With things opening back up (finally) and spring in the air, Hubby and I decided to take a brief overnight trip up to Palm Springs. We’d heard about it, but really didn’t know what to expect. Turns out, it was Modernism Week–an 11-day festival dedicated to all things Mid-Century Modern, celebrating midcentury architecture, art, design, fashion, and culture. Despite many events being sold-out, I booked tickets to the art museum and an evening showing of independent filmmaker Eric Bricker’s documentary, ALUMINATION, a film about the history and culture of Airstream travel trailers. We took off early on a Sunday morning and headed north to CA-74 and the Palms to Pines Scenic Highway through the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto National Park area.
A bit of Palm Springs history: The Cahuilla people lived here first. They stayed in the lower elevations during the winter but moved up into the hills during the blistering summers. Eventually, inevitably, Spanish and Mexican explorers and Franciscans made their way to La Palma de la Mano de Dios (Palm of God’s Hand), as some called it.
In 1876, the Aqua Caliente (Hot Water) Reservation was established, which included downtown Palm Springs.
Hollywood discovered Palm Springs in the 1930s, and this is when the Mid-Century Modern aesthetic began to develop. Movie stars used Palm Springs as a getaway destination where they could escape publicity, gossip columnists, and photographers.
Midcentury Modern architecture of the type known as Desert Modernism developed here, and you can see this in the home styles with their sharp angles, minimalist lines, and lots of glass so that outside and inside became united rather than divided. If you visit, you can take a self-guided driving tour to see some of the examples of talented architects like Donald Wexler, William Krisel, and Albert Frey. We did not take advantage of this, but I hope to get back up there soon.
We arrived around 11 a.m. after a 2.5 hour drive up from San Diego on the scenic route that led up into the rock-strewn desert hills. We passed many horse paddocks, small town roadside restaurants, an olive business, a church here and there. Finally, we crested the hills and saw a flat, green oasis spreading in a valley surrounded by these mountains.
We wound our way through Palm Desert (where we would later spend the night) and drove into Palm Springs. Parking was free at the Palm Springs Art Museum, and we spent the next 2-3 hours enjoying the exhibits. Now, it’s been awhile since I’ve been able to indulge myself with a day in an art museum, and I felt quite giddy and energized immersing myself in the colors, patterns, and creativity. A giant prismic globe in the main lobby draws the visitor to peer into the reflective depths and marvel. How did the artist conceive of and build such a thing?
A remarkable exhibit of large-scale charcoal drawings by Robert Longo blew us away. Longo finds photographic images that speak to him and recreates them in charcoal. In doing so, he enlarges them, transforms them, and adjusts them to represent his vision and themes. Gigantic black and white charcoal drawings of the White House, the Capitol Building, the Supreme Court building look like blown-up photos until you get up close. Still, the detail was astonishing. Here is a link if you’d like to learn more https://www.psmuseum.org/art/exhibitions/robert-longo
Not far from the museum is the giant sculpture of Marilyn Monroe in her famous role as “The Girl” in The Seven Year Itch. The sculpture is made out of aluminum (of course) and steel and stands 26-feet tall. With her dress blowing up and panties showing, Marilyn’s image is iconic and also disturbing. I stood there gazing up and wondering how the real Marilyn would have felt knowing all these people were looking at her this way. I think she would have been embarrassed and humiliated. That being said, the sculpture somehow captures the essence of Palm Springs in its heyday, the midcentury space-age, technicolor, aluminum gleaming cool of post World War II.
After the museum, we ate a good lunch and had a couple drinks at Stout on Museum Way and then wandered around the shops. Many offered caftans, a ubiquitous Palm Springs fashion staple, and I had to restrain myself from buying one of the most gorgeous silk things. I’m sort of wishing I’d gone ahead and indulged. Can’t you see me, all decked out in a wild print, big dark glasses over my eyes, sipping a Mai Tai by the pool and listening to Frank Sinatra on vinyl?
After shopping, we went for drinks at a local hotel where a retro 1950s-1960s vocal group performed for a good two hours. Crowded, but fun, and I really enjoyed watching a gaggle of ladies who appeared to be in their well-preserved mid- to late-sixties who were really enjoying the performance: dancing, talking, laughing, and drinking. I hope I always have a group of friends who are up for a girls weekend away!
We then made our way to the theater attached to the museum to see the film, which was fascinating. I never knew Airstream owners had such a community or anything about the “caravan” trips they used to make. On one trip, they shipped their Airstreams to South Africa and “caravanned” all the way up to Cairo. Amazing.
This post is going on much too long. I wanted to put in many of the photos I took, but honestly, technology being a B, I’ve decided to post the photos on Instagram instead. I am not going to caption them, as I think you will know what you are looking at after reading this post. Click HERE to be taken to the Instagram post.
Getting out on the road again and exploring a new place invigorated me so much. It reminded me how every place–like every person–has a unique story to share. It reinforced my appreciation for art in all its forms–painting, drawing, sculpture, film, architecture, and fashion. I’m inspired to return to Palm Springs, take some of the architecture tours, stay in a boutique hotel with a Mid-Century Modern vibe, and maybe get that caftan. I’d like to immerse myself in it enough to be able to recreate the time period in a short story, perhaps, or maybe find a unique angle for a nonfiction article.
Meanwhile, I’ll be sending out a newsletter soon with news of upcoming publication of more flash fictions, interesting tidbits from my research into Portuguese-American history here in San Diego, my updated 2022 reading list, and more.
Thanks for stopping by. As always, your time and attention mean the world to me, and I hope you are inspired to venture forth in the coming months. Please drop a comment if you enjoyed this blog post and/or to share your own story of recent adventures. I love to hear from you. I comment back.