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- The Californiacs - 1/4 -
By Inez Haynes Irwin
California, which produces the maximum of scenery and the minimum of weather; California, which grows the biggest men, trees, vegetables and fleas in the world, and the most beautiful women, babies, flowers and fruits; California, which, on the side, delivers a yearly crop of athletes, boxers, tennis players, swimmers, runners and a yearly crop of geniuses, painters, sculptors, architects, authors, musicians, actors, producers and photographers; California, where every business man writes novels, or plays, or poetry, or all three; California, which has spawned the Coppa, Carmel and San Quentin schools of literature; California, where all the ex-pugs become statesmen and all the ex-cons become literateurs; California, the home of the movie, the Spanish mission, the golden poppy, the militant labor leader, the turkey-trot, the grizzly-bear, the bunny-hug, progressive politics and most American slang; California, which can at a moment's notice produce an earthquake, a volcano, a geyser; California, where the spring comes in the fall and the fall comes in the summer and the summer comes in the winter and the winter never comes at all; California, where everybody is born beautiful and nobody grows old - that California is populated mainly with Californiacs.
California, I repeat, is populated mainly with Californiacs; but the Californiacs are by no means confined to California. They have, indeed, wandered far afield. New York, for instance, has a colony so large that the average New Yorker is well acquainted with the symptoms of California. The Californiac is unable to talk about anything but California, except when he interrupts himself to knock every other place on the face of the earth. He looks with pity on anybody born outside of California and he believes that no one who has ever seen California willingly lives elsewhere. He himself often lives elsewhere, but he never admits that it is from choice. He refers to California always as "God's country", and if you permit him to start his God's country line of talk, it is all up with intelligent conversation for the rest of the day. He will discourse on California scenery, climate, crops, athletes, women, art-sense, etc., ad libitum, ad infinitum and ad nauseum. He is a walking compendium of those Who's Whosers who were born in California. He can reel off statistics which flatter California, not by the yard, but by the mile. And although he is proud enough of the ease and abundance with which things grow in California, he is even more proud of the size to which they attain. Gibes do not stop the Californiac, nor jeers give him pause. He believes that he was appointed to talk about California. And Heaven knows, he does. He has plenty of sense of humor otherwise, but mention California and it is as though he were conducting a revival meeting.
Once a party which included a Californiac were taking an evening stroll. Presently a huge full moon cut loose from the horizon and began a tour of the sky. Admiring comments were made. "I suppose you have them bigger in California," a young woman observed slyly to the Californiac. He did not smile; he only looked serious. Again, a Californiac mentioned to me that he had married an eastern woman. "Any eastern woman who marries a Californian," I observed in the spirit of badinage, "really takes a very great risk. Her husband must always be comparing her with the beautiful women of his native state." "Yes," he answered, "I've often said to my wife, 'Lucy, you're a very pretty woman, but you ought to see some of our San Francisco girls.'" "I hope," I replied, "that she boxed your ears." He did not smile; he only looked pained. Once only have I seen the Californiac silenced. A dinner party which included a globe-trotter, were listening to a victim of an advanced stage of Californoia. He had just disposed of the East, South and Middle West with a few caustic phrases and had started on his favorite subject. "You are certainly a wonderful people," the globe-trotter said, when he had finished. "Every large city in Europe has a colony of Californians, all rooting for California as hard as they can, and all living as far away as they can possibly get."
Myself, Californoia did not bother me for a long time after I first went to California. I am not only accustomed to an offensive insular patriotism on the part of my countrymen, but, in addition, all my life I have had to apologize to them for being a New Englander. The statement that I was brought up in Boston always produces a sad silence in my listeners, and a long look of pity. Soft-hearted strangers do their best to conceal their tears, but they rarely succeed. I have reached the point now, however, where I no longer apologize for being a Bostonian; I proffer no explanations. I make the damaging admission the instant I meet people and leave the matter of further recognition to them. If they choose to consider that Boston bringing-up a social bar sinister, so be it. I have discovered recently that the fact that I happened to be born in Rio Janeiro offers some amelioration. But nothing can entirely remove the handicap. So, I reiterate, indurated as I am to pity, the contemptuous attitude of the average Californiac did not at first annoy me. But after a while even I, calloused New Englander that I am, began to resent it.
This, for instance, may happen to you at any time in California - it is the Californiac's way of paying the greatest tribute he knows:
"Do you know," somebody says, "I should never guess that you were an Eastener. You're quite like one of us - cordial and simple and natural."
"But-but," you say, trying to collect your wits against this left-handed compliment, "I don't think I differ from the average Easterner."
"Oh, yes, you do. You don't notice it yourself, of course. But I give you my word, nobody will ever suspect that you are an Easterner unless you tell it yourself. They really won't."
"But-but," you say, beginning to come back, "I have no objection whatever to being known as an Easterner."
That holds her for a moment. And while she is casting about for phrases with which to meet this extraordinary condition, you rally gallantly. "In fact, I am Proud of being an Easterner."
That ends the conversation.
Or somebody in a group asks you what part of the East you're from.
"New York," perhaps you reply.
"New York. My husband came from New York," she goes on. "He was brought up there. But he's lived in California for twenty years. He got the idea a few years ago that he wanted to go back East. I said to him, 'All right, we'll go back and visit for a while and see how you like it.' One month was enough for him. The people there are so cold and formal and conventional, and then, my dear, your climate!"
"Yes," another takes it up. "When I was in the East, a friend invited me out to his place in the country. He wanted me to see his pine grove. My dears, if you could have seen those little sticks of trees."
"I went to New York once," a third chimes in. "I never could get accustomed to carrying an ice umbrella - I couldn't close it when I got home. I'd come to stay for a month but I left in a week.
And so it goes. No feeling on anybody's part of your sense of outrage. In fact, Californiacs always use the word eastern in your presence as a synonym for cold, conventional, dull, stupid, humorless.
Sometimes it actually casts a blight - this Californoia - on those who come to live in California. I remember saying once to a young man - just in passing and merely to make conversation: "Are you a native son?"
His face at once grew very serious. "No," he admitted reluctantly. "You see, it was my misfortune to be born in Iowa, but I came out here to college. After I'd graduated I made up my mind to go into business here. And now I feel that all my interests are in California. Of course it isn't quite the same as being born here. But sometimes I feel as though I really were a native son. Everybody is so kind. They do everything in their power to make you forget -"
"Good heavens," I interrupted, "are you apologizing to me for being born in Iowa? I've never been in Iowa, but nothing could convince me that it isn't just as good a place as any other place, including California. The trouble with you is that you've let these Californiacs buffalo you. What you want to do is to throw out your chest and insist that God made Iowa first and the rest of the world out of the leavings."
If you mention the eastern winter to a Californiac, he tells you with great particularity of the dreadful storms he encountered there. Nothing whatever about the beauty of the snow. To a Californiac, snow and ice are more to be dreaded than hell-fire and brimstone. If you mention the eastern summer, he refers in scathing terms to the puny trees we produce, the inadequate fruits and vegetables. Nothing at all about their delicious flavor. To a Californiac, beauty is measured only by size. Nothing that England or France has to offer makes any impression on the Californiac because it's different from California. As for the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome, he simply never sees it. The Netherlands are dismissed with one adjective - flat. For a country to be flat is, in the opinion of the Californiac, to relinquish its final claim to beauty. A Californiac once made the statement to me that Californians considered themselves a little better than the rest of the country. I considered that the prize Californiacism until I heard the following from a woman-Californiac in Europe: "I saw nothing in all Italy," she said, "to compare with the Italian quarter of San Francisco."
Now I am by no means a rabid New Englander. I love the New England scene and I have the feeling for it that we all have for the place in which we played as children. Most New Englanders have a kind of temperamental shyness. They are still like the English from whom they are descended. It is difficult for them to talk about the things on which they feel most deeply. The typical New Englander would discuss his native place with no more ease than he would discuss his father and mother. In California I often had the impulse to break through that inhibiting silence - to talk about Massachusetts; the lovely, tender, tamed, domesticated country; its rolling, softly-contoured, maternal-looking hills; its forests like great green cathedral chapels; its broad, placid rivers, its little turbulent ones; its springs and runnels and waterfalls and rivulets all silver-shining and silver-sounding; the myriads of lakes and countless ponds that make the world look as though the blue sky had broken and fallen in pieces over the landscape; the spring when first the arbutus comes up pink and delicate through the snow and later the fields begin to glimmer with the white of white violets, to flash with the purple of purple ones, and the children hang May baskets at your door; the summer when the fields are buried knee-deep under a white drift of daisies or sealed by the gold planes of buttercups, and the old lichened stone walls are smothered in blackberry vines; the autumn with the goldenrod and blue asters; the woods like conflagrations burning gold and orange, flaming crimson and scarlet; and especially that fifth season, the Indian summer, when the vistas are tunnels of blue haze and the air tastes of honey and wine; then winter and the first snow (does anybody, brought up in snow country, ever outgrow the thrill of the first fluttering flakes?) the marvel of the
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