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Laguna Beach

 Volume 11, Issue 100  | December 13, 2019


Laguna Beach

By Odile Dewar

Blue skies, vermillion bougainvillea, deep turquoise waters reminiscent of the French Riviera with a twist of Africa. Diving into the waves of the Pacific Ocean, my memories bring me back to my birthplace on the Indian Ocean.  Madagascar is not that far. Palm trees and endless sunsets capture our imagination. The perfume of eucalyptus trees dancing around the moon creates enchanting summer nights. Spread out through the town, artists gather their palettes to transcend nature and humanity into mesmerizing paintings. Cafes and restaurants distill a rainbow of flavors from all over the world, bringing delights to our lives. Tunes of jazz or rock and roll intertwined with classical music flow in the alleys on a summer solstice day. Sparkling iridescent illuminations waltz across the canvass of the Milky Way on Main Beach’s 4th of July spectacular extravagance. In front of charming cottages, bright ginger pumpkins await the parade of costumes stepping at their doorways under starry October skies. Why am I writing about all of this? Just to say one thing: Thank You. Laguna Beach is an exquisite unique impressionist adventure that blesses the lucky people who set their course for this artistic destination.

Thirty years of teaching and living in this paradise, where my destiny brought me from France, made me reflect on a few essential facts of life. Caviar, champagne, Mercedes, million dollar houses, priceless art, expensive jewelry, and Louis Vuitton bags or caps are exciting things that enrapture our world sometimes and there is nothing wrong about that. After all beautiful material things give us dreams and the desire to work hard to achieve them. Also, as we all know, Laguna is filled with tasteful abundance and wealth but this is not what makes Laguna Beach unique.

What makes this magic city unique is its soul and heart, and therefore its people. There are so many outstanding individuals in this town. Even the hundreds of pages of Victor Hugo masterpieces would not be enough to include all of the names of prior, current, and future generations that deserve to be commended for their extraordinary qualities.

As I just retired from teaching, and ended up with a lot of time to think about the true meaning of life, I realized that devotion, generosity, and selflessness, along with creativity, are essential keys to the pursuit of happiness. This is what happens in Laguna. It is the city that comes together in the midst of disaster: fires, earthquakes, floods, family tragedies.

It is people like our late Evelyn Munroe, a brilliant Southern woman activist who opened her arms to so many, and worked for a myriad of causes such as the Friendship Shelter for instance. Douglas Miller, our genius Renaissance man alias street photographer. Jody Hoy, teacher writer and photographer who instilled the Passion of French in so many people’s hearts. For me at school it is my cherished enlightened students with their bright eyes, smiles, and open minds, along with their supportive families and a fantastic school district and staff…but also my colleagues. Some of them became close friends, family actually. As I have been struggling with some medical problems for over a year now, I came to the conclusion that all the awards, diplomas one can have, all the beautiful places we travel to or live in, even though important, do not matter compared to the authentic relationships that one has with human beings. I have been blessed with the unconditional support of this town.

I cannot thank enough so many Lagunatics and friends in my life but as a few examples I would like to acknowledge these astonishing people: Joanie McKnight, a science teacher with a Jeanne of Arc vision and a mission against bullying. Jose Luis Gonzalez, a real hero, faithful friend who literally saves lives in and outside his classroom. Rod Ortiz who will always be there in case of need and is the Godfather of the language department at LBHS.

Jim Garvey, Carita Garcia, and Sandra Johnson; my compadres Gary Shapiro and Steve Bogusiewicz who can really add numbers in the equation of life; Peter Tiner and Bill Darnall who transform reality in masterpieces. Dawn Brown and Jennifer de Encio, exceptional HR specialists at LBUSD. Father Ken Schmidt, Father Patrick Rudolph, and Pastor Steve Sweet – incredible listeners and Shepherds of faith!

Marie Bachelot and Goli Poursaid who bring me sunshine on a weekly basis. Fantine Capron who feeds fresh air into humanity. Pamela Schick, cherished confidant. Sean, a warm hearted chivalrous originally British local locksmith who assisted me when in distress.

Graham McCracken, English entrepreneur who used to live here and encourages me on FaceTime or during his visits in Laguna along with my best devoted friend Douglas, originally from Bel Air, who 40 years ago on Hemingway’s favorite boulevard du Montparnasse Parisian Landmark predicted that I belonged in California. Bryan, an extraordinary former student, brilliant businessman, talented photographer, poet, polyglot, and inspired composer who keeps me company every Saturday, cheers me up and entertains me in different languages giving irreplaceable joie de vivre to my heart and soul.

Danielle Villicana, my very first pupil at LBHS, currently an artist in Italy and the U.S who came to my rescue and spent a whole night holding my hand in an emergency room while reading me Pablo Picasso’s poetry. Ali Samanifard, graduate from Laguna Beach High School who FacedTime my mother with me at lunch break while selecting French poems and songs for new generations.

Amelie Mbaye, international actress and singer from Senegal, France and Los Angeles, who has been an essential part of the Fête de la Musique and keeps me going through the magic of her wise words. John Fay, the caring and enthusiastic Director of Lifelong Laguna at the Susi Q Senior Center, and his incredible dedicated team of volunteers. The fantastic members of Laguna Sister Cities Association. 

Whitney, a young lady with an enchanting smile and voice, volunteer performer at the Fête de la Musique who studies French with me, along with my friend Beth Major who works at Bushard’s Pharmacy and knows how to lift any face as well as any dark floating cloud. Ali Salehi, former student and speech and debate coach at UCLA, bringing verses to the tempo of life. Alex Joyce, friendly computer specialist, former student, and wonderful advisor. Vicky McIntosh who comforted me and brightened my surroundings for a whole afternoon in a hospital room.

Janet Eggers who also spent a full day with me in an emergency room reminiscing the good times in Laguna when the Russian Ballet companies used to visit our culturally radiant city after their fantastic performances at the performing arts center. Her daughter Allison, former student, is currently living in New York, married to a French man, and teaching Ballet History at the American Ballet Theater. Ryan, 23 years old LBHS alumni who just returned from England, studying and coaching American football, who radiates optimism and wit. 

Brian and Suzan Hazelbaker, my longtime loyal friends, Francophiles who visited my parents in France, and their gifted beautiful cosmopolitan daughter Cassidy. Ann and Niclas Cox Kruger, my dear American Swedish connection, and their wonderful daughters Katya and Julia. Pascal Demilly, originally Parisian, whom I convinced to stay in Laguna Beach some 30 years ago and his four splendid kids Nadia, Nico, Mila, and Sacha. Heather Blachet, Parisian by marriage but lagunian by birth and heart, and her two magnificent children Celeste and Adrien. 

The philanthropist and altruistic Schwarzstein and Capron family, Fabiola Kinder, and Jean Coriolan all with American, French, and Haitian ties. Cynthia Graffio, generous family-like acquaintance and French teacher whose parents have businesses in Laguna and sings for me some of my favorite tunes notably from her singer cousin Enrico Macias. Wilma and Jennifer, very sweet caregivers and nurses. Tiffani Ghere, expert and kind dietitian, who is trying to find ways to get me to put on a few pounds.

Lydia Ringwald, artist and inspired journalist who shares poems with me. Bettina Haussmann, president of the UN association of San Diego, who got my AP 2017 class in a great ocean ambassadors video project for which they were recognized nationwide. Dozens of helping hands from our Laguna parents, friends, and former students such as Anita, Norm, Ron, Elizabeth, Sarah Besso, Sarah Hopper, Diana Kams, Diana Riegler, Bill Anti, Bill Schweitzer, Jean Jacques, Andreane, Steve, Marie Jo, Jennifer Dudley, Jennifer Karam, Fred, Jorge, Gloria, Carolyn, Bonnie, William, Estelle, Nelly, Libby, Debbie, Eimi, Cyndi, Najmeh, Didi, Mele, Tina, Aria, Eden, Sophia, Lilly, Sophie, Eden Marie Biele, Richard, Mikaela, Makena, Kyle, Jordan and Julie Youseff, Aline, Anne Marie, Zoe, Chloe, Alexandra, Jordan Click, Will, Leah, Charlie, Tess, Anika, Luc, Alden, Maddy, Bretagne, Eva who have been visiting on my island/home in Laguna. Forgive me if I forgot to mention some names as the list goes on and on with individuals touched by Laguna are definitely pure gold!

And, of course, my amazing boyfriend, Dan, who is with me in spite of all the difficulties.

I do not know what the future holds for me but I want to say merci and give back to this charismatic place. I lived my life at the speed of light. I regret to not have made more time for my beloved family in France, especially my remarkable sister Anne Marie, even though I used to FaceTime my mother four times a day and visited her and my dad regularly in Paris, and in Britany on the Emerald coastline shores. I hope I can go back to France soon or dance on the fête de la Musique’s upbeat tunes on Forest Avenue. I wish I will be able to savor before long a delicious omelette au fromage at the Anastasia Café terrace or Moulin, or feel the warm sand under my feet at Victoria Cove. But I certainly will keep forever vivid memories and fond images in my heart of one of the most beautiful and giving towns in this world: LAGUNA!

 

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut is our Chief Photographer.

Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Lynette Brasfield, Marrie Stone, Maggi Henrikson, Samantha Washer, and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists. Scott Brashier is our photographer.

Stacia Stabler is our Social Media Manager & Writer.

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