Sonoma's own literary lion
In my travels of late, I've noticed a tourism trend Sonoma has yet to cultivate. It's requires a bit of grave-robbing and possibly some plagiarism but nothing any self-respecting visitors bureau would hesitate doing for its local economy.
At least a couple comparably-sized cities have made mints by claiming affinities with dead European authors with whom they have little earthly connection. Sonoma could do the same with its own mascot wordsmith, from whence will come heads in beds and keepsakes in the carry-ons from everything from highbrow festivals (read: it's expensive to feel classy) to wretched, ink-stained bobbleheads (it's also pricey to feel trashy).
Consider Ashland, Ore., home of the annual theatrical juggernaut the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which has minted millions since its founding in 1935 - predicated on boosting the Bard, centuries after his death and 5,121 miles by air from his place of residence. Relationship to Ashland prior to the advent of the festival? None whatsoever. But, since the planning commission mandated a style guide straight from the Renaissance Faire, the place has a distinctly Elizabethan air. Or as the local businesses call it, "Cha-ching."
Solvang, the so-called Danish capital of America, is nestled in Santa Barbara County wine country which, like our wine country, will be kaput in 30 years due to climate change according to a recent Stanford University study. (Special thanks to colleague Ashlie Rodiguez of the L.A. Times who wrote about the issue and kindly forwarded her source material.) Apart from its allegiance to Hamlet's habitue and decor that could only be called mid-millennia modern, Solvang seems to have little else going for it.
That is until one considers its adoption of Denmark's greatest author export Han Christian Andersen (yeah, I thought it was Søren Kierkegaard too).
The town's local bookstore, boasts a museum dedicated to the teller of tales that includes a bust so fascinating in its grotesque depiction of Andersen that one becomes hypnotized and invariably leaves with a few books under one's arm.
Of course, Glen Ellen has long laid claim to action-adventure penman Jack London. Could they do more with their literary legacy? Sure, you know, after the California state budget crisis runs its course (into the apocalypse). As author Timothy Egan opined at NYTimes.com, "Jack London State Historic Park will be shuttered, gates locked, and left to meth labs, garbage outlaws and assorted feral predators." 'Nuff said.
So, which literary lion will purr for the tourists in Sonoma? I'm not dead yet so I'm out of the running (though I have considered faking my death so that we could enjoy my posthumous together - you know, at the foot of my life-sized statue in the Plaza). Whomever the candidate, the model, heretofore, seems to favor the canon, meaning dead European males (go figure - it was other dead European males who made the canon). Also, they should have some international name recognition to attract pilgrimages by the jet-load but be obscure enough not to have already been claimed by another city (see above).
My research (five minutes ago on Wikipedia) led me to at least one possibility. No drum roll, please - no one's heard of this guy for the better part of a century but he's got some street cred in 19th century Paris, plays to revive and a grudge against sobriety, which we could position as an abiding love of wine. Consider Alfred Jarry.
Who? Precisely. The proto-surrealist was something like the Lenny Bruce of his day but without all the censorship hoo-haw (but a lot more TB). His most famous and now forgotten work, the play "Ubu Roi," opened with a the single word "Merdre!" which, pardon my French, roughly translates as "crap-esque." Yep, it's prime for a wine country revival. Also, I bear a passing resemblance to him so, when the time comes, you'll only have to change the plaque on the statue.
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Daedalus Howell writes posthumously for FMRL.com.