“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This monumental first line from Anna Karenina always struck me as profoundly elegant with near universal applicability. Tolstoy almost certainly never wielded a golf club, but nevertheless consider Russian literary genius applied to the golf swing. Every instructor would agree that at impact all great ball strikers must have the same key elements in place; at the same time the list of ways in which one could screw up a swing would rival War and Peace in length. An application of this Anna Karenina principle to my recent California odyssey certainly ticked off all the boxes. Friends and family are of course fundamental, and when you add to that the essential components of wine, golf, and abundant sunshine you have all the ingredients of a great experience. My cup runneth over, if you’re into Bible speak, or this place f***ing rocks, in the parlance of our times.
“God’s own country” is how the locals frequently describe California, and I suppose one could make the case based on the caliber of golf and wine alone. According to Einstein, god does not play dice, but based on the quality of courses in his backyard, surely he must play golf? Cypress will have to wait until the next visit, but I did make my bi-annual pilgrimage to the other Hogan’s Alley, Riviera Country Club, and to that very special spot by the 12th green – a giant sycamore called Bogart’s Tree – where legend has it that the epitome of Hollywood cool shared a cigarette with golf’s Iceman, with the latter on his way to winning his first US Open. Spending three days in the company of a genuine Sultan of Swing, Vijay Singh, was surreal, as was wine tasting with an ethereal prima ballerina who left me for dead – on my birthday – after bottle #8. As for California wines, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; the new world does old world better than the old world. If you need convincing, drop by Willie’s Wine Bar on the Old Redwood Highway in Sonoma for a shockingly sophisticated selection by the glass; with Steely Dan playing in the background, this is quintessential California at its chilled-out best. And by the way, the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur should be on everyone’s bucket list. I could wax lyrical, but let me just say this is the coolest and sexiest place in the universe. Kissinger is credited with the aphorism that “power is the ultimate aphrodisiac”; clearly Henry never made it to Post Ranch. Yoga in the Yurt across from America’s next supermodel awakened my kundalini, and I didn’t know I had one.
Yet my moment of epiphany on this trip did not involve either Titleist or Riedel. It occurred to me that for California to be truly God’s country it needs a narrative, a sort of holy book. Or better still for a state that has featured The Terminator as Governor and Dirty Harry as a Mayor, a holy movie. Enter the Coen brothers’ cult classic The Big Lebowski, my favorite film of all time. Lebowski forces you to abandon any sense of convention as you let the saga of The Dude and his rug unfold at its own pace, with Dylan and Creedence in the background. My appreciation deepens with every viewing, every state of mind highlighting a hitherto undiscovered nuance. In this case, I’d just finished reading a theology paper written by my son which made a persuasive case that Harry Potter was a Christ-like figure. Did The Dude, Christ-like in appearance with his beard and bath robe, and on a sacrificial mission to take it easy for the rest of us, offer an alternative belief system as sound as that provided by any messiah? Was the pervert Jesus Quintana, with his memorable “nobody fucks with the Jesus” line, the Coens’ ultimate thumbs-down to the stifling convention of Christianity, or indeed most organized religion? Ethan Coen is on record as describing faith in a benevolent and omnipotent creator as “the height of stupidity”. What he did, ironically and presumably unintentionally, is to promote what followers proudly proclaim as “the world’s slowest growing religion” – Dudeism.
Oliver Benjamin (aka The Dudely Lama), founder of the Church of the Latter-Day Dude, describes Dudeism as a philosophy that “preaches non-preachiness, practices as little as possible, and above all, uh … lost my train of thought there…man” It’s a basic tenet of the Dudeist ethos to say “F**k it,” or “Yeah, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man,” when someone micturates upon their faith. Their inspiration comes from great thinkers like Snoopy the dog, who once posed the following conundrum: “My life has no purpose, no direction, no aim, no meaning, and yet I’m happy. I can’t figure it out. What am I doing right?” In practical terms, life is too short, too complicated and nobody knows wtf to do about it. So f**k it man, lets go bowling, surfing, or better still, golfing. This dude abides.
As for Tolstoy, if he’d hung out with His Dudeness instead of Victor Hugo, I suspect Anna Karenina might have turned out rather differently. Those Russians took life way too seriously.