Galleon Tile Picture of the Week

Galleon Tile - One of the more unusual tiles that I found in Avalon.
Galleon Tile – One of the more unusual tiles I found in Avalon.

Unless you’re one of those people oblivious to the world around them, one of the first things you notice as you walk from the ferry to your hotel is ceramic tiles. They’re everywhere. They’re on the buildings, walls, and stairs, covering the central fountain on Crescent Street. You may wonder, “What’s up with all those tiles?” To help explain, here’s the Cliffs Notes version of the history of the tiles.

The soil in Southern California—including the Channel Islands—has abundant clay deposits. That’s a good thing if you’re a potter or want red tile roofs adorning Spanish Revival Architecture, which is historically prevalent in the L.A. basin. It’s not something I’d do, but after William Wrigley (the chewing gum tycoon) bought Catalina, he thought he’d benefit somehow if he lured some tourists there. One of his strategies was to add glitz to the drab buildings—like putting ornaments on the Christmas tree, as it were. He’d seen the Mediterraneans adorn their homes with ceramic tiles in his worldly travels. So in 1923, he started the Catalina Pottery and Tile Company. The factory started manufacturing traditional Moorish designs but added pictorial tiles featuring exotic birds, fish, and large-scale murals as they grew. They were an instant hit.

Southern California architects and designers wanted them for their projects, so the tile company soon began shipping the colorful ceramic squares to the mainland. Their popularity spread like wildfire, and in the ’20s and ’30s, the Catalina Tile Company sent products worldwide. Sadly, fashion is fleeting, and the demand for Catalina tiles declined in the late ’30s early ’40s. Eventually, the Wrigleys shut down the factory.

Avalon Fountain - The water fountain in the center of Avalon's business district, is covered with Catalina tiles.
Avalon Fountain – Catalina tiles cover the water fountain in the center of Avalon’s business district.

Years of vandalism and neglect began to take a toll on the historic Avalon tiles. After the turn of the millennium, Avalon’s city council hired a local artist to restore the town’s central fountain (unfortunately, I couldn’t discover her name). Still, the legend says that homeowners commissioned her to bring the rest of the town back to life once she began working on the fountain. She hand-made copies of the originals and didn’t have time for other projects. She spent the remainder of her life restoring Avalon’s history.

During our May visit, I assigned myself a sub-project. Before Queen Anne rose from the dead in the mornings, I got up and scoured Avalon for unique tiles. The Moorish patterns found on the walls and fountain are common, but I was hunting the pictorial specimens—like a personal scavenger hunt—or today’s geocaching like my brother-in-law—Don—does. Along the backstreets, I found several unusual ones, and this week’s featured image is my favorite. It depicts Cabrillo’s (the Spanish explorer and first European to visit—and name—Santa Catalina) galleon. Someone glued it to the stucco wall of a residence. The tile looks new, although the wall is damaged. I included the stains and marring in this composition. I also really like the blue/yellow contrast in this image. I titled the photo Galleon Tile.

This is the final post of our Catalina adventure. It’s hard for me to leave and return to the hot, damp desert. Next month, I’ll start something new next week, in some other pleasant location. I hope you liked seeing my Avalon images and reading my stories. In case you want to see more, there’s good news. I published another new book titled Avalon—Romance Twenty-Six Miles Away. With this publication, I decided to skip Amazon because they don’t add to the marketing—they only tack on 15%. So, if I’m not going to sell books, I can not sell them in the publisher’s (Blurb) bookstore cheaper than not selling them on Amazon. But wait! I thought of you—my loyal subscribers. I sprung for a PDF version that you can download at no charge; that way, you can look at the additional pictures and print your copy for your library.

Avalon - The book is now available in the Blurb Bookstore or free to download here.
Avalon – The book is now available in the Blurb Bookstore or free to download here.
    • If you want to see the hard copy on its listing page (you can scroll through the book), click here.
    • If you want to download the free pdf version (you can save it to your hard drive), click here.
    • If you’d like to see a larger version of this week’s featured image, click here.

Till next time

Kilt Lifter Picture of the Week

Kilt Lifter - I tried to take a strait picture of beautiful dress, but when I asked a stupid question, this was the response.
Kilt Lifter – I tried to take a straight picture of a beautiful dress, but this was the response when I asked a stupid question.

Since Avalon is a compact town, it’s pretty easy to learn its layout. Even Queen Anne and I could walk around the business district in an hour. So, when noon rolled around on Friday, we decided on Avalon Grill for lunch, and we strolled down Crescent Avenue—the main street along the beach. The city could have squeezed four lanes of traffic with parking meters on each side, but instead, they closed it to traffic. It’s full of pedestrians all day long. By the end of our stay, our evening pastime was to sit in the window of the El Galleon bar, sipping cheap white wine while people-watching.

The morning was bright as the sun ate most of the fog, but he couldn’t finish because he got indigestion. The perfume of grilled hamburgers, ice cream cones, and pizza filled the air. If they could bottle that smell, it would be called American Carnival. Because it was Friday, more people were on the street than usual—the weekenders were arriving. They stood out dragging their luggage in tow, clickety-clack across the bricks. That’s when we spotted the most bazaar couple.

Well, the pair weren’t odd; they dressed in old clothes. I don’t mean Goodwill old; these were costumes you’d see in a movie set in the ’30s. He wore linen pants, a coral shirt with a loud paisley tie under a honey-colored jacket, and a straw fedora on his head. Her dress was knee-length white with blue diamond chiffon. On her feet were thick-heeled Minnie Mouse shoes, and she had seamed stockings. Even their luggage was of the correct period as it was hand-stitched palomino leather—but it had wheels so they could drag it along like a pull-toy. I tried to get a grab-shot of them, but I felt uncomfortable, so it turned out blurry.

As Anne and I ate lunch, the ‘thirties-couple’ was at the top of our discussion list. They must have gone to their hotel, checked in, and returned for lunch because they showed up outside as we finished lunch and waited for the check. They sat down on the patio with a large group of friends. Fortunately, the costume-dressed-people story didn’t end there.

As the day passed, we spotted a second couple dressed in Gatsby-inspired clothes and a third. I told Anne, “Something is going on here; I’m going to find out.” I repressed my natural shyness and walked up to the third coupled and politely asked, “Why are you dressed like that?” The answer shocked me. Architecture has groupies! They were members of the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles and were in Avalon to attend their annual ball Saturday night in the Casino. When I asked, they assured me, “Sure, you can take our picture; that’s why we’re dressed in period clothing.” I asked a bunch of questions, and Anne and I made plans for an exciting Saturday evening when we learned more about the ball.

That evening we gussied up, put on clean T-shirts, and parked our butts on the stairs in front of the Casino. Soon the parade of attendees began. There were hundreds of them—too many for one person to photograph. I started picking out the couples that wore the most colorful outfits, and then I’d stop them by saying, “Hello. Welcome to the red carpet. I’m your designated paparazzi. Would you mind if I took your photo?” Not one person turned me down, and some would call friends to come to join the fun.

As check-in neared its close, I spotted a dignified blond woman wearing a stunning peacock dress and—what I believe—a Clan Riddoch scarf on her shoulder. His coat was black-tie with brass buttons, and he wore a kilt of matching Clan colors. I got a couple of shots off before my stupid mouth blurted out what my brain was wondering, “Is it true what they say a Scotsman wears under the kilt?”

Without hesitation, she bent over, yanked up his kilt, and expressed amazement. I was grateful that I still had my camera to my eye and instinctively smashed the shutter button. That’s the story behind this week’s image. I’m sorry that I can’t credit it with the names of this (or any other) couple; my secretary didn’t get that information. A couple of people asked for my card, but I never heard from them, or I would have tried to fill in those blanks. I titled this shot: Kilt Lifter. You can see the larger Web version by clicking here. Be sure to return next week when we finish our month in Avalon.

Till Next Time

Harbor Fog Picture of the Week

Harbor Fog - A dense fog covers the Avalon Harbor.
Harbor Fog – A dense fog covers the Avalon Harbor.

Do you have a bucket list? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s a list of things you’d like to see or do before you die. The concept existed before Rob Reiner’s 2007 movie The Bucket List (starring Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman, Sean Hayes, and Beverly Todd), but maybe the film made this type of to-do list more widespread.

As I wrote at the beginning of this month’s project, we chose to go to Catalina because the island was on Queen Anne’s list. She’s bugged me for years about going. We had a lot of fun, so I’m happy we went. However, more adventures remain on her list, including seeing the Northern Lights (she claims that she’d settle for the Southern Lights, but I’m not sure that’s the truth). Anne is always showing me deals on Iceland tours from Travel Zoo. The hitch is that the best time to see the lights is in the middle of the night in winter. I can’t imagine dragging her from a warm bed into the freezing night.

I’ve never honestly compiled my bucket list. I married a wonderful woman; what more do I need? Besides, if I had such a list, I’d be afraid she’d kill me if I finished it. She’d say, “You’ve had your fun; now it’s time for you to go.” That’s why we’ll never own a chest freezer.

After we returned from Avalon, Anne asked several times if there was something that I wanted to see or do. I’ve been thinking about it since. In my late fifties, I realized that I was never destined to be rich or famous, so dreaming of yachts, private airplanes, or exotic cars was a waste of my time. With that burden gone, I’ve had time to learn about the poor slob I am. Over the last couple of decades, I’ve winnowed my hobbies so that I can concentrate on photography. Since I retired seven years ago, I no longer call myself a designer or computer programmer. Now I’m a photographer, and I’m happy about that.

On the other hand, one goal that has eluded me involves fishing. Since my ex-brother-in-law introduced me to trout fishing, I’ve always dreamed of landing a fish over ten pounds. During our 2016 Alaska trip, I had my best (and last?) chance of accomplishing that goal because Fred and I were going after salmon. My best catch that summer was the nice silver salmon I landed on a fly. It was eight pounds. Close, but not cigar worthy.

I haven’t been on the water since, and I put that lunker idea out of my mind—until we got home from Catalina. When we researched adventures to fill out our week, I came across fishing charters, specifically fishing for tuna. I discarded the idea because this trip was to celebrate our anniversary, and leaving Anne alone in a sailor bar while I was out all day on a stinky fishing boat didn’t seem right. But sailing out into the open waters off Catalina’s west coast intrigued me. I prefer a nice piece of tuna over steak; they come in large packages. So, I started my first bucket list. Next, I have to research the best season and place to hire a boat—like the ones you in this week’s picture.

One morning in Avalon, I woke up and left to take pictures. When I went outside, I found dense fog. I might as well be in London. Since I’m used to the clear desert air, this was both a challenge and a treat. I ran around town, reshooting everything I had done over the past days but in the fog. I wanted to show the weather but still have a subject identifiable. This week’s image, which I call Harbor Fog, is the one that worked best. It was taken on the harbor’s north side looking south. I like how the morning sun tries to burn through the low clouds, how the boats fade in the distance and the faint hint of the pier buildings in the right background. What do you think—did I get it right, or should I stick to the desert? You can see the larger version of Harbor Fog on his Web Page by clicking here. Come back next week to see another side of Avalon.

Till Next Time

Pete Picture of the Week

Pete - the opportunistic pelican waits at the end of the Avalon Pier for someone to bring lunch.
Pete – the opportunistic pelican, waits at the end of the Avalon Pier for someone to bring him lunch.

When you’re on an extended stay at a resort town, there’s only so much time you can shop for T-shirts, scarf down gelato at Scoops, or inhale pastrami hoagies under the umbrellas in front of Antonio’s. You need a break in the routine—we crave adventure. Tour operators know this, and that’s why they do well in high-traffic attractions like Avalon. They’re the carnival rides at the State Fair. Instead of riding grease-stained high-speed Merry-go-rounds, these carnival barkers use gimmicks like parachutes, steel cables, bungee cords, or jump from a perfect airplane to take money from your pocket. Being the big fella I am, I don’t have faith in those contraptions.

When Queen Anne and I planned our week in Avalon, we poured over the adventure packages the town offered. Given our advanced stage of dementia, superior physical fitness, and risk of cardiac arrest, we chose to look at stars through a telescope, ride a boat with a glass bottom, and take a drive in a Hummer. None of those activities involved walking, climbing, or jumping. The only exertion we made was finding a seat.

The stargazing was a bust. The hostess doesn’t offer tours until the warm summer months. That’s because you need clear skies to look at stars, and the cooler months have persistent fog. All that you would see through the telescope would be cloud bottoms.

Garibaldi - the little golden fish doesn't go after the chum. Instead he's protecting his nest from the other fish.
Garibaldi – the little golden fish, doesn’t go after the chum. Instead, he hopelessly tries to protect his nest from the other fish.

The boat was fascinating but less exciting than we had hoped. There are two versions of this tour; the original glass-bottom boats and another they call a submarine. The former is open to the sky and looks down through the hull. In the latter version of the ride, you climb into a tube, sit,  and look through windows along the side. The sub never submerges. Since it’s dark inside the sub, you can see better through the dirty windows. After everyone is loaded, the sub (ours was painted yellow, of course) motors to a small bay south of the main Avalon harbor, where the crew tosses food into the water. The food attracts so many fish that they cover the windows. It’s cool, except their advertisements hint that you might see marine mammals, sharks, or mermaids. Chances are that you’ll only see the locals. We thought it was a fun hour-long boat ride through the kelp forest.

Mike Bison - Our jeep driver, Chief, spotted Mike napping in the grass and drove to where we could take his picture.
Mike Bison – Our jeep driver, Chief, spotted Mike napping in the grass and drove to where we could take his picture.

The ridgeline jeep tour was our only chance to see other parts of the island. On these tours, they load 4 to 8 people in the back of an open Hummer and drive the dirt roads along the mountain ridges. I suppose you could walk or bike around the locked gates, but that’s exercise. It was foggy during our trip, so we didn’t enjoy any grand vistas possible from the mountain tops. There were times when we saw the city below and caught a glimpse of an empty west-coast bay through the damp mist. One of the tricks the guides routinely pull on the unsuspecting tourists is to stop at a steep fire break that crosses the ridgeline. After explaining how firefighters built the gap to slow spreading wildfires, the driver shifts the Hummer into low range and begins to drive up the steep ridge until the passengers all scream for him to stop. But, after riding with Fred in the San Juan Mountains, I’ve done worse. The highlight of our ride was the ‘puppy’ our guide—Chief— spotted napping in the tall golden grass. Chief stopped the Hummer and got him to sit up so we could take Mike’s picture.

Another thing we considered—but ruled out—was hiring a fishing charter. The captains claim that there are some nice fish to be caught off the island’s west side. In Avalon, you’ll see people carrying fishing gear, so there must be some truth to their claims. Some locals will go to the pier’s end in the mornings and fish for shad and other bait fish. Then they head for deeper water in boats and fish for big trophies. That brings us to this week’s picture that I call Pete. Pete was an opportunistic brown pelican perched on the pier railing waiting for one of the anglers to drop their catch. Why plunge into the cold ocean for lunch when someone brings it to you? He must be used to people because he let me get this close-up shot without flinching. He was content sitting there until a young girl tried to touch his feathers. That was a step too far. We watch Pete drop 20 feet to the water and skim along the blue surface. Without flapping his broad wings, he picked up speed, then circled overhead the girl and her father walking hand in hand along the boardwalk, and then he expressed his displeasure—splat.

You can see the larger version of Pete on his Web Page by clicking here. Come back next week to see another Avalon photo and read about our adventure.

Till Next Time

Avalon Casino Picture of the week

Avalon Casino - The Art Deco style building opened in 1929 the large gathering hall was never used for gambling. There is a movie theater and ballroom inside.
Avalon Casino – The Art Deco style building opened in 1929. The large gathering hall was never used for gambling. There is a movie theater and ballroom inside, so as you’d suspect, it’s a favorite spot for Southern California brides.

Listen, guys, I know this goes against the man code, but you really should pay attention to your wife every so often. This seemingly innocent act of unselfishness pays dividends. She may let you watch the race (game?) and cook a pack of pizza rolls for you; she could let you play golf, or—in my case—the sock-fairy returns a drawer full of footies before I order another pack from Amazon. You got to try it. A little act of kindness pays off tenfold.

By now, you’re probably wondering what I’m babbling about. Let me explain. Here at the Witkowski double-wide mansion, we’ve had the fortune to get small returns from the IRS over the past couple of years. We treat it as unexpected vacation money, but we always spend it on tires, garage doors, or new cameras. This year, we didn’t have any incidental expenses, so I asked Queen Anne, “Honey, where would you like to go on vacation.” At first, she squinted and scowled at me, but when she realized I was serious, she answered, “Catalina Island is high on my bucket list.” So, we agreed to blow all our tax returns on an island for a week.

Before I get too far, let me clarify a point. Unless you own a yacht, you’re into backpacking, or your family name starts with Wrigley, you don’t visit Catalina; you go to Avalon. They don’t have rental cars on the island, but you can rent a bike, golf cart, or steal a local’s Smart Car, but you’re mostly going to walk around town. We didn’t mind because that was enough to keep us entertained for the week.

Although Avalon is still in Los Angeles County, its atmosphere makes you feel like you need a passport to travel there. First, the air is free of LA smog so that you can see the mainland’s San Gabriel Mountains through the fog. As you walk past the shops and bars on Crescent Avenue, you get the aroma of sea air mixed with waffle cones, beer, and pizza. The businesses along the strand are the same mix of souvenir shops, restaurants, hotels, ice cream, and adventure tours that you’d expect in any popular tourist attraction. We spent the week scouring through all the T-shirt shops before selecting a couple to bring home.

Before we even left home, I knew one of the photos I would take would be of Catalina’s iconic casino. Since I had plenty of time on the island, I took nearly a dozen. I shot it in the sun, in the fog, under a cloudy sky, from ground level, and this week’s featured image is from the cliffs overlooking it. I picked this version to show because it has soft shadows, and you can see its details and its relationship with the harbor. I call this image Avalon Casino even though its actual name is the Catalina Casino.

The Santa Catalina Company built the building and opened it in 1929. They never used it for gambling. ‘Casino’ is a European term for large gathering hall, but Vegas operators thought that casino sounds more hoity-toity than gambling hall, so they stole the word. The multi-story hall is the largest building on the island, and its art-deco design has fans worldwide (I’ll have more to say about that in a couple of weeks).

This week’s photo also includes my dream boat. Can you guess which one it is? It’s not the biggest, but it’ll do. I’m scheming a way to have Santa bring it for Christmas, so after I publish this morning, I have to do dishes and mop the floor. I got to keep the jolly old elf happy, you know.

We’ll spend the rest of our hot July remembering our Avalon trip. You can see the larger version of Avalon Casino on its Web Page by clicking here. Come back next week and see more from our Avalon adventure.

Till Next Time