In 1960, iconic French photographer Robert Doisneau came to Palm Springs on a mission… The famed artist, best known for his black and white portraits of Parisian street scenes, arrived in the California desert and shot away, capturing the essence of a unique city, created from scratch in the middle of the Colorado Desert, at the base of the magnificent San Jacinto mountains.
Palm Springs. 350 days of sunshine a year (that’s fewer than 15 days of rainfall for all of you math-challenged folks out there!) The international jetset’s and the Stars’ playground since the 1940s. A golf mecca. Palm Springs: A historical and ecological wonder.
One can only imagine the culture shock Doisneau experienced when he discovered Palm Springs, leaving behind la grisaille (the grey skies) of Paris, and still depressed, post-war France. He took hundreds of color photographs for Fortune Magazine. Only a handful were eventually selected by the publication… until a few years ago, when the rest of the collection was discovered and published by Flammarion.
His take on the desert belle was at times humorous, ironic, or poignant. His fascination with Palm Springs’ colors, obvious. Blue (the sky! the swimming pools!) Green (the sprawling golf courses!) Red (the glorious sunsets!)
Doisneau was likely fascinated with the wealthy residents; the silver-haired retirees; the glamorous Hollywood stars; the fur coats worn at parties in air-conditioned houses while summer temps exceeded 100F outside; the ubiquitous swimming pools lying peacefully in the blazing sun…
As a long time fan of the California coast, I have only ventured inland on a few occasions, and drove through Palm Springs once. As I recall, it poured during that first trip, so many years ago. All I remembered were long, straight streets, bordered by strip malls; many cars; and giant wind turbines sprawling outside the city limits.
So when mid-winter break came last month, and friends invited us to join them on their annual trip to the California desert, Junior and I replied “Pourquoi pas?” then booked our flights.
I will be honest. I did not think I would like Palm Springs. Too artificial. Too glitzy. Too car-oriented for this enthusiastic walker. But 350 days of sunshine a year is a tempting proposition when one lives in the Pacific Northwest.
I was wrong about Palm Springs.
The desert belle was good enough for Robert Doisneau, and it was good enough for me.
My favorite section (and the most walkable:) downtown Palm Springs, and its cheerful streets lined with boutiques, restaurants and palm trees. I even met an old friend there and could not get enough of her!
|While mom is window shopping, the budding photographer gets his fill of collectible cars|
|Oh la la! This is even better than watching “Top Gear!”|
|It does not take long to figure out where Palm Springs got its name…|
|Norma Jean, and a gorgeous backdrop|
|“Forever Marilyn:” a 26-foot tall statue by J. Seward Johnson|
Eating outside and watching the world go by on popular Palm Canyon Drive quickly became a favorite thing to do for Junior and Maman. It probably was no coincidence that the first restaurant we located was European “Pommes Frites…”
I felt I was back in Belgium where I spent many happy weekends with my family as I was growing up in Lille, France…
|Moules Marinières – Frites, bien sûr!|
When in Rome, do as the Romans do… We did not forget to enjoy California delicacies…
Shopping was not too shabby either. In an all American city like Palm Springs, shopping is available almost around the clock. Forget le lèche-vitrine (window-licking:) Most shops are tucked away on both sides of busy avenues, in strip malls of various sizes, accessible only by car. A notable exception: the local Rodeo Drive, known as “El Paseo…” Elegant, exclusive, walkable… a feast for the eyes… hurtful to the wallet… In short, incontournable (a must-see.)
|Chi-chi pooches on El Paseo…|
|Everything looks a little bit cooler on El Paseo:
“J. Crew in the Desert…”
It has only been a few weeks since we returned to the lush and glistening Pacific Northwest, and as I look back on our short trip, I realize it is not the glitz and glamour of Palm Springs I remember fondly; the Rat Pack; Frank Sinatra Drive; Elvis’ honeymoon hideaway; or even the old Plaza Theater… The most amazing part of the desert city is not in Palm Springs, but around it.
Quel cadre exceptionnel! What an exceptional environment! As we found out, there is a lot more to do in Palm Springs than shopping or playing golf: Nature is the real star there. From the desert to snow capped mountains; from expansive native California palm groves; Palm Springs is surrounded by dramatic landscapes.
For history buffs, the story of the native Agua Caliente Cahuilla Indians – the original settlers – is fascinating. Junior and I were lucky enough to hike in the Indian Canyons, on the reservation grounds. Treading carefully on steep trails in the middle of a lush palm grove one minute; we would often end up climbing on a windy plateau in quasi-lunar landscape a few moments later. We had found it: Le grand ouest américain! (the American far west.)
This was rollicking good fun for Junior and maman. A time to just be together and enjoy the moment, away from house chores; homework; and car pools… As I watched him snap away, I thought: “Old Robert Doisneau would be happy: a new generation has stepped up!”
|I would not have been surprised to see John Wayne show up on his horse…|
I know we will be back. Seattle is so far away from just about everywhere… but flying to Palm Springs only takes a couple of hours. Quelle chance! What a treat!
A bientôt, Palm Springs: Stay eclectic. Stay sunny and warm. Stay cool!
|Only in Palm Springs do they seem to blend in:
Les Eoliennes (wind turbines)
All photos except Doisneau series by French Girl in Seattle.