Sunday, December 23, 2007

A very, very Happy Merry to All

Two songs and three poems to bring you joy.

I’ve been sorting through my thoughts about Christmas. They turn out to be many and varied. There are times when I would like to take Santa Claus out and lynch him, but that it is pretty hard to do when you’re dealing with a mythical figure.

However when I found myself in the company of the likes of Oliver Cromwell, I changed my mind. A solid Puritan called Philip Stubbs, in The Anatomie of Abuses (late 1500’s), lists the nefarious activities he associates with Christmas: “More mischief is that time committed than in all the year besides ... What dicing and carding, what eating and drinking, what banqueting and feasting is then used ... to the great dishonour of God and the impoverishing of the realm.” Toss in dancing, singing plus few innocent pleasures, and that would include most of the things that I really enjoy about the season.

Perhaps I just celebrate Winter Solstice like a good pagan.

Perhaps too the roots my ambivalence about Christmas go deeper. When I was in high school, I gave a speech that flopped. My text was “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” I did not know then, and still now struggle with adequate words to express, the magic of generosity that Mr. Claus represents. I am afraid that I have to agree with those who “… have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see.” There is an underlying sentimentality that I distrust.

But mostly for the kids’ sake, I declare that it is far too early to lay the fat guy to rest. Generosity is a difficult virtue to get your arms around. Besides I have heard rumors that the Dalai Lama has made him a Yiddam, that is the protector deity of Buddhism in America. Santa Claus is now some kind of Buddhist god. Banish any thoughts of lynching.

Proof of Santa's divinity? Most religious figures, prophets, and gods, in our times are the subject of controversy. Here is photo of a real protest over conflicting claims to Santa’s legal address, or country of origin.

Youth protest outside the Finnish Embassy over that country's claim Santa Claus lives there. (Everyone knows SC lives in Canada).

Two Songs

A friend Bill Krumbein started to turn the tide in favor of Mr. Claus and all he stands for when he, Krumbein being a true Santa, sent this really wonderful song from the 50’s by the Drifters. Click on the album cover and you will smile too (or I hope so).

For an inexplicable reason, my mind then drifted off the warmest Christmas I ever spent, 1994 in Honolulu. The locals play this wonderful song, Mele Kalikimaka, that Bing Crosby put on the flip side of White Christmas. The man who wrote it, Robert Alexander Anderson, was still alive when I lived on O’ahu. There were reports in the newspaper when he was seen playing golf, around Christmas time, while in his 90’s. Reminds me of my own father. Go Dad!

And three poems
I went surfing, typing into Google search several of my favorite poets’ names, comma, “Christmas.” I re-read A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas.

“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”
I was really struck when I read Thomas’ interlocutor’s question: "Were there Uncles like in our house?" Go to my blog by clicking the image, and read this section.

Richard Wilbur writes a very workman-like and orthodox, A Christmas Hymn, that reminds me a bit of Elliot, though rather stiff for my taste. My taste is not Everyman’s, so I include it. There is a Mystery associated with Christmas that cannot be ignored!

And finally, if you’ve read thus far, you will probably enjoy W.H. Auden’s Christmas Oratorio. He hits the nail in the head.

I can never read too much Auden. And there is an enormous amount to read. And even though Christmas is not the time for academic lectures, but for anyone who thinks that I have perhaps gone overboard about Auden, I refer you to Adam Gopnik’s article in the New Yorker: The Double Man, Why Auden is an indispensable poet of our time.

Each day I appreciate more and more that Life itself is a gift. I wish you all, a very, very happy merry.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Christmas to All

Christmas, 2007
resent December 6, 2011

Dear Jean and Marie-Christine and Friends,

It was a wonderful visit. Thank you. Please come back soon!

To all the Garapon’s and friends out there: yes, we did some really touristy things too. We did drive down the crooked street, Lombard. Marie Christine jumped out of the car and took a picture of Jean behind the wheel, driving the recommended speed – very slowly.

We didn’t go up to Coit Tower, Twin Peaks or see Beach Blanket Babylon, but we did visit the Mission of San Francisco d’Asis, our patron saint, and the mission cemetery with the roses just finishing their last bloom. That was lovely. I think that Marie-Christine took some pictures also.

We didn’t get to Chinatown, or eat dim sum, but we visited my favorite coffee shop, the Nervous Dog, down the hill from where I used to live on Winfield Street. This is a photograph of the street you drove each day to take me home. You only saw it once in daylight.
It is starting to get colder now, especially at night. The rains have not started which is of great concern for Californians. People are hanging Christmas lights, finishing their holiday shopping, going to office parties, and some even stagger home a little loaded. San Franciscans are known to enjoy the good life, and I hope that you got a feel of that. We did have several California wines and they are indeed quite respectable, even by French standards.
I am amazed that we did so much in 36 hours. It was not entirely at a leisurely pace, but, as I said in the first post, we were as much as possible flaneurs, allowing the experience to come to us. That is kind of zen. Oops, there I go, starting to talk Californian.
These posts are so much my reflections of our time together that I wonder if you will recognize your visit. I know that we each have a very unique experience, especially when encountering a new place. That is what makes traveling so wondrous. To share the experience with friends adds anther dimension. Thank you for allowing me to be your guide and see my adopted home, newly, through your eyes.
My Christmas will be a bit traditional, some parties with friends and extended family, some zen, and contemplation of the mystery of It All, and some liturgy to welcome Jesus born in our hearts. In my neighborhood He is called el Niño. I am ever so grateful to Him.
I wish all the Garapon’s, as well as all the friends who read my blog, a wonderful Christmas and an equally bright New Year. I found this wonderful card online, Merry Christmas from California. This is a rather idealized graphic of Mission Dolores in San Francisco with a reminder that California is home to orchards and gardens, even some that bloom throughout the year.

Be well. Blessings galore, my friends! You have planted seeds in me, a dream of doing "Le Tour de France" moi-même. Who wants to join me?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Music, Genius & Surprise

I wanted to show the Garapons that we have some culture in San Francisco with a trip to Davies Hall and a concert by the San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas. MTT never disappoints. When we bought the tickets, I found out that MTT was not on the podium. Disappointment.

Let’s go anyway. Wednesday was the only night
Jean and Marie-Christine had for un spectacle musical!
As we sat down, I began to read the program; by the time the musicians had taken their places, I knew that we had really lucked out.

There are some moments in life that astonish, that knock your socks off. This was one. With music, somehow, it seems that your body can respond if properly tuned, even if words fail. You just sit, stirrings arise from deep inside, and then sometimes are followed by a completely different set of feelings. It is like a journey. Then the last cords sound, and there is applause. The culture tells the body to respond. The emotions choose the decibel level.

I have often wondered what it must have been like to hear young Mozart play. Despite the fact that he was promoted by his father as a kind of musical sideshow to make lots of money, not much different from the parents of any child actors today in Hollywood, or some very famous personalities from the more recent past, such Judy Garland whose experience was not entirely happy, I still have impression that Mozart loved music. A person could not compose Don Giovanni or the Magic Flute under duress or carrying mental scares.

No question that he was a genius born into the world with such extraordinary gifts that you might think that they come from the angels. And still he had to have some kind of training.

Listening to the remarkable Lise de la Salle play Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto, questions like these flooded my mind, that is after the last astonishing bars had faded. She was born in 1988, began playing at 4, was at the Paris Conservatory by age eleven, and to my ear, at age 19 has the grace and command of an Arthur Rubinstein at the end of his career. Clearly she is a musical genius of the highest order, and it is also clear that she loves the piano. Here is a link to the program notes about Lise.

And what a performance it was. To give a hint of her command of the powerful Russian feeling, the emotions of those opening lines, I found a short video of Mme de la Salle playing the amazing Toccata in D minor Op.11 of Prokofiev.

A spectacular evening. Applause please!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Art and the Wonder of Discovery

Jean, Marie-Christine, and I visited the Legion of Honor at dusk on the first night of their visit. While looking at some French paintings and furnishings from the 17th century, Jean turned to me and said, “I know this sounds somewhat prejudiced, but I do think that we French do painting rather well. There is just something about it.”

I agree that French artists are in a class by themselves, and so would the wealthy San Franciscans like Alma de Bretteville Spreckels who traveled to France and bought as much art as was for sale with the money that had poured in after the Gold Rush. They were determined to put California on the map. And when it came for California to develop its own art and artists, there were wonderful works from Europe, and especially France, for them to study. The Legion is home to the portion of their collections that they bequeathed to the people of the City.

Again Jean’s comment, “Some of the marvels of travel are its total surprises: in a gallery you stumble into a painter that you have only seen in France or know from study of the 17eme siécle.” In the Legion we wandered through paneled rooms exported whole from French chateaux and hotels. There was even a small ‘cabinet’ that Jean pointed out was where the mémoire was born. He also discovered some charming works from the Court of Luis XVI.

An exhibition of furniture and decoration from Le Petit Trianon was mounted after the Garapon’s departure. I will have another chance to visit France again in San Francisco. I will take you with me in my heart!

We visited the San Francisco MOMA on Thursday night when it stays open late into the evening. Immediately in the entrance to the first floor gallery is the lovely Femme au Chapeau by Matisse.

Here I was again face-to-face with San Francisco’s affinity with France.

Matisse is certainly among the greatest painters of the last century. The small room also holds two Picasso’s. San Francisco’s budding artists can study these paintings as they were meant to be seen and not in small digital reproductions which are only for blogs and Christmas cards.

Further into the galleries there is huge untitled piece by Mark Rothko which is stunning.

San Francisco is also willing to take real risks in art. The third floor galleries contained a display of illuminated photographs, not illuminated as in the decorations of medieval manuscripts, but huge transparencies by Jeff Wall.

A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai)

Unfortunately the small size really does a disservice to the startling impression of these huge imagesthe transparency is 2500 x 3970 mm. A more detailed view of some of his work can be found in the online catalogue.

Beijing-based artist Zhan Wang sculpted the San Francisco cityscape out of pots, pans, graters, and other kitchenware. The piece was part of a new exhibition of Wang's work at San Francisco's Asian Art Museum.

The first museum we visited was with Asian Art Museum the Civic Center, an imposing post ’06 beaux-arts building which used to house the public library. We feel the influence of Asia in more ways than just its art. San Francisco is home to what was the largest Chinese American community in the US for many years, the first immigrants supplying cheap labor for building the city, right from the beginning of the US occupation of California in 1846, and later the western half of the transcontinental railroad. The sad truth is that California as a territory and later as a state was designated “non-slave” in the Missouri Compromise, and the Chinese were coaxed to come to Gold Mountain as indentured servants which was little more than legal slavery. But that is a story that I am not really qualified to tell.

There are several collections that rival San Francisco’s, among them la Musée Guimet in Paris. I visited la Guimet just after it reopened in early 2001 and saw, among other things, a wonderful collection of calligraphy by Hakuin Ekaku (1685-1768), the religious genius who reinvigorated the Rinzai koan training in Japan in the 17th century and the root teacher of the zen lineage I practice in. There were perhaps a dozen calligraphs by Hakuin at the Guimet; in SF we have only two which were not on display when we visited. Here is what we missed, taken by my friend Ken MacDonald.

On the scroll is a calligraphy which is not shown, a poem that tells the story of a monk who is very happy, and perhaps drunk (with sake or satori, that is the question) after a rich patron gave him some money to make a temple offering.

For my generation of Californians, the Asian collision has many happy results, fusion cuisine, a new richness and texture in design, expertise in forms of meditation that began to root in the hearts and minds of my generation that felt abandoned, even betrayed, by the religions of our ancestors. Now after the initial blush has faded and less idealistic mind seems to have the upper hand --the trade imbalance on everyone’s mind--the treasures of the Asian Art Museum provide a way to study, examine, and enhance other influences of our Asian friends.

On almost every visit to the Asian Art, I have seen multi-generational Asian families, grandparents with kids and grand kids in tow, pointing, talking, translating, handing a rich heritage onto a new generation of Americans.

It is always seems to shock Westerners to see fierce the protectors, angels and guardians from the East. Here is Fudo from Buddhist Japan, who protects and cuts the snare of delusion with his fierce sword. May he protect us all!

In the next post I will talk about music and la grève.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Toute la Mémoire du Monde

Is the university sacred space and is cyberspace sacred space?

The heart covered with books was a temporary piece
in the San Francisco Main Public Library.
(And my answer to the question: where can you find the scholarly work of any of the distinguished Garapon family in America? Do you have to wiggle your way into a university library to do it?)

Jean, Marie-Christine and I visited the new San Francisco Public Library, the Library of the University of San Francisco (Jesuit), the Santa Clara University (Jesuit) bookstore, the site of the new library at SCU, and finally one of the libraries at Stanford. Between SFU and San Clara, we visited the Apple Headquarters (we never got out of the car). Between SCU and Stanford we had another quick tour around the Google Headquarters in Mountain View (once again we never got out of the car).

I brazenly stole the title of this post from the 1956 movie by Alan Resnais. Here is short clip describing the movie from benoitlelievre in Canada: “Within 20 minutes, Resnais is surgically, methodically analyzing the national library of France. With a hyperactive camera, he's sneaking, he's smelling, he's feeling this huge building. Very fast paced and organized movie…” I wish that were a description of my tour guide ability for Jean and Marie-Christine, we were certainly fast paced, but the smelling and feeling was not entirely within my control. So I will talk about some of my impressions of our visits to these libraries, churches and the modest office buildings that are as close as the internet comes to touching earth. These are some stills taken of the French Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, the subject of Toute la Mémoire du Monde.

At all three universities our visit included the university church. At the wonderful Memorial Church on the quad at Stanford, Jean turned to me and said: “This is for me like being in the presence of all the learning and study of the new world.” An ineffable feeling indeed, but something I also felt. My translation is perhaps rough and imprecise. Jean, if you have any correction or refinement, please send it!

And just for the record and a chance to post a great photo I found of Saint Ignatius, the university church of the University of San Francisco. After the earthquake and fire of ’06, the Jesuits were determined to have the tallest steeple in San Francisco.

On All Saints Day we attended mass in the old mission church at Santa Clara - the presiding priest was the president of the University, Fr. Paul Locatelli, S.J.. The choir reminded Marie-Christine of her children and their music. As I prayed for my mentor Robert Garapon, it was lovely to be in the presence of his son and daughter-in-law. It was also great to feel that prayer is still part of the leaning experience in some quarters.

The photograph is the sanctuary of Santa Clara Mission Church
Santa Clara holds the distinction of being the first institution of higher learning in California: in 1851, two years after California was admitted to the Union, the Jesuits took control of the mission from the Franciscans and founded the Santa Clara College.

The former archivist of the California Province of the Society of Jesus, my dear friend Bro. Tom Marshall, S.J., told me that in the archives at the Jesuit curia in Rome, he saw letters that ordered a band of Jesuits to Oregon to work with the native tribes. But in 1848, they, along with tens of thousands across the world, smelled gold, and headed south for Alta California. Tom contends that Fr. Giovanni Pietro Antonio Nobili S.J., (he became, and remains John after his arrival in the New World) the man in charge of this Jesuit expeditionary party, and credited as SCU’s founder and first president, disobeyed his superior’s orders.

From today’s Silicon Valley, Nobili could have secured permission to change direction within hours, but more than 150 years ago communication between Rome and California was not in nanoseconds but months, even years. I, for one, think that Fr. Jan Roothaan S.J., the General of the Society at the time, would have totally approved of following the gold, given the Jesuits proclivity to do their apostolic work among the rich and powerful. Neither Nobili nor Roothaan nor anyone would have foreseen that this lovely valley so naturally prefect for orchards would become the center of the digital revolution, perhaps the most significant development in learning since Guttenberg.

Being more or less thoroughly Jesuit trained, I am familiar with the assertion that the Jesuit “ratio studiorum’ was the basis of the modern university and proof of the order’s superiority.

I had to post this photo I found on the SCU library website! Believe it or not, I once dressed like this, probably the last of a long line of Jesuits (more than 400 years long when I left) to wear the distinctive religious grab of cassock and biretta. I gave mine to the Salvation Army thrift shop when I left. If I had saved it, I could have worn it for Halloween in the Castro to balance all the male nuns!

Certainly the Jesuits did put education in the service of a higher purpose, and, whether intentionally or not, left the door open for impartial inquiry and rigorous intellectual work. In their scheme of things, libraries were connected to universities and the students were sequestered in dormitories. This is quite different from the system in France. There the university seems closer to the University of Paris that Ignatius and the first companions attended in the first years of the 16th century though I am certain that French universities today have far more strict and uniform standards for awarding degrees.

But Rensais may speak for the French ideal and against the university community cloistered in ivory towers as exampled by the national library and the Jesuit University. As one critique says:
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Le court métrage de Resnais est conçu comme un film d'aventure, amusant et sérieux à la fois, dans lequel les missions et lieux de la Bibliothèque nationale sont rappelés et montrés, le parcours d'un exemplaire analysé. Sorte d'énorme navire labyrinthe où chacun à sa place et son rôle, "jeu de société" à la règle définie, elle est une forteresse dans laquelle "les mots sont emprisonnés" et dont on ne s'échappe brièvement que par le passage en salles de lecture.

blog it
(And indeed that is what getting a degree is called is the English system: for example, you ‘read’ philosophy).

And in America, the librarie is a fixture on every student campus, not only as the only place to buy text books, but where students go to get reading for themselves. We browsed the campus bookstore at Santa Clara University just to see what students were reading; not much that interested me. I pointed to the newest book by my friend Jane Curry, a faculty member at SCU. Oh that woman publishes! Central and East European Politics: From Communism to Democracy by Sharon L. Wolchik and Jane L. Curry.

After a brief walk past the new SCU Library, we headed to Mountain View and another car tour of the Google campus. We saw barely a human outside – just one guy on a bike riding between buildings. The campus is nice, but for a billion dollar company, one might expect more extravagant buildings.

This is Google HQ, at its precise location  seen from satellite on Google Earth, and not what we saw:

1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA

This is more like what we saw. I am sure we drove under that archway over the parking lot.

The real infrastructure of Google is not brink and mortar. Truth be told, there are more buildings and grounds and square foot of library space at Santa Clara University than at Google Headquarters.

SCU is building a new library building to house a diminishing collection of books. If I read the statistics correctly, SCU’s additions to its collection dropped from almost 200,000 volumes to under 90,000 in 5 years. I would guess that the decline is due to the availability of new online research tools. I could find nothing about the size of its current collection. Stanford’s Green Library- there are other specialized libraries on campus- houses a three million volume research collection in the social sciences and humanities, including area studies and interdisciplinary fields. Its collection includes approximately 7,700 current journal titles and current newspapers. A 21,000-volume reference collection supports the work of the Information Center (click here for reference).

Google is digitizing almost a million books a year and making them available online, at no charge. Slowly they are working their way through most of the significant works in the Western Cannon. Slowly they are dealing with the complex issue of copyright and compensation to the authors and researchers whose work is being published. Combined with the Google scholar program, they are creating the largest and most widely available library in human history.

If a library holds "les mots sont emprisonnés," Google is the force that stormed the Bastille! Jean and I joked about the number of prisoners actually in the Bastille on July 14 way back when. Very few! This revolution portends to be more significant. More later.
After my failed attempt to demonstrate that you could access the internet from anywhere in Mt View, even le parking at a Monoprix (here called Safeway), it was onto Stanford, its wonderful Memorial Church and Green Library. We drove down “the” Le Camino Réal; yes, in “American,” we repeat the article, and have no accent mark for the “e” in Real, although the common pronunciation is close to the Spanish. However I hope to have a small European readership for these posts, so I want to show us in the best possible light. We turned right onto University Drive. The entrance to the ‘farm’ is a long palm studded parkway of four divided lanes, impressive if just for the expansion that is possible in the future. What university money can buy! We found parking near the main quad and plugged in as many quarters as the meter would take.

Here are some images of what we saw. I will just post them. They speak for themselves.

Yes, Jean, I agree the American contribution to real learning is something of an enormous value. You can feel it in the Memorial Church. It is definitely American but it was built primarily on what we learned from Europe, combined of course with our experience of creating a new world on the continent. (Stamford did not escape damage in ‘06 either).

Then at Green Library, we went through a rather elaborate computer registration process that gave us access to the entire library system at Stanford for a full week. Remarkable! And I presume that with some credentials that would be extended as a scholarly courtesy.

There are rooms in Green that are open 24 hours a day. There are journals and newspapers from all over the world. We found a yearbook from the lycee in Oran where Robert taught and Francois was enrolled. We took an illegal picture in the stacks. (I will cut that out if ever anyone of us wants to get a pass to one a Stanford Library in the future).

Yes, what a university money can buy. I mentioned the average cost of these American haute écoles, and I think that Jean and Marie-Christine were very happy that their children went to school in France, even given that the euro currently buys a dollar and half. (I didn’t mention that most faculty members’ children get full tuition if they can get in. For less gifted kids, there are reciprocal programs with other universities. Yes, some perks exist in American academies).

And now finally to answer my question about the scholarly work of the Garapon’s, Father and sons.

My experiment was quite simple in its design: I entered the name Garapon into the search engine, the modern name for the library catalogue, of the University Library at SCU and Stanford and then compare my results with an identical search on Google Books. I chose to eliminate Google scholar and either University’s database of online scholarly journals because they might be tapping the same sources. I just wanted to determine which held more, the Libraries or the Internet.

SCU has one volume:

La Princesse de Clèves, Madame de la Fayette : analyse critique / par Jean Garapon Publication Information Paris : Hatier, c1988

My search also turned up a book with some references to Robert’s work. It is by a friend of mine actually, Fred Tollini.

Scene Design at the Court of Louis XIV (Edwin Mellon Press, 2003). Fred Tollini, S.J.

The search of the Stanford collection was far richer:

Garapon, Jean

L'expression de l'inoubliable dans les mémoires d'Ancien Régime
L'idée de vérité dans les mémoires d'ancien régime

Garapon, Antoine

Juger en Amérique et en France : culture juridique française et common law
L'âne portant des reliques : essai sur le rituel judiciaire

Garapon, Robert

Les Caractères de La Bruyère : La Bruyère au travail
Le dernier Moliere : des Fourberies de Scapin au Malade imaginaire
La fantaisie verbale et le comique dans le théâtre français du Moyen Age à la fin du XVIIe siécle
L'Art du théâtre : mélanges en hommage à Robert Garapon

The yield on Google was meager, but I have to admit: I actually read some of these works in my study at home, without venturing out to a library. I have to admit to getting lazy now that I am past 60.

Can we draw any firm conclusions about the relative value of libraries with collections of books printed on paper and bound and the emerging library on the Internet? Some are optimistic. I hope it is true. The American and the Californian in me wants to believe it.
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Libraries die when people forget what is in them: they thrive when we are reminded of their riches, and so far from eroding our physical contact with ancient books, the great online library currently amassing its collection will surely revive that relationship.

There is still no tactile pleasure to compare with opening an old book: the gust of vellum and parchment, the knowledge of countless eyes tracing the page before you, the marginalia, the chance to hold some knowledge in your hand.

The internet will never replicate that experience (just as no technology has been able to supplant the paper book, of which we are reading more than ever), but it can help, immeasurably, to lead us to it.

This was our final day together. We drove north in traffic past Oracle Headquarters (photo on left), past the SF airport and onto the SFMOMA, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art where we stayed till almost 9:30. (I will write something about that in the next post).

We finished the day with a late dinner at Tagine on Polk Street for some North African food. We began with a bastilla, a very festive and delicious custard cake kind of thing, appropriate on a day when we caught a glimpse of Oran in Stanford's Green Library.

We were all home, tucked in bed by11:00 PM. At least I know that I was.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Why do the French Love San Francisco?

This was Jean and Marie-Christine’s first visit to the United Sates and California. Jean told me that they could not miss San Francisco--nearly every person he talked to said that San Francisco, for the French, could not be missed.

I love France, and there is no other city in the United States where I could live other than San Francisco. The reasons are multiple.

First, I suppose, San Francisco is a totally cosmopolitan city. But there are many such cities in the world which are at least as interesting as San Francisco, Paris, London, New York, even LA, to name just a few.

But there is also something that I find hard to express simply in a few words. You can see it in the built environment. Jean, Marie-Christine and I visited the Golden Gate Bridge, which to my eye has the same flagrant panache as the Eiffel Tower, thought that Bridge at least has some utility in its design. And you can no more say that I visited San Francisco but missed the Golden Gate Bridge than you can say, I was in Paris but never had time to see the Eiffel Tower!

The Eiffel Tower under construction in 1878.

The Golden Gate under construction in 1934-5

Both the Golden Gate and the Eiffel Tower are the stuff that dreams are made of!

Very close to the Golden Gate is the Palace of Fine Arts as it is called, the one structure that remains form the Panama Exposition of 1915, which was staged in San Francisco to celebrate its reconstruction in little less than a decade after the '06 quake.

The Palace is in the middle of an expensive neighborhood built on the land fill that did not exist in 1906. Ironically it proved to be the most vulnerable in the only relatively large quake during my time in San Francisco, the 1989 Loma Prieta quake though some major structures, the Bay Bridge and several of the elevated freeways suffered catastrophic damage. You can Google "Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco," and track down lots of interesting history.

On my first visit to San Francisco in 1969 I was wandering on foot from the house I was staying in on California and Fillmore. I just let gravity take me down hill into the Marina. From a small street I caught a glimpse of the Palace and though to myself, my God what a city where something like this can just stand in the middle of an ordinary neighborhood. I tried recreate the same surprise with Jean and Marie-Christine as we drove haphazardly from the Marina Green and its wonderful views of the bay, trying to sneak up on the Palace. I don’t know how successful I was. Ask the Garapons!

Bernard Maybeck, the man who designed the Palace, was one of the Bay Area architects who had been trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and had dreams of rebuilding San Francisco inspired by le baron Hausman’s recreation of Paris about a half century earlier. They did manage to get some control over the Civic Center, the new City Hall, the Library and the Opera House as wall as several other public buildings which follow in the tradition with varying degrees of success.

Just look at a very famous building in Paris next to San Francisco’s rebuilt City Hall which we visited as well as the original Public Library which is now home to the Asian Art Museum, built in the same beaux-arts tradition.

From the detail of its rich interior decorations:

To the sweep of City Hall and the Civic Center from Van Ness Avenue:

And, every French person would immediately "get" the inspiration for Grace Cathedral atop Nob Hill.

The Episcopal Church has taken a different path than the Roman one in many matters of church discipline, principally women priests and married clergy, but the source of the inspiration is unmistakable. In some ways, like wonderful French tapestry that Jean and Marie-Christine admired in the nave, as well as the wonderful reproductions of Lorenzo Ghiberti's doors to the Baptistery of the Duomo in Florence, it represents the way that Americans have attempted to import parts of its rich European ancestry and make them more democratic and accessible. (I myself really don’t care what the Roman church thinks about women priests. I just know that they can sing a high Mass better than most Jesuits).

More about California’s universities and libraries coming in the next post.