Going to California (2013)

There are over 300 million people in the USA. In November 2016 only 60 million of them voted for Mr. Trumpet to be president, i.e. around 20 percent. Contemplating the state of the union and of the world in the “post-factual era” ushered in by his victory is disturbing enough. But it must be particularly tough for the many millions of Americans who didn’t give their support to the Republicans and still believe in a better future… Many of them live in California it seems.

Our son Martin spent 18 months as an exchange student at the University of California, Berkeley during his masters course in mathematics at Copenhagen. We didn’t need much encouragement to book a trip, so that we too could sample the delights of the Pacific coast. Kathrine joined us for ten days of excursions around the Bay Area and beyond.

Our first stop was in the town of Berkeley itself, where we enjoyed wandering around the famous campus and getting impressions of student life. Amongst the cafés frequented by the young people was the Brewed Awakening.

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From Berkeley we drove along the highways of California to another famous site on the tourist trail: Yosemite National Park. We stayed in a big house outside the park, with wild turkeys running in the garden and an outdoor hot tank for relaxing. It was spring and quite chilly so we wrapped up well for walking. The cliffs and valleys in the park are spectacular.

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Then we drove to the coast north of the Bay Area, to a cottage in the small town of Bodega Bay. This is where Alfred Hitchcock filmed “The Birds.” From the hills overlooking the ocean we could see grey whales coming up for air en route from the waters of Baja California to Alaska, a journey of over 10,000 km. Bodega Bay is also a good base for exploring protected redwood forests.

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Back in San Francisco, we were based in the Mission district for a week, where we had rented a vacation apartment. The Mission is a Latino quarter, but it is also a zone for drug dealers and misusers. We were very cautious on the streets at night. In the daylight we could admire lots of wild and colourful street art.

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We moved around the city by bus, exploring the parks, galleries, shops and so on. Like all tourists we couldn’t resist taking pictures of the Golden Gate bridge. There was a lot of fog.

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Haight Ashbury evokes memories of hippy happiness. We walked streets where members of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane had hung out in the 1960s, thinking of mind-expanding drugs and the power of flowers. I particularly liked a pair of legs protruding from a wall. Note the “no littering” sign in English, Chinese and Spanish.

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We wandered around in downtown San Francisco too, taking a look at Chinatown and browsing at the famous City Lights bookshop. I bought a copy of Alan Ginsberg’s “Howl”…

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The Coit Tower is near the harbour, known as the Embarcadero. Inside the tower are some fantastic murals. The strong influence of Diego Rivera was evident.

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Of course there are also the famous trolleys, going up and down the hills in the centre of the city. I thought of car chase sequences in action films.

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The Mexican and Central American influences in the Mission district are easily spotted on the shopfronts and billboards. But I wonder what “self divorce” entails?

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By the end of our stay we had more or less gotten used to the yankee lifestyle in San Francisco. Although the big contrasts between the well-to-do and the down-and-outs continued to shock and surprise us. But it is an exciting and attractive city in a booming region…

The pictures were taken on my I-phone, “designed in California, assembled in China.” Maybe the phone will turn out to be an emblematic artifact of the “pre-Trump era.” I think about the next four years with trepidation…

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