September 22, 2007

Down in Monterey

Had Monterey been founded by the Greeks, back in the day when they were colonizing the wide Pontus or populating Sicily with their kind and looking for a likely spot to settle, they would have predicated its continued success on its attachment to a wide regional network of boat traffic already transporting back and forth every sort and manner of human material between neighboring outposts of urban doings elsewhere in the Pontus and now to and from this newly established "Monterey" of theirs, from the freshest of produce possible to the most forceful of portable politics such boatmen might regularly choose to carry along with them.

What the internet now carries was transportable by ship or not transportable at all in those times. Most of what the internet now carries couldn't be and wasn't carried by the crude tools available for passing information along in those days, but such boats as there were, rude vessels they might seem to us, were apt enough vehicles not only for the crass cargo of physical objects ping ponging around the Pontus, but also the limited yet ever significant cargo of humans themselves bearing all their entailed mischief of accompanying written messages and pronounced speech, each boat in effect equal to a discreet packet of information readied to be spilled out on that shore, whatever other goods it might bear, the information of whatever value it might prove voyaging along to its alloted port in the reports and retorts of arriving humans and there stitched together as neatly as needs be to the continuously arriving other packets of information from other boats berthing there to form some provisionally useful semblance of the world on which the new place of Monterey must depend.

Monterey, as it turns out, was not founded on the bounded Pontus by colonizing Greeks. It was made by wide-wandering Spaniards on the far distant coastal shore of California, wide-wandering Spaniards who made Ulysses' travels look like a suburban commute. There was nothing regional for Monterey to connect with, no net of near relations in the Spanish world to fully engage. Such California settlements as San Diego had their small traffic with Monterey, but the closest meaningful Spanish port was distant Acapulco. San Diego, almost 400 miles away by open ocean, was not so much a trading partner of Monterey as a rival jostling with Monterey for a fair share of Acapulco's commercial and social attention. Acapulco was and of course remains thousands of miles from Monterey, maybe as removed as Cadiz is from Athens or Antioch or Alexandria or some other standard of enormous distance by Old World measure.

Any ship arriving from Acapulco, irrespective of the material cargo it transported to Monterey, dragged with it some discrete quantity of information, information bounded by the ship's admittedly rude tools consisting as they did in those times almost exclusively of the stuff a scribe might write or the chat coded into the inevitably disparate pronouncements of the sum total of passengers and crew on all the arguable points of that information, borne along to the dock in Monterey in that chat it was, variously advanced, denounced, declaimed, deplored, defended or, summarily, disregarded, by the humans, agents of that information's passage on that ship.

Sometimes the information carried by the given passenger arriving by boat from Acapulco might consist primarily of the announced, "I'm here!" with all the engaging mischief that brief and simple message must entail.

Shipbuilding and seamanship had advanced so profoundly since the time of the Greeks that the idea of regular communication between places as distant as Monterey and Acapulco was no longer inconcievable, but merely another long doable stretch in the global network of Spanish shipping that reached all the way from Manila and the East to the ports of the Spanish homeland by way of Central America.

Monterey was an adequate and sufficient harbor for the odd long distance boat that might reach port there, with an absurdly fertile hinterland nearby, and seas brimming with fish. The Spanish knew of the great protected bay just to the north; they settled it, but that place was never more than an outlier of Monterey, for all intents the capital city of the relatively attentuated Spanish presence in that part of California. Across its own bay, Monterey faced the small mission town of Santa Cruz.

People whose forebears had lived in those parts for six thousand years and in that time crafted for themselves what, given the millenia involved, represented an enduring relationship to that land, died in droves on the approach of the Spaniards, and it was all the Spaniards fault. The Spaniards brought disease and cruel uses, and the local people were laid low.

Just south of Monterey the Esalens ceased. The language they mouthed as they navigated those six thousand years along the central coast of what became California is unknown. Eventually, by enclosure and by infection, all the local people were eradicated.

Monterey lost its preeminent position in California to San Francisco following the Gold Rush, but continued to prosper.

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