Text Carlo Mazzoni
The camera focuses on the hills of the Napa Valley. It is August, grapes hang on the vines, the sun kisses forearms resting on the rolled-down window of a SUV Chevrolet. Turning right off the main road, you climb up to Calistoga Ranch: a glass of white wine, mixed with the juice of a peach whose juice runs down your chin as you bite into it. The pool has salty water, there is a garden and an avenue lined with white crape myrtles. There is a chicken coop – the smell of dry hay, of animal feathers, of freshly laid eggs. At dawn, the air is cool, the outdoor fireplace on the wooden terrace – breakfast by the lakeside, a deer watches you suspiciously as you eat the abovementioned egg, benedict, with a blob of mustard on your tongue.
In Mendocino, the fire is still raging – the papers say it will take another three weeks to put it out. Entering San Francisco, the Golden Gate bridge is engulfed in smoke, and the smell of burning wood in your nostrils is like the ink on the pages of the local newspaper, the bay chronicle. You go up and then down amidst the foliage and trunks of Ficus Benjamin, the facades of Victorian houses that look like miniatures– and the smell of cane reminds you of chocolate. The light goes down from high up on Market Street, the diagonal that leads to the docks: the straight lines of the skyscrapers intersect better than those of New York – many are tapered, like the Transamerica pyramid. Behind Union Square, the Isaia boutique opened in the building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Every street corner has a Starbucks – their egg bites are even better than eggs benedict. Looking up, there is the glint of a sign, that of the Palace Hotel: the Palm Court is the hall where the four magnates used to talk business here, speculating on the construction of the railway. The Palace in San Francisco is a castle – between business and pleasure, perhaps the only one with an indoor pool, and spacious rooms like you would never expect in America. You can enter there also through Ghirardelli, amidst its counters of dark sour cherry chocolate, which you can still taste as you take the lift, and, slightly ahead, a letter box in gold plated brass. The august evenings are chilly – summer here in San Francisco comes in October – as you walk around Jackson Square as far as the William Stout bookshop. San Francisco is worth visiting just to spend an afternoon among the books in this place, the aesthetic of architecture that sums up a culture.
California State Route1 reopened one month ago, after over one year closed to traffic when a piece of mountain collapsed into the sea and cut it off halfway. Big Sur is the river that runs along the coast, seeking an outlet through in the mountain that forms a wall along the ocean. Big Sur is also the title of a book by an already famous Kerouac: a group of Beatniks experience a summer between Frisco and a seaside hut, together with an ass and plenty of booze – do not go to Big Sur without reading it, and not because the novel is of any value, but because a journey should take in the road, the souls that talk about this road and all its various scents. Post Ranch Inn is an estate on the edge, overhanging the Pacific Ocean – the triangular houses, again in Lloyd Wright style, have been built and suspended in the trees – in the evening the fire is lit, in the morning you find deers grazing and a blanket of clouds over the sea, and you could be on Mont Blanc or in a plane instead of in front of the sea. There is no light pollution here, the cities are far away – it is technically one of the best places for star gazing, and I can swear that I could never have imagined there were so many stars up there. Yes, sure, I know the stars are infinite, but I never imagined that infinite could be so.
Santa Barbara, Malibu, driving like Emma Stone in the film by Mendes – the orange ochre of the mountains, between the desert and still vertical rocks touch the Pacific – these twenty-seven miles before the intersection with Sunset Boulevard, where, in the same place, you find a nation’s GDP, hidden villas, Californication-style duplexes and Soho House – in the background, Los Angeles, the wheel of Santa Monica and Shutters on the Beach – a white villa that could be in Mustique. A mix of colonial and Texan style, the terrace on the first floor of Shutters overlooks the beach, the pool higher up – the parasols along the shore amidst people who stop time and press rewind to when everything was possible. In the evening before going out, the wooden floor of Shutters shines with freshly polished wax – and there is another scent here, the scent of cleanness, of polished wood mixed with the white flowers of the peony, the taste of English tea and a raspberry macaron – and this fragrance stays in your mind even a little later when you are in a room at the Chateaux Marmont, and you breathe in the dust that exists only in Hollywood, the humidity, the smell of floors, country walls, chlorinated swimming pool, the party of the night before which will be the party of tomorrow and even the day after.
From north to south, southern California in Mexico. The American faraglioni, a dolphin and whale fun park in Los Cabos. From the top floor of the Marquis you can look at the waves you are used to, they resemble Mediterranean waves – the sea is calm, you could even say soft. The Marquis is an extreme structure, like the whole area of Los Cabos, colonised by the American ruling class as a winter retreat. The Marquis is built on top of a vault that cuts it in half. When you arrive, the ocean wind almost lifts you up into the air. A play of stairs, between pools, waterfalls and optical illusions – the pools vanish into the ocean, each time with a different angle – an artwork of blue and golden sand. In the evening, the Japanese chef throws knives as he cooks on the grill. You go down to the beach, and the lifeguard, in a panic, tells you not to swim in the sea. You are confused – the sea is calm, with waves like those in Italy, and you curse these tequila-drinking Americans. Then you approach the water, and begin to understand that the waves seen close up are about one metres high, but that is not the problem. You see that the sea bed drops straight down, that the waves are walls of water that break on the top. When the undertow hits your legs, it’s like a thousand boxers’ fists dragging you away. Your feet sink into the sand, and you try to hang onto the wind, yet realise it is not a good idea.
You return to Italy a month later – to Rome, the old Etoile cinema for a film in images by Sam Mendes about the Louis Vuitton perfume. The lights go down, and you see the whole month-long trip to California, all of it in little more than one minute. There are the same dreams, all of the fragrances you experienced, playing with the air around you. You only have to open your hands to catch and capture them. There, in Rome, at the cinema, the lights go up again and dazzle you like the sunlight that filtered through the shutters in Deuville. The background chatter is that on the seafront on the French coast – Marcel raises his eyebrow– and you really haven’t understood yet, a holiday, a dream – not with your fingers, you can capture time only with a perfume.
The dream catcher.
By Jacques Cavallier Belletrud for Louis Vuitton Les Parfums
Peony and African cocoa flower – on a base of Turkish rose, with hints of ginger. The perfume seeks that euphoria that explodes when in California, at the Post Ranch Inn, your eyes widen before a shower of shooting stars.
2 New Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94105, USA
It is not on a height like some other hotels in the city, but it is smarter: from the Palace you have the shopping area, the most active district for work, interests and museums, at a walking distance – a recommendation, Jackson Square in ten minutes, leaving Chinatown aside. The Palace is a large building that represents the economic and strategic wealth of San Francisco: the opulence of the hall, the enormous spaces of the corridors, the high ceilings, the gilded details – all recall the set of a film you liked the other evening.
Los Angeles – Santa Monica
1 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90405, USA
A dream stay. Walk on the beach or see it running from Venice Beach, playing beach volley or with a kite. Shutters on the Beach looks like a private home in a world of giants. The aperitif on the terrace in front of the beach is what you will always long for. The large rooms and waxed floors that smell of freshness – and then that taste of fine coffee in the morning, hot and waiting on the mahogany table next to a bunch of fresh flowers. Private America in the centre of a metropolis on the beach.
A sort of American Versailles by the ocean, at the furthest point of southern California. From the terrace outside the room you can see dolphins jumping – the moon changes colour, the fireworks explode on the right. This resort has everything, just like Americans desire. It is a feast for the eyes, between swimming pools and mirrors of water, curved and sinuous like drops of glass, merging with the sea and blending in with the horizon. When it comes to luxury, for those who like it, the Americans know what they are doing and they do it here in Mexico.