Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Carmel Bohemians: Romantic Thinkers

Carmel, CA -- Carmel’s abundant natural beauty has always inspired artists and writers to live in its village by the sea.  At the turn of the century, there were many artistic colonies around the country calling themselves Bohemians.  San Francisco was home to a large community of these high thinkers.  The cataclysmic earthquake and ensuing fires that ravaged the city in 1906 threw San Francisco's Bohemian community into disarray, and the refugees fled south to Carmel.

George Sterling, a charismatic poet was the central character in this utopian society, having arrived in Carmel in 1905 and setting up a cottage with enough room to entertain guests.  He convinced friends to abandon the city and forge a rustic community among the cypress trees and white sand beaches.  Among them were writers Jack London, Mary Austin, and Sinclair Lewis.   

Monday, February 13, 2012

Ohlone Indians: California's Lost Treasure

San Franciso Bay, CA--The Ohlone Way, a book by Malcolm Margolin tells us there were about 10,000 California Indians consisting of 40 groups who lived in the coastal area between Point Sur and the San Francisco Bay each controlling enough land to feed its population.  The Coast Miwok in Marin County; Patwin around Suisun Marsh; and Plains Miwok, Bay Miwok, and Yokuts in the delta.  While each of these groups varied from one another in language and customs, today they are collectively known as the Ohlone Indians.

Back then, the ecological diversity of the Bay Area was enormous.  Over many centuries totaling four or five thousand years, the Ohlone Indians around the estuary lived meaningful, complex lives that were self-sustaining.  They were not apart from the natural world, and never considered themselves to be the top of the food chain, simply a part of it.

The Ohlones were hunters and gatherers—they fished, painted their bodies and danced.  They married, raised children, buried their dead and prayed to their gods—in short not so different from you and me.  They shared joy, laughter, suffering and sorrow. 

They did not value freedom or individualism.  This is so vastly different from the pioneer spirit and the California way that exists today.  Every Ohlone from birth to death, was bound to family and clan. To break these bonds and achieve freedom was to be weakened, damaged, and dangerously vulnerable.  Strength, joy, fulfillment, a person’s very identity were to be found in belonging.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Golden Gate Bridge: Tourist Rite of Passage

San Francisco, CA -- Last year, I went on a pilgrimage of California and lived for one month in 12 cities.  In each city I took a picture in front of their official city limits sign.  In San Francisco, their sign was in the center of the Golden Gate Bridge.  I walked the 1.7 miles north toward Marin County across the entire span searching for the San Francisco city limits sign only to discover that it was across the bridge on the bicycles-only side, where no foot-traffic was allowed.  I dodged angry spandex-clad bicyclists to arrive at my destination.  I had to take the photo myself.  The goal was to place the entire sign in the picture frame, with at least some part of me in the photograph.  I was a bundle of nerves—my hands were shaking and my fingers were thumbs.  It took me 63 times to get it right.

Monday, February 6, 2012

San Francisco Bay Discovery Site: Sweeney Ridge

Pacifica, CA -- Captain Gaspar de Portol√° and his expedition, consisting of 64 people, set out from San Diego, made their way to Monterey, and then arrived at Sweeney Ridge near the San Francisco International Airport.  On that hilltop, they discovered the largest estuary on the Western Coast of the United States.
Expedition engineer Miguel Costansó wrote in his journal:

“From the summit of this range we saw the magnificent estuary, which stretched toward the southeast.  The country was pleasant.  The hills west of the canyon were crowned with low live oaks, smaller trees.  There was sufficient pasture.  We halted on the bank of a stream of good water.  Some…natives…invite us to go to their villages, and offered us present of seeds and fruits.”

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Palace of Fine Arts: San Francisco Treasure

San Francisco, CA -- The Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina District was built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition or what’s known as the World’s Fair.  It was part of a massive undertaking to show the world that after the 1906 earthquake and resulting fire, San Francisco was back in business. 

Architect Bernard Maybeck designed the Palace of Fine Arts to evoke the same emotional response of sadness and beauty one might feel while looking at a Roman ruin, yet still in California.  The circular paved walkway offers views of a pond filled with ducks and geese, surrounded by camellia and rhododendron trees creating an ethereal landscape. The fact that this haunting structure of immense proportion remains standing is a testament to the esteem San Franciscans hold for their beloved landmark. Gavin Newsom, the city's former mayor is quoted as saying “The Palace is part of San Francisco's soul, a beautiful link to our past and a gateway to the future.”

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Intellectual Icon: Berkeley's Campinele

Berkeley, CA – Every time I look out my living room window I am greeted with a vision of Berkeley's Sather Tower, known as the Campanile.  It stands 307 feet tall and is the third tallest bell and clock tower in the world.  To me, it represents intellectual stability. Writing the book A Year In California is both exhilarating and debilitating.  Feeling stuck in the writing process yesterday, I walked the two miles from my Oakland home to the Campinele and placed both hands on the cement structure, hoping to gain strength to continue on my path.  I was not disappointed.  The energy of 22 Nobel laureates passed through me, their undaunted courage inspiring me to continue.  I stepped back from this intellectual edifice in time to gain a whiff of some pungent cannabis coming from a man in his late 30s.  I took him to be a student of life, inhaled deeply, and made my way to the Bancroft Library.