Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Following Steinbeck

I have been thinking about John Steinbeck on this trip.

We visited Salinas valley where he grew up, Pacific Grove where he lived and Monterrey the setting for some of his writings.  Now we are on the Sea of Cortez which he also visited and wrote three books about.

There was also the couple we met in the California Redwoods who like Steinbeck's Joad family in Grapes of Wrath had traveled from Oklahoma to California.  Like us they were journeying by bike but in a much different manner.  They described themselves as bike touring "hillbillies."  They lacked proper panniers using an assortment of plastic bags instead.  The husband pulled a child's bike trailer which held their dog and various other possessions.  It seemed very much a self-propelled version of the Joad family's vehicle.

We met them in a state park but it seemed they often camped where ever they found themselves at night. 

They invited us for tea in the morning and he launched into a long somewhat delusional, somewhat profound discourse on his philosophy of life.  It was a strange mix of conspiracy theories, universalism, christian dispensationism and rastafari.  He is ex-military and did time in Iraq. 

Perhaps this family had been displaced not by dust bowls and economic depression but the psychological effects of imperial military adventures and neo-con policies.

In our travels we have also encountered signs of economic migrants.  But instead of moving from east to west they are moving south to north. 

Unfortunately they are not always being shown the compassion that Steinbeck evoked for the migrants in Grapes of Wrath or the Indígena in The Pearl.  This is evident in the fear-mongering towards Mexicans we encounter in the U.S. media and personal conversations as well as the infrastructure we saw along the border.  There was an almost endless stream of border patrol paddy wagons on the rural highways of San Diego county.  And military-like check points well north of the border.

In Baja we have encountered many gringos who have moved here for all or part of the year.  Immigration in the other direction is much more complicated.

I have also been reflecting on the importance Steinbeck placed on science.  Both through the character "Doc" in Cannery Row  and his real life experience exploring the Sea of Cortez.

This connection with science is celebrated in many plaques, banners and other text around Cannery Row and the Aquarium in Monterrey.

We were reading this information only a few days after the US had elected what is probably the most anti-science congress in its history.

Steinbeck's writings might be more relevant than ever.

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