Watching BBC’s business wrap-up the other day, I heard the head of a discount airline say the gradual lifting of Covid restrictions in Europe allowed people to take the small vacations required to chase away the post-Christmas blues.
I had not realized how common was my own reaction to the end of the winter holidays. This year it seemed I had those blues worse than usual, and the daily work routine, which usually helps clear cobwebs of the mind, wasn’t helping.
But at last I got away for a brief trip to Paso Robles, in the central coast wine country of California. The pretext was to pick up some 200-year-old barn wood for ceiling beams, but wrapped around that errand was a couple good meals and consumption of local wine.
Given the blessing and curse of modern communication, while in my room at the Piccolo hotel, I was able to interview through Zoom a couple candidates for news reporting out of Scandinavia. Both were freelancers based in Copenhagen, and the freewheeling, lively and funny conversations in English reminded me of why I came within an impulse of moving over there — and leaving Courthouse News in its nearly bankrupt state at the time.
Even the apartment interiors seen through their computer cameras brought back the clean simple apartments in a city that lives in darkness for much of the winter. But it was the bargaining over pay, handled by our bureau chief, that struck me. The one candidate had checked with the journalists union on freelance pay and, as might be expected in Scandinavia, the suggested minimum was, by American standards, laughably high.
Even so we were able to reach a fair and reasonable compromise. But what made me smile was the fact that during the bargaining she told our bureau chief that she was at a dinner party.
And that is a central part of what I liked about that culture. Young people got together for sit-down dinner parties with multiple courses and plenty of wine and aquavit. And above all, lively conversation spoken, remarkably, in the Danes’ second language.
That evening in Paso Robles I had squid ink pasta and a bottle of local Grenache, which were both excellent, at a restaurant called Il Cortile. The waiter, however, was from Brooklyn. He kept up a frequent and loud patter with those on the patio, in the distinctive accent of his New York borough.
Definitely a presence, but also a good fellow, he said he had been waiting at the restaurant for 12 years. And I just imagined what an amazing contrast it must be to move from the crowded and vibrant surroundings of New York to the languid and almost bucolic rhythm of a small tourist town in Central California.
But it was on the way back that I realized the short trip had snapped me out of the post-holiday blues. We arrived at a small California state park beach just north of Santa Barbara. It was a fresh, sunny, sparkling day with the white-sand beach and blue ocean reached by walking under a tall train trestle.
A short pier at the north end of the beach was fully occupied — every spot on the railings on both sides of the pier taken up by roosting pelicans and ducks. Wide wing-spanned pelicans would cruise in and come to a near-stall as they hovered, wings and webbed feet comically flapping and bobbing, looking for a spot to land.
But I had arrived in the park’s mostly empty parking lot just in time to take a strategy call with our lawyers handling litigation against the state court administrator in Idaho where the state’s lawyers had filed a late and questionable sur-reply shortly before a hearing on dueling motions to dismiss and enjoin.
As the call ended, I described the beach where I was about to go swimming and said I would send them a picture.
“Please don’t,” said local counsel. “There’s still snow on the ground in Boise.”
The beach sand was smooth and fine, most of it in a ripple pattern from the wind, little disturbed by footprints from the maybe seven people relaxing or picnicking on the beach. I took a good swim in the clean, chilly ocean water. On the way back to the car, I stopped and took a picture and sent it to the lawyers at their computer screens.
“Had to do it,” I told them. “I love that little beach.”
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