And so it was that, after five months among the vineyards of Napa, on the morning of June 1st I found myself loading up my Mini to the nines in 85ºF weather, wishing I could whip out my wand and temporarily transfigure my Boyz into strapping young men so they could help me. Instead, they relaxed on the cool grass in a shaded spot while I schlepped and sweated, guzzling coconut water to stay hydrated. And no, I am not Jewish, nor am I from New York, but since learning this word from friends who are from NY, I have thought schlepping the perfect definition for this kind of work. That round sch sound followed by the popping double p is satisfyingly rich, and carries the right amount of onomatopoeic emphasis.
The original plan had been to leave by noon to stay clear of the worst traffic. As it was, that otherwise realistic expectation dissolved into thin (hot) Napa air, and it was only around 1:40p that the pups and I managed to hit the road, a/c blasting. It was their longest car ride to date. Two hours and forty-five minutes later (via I-680 and US 101), including a pit stop in Pleasanton for gasoline, we were parked outside this lovely red house, part of which was to be our new home, at least for the month of June. I texted my sleepless-in-Varese Mom, who was waiting with abated breath to know if we had made it in one piece, to let her know we had indeed arrived and all was well. Then I repeated that schlepping process in reverse. By the time I was done I was so exhausted that I could not even eat. I put the food I had rushed out to buy at a local grocery store within walking distance back into the refrigerator, showered and snuggled into bed, the pups already fast asleep. None of us twitched till morning.
It was exhausting, yes, but it sounds easy, doesn’t it? And the travel part actually was. But it was preceded by a few weeks of mental, emotional and physical build up, and, I have to confess, a fair amount of resistance. After moving nine times in thirteen years, four of which since 2012, I have developed a significant case of move-trauma. Packing, even for the most fabulous trip in the world, is also something I dislike (and resist) doing with a vengeance. All that Virgo organization and focus that works so well for me in just about every other aspect of my life, flies out the window where sorting and packing is concerned. Which means that a process that could take, say, three or four focused days, takes me a few unfocused and suffered weeks. I really like the way Merlin and Hermione do it: with a magic wand and an invisible extension charm. And disapparating, of course.
I had already sized down considerably when moving from Corte Madera to Napa (a mere forty-five minutes drive), and for that I had transit help, as my friends loaded their car as well and drove to Napa with me. This time things would be different. Nobody would be driving another car alongside me and, in any case, I did not really want to take that much stuff with me for just a month or two. That meant that I could only take what my car could contain after fitting it with a rack and box for the trip. It was time for me to get ruthless and take an honest look at what was going and what was staying. I figured that anything I had not even looked at in five months might as well go to plump up my storage units. If you do not consider my big computer with its original packing boxes (yes, I agree, it is time to get a laptop again), that turned out to be half of what I had in Napa.
The next challenge was how to pack. You see, boxes and suitcases only work if you have one of those big pick-ups with the covered bed, or one of those adorable VW Vans. With a Mini, even the more spacious Countryman, you need something more flexible and squashable. Also, I needed to consider that I would be the one doing all that aforementioned schlepping, and lifting large, heavy loads all the way up to the box on top of my car is not my idea of fun. A visit to the Container Store became necessary, and yielded the solutions I had in mind with little expense.
I hope I am not boring you with all of this, but I thought that sharing my process might be helpful to those of you who are considering a similar lifestyle.
I found this adorable little studio in Carmel the same way I found the one in Napa: Vacation Rentals by Owner, or vrbo.com. I also browse AirBnB, but I tend to like VRBO better. It has been around longer, the owners have more renting experience, and the owning/renting conditions are slightly different, a little easier, I think.
Besides the location, my search is defined by these criteria: price and availability of a monthly rate, pet friendly and safe, a pleasing (to me) interior & exterior design with a decent bathroom and preferably a little kitchen, strong internet signal and WiFi, absolutely non-smoking ever (not even in the past), and spanking clean, of course. Also the place has to be either free standing or, if connected to a building, the conditions have to be so that when Barky-Bark (aka paranoid Cody) decides he just can’t hold it in anymore, he will not drive anyone else nuts but Tyler and me. Because Cody can bark, for a looooong time, beyond even my ability to zone him out. It is not always easy to have all my criteria met, and there is usually some compromising I need to do, but I have done quite well so far.
In Napa we had the perfect spot: free standing, smack in the middle of a gorgeous garden, away from the owners’ house enough that Cody could bark his throat raw if he wanted to, or until I ran out of patience anyway. Luckily, he only barks at people (real or imaginary), and not a lot of people walk through a private garden. Here in Carmel it is almost ideal. Our space is connected to the main house, but we are in a quiet residential area, and the entrance is away enough from the street that passers by do not trigger Cody, not much anyway. And I can always draw the privacy curtain when I am gone, which shuts off his visual. Thank goodness Tyler is not a barker.
Above and below you can see the bedroom end of the studio. The white duvet and slipcover are mine. I travel with that as well as several puppy towels and blankets so the boys can sleep with me and sit on the furniture without any of it getting covered in hair, or messed up by unexpected bile barfs. Cody and Tyler are really good boys, but occasionally even they get a little sick. Knowing that I bring my own main bedding and protective covers is reassuring for both the rental owners and myself.
The house was originally built in 1926, though I am sure it has seen some renovations since then. Ann, the very kind and friendly owner, has lived here for about twenty years. As you can see it has quite a vintage imprint, a type of building and style I had not lived in before. There are challenges of course, and I am learning that, although I like the vintage look, I prefer it when it comes with modern insulation and other conveniences. But the studio is quite charming, well appointed, and I feel safe and at home here, and so do the Boyz. And that is really important. As you can see below, the bathroom is small and the galley kitchen is tiny, but there is everything I could need. Behind that curtain in the sitting room there is a full-size refrigerator, with a freezer section that actually freezes. After five months of no kitchen, even a little kitchen is a blessing.
Like all the ones I have seen around the neighborhood, the garden is inevitably affected by the drought, but features mature trees and many shaded areas, birds I had not seen before, and a few extroverted squirrels that set my Boyz in a huff. In the summer, the almost daily presence of Karl the Fog helps keep things cooler and greener than in other places, though Ann, thought it best to take out the dead grass and cover the soil with mulch, at least for the time being. The property is completely fenced in, so Cody and Tyler are able to sniff about and gather dead leaves (their long hair is like velcro, just about anything sticks to it) as they please while being quite safe.
Today there is some major road work going on just outside the gate, so it is very noisy and smelly with asphalt. Otherwise the area is quiet both in noise and activity, while, at the same time, being just one short block from the main part of Carmel where all the shops and restaurants are. Usually I do not mind being out of town and having to drive in. But when I made plans to come to Carmel, I knew I really wanted to be able to leave my car parked and walk around the place. I found the perfect spot.
I still remember the first time I visited Carmel. I was one month short of eighteen, and an exchange student on my first trip to the United States. I had come from Italy with a suitcase filled with light summer clothes and sandals only to discover how cold this part of California can be because of the fog cycle. I have a photo of me on Carmel beach tightly holding onto a jacket in a futile attempt at keeping warm in the chilly wind. If you had told me then that I would now enjoy the cooler temperatures of Carmel I would have said you were bonkers. But years of constantly sweating in Hawai’i have satisfied my need for hot weather. Temperate is more my thing now. Besides, California has glorious winters.
I have already done a couple of walkabouts and taken lots of pics. More exploring and photographing is planned, of course. At first I was not sure how to structure the sharing of my experiences in Carmel. As I walked around on my first day, it became clear that the usual “hey, here is a great bakery”, or “these are the beautiful spots you should not miss’ style would not work so well, as everything tends to blend in with everything else. Maybe it is because, though I am not really on vacation, this feels like a vacation. It is an odd feeling, as I have not had a vacation in years.
Then inspiration hit, as it always does, and I thought I would share it with you the way I experience it: by and by, almost like a journal, but with lots of images as usual. The one thing I am unclear about at this time is the frequency of posts. One day of exploring and photographing equals about two days of editing and writing, and I am working on changing my routine and rhythm. Likely the post frequency will be up, but overall more unpredictable. Articles will be mainly focused on Carmel and the Monterey Peninsula, dotted with what I have collected in Napa and the Wine country. Please bear with me as I figure things out.
For those of you who love nature and the practice of Shinrin-Yoku, and have been enjoying my weekly invitations, I can tell you that the Monterey Peninsula is quite different in both natural milieu and energy from the San Francisco Bay area. I will share my discoveries as I go, and I am sure that new invitations will be inspired by the new environment. Also, I know it is not a forest, but the presence of the nearby ocean and powerful coastline will inevitably influence my experiences in nature and the invitations I will share with you. I hope you will enjoy it all.
On a more mundane level, I have already been to the local Whole Foods twice (a mere seven minutes by car), found a really cool pet food store that carries the raw food brand my Boyz eat, and I just made a hair appointment with a recommended stylist who even recognized my cell phone number’s area code as being from Hawai’i.
I have also met some really nice local people (as opposed to visitors), who have made recommendations and suggestions, and have started giving me a feel of what living in Carmel is like, both the good and the bad. I have already taken the pups on a walk around the big block, and ogled adorable cottages. I will walk around that same block again with my camera.
Oh, and I have already found one great patisserie just two blocks from where I am (good thing I walk a lot), and one good bakery on the other side of the highway, both French. Will share all, so expect lots of photo stories of this very special place.
If you would like to stay at the Studio at Mundor, you can find it on VRBO at this link.
Other chapters in The Carmel Journals you might enjoy:
And just beyond Carmel: