Relics of Empire

I kept stopping the car every five minutes to take shots like this.

Back near the start of this journey, I spent a day in the Hermitage, the former Winter Palace of the Romanov Tsars, now a treasure house dedicated to the packrat tendencies of those imperial rulers. Two trends were pretty clear: the desire to build as imposing a dwelling place as possible and the need to fill it with art and ornamentation of the very finest quality. After all, those who rule have to awe those who lack the resources to live in similar splendour.

Yesterday, I spent a few hours in the palace of a latter-day emperor: media mogul William Randolph Hearst. His castle at San Simeon is similarly awe-inspiring, perched on a hill overlooking the California coast and strewn with treasures and artworks of the very finest quality. And yet, it was hard not to notice that all of those artworks and treasures were either antiques at least several centuries old or copies in antique style. Whatever their failings, the Romanovs followed the tradition among the powerful and rich of acting as patrons to the artists of their day. I don’t know if Hearst did the same, but there was little that was new about the Castle at San Simeon, apart from the earthquake-proof reinforced concrete structure.

All very different from my experience at the Los Angeles County Art Museum a couple of days before. Whatever your feelings about modern art trends, there’s something admirable about the desire to try new things and see what works, and LACMA is a fine showcase for some fascinating modern pieces.

However, there’s art and then there’s nature, and not much has captivated me on this trip as much as the vistas on the Pacific Coast Highway between San Simeon and Carmel. The drive would have been much shorter had it not been for the constant desire to get out and admire the view every few minutes.

That’s why there’s a photo of the view from the road above rather than of Hearst’s Castle at San Simeon. Well, that and the fact that they have to give written permission before you can publish photos and I forgot to ask.