I never thought that I’d be waxing lyrical about the merits of California. For as long as I can remember, California has epitomised what I like least about modern America. From the dross and decadence of Hollywood, the rootless autocentric mayhem of LA, and the queer queeziness of San Francisco, the Golden State had as much appeal to me as the golden casket in The Merchant of Venice. And yet on visiting the left coast I found myself unwilingly and unwittingly seduced by its charms. No, not the “charm” of Hollywood or LA but the hidden charm of the unseen California.
On first visiting San Francisco, I succumbed to the allure of the city’s architecture and topography, and I came to realize that there are many saints and silent martyrs in the midst of the madness with which the city is afflicted. If it wasn’t for SF-based Ignatius Press, and SF native Father Fessio, it is possible that my books would never have found an American publisher and that they would, in consequence, have sunk without trace. Ignatius Press is nothing less than a miraculous publishing phenomenon, the history of which is enough to fortify the heart of the most disconcolate Catholic. And then there’s SF’s annual March for Life, inaugurated only a few short years ago, which has surprised everyone, pro-lifers and pro-abortionists alike, with the magnitude of its success and impact. Here we see the fight for the lives of millions of unborn children being taken into the very heart of the Beast.
And then of course there are the Napa and Sonoma valleys and the small wineries that are still flourishing there. I’ve had the immense pleasure and intense privilege of tasting the wines in these small wineries under the impassioned guidance of the vine-grower himself. As I did so, I felt the ghostly presence of Hilaire Belloc, who had visited these parts more than a century earlier, standing at my shoulder and dreaming of the inns of Tuscany and of Miranda in the high Pyrenees.
And now I’m on vacation in Orange County succumbing once again to the Golden State’s hidden charms. I find myself surprised by the joy of discovering the attractions of Seal Beach. The first thing that struck me is that most of the stores on Main Street are individually or family-owned. The place is not shackled with the chains that have enslaved strip malls in most other parts of the country. Antique stores, souvenir stores, coffee shops, restaurants, bars and Irish “pubs” all seem to be unique, and all seem to exude that genuine individual character that is sadly missing in the grey monochrome drabness of chain-stored monotony. Chain-stores are to commerce what chainsaws are to forests; they flatten everything to ground zero, or as Chesterton would say, to standardization by a low standard. Thankfully Seal Beach has not lowered its standards.
It was in Walt’s Wharf, a seafood restaurant in Seal Beach, that I met my old friend Gayne Anacker on Wednesday night. With good food and microbrewed ales on the table between us, we discussed the exciting plans for the establishment of C. S. Lewis College in the near future. This wonderfully exciting venture is the work of the C. S. Lewis Foundation, of which Gayne is a key-player. Although I’m not at liberty to divulge anything about the practicalities of this endeavour, I am truly heartened by the prospect of a new “Great Books” school worthy of the great C. S. Lewis himself. And this discussion took place in a quaint and quiet town equidistant between Thomas Aquinas College to the north and the new John Paul the Geat University to the south. It was certainly sufficient to warm the cockles of this particular Englishman. It seems that California is not so bad after all!