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Jack Smith

Where eyes search for Clint, laws forbid parking shortly after sunset and a bridegroom does as he's told

August 12, 1986|JACK SMITH

We flew up to Monterey with the Committee of Professional Women for the Philharmonic a weekend ago for the 49th annual Bach Festival at Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Carmel is one of those naturally favored small towns, like Laguna, La Jolla, Solvang and Mendocino, that are kept as quaint as a fairy tale by hard-nosed ordinances.

Their permanent residents are constantly at war over whether to attract tourists or repel them.

Carmel was in the national eye recently when Clint Eastwood, the gimlet-eyed movie hero, ran for mayor and won.

He promised, among other good works, to eliminate an ordinance prohibiting the sale of ice cream cones on Carmel's main street, Ocean Avenue.

As we drifted up and down Ocean in the tourist swarm, I sensed that every other eye rested briefly on my face, then turned away. They were looking for Clint. Looking for Clint is the main occupation of tourists in Carmel.

"Clint's not an actor," a resident told me. "He's a presence."

His presence is felt. His hard eyes fix you from posters in shop windows. He nails you with his evangelical gaze from souvenir T-shirts. My favorite Clint Eastwood T-shirt, hanging in a window with several others, showed the new mayor in his cowboy hat, aiming an enormous revolver and saying: "I said curb that dog!" I was told that Eastwood's real reason for seeking the mayoralty was that he had been rebuked for years in his attempts to get his own property rezoned, and decided to work on it from the top.

Actually, for a small, tidy, law-abiding town like Carmel to have an avenger like Eastwood as mayor is overkill. But at least he has brought ice cream back.

We sat for half an hour on a bench in the lower tier of the three-tiered Carmel Plaza shopping center, but we never saw Clint.

Being used to the litter of Los Angeles, I noticed that Carmel was clean. In the plaza we found out why. A few bits of gum or cigarette tinfoil glittered on the brick floor near our bench. Before I could pick them up and put them in one of the plentiful trash barrels, a young woman came around with a dust pan and a broom and swept them up.

Our hotel, La Playa, was equidistant from the shopping district and the beach--a short walk either way. We walked along Scenic Road past bay-front homes that looked as if they had been built in the 1920s and had just sat there in their brilliant gardens of geraniums, marigolds, Shasta daisies, lilies of the Nile, coreopsis, hydrangeas, roses, petunias, nasturtiums and pansies, to name a few, appreciating through the years. They had names like Surf Song, Sea Gate, Low Tide, Whitecaps, Carmelot and Xanadu. Even the smallest of them, on 40-foot lots, must be worth $1 million today.

Carmel sits on a lovely small bay whose beach is the dazzling white of travel posters. The road above it is shaded by cypress trees and Monterey pines. It is aggressively posted with the kind of ordinances Carmel lives by.

"No sleeping in vehicles or on beach 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

"No alcohol allowed 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

"No fires above high tide at any time. No fires anywhere 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

"No parking 30 minutes after sunset to 5:30 a.m."

I tried to imagine young lovers parked above the sea and one cautioning the other, at exactly half an hour past sunset, "Well, luv, this is now against the law."

On our first evening we ate dinner in the hotel overlooking an enormous garden, patio and gazebo, where a party was rehearsing a wedding. It was easy to spot the bride's mother, who was very positive, and the bride, who kept overruling her. The bridegroom simply stood where he was told, in the gazebo, and I wondered if I should signal him that there was still time to back out.

We took a cab to the Sunset Cultural Center for the concert. The cab driver, whose name was James Brewer, was wearing a T-shirt that said, "Maglio mangiare vermi che guidare une motociclette Honda!"

He said it meant "I'd rather eat worms than drive a Honda motorcycle." This, he explained, was the motto of the Monterey Bay European Motorcycle Club, of which he was a loyal member. There are many cultural groups in Carmel.

The concert hall was a former school auditorium under a steep, beamed Gothic ceiling. The orchestra played pieces by C.P.E. Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn and Johann Sebastian Bach; it was a very pleasant concert indeed.

A woman sitting behind us told us that a bat used to reside somewhere in the auditorium, and that sometimes he would come out during performances and fly about.

"We called him Johann Sebastian Bat," she said.

During the concert I kept watching for Johann Sebastian Bat to make an appearance, but he never did.

It was kind of like watching for Clint.

The next evening we went to the hotel bar to have a glass of wine before dinner and looked down into the garden and saw that the wedding we had seen in rehearsal was taking place. Everyone was dressed. A string trio played Wagner's Wedding March. The bride wore an old-fashioned white lace gown with headdress and veil, and everything came off without a hitch, just as they had rehearsed it. The bridegroom stood where he had been told to stand and said what he had been told to say.

It was all very reassuring.

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