It would be presumptuous of me to try to describe the glaciated cliffs, sleeping rocks, West Swiss meadows and all the other visual excitements of that 10-star place known as Yosemite. But I can tell you I had a marvelous time on a recent whirlwind visit from San Francisco engineered by dear friends Mark and Macy. We tooled up that handsome serpentine the Merced River Valley, arrived at the Yosemite gate, knew that this was IT, the park of parks, and prepared for action. One look at El Capitan, released in its 3000-foot glory from the “one step removed” of a William Keith painting or Ansel Adams photograph, however impressive those articles might be, and I broke into tears. It was the apotheosis of KNOCKOUT. And so Wagnerian!
Well, old Richard would have gone bananas over this cliff that upstages Valhalla and then some. If Richard the Second, Richard Strauss that is, had ever travelled to California — if I remember right he never got west of my great aunt’s house in Hyde Park Chicago — he would have felt impelled to write a sequel to his Alpine Symphony. Alps be damned, Mein Gott, this is the Sierras. And Mr. Handel? If he’d seen those epic Yosemite Falls with their triple fortissimi of audience-chilling spray he would have thrown out his Water Music and started again.
But not before lunch. As for us, a blizzard of sights filling our memory banks to the brim, we hastened to the Ahwahnee Hotel for the midday a la carte. This delightful stone maiden, a kind of cross between Arts and Crafts and Santa Fe Style, seemed to me the most enchanting of sizeable out-in-the-country hotels I’ve experienced here or abroad. Its gestures are monumental, what with a 32-foot ceiling in the dining room and so on, but not bossy. It has style galore, but remains a cozy charmer. Even if the dining room suggests the first class feeding space on one of the conspicuously impressive Atlantic liners of the Titanic era.
We ordered the luncheon dishes I associate with grand old hotels, a Shrimp Cobb Salad with Louie dressing for me, a Monte Cristo Sandwich for Macy. The olivey Cobb delivered by an attentive middle-aged server (“Hello, my name is Edgar” is still in force out there in America as opposed to ultra-cool Frisco) had the advantage that the numerous ingredients were quite visible, not hidden beneath a tricky Wald of boring lettuce. If the dressing wasn’t quite as light as the supernal Louie at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel it was still plenty good. Meanwhile Macy’s Monte Cristo was pronounced a miracle of quick deep frying, its fascinating puffiness a work of art. A basket of yummy breads that tasted house-made completed our lunch, a battalion of Japanese tourists seated nearby, nature knocking at the tall windows, the maitre-d with chest puffed out asking if everything had been all right. Yes indeed.
And now for a hike!?