Thursday, July 15, 2021

Steinbeck lore, legend live on in Monterey and in Salinas Center celebrating the author's life

Cannery Row lives on in Monterey, with upscale shops, eateries. 
The fish canning industry flourished from the early 1900s to 1973. 




THE STORIES of writer John Steinbeck tell of man's struggles and search for justice. The American Dream is just out of reach for his downtrodden,  repressed characters.
Steinbeck was a Californian -- born in Salinas in 1902 -- also lived in Monterey.  
He experienced life in both of these contrasting towns -- the farming based Salinas, where his dad was an expert gardener, and the artsy Monterey, with which his bookish mother more identified.
John Steinbeck's hometown
celebrates his life in a multi-
million dollar museum.
--photo courtesy NPR
The two cities are in many ways the Athens and Sparta of this part of central California. Monterey boasts lavish ocean-front property, boutiques, pricey hotels and B&Bs. The inland Salinas Valley is known as "The Salad Bowl of the World" for its quality produce: lettuce, broccoli, mushrooms, strawberries and more. 
STEINBECK WAS drawn to the rough and tumble times and characters he observed during the fish canning industry's heyday. He was a keen observer, fascinated by the colorful but turbulent life on the waterfront. His passion for this part of the state -- and for travel -- lives on in a center memorializing him, his work, his ideals and characters. Prostitutes, fishermen, cooks, shop keepers, denizens of an often dirty life inhabit his prose. My 1982 visit was for the world premiere of "Cannery Row," a movie starring Nick Nolte and Debra Winger. It is based on the Steinbeck novel published in 1945 when the author was living with his second wife and son Thom in Monterey.
Nick Nolte in 1982.
He turned 81 in February
Debra Winger and Nick Nolte
star in "Cannery Row."

--photo courtesy MGM
Salinas, in Central California, feeds the nation with its
rich variety of farm produce from fertile valleys.

We walked down the hill he strolled to downtown Alvarado Street, reminiscing about my visit, chatting with a shopkeeper who said Steinbeck returned several times to his stomping grounds, and connected with California throughout his life.  He studied at Stanford University and was a tour guide in Lake Tahoe before his work won acclaim and a Nobel Prize. Six years after the Nobel honor, he died in 1968 in New York City, not his native state.
IN 1982, NOLTE was 41 and 28 years away from quitting cigarettes. But he was trying. During a round table interview, he needed a smoke and said, "Whoever gets me a pack of Marlboros aces a one-on-one." I jumped up, headed for the hotel lobby, slipped a $5 bill into the machine and bought two packs. Cigarettes were 60 cents a pack. I was so excited, I left the change.
The National Steinbeck Center in Salinas pays tribute to
a native son who won fame and in 1962, a Nobel Prize

It was a great interview and I sent him a note when he finally kicked the habit in 2010 -- using electronic cigarettes. The film's focus is the decline of the fish canning industry, set during the Great Depression. It is based on a pair of Steinbeck novels ("Cannery Row" and "Sweet Thursday.") The last cannery closed in 1973, nine years before the film, which ranks as a sentimental favorite of mine. I love my back story, the whimsical characters and cinematography by Swedish born Sven Nykvist. BTW, Winger plays Nolte's love interest, and David S. Ward made his directorial debut.
FANS OF STEINBECK know his familiar themes:  the pursuit of  the American Dream, the need for compassion, the importance of unification, the mass hardship and suffering in life. We visited his museum, with its grand National Steinbeck Exhibition Hall, taking a pleasant journey through the author's "Valley of the World."    

Salinas is known for its vibrant agriculture.
While  not as "artsy" as its neighbor Monterey,
it boasts galleries which struggled during Covid. 
The lore of the sardine canning period lives
on, here in a boat by a brewery in Monterey.
  The exhibit offers a unique slant on Steinbeck -- organized geographically, so we visited locations in which he lived, traveled to, and wrote about. Each location features information, details and displays, including theatrical sets and "scenes" from the author's life. We watched films, listened to sound clips and viewed artifacts about Steinbeck's life and writings. The Packard Foundation, which funded the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, also endowed the Steinbeck museum. Its mission is to encourage his goals: to participate, to inspire, to educate, and to understand one another. It opened in 1998, 30 years after the author's death, in his hometown of Salinas. It pays homage to his 1962 Nobel Prize, awarded for his "realistic and imaginative writings, combining sympathetic humor and keen social perception."

Malta's history and culture and Mediterranean warmth
are attracting visitors again, as Covid numbers shrink.
UP NEXT: The world is opening up as Covid shows signs of being controlled, if not conquered.  From Peru to Poland, Kenya to Croatia, travel is opening up again. It's critical to research your destination for each country has its rules and regulations and there are stiff fines -- even jailing -- if protocol is not observed and followed.  We take you to the best and safest spots, with caution and care, but the knowledge that our world is once again opening and welcoming the traveler. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, nature, the arts, family and more:


  1. San Francisco TravelersJuly 16, 2021 at 5:59 AM

    Wonderful overview! Love the photos, too.

  2. Los Angeles RoadiesJuly 18, 2021 at 8:01 AM

    What a fun, lively story. So nice you keep such notes on your travels. We love Monterey.