The jar of eyeballs only comes out on Halloween.
At about the time Pomponio was jailed and executed (1824), California began changing hands from Spanish to Mexican rule.
An atmosphere of bitter resentment against the vast wealth of te mission system had forced a solution–and some 10 years after Pomponio’s death, a directive from Mexico ordered the break-up of the missions. Perhaps the martyred Pomponio played a small role in bringing about the change.
Under the new order, the Mexicans parceled out grants of land to “men of good Spanish ancestry.” One of the beneficiaries was Tiburcio Vasquez, the former superintendent of Mission Dolores’ livestock. He applied for and received the southern portion of the Corral de Tierra, a land grant so named because the surrounding geographical featured formed a natural enclosure for cattle.
Tiburcio Vasquez is considered the founding father of “Spanishtown”–an earlier name for Half Moon Bay.
The Vasquez rancho stretched from Miramar to Pilarcitos Creek in Half Moon Bay, where Tiburcio’s son, Pablo, constructed a frame house that stands to this day.
The respected Pablo Vasquez–an expert equestrian and avid billiard player–who walked about with a collapsible cue stick–became a Coastside celebrity.
He had grown up at Mission Dolores and knew all the legends about Pomponio. But as is the case with legends, there was a mixture of historical accuracy and romance.
When asked about Pomponio, Pablo pointed toward a valley behind Half Moon Bay, which he said had been named after the famous outlaw Indian.
Pablo then launched into a story he loved to tell. While the padres slept soundly, he said, Pomponio and his gang repeatedly raided Mission Dolores, helping themselves to the horses in the corral. In an attempt to stop the annoying thievery, the fathers tied a bell to the neck of a mare in each corral. They believed this “alarm system” would prevent future robberies.
Of course, Pomponio quickly adapted to their clever alarm system. He outwitted the fathers by quietly approaching the corrals on tip toe while one of his gang captured the “bell mare” (tinkling the bell to reassure the padres that all was well). The bandits then filed out of the rear of the corral with a string of horses.
The following morning the shocked padres looked for their horses but all they found was the warning bell.
Pablo Vasquez became a Coastside legend in his own time–but there were no creeks or beaches or roads named in his memory. That was reserved for Pomponio, the renegade Indian who brought terror to the hearts of the mission fathers.
The commute over Devil’s Slide was uneventful but I still sighed with relief as I pulled into the garage and shut down the engine. The fog was rolling in, Pumpkin days were behind us, and it was good to be home.
But, it was not to be.
“We can just make the 4:20 showing of “The Queen” in Palo Alto if we leave right now,” June said breathlessly. There was no negotiating. She’s all business when she dons those Grand Prix driving gloves.
“Look, isn’t this the movie about Queen Elizabeth I, who reigned in the 16th century?” I whined. “Wasn’t she beheaded, or locked up in the tower? In any case, do we really want to see a period piece movie, where they all talk funny?”
June rolled her eyes once or twice, and I noted that we were already on Highway 280 heading south.
“The Queen,” she sniffed, “is about Queen Elizabeth II, the present monarch, stars the great actor Helen Mirren, and is directed by Stephen Frears, whose 1985 film, “My Beautiful Launderette”, is a cult classic.”
My spirits improved as we exited at Page Mill Road. I was now minutes away from a large- sized popcorn with the hope that they used real butter and, more importantly, I reflected that Helen Mirren is one of the finest actors of our time. She was dazzling as Jane Tennison in PBS’s “Prime Suspect” series, and remarkable as the brilliant but difficult Russian émigré in “The Passion of Ayn Rand”. Helen Mirren does not disappoint as The Queen. She is at the top of her game.
The story line of the film covers those shattering events in the UK during 1997. Tony Blair, amazingly portrayed by Michael Sheen, has become the first Labor Prime Minister in about 20 years. He is young – Blair was born in 1953, the year Elizabeth ascended the throne – and handsome. Although raised in privilege and properly educated, he is a socialist “new man.”
His first official meeting with the Queen sets the tone for the entire film. Elizabeth, reserved, formal, but armed with a rapier wit, duels with Blair. She advises that he is her 14th Prime Minister. He is amused by the monarch, but remains respectful throughout.
Blair’s wife, Cherie, does not share this respect. She is in sympathy with the 25% of the British population who believe the monarchy is an expensive anachronism and should be abolished.
To the tradition- bound Elizabeth, Blair might as well be a rock-star.
And then…the dark event that turns our story from a gentle tale of a collision of manners to a political crisis that could threaten the UK’s constitutional monarchy:
Princess Diana is tragically killed in a motor accident in Paris.
To Elizabeth, this event is the final act of the dismal drama that Diana created for the Royal family. The movie, “The Queen”, does not dwell on the “sordid” events that led to Diana’s divorce from Prince Charles. The audience is reminded, however, that Diana has been “excommunicated” from the royal family.
The only potential problem Elizabeth sees is the need to protect the young princes, Harry and William, from the evil media. In this she is supported by her consort Prince Philip – well portrayed by American actor James Cromwell. Her mother, “the Queen Mum”, is also quick to offer her full support.
The royal family never once considers that the young princes should be mourning the dead mother they dearly loved. Shut off the TV sets, hide the newspapers, this was the royal strategy. Prince Philip decides that fresh air is the best remedy and takes the boys hunting on the 40,000 acres that make up the Balmoral Castle grounds.
As the days pass the outpouring of grief for the dead princess rages like a forest fire. To the royal family this outpouring is incomprehensible.
The headlines begin to turn ugly; why is the flag at Buckingham not flying at half-mast? Why is Princess Diana not being afforded a royal funeral? When will Queen Elizabeth break her silence and acknowledge the tragedy of Diana’s death?
From this point, “The Queen” becomes an elegant nail-biter. On the one hand, we have the intractable Elizabeth and her royal entourage clinging to traditions and views forged through 1,000 years. On the other – the average Brits who revere a different stripe of royalty: Elton John, Madonna, Elizabeth Taylor, the Spice Girls, and even the likes of Tony Blair. To these subjects, Diana was the real princess.
“The Queen” relies heavily on archived tapes and films. It is a sticky matter to successfully weave old images into a screenplay. Director Frears does it artfully.
First, we see old BBC tapes of an ocean of flowers placed by grieving Brits around Buckingham and the other palaces. Then, seamlessly, Mirren’s Elizabeth walking amidst the bouquets. She reads some of the attached messages and is stunned by the anger directed against the Royal family. She is in agony, yet, never buckles, never loses the royal demeanor that defined her life.
There is a sadness as Mirren’s queen grudgingly accedes to the pressures put upon her. She is powerless, yet, never loses her grace.
Finally, Helen Mirren’s Elizabeth realizes what we knew all along. We live in a “Pop Culture” and even tradition is fading fast.
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The end came in the form of a woman scorned. A beautiful Indian girl claimed Pomponio and two of his friends had kidnapped her, leaving her to guard the horses while they visited the native quarters at Mission Dolores. Most likely she resented being abandoned by Pomponio while he caroused. She knew his habits well enough–so goes the story–to lead the soldiers to Pomponio’s secret cave.
Perhaps Pomponio heard the soliders coming–or had been forewarned–but when the hunters reached the cave, he had vanished. His departure must have been hurried as a small cache of primitive weapoons, including a sword, was left behind.
With the pressure building on Pomponio, his life of flight was fast coming to a close. He was captured in what is now Marin County, jailed and executed by a firing squad in 1824.
The frustrated soldiers waited in vain for the rebels to strike but the attack never came. Infuriated, they frantically renewed their hunt and Pomponio withdrew to the safety of the cave at the headwaters of Pomponio Creek, south of San Gregorio.
The crafty Pomponio must have felt secure knowing that the soldiers wearing standard issue uniforms and heavy boots were not prepared for the rugged terrain. This remote part of the Coastside was uncharted–and did not lend itself to an orderly field of battle.
His pursuers would lose their footing, slip and fall as they tried to climb the precarious layers of rock that led up to Pomponio’s hidden lair. In the unlikely event they did reach the cave, Pomponio and his men would be waiting for them, armed with weapons stolen on their raids.
(The Coastside was so isolated that not until 1850 did the famous Johnston brothers from Ohio distinguish themselves by being among the first to navigate wagons over the Coastside’s mountainous barriers. They used an ingenious rope system to gingerly lower their wheeled vehicles down the steep slope.)
But Pomponio’s luck was running out. Perhaps his youthful illusion of immortality led him to become sloppy. It was only a matter of time before his bravado would bring him down.
…To Be Continued….