Tuesday, March 20, 2012

San Francisco - Golden Gate Park and SF MOMA

 8 March 2012 San Francisco - the Yoo Es Aye

The first glimpse I got of the coast was at ten to six this morning when unable to stay in bed a moment longer I got up and peered through the porthole to see what the ocean was doing. Sometimes, even in darkness a little light from the ship or the moon, (or both) shines upon the briny blue. I recommend leaving the cabin curtains open for just this reason. Then, in the night a passenger may easily take a look outside to a view which few other people ever see, the wild open ocean and in this case the largest ocean on planet Earth, after dark and in various states of turmoil or calm.

Across the inky water I saw instead of white caps or rolling water by the moon, there it was at the horizon line, a light, one light shining to the West, or North-West I suppose, steady, pale yellow and as bright as any star or brighter. 'I suppose we are almost there,' I thought to myself.

Now, thinking about how I will meet people I've never actually seen face-to-face, but have certainly conversed with on the internet at length and in some depth about all kinds of subjects, is a curious experience. (I did meet up with poet, writer and lecturer Anne Kennedy in Hawaii however we know each other from New Zealand, both sharing a publisher and I also know Anne's husband, poet and lecturer Robert Sullivan). So this is the start of my meeting people I know but have not met face-to-face.

When I worked for the UK organisation who assisted teens to re-engage with learning, (those unable to attend school), for six years, I obtained work with them partly on the strength of having discussed philosophy with my supervisor et al online for four years. (Also, this work was done well due to my BIC degree, from UNITEC and the books I'd had published and so on). On msn group Theism Debate we'd written many books' worth of information by then between us, Stan who worked for this educational organisation did know me from those online writings, knew my beliefs, attitudes and my abilities, very well. We are our language after all and if we use language in depth we reveal a great deal about who we are, even if we're wisely careful about saying exactly where we live, who we're related to or other personal information which no one else need know unless they have to for some practical, good reason.

If someone has only ever swapped light-hearted comments and a few mad photos online, perhaps they could find this 'understanding others through language' hard to understand. But then those people surely know the folk they've sent things to and visa versa, have also got more-or-less the same humour as them, share some ideas and values, or disagree about a few political or eco-wise matters. So we do not have to meet face-to-face to get to know each other. Pen pals used to correspond by hand-written letters sent snail mail and some grew as close as a sister or brother, after all. This is nothing new.
I am nevertheless nervous and a bit worried, since people in person are immensely more complicated than people in print, or even when just talking with each other on the phone or suchlike. This is, I tell myself, normal. If we're meeting someone in person for the first time, anyone at all, we often do feel a little apprehensive, hope it will go well, do our best to make it so. I'm also excited. Such a privilege to be asked to stay at a local's house in San Francisco (and elsewhere), I'll gain insights into the places I will visit which no tourist can easily find. Then too, places where I'm in a hotel and my local friends I've met online shall visit me, they'll provide me with a closer view of what the area is like and I'll feel more at home there, faster. Or so I imagine and hope. I've had to manufacture enormous amounts of hope for myself. It's a huge undertaking this journey, it cost an enormous amount of money, (in my limited world it is anyway) for one thing, but beyond mere moola there's also the emotional and social investment. My ragged logic centres are more than frayed after processing the vast amount of information which I had to, just to get the travel arrangements sorted. Travel agents do not meet you face-to-face any more, or mine did so briefly only with great difficulty, and they send reams of paper with hugely important guff printed on it, some repeated, some then too also repeated in different ways. Then changes occur and the whole process starts again. I have no idea how anyone can travel all the time. For me this is quite harrowing and although I'm excited it's also made me a little shaky.

From today I shall meet Adam Gillitt in any case, all going well, the first of my Yoo Es Aye friends and a graphic designer, writer, (just 'that guy' he says) who lives in San Francisco. He designs websites, books et cetera through Gillico. http://www.gillico.com/ Did an excellent job on designing Shamfeign by Alice Hooton for my small press, BF Publishing, just by the way. http://shamfeign.blogspot.com/ Shamfeign includes some poems about immigrants coming to America last century and I imagine I feel a little of the thrill and trepidation they did, I think even if I am not moving to this great country for good.

Yes, great. Say whatever you like about any place on Earth as far as their pol i tics are involved, upon stepping on any people's shore and interacting with those who live there I'd say any experience has to be taken as far more broad, informative and rewarding than what we read in the news, believe from TV or movies or have even gathered from years of study and discussion generally, or in some academic sense. When I say 'great' I mean we each deserve to be treated with some respect, don't we, for our achievements? Am er i ca has certainly influenced people world-wide in countless good respects and also, given the world stunning arts, music, writing, fashion.... Also, I believe whatever we may make of people later on, if we approach them with the best in mind this has to make whatever we experience the finest possible. Something started well usually ends well, as an ancient philosopher once said. (Anyone who can supply the name of that sage gets a custom-written poem prize on a subject of their choice). Please send it to my faceberk in a  message, thanks.

And so it is I am here thinking these things at 6.23am, seas calm now after three to four metre swells, some violently hitting this ship with a resounding boom or crash, for days now. The Oriana just tipped to the side and rolled with a roar, I guess we're still not quite in the harbour. O but there are more lights out the window....

Our fabulous Bridge teacher Sue Maxwell told us yesterday, 'The ship only sinks if it hits something. That's why mist is more dangerous than a storm.' So I'm going to get things in order and take my breakfast on the top deck today, to see San Francisco appear while day breaks and enjoy my last hours on board, before meeting Adam Gillitt, on the quay.

(I went up on deck and made the little movie from some of the photos taken then, which was loaded before this blog, at this point).

It's now the 20 March 2012 and I'm on the island of Alameda, typing this in a room with fish tanks in it. I only need to gaze at the fish to feel calm but then, after all the walking and driving we've done, some riding round on streetcars, buses and trains, I feel pretty settled and happy. A good night's sleep after a fine dinner we co-cooked last night.

I'm also used to the different sound of the crowds now. A large group of Americans en masse sound quite different to any other, the rolling rs, the roundedness, a certain cheeriness too, at least here in San Francisco.

I'd love to see more of Golden Gate Park eventually, it's enormous so I'd need to choose one place within it and perhaps the Japanese tea garden would be best. It looked delightful with a few ancient Nippon-style buildings, some moss-covered rocks and delicate trees, in amongst the backdrop of solemn redwoods which look a little like cedars, dark green foliage and a mid-grey bark. One ancient redwood with a rustic fence of branches around it, the demarcation plainly stating it was a particularly special tree along the roadside. Today I also plan to take photographs of the stunning character houses around Alameda, all of San Francisco contains eye-catching architecture however this island has it's own special style. I would call them elaborate baches in part which could make sense to New Zealanders, however there are mansions in elaborate Victorian splendour as well, often with features picked out in gilded areas or contrasting paint. There are colour consultants on the island who advise people the best way to style their house, so paints are vibrant and particular but not garish, but they may be bright and cheerful or even crazy and some are crass but in a good way. I wish more people painted their places in Grey Lynn where I come from this manner, it's just glorious. Please watch out for the little imovie I will post tomorrow or the next day, the Houses of Alameda.

SF MOMA was a joy. I love modern and contemporary art in any case, and this particular art museum is also in itself a space built to welcome and inspire the population. It was $18-NZ entry, however the fee was worthwhile. Almost any art fan could spend all day in there easily without growing tired of the place. There's a luscious dark foyer with little lights suspended in the air, (from the balcony you can see the lights change according to who enters the building below, making fleeting shadows amongst these points of light clustered together). SF MOMA provides ample seating to sit a while for a rest or to take in the pieces exhibited, a good, large, street-level cafe, an enormous gift and book shop and the exhibitions on two floors we saw were thought-provoking, intriguing and varied.  There were also many more floors to explore if we'd wanted to.

In the case of the Mark Bradford collages and installations I found the work deeply moving. I was driven later to start making my own version of his eclectic, textured and layered collage work. He 'paints' with collage. Bradford's pieces are enormous however, the kind of work which art museums are needed for, to experience the wealth of information a great artist may provide from a kind of celebration en masse and writ large of their own narrative albeit abstractly, focusing skills and innovative attitudes to spark old and tried things, quite anew. I also love his work because it uses scrap paper and discarded posters or ruined paper with wit, compassion and an admirable restraint considering how angry some of the subject matter must've made him. 'Pinnochio is Burning' is his reaction to a disturbing news item about a fabulous R & B singer whose career was ruined when he was thought to be involved with a transexual, in 1982.  People who were jealous of his stardom no doubt worked against him there. Their petty small-mindedness deprived the rest of us, so it is evil is done when good people do nothing and badly behaved people are permitted to take charge.

More about Bradford's work here -

This exhibition I doubt would ever be shown in NZ at this stage in Bradford's career, so I'm privileged to see it and also, to gain some insight into how gossip, innuendo and rumours can wreck something fine and rewarding when bias, prejudice and downright self-hatred are allowed to work their wickedness. 
His work is an antidote to that kind of easy, base foolishness, I believe and I applaud it with all my heart.
The title of the last piece, an installation, is a reference to 'Paris is Burning', a seminal doco about voguing, where houses of drag queens, like houses of fashion in New York strut their stuff. 
Adam my host says I may get to watch that movie while I am here, how marvellous.

Adam kindly drove me about the place in his bright blue car, we zoomed here and there, I got a great over-view of this San Francisco and it's many delights. If you ever visit this city I think you need to stay at least a week, preferably three and try to see as much of it as you can. Get away from the tourist traps like Fisherman's Wharf and go exploring. Such helpful, friendly people, happy to chat and the public transport system is excellent, use it. There are some areas which you could call dangerous here but they're obvious, so just avoid them. Ocean Beach for instance has signs up saying not to swim there and it looks treacherous. There are neighbourhoods too but we're not going there so stay tuned and use this as a guide, if you like. Still missing everyone but enjoying myself too.

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