Category: Liminal Spaces

I See Happiness ‘Round the Bend

“Are you tired, are you weary?
Does life feel drab and dreary?
Despair not of this my friend,
I see happiness ‘round the bend”

Stephanie and I have been reciting this little poem back and forth to each other since 1976 when Princess Doraldina delivered it to us from her fortune telling booth in Hampton Beach New Hampshire. I don’t have that particular card anymore – but I did come across 3 others taped into an old scrapbook recently. They all share the same vintage graphic charm of 1944, with hand drawn illustrations and off-center type. I love these cards, and search out opportunities to get new ones whenever I can.

Doraldina's Prophesies

So last Sunday morning at 7am, while I was at the start of the Surfer’s Path Marathon set directly in front of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, I checked to see what time the casino would open, so I could come back, take photos, and search for a mechanical gypsy fortune telling machine.

I was in Santa Cruz for the weekend to cheer on my friend Adriana, who was in from New York to run her first-ever marathon. After the marathon started and various friends and family members ran support relays during Adriana’s run, I found myself with time to kill before I had to get to the finish line, and headed to the boardwalk.

jersey wheels video game

The main casino arcade is a little more modern, with video games, shooter games, and a skee ball corner, but no fortune tellers mechanical or otherwise. Nevertheless, I loaded up a payment card with 5 bucks and set off down the boardwalk which was just starting to come alive for the day.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

I spotted a more historical-looking arcade section with an original Laffing Sal in the front window. This boded well for my search, and as I entered this liminal space, sure enough, there right at the front, set across from the pirate’s cove indoor mini golf course, was Estrella, a slightly younger and hippy version of a Princess Doraldina-style fortune teller.

Estrella's Prophecies

No longer a coin-operated machine, Estrella has been modified to accept payment by sliding your payment card and pushing a button, which I did, and received my first fortune card. This came from a perforated roll, as opposed to the original Doraldina cards, which were cut separately and would slide into a little brass tray, but I was still delighted. I took photos from every angle, and then just before moving on to her compatriot Pirate Fortune Teller nearby, figured that I would get a second fortune. For the total hell of it, I took a photo of the card as it came out of the machine.

Estrella's Fortune Teller Card

I looked at the fortune card. And there it was. “Are you tired, are you weary…?”

Thunderstruck, I stumbled out of the casino into the sunlight, where I quickly texted a photo to Steph – the only other person in the world who could possibly understand the significance of this event.

Pure coincidence? Or some kind of spiritual guidance from a mechanical gypsy fortune teller built in the 20s? Who knows? But there you have it.

And, I am happy to report that the connection between penny arcade style and pirates is alive and well at Neptune’s Kingdom. Estrella is situated directly across from the Buccaneer Bay mini-golf course, where she gazes upon this fellow all day long.

pirate skeleton

I continued through the Boardwalk taking more photos and found a number of other splendid vintage machines, including a Grandmother Fortune Teller. This was a wonderful place to be early on a sunny Sunday morning.

vintage arcade game

This child has a bizzarely long torso among other things.

Kids' boat ride at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

May these rides never go out of style.

At the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Get there early, and you’ve got the place to yourself.

Then it was time to get to the marathon’s finish line, and cheer on all the runners. If you ever want to feel good about humanity and life in general, I recommend that you go to a marathon finish line and watch people make their triumphant run toward the end. It’s really inspiring and as good as watching happy families reunite at an airport.

marathon finish line

Adriana storms the beaches of Santa Cruz

— Leslie

Can You Smell the Fried Dough?

boys of St. Michaels

Beaches in the off-season have a mystical appeal, especially the one with a medieval castle, St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall. Like a fairy tale, it perches on a tidal island in Mount’s Bay, which, during high tide can only be reached by boat or over a long stone causeway. While returning to our car rental from our trek out to St. Michael’s Mount we passed a smattering of off-season day-trippers. Slack tide allowed for a long stretch of damp sand which was carved in the familiar organic patterns of tidal ridges. We veered towards the dunes and passed swing sets. Boys were hurtling themselves off the dune edges in flips to land on the sand below.

pirate romance textile design

Hundreds of Gothic novels were likely inspired by places like this, as well as the steamier pirate romance books that have informed our textile designs. The Naked Now is one part St. Michael’s Mount, one part Pirate Romance book covers and a large dollop of tongue-in-cheek.

Cornwall Coast

Driving on the wrong side of the road in lanes meant for a horse and cart was part of the brain-twisting thrill that brought us to Land’s End in Cornwall. The large tourist center on the island’s most western peninsula is a perfect example of a tacky entertainment venue plunked down on a naturally beautiful setting. If the top of mountains were easy to build on we would have arcades and amusement parks there as well. Nevertheless, it is a spectacular place with crashing waves below steep rocky cliffs in three directions. We were awestruck and spent a good 2 hours staring out towards the north, west and south. It is the kind of travel experience that moves one’s soul.

Desert Island Toile - Princess Doraldina Designs

And to commemorate the soulful experience we developed Desert Island Toile. In our typical melodramatic way, it tells the story of a storm at sea, a shipwreck and the two surviving lovers who are ecstatic to find each other on a desert island.

Before we headed off to Cornwall in search of pirate romance novel settings, we took a trip to Brighton, where a former king built a bodacious anomaly of a palace. Perhaps because of the sea-side resort environment, he took the proverbial decorative ball and ran with it. The Royal Pavilion is an early 18th Century Chinoiserie wonderland.

Brighton Boardwalk

Not far away is the quintessential boardwalk built high and far into the ocean. Like homing pigeons we zeroed in on the off-season arcades and reveled in the flimflam environment which we have come to embrace as manna for inspiration.

This is an entirely different kind of boardwalk than the one at Hampton Beach. We were humbled by the very sturdy, wrought iron railings and antique gingerbread details of the stands. This was a British version of a raised beach-side heaven. Nevertheless, acclimating came easily. We knew somewhere there were mechanical fortune tellers and spin-art stands. In a couple of months there would be the heady scent of salt air and fried dough.


— Stephanie