Carmel is quaint, charming, a forested vision, but also a desire in the mind, a striving for ordered, landscaped perfection, sloping downward on the side of a hill toward a breathtaking visage of the Pacific Ocean.
To live in Carmel is to be upscale in a society that values upscale.
How could I describe Carmel?
Start at the top of Ocean Avenue off Highway 1, the main street, looking down a tiered, steep road that would be a perfect slalom ski run if it snowed in Carmel, which it hardly ever does. This is a village. It’s called a village.
Since many of the homes here are built like mini castles of the Elizabethan Age compete with tiny turrets, one could assume Carmel is a village like in “Ye Olde Merry England,” or as in Camelot. However, there must be no village idiot in Carmel.
If Carmel is like an old English village, then a village idiot would have to be a mud-encrusted, moronic foul-smelling scoundrel in Medieval rags drooling at the mouth who accosts you while begging for a Tuppence or a Farthing (English coins). I’ve walked all over Carmel and never encountered such a person, so there must be no village idiot in Carmel.
In fact, many of the people in Carmel look intelligent and successful. Perhaps that’s why I feel like I don’t fit in. No matter. You can still love a place even if it doesn’t love you back.
There are two kinds of people in Carmel, locals and tourists. Locals tend to walk down Ocean Avenue in expensive designer clothing looking straight ahead and appearing seriously focused, like they know where they’re going. Tourists on the other hand are seen gaping with wide blinking eyes, like they’ve never seen any of this before. They often have cameras draped around their necks.
For example, the guy in the white sweatshirt who stops at the stone planter median in the crosswalk in the middle of Ocean Avenue to snap a picture of his girlfriend dressed in cutoff denim shorts worn over black leggings—I’m pretty sure are tourists. Conversely, the fortyish-looking blonde lady with the expensive gold lame sweater and numerous gold matching wristbands getting into a Mercedes and who attractively appears like she might be an ex-high school cheerleader—-I’m fairly positive is a local.
So is the man in the shorts and red baseball cap that says “Poppy Hills.”
There goes a bald guy in a white apron, a chef. There are a lot of class restaurants in Carmel.
There are also a lot of Mercedes Benz’s in Carmel, which is one reason on this sun-splashed day I’m driving around and around searching for and not finding an available parking space. The truck delivering supplies to a store stopped in the middle of the small street ahead and is blocking me while the supplies are offloaded. Because of this and numerous crossing pedestrians, Carmel teaches you patience. Hey if the place wasn’t beautiful, it wouldn’t be so popular.
I will eventually find a parking spot six blocks away from my destination. Walking is good exercise.
The architectural style of the wood, brick, and stucco white-washed businesses of the downtown, many with red tiled roofs, represent a charming mixture of Spanish, Mediterranean, and King Arthur’s England influences that might be described as “Euro-Cromwellian-Hispanic-Mission-Italianate-Rustic-Chic.”
Some businesses have small wooden hanging signs that identify them without garishness, and second-story balconies so low you could jump off them without injury. Tiny back alleys abound, lined with potted plants, some with mysterious office spaces overhead. Everything says understatement, high style and good taste. Many of the businesses offer real estate, fashions or art most of us can’t afford to purchase—-but wish we could.
The forest dominates, the wonderful trees, the pines, making you feel you’re in the mountains. Carmel residents love their trees. Be warned. If you bump into a tree with your car, and drive off without leaving an insurance note, you can be charged with hit and run.
The neighborhoods are hushed, and with such ordered, perfect yards. Look at that hanging azalea, and that hedge carved in the shape of Clint Eastwood. How did they do that? An army of hired landscapers.
Many of the homes are miniature Hansel and Gretel type cottages with designer rocket or square-shaped chimneys made of expensive flagstone, rock or brick. The owners are obviously proud of owning a home in Carmel because they like to add little touches of class to their property. There’s a rustic arbor arch with flowers over an entranceway, and a metal sun figure hung on the outside near the window of another house next to a tiny, single-car, 1940s garage door. And there’s a tastefully tiled sign that reads “Harmony House.” He must be a musician. There’s a decorative tile sign outside another house (never a cheap plastic placard) that has the actual name of the owner, “The Joneses.”
It’s so quiet here.
Not a sound except the rustle in the high trees. No prank-pulling children yelling and throwing rocks. No one is about on this little street. Where is everybody? Maybe they’re inside reading a book, or away on a business trip attempting to pay the mortgages for these properties.
I love Carmel, and though I don’t actually live here, I feel it’s a part of me anyway. The ordered serenity, the opulence, we’d all like a little bit of that. After visiting, I think maybe I’ll cut down those unsightly weeds in my front yard, and hang a decorative sun figure on the fence.