Thursday, December 13, 2007

Her Odd-Toed Ungulate

U. S. Highway 101 spawns California Highway 1 up in the redwood forests by Leggett, and then the two roads have a semi-symbiotic relationship all the way to San Juan Capistrano. Highway 1 is the long coastal vein running off Highway 101's pulsating north-south artery.

Back in 1989, I flew up to San Francisco and spent a couple of weeks orchestrating an event for a major client. Instead of flying home, I decided to rent a car and drive back to Los Angeles via a laughably indirect and highly scenic route.

After meandering around Carmel for a couple of hours, I headed south on Highway 1. A rough mental calculus told me that Highway 1 stopped being worth the long serpentine poke after San Luis Obispo, so I picked up the 101 and headed south through the Santa Ynez Valley.

Just south of the go-nowhere town of Los Alamos, there was a signpost on the eastern side of the road: Rancho La Laguna. I was going too fast to read the rest, but as soon as I'd gone by it I had the oddest feeling that I should be able to place the name.

Three miles later, I snapped it. Edie Sedgwick grew up on Rancho La Laguna and its neighboring ranch Corral de Quati.

I don't wish to indulge in further Edie tautology here, but I will say that land like that could swallow even a strong person whole. Mile after mile of scrub-crusted hill, brown plain, dust that scratched your throat even with all the windows closed and the air conditioning on full blast. Land like that looked as if it could chew a girl up and spit out her silvery bones.

Which it did; Edie is buried up in Ballard, near Solvang. Near Solvang, with its Danish pastries, creamery butter, and hide-baking heat.

On a decorative and less morbid note, those of you who read Jean Stein and George Plimpton's excellent oral record, Edie: An American Biography may remember an old photo of Edie in arabesque on top of a leather rhino. The rhino, someone recalled, was an Abercrombie and Fitch status piece, the type of heavy, unnecessary item that the wealthy purchased to stock heavy, overstuffed residences.

Abercrombie and Fitch started life as a sporting goods-amenity retailer, before it was bought and sold and bought and sold again, finally roosting under the giant wing of Limited Brands. Limited Brands relaunched Abercrombie as an apparel line for the youth market, forgoing the store's past as a bastion of elite adventure pursuit.

Sedgwick's rhino is arguably the most memorable item from Abercrombie's original catalogue. The rhinos were not name-brand; they were manufactured in England by the small, family-run company Omersa.

The charming fellow above is member of Omersa's Out of Africa collection. He's six feet long, handmade in rural Leicestershire, and indeed one could imagine resting one's feet upon his back, if not performing an arabesque.

A rare and fabulous beast, and, like Edie, much prized for its horn.

Image: Edie: An American Biography
Link: Omersa leather Super King rhino, £1,600.00


susie_bubble said...

I really must read another Edie biography because the one I read seemed so cold and callous....

Suzanna Mars said...

Susie, I've only read the Stein, which had the benefit of so many voices.

Claire (Enchant and Doom) said...

What a lovely piece of writing. I'm going to add this particular Edie biography to my reading list.

Suzanna Mars said...

Thank you, Claire.

I've just assumed everyone was familiar with that book, forgetting that it was published 25 years ago. Unlike a strict biography, the use of oral history here gives a more varied viewpoint, with a good deal of inference to be drawn from one's knowledge of the speakers.

Bobble Bee said...

Have you seen Warhol's "Ciao Manhattan" ?
That's the best biography we can get... played by Edie herself.
Edie was one of those rare and special specimen life gives every once in a while!

Suzanna Mars said...

BB, yes, but I found it uncomfortable, with a foreshadowing of doom in the ragged, tired Edie who seemed two thousand years old.

Today I think it's best seen as a statement against drug use and the reckless squandering of beauty.

Bobble Bee said...

Really? i didn't have that experience with the movie though... i must say i felt in love with Edie when i saw the film because prior to that i found her image a little annoying. But of course here we have another example of how "personal" movies can be. Moral of the Story: don't trust critics and try things no matter what you hear! ;)

riz said...

I've had my reservations about seeing the film, and now I know why - You said:

"Today I think it's best seen as a statement against drug use and the reckless squandering of beauty."

What's with so many films' moral hand-wringing nowadays?! I mean look at Americna Gangster. WTF?! Can they please make him look like a *Gangster*!!

Suzanna Mars said...

Riz, that's my perspective, not some moral agenda contained in the film. I am quite a bit older than you and "did time," so to speak, in a similarly destructive artistic culture. Many of my friends overdosed, many still carry their monkeys on their backs. This is what I meant about "squandering," and this film is difficult for me to consider without seeing things I recognize.

Obviously, everyone's experience is different. We perceive art subjectively, as you know, based on our own experience, education, fears, limitations, hopes, what have you. Note difference between BB's opinion and mine.