Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Some of the There There

Panorama into the late-afternoon Sun from high in the Mountain View Cemetery, across Oakland, toward San Francisco. (Except as otherwise noted, all photos taken on April 6th, 2008.)

Gertrude Stein lived in Oakland, California, in the years 1878 through 1891. Those years spanned most of her childhood (she was born in 1874 in Pennsylvania), and she left Oakland as a young woman, after her parents died, ultimately to become a priestess of the avante-garde in France.

She didn’t return to Oakland until 1934, on a speaking tour. She later wrote of that visit to her old neighborhood that There is no there, there, which has irritated everyone who cares about Oakland ever since. In context, it was simply a preciously economical way of saying that the old neighborhood just wasn’t the same as the one she loved, but out of context it became something erudite for snooty San Franciscans to toss with a sneer at their neighbors across the Bay to the East.

Hear, hear! They're there. Adam at the Stein stone, Mountain View Cemetery, April 9th, 2008. (Photo by Andrew Rusca.)

Detail in the above image. When I asked Adam yesterday to get a picture of that particular gravestone, I didn't tell him why. I didn't have to. That's how strongly Gertrude Stein's little bon mot still hangs around Oakland.

My sons grew up in Oakland, too. Adam lives there now, and Doug’s memorial bench is in a lovely Oakland park. They never separated themselves from the place, maintaining a strong, sometimes almost fierce, allegiance to it.

As well they should. Oakland is only partly what its negative reputation would have the rest of the world believe it is entirely: poverty, crime, and strife afflict parts of the city, certainly, but no more so than they do any other major American city. It’s the Oakland you never hear about that ties Adam so strongly (and, to a slightly lesser extent, ties me, too.)

Can you hear me there? Adam on his cell ‘phone in front of a house I lived in for a few months in 1976.

This photo shows one of the places in Oakland I have called home. The house was divided up into several tiny apartments; in 1976, I lived in the room with the bay window right behind Adam. Adam’s first bicycle was hidden down behind the house as a surprise on his 6th birthday, and his and Lynda’s apartment is within about 75 yards of this place.

The Harrington family’s springtime gathering has been at Diane's and my place in the redwood mountains for the past several years, but this year Adam and Lynda invited us all to their apartment on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. The plan was to have a light lunch of sandwiches and then go on up the hill to Montclair Park to visit Doug’s bench.

Adam, Lynda, and Andrew set up the lunch goodies.

As the extended family gathered, it struck me (as it does all us old geezers) that kids grow up so fast:

Grace of the wondrous hair of many colors.

Kiana and Diane. Kiana was little more than a week-old infant when her Uncle Doug’s bench was dedicated; she’s nearly a year old now.

There, there, she doesn’t bite.

Lynda, Adam, and Andrew’s cuddly pet, Hairy, seemed to enjoy the gathering, too. I guess. Far as I could tell. Without touching her.

After lunch, we caravanned up to Montclair Park:

Lynda’s daughter, Jamie, and her new husband, Hector, on Doug’s bench.

Left to right: Grace (seated), Adrianne, Diane, Adam, Hector, Jamie, Reva, Andrew. Lynda and Kiana are hidden behind Hector and Jamie.

The wonderful old tree that used to be directly behind the bench from this vantage point had to be taken down a few months ago. Adam has plans to plant a replacement on Doug’s birthday, October 1: a Douglas Fir. I have no doubt that he can make that happen.

This was not a somber pilgrimage – all the kids had tons of fun:

Andrew gets good metal on a ball (but I still have problems with bats that say “clink” when they should say “whack”.)

Kiana and Grace a-swing…

… and Reva had a good time on the swings, too! No sense letting the kids have all the fun.

After we returned to Lynda’s and Adam’s apartment, we split off into different groups going in different ways. Adam and I went back up into the hills, but this time into a place that both he and I have enjoyed over the decades as a peaceful, beautiful place for solitude and reflection: the Mountain View Cemetery, where Daniel and Amelia Stein rest, just a block up the street from Adam’s current place and my old one (the latter pictured in this entry’s second illustration, above.)

The shared but separate experience that Adam and I have of that place was detailed in this earlier blog entry illustrated with some of Adam’s photos. The facility is enormous, old (by California standards, anyway), and magnificently designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who was also the landscape architect for New York City’s Central Park.

In My father’s house are many mansions: Detail of “millionaires’ row” in Olmsted’s masterpiece.

As in Central Park, Olmsted here incorporated pre-existing natural features into his overlaid order.

The empty Livermore plot revisited, with Adam demonstrating its subtle message. I have no idea at all why there is a vastly out-of-season pumpkin in the background.

So, to take one more cheap shot at Gertrude, there is a lot of there there in Oakland, at least for Adam and me. But, trumping that, is the lots of who There, and years of events that are entwined with There, and the ongoing continuum of being that we all have brought to There and continue to grow through There.

Thanks, Adam, for everything on this day. And for the rides. (As far as Adam and I can remember, this day was the first time he had ever driven a car with me as a passenger, and he did it twice with two different vehicles. I figured that I should let him take the training wheels off before he turns 38.)


[Note in production: this post was actually almost ready to publish last night, when Ryan called with news of yet another soul born into this extended family. I decided to postpone putting this up so that Casey could have the day all to herself on SherWords.]


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