Sunday, July 3, 2011

San Juan Batista, CA

Yesterday we went to the 200 year old San Juan Batista Mission, the 15th of 21 Missions built along the California coast and a personal favorite destination of mine. With its antique stores, neat rows of tiny Spanish-style houses and the near constant crowing of roosters, I don't understand why everyone doesn't see the charm in this little town. Besides the Mission, the only thing that seems to keep the town on the map at all is a biker bar that on this day had at least 50 bikes parked out front with a few leathery men and their old ladies milling about.

My relatives were hard-pressed to understand why I'd want to go to the Mission but luckily Jacob and Vaughn were excited to get swept up in Mission enthusiasm. On the way down we spotted a man walking along the highway carrying his own replica of a life-size cross over his shoulder. He wasn't really close to the Mission so it was possible he was either heading home for the day or maybe making the full 21 Mission tour.

I did remember touring the Mission in elementary school and apparently Missions are drilled into California kids in the same way Oregon kids start to loathe Lewis and Clarke; a visit to the San Juan Batista Mission being a required field trip in fourth grade. In the gift shop a man said to Vaughn, “You must be in fourth grade.” “Why yes!” I replied, “How did you know?” to which he drolly replied, “Because I see about 500 of them a day.”

Today, however, it was mostly just us. The rooms were a little smaller than I remembered and the few artifacts that were labeled were pretty hard to read as they were written in fading cursive. I will say that while it is a little heavy on the grinding stone and hand forged nail side, there are also fantastically creepy Catholic relics like the porcelain statue of a little girl stepping on skull. Even more macabre is the tiny graveyard adjacent to the Mission that holds the bodies of 4,300 settlers and natives (who, according to the Mission pamphlet, were “so friendly” that they helped bust out a good chunk of Mission building by Christmas of that first year). The Mission is built adjacent to the San Andres fault line and I remembered that you could look out onto the fields to the West and actually see a fissure in the earth but gave up on trying to locate it because my traveling companions were losing interest.

We made our way over to the barns past a small camp of history re-enactors lazily chatting amongst themselves under the the shade of their lean-to tents. As we got to the barn that held all the old wagons, a state park employee cheerfully called out, “Would you like to hear some history?” Oh boy did we! This was exactly how I imagined the natural ease of home-schooling would fall into place! Out of the classroom and into the magic of the real world. I have to say, Vaughn was a real sport. He put on the heavy leather vest she gave him to wear while she explained the whole history of the Spanish attempts to “not colonize – populate” California. This probably took three times as long since I made an earnest attempt to get down all the facts I obviously didn't learn in fourth grade. He was so polite that I was disappointed to hear Vaughn whisper as we walked away, “That was interesting?” Jacob gently reminded me that this was probably like any number of the tourist destinations that parents drag their kids to and are shocked that they don't find it as interesting as they do. I got that, but this wasn't Fisherman's Wharf (or really any of the tourist spots in San Francisco), this was the freakin' San Juan Batista Mission! Nonetheless, I had to concede that we had been there an hour and so we passed on looking at the old hotel and fire trucks and headed on to Santa Cruz. (July 2,2011)

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