My Calistoga in the Age of Covid

We did not know what to expect. This was our first post-Corona hotel stay and we were apprehensive. We had booked two nights in our favorite go-to place, the Calistoga Spa. Calistoga, a little town, nestled in the Napa Valley holds a huge place in my heart. Calistoga  is rich with  memories of my youth. It is the only place we went to for family vacations when we were kids. For my parents, it was not far from San Francisco (around two hours depending if my father got lost), and we were guaranteed wonderful, usually hot summer weather. My mother’s goal was to get her little brood out of the fog belt of San Francisco, and we would get tan like browned chickens

We stayed at a no-frills resort, then called Little Village, for around $60 a week, running in to the same families every year. My mom did all the cooking and  managed to make the best meals for us. The kids had a ball playing hide and seek and shuffleboard. We entertained ourselves with comic books and cut out dolls. The highlight of every afternoon was swimming in the huge geyser-heated public pool, Patchateau’s. We would trek over there through a  field with prickly weeds holding our inner tubes. When we got to the pool,  my mom paid the maybe fifty cent admission. She would coat us with Sea and Ski, and then we were off for a glorious afternoon playing and splashing in the tepid water. My dad would join us on weekends driving up from San Francisco on Friday afternoons. Those weekends were rejuvenating for him. He could look forward to taking a hot mineral bath in our own cabin. The sulphur in the water smelled like rotten eggs.  In later years, Little Village put in their own pool which had cold water so we preferred swimming there in the heat which could reach over 100 degrees.

 Jeff and I continued our family tradition and brought our children to Calistoga as well. We have also had some terrific times with our grandchildren there too. The magic is the same, lazy days in the swimming pool. Patchateau’s now is Indian Springs, very upscale and not open to the public as it once was,  when it was a veritable international swim party on Sunday afternoons. We currently go to the Calistoga Spa, bring our own little barbeque and I manage to whip up great food in the tiny kitchen. When my grandchildren are there, I am like a short order cook making five different breakfasts from French toast to omlettes, to scrambled eggs.

at the Patchateau’s pool with my sister, around 1960

This time when we had made the reservation for the spa, we were almost reluctant to go with the new rules and restrictions. We could not arrive until 3pm where we had always been able to use the pool early in the day. We had to check out at 11AM where we had hung around the next day until maybe 2PM. Masks were required to walk around the resort though we did not need them in the pool area if we were sitting at a lounge chair. The rooms would be rather bare and no maid service available. The chairs around the pool would be spaced, and the rooms would be vacant the day before we came and the day after we left. Of course, the spa would be closed so no massages. We never did mud baths anyway, but an occasional massage was a special treat. Whew…this was the new reality, take it our leave it.

Initially we canceled then thought about it and said if we stay for two nights and bring most of our own food we will avoid the grocery store. We decided to give it a try. It was sad to see how many restaurants  and businesses had closed in town. In some cases a favorite restaurant had moved out, and a new name had taken over the space.  Calistoga had previously suffered the effects of the huge Napa Valley fires which spared the town thankfully but had also affected the tourist business. We walked around wearing our masks which was really strange and felt suffocating. We had dinner one warm night out at a patio restaurant with masked servers. It was a lovely creekside setting so it was pleasant.

One of our mornings I was out at 7AM getting us coffee and slipped off my mask. I breathed in the delicious air. This was the Calistoga I remembered. How do you describe the smell of a place? I don’t even know the right words, but that early morning took me back to how  it had always been. We really enjoyed our two days there… lazily floating around in our noodles in the pools, reading and relaxing. It was good to get away from the constant barrage of scary news. The best parts of Calistoga are still the same, the sweet air, the total relaxation, the warm sun. We will go back again and pray for when we can be there without masks.

the upside down sign at this restaurant which was closed somehow felt like a metaphor for everything else…


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