Another Retro Post: Pseudo Thanksgiving, California style

This is a super retro post, which I thought I might as well do while I’m being retro. While I was with my brother and sister in law in California, they invited some friends over for an early kind of US thanksgiving type dinner. It was great to meet all these people and we had many interesting conversations about silence (inspired by the fact that my travel plans include a visit to my Swiss friend Delia, who has become a nun recently), about travel and experiences of emigration, about work, jobs and the cost of living. We also had a laugh and a lot of great food and drink. Which was a great thing! Good times thanks everyone. 😊

Farewell USA

My stay in California has come to an end sadly! There’s much for me to still reflect on and maybe write more about still, though. My stay was punctuated throughout by various things I haven’t yet mentioned much: tennis matches (my sister in law and brother played quite a few mixed doubles matches while I was there), local characters (some of whom are below), relaxing moments swimming in the shared (but seemingly always empty) pool or enjoying the hot tub (while being occasionally pelted with huge pine cones by the local squirrels who’d nibbled them to the core and then dropped (threw?) them at us from a great height!), “bubble” tea, delicious cocktails and quality time with Didi the cat. And mysteriously unavailable internet even with good WiFi. Yep even in Silicon Valley! 🤔 Oh, and mochi, too. Hmmm… delicious 😋

Here are some pictures of (and poems about) those things:

Tennis

Hot sun

Floodlights straight up, redundant.

Opponents barking

All is hot and glaringly bright

Or suddenly (but only narrowly) cool and dark.

The colours are as definite as the scores;

Hard white lines and solid squares of green, red, black

Or the blue blue blue of the sky.

Big birds glide overhead

In between planes and balls

Matches hook me in

The winning or losing is relentless

Alongside a million psychological subtleties I can tell are there but do not fully understandTerri, the Posh Bagel Queen, who never takes time off, and remembers every customer she ever served. She remembered who I was, even though it’s been 4 years since I was last here!! She’s been at work since some God forsaken hour of the morning baking bagels and yet here she is, in all her splendour, glamorous as ever:

Aaaarghhh! “But I’m in a café the middle of San Francisco, with WiFi, in the interweb capital of the world! Eh???! 🤨🧐👇🏼

On a brighter note, here’s Larry, with his huge dogs, Winter and Pretty Girl. Everyone stops to talk to either the dogs or him or both. I wrote a poem about them:

Larry sits enthroned like a King,

Oversized corgis at his feet [NB the Queen of England famously has several corgis]

With his bread bag of raw carrots (a healthy snack)

and a coffee,

He presides over the table,

Faithful, friendly and contented mutts at his feet;

A triptych staged for canine lovers’ delight,

They entertain the neighbourhood.

Who could be richer than this giant, with his splendid hounds

and all the new friends they keep making?Jasmine tea with green mango in the bottom, lemon, orange and hibiscus..a refreshing summery delight!👇🏼 Mochi (Japanese ice cream filled fruit/tea flavoured things. Delicious!)

Farewell San José. I shall miss you with all your delights and great company. What fabulous memories though, eh? Till we meet again… 😘

Bodega Bay

…of The Birds (Hitchcock) fame. Not entirely as creepy as it could’ve been.

Also some very beautiful spots on the road trip up…

Great ideas for sustainability in a local café en route…Lovely birdsong…If, like me, you were not familiar with Jack Kerouac, mentioned in the earlier post about San Francisco, here’s a lovely quote from him…Gopher!MarshallStag!Bodega BayBodega HeadEh??? 🤢😬 👇🏼

San Francisco Symphony

This was a big treat for me. We went to hear the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra play a brilliant concert under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas. This is his last year of regular gigs, and the first piece they played was a world première written for him and his husband by the American composer John Adams, who was in the audience and came down for a round of applause himself at the end of it. The music was brilliant and the performance sublime. Also in the programme was Rachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto, which I’ve never heard live before, characterfully performed by Daniil Trifonov, and also Schumann’s Third Symphony. A memorable musical treat 🎵😁👌🏼We then drove north over the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s not a brilliant quality video, but here it is…

Downtown San José

I spent a morning in downtown San José (about 35 minutes on the train towards Campbell), mainly at The Tech Interactive. It used to be called “The Tech Museum of Innovation”, but I guess they realised the word “museum” doesn’t go too well image-wise with “innovation”! 😆 And also that they needed to make the whole thing more accessible to the less geeky part of the population, including potential mini geeks (the next generation of Silicon Valley geniuses).

I was particularly impressed with the videos showing innovations designed to address particular issues relating to climate change, including detecting illegal deforestation in vast areas eg of the Amazonian rainforest (using a network of repurposed mobile phones fixed in the tree canopy to detect sounds unique to deforestation), detecting illegal poaching in vast areas of parkland eg in Africa (a similar kind of idea), creating zero emission electric buses that can reliably travel looong distances, repurposing disused industrial container units to contain local veg-growing farms using infra red light and controlled climate inside them to enable crops to grow year round, etc.

I have questions about all of these innovations, but what I particularly liked was the way the inventors said onscreen how people (including children) could do their bit. The impressive thing was that, for example, the bus guy didn’t just say we should use his buses (there are quite a few in California and a few other states and Canada, but the reach is still small). Instead he encouraged people to use public transport of any sort, because 40 people on a bus is better than 40 individual cars, and also, until there’s a serious level of demand for more public transport, it won’t be properly invested in.

All the inventors had similar points to make, also encouraging us to get, and stay, informed about climate change. They also encouraged children to not just accept the way things are, but to think about how they could be better, to get imagining and creating. I loved that!

Then there was an exhibition about the human body… some pics here (look away if you’re squeamish!):

…including an electronic “dissection table”, where medical students could see an image of a detailed scanned human body of an actual person who’d died, and could get it to show just the nervous system, the skeleton, the organs, whatever. You could also “cut” the image wherever you liked to see a cross section of whatever you wanted. And you could turn the body round in any direction too. Amazing, really.

Then I had a go at some biology experiments, involving rubber gloves, test tubes, pipettes and an incubator etc. I was very cleverly directed step by step through the experiment to where all the equipment was and so on in a fully automated way. It was great fun, but my criticism would be that I didn’t at any point really understand what I was doing or why I was doing it. I reckon they could work on that.

Then there were a couple of other experiments that you could do directed by a staff member… hmmm… the biology guy was super keen and very good with the kids who it was mainly aimed at (I realised, having already committed myself!). One or two of the others I got the impression the staff members were either very personable but ignorant about their exhibit or very technically adept but not so good at relating to people rather than machines!!

I really enjoyed playing with the Wiki Music thing to make up this little piece:

And I couldn’t resist sitting in this sculpture and having a bit of a sing. The acoustics were crying out for it:

The thing that eclipsed all of the above, however, was when I emerged into the store and moved dazed and blinking and with great resolution and speed toward the sunlight of the open door and fresh air of the street, only to find *SMACK* that what I had thought was an open door was in fact a solid window. Very clean, floor to ceiling, but also very solid.

This was why I took some time out for comfort food, on what can only be described as an American scale:

…and also why my trip to Campbell was short and involved a lot of sitting down and reading! My nose was actually quite badly damaged as was revealed when I removed that deceptively small plaster. Getting better now though.

So… The Tech… too clever by half, perhaps?! Brought out my inner geek, which left me ill equipped to cope with normal things like windows and doors! 😂

San José (correction from earlier: not downtown) (every day’s a school day!)

Winchester Mystery House.

My photos of this enormous house don’t really do it justice. It looks from the front like a normal domestic sized dwelling, but actually Sarah Winchester kept adding new rooms to it from the moment she moved in, leading to the creation of 160 rooms.

After the success of the Winchester rifle, in only a few years, her baby daughter, husband and father all died, leaving Sarah Winchester grief stricken. She went to see a spiritualist who told her to move out West (which must have felt like a huge thing to do) and build a house. She moved to California and never stopped the building work, believing that the sound of the hammers and saws would keep evil spirits at bay.

There were lots of new innovations in the house but also a lot of superstition woven into it (eg 13 windows in one room, 13 spots on the window below, a séance room with only one entrance and one (different) exit and quite a few doors and staircases leading nowhere, too).

Innovations included a shower built for Sarah’s own small height, that would shower her back and front at once (in an era before showers), hot and cold running water on tap in the laundry, hinged floorboards in an indoor greenhouse type area that you could lift up to reveal stone on which you could water plants without getting the floor wet, and without having to go outside in the cold yourself to water them. She also built really shallow stairs for the areas of the house she mainly used to help her with her arthritis. Neat, huh? And doorways that were really very small (she was only 4 foot something tall).

Sarah Winchester spent unbelievable amounts of money on this house, having inherited a fortune from the rifle business. One of the many mysteries of the house is whether her superstition was fuelled mainly by grief, by the encounter with the spiritualist or by the thought of the countless victims of the Winchester rifles that made the family’s fortune.

Note the “door to nowhere” in the centre of this picture!

Downtown

I’ve been doing some local explorations the last week or so. I say “local”. In the US everything is so much further away! And bigger. Silicon Valley is such a ubiquitously new place too, compared with the kinds of architecture and history you see round every corner in the UK. But each area has its particularities.

My brother tells me that most areas in the valley seem to have evolved concentrations of particular ethnicities/cultures. (While all of them are full of techy geeks of course!) I gather that Mountain View is known locally to have quite a few Germans living there. You’d probably only get an inkling of whatever these people groups are in each place by knowing people who live there. Though there might be some other clues in the restaurants and eateries in some places.

Oh, also, the expression “Downtown [place name]” really is a thing. I thought it was just a song from “Little Shop of Horrors”!

Anyway, here are some pictures from Downtown Mountain View. To get here, I walked 1.5km to the light railway, then travelled about 45mins on the train.

First stop, second breakfast! Thanks for the recommendation Carolyn.

Hmmm 👌🏼😋 The music in here was ideal for writing to. So I made my exquisite second breakfast last a looong time while I wrote.

I walked around quite a bit. Then, in the heat of the day, I popped into the huge, immaculately clean public library (near the Performing Arts place below), and really enjoyed sitting in a squishy chair, reading a couple of short stories by Agatha Christie.

I wish performing arts and public libraries were more invested in in the UK.

There are quite a few… weird shops in Mountain View. This music shop looked so weird with its toy stuffed tigers and porcelain figures in the window, I wasn’t sure about it. But when I went in it was like a tardis in there! And I found two pieces of piano music I’ve been looking for for years!! That came to a grand total of under £7. Possibly the only thing I’ve found that has been cheaper here than in the UK. (Apart from gasoline/petrol and fast food.)

What sort of music do you think they were piping through the sound system in this grocery store?

Yep, you guessed it; Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. The whole thing. Not just the famous bits! 😁🎵I pretended to be looking for Japanese rice crackers a lot longer than was strictly necessary so I could enjoy it!

That was Mountain View.

This is Campbell (about 45 minutes in the opposite direction on the same train route)…

I didn’t have long here (for reasons that will become obvious later), but long enough to pick up the leafy pleasant vibe of the place. We’d come here for dinner in an Austrian restaurant a couple of evenings before. Carolyn had told me on Sundays they close off the downtown to traffic so it’s all pedestrianised. Nice!

I visited this fabulous secondhand bookstore, including purchasing a very thin book (thinking of travelling light still) which I then went and read some of in a local coffee shop. It was the relaxing late afternoon I needed.

Then it was off back home before my 8 hour day ticket expired.

Coyote Creek

The other day I took myself off for a walk from my brother’s place along Coyote Creek. The first thing I noticed was the size of the sky. Wow! And also the size of most of the birds flying across it.

Walking these creek routes in California, you also realise just how dry it gets. Nobody could remember the last time it had rained when I first arrived. Unusually, it’s rained twice since I’ve been here (of course everyone’s blaming me for that!), but I must say it wasn’t really rain in the British sense! (Lasted at most for maybe an hour and a half, and was more like showers.) There must be potential for crazy rain, though, as the breadth and depth of the levy seems designed to cope really well with a lot of water, and in odd places there’s a warning to not use the path as it underpasses the freeway in “major water events” or some such phrase.

Here’s some of the interesting wildlife I saw:

I also saw a lot of people on their lunch break from the many nearby offices taking a walk with each other, catching a break. And some probably having meetings while walking, and others walking along scrutinising their phones in the pose that is extremely common here as well as in the UK. (Let’s be honest, we’ve all done it. Well, everyone under a certain age probably, anyway.) I hope they remembered to look up, enjoy the awesome view and breathe at some point…

Somehow the business suit this guy was wearing looked incongruous… I am realizing only now that’s for two reasons: 1. This is a creek, named after wild animals (coyotes)… and, a business suit…? 2. This is Silicon Valley, California, where hardly anyone ever wears a suit! (Another guy I passed was bare chested with his T-shirt hanging from his belt, reading some actual pieces of A4 paper, on actual paper 😲 He was quite good looking. I would’ve taken a photo but somehow it felt wrong!) However involved people are with their phones, the one difference between here and the UK is that they pretty much always stop and look up to smile at you and offer some simple greeting. Even if it’s just a friendly “Hey”. The only time when they don’t is if they’re actually on the phone speaking to someone, or if they’re listening to music or something to get some time out. In that way it reminds me a bit of Yorkshire, where people (especially outside of the cities, but sometimes still inside them too) tend to be more ready to talk to each other than in the South of England, in my experience. It’s a bit of a stereotype, but there is some truth in it at least.