trappers west and had settled in California. This included a man called John C Fremont who was an officer in the US army. He led a brigade of 60 men into California and met Colonel Jose Castro of the Mexican army in Monterey. Castro (no relation to the Cuban leader who came much later, I think) sent the US soldiers out of California, but this army brigade were determined and later re-entered California, gained the support of some of the settlers there and started a revolt in Sonoma, flying the flag with a star and a grizzly bear – the flag of California, and they pronounced it “The California Republic”. This coincided with the general aggressive movement into Texas and New Mexico by President Polk’s US army. Fighting between the USA and Texas had started along the Rio Grande river and this fighting eventually reached California. The bear flag rebels joined the US army during this war and fighting continued into 1848 when when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, ending the war. The treaty brought peace to California and also stated that Mexico had to give more than 525,000 square miles of land to the USA. This included the areas between Texas and California, and marked the extension of the USA’s territory from east to west coast.

What happened next was that gold was discovered in California and this changed everything. The first discovery of gold was in 1848 in the Sacramento valley, which is between San Francisco and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and that caused a few hundred local Californians to move there, and a thousand or so outsiders. A lot of them struck gold and became very rich. Word of this travelled quite far, and fairly quickly. By early 1849 many people around the world had heard the news about gold being discovered in the new world in California and instantly thousands of people were infected with gold fever. “There’s gold in them there hills!”

1849 was the big year for the California gold rush. Something like 100,000 people travelled to California in that year. The people who travelled there are known as the 49ers (which explains the name of the American Football team from San Francisco). About 60% of the 49ers were from America, but the rest came from other countries all around the world and many of them settled in California long term, again adding to the diverse culture of the place. The Chinese certainly moved there in large numbers. Something like 20,000 in total, and many of them settled in the nearest port – San Francisco, which is why there is a large Chinese community there in Chinatown today. 100,000 people is a massive influx in just one year, and the gold rush is certainly one of the most significant moments in American history. By the end of 1849, the non-native population of the California territory was some 100,000 (compared with the pre-1848 figure of less than 1,000). A total of $2 billion worth of precious metal was extracted from the area during the Gold Rush, which peaked in 1852. The non-native population grew by about 1000% in about 18 months following the discovery of gold. This represented a massive injection of culture, development and wealth into California. San Francisco for example, quite quickly became a large metropolis.

What about the native Americans? It wasn’t a good time for them. Essentially, The USA’s expansion west, particularly in search of gold and land just didn’t fit in with the way of the life of the natives. The two cultures just couldn’t live together, and because the American settlers were more numerous, had better technology and weapons, and because the Native Americans were vulnerable to diseases carried by the settlers, the natives just couldn’t hold on to their way of life and were either killed or forced to live in limited areas known as reservations. It’s sad, because the Natives were people who had learned to live in harmony with their environment, and then they basically got wiped out or forced off their land, and treated like animals. It’s heartbreaking really.

By about 1852 even though the surface gold had basically disappeared, lots of people continued to make the journey west in search of their fortune and a better life, and they continued to make that journey for decades as California continued to be seen as a place where people could have a better quality of life.

The 1930s saw another fairly big movement of people into California in search of a better life as a result of the great depression and the dust bowl across the midwest. The dust bowl was basically a huge drought in the early 30s in large farming states from Texas to South Dakota – a big stretch all the way up the middle of the country. There was a huge drought (no water) and so all the crops failed and the earth turned to dust. Within a couple of years there were huge storms that carried the dust into the sky and far along the ground. This made it almost impossible for families to live and grow crops so many of them just left the area and made the arduous journey west towards California in search of a better situation.

Another Audiobook Suggestion
“The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck lived in Monterey, so I thought I’d pick one of his books, and I think this one is probably his most celebrated work. It has a rating of 4.5 out of 5 on audible, which is really high, and the book is widely considered a great classic of American literature. Written in 1939 after the great depression of the 1930s the book follows the story of a family from Oklahoma who are forced to make a long journey across America to live in California. It tells their personal story of the difficulty of the journey, but in doing so it manages to capture the epic narrative of a whole migration of people into the American west. Steinbeck creates a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, tragic but ultimately stirring in its insistence on human dignity. Here’s a quote from a listener’s review: “From start to finish each one of the characters, because they were so well formed and realistic, evoked empathy but never to the point of pity. Every character bore their share of hardship. You walk away from this experience feeling stronger for having been in their company. These were people to be admired.” R. Solomon from New Hampshire.
www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Pick the version read by Dylan Baker. It’s unabridged.

A Brief(ish) History of California (continued)
The gold rush was a really important time for America, and the great depression of the 1930s. The migration into the west which was involved in both situations, and to a larger scale across the whole previous century of American history at that point was the embodiment of the American dream. The idea that anyone was free to start from the bottom and if they had the strength and courage they could make their own fortune by driving west, claiming their own plot of land, and delving into the rich American soil to produce shiny gold and riches, or an escape from hardship into liberty! These days people still go west in search for a fortune or some sort of everlasting freedom, but not because of gold, but in search of stardom on the silver screen. Los Angeles and the Hollywood star machine continue to be an attractive goal for many people, although it’s nowhere near the same scale as the original gold rush.

Nevertheless, California maintains its image as the golden state and is still considered to be a golden land where fame and riches can be found. Generations of immigrants have been attracted by the California Dream. California farmers, oil drillers, movie makers, airplane builders, and “dot-com” entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have each had their boom times in the decades after the Gold Rush. California is also a very popular destination for tourists, holidaymakers and honeymooners, and dreamers. It’s still associated with the American Dream and all that it offers.

But that vision of America may eventually have its downside when you’ve basically made it across the country, you’ve made it to the golden land, the gold has run out and yet the dreams remain. What seems to happen is that people lose it a a little bit, or feel that their idealism and perhaps naivety are challenged by the final frontier – the frontier of inner space or spirituality or just general meaning to life. That may be why people are pretty ‘far out’ here – there’s lots of spiritualism, yoga, new age thinking and so on. Perhaps that’s why they’re into movie making too. It’s the dream factory. Also, there’s plenty of entrepreneurialism in business technology, especially into another frontier – cyberspace, as I mentioned earlier with Facebook and other software and social networking companies. In fact here’s a list of companies in the bay area of San Francisco: Facebook, Pinterest, Tesla, Hewlett Packard, Quora, TuneIn Radio, Google, Skype, PayPal, Logitech, LinkedIn, Groupon, Uber, Android, Intel, Apple, EBay, AOL, Yahoo.

LA Continued…
We drove downtown to have a look around, get some food, get used to the place, take it easy a bit, do some shopping.
Driving in the car in traffic.
One thing we noticed was the huge paintings and murals on the walls. There’s some really fantastic and very large artwork on the sides of buildings. It’s more sophisticated than graffiti. It’s really excellent. Check out this link to see some of the murals www.laweekly.com/arts/10-best-la-street-art-murals-of-2014-5279399
In fact there are murals in many places in California, especially the cities like LA and SF.
Downtown market
Grammy Museum – amazing music exhibition, particularly the interactive screens which allowed you to take a journey though all the interconnected musical genres.
Huge Taylor Swift exhibition, probably because she was due to perform a number of concerts nearby. In fact, Taylor Swift followed us around California. Wherever we arrived she seemed to be doing a concert and we kept hearing her hit song “Shake It Off” all the time, including in the museum shop where it appeared to be playing on a loop, all day. I can’t imagine what that did to the brains of the staff working there. I quite like the song actually. I think it’s a great pop song – and is commercial, super catchy and full of hooks and so on. I’m not sure about Taylor Swift herself. She started out as a country artist, and then recently she sort of switched over into R&B a little bit and it’s worked out for her. I don’t really like any of her other songs, but Shake It Off is just a perfect little pop song.
Hollywood Improv. for comedy + food.
Fighting jet lag.
Back to the hotel to watch a bit of American TV and then pass out.
American TV – just commercial break after commercial break, and many of them are about treatments for health conditions. So many adverts for health insurance and medical solutions. It’s really weird. It’s hard to actually find any content on TV because it feels like about 50% adverts. You flick through the channels and it’s just ad after ad after ad. Still, some of the late night comedy and chat shows are pretty good. FOX News is a total joke. CNN doesn’t seem that much better to be honest. It’s all way too glamorous and just doesn’t feel objective or incisive enough.

There’s a presidential campaign going on. Donald Trump is dominating the news. He’s basically a right-wing free market capitalist who says whatever the hell he likes and appears to be running for president purely because his ego is in overdrive. His skin is more orange than the sun, his hair looks like it should be captured and studied by scientists, and his views on immigration are pretty disgusting. For example, he recently said that Mexican immigrants are rapists and thieves and that if he was president he would start by building a huge wall between the USA and Mexico, and that the Mexican government will have to pay for it. Right. Is this the man we want to be in charge of one of the biggest and most potentially lethal countries in the world. No. Please no. Hilary Clinton will probably win, but I wonder about her connections to all those corporations. Bernie Sanders is a pretty reasonable left-wing candidate. The other Republicans don’t seem to be any different to each other. Jeb Bush is, well, he’s another Bush! But even he seems pretty normal compared to Trump. American politics is fascinating, entertaining and also a little grotesque and a bit scary. What a country.

End of Part 2. Part 3 coming soon…
California Flag