Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Indescribable Isleton

Continuing our travels through the California Delta (see yesterday’s entry), we came to Isleton (population 840). To say this is a difficult town to describe is an understatement.
Along the town’s main street, there are preserved 19th-century era storefronts, such as the buildings shown in the next three photos. The town was once referred to as "the Little Paris of the Delta."

The store “Art for All Seasons” would seem to reflect the architectural simplicity of days gone by.

The Delta Daze Inn is a 10-room bed and breakfast inn--a fine place to stay, especially during the Crawdad Festival. Indeed, Isleton is known as "Crawdad Town USA." To us, that claim seemed a bit of a stretch, but for three days a year, the label may apply. During that time, there is the largest consumption of crawdads outside of Louisiana--in any one town on the planet, (according to the publicity brochures). Some 25,000 pounds of crawdads, to be exact!

Each year on Father's Day Weekend, the Festival draws crowds reaching 200,000 people!

In contrast, as I was walking down the street, I noticed another group of storefronts. The building (right) looked abandoned.

This very colorful building could either be ending its functional life or experiencing a rebirth. It was very hard to tell.

This pair of buildings presented a contrast in the town’s character. Is the tone one of a subdued, “don’t call attention to yourself” presence (left building) or one of an exciting, “hey, here I am; like nothing you’ve ever seen” magnetic attraction (building on the right).

As Kate and my second cousin Barbara were comparing the “message” of these two buildings, one of the locals said, “Y’know, for $500,000 you could buy that building (on the right). The owners got in way over their heads.”

Actually, according to the web page listing on Isleton real estate, the property is priced at $349,900 (just checking for reporting accuracy) with the following additional information: “Most over-improved historical tin covered building in Isleton. Rare corner lot.”

As I photographed storefronts, another local noticed me and shouted, “A tourist. We don’t get many of these.” So without a Festival, a visitor seems to be quite a rarity.

But when a festival rolls around, such as The Asian Celebration, The Rodeo on the River, and most cetainly, The Spam Contest, the population swells. Regarding the history of The Spam Contest, during the floods of 1996, families who were displaced by the floods remarked when they returned to their homes that the labels on the Spam cans were the only labels that survived. Townspeople decided to make some fun of it and the Spam Contest was created.

The contestants cook Spam, carve Spam, dress up in Spam costumes and even appoint a "Captain Spam." Spam dishes submitted in past years include Corn Chowder with Spam, Spamaghetti, Spam Pumpkin Soup, Off Road Spam Rollies, Heart-Shaped Spamoni, Sweet & Sour Spam and Spam Wonton Soup.

Along one street, we found this beautiful gazebo complete with Chinese symbols, recognizing the Chinese influence on this California Delta city’s growth. This park is the site of the Crawdad Festival.

So, is Isleton a small, old, declining Delta town or a small, but energized town that can organize creative Festivals, welcome crowds of thousands, prepare for the future, and command very good prices for real estate—all with a sense of humor?

The answer is “Yes.” It’s all the above. We would like to have stayed longer.

Returning to Barbara’s home in Rio Vista, we stopped at the Humphrey Memorial. The memorial and the poem by a 12-year-old student honored the trip of Humphrey the Humpback Whale which swam several miles upstream in fresh water in the Fall of 1985.

We will miss the Delta and its people who made history and are making history.

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