By Marina D’Ambrosio
Big Sur is lost between air and earth, water and mountains. It stands steady on cliffs that die in the water, and it’s majestic in its combination of elements.
The air here smells like sea and snow, like a summer vacation on the beach and a winter skiing getaway all at the same time. But the most striking part of Big Sur is the silence. Nestled only 30 minutes from Carmel-by-the-sea, on a freeway where the grass looks more like Ireland than California, not even the high concentration of high end hotels and swanky restaurants with a view can disturb the zen mood of the environment.
Big Sur is a surprisingly famous place for being so small and so hidden and where very little happens.
But it is actually no wonder if you consider the influence this place had on 20th Century American literature. Case in point, on the same street that threatens to dead end into the jagged edges below, is the former house of Henry Miller. You might know him for the Tropic series (amongst which Tropic of Cancer might be the most famous) and for his life of excesses in Paris with his wife June and fellow writer Anais Nin. He wrote Sexus while being here, taking with him his friend Emile and settling for a life of quiet contemplation after the hustle and bustle of Europe.
Mr. Miller’s former house is not open to visitors anymore, but his friend and neighbor’s place was turned into the Henry Miller Memorial Library, where any fan of the man, the era, or literature in general would be right to visit and take notes.
The entrance is purposely unkempt, suggesting a hippie state of being throughout the property. There is a small introduction banner for the neophytes, explaining who Henry Miller was and his importance in popular culture. There is also a piano, outside, exposed to the elements. Miller played it very well, and his first wife was also a pianist.
The main building on the premises is the wooden cabin dedicated to books, paintings, and Henry Miller in general.
Books are the main protagonist in this shrine, as a thread that connected Miller to the world. What makes this place especially interesting is that the books included in the selection are not only his.
In fact, the library staff makes an educated guess to include books that they believe Henry Miller would have liked.
Amongst them a whole wall of feminist literature, non-fiction, current affairs, and an impressive selection of 100 tomes Henry said inspired his writings and his view of the world.
A special mention in the selection of the available written word however has to be reserved to Beat Generation books. Henry Miller was a main inspiration for the group of literati swiping the area in the 50s. Especially Jack Kerouac, who wrote a book aptly called “Big Sur”, looked here to achieve a solitary life in nature as a rebellion against his addiction to drugs and booze. “I just want peace” he would reflect in the book. On the fourth day here he left to go back to San Francisco to rejoin his partying friends. But peace sounds indeed like an attainable goal around here, if you manage to stick around long enough.
The space also hosts concerts by local bands and events for the community in their beautiful outdoor space, manned by not one but two cats. Who doesn’t love that?
If you are in the California area, do yourself a favor and drive through the Big Sur impressive scenery. And before you do, check out what’s up at the Henry Miller Memorial Library (www.henrymiller.org), grab a book, enjoy a concert, and feel like a writer.