Wednesday 9 June 2010


On Convocation Week Friday, when most of the boisterous events of that week had begun to abate, I was sitting, on Campus, at the café outside Cesar Chavéz Center as usual, sipping my vanilla and hazelnut flavoured afternoon coffee and reading the Daily Californian (the campus newspaper). Nothing special in the paper, since the run-up to the summer session had yet to start, but one article still caught my attention. It dealt with actions that graduates should have undertaken during their stay at UCB and which they should catch up on now, if left undone.

One of these actions entailed to pay homage to Indian Rocks and watch the sunset over Golden Gate there together with one’s college sweetheart. I have to admit that I am sorely lacking the latter, but still, would it not be a good idea to pretend being young again and to undertake the challenge of mounting the rock in question? Said and done! I decided to start the hike this very afternoon around 17 hours, from my apartment at Stuart Street, and counted on arriving at the target point about three hours later, in time for the sunset.

The hike, besides being rather long, is not very difficult to trace. It is just a question of traversing the campus and thereafter following Oxford Street to its bitter end, up North on the Berkeley Hills. It is far from difficult to find the Rocks; Oxford Street ends at its feet, since it cannot proceed through solid stone. The Rocks is actually a harsh promontory on the hills, providing a panoramic view of the Bay, with its two bridges, by now well known to our readers (see “Earth Day à la Berkeley), the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge.

So, having drunk plenty of water to keep me in shape during the journey, off I went from Stuart Street along the lovely small side streets adorning Berkeley South of Campus. When walking along some houses owned by Japanese immigrants, I could not but observe that their gardens differed markedly from those owned by other Americans. Whereas the latter generally favour to leave their garden, more or less, to its own devices, leading to rather uninhibited growth of brushes and flowers along, and all over, the sidewalk, the Japanese tend to keep a tight ship, with short-cut lawn, model-cut trees and flowers rather strictly kept in line and off the “trottoir”.

The supreme opposite to this well-organised regime was soon reached, when I ventured east along Carleton Street. There, a cosy little redwood cottage lies almost hidden in lush greenery, the villa of a late professor in botanics, Charles W. Woodworth, and actually designated as one of Berkeley’s landmarks.

I had often passed by this little wonder, but always without my camera; but this time I was ready and, furthermore, lucky to get the sun shining at an angle that did the garden justice. Forgetting, for the moment, my quest to the Rocks, I lost myself among the flowers, taking picture after picture until my lust for colours and shapes was completely satiated.

The little cottage is resting in a happy slumber of gradual decay, with the builder long dead and the present owner, a trusted psychologist, also reaching an advanced age. But this does not seem to affect the stage of the garden, which is always being kept in a marvellous, if not very orderly shape! One of the inventories of this cosy marvel is a Methuselah among cats, always on guard to monitor visitors and showing them the door if unwelcome. I had seen the cat many times from afar when passing the cottage, but this time, since I had dared step into the garden for my photographic excesses, it came quite close and watched me with an air of suspicious disdain, as if telling me that gentlemen did not step into other peoples’ domain.

Thus chastised, I was able to tear myself from this photographic detour and refocus my mind on the Rocks. Soon Telegraph was reached and the road towards Campus lay straight ahead, garnished by large commercial buildings instead of lovely flowers, so my steps hastened without unnecessary delay. But wait! There was a picture asking to be taken. You may recall that AnnaLee had, in a comment to an earlier blog post (“Happy ending …”), informed us about the institution first to introduce drinkable coffee in the US. That was none other than Peet’s Coffee & Tea. So here we have it, dear readers, this is the very place. Starbucks, eat your heart out!

Now back to our journey; there was still a long way to hike! Next stage of my quest was to cross Campus, entering by Sather Gate, ambling past the Campanile and descending towards the Western Entrance. To my surprise (or should I not be surprised?), graduation ceremonies were still in full swing on lower Campus, with black capes flying and faces smiling. A small group of girls was lining up in front of the Campanile, trying to take portraits of each other. I took pity on them, having had a quick look at their performance, and promised them a better picture if they would line up for me. They were quite thankful to receive the above result a week later. Glad to have done a good deed for a change, I ambled forth, or rather downward, along Strawberry Creek, the little brook passing straight through Campus. In the intense green of late afternoon peace reigned at last, and I could but sympathise with the lonely reader who had found the perfect spot for relaxing studies.

Towards the western end of Campus, Strawberry Creek is surrounded by rather dense glades of Eucalyptus, Redwood and Oak. We may come back to this semi-wilderness in a further blog. Suffice it to say that I was rather enchanted by these small woods, through which the brook was gurgling its way, enriched by several days of rain prior to this sunny afternoon. When crossing the last bridge over the creek, under which a small waterfall fought its way towards the city, the appropriate moment had arrived to pay tribute to the exquisite scenery with my trusted old Nikon. Now comes the interesting part of the story: hardly had I relieved the camera of its housing that, suddenly, an apparition made itself felt in the camera’s viewer: a little "vixen" was wading up-streams, smiling at me and inviting me to join her in her happy mood.

Jumping out of the stream with joyful giggles, she came to meet me and embrace me with stubby hands still icy cold from having bathed them in the stream. Slightly aghast at this youthful advance, I could still not prevent myself from savouring the moment. The more so since the little lady requisitioned my camera to, as she put it, “explore my inner personality”.

You can judge for yourself if she succeeded, but we both agreed that my personal aura indeed might have been caught in this expert picture taken by a female mage. Thus convinced of my noblesse, she cordially invited me to enter into a true union of the spirits. This offer I sadly felt obliged to decline, well knowing that my vitality would not be up to the task, encroached upon as it was by advancing age. A fatherly kiss on the forehead had to suffice and with great regret we bade goodbye and went our separate ways as the best of friends.

Highly enlivened by this unexpected pleasure I carried on, as having wings on my feet. To round up this spiritual interlude with yet another outer worldly experience, I made a slight detour to pay homage to an intriguing sculpture situated just on the western border of Campus. It may look to you just like a slightly outsize marble, maltreated by children playing games. In fact, it is a huge globe of solid bronze, almost 3 meters in diameter, delicately balanced on a hardly noticeable base. The students call it jokingly “Luke’s Revenge”, the meaning of which is of course immediately clear to you. It is not? Haven’t you had the patience of enduring the long sequence of Star Wars movies, until finally arriving at Part IV of the series?

Now remained only half of my journey, along Oxford Street in steady incline. I have to admit that I took hardly notice of the walk, my head being filled with pondering the unexpected adventures experienced so far. A pity it is, since this part of Berkeley, in the hills, is supposed to show marvellous vistas of houses splendidly located along the avenue. But no regret! Eventually, my nose got in contact with solid rock and I knew that I had arrived.

In front of me rose a steep incline, part of the pronounced promontory that constitutes Indian Rocks. The ritual involved in paying homage to the Rocks consists of climbing that promontory to the very top, where your sweetheart is sitting, admiring your vigour and rewarding you with an embrace upon your arrival. So far so good! Several forerunners were already on their way to the top, inviting me to follow their lead.

I was sorely tempted to follow their example but, not having access to a lovely lady to welcome me up there (the young lady in the picture is, to my regret, not waiting for me) and being of a more advanced age than the forceful climbers, I chose to take the high road to the Rocks, which happened also to be the easy road, with stairs leading up to the top from the northern part of the cliffs.

And now at last, MY reward for three hours’ hike! Far in the distance, a marvellous panorama unfolded before my eyes. Late sunshine was blessing the Bay, its enormous expanse reaching from the Bay Bridge, along the Golden Gate and all the way to Mount Tamalpais on Marine County. In front of it all you could perceive the wide expanse of greenery that is Berkeley, with the Berkeley hills in front and, below, the western Berkeley suburbs, reaching all the way down to the sea.

Should I wait for sundown, still about an hour ahead? I had expected the sun to set over the Golden Gate, which would have made a wondrous picture. Unfortunately, it was the wrong time of the year, sunset would be far to the right, behind the coastal ridges opposite Richmond. So no need to spend an hour in vain; I decided instead to have a leisurely return along Shattuck Avenue, whilst there was still daylight to guide my steps. I did not regret this premature return. It allowed me to admire the formidable alley on upper Shattuck Avenue. It was like walking in a gigantic ballroom, with green tapestry on walls and ceiling, and sparkling sunlight glittering like candles on the walls.

When I arrived back down in the centre, I thought about Per’s comments to this blog and took a brisk left turn at Berkeley Square, directing the steps to my favourite eatery, the Burgermeister, for refreshments. Contentedly munching on a burger well done, I rose my glass of Papst Blue Ribbon to salute this splendid town with all its treasures.

Whilst I was eating, late sunglow gradually receded into bluer tones, and street lights began to sparkle in the mellow evening turning into night. Pondering the day’s events, I was attempting to recollect my early student days, in Vienna, when I was as young as the students I had met on Campus and on the Rocks. Did I have that intensity of feelings back then, which the youngsters nowadays seemed to entertain? I tried in vain, memories were too far gone to permit an even partial recollection. The cells of the body are ever being remade, as do the memories. There was hardly any part of me remaining from those turbulent days of youth. The more reason to savour the events that evolve whilst we are still alive! Recalling an invocation that stems from one of our great poets, I whispered to myself “Verweile doch! Du bist so schön …”, hoping to preserve the magic moments of this trip for evermore.


Thorsteinn Thorgeirsson said...

Dear Emil,
These photo journals are quite a treasure. In addition to that, as I've livedin both Washington DC and San Francisco, they bring back a slew of memories.
Thanks for sharing.

Emil Ems said...

Dear Thorsteinn,
Welcome back to the society of commentators and thank you kindly for your nice words. I think I still have four or five posts within me and your comments make it a lot easier to continue this exercise!