Fall Back; Travel Forward

By Leslie Westbrook   |   October 25, 2022
The Pan American Unity mural by Diego Rivera is currently at the SFMOMA

I rarely travel in the summer: too many tourists and, as the summer of 2022 proved, oodles of delayed flights, piles of lost luggage, and cases of COVID contracted. Plenty of friends can vouch for these annoyances, including Rachel Kaganoff Stern and her sister Tessa Kaganoff, who were separated from their luggage in London for days during the great Heathrow luggage debacle and Lisa Blades, who contracted a mean case of COVID on a LAX-Dublin-Paris flight in August, thus ruining a long-anticipated summer holiday with her Cal Berkeley daughter Isa Johanson and friends. I’m certain many of you reading this can share your own recent travel horror stories.

Then there is the soaring cost of travel. Airfares have skyrocketed, but those who travel on miles (which I often do) can still find good deals… if you don’t mind traveling 30 hours to get to your destination. Many imperfect hotel rooms range from $600 to $2,500 a night… that can include noisy neighbors, weird design, sound pollution, and more. Hotel prices are another indication of the high cost of being a travel nomad. Our very own Motel 6 in Santa Barbara was featured in the Wall Street Journal with weekend rates of $450 per night. Remember why it was founded and called Motel 6? The 52-room hotel first opened in Santa Barbara offering a “good night’s sleep” for the low, low price of just $6.00 in 1962. Today’s equivalent would be about $60. Good luck with that!

Still, there are deals to be found (see my next Travel Buzz column where I discovered a great four-course chef’s menu for $25 in the heart of Healdsburg in Sonoma County wine country). I suppose this is why Airbnb and VRBO have become such huge successes. You can get a lot more bang for your buck, and while you won’t have room service or nightly turn down with a chocolate, you can cook for yourself or call Uber Eats or the likes.

Diego Rivera Mural at SFMOMA

When summer turned to fall just recently, I was more than ready to pack my suitcase for a sweet little jaunt to San Francisco and Sonoma County. An easy-breezy 10:45 am Saturday morning United Airlines flight (that actually took off a little early and got in early) from Santa Barbara Airport to SFO. I was at the SF Museum of Modern Art in time for lunch – a terrific and filling chicken tortilla soup with posole created to accompany the terrific Diego Rivera exhibition I was super anxious to see. The exhibition features 150 of his paintings, frescoes, and drawings from the 1920s-1940s and is the most in-depth examination in twenty years. However, the highlight for me was the incredible 1940 “Pan American Unity” mural (full name The Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and of the South on This Continent), a 22-ton masterpieceon loan from City College of San Francisco and meeting Will Maynez, the Diego Rivera mural historian and keeper of the flame who stands guard and enlightens visitors to this free part of the exhibition with fascinating historic details. Maynez has served as a steward and historian of Rivera’s Pan American Unity mural at City College of San Francisco (CCSF) for more than 22 years. Trained as a painter, he managed CCSF’s physics labs for 33 years. 

The show runs through January 3, 2023, and since the mural will probably be in storage for some years until a new theater arts building is completed for its return to and re-installment at the community college campus, you might want to catch this free showing. 

Icing on the cake? On the occasion of Diego Rivera’s birthday, the articulate Señor Maynez will be performing in his two-person play Frida Interview: March 1941. The playwright takes on the role of the interviewee of Frida Kahlo which will be performed by Jean Franco (an hombre), who is flying in from Mexico for the December 8, 6 pm performance at SFMOMA. Visit sfmoma.org for more information. 

Ubiquitous Sound Pollution 

Is it just me or is anyone else annoyed by the sounds of unwanted music wafting into their personal space? Why do so many hotels think that when I go to swim and lounge by a pool I want to listen to techno or rock? What ever happened to the sweet sounds of birds and/or the wind rustling leaves in the air? I feel the same about spa music. New Age music doesn’t do it for me – I find it distracting and prefer the sounds of silence or nature. 

Then there are those sneaky little speakers in the garden, almost as bad as garden gnomes (at least they are silent, God forbid someone gets creative and makes a talking garden gnome to go next to the singing salmon). I recently found what I thought was a quiet hotel garden in Healdsburg for a Zoom board meeting call – low and behold, a silent spot was not to be found, despite a lovely fountain’s soothing sounds, due to a multitude of hidden speakers in the foliage!

I suppose the idea of “music” in public began when Muzak or elevator music was introduced to society in 1934, as a means to uplift shoppers’ spirits. I believe that loud rock music in restaurants is more for the workers, chef, and kitchen staff, than for diners. Maybe it makes people eat faster so they turn more tables?

I asked a few travel writer colleagues and a hotelier friend their take on the matter. 

Melissa Curtin McDavitt, who pens LaLa Scoop, rang in about a recent trip to Tulum in the Yucatan region of Mexico. “Some music at the hotel’s beach area really turns me off, especially if it’s too loud. It would make me not want to stay at a hotel. Thankfully, we were at two quiet hotel properties, NEST Tulum and Nômade, where they played really nice chill relaxing music to match the setting.” She noted that she’s so affected by sound that it could completely alter her experience, adding that “another hotel’s music down the beach made me want to run, run, run!”

Kristen Gill, a fellow freelance travel writer based out of La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico noted that noise is part of the culture. “I live in Mexico… where quiet is just not a thing. Speakers everywhere, from restaurants to pools and even to secluded beaches. Whoever brings the loudest speaker wins!”

I also asked Montecito artist and good friend Cynthia James about Tulum, which has become a rave spot with electronic music that you can feel from way down the road. Cynthia and her husband Jorge Rosales built a sweet 12-room boutique hotel, Cabanas La Conchita, set directly on the beach there more than 20 years ago. I asked what they provided musically, since I know they have great (or at least similar to mine) taste in music.

 “We used to play Latin music, Buena Vista Social Club, salsa, Astrid Hadad, and mellow tequila sipping music!” Cynthia said. But these days it’s quiet as Cabanas La Conchita is empty (or available to rent out completely) because they’ve just put it on the market. Asking price? $6.9 million. Visit tulumpremierproperties.com/property/182/cabanas-la-conchita for more information.  

Tune in next time, for a dive into the new Montage Healdsburg.


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