Well, that was easy.
It was only a matter of hours before the statue in yesterday’s post was correctly identified as John Steinbeck; what will take substantially longer is for me to describe its significance – about both the man, and to the city that shaped him.
To say that the relationship between Steinbeck and the city of Salinas is troubled is an understatement of the highest order. He has been equal parts reviled and praised, hated and adored. Although the pendulum has swung in recent years towards positive regard, a large percentage of locals still feel disdain for the town’s most famous native son.
In fact, it’s no coincidence that people’s comments after the last post suggested that the statue looks like either 1) a notorious dictator, or 2) a grouchy old guy; local legend has it that the sculptors purposely made him look wrinkled and ornery, to reflect the animosity between the writer and the town. (In the sculptors’ defense – have you ever seen a picture of Steinbeck with a carefree smile? By nearly all accounts, the man was definitely a brooder.)
Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that the city of Salinas has struggled with its own legacy ever since the days of Steinbeck. There’s no better example of the troubles the town has faced, or the difficulty it has encountered in the shadow of its literary giant, than the building that frames his statue: the John Steinbeck Public Library. That’s just part of the tale I hope to tell someday – but honestly, it’s a bigger story than I’m currently equipped to take on.
The saga of Steinbeck and Salinas is one that should be told in books, not blog posts. The author was far and away the city’s most outspoken critic – but he always saw the possibilities amidst the problems; the beauty obscured by the grime. Many of those issues – as well as plenty of new ones - persist today, just as they did when the author walked its streets.
Salinas remains a city that inspires mixed emotions. It’s also the city where I’ve spent the majority of my adult years. It’s where I work, and where I train, and where I ponder the larger meaning of my life in relation to the world around me.
This town has inspired me and infuriated me; it attracts me and it breaks my heart. It has provided for me and left me longing. I’ve spent many years wishing I didn’t have to be a part of Salinas - but when I look back now after more than a decade, I realize that it has shaped me much in the same way it influenced one of my favorite authors.
That’s the story I hope to write someday - that is, if I ever summon up the courage to take the whole thing on.
December 7, 2008
Well, that was easy.