Friday, November 30, 2007

Le tour de San Francisco

This is a series of pieces about Jean and Marie-Christine Garapons' visit to San Francisco and surrounding environs.

I have titled this “Le Tour de San Francisco,” and though we covered a lot of ground, we did not race. We would have missed that wonderful quality of just noticing what appears and surprises when visiting a new place (or in my cases, revisiting old haunts). The French also have a word for a person on this kind of journey of discovery, le flaneur.

Though our route and the places we visited might be plotted on a map with a time line, I hope to give more than just our itinerary. Jean, Marie-Christine and I spent nearly 32 hours together, we traveled 243 km (151 mi), and made 28 stops: 6 churches, 3 Museums, 3 hi-tech company HQ’s, 3 universities, 3 ‘real’ San Francisco tourist attractions, 2 university libraries, 1 public library, 1 university book store, 3 restaurants, 1 coffee house, 1 suburban shopping center; we attended 1 concert, and assisted at Mass on All Saints Day.

I have, of course, calculated the distance and the overall time with all the accuracy that only Google can provide. The time in the car vs. the time meandering and prowling are not able to be separated, but Jean never broke the speed limit (well maybe +5 on the freeway), and he only missed one stop sign, which I am told is his habit, and a trait that he claims his children do not share. I could, I suppose, calculate the speed limit on each road and multiply by the distance, or more simply still, just use the estimated time that Google Maps supplies with directions (I did use Google to nail the distances between stops though they do not reproduce well as a map with our route traced out).

They are not a record of conversations, although our conversations are the basis of many of my reflections. Nor are they second thoughts of a tour guide: ”Oops, I forgot to mention this when we saw that,” though I have corrected a few things I said that might give a false impression. Introducing a place that you call home to friends is a lot like introducing them to a lover or partner or spouse (as was the case of my meeting Marie-Christine) for the first time. There are the things that you know they want to visit, “the Golden Gate Bridge, il faut le voir,” and “I hope we can see something of the Silicon Valley. I talk about it with my students.” But even those places live in my heart in a different way, and that is something that I hope comes across.

Of course all my reflections have a kind of inclusiveness: they really could not happen if I were by myself, or certainly not in the same way. It is impossible to calculate the richness of the friendship that we rediscovered. The French however have an accurate way of expressing that quality, the "je ne sais quoi." In English it is more difficult to express the deeper feelings of friendship and affinity without getting sloppy. They are a mystery and a wonder of this life.

About 6 P.M. Oct 30th I finally got the phone call from Jean and knew that they had arrived safely. They did fly into the LA firestorms, a disaster of immense magnitude even by California standards which I will talk about later, and we agreed to meet at a civilized time for a civilized meal. And we did. Marie-Christine pronounced the Tangerine “une bonne adresse.” (I will post their website because they promise to put up some recipes and the food is wonderful. Unfortunately is kitchen is closed at the moment).

Our dinner conversation included all the questions about family, career, health, kids, reminiscences and flashbacks that are bound to happen when you have not seen someone in 40 + years. The time that I spent with Jean and his family was relatively short, September to December, the fall semester, of 1964. I was in my third year at Dartmouth College, and Jean was preparing the bac. But those few months that I lived with his family in Caen were one of the most wonderful experiences of my entire education and my fondness for all the Garapon’s is deep and heartfelt. Meeting Jan again and Marie-Christine for the first time did not disappoint. Though I was struggling with French that has not been fully used, I certainly felt a deep friendship and warmth that transcended the lapsed years.

This is the only photograph that I have from the wonderful fall in Normandy. The woman is Jean’s mother, Mme Garapon, who has just turned 88. Happy Birthday Maman.

We walked in the Castro after dinner. I hoping that something of the legendary Castro Street Halloween would appear trying to dodge the cops.

But there was hardly a wig in sight. City officials banned the traditional celebration, San Francisco’s disordered version of mardi gras, because of violence last year in which 9 people were shot. Here again grace a Google is what we missed. As for hundreds of thousands of revelers, I suppose that 25 Castro Halloweens will have to be enough though I hate to see a good party ruined because of a few people’s bad behavior.

(Oh my G_d, I recognize the guy at the bottom of the picture, center right, just from the back of his head! Yours truly has been to enough Halloween celebrations if he can pick out a friend in a crowd of 100,000).

When we got on the tram, the streetcar, Jean thought it was the cable car. We rode the F line, which is more a working streetcar museum in a city that knows how valuable it is to keep tourists interested. And they actually work pretty well ferrying the locals.

The picture was taken just two blocks west of Jean and Marie Christine's hotel. Click on the photo to see the F line vehicles underway.

Alas, we would not have time to ride one of our Tinkerville trolleys, though when we saw one on its way up Nob Hill towards Grace Cathedral, they are unmistakable! Invented in 1869, the cable cars have been running almost continuously ever since. Like almost every other thing in San Francisco, they were rebuilt after 1906 and again in the early 80’s when I was living on the Mason Street line. (I calculate that I personally contributed well over $2,000 to the rebuilding effort in fines that I paid during the horrendous parking problem when all the streets were torn up). Click on the image to the left to take the ride we missed. Cable cars always have the right of way, and yes, that's really the noise they make! Imagine that outside your bedroom window at 5:30 in the morning.

We can begin our history lesson now: San Francisco is not directly on the San Andres fault, but close enough to feel any powerful seismic shift. Here is a map that shows the actual fault. If you look closely, the point that the purple line (the fault) goes off shore is just a little south of the city itself. When we drove down 280 to the Silicon Valley, most of the ride was directly over the fault line. (This is to correct a misstatement that I made at dinner on that fist night).

Every San Franciscan, whether born or imported, learns that at 5:12 A.M., April 18, 1906, San Francisco was almost completely destroyed.

The extent of the devastation was unbelievable, especially as you live in the City and learn more. But we also learn that we are never defeated by nature: in a little more than a decade San Francisco was rebuilt on a even grander scale. What optimism! So California, so American.

In the next post I will try to describe our visit to the Golden Gate Bridge in the fog. While I was writing, I began to think about how natural disasters are so much a part of our lives here in California that we hardly give them a second thought. Honestly, that is just deep denial, pure and simple.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A tribute to Julia Wilson Carroll

Julia Wilson Carroll
On November 11, 2007, Aunt Judy's ashes were placed in the earth next to her sister Leona, my mother, in Nichols Connecticut. I prepared this to be part of the eulogy that my sister Julie (named after our aunt) delivered at the mass in the parish church with her own additions and edits.

“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate,” writes the Apostle Paul.

Paul’s “Apostle Paul” crossed my desk sometime between when the medical students in Tucson had learned all they could from her physical remains and arranging this service to honor her memory and her life. And I thought to myself: yes, this is Aunt Judy, Judy as she ought to be remembered.

Here is a very modern translation (by Eugene Peterson) of those verses from one of Paul’s letters to the Christians in Corinth:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others then for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
[And] keeps going to the end.

Judy Carroll would certainly be embarrassed to be remembered by quoting this famous praise of the highest love-she was a private woman who would never dream of using fancy words to describe her interior life. But even if you just spent a day with her, it was clear that her interior life, nurturing and relying on her connection with God, was part of her ordinary life, like getting out of bed.

Almost everyday of her last years in Green Valley, she craved out time to sit quietly in the back of Our Lady of the Valley church. It was part of her routine, like having lunch with Ken and Lee, playing bridge or watching her beloved Yankees on TV. When we visited her, she might mention, almost in passing, that we were near the church, and that, yes, this is where she parked, a spot that was shaded, protection from the desert sun, and not too far to walk to rear pews, to sit in silence in the presence of the Sacred.

There were times in Judy’s life when she could not get out of bed, during her bouts with serious illness, tuberculosis, cancer, and crippling osteoporosis. It was then she showed us in real life terms what Paul praises: she put up with an enormous amount of pain and suffering but she trusted God always, always looked for the best, and never looked back.

Judy was our mother Leona’s only sister, her only sibling, and she was always part of our family. When we were growing up, we lived together. It almost seemed at times that we had two mothers. My sister Elen said that was her experience. And she did take care of Judy with the love and care of a daughter in her last days.

So it is from this bank of shared memories that I have chosen some stories and anecdotes that we can remember today as we pray for her, remember her with love and finally lay her to rest.

I remember, as a child, when our mother would also stop into church for a quick visit. It was during the time Judy was confined to Laurel Heights sanatorium in Shelton for treatment and only a slim hope of complete recovery from tuberculosis. At some point during her confinement, her sister, our mother, made a novena at Saint Theresa’s on Main Street in Trumbull, and she carved out a stop at church in her daily routine. We kids waited in the car. One day she came back with tears and a smile. She said, “I am almost sure that Judy is going to be alright. I may be hallucinating, but I saw the statue of the Infant of Prague move his arm in a blessing.” Whether it was a hallucination or not, whether it was a miracle or the miracle drug streptomycin which saved her, it was clearly the work of God in the eyes and hearts of both sisters.

The story in the family was that this forced interruption in the life of a young woman, in those days, reduced the possibility of finding an eligible young man. And it was probably the case. We as kids knew her rather dashing suitor, Joe Gurbach, who would take her out every Friday night in his sports car for close to 12 years, and we also knew that there never was the marriage proposal that she expected. Judy must have been disappointed, but whatever regret or anger might have existed was entirely gone in her later years. She simply said that some opportunities had been taken from her, but that she still loved her life as it was. Such a bright and down to earth example of what Paul lists among love’s highest qualities: that it doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.

We as kids used to call the seat next to Aunt Judy’s at the dining room table, the “death seat,” because it was there that you got a thorough training in table etiquette. As I think back to the her firm directions, “keep one hand in your lap and not on the table,” “buttocks to the back of the chair,” “look up and answer when you are spoken to you,” I remember that Paul too, before he gets to the word “love” in 1st Corinthians, talks about a lot of Do’s and Don’ts. Certainly there was a well-regulated Christian way of life instilled in Judy Carroll.

There is a picture of her dressing as a nun when she was a St Augustine’s school in the 30’s; there was also a quiet suspicion among us that she might have wanted to enter a convent at one time, but caring for her mother took priority.

She did care for their mother, Catherine, during her last days. It was simply understood by both sisters that their mother would live out her days at home and that Judy would care for her. Judy and Nanna shared a room in our house on Huntington Turnpike and Prosper Place, and it was in that room that Nanna died. We were all home when Fr. Halloran came to give Nanna the last rites, though the doors were shut to children for those events a half century ago. This last gift to her mother was just an expression of what she undertook as her life’s work, caring for others as a nurse, or in Paul’s words, “Love cares for others more than self.”

She did private duty as registered nurse for a wealthy man in Greenfield Hills. When we showed hesitancy in folding our napkins properly, she would tell us that Mr. H. Smith Richardson insisted that everyone at lunch fold their paper napkins properly so that they could be re-used, and that he had more money than God so we had better listen up and learn. She had a number of other very wealthy clients when she worked private duty, but in the last position of her long working life, when she was an industrial nurse for the United Illuminating Company, she showed the same love and care for the more ordinary folks then in her care, whether it was a question of placing someone in treatment for substance abuse or having to tell a lineman’s wife that her husband had been killed on the job. (She told me that this was one of the most difficult tasks she ever had to perform). There is a lot in Paul’s other letters about there being no distinction among the followers of Jesus between rich and poor. Yes, Judy Carroll lived out that ideal too.

Today's mass, lovingly officiated by Monsignor Shea and St. Catherine's parish in Nichols, a town she called home and loved very much, is to pray for Judy and to honor her life. It is taking place almost 16 months after she died in hospice care on May 19 of last year. The reason is that Judy was firm in her wish that her body be given to a medical school so that she could, even after her physical life was complete, make a real contribution to educating the next generation doctors and perhaps relieve the suffering of disease and illness. Judy did know suffering in her life and had a deeply kind regard for others she only knew as fellow humans who shared her lot. The generosity of the final gift of her body cannot be over looked and is a bright example to all of us. Thank you Judy from the bottom of our hearts. Looking at the whole of Judy's life, I would offer an additional line to close Paul's hymn: Love goes beyond life as we know it. You will always be with us Aunt Judy.

And so AJ, although your ashes have already been set along side those of your sister very near here in the Nichols cemetery, I will close with the hymn that is usually sung when the casket is taken from the church to grave:

May choirs of angels welcome you
and lead you to the bosom of Abraham;
and where Lazarus is poor no longer
may you find eternal rest.