Furthermore, owning half of the globe, he of course owned Mexico, which had been conquered under his regime. Thereby he owned the lower and upper Californias as well, in a manner of speech, since his conquistadores already had planted the Spanish flag there a few years after the Mexican Conquista, in their vainglorious hunt for gold. So the vision of Charles V being carried around on a chair in a giant monastery in the Bay Area does not seem too farfetched after all.
Stanford is one of the main private universities in America and is considered by some to be the second best research university in the world (with UCB considered fourth best). This is not the place to tell the full story of Stanford, this being a blog, but let me nonetheless dwelve on some interesting peculiarities. The campus site was originally a horse farm owned by the Stanford family, who had come to riches in the turbulent railroad building age, when enormous wealth was created (and destroyed) at the turn of a dice. They founded the university in memory of their only child that had died a teenager, with the touching motto “The Children of America shall be our Children”.
Among the first students was Herbert Hoover, who would claim to be the first student ever at Stanford, by virtue of having been the first person in the first class to sleep in the dormitory. He later gave abundantly to the school, funding the Hoover Institute, which is to this day a major conservative think tank in the US.
Interestingly, the US Government was, at the outset, not too keen on having the fledgling school prosper, even survive. It opened a process against the Stanford estate over an amount of money essentially equal to the funding promise, 15 million dollars. During the litigation period, students and faculty basically starved, provisionally upheld by household money spent by the then widowed Jane Stanford. She paid salaries out of her personal resources, even pawning her jewelry to keep the university going. These precariousities are long forgotten. The lawsuit was eventually dropped and subsequent diligent management, combined with abundant support from alumni, have brought the endowments up to an impressive 17 billion dollars (in 2008).
The reason for my visit to this temple of grandeur was Eva, a friend of mine, as well as of many commentators on this blog, who had invited me over for a campus tour. But we should not forget Richard’s role in all of this, he had originally reminded me of Eva’s presence in the Bay Area and suggested that we meet.
So, on April’s last Thursday, I rose early in the morning to get ready for the trip to the peninsula, South of San Francisco. I had decided to make the trip by BART (metro) and Caltrain as a test, for your benefit, of the public transport system in the Bay Area. In clear morning air, not experienced that early before, my apartment complex looked more enticing than ever, meriting a quick shot by the camera before leaving for the metro station, some 20 minutes walk away.
BART was a pleasant experience. It is not precisely a metro, since stations are spaced rather sparingly, it is more like the “pendeltåg” our local train system in Stockholm. But it runs very smoothly and fast and has a roomy interior well geared towards great quantities of travellers. Furthermore - Stockholm take note - it is fully air conditioned, making the voyage pleasant also in hot summer days. From Berkeley to its southernmost station on the peninsula, Millbrae, it took about an hour of comfortable travel.
Having some time to spare before the meeting with Eva, I strolled around the central campus grounds, soon leading me up to the gigantic complex described above in the introduction. I have to admit that the Main Quad buildings fascinated me. You may have guessed so already from my little tale in the beginning. The “endless” succession of pillars in the colonnades provided beautiful opportunities for the photographer in me. You could circumvent the complex in about 30 minutes within these colonnades, being well shaded from the sun and greeted by ever changing vistas in the seemingly static set-up of columns.