Saturday, 9 January 2010

Berkeley, then Tacoma and Seattle, November 2009

After Maguie left, life in Berkeley reverted to normal for a while. One glorious autumn day I walked up Spruce Street from the house on Walnut Street we rented in 2009 to the 2008 Santa Barbara Road house, and took these typical streetscapes and views from the Berkeley Hills.

My routine included my usual four exercise classes each week, Grupito del Norte (the local North Berkeley and Hills sub-group for Spanish conversation evenings), the odd Tertulia (a fortnightly Spanish conversation with some reading to do, and a pot luck supper) , choir rehearsals, and a couple of dinner parties. To prepare for having a few more people round for meals, we moved the larger round table in from the deck, as in the autumn it's a bit too cool to eat outside. There is a sofa in there, which gets the midday sun so it's a lovely spot to sit and read, but we had to move all the other easy chairs into the other living room to make space. The table could seat 6 people, using a mixture of elegant wooden chairs and slightly smaller folding ones, but with the sofa the room was a bit crowded. It seemed easiest to set out the food on the kitchen table and get people to serve themselves -what with all the wine bottles and glasses, the table wouldn't accommodate large platters (and the house on Walnut Street had an abundance of really beautiful large ceramic serving platters, mostly Mexican, which made serving a pleasure).

We had Myrna and Garrett over with Sally and Monica (owners of the house in Santa Barbara Road, up in the Berkeley Hills, where we stayed last year) for a very entertaining evening. I made Aussie style pumpkin soup and a roast of NZ lamb (subsequently I found Australian lamb, which we thought was better), with home-made dips while we were sitting round for drinks before dinner. As Sally was experimenting with a meat-free diet, I wrapped some portobella mushrooms in foil with some garlic, herbs and a dollop of sweet chilli sauce and stuffed them into the oven for her and anyone else who fancied them. As the 2-rack oven was packed with the roast, a large tray of roasting vegetables and some bread in there to warm and crisp (challah, as it was a Friday night), fitting the mushies in was the hardest bit! Myrna brought dessert, a tiramisu cake from Costco, which I fervently wish I had never discovered. I often don't like real Italian tiramisu, maybe the coffee or liqueur components are too strong for me, but this version was divine, and unfortunately there were leftovers which I was unable to resist over the next couple of days.

We also went into San Francisco for another of the walking tours we love - this time the Alamo Square Victorian Houses. I have posted all the photos from the tour and ones we took afterwards as we walked back to North Beach for coffee on the web. (Away from the very pretty Postcard Row there are less photographed and less tarted-up groups of what we'd call terraces at home, which I snapped as we came across them on our more or less random walk back - they are the later ones if you are looking at a slide show from the web site). We learned how to distinguish the different types of houses called Victorian, and Edwardian, heard about some very special ones (several shots show a mauve house - this is where the Menuhin family grew up, though it has been renovated since and I doubt these were its original colours.) Also we saw a large house where Ken Kesey lived , which had gone from being very gracious and in fact serving as a consulate, to a single room occupancy drug squat, and eventual, if very gradual, renovation, and heard various other colourful histories. You can see them here (and in case the link won't open in your browser with a simple click, which for some reason sometimes happens, copy the link and paste it into your browser's address line :

I also attended a couple of Albany YMCA brown bag lunches, organised jointly by the Y and the library where they are held. (Albany is one of Berkeley's neighbouring suburbs.) One featured a film-maker who had been following a group of young men who arrived in the US as refugees from an El Salvador then at war, who had fallen into gang life for want of social support structures, cultural attachments or family ties. Some of them were serving various jail sentences and as the war had ended when they got out, they were deported - to a country they had left as small children, where they also had no family ties, not many language skills, no cultural attachments - and unsurprisingly, had recreated their LA Gang structure there. He showed us some extracts of his documentary and told us the stories. The other featured Carole Peel, who is a member of my seniors' exercise class. She is a portrait painter and long-term tertiary art teacher, and showed us some of her portraits of well-known folk from the Bay area (including the husband of another person in our class) and spoke about portraiture as a particular skill, and her methods of working. A film-maker who has done a documentary on Carole also showed us excerpts from her film.

We also caught anther play at the Berkeley Rep (we saw Tiny Kushner, a set of short one act plays by Tony Kushner: here is a review, though I don't agree that the final play was the best, I thought it was a bit obvious.

Barry has a colleague, John Lear, who teaches at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. (Here they are against a backdrop of Puget Sound when we went for a brief walk together at the end of one day's wandering about Tacoma.) They first met at UCSD when Barry was a visiting scholar there back in the 80's. We overlapped in Mexico City during our 2007 stay (when John introduced us to Herzonia, in fact). His wife, Marisela, is the daughter of the Fleites family we have stayed with in Havana, Cuba, and they have one daughter away in college and their other, 10 year-old Soroa, is still at home. We remembered Soroa well from one time they were visiting our apartment in Coyoacán. I mentioned I had family in Baltimore in conversation and Soroa, then aged about 8, became quite agitated and started whispering in her father's ear. She thought we were talking about "he who must not be named" - the infamous Lord Voldemort, the baddie in the Harry Potter books! So much for the Australian accent.

John invited Barry to give a talk at UPS and stay with them - so we decided to make a long weekend of it and become acquainted with the Tacoma-Seattle area. It was pretty cold and grey most of the time we were there - on our last afternoon, when we ate at a restaurant on the Sound, it cleared but I didn't have my camera with me! Taking into account the weather and Barry's need to give his lecture, we spent much of the time in the museum precinct of Tacoma. The former railway station has been recycled as the state court building, and features a glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly, probably the best known glass artist in the US, who is from the area and who has contributed a great deal to establish the Glass Museum . There is a great collection of his work at the local Art Museum, in this precinct also, along with the Washington State History Museum. One day we had breakfast across the road from the station at an upstairs café offering "Australian muffins" on the menu (I hopefully wondered if they had Vegemite to go with them, but they had never heard of it - any more than we had heard of Australian muffins, which seemed pretty indistinguishable from what we'd have thought was an "English muffin". Which reminded me to say something about the dog which is very popular in the US called an Australian Shepherd, which looks a bit like a stocky multi-coloured Border Collie or rather like the dogs we once saw put on a show in the Barossa Valley, which the owner called "Coolies" . This is what Wikipedia says about them:

and I am pleased to have them acknowledge that they are an American breed of dog and not Australian at all!) But to get back to the café, they gave us a 20% off voucher for full-priced clothes and accessories from the store downstairs, so we stopped there, and we both really liked the styles they had in the store. I bought a few items for gifts (no discount) and also a woollen embroidered jacket, red on black (already on sale, so no discount) and a wonderful autumn-toned pashmina, even though I rarely buy new clothes these days as my casual lifestyle across two continents doesn't seem to call for much dressing up. I try to get rid of something to make room when I buy something new: I have a few tops that are going into holes which I should chuck out, but they are such favourites (and the holes are so far so tiny) that I can't bring myself to! This shopping expedition was quite unexpected: our wedding anniversary was coming up so Barry encouraged me to buy the stuff, but in fact I can't remember the last time I shopped for clothes for myself with him, but a year ago around the same time of year, he bought me the earrings I liked in Healdsburg, in the Russian River winery district, again as an anniversary gift.

There is a bridge running from the former station to the Glass Museum, lined with a display of Chihuly's works (see the photos above: the display reminded me of the wonderful back-lit display of Swedish glassware they used to have in the David Jones Little Lonsdale Street store) and with a ceiling that resembles a brilliant coral reef: I also shot this piece of video overhead to give you a flavour of how lovely it is. I suggest you turn the volume down on your computer first as a lot of people were talking and there was traffic noise also.

In the rich tapestry of Tacoma's cultural life, there is a Dickens Festival, and we happened to be there over that weekend. Marisela was involved with a Flamenco dance performance and Soroa was dressing up for the Dickens costume event, but we didn't observe any of the performances because on the Saturday they were on, we went into Seattle to have lunch with a Mexican Art Historian colleague of John and Barry's, Deborah Caplow, who teaches at a University in Seattle and also happens to be a distant cousin of Barry's. Soroa and Marisela are pictured here as we saw them in the evening after we got home from our various activities. The other photo is of John and Barry in front of one of the many art glass stores in the very nicely restored downtown area of Seattle. From Deborah Barry got an email address and phone number of a closer cousin he had known 30 years ago but had lost touch with. Once we got back to Berkeley, he followed up and has begun working on a family tree for his father's side of the family, about which he previously had very little knowledge. We also met up with a coupe of friends of John's who were in town for a soccer match, a union organiser and a history teacher, both recently retired . The 5 of us wandered about downtown Seattle and later had a coffee in a former hotel where Japanese Americans had lived before being forcibly removed and interned during WWII, a rather unpleasant chapter in US history (there was a bit about this episode in the State History Museum that we visited on another day. Also some interesting archival stuff, too little, about the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World), whose history in the region I found quite Check Spellingfascinating. I of course was enchanted to hear contemporary recordings of old union songs, of which I am inordinately fond.)

On the freeway from Tacoma to Seattle, a journey of about 35-45 minutes, for miles and miles we were driving past Boeing plants and Boeing Field, where they build and test their aircraft. The scale of the facilities was very impressive, and you can see why a drop-off in the US aviation business would lead to massive unemployment and problems in the region. I guess having Microsoft nearby as another major regional employer helps reduce dependency on this one industry.

On the plane and while we were in Tacoma, I was reading a Penguin I got for 25c at the library sale, called "My Turn to Make the Tea", by Monica Dickens. One evening when I was talking to Soroa about her homework and the sub-teen fiction she was reading, she asked about what kind of books I had read when I was young. I explained that from children's books we graduated directly to adult fiction, and how much the world has changed since the 1950's. It seemed appropriate to leave her the book when I had finished it - it describes such a vanished world, post-war austerity in provincial England, rooming houses and writing with pencils, just one unwillingly shared typewriter in a local newspaper office, actors and young couples living in lodgings with peculiar landladies. And Soroa was really chuffed when she asked if Monica was related to Charles Dickens and I was able to say she was his grand-daughter! I hope she will enjoy reading it in a year or two.

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