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Guns and Roses

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Project Details

Client: Los Angeles Times

Date: October 3, 1996

Online: lat.ms/2cMjLsd

SAN JOSE — Moonlight and roses, cozy dinners, cool sheets in an elegant hotel. Mystery and intrigue. My prince on a white steed. A storybook weekend of romance, you’d say.

Pass me the Ben Gay and a couple of aspirin, and let me tell you . . .

First the mystery and intrigue.

I had heard about the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose and thought it sounded weird and fun. We had been to San Jose once before to visit friends, and we liked the small-city feel of the area, the unhurried pace amid a mix of high-tech centers, rolling hills and quaint neighborhoods.

After checking into the Hotel de Anza, we met an old girlfriend of mine and her 5-year-old, Eve, at the Old Spaghetti Factory. We plied Eve with meatballs and dinosaur cookies, then walked two blocks back to the hotel and let her check out our room. . She decided we were cool enough to take her to the Mystery House, about five miles east of downtown.

We joined tour group No. 37 (they have timed departures all day, seven days a week). We gathered from our guide–and from the bizarre structure–that the widow Sarah Winchester was seriously “touched.” The guide led us through a maze of adjoining rooms in various stages of completion, demolition and derangement, and told us how the heiress tossed away bucks on a little astral architecture. Seems she held nightly seances to get her building specs. There are blind corners, crazy stairways, doors that open into walls, windows in ceilings.

Soon after she bought the farmhouse in 1884, the story goes, she thought if she followed the spiritual dictates on remodeling, it would help atone for destruction caused by her late husband’s rifle manufacturing. When she died 38 years later, at 82, she put in her will that all construction was to stop cold.

We only saw a few of the 160 rooms on on the two-hour tour, but we saw enough to get the gist of it. Weird, weird, weird. Our favorites were the seance room, where a window overlooks the servant’s kitchen and carries up conversations, and the grand ballroom, with cryptic quotes on stained glass.

But what’s a mystery house when you have a hotel room. The De Anza is a restored 1931 grande dame perched at the north end of the long avenues of a gleaming, high-tech downtown.

The original 148 rooms were remade into 100 larger rooms, and much of the ecru-marble lobby and interiors are new. But they kept the European Art Deco style and elaborately painted ceilings. Another survivor is the diving woman painted on the peach stucco exterior, though, she is now diving into an asphalt parking lot. The weekend package for $115.50 a night (the weekday rate is $180) included a breakfast buffet, “raid our pantry” privileges for after-hours snacks and free VCR rental.

We hadn’t counted on time spent conning Eve off the bed, into the car and back home, so we blew off our dinner reservations and ordered room service from the hotel’s La Pastaia restaurant. This was fabulous. Phil and I shared a creamy polenta with a rich mushroom gravy. I had prawn salad with crunchy sweet onions, cucumbers and celery in a lemon vinaigrette. He had the insalata mista sprinkled with Gorgonzola and walnuts. Then we split a cheese, basil and tomato pizza. All this and we didn’t have to change out of shorts and T-shirts. So on to . . .

The moonlight.

About 10 miles south of San Jose is Almaden Quicksilver County Park. It’s 4,000 acres in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, where the mercury mines went bust over a century ago. Tonight was the full moon, and we joined about 50 other folks for a moonlight hike.

We started out at twilight and watched the first stars appear. We turned off our flashlight and marched by moon glow.

At the midpoint was Guadalupe Reservoir. Moonlight shining on still water, shimmery and romantic. Phil and I sat on the edge of the levee, silent, close, trying to make out the graffiti on the concrete.

The last couple of miles took us around tree-draped bends along a crest. It was like strolling a sky-high balcony as the Silicon Valley shone below us like a black-velvet shawl studded with topaz, aquamarine and diamonds with the moon above.

The next morning we went to see some other sleeping dead stuff.

The Egyptian Museum and Planetarium is a mile east of downtown. The collection, ranging from pre-dynastic alabaster vases to Ptolemaic faience jewelry, is great for its breadth, if not its depth. One of the four galleries is devoted to sarcophagi and mummies. I was disappointed to find out that many exhibits were replicas.

After exhausting my husband with my journey into the past, we rejoined the 20th century.

And roses.

A few blocks from the museum is the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden. I wasn’t expecting much, but it was unreal. Imagine spread out before you bursts of colors across a whole city block.

The next stop was Los Gatos, a 15-minute drive south, for a picnic and a stroll around Vasona Lake County Park under a clear blue sky.

We bought a couple of sandwiches at Le Boulanger bakery on the square in downtown Los Gatos, then drove a mile to the park. We found a shady picnic table by the lake and watched boaters go by as one, two, then 20 ducks homed in on us. So OK, we threw them some bread. We’re suckers. Soon there were gangs of geese honking at us, along with menacing squirrels.

Phil and I were so walked out at this point that we took a nap under an oak tree. A half-hour later, though, we rallied to explore more park. We walked to the adjacent Oak Meadow Park and came upon a carousel. It was here, as the calliope music played, that I saw my “prince” spin by, astride a bejeweled white pony that was high in spirit and stuck on a brass pole. Romantic? Actually, it was just something to give our feet a break.

Back downtown, at the Plaza de Cesar Chavez, a free jazz concert was about to begin. The place was packed. We had a couple of drinks at the Fairmont Hotel, one in the luxury chain, across the street, while the band set up. Then we watched the sunset, listened to music and puzzled over the park’s “Quetzalcoatl” sculpture.


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