Moroccan meets Modernism in Palm Springs [pt 3]

Having nattered on in two prior posts about my 50 hours in Palm Springs—with a photo-focus on Korakia Pensione’s 1924 Moroccan half plus a few scenes from the property’s Mediterranean side that were heavily inspired by certain museum exhibits—why keep going? Perhaps because I’m a sucker for seeming overlaps between nature and nurtured.

Thanks to my extended family’s “like it or lump it” stance to travel lodgings, I’ve now collected more opinions about how to leave home than I have chances or money to so. Crashing with relatives? Bearable-to-enjoyable (ditto for hosting). Crime-scene-aura motels, all-inclusive resorts, and rental homes with zero privacy? Punishment for past transgressions.

When I’m able to travel for pleasure, then—and have the added luxury of the stars aligning so I can choose one-off lodgings over chains—I strive to manipulate my eat/sleep/play funds so that a spot with a decent-enough view sits near the top of the priority list. When the budget is smaller, I’ll angle for tents or cabins; when larger, a modest room in a place with a lot of appealing common areas is the yin to my vacationing like the other half lives yang.

Which is why I ended up splurging on one of Korakia’s more budget-friendly rooms for my trip to Palm Springs.

Given that I’ve already documented my appreciation for the pensione’s boho luxe surroundings, I make no pretense to objectivity about where I ended up. If I’d been shown to a hammock with portapotty access I’d probably have nodded, smiled, and handed over my credit card while chirping, “Make sure to add a generous tip for your trouble!”

Of course I can’t say that settling into a zone with non-corporate furnishings + high ceilings + operable bathroom windows + french doors opening to a lightly-trod courtyard created a lot of momentum to go off and explore.

Limnos might be one of Korakia’s more smaller-scale (aka lower-priced) rooms, but it packs a big style/beauty punch

And for a while it was debatable whether I’d overcome my natural Argon-esque tendencies.

Sure, a getaway that included getting up, up, and away would expose my eyeballs to a completely different set of wonders than what I could see from my bed. But why bother to leave such a charming temporary nest?

I never did come up with a definitive answer before setting off. But after tromping along a trail that made my distance from water and modern conveniences brazenly clear and rotating ever-upward from a parched desert roadway to the snowy climes of Mount San Jacinto State Park, I felt my perspective do more than literally shift.

Harder and easier ways to get above Palm Springs abound: Top, Hiking Palm Canyon’s West Fork Trail; bottom, taking the Aerial Tram thousands of feet above the desert floor to snowy scenery

Though I’m pretty sure it’s far from news to those who’ve ever studied the area’s architecture, I was suddenly tuning into how many of the city’s modernist landmarks appeared to amp up or mimic the surrounding landscape’s colors, textures, and formations.

From the Orbit In’s layered overhangs and saturated orange…

 The Orbit In hotel, a Palm Springs modernist landmark, is beloved for its double soffit (photos courtesy of my travel companion)

…to the pale ochre, green, and brown palettes favored by many famous and random area residences…

A true oasis in the desert, Palm Canyon’s landscape includes a creek that accents a winding grove of California Fan Palms

Top, a 1957 tract house from father/son developers George and Robert Alexander is another local landmark; bottom, an anonymous-to-me beauty

…to the heavily striated and coarsely textured patterning used by prolific architects such as E Stewart Williams…

Palm Canyon and its many California Fan Palms are both protected and shared by members of the Agua Caliente Cahuilla tribe

Alas, my photo doesn’t do justice to the way architect E Stewart Williams incorporated desert colors and textures into his design for the Palm Springs Desert Museum (now the Palm Springs Art Museum)

the city is rife with references to the desert with which it co-exists.

As enjoyable as my visit was, I’ve spent my entire life in relatively lush climates and admit I can never completely relax in areas where water is such a scarce commodity. Because it certainly doesn’t seem as if it would take much for the desert to reclaim its territory—does it?

Top, sleek and stark against the desert sky (photo courtesy of my travel companion); bottom, nature continues to encroach on human handiwork

Touring Palm Springs Modernist Landmarks: Online Resources 101

  1. Palm Springs Modern Committee’s Desert Modernism Timeline
  2. Self-Guided Midcentury Modern Tour (photos + history snippet)
  3. Palm Springs Preservation Society “Then and Now photos” (mixed eras)
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Moroccan meets Modernism in Palm Springs [pt 2]

Previously, I shared a few things that caught my eye when wandering around the Moroccan side of Korakia Pensione’s boho luxe grounds. With our 50 hours for Palm Springs fun trickling away, Mr Vix and I decided to carve out time for both the Palm Springs Art Museum and more enjoyment of Korakia’s offerings…and add “desert hike” and “see more modernist buildings” to the vacation still-to-do list.

Sometimes I enjoy visiting places without much—or even any—idea of the area’s past or present. It’s rare that my ignorance leads to bliss, of course, but arriving oblivious and leaving with only a narrow, impressionistic view can add up to a delightfully uncomplicated experience.

In general, though, I’ll take more information before I travel somewhere over less. Novels set in the region, memoirs or art by those who’ve called a set of geographic coordinates home, non-fiction accounts of long-gone or recent happenings…they all add flavor to the pot and make me feel a bit more connected to where I’m headed.

Before arriving in Palm Springs for the first time, then, how could I resist brushing up a least a little on the glamour and grit associated with the locale?

I couldn’t. Bravely disregarding fears that my cardigan-filled closet and default hankering for context have pushed me from “fuddy-duddy tendencies” into flat-out “dud” territory, I started digging.

One of my finds was the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation website; another, a hearty 1999 Vanity Fair article chronicling much of the area’s initial claim to fame (both celebrity and architectural).

Even haphazard and cursory research on Palm Springs makes it obvious the area keeps large chunks of itself tucked away for those with insider access. Luckily, it also offers plenty to those who come with more curiosity than connections.

From our room at Korakia we were able to wander by accessible modernist landmarks…

Seen close or from afar, it’s no mystery why E. Stewart Williams’ design for Coachella Valley Savings and Loan #3 (currently housing Chase Bank) is one of Palm Springs’ modernist landmarks

…enjoy the cultural bounty offered up to the public by passionate collectors and/or high net worth individuals…

Studio glass artist Christine Cathie’s O-Void (Pale Aquamarine) at the Palm Springs Art Museum

Studio glass artists at the Palm Spring Arts Museum: L, from Bella Feldman’s War Toys Redux series; R, Dante Marioni’s Reticello Acorn and Leaf

…and explore the art museum’s elaborate and oops-photography-prohibited “Backyard Oasis: The Swimming Pool in Southern California Photography 1945-1982.” The incredibly voyeuristic show positively seethed with wholesomeness and artifice, haughtiness and exhibitionism, serenity and foreboding.*

Naturally I was in love.

A passing, non-flash glimpse shot of photographer Jane L O’Neal’s work as seen in the Palm Springs Art Museum’s comprehensive Backyard Oasis exhibit

Back at Korakia, I was just as seduced by the artificial waters found on the property’s Mediterranean side as I was by the representations I’d seen in the exhibit. [And my ancient Blue Lagoon silk maxi dress felt it had finally met up with its long-lost twin.]

Korakia’s Mediterranean pool and my (now-THIS-is-how-you-should-treat-me) ancient silk maxi by night

Detail of Korakia’s Mediterranean pool, where I nabbed solo time in the heated saltwater for swimming/relaxing both mornings of my visit (which led to my companion nabbing this shot)

The aforementioned seduction didn’t prevent me from leaving the enchanting saltwater pool behind to further enjoy more of the grounds, however.

After hours spent focusing my eyes and brain on museum objets and their backstory, Korakia’s just-stimulating-enough interplay of texture and pattern with open space and solid shades practically begged to be of service.

Or as Mr Vix put it: “Nice bocce court.”

On Korakia’s Mediterranean side, my companion triumphed at bocce while my perimenopausal panther print dress and I enjoyed how texture and pattern were mixed with open spaces and serene stucco facades

Indeed, indeed. If trying to resist the pull of nearby water is on one’s list of priorities, though, may I recommend wearing something other than an inexplicably appealing jaguar totem dress?

Next: Part 3 of Moroccan Meets Modernism in Palm Springs, in which I make a few connections between the desert’s natural and artificial forms 

*PSA: Go context-free and download a PDF full of “Backyard Oasis” images or read Salon.com’s short, illustrated interview with exhibit curator Daniell Cornell

Moroccan meets Modernism in Palm Springs [pt 1]

Last December I said to my beloved, “Let’s skip getting each other holiday gifts and put the money towards a short getaway in late winter!” In theory, it seemed brilliant; in actuality, though, it helps to have a life—and personality—conducive to executing such proposals.

While I’m proud to say my ability to rationalize vacations is so well-developed it’s available for purchase, the job that makes it possible for me to justify indulging wants vs basic needs is wedged in a “significantly under-resourced” workplace where being out for any reason makes coming back worse.

As those who are or have been in similar environments know, trying to engineer one’s escape becomes yet another time-related pressure. Make a run for it too early, and the benefits of leaving fizzle out quickly; break away too late and recharging becomes a pipe dream.

By mid-February even the optimists around me were taking massive hits to their sunny-side-up outlooks. Not at all coincidentally, that’s about the period I told Mr Vix that if he couldn’t get his convoluted schedule to coincide with mine in the very near future, I’d be taking a romantic trip with me myself and I.

Finally, however, we managed to carve out 50 joint hours for sun. And sights.

Enter Korakia,* situated approximately one million miles away from my PNW life:

The courtyard of Korakia’s Moroccan-influenced half sets the tone for the rest of what one discovers on the 1924 property

Or more precisely: located in Palm Springs, formerly and regaining-ground-as California’s desert playground.

While Mr Vix and I had given serious thought to staying in one of the area’s restored 50s/60s hotels for our first trip to the area, the chance to spend a few days wandering around the 1.5 acres where Korakia’s 28 rooms, suites, bungalows, and guesthouses sit in all their 20s and 30s glory won out.

I admit my Persnickety Bohemian side might have been a little vocal about picking the spot with a half-Moroccan, half-Mediterranean, all-boho luxe setting. And from the moment we drove up to the second I left, I was in heaven. Textured and patterned meets stark! Color meets neutrals!

Korakia’s aesthetic — a mix of textured and stark, color and neutrals — is used to great effect in the lobby

We may have been staying in one of the most budget-friendly rooms, but we had free reign of both sides of the property. Eyes, ears, nose, taste, skin—engaged and delighted in ways that took me exactly where I wanted to be: far far away from elevated cortisol levels.

A detail from Korakia’s bar area, located on the Morroccan side of the pensione

It didn’t hurt that 80+ degree daytime weather meant I was able to trade raingear for sunhats, ridiculously large sunglasses, and SPF’d bare skin. Or that the pensione’s rooms have no telephones, TVs, or clocks to tether one to time or the outside world.

My Persnickety Bohemian side was only too happy to trade in cold rain for 2 days of 80+ degree weather and a boho luxe setting 

With the property designed to minimize overnight guests and maximize privacy, I had no regrets about having to compromise my preferred vacationing like the other half lives style due our abbreviated time frame.

When the San Jacinto mountains are one’s backdrop, it’s hard to go wrong…but I saved my pennies for one of Korakia’s most modest room offerings due to how they get it extra-right

Now, I get that my appreciation for Korakia’s design may not be universal. And I have no doubt that the weathered-to-pristine ratio is carefully calibrated for effect. But when the “weathered” portion includes rustic candleholders that light one’s pathways and glimpses of 1920s tilework, I have to say the math works for me.

I’d bet the pensione’s decisionmakers calibrate the weathered-to-pristine ratio very carefully — but who can fault an equation that includes rustic outdoor candleholders and 1920s tile?

There’s no doubt in my mind that it takes a lot of work to do surface imperfection so perfectly, and I applaud the effort.

If excellent coffee, fresh-squeezed juice from on-site oranges, and friendly low-key service don’t outweigh slightly frayed table mats, non-starched linen, and blossoms that were at their best for early vs end-of-service eaters, Korakia may not suit

If there hadn’t been so much we wanted to do during our 50 hours away, I would have spent more time lounging poolside on the inviting daybeds

Given our time frame/decompression challenges I’d deliberately chosen someplace touted as highly experiential and illusory, and Korakia offered those qualities by the bucketful. It was tempting to stay put the whole trip, sure…but with mountains, museums, and modernist landmarks out there, how could two soggy Oregonians resist soaking up a variety of desert goodness?

* No monies were received for the writing of this post, though I probably owe the talented Linda of Lime in the Coconut a kickback for bringing Korakia to my attention in one of her “here’s yet another gorgeous setting” features.

Next: Part 2 of Moroccan Meets Modernism in Palm Springs, in which I semi-reluctantly engage my brain by visiting the Palm Springs Art Museum (and share a bit more of Korakia)

Gratuitous Color Shot #15: Split-Personality Fence

More than 125 years ago, a vivid dream set a fictional manifesto in motion. “Though so profound a double-dealer, I was in no sense a hypocrite,” confesses one-half of Robert Louis Stevenson’s permanently linked creations“I was no more myself when I laid aside restraint and plunged in shame, than when I laboured, in the eye of day, at the futherance of knowledge or the relief of sorrow and suffering.” 

Today the novel’s premise that we are “not truly one, but truly two” continues to resonate with readers, artists, investigators, therapists, and untold others.

And no wonder. Since Stevenson penned his tale we may have picked up a few insights into human behavior, but we still know shockingly little about how to excise its many negative expressions.

[And are still divided over where many social/cultural norms fall on the good-to-evil spectrum.]

With that as our context, can duality—and its eternal question of integration versus dichotomy—ever fail to fascinate?

In beachy Carlsbad California, a yin-yang fence both warns and beckons

Plenty

Turns out this summer has been a full one for me and most I know. “Full of what?” brings answers of shifts in obstacles, fresh blooms on bedraggled hopes, and careful mental planting around inert objects of non-affection.

As there’s been a rather relentless amount of stagnation or limbo around, we’re all a bit giddy that good news is suddenly traveling on a two-way street.

Does that explain why I want to grab a megaphone, a pom pom, and a pair of shoulders on which to clamber? Maybe. All I know is that with people close to me in better shape, I’m ready to cheer long and loudly for those still in need of a little positive change.

…we can wait for elemental forces to erode, rearrange, cover, or oxidize what’s in our midst—or we can try to find ways to realign, etch, augment, or otherwise alter pieces of our lives…

(top to bottom: Basalt and river rocks mingle with lush lichen at Oregon’s Elowah Falls; 700-year-old lava stone terraces mark a fraction of Kauai’s verdant Limahuli Garden; time brings an Oregon pioneer’s remains closer to a forest-y friend; founded by a Hungarian count in 1857, California’s historic Buena Vista vineyard still maintains its old-world feel)