blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Thought-provoking variety

I took the No. 76 bus from the Hill Top Mall through Richmond to El Cerrito del Norte station; the ride took nearly an hour and took me on an educational tour. Around the hilltop shopping area, which is predominantly extensive parking lots, are cosy, residential streets with irises, roses and palm trees in the small gardens of the bungalows. The bus winds around many street corners to Contra Costa College, a large secondary school complex surrounded by playing fields and Afro-American or Mexican faces. The Mexican people here, the slightly better off, perhaps, all speak Spanish and the girls, elaborately coiffeured, wearing tight patterened leggings and carrying puppies and prettified, pink cellphones, enhance their eyelashes in the bus. There are young mums too, very young, with less time or inclination to apply the makeup. A main thoroughfare through this area is called El Portal and the shops have names like Chico's Market & Meats and Fiesta Latina. Catholic churches abound and there's a big Catholic cemetery, also several casinos and liquor stores. In the Afro areas near the freight rail tracks, are "Missionary" and Baptist churches. I think religion must be what keeps people going here; observed from where I sat, the poverty was very apparent and the black people on the bus were very courteous to one another. I noticed a Foreclosure Help Centre and what looked like a junk yard, with a notice outside saying "Pick 'n Pull--freshest cars in town!" There were several warnings on the streets about a $1000 fine for littering, not a very effective threat, it seems. The houses round here, tiny clapboard shacks, reminded me of the houses on First Nations reservations in Canada; here they have a wealth of morning glory in bloom over their fences. I rode through a Drug Free (I hope) School Zone and passed an elementary school that was shockingly ugly, a sort of concrete warehouse with hardly any windows. However, it had a large poster on its wall promising a renovation job on this building: "Your bond dollars at work."

San Francisco seen from the train on the other side of the bay
The people on the bus were in a friendly mood and I don't think I need have worried about hanging around Richmond Station (though I'd been warned to avoid this area) because it looked renovated too, with quite attractive architecture and a clean concourse. I stayed on the bus a little longer and caught the San Francisco train at El Cerrito, getting out at Montague on Market Street in the heart of downtown. I didn't need to walk far to reach the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, opposite the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Yerba Buena Gardens. I spent a long time on the various levels of the SFMOMA, seeing a wonderful variety of paintings, photographs and sculpture, discovering work by artists from Klee to Kahlo to O'Keefe.

Painting by Miro
The atmosphere in the galleries was serious and studious, with visitors, a young man with pink hair and metal studs, for instance, taking notes and gazing intensely at the exhibits. I learned something about the American abstract artists Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still, Picasso / Dali imitators, and that Philip Guston and Jackson Pollock had been teenaged school friends in LA. Their early style, under the influence of the European surrealists, was classified as Abstract Expressionism. I learned that Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera had lived in San Francisco for a year and a half in the 1930s; the Mexican gallery had some striking canvasses, including a close up of faces of Mexican soldiers (Zapatistas) in sombreros, carrying guns. There was also a significant painting of a revolver placed on a bare window sill: The Window, by Tamayo. A less disturbing pair of paintings by Rivera depicted flower carriers and tortilla makers, monumental peasant figures.
Portrait by Matisse

I found some of my favourite European artists again, a semi abstract painting of mountains (Gebirge) by Marc, several Matisse portraits and scenes from the 1900s and a shiny bronze sculpture by Brancusi: La negresse blonde, whose pursed lips made her look like a fish. Luckily I was allowed to take photos on my way round the collection, which is an unusual pleasure these days.

Special temporary exhibitions featured the structures created by Buckminster Fuller, a series of rooms of Cindy Sherman photos (I don't like these--they do reveal something about the USA though) and a documentary collection of sketches and information relating to the invention of the XO laptop computer that's been designed for school children in the developing world; the photos showed them being used in Rwanda, Afghanistan, Peru and Uruguay.

After the art, I shopped for stamps in Macy's, walked across Union Square, climbed the steep hill on Powell Street with tourists hanging on to the ancient streetcars on their way up and down, passed the Ritz, the Intercontinental and other posh hotels at the top and started walking down the other side of the hill with a view of the water again, turning right to come through China Town on my way back to the BART station. The journeys to and from the city took me nearly 2 hours each way, so I had to keep my eye on the clock.

After the meal at Fonda's, photo by Hasnat Aqil
For the last two evenings we've been driven out to supper by Chris' QNX colleague who's the field engineer in this area. On Monday night we ate at the Ajanta Indian restaurant on Solano Avenue in Albany and last night we returned to Solano Avenue to eat at Fonda's, a tapas meal. Both meals were excellent, and the diners at these places very, very different from the people whose lives I'd glimpsed in Richmond. The little bungalows in Albany sell for a million dollars or more; obviously, it's the location that one pays for.

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