Most pleasures of life are simple. In the brief time I lived in the quaint little craftsman at the edge of the world, some of the brightest moments included exploring the cliffs and coastline just around the corner. I have never felt healthier or happier than the times I jogged along Paseo del Mar, the street weaving around the Palos Verdes Peninsula like a hemline. After all, nothing beats inhaling deeply of fresh, salty air with the soundtrack of waves crashing against the cliffs accompanying the staccato of my feet on pavement. Most days it was like staring at a priceless Cezanne, the overwhelming burst of color and light almost too much to absorb. During moments when the beauty of the statuesque cliffs and the sentinel-like palm trees and the rich cerulean water overloaded my mind much like witnessing the revered impressionist’s work, I felt a calm bliss unrivaled at that point in my life.
There is something almost otherworldly about this place that to me, as a child, really did represent the end of the world. When I was young, my father was just starting his own carpentry business, and money was tight. On the very rare occasions when my parents weren’t working, we’d load up the family car and drive to what seemed like far-off places, where we would see real-life palaces where princes and princesses lived on a misty hill. We would circumnavigate the peninsula and roam windy side-streets at a leisurely pace, stopping to admire the errant peacock crossing the street or the lawn of the Malaga Cove Library, where my parents got married. By the time we got to the back side of the hill, I was convinced we were on the other side of the world, with Catalina in the distance like a land across a Narnian sea. The back side was wilder, with untamed cliffs and constantly shifting roads; dangerous territory where the houses were few and far between (at least they were back in the eighties, before Trump National and Terranea were even conceived of) and a sharp turn to the right would take you off into the deep blue by Point Vicente, if you weren’t careful. When the roads started smoothing out and traffic lights began appearing again, we were truly at the end of the this eight-year-old’s known world – Point Fermin, a cozy grove of trees hovering at the point like an otherworldly floating craft. The serenity of this place, combined with the tiny shingles of neighboring houses eased us back into reality. No longer were the houses fantastic castles, but now they were those of a charming fishing village, still different enough from my tract-home suburban house to seem magical, but close enough to reality to remind me that there was a reality, waiting around the side of the hills.
I suppose these drives represented the time when anything was possible; if palaces and princesses were real, then perhaps dreams could come true. This belief took root in me like no other, and has been impossible to dislodge, even after many years of adult-real-world-cynicism and an earth-shattering recession. My generation has been bruised and battered; our hallmark optimism and, embarrassing as it is to admit, cocky sense of entitlement has vanished along with the job market and stock shares on Wall Street. But beauty is healing, and when I return to this magic place of my childhood, that realm between fantasy and reality, I see a meeting of the two worlds and the possibility that while my wildest dreams may not come true, that’s not to say that no dreams come true. My simple dream of living somewhere so beautiful, even if I’m just working part-time and renting out a room, is enough today.
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That chapter of my life has ended. No longer living in that house by the sea, my life has taken on the rhythms of change and growth. While these developments are positive, I do miss the freedom to access such restorative beauty whenever I fancy. Romantic philosophers and literary theorists of the Eighteenth-century described such natural beauty as sublime, a quality that inspires greatness, embodies power. Such qualities I absorbed as my own during those times, and nothing has rivaled those moments of spiritual peace since.
I recently saw on the internet that a small chunk of Paseo del Mar had fallen into the ocean, a victim of recent heavy rains and the natural erosion of the cliff over time. While this didn’t entirely take me off guard (after all, I had also lived down the street from the Sunken City, so named for the portions of the road that had suffered a similar fate decades before), it did fill me with a sense of loss. No matter how vital such a road seems, it is not immune from the external forces of nature. Events happen in life that are out of our control. Infrastructure wears down. People fail to act accordingly and support it. The road from my naïvely youthful dreams has, in a blatant metaphor, collapsed. As far as I can tell, there are two options if we still need to get to where the road leads. We can find another road to take. Or we can forge our own trail. Either way, it gives us the chance to explore; and I love a good voyage into the unknown.