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A hometown guide

by Jan Wheatcroft

My friend, Susanna, came to visit with me for two weeks. She is Swedish from Upsalla and has visited me many times before. We met on the Greek Island of Skyros in the early ’90s and I found her an interesting and compassionate woman. 

I usually spend a few weeks with her and her partner each year. This was her year to come here. Her partner couldn’t make it this time so his prize was a Claremont Colleges sweatshirt, which he added to his collection. 

Since she has been here quite a few times before she didn’t need an introduction to our town. She already liked it and was familiar with the Village and the Colleges and knew and liked many of my friends. We arranged to travel north for a few days but spent much of the time following my daily persuits of art and exercise, before the trip and afterward. 

First I introduced her to Pilates. I go twice a week for stretches working on those muscles which would rather sleep and be lazy. I love the work on the Pilates machines and she had never done it so it was fun to show her something new. We spent an hour out at the Salt Oasis resting and breathing in the mineraled air from a room full of Himalayan salt blocks and crystals. Another new experience to share with a good friend. 

On the two Mondays she was here we went to my Stitch and Bitch group that meets for three hours every Monday night at the Square I Gallery on Harvard. It is an informal group that gathers together to work on individual projects, chat and be artistically stimulated in each others company. I have met so many interesting people there in the past months and visitors are welcomed. Susanna is an artist and so she worked with her pen and colored pencils happily drawing while others knitted, crocheted and sewed. 

We also visited various artists in the area at their homes.  It is always so nice to see where an artist works, how they have set up their workspace and the materials they use to produce their creations. It is a stimulant to anyone who is a producing artist. This is well testified to by the amount of magazines detailing where and how artists work, what they use and what they produce. I always have my favorite local Swedish artists who I enjoy visiting when I am in Sweden, and I enjoy both the familiar and the changes. So Susanna got to revisit a number of her favorites here. 

I also took her to the Petterson Museum at Pilgrim Place for an opening and talk about books and the making of artists’ books, which was very enjoyable. We went to a wonderful ceramic art exhibit at Scripps College. These were mostly things that I do regularly. She was happy to join me as well as to take off and explore on her own.

We drove up to Ojai for a two night stay and then on to Cambria where Kim, a friend of mine, has a lovely house with a sea view and a few beds. Ojai is a town I have spent time in over many years both for selling my art and for taking printing classes. The best part about this whole trip was the drive itself. 

So much rain has made the hills the brightest of greens.  I had never seen them like this before. So we took the back roads from Ojai to Santa Barbara and from Santa Barbara to the 101. All so that we could admire the great swaths of green that swept down the mountains, onto the hills and then held groves of dark green avocado trees and citrus trees heavy with orange fruits. In Ojai, we explored the center and ate extra delicious meals at night. In Cambria we spent time near the water, watching the elephant seals on the beach and down in Morro Bay, where the otters floated and rolled about in the harbor, many with babies.  The visits were interesting, relaxing and it was nice being with friends and sharing experiences.

Having company visit can be an eye-opening experience in relation to the life you lead. Susanna enjoyed participating in my life as I live it, doing what I do, seeing the places I spend my time, being with my friends and being involved in our local art scene. For her I think it was part vacation and also a time for relaxation and to find a new source of stimulation as well as being with me and celebrating a long time friendship. It gave me that as well— a chance to see my life through different eyes. 

As I showed off my home and my town, and we hung out with friends, I was able to gain a fresh view of my environment and my life. It is fun to share things you enjoy. It also made me realize that I like living here. I enjoy my house, the rhythm of my life, the people I “hang out” with,  and doing my art projects. We had a lot of rain while she was here, but in Sweden they had snow and ice. 

While I wore my old Ugg boots one morning (my winter attire) she wore her sandals.  The California winter affects us all differently.