Empty Land?

March 30, 2012

We were driving back to my dad’s place, my sister and me.  To the north, the towering Mount San Gorgonio, tallest mountain in Southern California, hovered over us, with lines of snow descending its steep canyons.  Next to the road, cows grazed in a seasonal green pasture, ignoring the dramatic scenery that surrounded them.

“Isn’t that sad,” my sister said, “they want to put five thousand homes on this empty land.”

I turned to her.  I could not believe in these challenging times for real estate of all kinds, that a development like that would make it to completion.

“Really,” I said.  “Are you sure, Kathy?  There are thousands of homes around us in this little town alone that are vacant or foreclosed right now.  That doesn’t make sense.”

“Well, Dad and I read it in the newspaper.”

This statement from her, I know meant that it must be true.

Empty Land.  Empty?  Just because it did not have roads and underground utilities, sidewalks, and homes with manicured lawns and fire-retardant roofs, dogs in the front yard behind chain-link fences barking at every stranger on his morning walk?  RV’s up on railroad ties with their wheels removed because gas was too expensive?  ADT signs posted near the front door warning visitors to keep their distance?

Empty land, indeed.

I thought about that comment as I took my brisk walk up the road toward the “empty land” on the edge of present day development.  On my way – in just one morning walk – I spotted a flock, six or eight to be precise, of western bluebirds frolicking in a small pine wood next to the open pasture.  The females twittered and the deep blue males followed.  Then, several bright yellow American goldfinches burst into their canary-like song.  Further along, in a part of the subdivision that had not yet been built on, I was treated to a contest of meadowlark song between two brightly colored males sitting in opposite corners of a prematurely built cinder-block wall – a signature of Southern California privacy shields.

I walked further up the road, past the Baptist church and the old Morongo Indian reservation well.  Four beautiful horses grazed in the “empty land” that stretched from the other side of the road up toward the high country beyond.  I witnessed four large hawks – or maybe they were eagles, too far in the distance to be sure, screeching and circling their two nests on consecutive Edison high voltage towers. This was a land of contrast for sure.

Empty land?  The native grasses had gone to seed and blew back and forth in the cool spring wind – the waves of grain of our national songs.  Ground squirrels scurried about in the field at the end of the road, where civilization yielded, finally to the (empty) land.  I walked on a little way, but felt more and more like I was out of my element.  That I was trespassing into a natural scene that had done just fine by itself for hundreds of millions of years – without our homes and RV’s and roads – thank you very much.

I turned around and headed back to my dad’s small mobile home, where I sleep in his living room and dread the next administration of morphine for his pain.  I look forward to the morning when I can go on my walk and once again experience the abundance of this “empty land”.

Hotel Humboldt and My Hurting Heart

March 27, 2012

While doing research for my book, “Maracaibo Oil Brat,” I looked up details regarding the elegant and enchanting Humboldt Hotel, Caracas, Venezuela.  Why my corn-bread-and-black-eyed-peas parents, along with my sister Pat, and me, stayed there one night in the summer of 1958, I have no idea.  My parents much preferred a cheap motor court for lodging.  I checked on the Hotel Humboldt’s current status.

What I found made my heart hurt.

Then Venezuelan dictator, Pérez Jiménez, commissioned the building of Hotel Humboldt in the early 1950’s.  Architect Sanabria, responsible for its unique cylindrical shape, suggested a casino in the hotel to draw even more visitors.  Jiménez, ousted in January 1958, flatly refused. 

Un mistake-o grande.

Early on, the Humboldt Hotel was the place for the Latin rich and famous.  Everybody who was anybody stayed there.  From its vantage point upon a peak 2,100 meters above sea level, the Hotel Humboldt overlooked sprawling Caracas one side, and the Caribbean Sea on the other.  The low-to-the-floor modern furnishings, the heated, indoor swimming pool, high vaulted ceilings, and walls decorated in a variety of intricate mosaics combined to convey opulence and luxury.

To add to its drama and uniqueness, two tramways were built to reach the hotel, one from Maiquetía, the airport for Caracas, and the other from Caracas itself.  A guest took a teliférico (tram) up the mountain, which provided a spectacular aerial view.  Near the hotel, guests transferred into a “bubble,” a smaller, round, clear tram, which whisked guests, magic carpet style, straight into the stunning hotel lobby.

As Venezuelan politics, leadership, and economic outlook has changed and evolved, interest in maintaining the once exclusive and luxurious hotel has waned.  The last time all the teliféricos worked was when the Pope last visited Caracas.   

Today, the tram/teliférico from the Caracas airport up to the hotel no longer exists.  The inner workings are rusted, the cable on which the trams traveled is gone, critical machinery is missing, and vegetation has grown high under the former tramway.  From Caracas, tram access to the hotel still exists.  The transfer station now houses an amusement park, a spot for weekend entertainment.  One can take a guided tour of the Hotel Humboldt’s idle and unused lobby, restaurants, bar, and ballroom – all closed for business for decades.  When the guide mentions former dictator Pérez Jiménez’ name, the old-timers spit on the ground.

The tour does not include any of the deluxe guest suites, all of which are now in terrible repair.  Broken windows in the upper floors allow clouds and wind free access to plush rooms once used by the likes of Fidel Castro and Tito Puente.  Hotel Humboldt sits vacant above Caracas, her broken windows gapping like missing teeth, with no chance, no hope of repair.  Don’t leave her on top of a peak in full view for all to gape at her neglect and devastation.  Hotel Humboldt cannot turn away from the pitying stares of those who remember her former glory, her days filled with admiration and awe.  Why hasn’t someone imploded the Humboldt, or razed it to the ground, like Las Vegas has done to her obsolete, older, out-of-date casinos?  Put the once elegant and sophisticated lady out of her misery. 

Hotel Humbolt’s neglect and subsequent demise makes my heart hurt.


March 16, 2012

When the Wall Street Journal publishes an article about erotica, I pay attention. I learned the term “romantica” which is romance or erotica but with happily ever after, or HEA. Who knew? I read a lot of romance in high school, even sharing books with my sister and my mom. The Angelique series was my all time favorite. Perusing the website http://www.smexybooks.com, referenced in the article, proved that romance and erotica is big. It is helped by e-readers that make it easy to conceal the books, thereby enabling women to carry and read romance novels wherever they go. This is great news for those of us writing in the genre. I’ve long thought romance has been missing from our lives, and I’m delighted to see it making a comeback.

Choosing a Website Photographer for Writers

March 14, 2012

After a few mis-steps. The new photos are now uploaded.

Writers on the Journey Blog

When I decided to have professional photos taken for my website (www.jillhedgecock.com), I asked around for recommendations from my writer friends, but their leads were not exactly what I wanted.  So I turned to the information highway.  I had hoped that a simple internet search would uncover a local photographer that specialized in author headshots, but that also had experience photographing dogs.  Yeah, well, that detailed of a specialty was a pipe dream.

I had better luck when I queried the broader terms of head shots, pet photographer and San Francisco Bay Area.  From this search, I narrowed my choices down to two very different options.  One was a traditional business and the other was a family boutique operation that either shot on location or in their home.  I soon discovered that the boutique family operation was shifting the focus of their photography business (RicKaraPhotography) to include web…

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