Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Finding Fall

Our mission for Labor Day weekend was clear: spend two days by the water, relax, read, and avoid the sight, sound, and chatter about Sarah Palin. And so we were soon blissfully ensconced in one of our favorite places in/near Northern California: at the Cal Neva Resort in North Lake Tahoe.

Andrew and I stayed here last year around this same time, but this time was even better. We had a “terrace room” set apart from the main hotel, with our own little deck and a lovely view of the lake. We felt separated from the world.

The Cal Neva, indeed, is its own little world, one of those funny places you find in Nevada where you have to walk through a casino to get to the restroom or the elevator. There’s a small-ish casino on the ground floor of the Cal Neva, along with a restaurant and a bar; there are large chandeliers made from deer antlers, and a “circle bar” overhung with ornate stained-glass light fixture. The Cal Neva opened in 1926, and it was owned by Frank Sinatra in the 1950s—when it was a haven for Marilyn Monroe and the Mafia. It straddles the California/Nevada border (hence its name), and there’s a line down the middle of the ballroom and through the swimming pool that marks where the states divide.

For $8 you can take a tour that shows you the complex of secret tunnels where Sinatra used to squirrel his Mafia patrons to safety if the police happened to arrive—as well as a secret tunnel connecting two small cabins on the resort’s grounds…the cabins that were once the regular haunts of Marilyn and JFK.

I say “haunt” deliberately, because the Cal Neva has ghosts to spare. Marilyn sightings have occurred in the tunnels and in the cabin where she used to stay; and though I haven’t seen her for myself, I do get a very strong sense of ghostliness in the lodge and on the grounds. There’s a little run-of-the-mill casino sleaziness at the Cal Neva, but not too much; the atmosphere is more relaxing and laid-back than that.

It was the perfect place to stay for a couple of nights, and we spent our time hanging out on the sand by the lake at King’s Beach and Sand Harbor, reading books (not newspapers). It was cool and windy—in the high 60s—and being up there among the Ponderosa pines, wrapped up in a sweater, made it seem like fall was really on its way.

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