Friday, April 18, 2014

On the Occasion that a Few Olivetti Adventures Eclipse

Cosmic overlap was the theme this week.  In the sky we had the Blood Moon eclipse, and here on the ground in Palo Alto, we encountered our own kind of weird overlap.  I think of it as the Olivetti Adventure Eclipse.

I was going to wait to post about our recent trip to Yosemite until I felt more sure about how to piece it together. But on the eve of hemming and hawing and holding back, the TV show The Amazing Race, featured an Olivetti M20 Scuola as part of a “speed bump” element to the race.  The show was in Rome and two sisters had to pick up the typewriter at the Pantheon and deliver it to the “Typewriter” building, the Altare della Patria.  

Camillo would have rolled his eyes at the idea of his typewriter paired up with a building that most Italians think is brutto and that he, himself, must have thought was an architectural abomination.  But he would have liked the publicity and he would have laughed at the show, just the way he did after a theatre production in Minneapolis in 1893.

“For me, however, the audience made a bigger impression than the show, this childish group [the American audience] is so moved and so identified with this impossible drama that they cheer for the good guys and boo for the bad guys.  It was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen!”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world from Rome, we were having our own version of an Olivetti adventure.  After 17 years of trying to book a room in Yosemite, I finally succeeded this past January.  I got two rooms at the Ahwahnee for April 8-11.  After a quick fist pump to celebrate my coup, I proceeded to spend the next two months imagining that April, for sure, was a terrible time to go. How else could we have gotten rooms?  Would it rain? Or snow? Or both?   

I should have known better.  

The week before we drove off in our van, my day by day translation revision work arrived at the Yosemite letter.  And I discovered that we would be in Yosemite within a week of when Camillo had been there 120 years ago.  Barring the California drought we would be seeing the same patches of snow, the same waterfalls surging with snowmelt.  I’m sure it could have rained or snowed or both, but it didn’t--not for us and not for Camillo.

I don’t know why I ever doubt this project, but I still sometimes do.  My word for the year is practice, so I practice trusting, but with trust if you’re practicing it, I don’t think you’re actually doing it--but that’s another blog post.

What follows is my best attempt at blocking out the story, mine and his together.  Forgive me. It is a draft and it is long.  I will still be your friend if you decide you don’t have time to slog through it.  But I will love you more if you do ;-) LOL.  I am standing so close to the material it’s like being a nose length away from a Pissaro or Monet--hard to see what you’re looking at exactly--so any eyes that have distance on the work are much appreciated.  

My journal appears in normal text and Camillo’s is in italics.

Thanks to everyone who even as much as glances at the pictures.  Your attention is nothing less than love itself.  Thank you.

April 18, 2014

120 years ago today, Camillo wrote home from Yosemite, CA. It sounds like a long time ago, and I feel that length of time in my great grandfather's absence. And yet at the foot of Half Dome with a piece of paper in my hand, 120 years ago is hardly yesterday. Camillo is gone but he speaks to me everyday. More than that, a few minutes a day, I rewrite his words and become that young man. In Yosemite I hop on a bike and ride through the woods, I smell the pine, I listen for the rushing waters. I stop and wet my feet in the Merced's waters, nearly at his orders, and something of him is so close I can feel it, a voice in my head, a cloak of awareness, and the hum thump of my pulse, a steady beat reminding me that more of my life will be spent in Camillo's form than in the body that I wear today. Most of my life I will be be spent as a figment, an echo, if I'm lucky, a word on a page salvaged by a great-grand-daughter.

April 8, 2014

I had the idea that we would be following right in Camillo's footsteps, up until two days before leaving, when Eloise developed some kind of urinary tract infection, or other kind of "pee pee problem" that had us headed to the bathroom every ten minutes.  We zipped to the pediatrician.   Tests for all the usual suspects turned up negative and we so we headed to Yosemite hoping for the best.  Ten minutes outside of Palo Alto we stopped at Toys R Us to purchase one of those small plastic training potties (ironically, the green one we had for so many years had been sent to Goodwill less than a month ago) and a pair of rainbow/neon light up sneakers I hoped Eloise would agree to wear since lately every single pair of her shoes has been causing cartoonish scenes where the four year old thrashes on the floor all arms and legs and no, no, no.  

We tested out the plastic potty in the van parked in front of Toys R Us.  Success!  And got on the road.  

We arrived in Yosemite at about 6PM after many, many pit stops along the way.  In just the first few minutes arriving in the valley (at least at this time of the year) you get the sense that you have arrived in a magical place--the towering monolithic cliffs, pine trees as big as you’ve ever seen, and many flowing waterfalls.  At the first sight of a waterfall, we pulled the van over to have a look.  We were late for our dinner reservations, but we didn't care...none of us had ever seen a waterfall so big.  Graham and the big girls ran across the road and onto a bridge to get a good look, while I helped Eloise with the potty again, following the rest of the crew a few minutes behind.  The sun was low and threw a shafts of light on the gushing water.  For about a minute everyone was quiet taking it all in--and then it became obvious, in that way that it does with little ones, that it was time to get the family to dinner.  To keep everyone occupied we continued to listen to XM radio--Classic, Are you gonna stay the night, etc were our soundtrack driving into the park--a trip which really would have preferred a good John Williams symphony.

We hopped back in the van and headed to the Ahwahnee where we had booked rooms.  

The Ahwahnee is nestled into the soaring granite cliffs.  When you look at the lodge there is a small, seasonal waterfall to the right, and to the left the massive Yosemite Falls thunder in the distance.  If you turn around and put your back to the lodge, you look across the valley to Half Dome.  At sunset, light painted across the curved dome reaching up into the sky, it was like a fresco of a sunset inside a sunset.  One of my first thoughts was that John Muir made a lot of sense when he called Yosemite Valley a Cathedral.  

For our small crew who went to Disneyland before Yosemite, it looked a lot like God had been copying Walt Disney.

Yosemite Valley, April 18, 1894

Dear mother,

As you can see from the amazing header of this paper, I am in the heart of the Sierra Nevada, in this tiny slice of Paradise that is called the Yosemite Valley.  How did we get here?  This is the somewhat difficult problem that I solved in a rather elegant and economic, if not comfortable, way.  Yosemite is a little valley ten or twelve kilometers long and one or two wide that encloses so much natural beauty that it is one of the wonders of the world.  The valley is 1300 meters above sea level and it is more or less perfectly flat in the length and width of it.  But if the valley is flat, the road that gets you here here is not at all short or flat, it climbs for about about 40 kilometers and then descends many mountains and valleys.  After many comings and goings the road finally falls steeply into the valley.   Because it was built in such difficult circumstances, the road is beautiful, although very dusty.  It’s owned and maintained by a “stage company” that owns a few good hotels along the road into the valley.  In general, travelers depart from Bereuda, a little village on the Los Angeles-San Francisco rail-line, and then continue by train to the last stop, a town called, Raymond.  After an overnight stay in Raymond and two days in the stage, they arrive in the valley where they can stay as long as they want until they head back to Raymond.

There is no other option but the stage company, and they charge fifty dollars for the trip, without accounting for the cost of a hotel in the valley (four dollars a day) in the price.  As you can see, it’s a bit of a hefty fee, so I decided to make my way a little slower (and more economically) with my bike.  Am pleased to say I succeeded quite well.

The road from Raymond climbs slowly at first and then more rapidly ending at a place called Grub Gulch.  The view isn’t great and the soil is more or less dry.  I did the road a little by foot, and a bit by bicycle without stopping much because I was flying trying to find my way to the Ahwahnee, which is a little group of houses about 34 kilometers from Raymond.  I was trying to get there before night because I’ve heard that these mountains are well populated by rattle snakes.  They are are much less terrible than legend has it, because they never attack humans; they alert you with their rattle many meters before you run the risk of getting very close to them.  The only really terrible case is when one unconsciously steps on a snake that is sleeping, in which case one runs the risk of dying.  Otherwise in general they flee or at the very least they don’t ever follow humans.  I did see one about a meter long and it was half dead, probably killed by a vulture.  

I arrived at Grub Gulch around midday.  I had lunch there and rested a bit, then I did another four or five kilometers of climbing to a village whose name I don’t remember.   When I got there I encountered the good news that only two or three miles separated me from the Ahwahnee.  I walked and rode for a half hour, but at the end of the final descent I didn’t find the Ahwahnee, instead I found another climb.  I was disappointed, because I it made me think that the people I met had deceived me.  But despite that, I continued for an hour when I finally ran into a cabby who told me that I had taken the wrong road and I had taken the only road that didn’t lead to the Ahwahnee.  I turned around and finally I found myself in the middle of a beautiful hotel where I devoured an exquisite meal in the company of the owner and two young ladies who lived there.  This hotel is the hotel in which travelers who take the stage eat.

April 9, 2014

The next day we hired a guide to take us on a hike (Camillo never would have relied on someone else to show him around--in one letter he says something like, I've learned the hard way that it's better to get the map yourself than ask someone else for directions).  This is not the first time we've hired a guide to take us someplace, and the moment of meeting the person who is assigned to our rag-tag kid crew can be tense for me.  I always request someone who is good with kids, but sometimes, some places, those people don't exist.  In this case we lucked out, our guide, Sam, had run the children's program in Yosemite last season.  He knew a lot about the park, but more importantly, knew a hiking route that would work for us.  He didn't even seem too surprised when we packed the potty into the bottom of the jogging stroller!

We rambled along the trail to Mirror Lake, making potty stops along the way.  The rule was that we had to be 100 feet away from the trail and 100 feet from the river, so Eloise and I were always leaving the group.  At one point, we headed to the woods and I stopped in my tracks.  A small bobcat was right in front of us.  I had read about the bobcats and mountain lions--and the advice that stuck with me was to keep small children close to the adults.  I quickly grabbed Eloise's hand and backed away, keeping my eye on the cat.  "Guys, bobcat, bobcat, bobcat..." I kept saying.  It was exciting to see it, but a little too exciting until I got back to the trail and could take the wildlife scene in from a safe distance.   I had to chuckle that the plastic potty ended up being the key to our most exciting wilderness adventure yet!

April 10, 2014

On the second day,  we split into two groups.  Graham, Chloe and Gwendolyn took a rock climbing lesson with a guide named Miranda, and I rented a bike with a trailer for Eloise and me.  She and I visited the Lower Yosemite Falls in the morning, and then went into Yosemite Village to buy sandwiches for ourselves and our rock climbing crew.  Our plan was to meet Graham and the girls at the rock climbing site for lunch.

This idea was more difficult to execute than I expected it to be, since the rock climbing location was just a cliff off a trail.  There were no signs, and even the landmarks that did have signs were far from the cliff they were climbing.  Graham had dropped a waypoint using Google maps, but cell coverage in the Valley isn’t great, and so it was difficult to make use of it.  At one point, I realized that we had overshot the location by about a mile (which had all been downhill), and after some swearing, turned the bike and trailer around to retrace my pedaling, now uphill in the eighty degree heat.  

After lunch, Eloise and I continued our bike tour of the Valley.  As we stopped for yet another potty break, I felt deflated.  I had had a fantasy of what it would be like to see Yosemite through Camillo’s eyes.  I imagined some spiritual communion between him and me, that I would hear his voice, or feel his ghost leading me around, and here I was at the potty again.  The difference between him at twenty on his bike, and me at forty with my three kids and husband, felt like a huge chasm--and the idea that it could be crossed felt like naive wishful thinking.

The way was totally uphill for about 12 kilometers, and then was varied with a little uphill then a little downhill.  The temperature was pretty cold and when I arrived at an elevation of about 2200 meters above sea level, there were several feet of snow in the small coves protected from the sun.  I followed the way a little by foot and a little by bike, but it wasn’t bad because the way was superb.  In the middle of the road I ran into the coach that was returning from the valley and the travelers told me about the marvels of their trip.

At two I finished a long ascent near a hut that belonged to a worker who maintains the road.  He told me he lived there for more than 14 years both summer and winter in the company of a magnificent dog.  I had lunch and made my friend very happy with a shot of my fine whiskey.  It’s fair to say that I’ve never drunk as much whiskey in my life as I did in these two days

We did finally get back on the bike for the ride.  I wanted to ride as close to Vernal Falls and Brideveil falls as I could, since Camillo had climbed in to see them.  I followed a route I had charted out on a paper map I was carrying in my pocket.  About half way through, right as I was about to get closer to the falls, there was a sign that said “road closed, shuttles and service vehicles only.”  Huh.  

In what was probably a poor judgement call on my part, I decided to ride carefully on, promising myself that I would turn back if the way seemed dangerous at all.  From what I could see the road was clear and paved.  A shuttle bus drove by and I decided to follow it.

The way was shady and cool, I called back to Eloise to see how she was doing.  I turned to look over my shoulder and saw that she had fallen asleep, and for the first time since being in Yosemite I felt the blanket of solitude wrap around me.  I rode silently, paying close attention for anything that seemed like it could cause danger, but there was nothing.  Just a wide paved road in the woods.  There was the sound of rushing water, the smell of pine needles, and the damp cool of thick shade.  I passed the trail heads to Brideveil and Nevada falls, feeling the tug of wanting to go exactly where Camillo went, but rode on, Eloise sound asleep and quiet.

She woke up when we met up with Graham and the girls.  It had been a big day for all of us.

April 11, 2014

The next morning we left the Ahwahnee to go see the big trees of Mariposa Grove.

It was a bit of a walk from the parking lot to the Grizzly Giant, and the girls were not in the mood.  There was a lot of grousing after a restless nights sleep and the exhaustion of the rock climbing the day before.  But Graham and I forced them along in what was turning out to be an unpleasant march.  At one point Eloise and Gwendolyn “went boneless” and planted themselves on the ground, refusing the march on.  Chloe, who had read about the giant actually wanted to see it, so she and Graham forged ahead.  I stayed behind with Gwendolyn and Eloise.  Part of me was angry and part of me was resigned, so I decided to take a breather.  We played that alphabet game...I went to the store and bought...A-Apple, B-banana, etc.  By the time we got to R, Chloe and Graham returned triumphant.  This made such an impression on Gwendolyn that she changed her mind and rose to the occasion.  Of course, now Eloise was mad that she wasn’t going to get to see the big tree, but we needed to make tracks in order to get home in time for dinner with Nonny, so Eloise will have to see the Grizzly Giant some other time.  

The walk was worth it, and I think that G will remember the sight of the Grizzly Giant for a long time to come.

"The trip went pretty well" I think to myself.

Among trees, the red manzanita with its winding branches and the american pine with its straight trunk take first place.  The road climbs until an altitude of about 2000 meters above sea level and then for about four or five kilometers remains more or less level.  Tiny houses are found along the road, only a few huts and even then only a few are inhabited.  Prudently, I brought my own modest lunch and a small bottle of whiskey, so I didn’t get hungry.  At 2:30 I had done 17 miles and I only had 4 more to go, all descending, when I came to a fork in the road leading to Wawona, my goal for the day.  Wawona is the other to a big park that is home to gigantic Sequoias, which after a few giants in Australia, are the largest on earth.  I had time, so I took the other road and after an hour or more in descent I came to the big trees.  There are about a hundred, a few taller and a few shorter, but all are a respectable size.  The tallest of all rises about 90 meters above sea level, but its trunk is not the most mammoth.

The “grizzly” is the one of all the trees that has the largest diameter (about 10 meters at the base).  However, the biggest impression this live giant made on me was from a much smaller trunk (around 5 meters at the base) that was lying on the ground in its entire immense length.  In addition to these giants Mariposa Hill (that’s the name of the place) has a huge amount of other trees, all of a respectable size.  The forest that covers these mountains made me think of the ones I admired in Washington state.

The same night I took the train as far as Bereuda, where I spent the night, and Sunday morning I left for Sacaramento where I arrived the same night.

The trip went pretty well. The line crosses the Sierra Nevada mountains and the landscape is beautiful at many points, however a type of roof for the snow lined about sixty meters of the way, blocking one of the best views.

Tomorrow morning I’ll go to the Post Office to see if there are some letters and then I’ll close this eternal one of mine which is also addressed to uncle and Emma.

Lots of love to uncle.  Kisses to Emma, Carlo and the children.  Greetings to Ep Tom and all our friends.

Kisses from



  1. The trip went pretty well. Love the echo. Love the juxtaposition of his experience with yours.A nice experiment with this type of structure?? So loved reading this.

  2. Bravo, Cristina. These blogs MUST be the start of a book.
    Please. I will be first in line to buy it.

    1. Paola, thanks for the encouragement. I'm working on it...I'd say we're in the "first trimester" LOL. Onward! And thanks for the letters you gave me. They are wonderful!