The Mission. That word has many meanings, but generally conveys a sense of urgency. The most pressing meaning in California is the “missionary zeal” of obscure Roman Catholic priests, who felt bound to travel and were passionate about converting as many savages/heathens/unbelievers to the cause as possible, thus obtaining their steadfast loyalty (and conveniently, virtual slave labor in order to build their monasteries and churches).
Take one Miguel Jose Serra, for example, sometimes called “the founder of California” (FOC for short). He was born on the island of Mallorca, Spain in 1713 and became a Franciscan monk with the name Junipero. In 1748, he was allowed to become a missionary and traveled to Mexico and California. He baptized over 6,000 indigenous people and founded 21 missions. He was declared Blessed by Pope John Paul II, who called him “an exemplary model of the selfless evangelizer.” (The Petchary wonders if evangelizing can ever be a selfless task?) And yet, looking at the numerous depictions of the FOC, one does not sense that he was an endearing person. His dark brow and firm lips suggest a man whose will was strong and whose faith was hard and unflinching. One suspects he simply intimidated the Indians into submission to Catholicism. And he has this curious patch of hair at the front of his brow in all the pictures of him, which the Petchary found rather sinister.
The Carmel Mission (Mission San Carlos Borromeo) has a quiet and contemplative garden, filled with roses, tree ferns and fountains. The Blessed One is buried just in front of the main altar in the Basilica. Large coaches containing tourists roll up outside as the Petcharys are leaving. The shop is filled with religious paraphernalia of every description. But there was much to admire and ponder over in the mission itself, including the cramped cell where the FOC met his Maker, thick with the dust of centuries that can never be removed.
The Petcharys were somehow relieved to depart from the Carmel Mission. It was curious that it lay on the outskirts of the town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, a town of considerable wealth. Even the realtors’ offices advertised their properties framed like pictures on the wealth, with the price tag beneath not less than two million US Dollars. There were small, exclusive clothes boutiques, and cafes and restaurants catering to the somewhat awed tourists, many of whom could barely afford to buy a humble muffin – but there was nothing humble about Carmel-by-the-Sea’s muffins, of course. We were half-expecting to see a movie star (or wife) doing her grocery shopping, pushing a baby stroller with a baguette under her arm, baseball cap pulled down low, as we see in the celebrity magazines. Clint Eastwood used to be the Mayor here (and rather right-wing he was too).
Down at the sea, the only sense of normality came when we spotted a British tourist wearing an Arsenal jersey. We exchanged pleasantries, as we Gooners do whenever and wherever we meet. (By the way, Gunners, the Petcharys are NOT impressed by the weekend’s loss to West Brom). Otherwise, well-dressed, well-toned blonde women walked their equally well-groomed dogs along the sweeping pale yellow beach. Only one wet, shaggy dog looked like he was having some fun.
As for the residential areas of Carmel-by-the-Sea, we walked past endless dainty “cottages” (so much sweeter) with dormer windows and little nooks filled with flowers and names like “Sweet Thyme” and “Heavenly Bliss.”
And guess who was providing the labor this time around, for all the lean men and women in their expensive casual clothes and slim Ferraris? Not the Indians this time – they were all wiped out. The Mexicans, industriously sweeping and clipping and shining and polishing the sweet little cottages, inside and out. As the Petcharys caught the bus back to Monterey, they were surrounded by twenty or so Mexicans returning from working in the homes of the rich, who all got off at the same stop.
The FOC would have found the Mexicans very useful, too. But no – they are already converted.