Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Bonanza!

I visited the Mark Twain 'Museum' in Virginia City (which is in Nevada, not Virginia) a few months back. It is housed in the former offices of the Territorial Enterprise and the major drawing card is Mark Twain's original desk that miraculously survived the fire of 1875 that destroyed the offices of the Territorial Enterprise, where Twain worked as a reporter, and much of the town in the waning months of the decade long mania surrounding the discovery of the Comstock lode. Supposedly, when he was not meandering around the countryside, he had worked in the basement, so I was told by the kindly, red-haired lady that charged me the five-dollar admission fee and so, his desk was miraculously spared the depredations of the general blaze that took the three floors above. That the desk had been found and recovered from the charred rubble of the building. This immediately sounded a little suspicious to me and but then again, certainly in harmony with Twain's own talent for manufacturing serendipitous and miraculous circumstances in pursuit of readership and liquidity. So, whether or not the desk was in fact his original desk or one that the proprietors of the Emporioum on the floor above that was hawking candy and other tourist kitsch had picked up at a yard sale, I happily took my tourist pictures and bought my postcards, content in the knowledge that it was, if not his actual desk, a close facsimile and I had the same warm feeling about the portable toilet, regarding which a similar claim was made courtesy of a placard saying 'Mark Twain's ass was here' (though we are not similarly heir to its contents) and I assume they were not talking about his donkey.

Later in this same trip, on the way to visit a friend, I stopped a diner in Nevada City (which is in California, not Nevada). The diner was owned and operated by a French woman Genevieve and her husband Tom and as I read the history of the establishment printed on the back of the menu, I learned that her husband was a former aerospace engineer who had retired here to what has become something of a mecca for the heirs to 'the beat poets', and haunt of such epic poets as Gary Snyder and apparently Tom Cruise to open this aromatic establishment known as the Classic Cafe. Well it so happened that her husband (whom I had not recognized immediately from the picture on the menu which was of a much younger man) was sitting right next to me. (I had mistaken him for a general issue retiree killing time at the local diner). I explained to him that I was on the way to visit a friend in Grass Valley and that I had come out west to research a novel I had already written called 'monoville'. I thought he would be pleased that someone had taken such a lively, if overdue, literary interest in what essentially is an overlooked and ignored parched segment of the the Western Sierras,-- well let's not go into that. Anyway, he in particular seemed vaguely unhappy at this news.
"You guys come out here trying to make a buck off of our history and our stories." he admonished me scowling.

Well, since a buck was about all I had made to date of 'his history" I just nodded, and added "Hopefully".
This is the conundrum of California life, the vast and iconic scope of the landscape, the people and the history and the peculiar proprietariness of those people when they feel they have been cut out of the profits. I would very much like to write my next book set in that diner. As Spock would say 'Fascinating'
.





2 comments: