San Francisco!

Day 87
November 11, 2012
After straightening up the living room and stowing our stuff away, I go to the service and am positively struck by the friendliness of the congregation. Almost every one comes up to greet or welcome me. A great contrast to Germany, where even after years of attending a church service together, people rarely manage either a word or a nod of recognition. Christof reads a newspaper in the living room while waiting for me. The congregation brings food for a potluck dinner, and gives us some tips about what to visit in San Francisco.
Because we only have a day at our disposal, we use the car. A stop near the Cliff House. Beautiful, bitterly cold weather, which doesn’t keep surfers in wetsuits out of the water.
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At a demonstration, an engaging young fellow describes his devastation at discovering, while working at Yosemite, that it was garbage-strewn and filthy. If a National Park – a ‘protected’ space – is trash-ridden, how, he wondered, does the rest of the country look? Realizing that a passive state of shock is unproductive, he felt a call to action. Speaking with two friends, the plan to walk across the country picking up trash along the way evolved. During the 3,672 mile-long journey, taking three years to complete, they picked up 200,000 pounds of garbage, arriving in San Francisco yesterday. The demonstration is their welcome party.
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The charismatic speaker invites the audience to ‘do something’. Whether or not we are aware of it, each of us changes the environment  during our lives. Each person makes a difference through his choices. It’s absurd to extract and use resources today, only to throw what we tire of tomorrow onto landfills.
– Consume less, more consciously, Is the message. Maintain a few well-chosen, loyal relationships instead of hundreds and thousands of brainless, short-term flings.
A first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge, shimmering red through a dark glade of cedar tree trunks. Used as a sealant, the unusual color – International Orange – was chosen for visibility instead of the black and yellow stripes the Navy was pushing for.
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The idea of building a bridge at this spot to connect the northern tip of the San Francisco  Peninsula to Marin County was conceived of long before James Wilkins attempted its realization in 1916. Fraught with difficulties and opponents who didn’t believe that a large strait (6,700 feet) with strong currents, deep water (372 feet) and blinding fogs was bridgeable, it wasn’t until Joseph Baermann Strauss – born to artistic parents of German origin – putting his formidable energies and more than a decade into cutting through the obstructions the project faced that construction could begin in 1933, finishing in 1937 ahead of both schedule and budget. As chief engineer, he downplayed the contributions of his colleagues, Leon S. Moisseiff, the leading suspension bridge engineer of his time, Irving F. Morrow, an architect, and Charles Alton Ellis, a structural engineer and mathematician, preferring to take sole credit himself. Only recently has the work of these men in designing the bridge been recognized and acknowledged.
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Strauss, concerned with worker safety, had nets spread under the bridge, saving nineteen lives, though despite his efforts ten lives were tragically lost when a scaffold holding the netting collapsed. Strauss managed to realize his dream of building the longest, highest (4,200 feet) suspension bridge in the world –  not superseded until 1964 by the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge. He died shortly after the project was completed.

The Golden Gate Bridge
Written upon completion of the Bridge sometime in 1937  by Joseph P. Strauss, Chief Engineer, Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District

I am the thing that men denied,
The right to be, the urge to live;
And I am that which men defied,
Yet I ask naught for what I give.

My arms are flung across the deep,
Into the clouds my towers soar,
And where the waters never sleep,
I guard the California shore.

Above the fogs of scorn and doubt,
Triumphant gleams my web of steel;
Still shall I ride the wild storms out,
And still the thrill of conquest feel.

The passing world may never know
The epic of my grim travail;
It matters not, nor friend or foe –
My place to serve and none to fail.

My being cradled in despair,
Now grown so wondrous fair and strong,
And glorified beyond compare,
Rebukes the error and the wrong.

Vast shafts of steel, wave-battered pier,
And all the splendor meant to be;
Wind-swept and free, these, year on year,
Shall chant my hymm of Victory!

Ambling through the posh neighborhoods of stately houses nestled in well-kept gardens on the cliffs, we realize that living in San Francisco is no different to living in any other attractive area: only possible with the right bank account.
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Crossing the bridge, we spend fifteen minutes – together with crowds of other Sunday tourists – looking for a parking place. A walk across the bridge with fantastic views of the city and of Alcatraz Island, known as ‘The Rock’. Originally used as a military garrison, and housing the oldest working light house on the West Coast, Alcatraz became a military prison in 1868 and a federal one in 1933. Due to its isolated location, it was ideal for difficult prisoners, and the most notorious criminals of the time – Al Capone among them – were transferred here. Popular imagination was captivated by the daring escape of a group of men, although to this day it is unclear if they drowned or managed against all odds to find their way to freedom. A book by  J. Campell Bruce and a movie starring Clint Eastwood popularized their spectacular escape, in which heads modeled of soap, toilet paper and real hair gave them a night’s head start before their absence was discovered.
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The prison, bogged down by protesting citizens disturbed by untreated sewage from the island flowing into the bay, was too costly to maintain, – at $10 per prisoner a day, versus $3 in other institutions. Closing in 1963, the prisoners were relocated to a new prison in Marion, Illinois. In 1969 Alcatraz was occupied for a number of years by Native Americans, before finally becoming a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
After a disappointing meal in Chinatown – peasant cooking is rough on the palate; we prefer a mixture of Nouvelle Cuisine with Chinese accents – we browse a well- sorted book store. Increasingly rare, it’s the first one we’ve come across since leaving Phoenix. Although each of us find books we’d love to buy, we exercise discipline, in view of our impending flight to the South Pacific.
A stroll through the business section of empty steel and glass skyscrapers to Union Square and the shopping district. The weather, crowds and early darkness are part of an unavoidable annual tradition: Christmas consumerism. Taken by the idealistic thoughts at this morning’s demonstration, I wonder – jostled along by the crowds on the sidewalks – if escaping the pull of these strong currents is even possible?
Because I’m still having ‘issues’ with my iPad, we step into the Apple store, jumping with customers. Before setting out on the journey I purchased iCloud storage, assuming that the data installed on my iPad was now securely and safely backed up. At the Apple store in Phoenix, advised to wipe the iPad clean and restore it, I did as instructed, confident that the data I’d spent hours installing was deposited in iCloud storage. Oddly, though, it didn’t reappear. I enter the store, convinced that the young dynamic team will show me some esoteric trick to magically retrieve what for me, inexplicably, disappeared into virtual space.
The employee, who somehow finds time for me, apologizes profusely for the disappearance of my data. Unfortunately only apps purchased from Apple are saved in iCloud storage. He wishes that Apple employees would clearly advise customers on what exactly iCloud storage does. All my data has vanished. Puff! Gone! The one consolation, though, is that the most important file of all, containing the blogs, thankfully written using the Apple app Pages, still exists.
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While I was occupied, Christof spoke to a tiny, energetic sales woman about getting a Logitech keyboard that would transform my iPad into a mini-computer. After seeing the astonishing benefits of a keyboard that easily synchronizes with the iPad via bluetooth, I buy it. It functions as a stand – holding the iPad upright while in use – and as a cover, magnetically attaching and protecting the sensitive glass surface from damage while closed. A vast improvement on balancing it on my lap, missing half the letters while typing on its glass-plated surface.
At 7:00 p.m., the time the St. Martin’s day festival is over – celebrated by making and taking a lantern walk with the youngest members of the community – we return. It is relaxing to have a kitchen and a room to ourselves, to finish off a day full of impressions in peace and quiet.

Day 88
November 12, 2012
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When Christof carries the mattresses back upstairs he knocks on Craig Wiggens’ door, inviting him to breakfast. Today he has time. The conversation circles mainly around Christof’s question:
– How does a boy from Missouri become a Christian Community priest?
Craig Wiggens, open and apparently not offended by direct questions, shares his life story over coffee and loud music in the neighborhood café.
After saying our goodbyes, we drive along  Route 1. The weather is beautiful and the scenery splendid. Every bend in the road offers stunning, breathtaking views of the wild, rocky Pacific coast. Parking opportunities abound and we stop often to admire the scenery or to climb down the cliffs to the beach.
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At Half Moon Bay, the morning’s catch of calamari is being loaded onto a truck. The driver tells us that twenty containers constitute a load, the equivalent of 80,000 pounds of calamari. Transported to a plant a hundred miles away, it is then processed, shock-frozen, and exported throughout the world.
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Because our GPS signal is sketchy and infrequent, we lose our way searching for the Redwoods. Stopping in the general store of a charming small village for directions, two women patiently write them down on a brown paper bag, drawing maps for clarity. They say we‘ll find ourselves hugging the trees whether we plan to or not, overwhelmed and amazed by their size, elemental energies and the presence of ‘orbs’.
– Orbs? I wonder without asking, hardly daring to expose my ignorance of what, to them, is apparently obvious.
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It’s already mid-afternoon, so we stop for the night, postponing the visit of the Redwoods until tomorrow.

 

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