Some Turf Houses Have Stories Too True To Tell

The north of Iceland is a moody, stormy show of Mother Nature’s irritable side. We clambered out of the tour mini-bus greeted with a sheet of rain that smashed our faces, sprinted past the church and into Glaumbær farm historic turf house, which although dank and musty inside, was surprisingly warm, cozy,and insulated …or maybe it was just the contrast of the weather outside. Two dozen turistas and unsmall me shuffling down hallways meant for one individual at most was an exercise in mild claustrophobia, but the preserved history inside the rooms was so tangible–the pottery, the looms, the skates, the cookware, the beds, the wooden ladders and beams, all shockingly roomy for a fully enclosed warren; a time machine visit to what it might have been like for 3 or 4 families to live in such a place dating from the settlement of Iceland in 870 to the mid-20th century. We stepped outside chattering about it…faceful of rain in the teeth again. Some things are constant here.

With Monuments As With Men, Position Is Everything

First day of our Scotland tour, you may recall from an earlier photoblog post we climbed up to the Wallace Monument, then climbed up its ever skinnier turret steps to reach the top spire. Last day of Scotland, here we are at Stirling Castle, looking across at the very same monument, and really see how well it was positioned when it first opened in the mid 1800’s.  The houses in the village below looks like little toys, the green mountains behind the perfect backdrop.  So then, I say again, Scotland is lovely and polite and has wrangled its tragic history into a stunning and diverse geographic landscape.  4 weeks wouldn’t be enough to take it all in, so I got the Cliff Notes version. Better than nothing.

The Bus of Goodwill Headed In The Wrong Direction, But A Meercat Stopped It Dead

Temporary Transbay Terminal, San Francisco, California
Temporary Transbay Terminal, San Francisco, California

Ah, The bus terminal. The old American tradition of the 1950’s – 1970’s until it began it’s long slow decline to a reputation as a refuge for society’s marginalized, its homeless, its drifters and beggers and miscreants alike. Transit is always fun for people watching, but taking a Greyhound bus cross country takes it to a new level. A Scottish musician trying to make it big “I’m going to LA!”. A rotund elderly lady who forces the bus to stop in the Arizona desert because she doesn’t want to throw up around the other passengers (she sprinted to the back of the bus, and we all watched her heave). The dreamy throwback hippy millenial with her tie die and long straight hair all scarfed up. A wisecracking Asian bus driver, telling jokes that only a few of us understand, but we laugh because he’s laughing so hard at himself.

In any case, you’re looking at something temporary in this picture; By late 2016, San Francisco’s ultra modern Transbay Terminal (e.g. our first true Grand Central Station) will have opened, and the terminal before you will become a park with skyscraping views of shiny glass towers, with folks on lunch break nibbling their organic wheatberry salads as they sit awkwardly in the grass. Go West and gentrify, by gum, and don’t forget to bring your Pez dispenser!

You Can Keep The Congress In Their Hallowed Halls, I’ll Build My Foundations On The Waffle House!

Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA
Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA

You’d be surprised at how few of the local San Franciscans have been to some of the more minor significant landmarks in their own city. Don’t get out much? Too busy? Unfortunate…

The Legion of Honor sits at the top of SF’s Lincoln Park in the Land’s End, overseeing all of the city and the Golden Gate. It houses a fine art museum–Monet, anyone?–and a tribute to the Legion itself, and is a three quarter stone replica of its inspiration in Paris. It’s as stunning up close as it looks in this picture; my biking pal commented that they simply don’t make buildings like this anymore. Indeed.

America’s government houses its Congress in such grand buildings, and based on the nasty discourse of modern US politics, one could be tempted to say they are not worthy of the house in which they parlay, but I’ll refrain, as government will do what they will do, and changing that is the innate ability of the voters…me, for instance. I will go into my Fisher-Price voting booth, pull knobs and switches, bells go off and a pre-recorded voice will say, “Way to go!”, and if my candidates win, I’ll give random people a thumbs up, and if not, I’ll endure two or four years of the majority party term and whatever shenanigans they enact.

But hey, it’s the US. As one saying goes, tongue-in-cheek with a little truth, Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing, after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.

In my mind, intent is half the battle, and it makes no sense for me to hold governmental frustration for any length of time. In such moments, I will jump on my bike, sweat my way up the steep hills to the Legion, and sit within its columns imagining a future ripe with possibility and how I might be part of it.

The Waters of Life Have Many Names, And They All Contain The Truths We Can’t Speak Aloud

Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA
Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA

The last major quake in the San. Francisco Bay Area was the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989; it was perhaps the first quake of the modern age to be witnessed live, during the opening of Game 3 in the World Series between the Giants and their cross Bay brethren, the Oakland A’s. Millions watched as the screen went static, and the baseball players started looking around in quasi panic as the announcers talked about the shuddering rolling ground beneath. In the days that followed, we watched the iconic images of collapsed freeways, including the silver lining of the quake; the broken Embarcadero freeway, an eyesore double decker that ran the outer perimeter of the city and blocked many of its fantastic waterside landmarks like the Ferry Building.

The quake forced demolition of the freeway, and by 1991, the waterfront was reborn as the Embarcadero you see here, which is a source of much joy to locals and turistas alike as they ramble up and down its magnificent three plus miles.

Night walks on the Embarcadero promenade are a lovely menagerie of light and color, old brick buildings with ornate stonework and modern glass wonders. Or the Bay Bridge, who’s current LED light show undulate in non repeating patterns; the operating cost of the whole bridge display is only $15 USD per night!

These October nights are the tail end of San Francisco summer, the wind a mere gentle breeze, the temperature a mild 65F(18C), and I love the sound of the lapping Bay waters as they echo the city lights and the bridge in their reflections.

This Is The Land Of Lost Content, Delirious Highways Where I Can Never Return

The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA
The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA

San Francisco is not known for its beaches, or at least it’s not the first association that comes to mind, though the well known Mavericks surfing contest takes place on the fierce western shores up in Half Moon Bay a few miles to the south. But those who meander to the western edge of the Golden Gate Park on rare and fortunate sunny afternoons are treated to this grand view across the Great Highway, a vast expanse of natural sand where the Pacific Ocean comes in as it pleases, signs of shifting tides visible far into the drifts. Locals don’t speak much of this beach to the turistas, because most of the year, it’s overcast with rowdy freezing gusts that will have you wrapping on the layers right quick. Hardly a beach suitable for beach wear.

But on this day, a friend and I biked around the Cliff House, looked down, and saw that for this moment, life was good, and the sun shone down upon us and agreed.

False Friendship, Like Ivy, Decays And Ruins The Walls It Embraces

Sutro Bath Ruins, Marin Headlands Beyond
Sutro Bath Ruins, Marin Headlands Beyond

Sutro Baths Cove is a somewhat haunting place of well documented history on the far Western edge of San Francisco in an area called the Lands End, with wide ranging views across the entrance to the Bay to the Marin Headlands beyond, hillsides of cypresses and wildflowers, and of course, the Sutro Baths ruins themselves. In its heyday in the late 19th century, postcards of the Baths show a fascinating giant glass greenhouse and a series of pools decorated with oddities like stuffed apes and animals, a concert hall, and a museum of artifacts Adolph Sutro collected in his many travels. It struggled in the 20th century, and eventually burned to the ground in 1966, and the national parks conservancy chose to leave the ruins as a historical preservation. In 1936, a large freighter even ran aground right next to the cove.

It strikes me that San Francisco is interesting not in that it has a storied history–many cities do–but rather, that its history represents a well documented highly photographed and preserved picture of the US western land grab dating back to the 1849 gold rush that spurred it, a mere 72 years after the American Revolution, a drop in the water compared to other world civilizations dating back thousands of years.