Such treats I have had! (Such places I’ve been!)
A wonderful Thanksgiving with friends: candles, sheets of paper taped against the blinding sun in the direction of the sea, reggae and upbeat world beat, photos of their walk up Machu Picchu in the early fall, the New Mexican feast (red-chile-rubbed turkey with cornbread-chorizo stuffing; red chile gravy with sage; cranberry, fig, and pistachio relish with spices and a soupçon of red chile; green chile spinach casserole with cheddar; and New Mexican Gruet champagne, from the winery below Sandia Peak, the watermelon-shaped or -colored mountain with the tram—which I have ridden only once, that with my Spanish class in highschool when we went on to the zoo and I took black and white photos of zebras in the also stripy shade and then we had an Indonesian meal with unfamiliar condiments, exotic in memory too).
Then up to Sonoma, a favorite sleepy town among the vineyards, now discovered. A perfect lunch, sitting at a sunny little table on the square outside the wine shop—a bowl of spicy black bean soup (black bean with seven spices and whipped goat cheese) and simple salad, tender lettuces and big curls of carrot with lemon vinaigrette; local cheeses (one a heavenly smoked mozzarella) and a glass of wine, some pomegranate-marinated eggplant to scoop up with toasted bread. And after, deciding to save our visit to the mission for the next day, prowling through a used bookstore with good mystery and history sections and a good selection of cards, and a fun shop with inspired desktop Christmas trees and French linens I’d fill my villa with if only I had one.
And then! Arriving at the Mission Inn (and Spa), just up the country road at Boyes Hot Springs, we felt immediately well and happy, as if entering a place outside the world. As soon as we drove in we said “I never want to leave!” Somehow the grounds just radiated their nature as a sacred healing ground—making you think of mountain sanatoriums (in The Magic Mountain, or Heaven Has No Favorites), and reminding me too of favorite campuses, sanctuaries of learning.
Gorgeous dappled sunlight poured in through the windows of our spacious room, lighting a blaze of Japanese maples and silvery olives. A stretch of time, hours of well-being. A headboard painted with a Tuscan country scene. A wholesome, delicious room-service menu: foods healthy for every possible diet or preference. We finally decided on grilled salmon on greens, braised chicken with spinach and wild mushrooms, and an artichoke with hummus.
The next morning I splurged on lemon & cottage cheese pancakes, and then—oh luxury!—still further, on an herbal wrap with deep heat (chamomile, calendula, lavender, and saffron) and heavenly foot massage—talk about never wanting to leave. I carried away the fragrance of the herbs in my skin, deeper than skin-deep.
The drive back through the vineyards, past the stand where I once used to buy cherry cider, led to a further gracious night in San Francisco, grilled fish and potatoes, brussels sprouts sauteed with ginger and black mustard seed, and then an orchestral treat for the ears (after all of that pampering of all my other senses) with double basses, double choirs, and excellent English baritone.
image: Christie B. Cochrell, Outside the Sonoma Mission