I wrote once about the first time I ever found bokmärken in the US. It was such a wonderful occasion.
I went back to Payn’s Stationary story when I visited San Francisco again in December 2019 for a conference. He was still selling bokmärken, and there were different varieties than the last time I’d been there a year and a half previously. It was delicious! I bought a whole bunch, and the guy at the register, who I guess maybe was the owner, told me: oh, I’m going to have to order more of these now!
He said that he orders them from some whole-saler who imports them from Europe. He just orders more as he needs them. Yes, you keep doing that.
And then about a week later, I visited Solvang in southern California. This town is built as a “traditional Danish settlement”, though I don’t know exactly how much real Danish history that town has. Whatever the case may be, there’s lots of stores there that sell trinkets, and among them was a store entirely dedicated to Christmas stuff. It was called Jule-something. Amidst all the Christmas ornaments and decorations, I found a shelf drowning in bokmärken! It was so wonderful. And they were selling for cheaper than at Payn’s! Like half-price. I bought all I wanted (maybe 6 sheets), and although I got some Christmasy ones, I also got frogs, and fairytales, and flowers, and all sorts.
However, the sad news is that according to the cashiers, their supplier of bokmärken is no longer selling them or something. So I think that stash on that shelf might be the last of them. Maybe they’re just slowing going to wean themselves off of that particular piece of merchandise. It’s a shame.
There’s a little town called Solvang in California, about an hour from Santa Barbara. It bills itself as an original Danish settlement, and gets a lot of tourists coming to its quaint shops and cafes and all. But a lot of people call it a bit overdone and kitschy.
I went with a friend during my swing through California by bus and train last winter. And we stumbled onto the set of a movie. I guess it’s not surprising, we were 2 or 3 hours from LA, but I’m not used to that kind of thing!
The movie was meant for either Hallmark or Lifetime. Let me tell you what happens. There’s a tall, handsome man called Sawyer, and there’s a shorter, very blonde, long-haired, pretty woman — I believe she was called Ms. Lane. Well, they are going to fall in love and get married (lucky guess), but we didn’t see that part. We saw the part where they were having an argument. Sawyer is from Solvang, or lives there, and is very attached to the town, and he is showing Ms. Lane around. Ms. Lane is a journalist and is writing a book. The argument starts because Ms. Lane denigrates what Sawyer has been showing her — she wants the real Solvang, not the tired tourist traps. And Sawyer gets mad. “You know what! I don’t think I could ever show you the real Solvang! And it’s not Solvang’s fault! It’s because your heart is closed off to the true meaning of Christmas!” (It was just before Christmas, and the town was decked out!)
Then Sawyer turns on his heel and marches away. Ms. Lane sends a flabbergasted look after him.
They were filming all this right between the entrance of two stores with an extra dash of Christmas lights and decorations glistening over the doorways. During takes (they did at least 15), all the real tourists like us either had to stay inside the store we were in, or had to wait outside. So we waited and waited, switching our position between the two stores, and then playing audience outside, so we caught the scene from all angles.
In between takes, Ms. Lane, who was very fashionably dressed and thinly dressed the better to catch her slim figure, covered up from the cold in a bulky puffy winter jacket. So really, what you see on TV is not real!!
To get from Houston to Los Angeles by trains, there is no need to ever switch trains or any hassle like that: all you do is take one single train, the Sunset Limited. And I think you should almost definitely take the train, and not fly, because it’s a cute train; and it’s nice scenery; and it’s more convenient; and better for the environment; and flying isn’t actually going to save you that much time!
So first, the cute train. I thought it was very cute. There’s little curtains on the windows. The carriages are two stories. You have plenty of room in your seat. I’ve been on this train twice and it wasn’t crowded either time, so hopefully no one will be bumping into you. You can visit the observation car, and the dining car, and the cafe. The train rocks you gently all night long.
The scenery: I don’t normally try to say anything nice about Texas, but the desert scenes were quite nice. The sun rising over the desert rivers was lovely. I had never seen this part of the country before, I had no idea what it would look like. I saw El Paso and Tuscon, Arizona. I saw over the border into Mexico. It was all fascinating to see.
Convenience: instead of taking an hour-and-a-half bus ride to the airports in Houston, I just rode the light-rail and then a bus to the Amtrak station. In all, it took about 30 minutes. Plus, the bus took me right through downtown Houston. It was Christmas time, and I saw all the pretty Christmas lights that were up. There were blocks and blocks of golden light glowing in the black night, hovering over all the trees, from city square to city square. And from the Amtrak station there was a view out on all the skyscrapers of the city, all lit up, and even the Ferris wheel by the aquarium. Same with arriving in Los Angeles. We arrived smack in the downtown. I’ve never been to LAX but of course, as everyone else, I’ve heard it’s awful, and far from the city, and you probably don’t want to deal with it.
Time: the plane will not save you much time! I’ve worked this out. See, you get on the Sunset Limited in Houston at 7 pm, you spend the next day entirely on the train, and then you get to Los Angeles at 5:30 in the morning. It is a two-night and one-day trip. Well, during those two nights, you’re just going to sleep, and hopefully, you were planning to sleep even if you’d stayed at home, so that doesn’t really count as time lost. The only real time to consider is the full day on the train. In my opinion, this is pretty much exactly how much time you’d spend if you took the plane. If you take the plane, you have to get to the airport 2 hours in advance. The airport is probably an hour or more away from where you live, plus once you get to LA, let’s say (counting traffic) that the airport is two hours from where you’re trying to go. That adds three more hours. Also, you have the stress of airport security and all the crowds and the blinding lights, and the carbon emissions, and most likely, you won’t have a direct flight. You’ll have a lay-over somewhere. Even if you did not have a lay-over, there’s a big chance the plane will be late, and even if the plane wasn’t late, this whole sequence of events will still take you all day to get from Houston to LA. So you really might as well just take the train! No security, no angry people, and you can pretty much bring as much luggage as you can manage to carry.