Friday, 13 July 2012

MAGIC IN THE UNEXPECTED


One a late afternoon in May, I came back from revisiting the Nimitz Way, located in Tilden, a Nature Reserve high up on the Berkeley Hills. The roads in that reserve are a bit confusing, and suddenly I found myself on an exit hitherto unknown to me. Eventually I emerged on a ridge road called Grizzly Peak Boulevard and turned north to find my way back to Berkeley. Hardly 100 meters after the turn, quite unexpectedly, a wonderful vista opened up for me. At a parking lot, the whole Bay could be discerned, with the Golden Gate Bridge shimmering in the mauve evening sunshine.

The view gifted me with an intensive feeling of happiness, quite surpassing my reaction to similar vistas observed at earlier planned and foreseen occasions. Why would that be? I really don't know, but it is a fact that unexpected events, arriving out of the blue, so to speak, stimulate our senses to a much higher degree than experiences of our day-to-day life, or events planned aforehand.

 Golden Gate, seen from Grizzly Peak Boulevard
As a traveller, your senses are more geared towards observing the unexpected than if you were still back at home. This is why, I believe, Berkeley has blessed me with a plethora of such experiences, which have lined up for me like pearls on a lovely lady's necklace. Let me take the occasion, at this very last post of the California Blog, to reminisce part of these events.

You may recall that I have a fond relationship with Strawberry Creek on Campus. Many a day have I been strolling along that gurgling water, up or down as the occasion demands, as the brook provides me with a convenient and shady access to the main buildings at UCB. Just at the first bridge crossing, coming from the Western Entry, the creek is forming a small "rapids" through a redwood grove, a view always challenging my photographic ability. One day, when I just had made the camera ready, suddenly a young nymph appeared, as emerging from the foaming waters. Out she jumped towards me and embraced me warmly, albeit with dainty fingers icy cold from the waters. I have described the whole episode in an earlier blog post already (Climb The Lofty Indians), but could not abstain from putting the picture in here again, as the foremost example of how your otherwise drab life can be enlivened by an unexpected encounter.

"Naiad", arising out of  Strawberry Creek
Staying with experience in nature, let me turn to my daily hunting ground, Stuart Street. I have never arrived in describing this before, but an enticing aspect of that street is its imposing alley of Camphor Trees. Carefully trimmed, with the lower branches gone, they rise majestically far above the residences and sidewalks, providing welcome shading to the hikers and street gardens on sunny days. You can see some pictures of the trees and trunks in an earlier blog (Flowers Dancing in the Rain). Unfortunately, all of them are affected by a fungus (Verticillium) that will kill off the trees in the long term. I would hate to see them go; hopefully they will outlast my life-time. But let's get back to the main thread of this post!

One of those sunny days, when I was ambling below these impressive shadowing umbrellas, I suddenly felt the urge to look skyward, to admire the lofty airy crowns. Judge of my surprise when I saw, not only welcoming green leaves, but also a young girl placed smack up on one of the higher branches! She was as perplexed as I was, by having been discovered in the act, so to speak, of observing the passersby far below her. A moment of mutual silent observation ensued, before I could tear myself away and continue on my trodden path, leaving the young lady to her favorite pass-time.

"Dryad" resting on Camphor branch
Lest you conclude that observing young ladies is my only pass-time, we should continue the tale on a different track, in terms of sex and age both. You may recall that I witnessed the celebration of the first Californian "Milk Day", back in 2010, in the San Francisco district of Castro (Days of Milk and Honey).

Upon my return to Berkeley this year, I revisited the area with the aim to track down some persons pictured in that blog (to gift them a free copy of "Fiat Lux!"). Taking BART to Mission Station, I walked to Castro from there, strolling along 19th Street westward. Just when I arrived at the crossing of 19th and Castro, I saw this elegant couple striding confidently along the sidewalk, without any concern on their faces, despite a certain lack of civilisational accoutrement!

Two Gentlemen striding along Castro Street
Ever since our first stay in Berkeley, back in 1976/77, a permanent fixture in my Californian Universe has been Revalon Court, two bungalow-like structures with apartments for rent on Stuart Street, just east of Shattuck Avenue. The owners, Masami and Nobuko Fujimoto, had become good friends and I was staying there again in 2010, as well as this year. Interestingly, a small Japanese Community has established itself on this small stretch of Stuart Street just east of Shattuck, with extension towards Oregon Street on the south. There was, before the war, a much larger, concentrated and vivid Japan Town and Community in Oakland, but that enclave had been dispersed, due to the war-time internment of all citizens of Japanese descent. After the war, resettlement took place in smaller patches distributed all over the East Bay.

Oregon Street, stretching in parallel to Stuart Street and being the next street to the south, is not one of my habitual walking streets. However once, on my way to a meeting with the Le Conte Neighborhood Association, I passed by that area. Suddenly, across the street, a wondrous scene opened up before my eyes. Instead of the usual, well-groomed small trees and flower beds adorning Japanese residences, there resided a complacent Buddha, shaded by a colorful umbrella, as if contemplating and blessing this little Japanese Community!

Buddha on Oregon Street, guarding the Japanese Community
In the same vein I met, during my present stay, an intriguing Japanese born artist, who graciously offered to help me distribute the book "Fiat Lux!". After having discussed this in her home in Kensington, she surprised me by stepping into a huge sculpture in her front yard.

I was completely taken aback by this configuration of a delicate and charming little woman within the "threatening" claws of an immense crab of her own creation!

Artist Keiko Nelson in the throes of her own creation
Nobuko, my landlady, made during my latest stay great efforts to introduce me to activities within the Japanese Community. For instance, she brought me along to a gymnastics exercise that took place every Wednesday in a neighborhood church. The exercise was led by a combined dance teacher, choreographer, dancer, singer and actor by the name of Gil Chun. This amiable and multi-talented Gentleman led us on in a series of loosening-up exercises that did my aching limbs a lot of good. Most of the audience was of a mature age and consisted of friends of Nobuko. Always sitting to my right, a sprightly "youngster", albeit a lady of mature age like the rest of us, was showing us sloppies what supple limbs and a good constitution could do for your body. As an aside, the only other male member of the group was an amiable Oaklander named Ken who, together with his wife Rosario, gave great support to my book. Ken even introduced it to the Oakland Library and organized a book presentation in its Golden Gate Branch.

Little did I suspect that this Wednesday group exercise served as a preparatory training for a Japanese Dance Company. Realization dawned when I attended a performance of the "Bay Area Follies" at Roda Theatre in Berkeley on May 27. None else but Gil was the main leader of the performance and among several enticing sing and dance groups, suddenly, a troupe came to light on the scene by the name of "Yoko and the Sunshine Ladies". Yoko was of course the sprightly lady from the gymnastics exercises, now leading on a swirling circle of exotically dressed ladies, with Nobuko right in the middle of the melée! A sparkling performance indeed by my friends from the gymnastics exercise!

Yoko and the Sunshine Ladies, performing at "The Berkeley Follies".
Right: Yoko Fitzpatrick        Middle: Nobuko Fujimoto
You may recall that I reported from a visit to the Berkeley City Club in an earlier post (Female Endurance). There was no plan to return there for another photo session, since I was quite satisfied with the results of my first visit.

It so happened that I got a dinner invitation, in the last week of my visit to Berkeley, from an old friend from way back in my student days. She graciously invited me to a great Chinese dinner together with her family. Whilst giving me a ride back home from the restaurant, Lillian, that was her name, suddenly made a detour and parked on Durant Street behind the City Club. With the explanation that she had recently become a Member she enticed me to follow her on a tour of the premises. The Club certainly looked quite different in the evening hours, but enlightenment came when we stepped out onto the upper floor terrace and saw the view northeastward from the building. For a moment, I felt teleported to a Greek Island, with a church cupola serenely saluting distant mountains in the orange afterglow of a sun already set. Thanks again, Lillian, for a lovely dinner and for leading me to this magic view!

View from the upper terrace of the Berkeley City Club
But down to Earth again! One of my favorite watering holes in Berkeley has always been Peet's Coffee & Tea on Telegraph Avenue. Many an hour have I spent there, sipping the coffee of the day and observing the amazing variety of customers frequenting the place. Once, in April 2010, I was taken by surprise to see a magic view of three companions, illuminated like in an early color movie by the backlight of the open café door. In my imagination, I envisaged two authors from the thirties, discussing their latest works, with their muse watching over them with amusement. The picture can still be seen in the blog post "The Time Has Come,".

This year, again, I was sipping my coffee in Peet's when, suddenly, I realised that a couple sitting quite close to me must have been among the persons in the above mentioned scene. I presented myself and learned, to my surprise, that my name was already known to them as photographer of the Karelia Blog. We became good friends and it turned out that the husband, Joshua, was a film maker, as well as patron of the arts, and his wife E. an accomplished dress designer. The first time I visited their home for an unsurpassed dinner, Joshua received me with warm cordiality at the entrance door and led me up the stairs to the living room. Along the way, he suddenly pointed me to a window facing the backyard. Expecting to see a lawn, adorned with a multitude of flowers and brushes, as is usual in South Berkeley, I was flabbergasted to behold an immense structure of what can only be described as an ancient Chinese Astrolabe, filling the whole expanse. This construction, illuminated by the warm glow of the reflected late afternoon sun, appeared as a magic antidote to all the greenery I usually had the pleasure of observing and photographing in Berkeley.

"Astrolabe" in a South Berkeley backyard
This post started with a grand eagle's view of Berkeley and the Bay. Therefore it is only fitting, towards its end, to lower my eyes down to a more familiar perspective and start talking about flowery expanses again.

On my daily walks towards UCB, starting at my residence at Stuart Street, I used to proceed that street eastward until Telegraph Avenue, before changing direction northward towards Campus. But once, I took a different route, taking the first street on the left, called Fulton, on my way to a party further along that street, given by Nathan and Angela (Venerable Veterans). It turned out that the flowery displays on Fulton were competing with those on Stuart in ingenuity and variance, so my eyes and camera were kept busy along the way. Suddenly, my steps came to an abrupt stop, and my eyes opened wide in surprise. In a garden a bit neglected and left to grow pretty much as it pleased, suddenly the front of a car from the 'thirties showed its forward nose to the eager photographer. An amazing piece of art within a general area of gentle neglect!

Death of a Chevrolet
Let me round up this exposé with a more general remark on the magic of flowerbeds. When strolling along in the heat of midday, I usually try to avoid the sunny side of the street and keep on the cooler opposite side in shade. But you will find that even in shade, time and time again, rare and forlorn rays of light find their way from in between facades and trees and fall on selected stretches of the small street gardens. In rare cases this will give rise to a view that most aptly can be described as "the fingers of God, pointing to the magic of his creation". I hope you agree with me that the picture below is a telling example of this magic.

God's Fingers ...
With regret I have to tell you that we are approaching the end of not only the present post, but also of the blog itself.

Still, one piece of magic remains to be told. It concerns my life's largest project, that is, nought else but the two trips I made to the Bay Area in present time and the experiences I gained – and regained – during those trips. Who would have expected in, say, 2009, that I would spend all in all 6 months in the Bay Area in the near future, write a blog of 52 Chapters about my experiences, take more than 10000 pictures along the way, write a book about it all and revisit the area with 100 copies of the book in tow. This is magic on a grand scale indeed! And none of it was planned beforehand, it all developed on the go, so to speak, as actions, urged upon my be circumstances and my subconscious, were being met by responses from a generous Bay Community, as well as a Community of blog commentators, spurning me on with a vengeance and inspiring me to great deeds!

So I think you understand that I am looking at the end of this adventure with a great sense of loss. But there is a consolation in all this. Even if I have left the Bay Area – and who knows if I ever will be coming back – 100 copies of my book still live and strive and bear witness to my fascination with this benighted place on Earth. Long may you live and prosper, my dear brain children, and bring joy and appreciation to your proud new parents! To those that have not yet got acquainted with my spiritual offspring, all is not lost: there may still be some copies left awaiting adoption in three orphanages – but not for long, I believe: Mrs. Dalloway's Bookstore in Elmwood; the Berkeley City Club; and the Arlington Pharmacy in Kensington. In addition there is the opportunity to read chapters of the book, together with a slideshow of all the pictures (even more than in the book) at my new website emsvision.com.

What more remains to be said, besides "Thank you and Goodbye!"? Don't rush me, dear readers, a main point has still to be made. During all my trips to the Bay Area, there was one single important fact that made my stays the more agreeable. It can most aptly be described as "The Kindness of Strangers". Ever since my student days in the seventies, I have consistently been met by warm generosity in all my contacts with residents in Berkeley, as well as elsewhere in the Bay Area. It appears, that this welcome of strangers is a trait truly American, and a trait rather surprising for us from the old continent. I am heartfelt grateful for this generous reception of myself, not only as a young student, but even as a visitor of advanced age. Too numerous are the warm benefactors to mention them all here, but they are all represented in the blog – in picture, with name or both. Thank you all again, from the bottom of my heart, for your kindness and welcoming. Your generous assistance gives me the courage to say:

You opened your angel's arms
To the stranger in paradise
And told me that I may be
A stranger no more.


Stuart Street glowing in the magic of the Blue Hour




11 comments:

Ken said...

Hopefully you have plans for another blog. All have been most interesting and enjoyable. And your book has pride of place in the living room in San Diego.

Anonymous said...

Dear Emil,
I read this bittersweet post with tears streaming down my cheeks.

It is perhaps cliche to note that is the "stranger" who comes to dwell amongst us that reveals us for who we really are.

It is reassuring to learn that you were so well received here.

I treasure my copy of Fiat Lux! and was proud to be a small part of your journey.

Blessings and I hope you will not stay away forever.

Much affection, Censor

Anonymous said...

Thanks very much Emil for your interesting blog posts. I will soon follow your example and leave the Commission to become a happy pensioner

All the best

Håkan

Anonymous said...

Emil,

Thank you for that last wonderful walk through Berkeley through your eyes and your spirit. How you have honored us!

I have passed on this blog entry, as I have the ones that came before, knowing there is a wider audience out there who will appreciate it.

All my very best wishes to you. I enjoyed meeting you, enjoy sharing your book with all who pass through, and hope with your departure from Berkeley this is not the last we see of your work or hear from you.

All good wishes,

Alan

cabablog said...

Dear Emil

It is just beautiful
Many thanks for this and for all you have given to us.

Best regards

paco

Eva said...

Dear Emil,
Your marvellous art of narration and your absolutely lovable way of expressing yourself about places and objects have given me much pleasure. I do realize that writing this last chapter of your Californian blog has involved a sensation filled with joy as well as a longing to go back soon. Thank you for letting us be part of your wonderful experiences "over there"!
Kind regards
Eva

ORRE said...

Dear Emil,
Inspiring and interesting blog, which made me, read earlier blogs too. Hidden talents I presume. May we expect a similar and surprising well expressed post from Prague as well?
Looking forward
Best Johann

Anonymous said...

Dear Emil,

Thank you so much for all the beautiful photos and memories! We are treasuring the photos and the book! Best of luck with all your future journeys!

With warmest regards,
Kimiko

Anonymous said...

It's a gift to see anew the wonders of our surroundings, thanks to your beautiful photography and wise words.
Lillian

Anonymous said...

This is marvellous, Emil!
(as all your other postings)
Reading them gives a good energy to start the new day!:-)
Please continue!
Sana

Emil Ems said...

Dear All,
I am humbled by this plethora of kind words and truly sorry that the California story has come to its final conclusion.
As a small consolation, permit me to point to my other blog
emilskitchenwindow.blogspot.com
I am confident to be able to continue that blog, even in a future when advancing age will be prohibiting me from traveling.
Yours sincerely
Emil