Travels with Penelope

Travel, Food, Wine, Spirituality and Everything Else

Tag: Penelope Shackelford

February 24, 2014 Virtual Reality

“What is important is not liberation from the body, but liberation from the mind. We are not entangled in our own body but entangled in our own mind.”  Thomas Merton

By taking a look at the role of context and place in personal history I had grown to understand my feelings of deep connection to Southern California. Initially, I tried to analyze them and got “entangled” in my own mind, but as I let go into the sights, smells and physical experiences a shift occurred. I felt connected and it was ok. On one of my visits to the Yucatan a Mayan elder told me that if we do not know our root we do not know ourselves. With this view in mind I decided to take the process of understanding my connection a bit further by paying a visit to some of the sites where I grew up.

My first stop was the former home of my grandparents in Costa Mesa. Originally, called Goat Hill the town is situated on a mesa overlooking the Pacific mid-way along the OC coastline.  The small home had been built in the mid forties by my uncle after he convinced his parents to abandon their home in Pennsylvania for the more temperate climate of SoCal. I had visited the same site several times through old family photographs, but this time I would revisit it in the real world.

When I arrived to my surprise no changes or renovations had been made to the house. It looked the same as it did the first time I saw it after a three and a half day train ride from Pittsburgh. The trees and bushes had grown, otherwise everything looked as I remembered.  A simple white stucco house, the only thing that gave it any character was the arch over the front porch now hidden by a cypress.


Sitting in the car, grateful to be alone I took a silent, mental walk through and around the house. Grandma bathed in flour up to her elbows baking her weekly allotment of bread, Grandpa sitting in his rocker pipe in hand, reciting Irish yarns were first among the long forgotten images that began to emerge. I remembered the taste of All-Bran because Grandma ate it every morning for breakfast as I would when I visited. I saw my mother and her brothers sitting in front of the fireplace on winter evenings holding political arguments about the decisions of the current president.

I wondered around to the backyard where Grandpa built a chicken coop. I saw him catching chickens gory details aside, for Christmas dinners. I saw the lone citrus tree next to the chicken coop that provided us with orange juice all winter. Looking down the road I saw the neighbor who always wore levis and a straw hat. He paid me to gather duck eggs along the small duck pond when he was away. I looked in the other direction and remembered the local ranch market where we bought groceries.

The telescopic, thought-full scenes and images tweaked from ancient memories comforted me. From now to long past, they seemed grounded in the physical locus before me.

As I sat there an interesting thing began to happen. Memories of images sparked by the site of the old homestead, coalesced. I felt a part of a life that at one time had been real no longer existed except as feelings inside me. With that, the simple house seemed to move far away. Not literally, but inside me. The interior of the house as I had been picturing it, including the arrangement of furniture no longer existed. Strangers to whom I had no connection lived there. What I noted when I first approached the house was their large SUV parked in front. Coming full circle, the SUV once again took hold of my attention.

What I had envisioned became  in the course of an instant a simulation. I floundered a bit. Where was I? Here and now, present to the present I told myself, with simulations flipping through my consciousness like a Rolodex. The memories had been comforting, but the telescopic view from now to past while grounded in the physical had turned virtual. Had what I had seen really happened? Of course, but now through the lens of distance, it felt like a simulation.

I became curious, really curious about virtual reality. What is it and does it have any relevance for me? I turned on my Prius motor and drove away from the home that held so many precious memories and headed straight for one of my favorite writing venues. Portola Coffee Lab is also in Costa Mesa. Once there, “entangled in the mind,” I opened my Mac and began to search through web pages for definitions of virtual reality.

February 18, 2014 The Pueblo of the Queen of Angels III

From the window of the apartment in which I am staying I see rose ribbons streaming across the early morning sky portending another sunny day in the city of angels. Yesterday from the same window I watched flocks of wild, lime green parrots hopping from one  tree to another while jet-black crows toned throaty mantras. Forested yards and tall mansions block my view of the San Gabriel’s, but I sense their presence

A friend called and asked if LA was really my favorite city?


Reflecting on the same question I realized that it is not La La Land or Tinsel Town that command my attention. It is the nature of the land as in the morning scene outside the window that draws me.

I grew up in Southern California; its geographical forms, flora and fauna created the trail markers of my childhood. Forever etched in my consciousness:  the color of the sun light as it climbs up the gentle slopes of the coastal ranges, the luminescent images created by its descent behind Catalina Island, the crunch of sand massaging my feet when I pad along sea weed littered beaches, trellised bougainvillea and honey suckled fences and one of my favorites, the palm tree. Not  the tall fan from Mexico or Canary Island date, but the indigenous California fan that can be found through out the landscape. Both are such a metaphor not only for me personally, but for so much of the history and ecological development of SoCal.

A Brief History of Palm Trees in Southern California | LA as Subject


In 1952 Simon Weil commented that human beings cannot get enough of place. “To be rooted is the most important and least understood need of the human soul.”  Having a sense of the three dimensional world and signposts has even less place in our virtual worlds than in Weil’s time. How I have a sense of rootedness every time I visit Southern California.

A faithful reader requested my favorite sites, specifically tourist sites. That’s a hard one. The city of LA alone is 469 square miles, the Metropolitan area approximately 4,000. Plus, I never think of myself as a tourist so much as a sojourner.  I put on my virtual thinking cap and tried to slide into imagination, instead I went down memory lane.

I haven’t been to Universal Studios a go-to for out-of-towners, in years. The first time in 1965 was as the guest of the Public Relations Director. I was teaching a third grade in a school in Fullerton, a city in Orange County. The same Director’s children attended the school and as a gift to the faculty he invited us for a personal tour and lunch in the actor’s commissary. Our visit antedated the time when sets were specifically set up for tourists.

As we shuttled around Robert Goulet spotted us Although he did not have as much critical acclaim that he would have later especially after Beetlejuice, I recognized him. He walked over to us, we must have looked like a flock of penguins, and introduced himself. He told me he had a relative who was a nun, I believe it was his sister, and had to talk with us. We had a short, but great visit.

Moving to the next set Jerry Lewis approached us. During the course of an extended conversation he told us that he was Jewish, his wife Catholic. As such, he raised the first child, a son in the Judaic tradition; the second child, his wife raised Catholic. Such an amenable solution to mixed marriages as they were called back in the day.

The other famous person we met that day was Mia Farrow. This was prior to her marriage to Woody Allen. She was riding along one of the alleys in a jeep with her director. They stopped to greet us. After all a flock of penguins in the studios was a highly unusual site.

I engineered a second and last trip to Universal for my son in the early eighties. A bus tour took us through sets from famous flicks; hanging out and having lunch in the actor’s commissary a thing of the past.

In the present, downtown is not to be missed. Five years ago it was a repellant trash site. Now, it is one of the hottest renovation projects in California. Old buildings are being restored not torn down. Museums, markets, and quality restaurants have become magnets for Angelino’s, let alone tourists.

I had two visitors, one from New Zealand, one from Japan that I took to the new LA Chapter restaurant in the newly renovated Ace Hotel on Broadway between 8th and 9th for Sunday brunch. The food proved to be a winner!

I recommend the following for a short history, particularly for film buffs:

Los Angeles | Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles | Boutique Hotel

It is mid February, the temperature in LA has been in the high seventies; on the east coast low dips, ice, snow and freezing temps. It’s no wonder that there are nearly 40,000,000 people in the state. In the OC city of Irvine alone 40,000 new living units are under construction to meet the continuing growth.

I thought that the III post on the Pueblo of the Queen would be sufficient. I was wrong. Another will follow.