Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

California: Malibu in Winter

A view from California Route 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, along the northern
part of Malibu. The houses on the bluffs below the highway are extremely
expensive. Jane looked up one with a "for sale" sign and the asking price
was just over 12 million dollars. It was not the most impressive house on its block.

Malibu conjures up images of surfers, endless summers and celebrities' mansions hanging off cliffs above the water. In winter, the summer has ended but the surfers and the houses are still there
along the 21 miles (34 kilometers) of Pacific coast that is Malibu, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) west of downtown Los Angeles.

On Dec. 23, 2019, after a rainy drive up from San Diego, we dropped daughter Katy and her family at the Los Angeles airport, and Jane and I headed up the coast for a quick visit to Malibu and one of its main attractions, the Getty Villa, the coastal counterpoint to the more famous J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Both museums were created to display the oil magnate's art collections: ancient and classical works in Malibu and works from the Middle Ages onward in the city. At both museums, the works displayed are not quite as impressive (to me, at least) as the buildings that house them.  Getty (1892 to 1976) was simply too late on the scene to scoop up the best art for sale in Europe. Nineteenth-century tycoons beat him to the punch, and most of their higher-quality collections can be seen in museums in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Chicago.

But if Getty couldn't buy, he could build. The Getty Villa is a full-scale reproduction, down to the bronzes in the garden, of the Villa dei Papiri, a partially excavated residence at Herculaneum, one of the two main cities destroyed in the year 79 when Mount Vesuvius erupted. Much of the building remains under a hundred feet of volcanic debris, mostly ash and mud. (For my visit to Pompeii and Herculaneum, click HERE.)  Although still buried, the building has been known since the 1750s thanks to tunnels created by a Swiss engineer, Karl Weber, working for the king of Naples. Among the objects recovered were more than 1,000 papyrus scrolls, which gave the villa its name.  Most of the scrolls contained works by Philodemos of Gadara, an Epicurean philospher, suggesting that the house belonged to the family of his patron, Lucius Calpurnius Caesoninus, who died more than a century before the eruption. Among other things, he was Julius Caesar's father-in-law.

Virtually everything recovered from the villa -- mosaics and bronze and marble sculptures -- is now at the National Archaeological Museum in Naples (click HERE for my visit to Naples and the museum).  Admission to the Getty Villa is free, though there is a fee ($20) to park.

After our airport drop-off, we headed up Pacific Coast Highway, stopping for lunch at the first interesting place we saw, Patrick's Roadhouse, which is in Santa Monica just before you get to Malibu. I had a great chicken sandwich, though it's really a breakfast and burgers joint.

Next stop was the museum, where we had 3 pm timed tickets, but we were admitted more than an hour before that. After the museum, we continued up the coastal highway to Surfrider Beach and our hotel, Surfrider Malibu, just across the highway from the beach and the Malibu Pier. Its rooftop bar was dry enough after the rain for us to enjoy drinks beside a fire pit and under a chilly sky. For our visit, Malibu's temperatures ranged from mid-50s (about 13 C.) at night to low 60s (about 17 C.) during the day. These brutal California winters!

 That night we had tacos at Malibu Farm, the restaurant at the start of the Malibu Pier. The next morning we had breakfast the the Malibu Farm Cafe high above the water at the end of the pier.

Here are some snapshots:
After parking in a multi-level garage, we followed signs into the villa itself.
A wine cup made in Sparta around 570 B.C.E. depicts
the hero Bellerophon and his winged horse Pegasus
battling the Chimera. This is not from the Villa
dei Papiri. As far as I could tell, no actual objects
from the original villa are here, just reproductions.
But other objects, such as this cup, were originals
purchased either by Getty himself or by the museum
since his death. His penchant for collecting beautiful
objects is depicted in the film "All the Money in
the World," which portrays Getty as preferring
objects over his own children and grandchildren.


Getty began his classical acquisitions with marble statues,
such as those displayed in this small gallery. The architecture
supposedly duplicates that of the original villa in Herculaneum.

This small pool in the Inner Peristyle (courtyard) is lined with
reproductions of statues from the original villa that are now at
the National Archaeological Museum in Naples. It's difficult
to imagine the expense to which Getty went in achieving his
dream. After his last visit to Herculaneum, he wrote in his diary:
"Tried in fantasy to excavate the Villa dei Papiri while regarding
the 100 feet of lava that cover it." 


The Outer Peristyle features a garden that resembles
those seen in ancient murals and mosaics.

The original of this sleeping satyr can be seen in Naples.

These are not duplicates. These terracotta sculptures depict Orpheus (his lyre is missing)
attended by two sirens, women-bird creatures of the underworld. Orpheus, the
god of music, was a link between this world and the next. 

This bit of flooring shows the level of detail at the museum.

As at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, a water
garden is given a central spot, here between the villa
and the museum store, restaurant and parking structures.

Even a corridor between parking structures
seems to have come from the ancient world.

Our room at Surfrider Malibu.

View from our balcony. That's the Malibu Pier in the distance.

Patrick's Roadhouse in Santa Monica was a colorful
spot for lunch. 

The entrance to the pier.

We had Christmas Eve breakfast at the Malibu Farm Cafe at the end of the pier. The
other building is a shop with swimming and surfing gear as well as very pricey clothes
 and accessories. Great for browsing if you can keep your wallet in your pocket.

We had our breakfast indoors, but these three chose to eat in the sun
despite the strong and chilly breeze.

Looking back toward land from the roof of the cafe.
Malibu Lagoon.

The Historic Adamson House and Malibu Lagoon Museum is a short walk up the
shore from the pier.




It appears that the pot of gold might be on the Malibu Pier.

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