Devils Without Conscience, Angels Unawares

When thinking about where I wanted to stay while in Solvang, there were really only two choices: The Mirabelle Inn or The Wine Valley Inn & Cottages. I've stayed at both in the past, but I opted for the latter because the former was booked solid.  This was not a lesser choice, I must add. It's a quaint, cheerful hotel and the staff are wonderful...

The Wine Valley Inn is arranged like a tiny Danish village, with rooms tucked in hidden staircases and under peaked rooves. Finding one's room isn't always easy, but it's fun. And don't expect porters; you have to carry your own luggage. There's a working clock tower, crooked chimneys, flower boxes full of Lobelia, marigolds, geraniums and violas, and patinaed copper rooves. I found my room in no time--past the outside fireplace, up the elevator, left, then left again, forward and up a short staircase, angle to the left, then right and up the two steps that comprise the front step with a Scandanavian railing, where a little floor-level cottage window sits beside a hidden door. Room 311.

The door of Room 311.
Mine was a Queen Suite with a fireplace and an open beam ceiling; it was perfect for my needs, and they had two bottles of local wines waiting for me. My only complaint was that the internet connection was so slow, it was really pointless to even try to do anything. "Oh well," thought I. "I'm not here to be on Facebook anyway. I'm going to go buy some picnic fare to eat while I'm writing tonight!"

Europe in California.
I walked around town a little bit (the hotel is on Copenhagen Drive, the main street, and is only a couple of blocks from the 'bustling' center of things).

Solvang is nothing like it was when I was growing up there. The buildings have gotten older and more authentically European, and the newer buildings have been built to further replicate a 19th-century Danish village. Flowers line the sidewalks and the aroma of pastries and cakes waft from the bakeries, many which I remembered from my childhood and which are now run by the grandchildren of people I went to school with. The newest additions to the town are the wine tasting rooms and wine bars that seem to be in every other storefront. The Santa Ynez Valley produces some of the best wines on earth, something we'd never dreamed of back in the 1950s and '60s. One of the best things is that the city has banned all franchises. You won't find a Ben & Jerrys, a Starbucks, or a McDonalds anywhere within the city limits; all businesses are locally owned and run.

The Spanish half-block of
Copenhagen Drive.
But Solvang has two faces architecturally speaking, and half of one side of the oldest block of Copenhagen Drive looks decidedly Spanish. That's because when Danish immigrants settled the Valley in 1911, they found the thriving Old Mission Santa Ines already in place on the Rancho San Carlos de Jonata Mexican land grant. Established a hundred years earlier in 1804 by a Franciscan priest named Father Estévan Tapis, Santa Ines was the third from the last of the Spanish missions built along the Camino Real.

Enough history.

I bought some cheese, Wasa, and fruit and went back to the hotel. Later, I went down to the nightly wine tasting and had a nice chat with the woman who was pouring. And I discovered the Valley's newest treasure, a dry rosé, which I loved. She told me it was sold in a certain wine tasting room on Copenhagen Drive; I made a mental note to stop in the next day.

1711 Laurel Drive.
The next morning I set out for a day of revisiting my childhood. I began, however, with a visit to the Toccata wine room where I bought a bottle of the 2009 Rosato, which I'd liked so much the night before. After that, I drove up the hill to the corner of Alisal and Laurel to find that the house I'd lived in from 1958 to 1961 was for sale and sat empty. It was strange parking in the drive, then walking through the gate, which still bears the latch my dad installed so many years ago. Stranger still was walking around the outside of the house and taking pictures of the empty rooms.

My childhood looking
back at me.
So much abuse had happened in that innocent-looking little house. For me it had been a literal House Of Incest, and I discovered that I'd left behind some of the most traumatic events of my life: sexual abuse, a bi-polar mother's physical and emotional abuse, cruelty at the hands of the kids at school, a nervous breakdown at the age of eight... all those ghosts lingered in those small rooms, but instead of being hurt further, I felt cleansed. It was good to return to the scene of the crime, so to speak, and I assured the memory of that little girl that she'd done alright. She'd come out of all that pain better for having endured and conquered it, and for having confronted it, better for having forgiven those who had doled out the abuse. I left feeling a lot of new-found respect for myself. I left feeling empowered, and I left feeling compassion for those who had hurt me, because each and every one of them had helped me invent the person I am today. They had each only been functioning through their own pain, after all, and it wan't my place to hold grudges. I even entertained the fantasy of buying the house and living there. Of course, that wasn't possible, but as I got in my car and drove away, I kind of wished I could.

Our pastures, now vineyards.
On then to happier memories! I went out to the ranch on Adobe Canyon Road (now Fredensborg Canyon Road), where I'd spent the happiest years of my childhood and had made lifelong friends with the Harris kids, the family of the pastor of our church back then. What great memories! The hills were yellow--the perfect kind of dried grass that made for sliding on pieces of cardboard and corrugated tin on late summer afternoons. My favorite oak tree is still there on our hill. In fact, not much has changed except for how the land is used these days. What were once pastures for the cattle are now vineyards. I have no problem with that. I'd rather drink wine than eat meat anyway! I visited other places then, our neighborhood in Santa Ynez where I spent my teen years learning to write music, and I visited the high school.

The gardens of Mission Santa Ines.
Heading back to Solvang, I decided to pay a visit to the Old Mission, a place I loved when I was a child. I wasn't raised a Catholic, but the mission had provided me with much-needed sanctuary from the painful existence my childhood was. I used to go after school to pray, and to talk with Father John, a kindly Franciscan priest who I now figure couldn't have been any older than about 25 at the time. He was so understanding and compassionate. I hope, if he's still alive, he knows the blessing he was to a little red-haired girl during a time when life wasn't very nice to her.

My favorite place to pray
when I was a child.
Besides a tiny interior chapel that is dedicated to female saints, where I knelt praying for my life to turn out okay, my favorite place was the gardens that are protected from the world by adobe walls and the mission itself. That afternoon I sat beneath a pepper tree for a long time, listening to the fountain and thinking about all I'd experienced in only a few hours. I was understandably tired, both mentally and emotionally, so I went to a sidewalk cafe for lunch, then back to my hotel for a nap. That evening I had plans to meet up with author Jayne Martin, which you can read about here.

Next: Carole's serene ashram in the center of busy Ventura.