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IMG_6597Berkeley is a two hour walk.

In this advanced enclave, an oasis of tolerance, one can be entertained at the public library designed in 1930, as the brass plaque declares, in zigzag moderne style, graze among the periodicals.

IMG_7682In the check out line at the Berkeley Bowl where handsome boys, slim as eagles, take cash/credit/ for the leafiest lettuce, $4.50 a pound.

At the BAMFA, a venue to watch with furious intention, make sense of the spinning universe (God is quite unnecessary as the American messiah, Carl Sagan, foresaw from his starry perch, when there is science), following its 112 mil makeover.

The best is there for minor admission – a painting of a street corner in Vermont committed to canvas by George Ault in 1949, Heaven gathered in one place, before dawn – on another wall, massive, eye-smashing, a lesson in how to regard what we all face, a beloved father with Alzheimer’s, his brain putty, dissolving into the cosmos.

IMG_7672Or, it’s a young man pushing a cart, with the blood red eyes of a weasel, a casual murderer, perhaps, without the sanction of law, as he turns, stares you directly in the eye, says calmly, fuck you man.

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So, pray tell, why does Joan Didion, perpetually glamorous, remain behind dark sun glasses in New York?

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IMG_0071To many, Walnut Creek is paradise.  Nestled in the rolling hills beside Mount Diablo, the green spaces that have not been paved over or built upon glow in the strong Northern California sunlight, casting off the dream like atmosphere of Tuscany. The downtown is filled with the best coffee, excellent chocolate, donuts that won’t make you fat. Conjoined with these amenities, the climate is Mediterranean; hot and dry in summer; wet and navigable in winter; perfect for growing rare and fickle plants.

And yet, there is an immense fly in the ointment, for Walnut Creek is above all dominated by the automobile. Highways – roads carrying on two and three lanes in each direction shiny pod like vehicles – the natural component parts to detached houses – are ubiquitous, and during the day the disturbing hum of traffic, of many thousands of wheels turning simultaneously, reaches a feverish pitch.  Not only that, the sort of construction that has the look of rotten egg salad, sprawl architecture, is a constant feature, superimposed over the noise.

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IMG_7624Each new day, the man, a frail mortal, tours the neighborhood. Crawling inch by inch, he comes on a motorized go cart down the long avenues, like a caterpillar belligerent with determination.

windowMounted in a cage, blending seamlessly with the man sits an elderly dog, sphinx like but for the eyes which though covered in a milky film, the product of ponderous endurance, are always tuned for what’s next.

Sometimes, the man is stopped by a California Black Oak, a tree most marvelous, which appears like spreading punctuation marks on the landscape, digging holes with a stick. Continue reading

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IMG_9242Beneath the bridge at 35th and Peralta, there sits a brave outpost – a homeless encampment of tents – where depressing talk is not allowed and the tone is distinctly female. The bridge, a structure that keeps out the bitterly damp wind of the Northern California winter, the sometimes driving rains, serves as the camp’s roof. At nightly gatherings to socialize, the problems of Hillary Clinton, her inability to connect with voters after taking $675,000 for giving three speeches to Wall Street types because that is what they offered, are not discussed. Instead of politics, more important topics are bandied about – how fresh the oranges someone picked from a tree and dropped in a paper bag at the edge of camp tasted, how the days are never dull, how it’s good to be alive.

 

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IMG_7922027In Greek and Roman times, each city had a God or Gods that were considered guardians, or patrons; without the protection of these friendly spirits, urban places were considered vulnerable to invasion, pestilence, a decline in fortune.

The tutelary deities of West Oakland, the figures below, appeared recently and seem to presage a new optimism, a growing faith in the future of the neighborhood.

In a world with so much violence and disorder, we need them.  Mainly, to keep the bad guys from getting you down.

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What passes for winter is mercifully in the middle.  One avoids the slate grey days, freezing rain that bites into bone, blizzards which leave you bored with the revolving planet, once the virgin snow is stained with cigarette butts, tire tracks, in Boston.

Meanwhile, in Northern California, it pays to read about bronze heroes forged in fire, cook root vegetables, stay in bed while the oven delivers a dollop of heat till March when a renewal of strength, another summer, comes.

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IMG_8796The Beaux Arts train station sits at the border of West Oakland.  This decaying monument to the civic ambitions of people still present through architecture holds back the wastelands, a web of elevated freeways leading from San Francisco. In this task it performs admirably, demonstrating the grandeur of ruins, the way obsolete structures can adapt to changing times.

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funA story appears about a rising star on the conservative radio circuit, a rotund boy from Iowa who failed at everything until he found religion and his voice, which specializes in spewing resentment and a new brand of meanness; no Republican is pure enough for him but Ted Cruz, he crows while over consuming lasagna and iceberg lettuce. Looking down from a great height, his gestalt appears a thinly disguised form of debauchery.