Who Was That Masked Man?

By Ernie Witham   |   November 12, 2020

I have a new respect for superheroes, bandits, and anyone else who wears a mask for a living.

A great feature of the Garden of the Flowing Fragrance are the sculptured limestone rocks throughout, including some towering ones that must have taken a busload of Chinese bodybuilders to move

For one thing, it’s not easy to smell things while wearing a mask, which is probably a good thing for those performing gastro-intestinal surgery. For the rest of us just trying to keep COVID-19 out, we miss our olfactory senses.

“You’ll notice hints of dark cherry and allspice on the nose,” the waitress in Los Angeles said of our wine choice.

“I can’t smell anything, but I do denote dampness.”

“That’s because you put your mask into the wine again,” Pat said.

Ordering food without smell has also become a problem. “Here you are. Enjoy.” I took my mask off to eat. My eyes watered. “Whoa! What the hell is that?”

“That’s the Lutefisk Salad with Anchovy Dressing. It’s the special of the day, though, so far, you are the only one who has ordered it. Can I bring you anything else?”

“Do you have Vicks VapoRub like coroners put under their noses on CSI shows?”

After barely surviving lunch, Pat and I continued on to the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, one of my favorite gardens in the world, along with Montecito’s world-renowned Lotusland, of course. Today we were here to visit the newly expanded Chinese Garden. Masks required at all times.

“This is the Garden of Flowering Fragrance,” Pat read from the brochure.

“If you say so. All I smell is the 27 peppermint Tic Tacs I ate to get rid of the Lutefisk taste.”

“I told you to always wear your reading glasses when you order food. I thought you would have learned after the Limburger and raw onion sandwich incident.”

Another not-so-great thing about masks is fogginess. “My sunglasses keep clouding up now that we are walking. Oomph.”

“I see – or not see – your point,” Pat said. “Interestingly, it says here the pavilion you just walked into is the Studio for Lodging the Mind.”

“I think I might have dislodged my mind.” I wiggled my teeth one-by-one under my mask and checked my nose for straightness.

Pat lovingly checked me for blood then continued: “The Studio For Lodging of the Mind will house art. That building behind it is the Jade Café. No doubt you’ll want to try some kind of eel entrée.”

The newly expanded Chinese Garden is amazing. Paths of intricately designed inlaid stones lead from one pavilion to another, with huge, beautifully pruned penjing (Chinese bonsai) in decorative pots everywhere. I found myself smiling with joy. Not that anyone noticed. People everywhere were taking photos of each other that they would have to try to identify later. “Is that Tommy?” Nope. “Frankie?” Nope. “Someone else’s kid?” Possibly. Guess that’s why superheroes have giant letters on their chests. 

Another great feature of Lui Fang Yuan (Garden of the Flowing Fragrance) are the sculptured limestone rocks throughout, including some towering ones that must have taken a busload of Chinese bodybuilders to move. For centuries these rocks with their strange shapes and holes throughout have adorned gardens in China. I had to wonder if there were any left there. 

One large expanse is the Court of Assembled Worthies and the Flowery Brush Library. It wasn’t open, but we peeked through the windows and saw that it was set up for calligraphers. “Can’t wait to try that. Can you imagine ‘Read Ernie’s World in the Montecito Journal’ written in flowing symbols on my mask?”

“Maybe start with something simpler,” Pat suggested. “Like ‘Caution.’” 

Without a doubt, my favorite part of the expanded Chinese Garden was the Verdant Microcosm, which includes the World in a Wine Pot and the Cloudy Forest Court with its white walls and artistic cutouts. That is where the largest collection of penjing is located. Although I couldn’t actually smell the potted pines, junipers, and elms my other senses were on overload. 

“Did you get enough photos?” Pat asked when we got back to the car.

I rubbed the sore spots behind my ears from the elastic bands. “Nope. Less than a thousand. One thing, though, all that walking made me hungry. Let’s find someplace interesting in Pasadena for a snack.”

“Okay. But I’m doing the ordering.” 


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