Monday, July 03, 2006

A Perfect Place to Write

by Patty

Last Monday I confessed that I had misplaced the 1990s. Thanks to all of you who joggged my memory about what was happening back then, including the people who emailed me privately to tell me what I’d been doing. Yeow! More than I wanted to know. My friend Ted reminded me that I had learned to sail in the 90s. I thought it appropriate to write about that today because I’m on a sailing trip.

I’m in Avalon on Santa Catalina Island. Catalina may be 26 miles across the sea from somewhere on the mainland to somewhere on the island, but from Marina del Rey to here it is about forty miles. By sailboat that usually means six and a half hours, if the wind is your friend.

The days are balmy here, and you can actually see the Big Dipper at night, unlike the sky over Los Angeles where the marine layer and city lights conspire to mask the stars.

Avalon's semi-circular shoreline is anchored on one end by the ferry terminal and on the other by the world-renown Casino. Palm trees line the walkway at water’s edge. Golf carts are the preferred method of travel on land. The bell in the tower on the hill above town chimes the quarter hour. Small shops, restaurants, and funky bars line the main drag, which is only a few blocks long. Tuesday is the 4th of July and the harbor is full of boats attached bow and stern to mooring balls. There will be a parade on the 4th. People will decorate golf carts, pets, and children in red, white, and blue and cruise down the main street. The USC marching band will perform.

Catalina is full of surprises. Saturday morning I was awakened by a lone trumpeter somewhere in the harbor playing "I Left My Heart in Avalon," a standard jazz tune written by B.G De Sylva, Vincent Rose, and Al Jolson and performed and made famous by Al Jolson. For all you old movie buffs, in Casablanca when Ingrid Bergman walks over to the piano and asks Sam to play the old songs, it is "Avalon" that he has just been playing before she speaks.

I first came to Avalon in the 1980s (a decade I do remember). I’ve been enchanted ever since. I’m happy to say that the place hasn’t changed much over the years thanks to the Wrigley family who turned over the management of the island to the Catalina Island Conservancy. Their mission is to preserve this place for posterity.

I come to Catalina as often as I can, partly because I’m an island girl. I love the cozy self-containment of islands and the feeling of being far away from the frenzy of the mainland. Best of all, I can write here. I sit propped up against a bean bag cushion, away from all distractions except the gentle breezes ruffling my pages or an occasional bee investigating the jam spoon I haven’t washed since breakfast. Words flow here.

I associate Catalina with several milestones in my writing career. I was in Avalon when I finished the first draft of my first novel and at the Isthmus on a glorious July day when I received the phone call from my agent telling me that Mysterious Press had bought that first novel.

I often fantasize about having a retreat on an island somewhere. It would be a cottage on a white, sandy beach with palm trees swaying in the breeze. I’d write in the morning and walk on the beach in the afternoon. There would be a dog there and a man, too. Maybe even a cat but only if he wanted to come along. And there would be margaritas.

That's the locale of my fantasy retreat. Where is yours?


  1. "There would be a dog there and a man, too."

    In that order of preference, Patty?

    I didn't know you were such a Catalina maven. I've only been there once. Liked it. Reminded me of Sausalito.

    Now, based on your excellent travel writing, I want to go back to Avalon. Need recommendations where to stay & eat.

    My favorite places: Maui in the early 80''s changed quite a bit. Mendocino in the early 90's...going back next month to see how much it's changed.

  2. I've never been to Maui except at the airport when changing planes to Kaui or the Big Island. I've heard it's faboo. And isn't Mendocino Cabot Cove? Or am I confusing it with someplace else? Let us know if it has changed.

  3. I believe you're right. Mendocino (about 100 miles north of San Francisco) stood in for Cabot Cove in "Murder, She Wrote." This is not to be confused with the real Cabot Cove, which I believe is near Bodega Bay, CA, where Alfred Hitchcock shot "The Birds." Is this confusing?

  4. Really? I had no idea that there was a real Cabot Cove in CA. I loved the TV town, however. It seemed impossibly quaint. Stay tunned for Avalon itinerary.