Sunday, October 26, 2008

Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles

The ranch is nothing short of incredible. It is both everything--and nothing--I could have ever expected.

It was approaching dusk when I pulled into the drive, which was less a drive than a dirt road. The sun was setting over the purple mountains, and the sky was the most beautiful array of pinks and oranges that I had seen in a long time. The ranch sat back off the main highway about two miles. I was convinced I had turned down the wrong road when the main building came into view.

It's a squat, stucco building, with russet adobe tiles and a pavilion tiled in the Spanish tradition. The windows are barred with intricate wrought iron, and the front lawn is entirely xeriscaped with yucca, cactus, and other natives I'm not yet familiar with. In front, there's a huge, wrought iron banner that reads, "Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles".

I pulled down the road slowly, taking a moment to breathe deep and center. There was awoan standing outside, arms wrapped around herself, long skirt swishing about her cowboy boots, her cowboy hat tipped low over her eyes.

I roll down my window, and she leans halfway into my car. "Tatum McGarland?" she asks. I note a Spanish accent.

"That's me,"I said, suddenly self-conscious. Maybe it was the realization that I was outside a freaking rehabilitation center. Maybe it was being so far away from home. Maybe it was that crazy sky. Maybe it was everything.

"Lourdes said I could expect you today. I'm Rosaura," she said, extending her hand. "Un placer," she smiled.

I took her hand and tried to smile back, but I'm not sure it made it to my face. Rosaura was much younger--and more average--than I had expected. I was expecting an older woman, a fat, old woman with a ton of silver jewlery and lots of drapey clothing hanging off her body. Rosaura was nothing like that. She was slender, dressed casually in a tank top and skirt, sporting cowboy boots and hat. She wore no jewelry that I could see and nothing about her felt...well, nothing about her felt magical. She just seemed completely normal.

"I'll send someone out for your things," she said, leading the way into the main building. "We're just about to have dinner. Are you hungry?"

I had opened my mouth to say no, but my stomach growled, betraying me. "Famished," I admitted.

"I hope you like Mexican food," she said, opening the door. "It's the only thing we serve on the ranch."

Now, I've lived in Texas all my life. There's a running joke that while California may share a order with Mexico, they don't know shit about Mexican food. There's nothing in the world like a good plate of Tex Mex, and hearing the words "Mexican food" gave me such a pang of heartache and homesickness I about fell over. But when I stepped through the door and the aromas of dinner washed over me, I realized that whatever I thought I knew about Mexican food was about to be thrown out the window.

I didn't know what they were cooking, but I knew I had never smelled anything like it. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

"This is the main lounge," Rosaura was saying as we walked through a large, open space warmly decorated with high ceilings and large windows. "Down that hallway is the main office, and up the stairs are the meeting rooms. We have all kinds of classes--yoga, watercolor, Pilates, singing, knitting...and we're always adding new things, so if there's something you're interested in, you can let us know and we'll see what we can do about it. Out the door there is the pool area and cabana. But the dining room," she said, turning to smile over her shoulder at me, "is this way."

There were about ten other people sitting at the table, which looked like something out of the Mexican version of Better Homes and Gardens. There was more food than I'd ever seen in my life. Quail, pork, cactus, eggs. . .It was astounding. And the tortillas put every sorry excuse for a flour concoction I've ever swooned over in Texas morbidly to shame.

Dinner conversation was quaint, and Rosaura introduced me to everyone (and I don't remember a single person's name) but I didn't say much. I was exhausted. Rosaura took me to my room, which was in another building, and wished me good night.

"I'll be back in the morning," she said, "to get you started. I only have one request for you. Whatever ties you had to your old life--I need you to leave them behind while you're here. No email, no blogging, don't even call home. I know that sounds extreme, and you're probably thinking you've run into some kind of cult." She laughed. If she only knew. "We encourage you to go back to your old life when you're done here. But for now--think of this as an escape. From everything."

So I'm breaking the rules by journaling right now. But I needed to record this. I need to record the beginning of this journey. Right now I'm sitting at a diner about three miles down the highway from the Ranch, at the most unlikely place in the world to have free wifi, but there it is. I won't be able to update again. Not for a while.

Damn, I wish I had a camera so I could post pictures of this place. They have a wbesite though. Of course, I can't find the link. I'll have to post it later.

Okay, one more post, just to post the link to the ranch's website. One post, and then, I begin again. Alone.

Catch y'all on the flip side.

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