California has many things to offer: it is home to sprawling deserts, cold beaches, misty forests, rainy fogs, snowy stretches, marvelous lakes, fast flowing rivers, and so much more. It is one of the reasons why we had neglected the Hearst Castle in San Simeon California for this long. Every time some one asked us about Hearst Castle, we’d say, “Oh – yes! Must go” without conviction and move on. This time, however, we took the plunge and buoyed up in Paso Robles, California.
Once in there, it is imperative that you follow your hosts’ instructions scrupulously, for the tour guides there do not put it past themselves to take a ruler and rap it across your knuckles if you don’t. One time, we found ourselves standing in the game room and the guide went on and on about the parties the rich man used to give there (Their guests used to play scrabble here, and then they would move across the hall, and play the uno cards there. Sometimes, they would think that chess might be a good idea, but thinking was hard….). Then, she stopped mid sentence, found my pinkie toe not on the carpet, and pulled me up in front of the whole tour. “Ma’am. Ma’am. I ask that you stand on the carpet.”
To which I looked around to see who the rule-breaker was, and found there was no Ma’am in the general direction she was shouting at except me. I asked her, “Who? Me?”
“Yes Ma’am. Please stay on the carpeted area.”
“I am on the carpeted area.”
“No ma’am. Your pinkie toe is out.”
Sticklers for perfection the Hearst Castle folks.
When you go up to the Hearst Castle, you cannot but help noticing that the man, William Hearst, had nothing to do, had wealth with which he knew not what to do, and therefore he thought it a perfectly reasonable thing to build a castle that made Napolean Bonaparte, Julius Caeser and King Henry the VIII all squirm together in a co-ordinated pirouette in the nether world. As though the human built edifice wasn’t enough, he decided to introduce some zebras, llamas and mountain goats into a habitat that boasts natively of some squirrels and lizards.
If the tour guide is any reflection on the hospitality offered up at the home of old William Hearst, I should like to pass on the invite. We were all now made to stand in attention in the dining room where folks, I was enlightened by the tour guide, ate. I did not know this. So, I looked up.
“Sometimes, they had potatoes for dinner, sometimes they had eggs, oatmeal…”
I must mention that this punishing tour was happening at an hour where breakfast is a memory and lunch a yearning.
The guide’s voice was one of those voices these sharp nurses who brook no nonsense have. To top that, she seemed to belong to the category of folks who swallow their sense of humor mistaking them for calcium tablets in their youth. Her jaw set, her face impassive, she went on and on like a steady drip into your veins.
I have always felt for these tour guides. I am not sure what draws them to the career in the first place. It must be a beautiful thing to proudly show the legacy of the place the first three hundred and two times. But the three-hundred and third time, must get somewhat repetitive what? And then, you have people who refuse to keep their pinkie toes on the carpet. Hard.
“If you were a guest here at the castle, you would be given the place of honor the first night and sit right next to Marion Davies (his mistress), and then as more and more guests joined, you will be moved along the table. When you find yourself at the end, it is time for you to go.”, she went on in that flat dictaphone commanding her troops sort of voice.
I am sure that was a line inserted for humor. I could almost see Humor springing gay and carefree in that line, and then tripping on the carpet that all toes were supposed to be on, and falling nose first and splattering on the floor.
People shuddered at the implication, thankful that their pal William Hearst did not send them a personal invitation.
A giggler throughout, I was quite sure I would have myself thrown out of the hilltop if I did not behave, but I could not help thinking of P.G.Wodehouse’s quote:
“It was one of the dullest speeches I ever heard. The Agee woman told us for three quarters of an hour how she came to write her beastly book, when a simple apology was all that was required.”
I laughed and the husband yanked me to the back of the troupe, to save me from myself.
It was in fact, P.G.Wodehouse, who had put up that gag about being shoved off the table if you stayed too long.
Meals are in an enormous room, and are served at a long table, with [William Randolph] Hearst sitting in the middle on one side and [actress-mistress] Marion Davies in the middle on the other. The longer you are there, the further you get from the middle. I sat on Marion’s right the first night, then found myself being edged further and further away till I got to the extreme end, when I thought it time to leave. Another day, and I should have been feeding on the floor.”—Humorist P.G. Wodehouse, in a letter to a friend describing his visit to William Randolph Hearst’s San Simeon, Feb. 25, 1931, quoted in The Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes.
If only PGW knew how his good pal, Humor, jumped into Neptune’s pool to avoid further torture, he would have had a gag or two about it for sure. (Neptune pool is a monstrosity with *gulp* Roman columns surrounding a humongous pool, that was dry and was up for renovation because it drained some 5000 gallons of water, when the rest of the state was smacking their lips in thirst).