I am writing this Christmas letter late and with some amount of ambivalence (much as I imagine you might be reading it), mostly because at this point in the year everything that could have been deemed vaguely interesting about my life has already been plastered on social media, leaving little point to this endeavor except, well, it’s tradition. And, after all, it’s the time of year for traditions, not to mention the fact that I’m holed up in the resident’s lounge of a pub in the Lake District where it’s pouring outside and the bridge to Ambleside has likely been washed out for the night, which means we can’t go see the film we thought we might and so I may as well as try to entertain myself, and hopefully you, with an attempt at the traditional Christmas letter.
|The best pub in Britain, mostly because they still sell Scampi Fries|
The year was marked by Big Family Occasions, namely my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, which we celebrated in Coronado, and my sister’s wedding and adoption of her daughter on the same day in March. D. and I have taken to the roles of aunt and uncle like ducks to water, not least because my niece is, in a word, marvelous. We’ve had several visits with her over the course of the year, most recently when we hosted Thanksgiving at our house and she proved the Pacific Ocean in November is nothing to fear.
|My sister and her daughter masquerading as 2 specks in twilight near Ventura Pier|
Over the summer we moved (again). We sold our house in Santa Monica and moved up the coast to Ventura, news that seems to universally leave people, to put it charitably, confused. I’m not sure if this is because Santa Monica has achieved some kind of mythical status in the popular psyche leaving people to wonder why we would ever leave such an Eden, or if Ventura has achieved such dubious status as to leave people wondering why we would go there. If it’s the former, I might suggest that you haven’t been to Santa Monica lately and therefore wouldn’t know that Eden is no longer navigable by car (and only by bike at high risk to your life). Or perhaps you currently live there and are therefore invested in maintaining the Eden perception (with all due respect, I only suggest this possibility because I lived it). With regard to the latter, it’s possible you’ve heard the epithet of Ventucky in reference to my new home, which I suspect has been devised by local residents to deter an influx of outsiders. Mostly, though, Angelenos don’t seem to know much about Ventura—including me until I considered moving there—having only driven by it on the 101 on the way to somewhere else like Santa Barbara. If you, too, fall into this category, consider that you now have a reason to stop.
Our own epiphany came after having spent most weekends of 2013 and early 2014 in Ojai—an amazing small town that, judging by the travel press, seems to be having its own moment in the Zeitgeist—and deciding that this might be an indicator we should move there. After assorted real estate fits and starts, and ultimately deterred by the prospect of 100+ degree weather in Ojai in the summer, we were wooed the 13 miles down the mountain to Ventura by a view of the Channel Islands and a sleepy-beach-city-vibe that feels a lot like Santa Monica about 20 years ago when *gasp* I first moved to Los Angeles.
|Serra Cross Park, named for Father Juniper Serra, founder of the San Buenaventura Mission|
In the six months we’ve been in Ventura there have been lots of exciting discoveries for us newcomers, not least of which is the city’s burgeoning art scene. My surprise at this fact revealed my possession of the worst kind of urbanite snobbery, the disbelief that anything of cultural significance could exist outside my insular city world. It was a lesson I had learned once before moving from London to the Cotswolds, and yet I fell prey again to the thinking that art was the provenance of certain zip codes. Also, did I mention the Mexican food? There is a street in Ventura called The Avenue where you will find chile verde as spiritual experience. I have made it my mission to consume the establishments of The Avenue in whole, like a burrito, over the coming months.
Another revelation of the move has been access to central California, namely the parts of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties that were just a little too far out of reach for a weekend away when we lived in Los Angeles. Our favorite discovery has been the wine/wild west town of Los Alamos, which gave D. license to buy (and wear) a cowboy hat while riding an actual horse around the vineyards. His love affair with California has been reignited.
|The whole family saddles up for a ride on the range|
In 2014, I spent far too little time writing in favor of the work-that-pays-you-money-kind-of-work. I did manage a few things, including my first-ever print magazine feature for our local edition of Edible and an essay about healthcare in America which will appear in The Rumpus in the coming weeks. I am particularly proud of the latter, which is called Big Pharma Is Trying to Date Me and Other Quirks of Being Sick in America, both because the subject matter is important and an outlet I respect *self-consciously guffaws that Cheryl Strayed and Roxane Gay and Steve Almond have written or currently write for it!* is going to publish it. I will, of course, post on social media when it’s up and hope you’ll stop by and read it.
Until then, wishing you and yours the very merriest of Christmases and a Happy New Year!