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North America » United States » California » Monterey
September 10th 2011
Published: July 15th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

Grapes of WrathGrapes of WrathGrapes of Wrath

Exhibit on the Grapes of Wrath at the Steinbeck Center
I started today at the Steinbeck Center in Salinas.

Salinas itself is the hub of the Salinas Valley.

John Steinbeck wrote novels based on the lives of migrant workers in the valley, and became famous.

Like most high school students, I had to read the Grapes of Wrath, which I hated.

Later in life I discovered his non-fiction work like Travels With Charlie.

I enjoyed this book a great deal, and it partly inspired my own road trip.


John Steinbeck





The center exhibits describe each of Steinbeck’s most important novels.

They way he worked was to observe and participate in events around Salinas, and then turn them into a fictional story.

The displays describe the reality of each scenario, and show how that reality was reflected in each novel.




The first part of the center covers Steinbeck’s early years.

He was born in Salinas in 1902.

He loved to read, and wrote stories from an early age.

Formal schooling was another matter.

He described this in his journal as feeling like a horror show.

Most of his practical learning came from books.

The center has part of his boyhood book
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The camper John Steinbeck used to take the trip documented in Travels With Charlie
collection.




After graduating high school, he went to Stanford.

He liked it about as much as his earlier schooling, and dropped out.

He attended classes on and off for five years.

In between these stints, he got jobs working in the Salinas Valley.

He worked as a chemist at the Spreckels Sugar Company, testing sugar extracted from beets for a while, and later became a supervisor on various produce farms.

He learned Spanish during this period.




The conditions Steinbeck witnessed had a profound effect on him.

Then as now, field hands worked in appalling conditions, and the jobs paid poorly.

He started writing magazine articles about what he witnessed in the fields.

None of them did well.

Then he witnessed an agricultural strike in 1932.

He decided the scope was too large to capture in an article, so he turned it into the basis of a novel.

It became the centerpiece of Cain and Abel, a sprawling book about growing up on a ranch in the valley.

A publisher bought the novel, but it did not sell well.

He
AwardsAwardsAwards

Some of the awards John Steinbeck won for his writing. The Nobel Prize is on the left
followed that up with another novel that got a mixed response, Of Mice and Men.

This part of the exhibit documents the reality of working in the Salinas Valley at the time, and compares it to what happens in the novel.




Steinbeck followed that book with Tortilla Flat.

This book contained a series of interconnected short stories set in a fictional version of Monterrey.

The characters are exaggerated versions of people Steinbeck knew in real life from Salinas.

The most famous section of the book is the frog hunt, which the exhibit illustrates.

Published in 1936, the book became a best seller.

Steinbeck finally got sufficient income from his writing.




When the Depression hit, poor migrants came to California from throughout the Great Plains looking for work.

California still had agriculture jobs.

Most ended up living in shantytowns.

Life was very difficult .

The exhibit documents this with a model living quarters and many old photographs.

One section lists the hard choices new immigrants had to make, and asks visitors to choose between them.




John Steinbeck worked as an
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Exhibit on Spanish conquest at the Pacific House museum
organizer in a migrant worker camp in Arvin California during these years, and observed the conditions first hand.

He turned this experience into the Grapes of Wrath.

The book became an immediate hit.

It sold well throughout the country, and won the Pulitzer Prize.

Steinbeck was now famous.

The display points out the book has never gone out of print.




In the Salinas Valley, however, he became an immediate villain.

People accused him of bringing scorn from across the country to his home town.

Many called the book obscene due to its gruesomely detailed descriptions, and tried to ban it.

One M. V. Hartranft went so far as to publish a point by point rebuttal, The Grapes of Gladness.

On the first page, it talks about how new immigrants should be glad to be in Salinas due to all the economic activity their work generates.

Of course, none of those immigrants could afford to buy a copy




Steinbeck followed the Grapes of Wrath with Cannery Row.

At the time he was living in Pacific Grove, and spent much time on the Monterrey docks.

At the time the
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Sea otter pelt at the Pacific House Museum. Visitors can feel its incredible softness for themselves
city was the center of a vigorous sardine fishing industry.

Steinbeck was friends with a marine biologist in town, Ed Rickets.

He wrote vivid descriptions of the characters he met on the docks in the novel.




When World War II broke out, Steinbeck became a war journalist.

Long before the term existed, he became an embedded correspondent in Europe.

He fought with regular soldiers on the front lines, returned enemy fire, and otherwise put his life at risk.

He earned people’s trust with those actions, which was reflected in his stories.

During the war he wrote a novel about a town taken over by Nazis that later rebels, The Moon is Down.

In America, people criticized it for depicting the enemy as human beings.

In Europe, so many resistance fighters read it for inspiration that the Nazis issued an order to execute anyone caught with a copy.




After the war, Steinbeck turned to non-fiction works.

The most famous book from this period is Travels With Charlie.

Steinbeck drove a three month road trip around the United States with his dog in 1959.

The exhibit
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The Monterey custom's house, the oldest government building in California
claims that few people he encountered recognized him.

I read this book as inspiration for my own trip.

The display has a map of his route, with illustrations of what he encountered.

It also has the vehicle he used, a camper on the back of a pickup truck.




The final section of the museum covers the awards Steinbeck received for his novels, principally the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.

A number of people complained that stories about poor workers in Depression era America were not worthy of such a high honor.

John Steinbeck was so insulted by this criticism that he never wrote another book.

The display tries to counteract this with a display on the relevance of Steinbeck’s work in the modern era, beyond torturing high school students in English class (as Steinbeck himself was once tortured, oh the irony!)


Monterrey State Historic Park





After the Steinbeck Center, I drove to Monterrey.

The road goes through rolling hills.

It passes the famous Laguna Seca race track, although I did not see anything beyond the sign.

Once downtown, the area became a sea
Custom's house interiorCustom's house interiorCustom's house interior

Interior of the Monterey custom's house, restored to its appearence in the early 1800s.
of traffic filled narrow roads surrounded by picturesque buildings.

I found parking in a garage near the waterfront.




The waterfront holds a number of old buildings now collected as Monterrey State Historic Park.

The most important is the Pacific House; built as a courthouse, it now holds a museum on the town.

The building has wooden balconies over whitewashed walls, reminiscent of the last town I visited founded by the Spanish, St. Augustine in Florida .




Monterrey was founded by Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino in 1602.

He was looking for a safe harbor on the route between Mexico and the Philippines, and Monterrey Bay provided what he needed.

He did not discover the much larger harbor further north at San Francisco.

This makes the city one of the oldest in California.

The area remained little more than a fort until 1770, when the town became the capitol of the Mexican province of Alta California.

During this period, the settlement was very isolated from those further south, so the soldiers and missionaries who lived here were pretty much on their own.




Settlers, now called Californicos,
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Monterey's famous Cannery Row, once large sardine canneries and now a tourist trap
started to trickle in from what is now Mexico.

They set up huge cattle ranches on the surrounding hills.

Production of beef and leather became the primary industry.

The town became a trading port.

The area survived on supplying cow hide for the next fifty years.




This museum has much more detail about this period than the Oakland Museum of California.

Spain built a worldwide empire in the 1600s, of which California was only a tiny part.

Some of the motivation was economic, but religion also played a huge role.

Spanish soldiers viewed themselves as modern crusaders, saving souls by converting natives to Catholicism.

God, gold, and glory” motivated Spanish conquest.




After Mexican independence, the government dissolved the missions, and gave the land to settlers.

More Californicos arrived.

The first Americans also arrived, at first mainly to trade.

American fishermen appeared off the coast, and discovered something they liked, the California sea otter.

This mammal has incredibly rich fur, which had huge demand at the time.

The kelp beds around Monterrey Bay were filled with them.

Fishermen proceeded to drive the
Monterey Bay tankMonterey Bay tankMonterey Bay tank

Kelp forest in a recreation of Monterey Bay, Monterey Bay aquarium
otter to near extinction.




In 1836, settlers in Monterrey rebelled against Mexican rule.

They called themselves the “California Republic” and designed a flag with a grizzly bear on it.

Although they reaccepted Mexican rule a few days later, their flag ultimately became the California state flag.




The next section covers the Mexican-American War.

It presents the war as blatant American imperialism.

Many Americans at the time believed in “manifest destiny”, that the United States had the moral duty to settle to the Pacific Ocean.

Practically speaking, it meant that the United States should formally acquire all parts of the continent that had large numbers of American settlers, including California.

According to this display, President James Polk fully believed in this policy and would do anything needed to carry it out.

When Texas, a nominally independent republic that was still claimed by Mexico, asked to join the United States in 1845, Polk had the pretext he needed to go to war and seize the territory he wanted.

The US Navy under John Sloat proceeded to conquer Monterrey without firing a shot.

The Mexican government formally ceded the territory of California in the Treaty
Open seasOpen seasOpen seas

A tiny portion of the open seas tank at the Monterey Bay aquarium
of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1849.




Soon after the formal transfer, people rushed to California to mine for gold.

Monterrey became an entrance port and supply center, although it soon lost this role to San Francisco.

The area gained population so fast that the new arrivals completely overwhelmed the existing government.

State leaders called for a Constitutional Convention in Monterrey the same year.

California was admitted to the United States a year later.

Immediately afterward, the capitol moved to San Jose.




After the government left, Monterrey turned to fishing.

The bay supported a huge sardine population.

Dozens of canneries lined the waterfront, an area now known as Cannery Row, which Steinbeck featured in his novel of the same name.

Heavy overfishing caused the sardine population to collapse in the mid 1940s, and the canning business died soon afterward.

Since then, the town has become a huge tourist magnet based on its history.




Near the museum sits the oldest government building in Monterrey, the customs house.

It was built by the Spanish in 1814 and expanded by Mexican officials in 1827.

These
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A young great white shark at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
days it is restored to the era.

The building itself is a long single story adobe, with a two story wing at the end.

Inside it contains a large central room filled with bags and barrels.

These represent the typical trade goods of the era, nearly all agricultural products of one form or another.

A Mexican flag hangs from the rafters.

The two story section holds an apartment where the customs officers lived.

The first floor holds an office while the second holds simple bedrooms.




The flagpole outside this building supposedly sits on the location where the Bear Flag Republic supporters raised their flag in 1836.

These days it proudly flies the stars and stripes, along with the state flag of California.




These days, Cannery Row has become a huge tourist trap.

The old factory buildings still exist, but they are now filled with restaurants and gift shops.

They still look atmospheric, with old signs on the walls.

Plaques outside each building show what used to be where.

The area is really only worthwhile due to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium on the west end.

It’s
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The magical sight of backlit jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
routinely ranked as one of the best in the world.

The aquarium has a very high admission price, but it’s worth it for the quality of the exhibits.


Monterrey Bay Aquarium





The first big exhibit is on Monterrey Bay.

A huge tank holds a kelp forest with a wide variety of sea life.

The bay is one of the most biologically rich areas in California.

The tank holds clams, crabs, starfish, anemones, big schools of fish, and much else.

Signs around the tank point out the various animals, which can be hard to spot without aid.




A smaller area nearby displays a tide pool.

These rock depressions are underwater at high tide and become pools at low.

They hold a large array of life, including starfish, sand dollars, and snails.

Water periodically pours into the pool to simulate ocean waves.

A Plexiglas tunnel runs under the water, which people love watching.




The Bay exhibit lies next to an open deck overlooking the actual bay.

After looking at the exhibit, people can compare it to the real thing.

Unfortunately, the
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Sea otters in a restful moment
only thing visible from above the water is the abundant kelp.

I still loved having the ability to compare the two.




The bay exhibit sits next to the popular octopus exhibit.

One of the octopi on display used to be huge; sadly, it died a year ago and the staff replaced it with a much smaller one.

The largest of the octopi was squashed directly against the tank wall, which made it hard to photograph.




Another popular exhibit holds sea otters.

These mammals live in kelp beds in the bay, which they eat.

Sea otters have the densest fur of any mammal, almost one million hairs per square inch.

Unfortunately, that made them a popular pelt in the 1800s, and fishermen hunted them almost to extinction.

Scientists believed they had, in fact, been exterminated until they found a colony of fifty animals deep in an isolated part of the Big Sur coast in the 1938.

The aquarium now nurses injured otters back to health.

They are delightful to watch, diving through the water.




The other big tank at the aquarium is
Sardine ovensSardine ovensSardine ovens

The only restored sardine cooking ovens on Cannery Row, at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
the open ocean tank.

It replicates the environment outside the bay.

Unlike the bay tank, it holds no plants whatsoever.

Instead, it has a huge amount of fish of all kinds.

A huge school of little fish swims along the bottom, nearly covering the entire floor, sardines.

The tank has three hammerhead sharks, which periodically swim through the sardines.

When they do, the smaller fish separate like Moses parting the Red Sea.

Aquarium staff call the hammerheads “lawnmower sharks” due to this effect.

Near the top swims a long fast blue and white fish, tunas.

The middle features a huge fish that looks like the pisces version of road kill, the Mola Mola.

It may be the ugliest fish in the world.




This tank also contains one of the aquariums big visitor draws, a great white shark.

The shark is young, so it is much smaller than the version so familiar from Hollywood disaster films.

It’s also mostly grey.

The shark is only white on the bottom.

The other fish mostly ignored it.




The open ocean tank sits next to the jellyfish exhibit.

This room has
California sealsCalifornia sealsCalifornia seals

California seals near the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Look closely to spot the dozens on shore
a series of narrow tanks holding jellyfish species of all kinds.

The narrow width ensures they are on full display.

The first tank has natural lighting.

The jellyfish are nearly invisible, because they are translucent.

Prey can’t see them floating in the ocean, and blunder into their poisonous tentacles.

The rest of the tanks are backlit with neon lights, which make the jellyfish glow like the sea from Pandora in Avatar.

They come in all sizes, from barely visible to inches across.

Lit like this, they look ethereal and beautiful.

Of course, they are also deadly, which the exhibit writeup takes pains to point out.




The jellyfish area borders another visitors’ favorite, the sea horse exhibit.

This set of tanks contains every sea horse species in the world, floating in recreations of a coral reef.

The strangest member of the group has to be the Sea Dragon from Indonesia, which looks exactly like a floating kelp plant.

I thought at first it was one, until it moved!

Signs describe the sea horse life cycle.

The species is unique in the animal kingdom in that the
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Lover's Point outside downtown Monterey
female passes unfertilized eggs to the male, which fertilizes and incubates them.




Unfortunately, all sea horse species are highly endangered.

People in many tropical countries catch them, dry them out, and sell them as exotic decorations.

Such trade is illegal worldwide at this point, but it still persists.

Some species may go extinct in the wild within fifty years.




The final exhibit I saw at the aquarium is completely different to the rest.

The aquarium is located in a former sardine cannery, and has the only display on the business on Cannery Row.

Workers sorted the sardines and cleaned them by hand.

The meat was then placed in huge vats for cooking.

A row of the ovens has been restored, which look like coal furnaces from a distance.

The temperature and pressure of the vats must fall within a precise range to cook the fish properly.

Workers had the unenviable job of constantly monitoring and adjusting them.

When the meat was fully cooked, it was split into cans.

The cans were then cooked again to pasteurize the contents.

Finally, the
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The Pacific crashes into rocks at the tip of Lover's Point
labels were applied and out they went.




Few people know that the aquarium sits near one of the largest colonies of California seals in Monterrey.

A bike path starts at the aquarium and heads west along the ocean cliffs.

It soon passes a marine research station run by Stanford University.

The beach beyond it, which is fenced off, contains over two dozen seals.

Most of them were sleeping on the sand, although some swam in the water.

They range in color from black to light grey.


Lovers Point





Visitors to the Monterrey peninsula invariably hear about the Lone Cyprus, a single cypress tree on a cliff pictured on many souvenirs.

The tree exists on a private toll road through Pebble Beach south of Monterrey.

The drive is beautiful, but most locals don’t bother.

When they want pretty ocean views, they head to Lovers Point.

While some secret trysts probably do occur here, the name actually comes from a Methodist religious camp that was here in the late 1800s when it was called ‘Lovers of Jesus Point’.




Lovers Point itself is
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A single cypress tree at Lover's Point
a thin rocky peninsula sticking into Monterrey Bay.

It has fantastic views of the entire bay.

Those who can rock scramble can walk all the way to the end of the point to see waves crashing into cracks in the rocks.

These are dramatic.

Behind the point lies a city park, with some cypress trees every bit as picturesque as the Lone Cypress.

Next to this is a city beach, which looks a little forlorn surrounded by concrete sea walls.




I had dinner tonight at a restaurant in Pacific Grove called ‘International Cruisine’.

It has dishes from around Europe, split on the menu by country.

I ate Italian for dinner and Greek for desert.

The food is descent and they are open late, always a plus for me.

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