Monday, January 30, 2012

Profound Ground With Views of The Golden Gate

Oakland's Mountain View Cemetery and Chapel of the Chimes

A Statue at Mountain View
Ever Pointing To Heaven
Vigilant of Mariners on the Bay

Growing up in the East Bay there were certain rituals we observed every year. Watching fireworks over Lake Merritt on the fourth. Annual treks to the County and State fairs. A bag filled with chili burgers from a Foster's Freeze. Or, my favorite, an exquisitely rich jersey sundae from Fenton's Creamery.

On New Year's it might be Boz Scagg's annual black tie concert at the Paramount. At Christmas there was the yearly visit to San Francisco to see "The Tree" in the City of Paris department store. In Oakland there were the Christmas lights strung from house to house on Piccardy Lane. Downtown there was the elaborate holiday window at Capwell's.

And we always returned to hear the carols and see the amazing snow filled Christmas tableau presented on the grounds of the Mountain View Cemetery.

Mountain View When it Used to be Decorated at Christmas 
(From the Official Postcard)

Sadly, many of these traditions now just exist as memories.

This weekend I made a day trip back to Oakland to visit a favored aunt and friends. While there Miss M and I went to have a sandwich and some ice cream at Fenton's Creamery. Well, as usual, there was no parking anywhere nearby, so we drove up Piedmont Ave, and found ourselves parking in front of the Chapel of the Chimes. We figured the walk back to Fenton's would be nice. 

We never made it. The amazing smell from the Local Cafe intercepted us instead. We were rewarded with a warm spinach salad filled with black trumpet mushrooms, and topped with crunchy baked proscuito. I may cry.

Since we were already parked, and I have many relatives resting permanently in both the Chapel of the Chimes and the Mountain View Cemetery, I asked Miss M if it would creep her out too much to visit each. She was OK with it, so visit we did.

What a nice day it turned out to be. First off, you have to understand that the original Chapel of the Chimes Columbarium was designed in 1926 by Julia Morgan. 

Ms. Morgan was the first woman to obtain a degree in civil engineering from Cal Berkeley. She was the first woman to graduate from the Ecole des Beaux-Artes in Paris. And, ultimately, she was the first woman to be licensed as an architect in California. Her most famous commission undoubtedly is William Randolph Hearst's Castle.

While, certainly not among her most famous commissions, the Chapel of the Chimes is certainly one of the loveliest and best preserved. She planned the Columbarium as a series of small, perfectly illuminated, little spaces.

Intimate Moorish Style Spaces 
Filled With Natural Light 

Many of the Urns Look Like Books

Just next door and climbing the hills behind the Chapel of the Chimes is the stately Mountain View Cemetery.

This is a cemetery planned in 1863 by Frederick Law Olmsted (the father of American Landscape Architecture.) Olmsted's credits include: New York's Central Park, Golden Gate Park, Stanford University, and Chicago's 1893 Columbian Exposition.

According to the Cemetery website: 
"Olmsted took a unique approach to Mountain View Cemetery. His park cemetery integrated the Parisian grand monuments and broad avenues. Olmsted also drew on a popular philosophy of the times, American Transcendentalism, to help shape his vision of the cemetery. American Transcendentalism embodied Asian philosophy, which believed that all of nature flows from the same wellspring, that is, trees and flowers, water and air — and man — are part of nature."

At the base of the hill he placed straight "boulevards". He laced the hills with curved lanes and paths.

Mountain View has arguably some of the best views of the Golden Gate in the entire Bay Area. It is also the final resting place for many of the most famous families in the Bay Area. In fact one entire section of the cemetery is referred to as Millionaire's Row.

Opened just 14 years after California's Gold Rush, this cemetery is old enough to house marvelous statuary.

An Angel Contemplating Heaven 
Midway up the Hill

Offerings Left With The Angel
to Assure Good Luck

Another Angel 
Guarding the Bradbury Crypt 
Also on Millionaire's Row

Domingo Ghirardelli 
San Francisco's Chocolate King

Warren Bechtel
Founder of the Bechtel Corporation

This cemetery is final resting place for Charles Crocker (railroad and banking), James Folger (coffee), Henry J. Kaiser (steel and aluminum), Frances Marion "20 Mule Team Borax" Smith, numerous artists, writers, engineer's, physicians, educators, governor's and civil war generals, and finally Bernard Maybeck and Julia Morgan.

Whether it is the Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah (former home to The Bird Girl statue from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and where John Muir camped for six nights while passing through Savannah), LA's Hollywood Forever Cemetery, or the Pere-Lachaise in Paris, a visit to a great city sometime's justifiably includes a slow stroll in a great cemetery.

We eventually got scoops of Fenton's Ice Cream (minus any parking issues) at their stand in the Oakland Airport!

Roadboy's Travels © 2012

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Arriving In Style

The View From the Hood

When I was a kid, nearly every Sunday night included dinner at my grandmothers. After the dishes were cleared, washed and put away I staked out a chunk of the shag carpet in front of her huge RCA console TV. The television was built of real wood. In those days a television was as much a piece of furniture as a china cabinet.

Assuming the vertical hold was working, and the bunny ears were aimed just so, that beast would deliver an hour of The Wonderful World of Disney followed by Bonanza or Gunsmoke. 

I would be transfixed whenever Walt Disney described some amazing new attraction being built at his magic kingdom in Anaheim. Then, as I got older, he'd showcase the amazing "world" his imagineers were dreaming up in central Florida. Yeah, I'm old.

Whatever we watched, somewhere between Walt and our weekly fix about the "Old West" Dinah Shore would belt out "Seeeeee The USA In Your Chevrolet!" 

Travel, in those days, whether camping, visiting relatives, or going to Disneyland, always involved driving. It was too expensive to fly.

I can remember driving for hours in the back of my dad's 2-door 1960 Impala. I loved that car. It had a real back seat, one that three adults could share without having thighs in a vice. It also extended well beyond the curvature of the back window so when I leaned back I could gaze straight up at the sky. During the day I'd trace the long airplane contrails slicing desert skies. At night I'd soak up the swirls of stars in a jet black sky.

We didn't measure status by personal computers, Dr. Dre headsets, or smart phones. Cars were our primary family status symbols. A Buick was a step up from a Chevrolet. A Mercury was a step up from a Ford. Besides our homes, the family car was our most important possession. Thunderbirds, Corvettes, Imperials, Cadillacs and Lincoln's were the cars rich people drove.

Cars held the key to our freedom. They were trimmed in acres of chrome. They rolled on fat whitewall tires and culminated in increasingly huge tailfins. Inside, they had big bench seats or sculpted buckets (without headrests), the dashboard might be steel or upholstered, but never plastic. We monitored our speed, fuel consumption, and radiator temperature with big gauges set in chrome instrument clusters.

And on their hoods, or "bonnet" if you're an Anglophile, was a hood ornament.

Now a January tradition for Roadboy is a day spent at one of Arizona's big collector car auctions where I join thousands of others in admiration of what cars used to be.

And, this year, I decided to focus on the amazing sculptures that used to grace their hoods.

Here are some for you to enjoy! If you want more detail just click 'em!


I realize that technologically today's cars are much better than the cars of my childhood. They are safer, cleaner, and more efficient. They drive much more precisely, are quiet, and feature symphony hall quality sound systems.

But today's plastic cars are boring. Most look pretty much the same. It is hard to feel any real passion for them.

We reserve passion for cars that touch our souls. Cars like this 1947 Bentley Mark VI....

What will today's and tomorrow's generations eventually gather to admire? Will it be examples of old computers? Old Playtstation's? Nintendo's?


Roadboy's Travels © 2012 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Here's to 2012!

Another New Year Begins

Every new year ushers in many traditions.

In mid September one of my colleague's used to stop eating at restaurants, going to movies, and participating in virtually anything that was fiscally discretionary. His goal was to assure that he'd begin each new year debt free.

It seems like everyone has made a New Years diet or fitness resolution at least once in their life. Those are frequently found decomposing in life's dumpster a week or two later.

Until this very post only close friends and family knew that I use New Years Day to update a life "timeline". It is (geekily) maintained in Microsoft Excel. It suggests (anticipates) various future key milestones in my life. 

Year in and year out graduations, professional goals, and all my major travel aspirations are faithfully entered in the timeline. I also take time to cherish past achievements (such as a family trips all over the globe.)

In the past few years, a number of the milestone's have rearranged themselves. Some milestone's are adjusted by God - like when a baby is born or a loved one passes away. Many of my anticipated milestones ended due to divorce. Yet, like any systemic change, one abrupt ending tends to open doors to something new.

So as I look at my timeline, I see a placeholder for a future 6 month sabbatical to live in Guadalajara. Note I say "live" in Mexico, not merely "visit" it. I want to bask in its cuisine, explore its architecture, enjoy its climate, and immerse myself in Spanish.

As I get older the cynical might deem my timeline a "bucket list" or worse yet, my own personal doomsday clock. But they are simply sad twits. 

I know that when I memorialize a goal it is the first step to making it real.

It is sort of like the Childrens's book Oh The Places We Can Go! Please click that title by the way and be prepared for an amazing excursion. It will take you to many of the places I plan to go! Of course then click your back button and come right back here!

This year some of my milestone's moved around a bit. But there is still a slot for Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Iguaszu Falls, Chile and Patagonia. Carnival in Rio. Explorations of Knossos and Santorini are in there. Pompeii is there too, as is the return to Barcelona and a visit to Lisbon. A trip to England during Wimbledon has become very important to me.

A rail voyage on the Royal Scotsman is on the list. A trip from the rainforest treetops to the beaches of Costa Rica is there too.

Oh, and I plan to return to Hong Kong after a quarter century. Then there is Egypt's pyramids, the marvel of Petra, and the holy land.

A few years back I was gifted with the book "A Thousand Things to Do Before You Die". Sometimes I don't know where to start. But I do know better than to ever treat my goals and milestones carelessly. 

And, of course, you are welcome to join me on my journey. Life is, after all, a series of single first steps.

May 2012 be a year when you make your own dreams come true.

Roadboy's Travels © 2012