After finishing John Steinbeck’s delightful Cannery Row, I was overwhelmed by a desire to spend time near the sea and its creatures – and what better place to do that than in Cannery Row itself? My birthday was coming up, so my boyfriend and I made a trip to Monterey, home of both Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s about a 2-hour drive from where we live.
Cannery Row today has very little in common with the street that Steinbeck described as “a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.” The canneries of Cannery Row have long been replaced with restaurants, knicknack shops, and other sea-based tourist attractions. In fact, the street was only named “Cannery Row” in the 1950s, in honor of the book; its name was originally the rather generic “Ocean Avenue”.
(I’m a fan of the facial expressions on those sardines. They look all cozy and tucked in, yet… vacantly displeased.)
This piece of sculpture is the Cannery Row Monument, which (according to a plaque on its side) “pays tribute to the many diverse characters vital to the evolution of Cannery Row.” The figure sitting on top is John Steinbeck himself. Others include the Ed Ricketts (inspiration for Cannery Row‘s Doc), “Madam” Flora Woods (inspiration for the book’s madam Dora Flood), and a Chinese fisherman.
Inside the Monterey Bay Aquarium is this little exhibit in honor of Ed Ricketts, full of samples in jars. (My inner child secretly wanted to open the jars and feel the spiny / slimy things inside.)
Afterwards, we moved on to the animals themselves. There were fish of seemingly every shape and variety, plus a number of other creatures of interest:
My favorite, of course, was the octopus. Isn’t he beautiful? I must have spent half an hour just standing near his tank, watching him calmly undulate and climb about with his long tentacles. (Fun fact: to keep octopi from escaping their tanks, aquarium keepers line the surrounding floor with astroturf, which is difficult for octopus suckers to grab.) He reminded me of this passage from the book:
“Then the creeping murderer, the octopus, steals out, slowly, softly, moving like a gray mist, pretending now to be a bit of weed, now a rock, now a lump of decaying meat while its evil goat eyes watch coldly. It oozes and flows toward a feed lag crab, and as it comes close its yellow eyes burn and its body turns rosy with the pulsing color of anticipation and rage. Then suddenly it runs lightly on the tips of its arms, as ferociously as a charging cat.”
After a long day of enjoying ocean creatures, we were ready to make the long car trip home. On the way to the parking lot, I spied this small, peaceful mural by the sea:
The mural’s placement couldn’t have been better – it’s like looking at an image of the past overlaid onto the present. It’s easy to imagine how rough-handed fishermen of years past might have used this beach for more than leisurely kayaking.
There were probably a ton of other things to see that honored Steinbeck and his writings – maybe someday we’ll go back to see them!