Sunday, January 26, 2014

Somewhere New: Berkley and Oakland California

Oakland reminds me of so many towns and then no other place at the same time. The sun-dreanched streets and the corner coffee joints with floor to ceiling windows remind me of my favorite southern beach towns. The cacti and succulents that dot the front yards remind me of Arizona. The wooden houses with unexpected colors and angles remind me of Lake Linganore. And the blocks of partly boarded up shops, partly converted and newly vibrant artist spaces remind me of Richmond. Then there are the buildings downtown that were built in the 20's that look straight out of the Great Gatsby that don't remind me of anywhere but Oakland. 
After gorging at Saturn Cafe and spending an hour in a bookstore in Berkeley nose deep in love-worn pages we headed towards Angie's house and settled at a coffee shop called the Nomad with a smattering of locals glued to their screens and a curated combination of Coasta Rican coffee and Vietnamese Bahn Mi. 
A new book and a coffee shop have become something of a ritual in my travels. 
We found Angie later in the day. She's unchanged save for the slight vibe she puts out that maybe she's softened a little bit. Her warm smile even more grounded than before.
Overgrown and almost unrecognizable artichokes dominate her front yard as well as a the thoughtfully placed fig trees and kohlrabi. Inside the walls are painted an ochre brown and the doorways are arched. The arches themselves look carved out of clay, making you feel for a moment you might be in New Mexico. 
Much of the Bay Area vibes this: terra cotta roofs and Spanish churches with taco and burritos joints in no shortage. I'm reminded of Saint Augustine, the first of the Spanish settlements in what would become the United States. But now, as in St. Augustine, the strongest connection to the founding culture is in its architecture and in the food of the people.
I can't help but find it strange that when the people of a founding culture are gone, what is it about their architecture that entices the new inhabitants to continue to build in the same style rather than their own?
Humans can be so destructive, possessive and proud. They will bully, threaten and even sometimes unknowingly push out and jeopardize whole communities.  But in the remaining trapping of those cultures we see an almost pointed acceptance if not admiration of them.  
It's not just Spanish terra cotta that speaks of the past though. In a place that itself is synonymous with progress, it puzzles me that the West Coast gravitates so heavily towards the antique. I'm pleasantly puzzled of course, but from someone who was born on the East Coast, the eurocentric epicenter of United States history, the West can often feel artificial because of its relative youth. 
But everywhere you look in San Francisco and its outlying cities people are embracing classic styles of architecture and design. It's comforting really to see such blatant nods to the past from such famously forward thinking people. The Bay area feels durable and grounded for it. Approachable. 

Angie took us into downtown Oakland in the evening where we walked under Mario Chiodo's towering Monument - Remember Them: Champions For Humanity. The giant head of Ghandi and life sized death-mask-esque heads on plaques slept quietly in the square. We shuffled into Cafe Van Kleef (check out this cool video about the bar) and huddled up at the bar with fresh pressed greyhounds and talked about our relationships and how for the first time in, well ever, we all felt pretty darn healthy in them. Our night with Angie was brief but it was strangely comforting to see someone I knew from Shepherdstown so far away from that little blip. It made the world feel a little more cozy actually. 
Treats at Saturn

Eucalyptus Grove on campus

A gem at Half Price Books in Berkeley

The next morning we made one last stop in Oakland then headed across the Golden Gate Bridge and on our way north. 

1 comment:

Phil said...

Beautifully composed images! You're consistently purposeful with your framing.