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- Ancestor Revival
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Everyone who has a heart has to come to terms with living side by side with homeless people in Oakland. Either that, or stay inside all day since they are everywhere. Some people hand out dollars and coffee, other contribute to food pantries. Some hound their city reps to do something. My daughter, five foot, 100 pounds, built a couple of houses in an empty lot and solicited food and clothing, only to have the cops tear it down. I give what little I can and try to see the beauty in them. In their dreams, they find relief from hunger and the cold, and are like all of us in Oakland who get to see the mountains and glimpses of the bay, the flowers blooming in the cement cracks, and live another day in the golden state.
This conglomeration of wires, billboard, commercial enterprise and housing is typical of the lack of urban planning going on in Oakland. Fewer regulations seem in effect than, say, Berkeley where one has to fill out multiple forms to put up a garden fence, and neighbors all around get a say in how you do it. Some things cannot be avoided like telephone wires, and since the city is so rapidly expanding. Like a thirteen year old boy, whose mom cannot keep in long enough pants and big enough shoes, due to rapid growth, Oakland is like a lovely weed, filling in the cracks of East Bay with anything and everything. Let's see how it all turns out.
When i took this photo of downtown Oakland, I think I was remembering the Georgia O'Keeffe city paintings above. I was more interested in the shapes the buildings made against the patch of blue, but also liked the tiny neon light as a focus in the distance. One thing I love about cities is the feeling of being small next to large buildings. This scene with the old neon sign being dwarfed by the surroundings, but being the brightest color in the alley, forms a kind of balance or contrast I enjoy.
This painting and photo do not quite give the three dimensional feel of being in this location and observing this little building from a hundred years ago, carefully preserved in an island among traffic and raucous construction. It now houses one of those lawyers' organizations that you might see advertised on cable TV, helping those with DUIs. Whatever preservation society made it possible to keep this jewel, I thank you. Hurray for Oakland and its yin yang energy of the old and the new!!
I spotted this encampment beneath some scraggly pines and thought the tents looked vaguely like gifts under a Christmas tree. The sun was shining and no snow in sight, but I doubt a happy Christmas was in the offing for the inhabitants of this camp next to Lake Merritt. The musical chairs initiative of moving homeless from one section of Oakland to another does not seem to be working to end the existence of 3000 homeless people. I know the mayor and others are trying, and I heard a new idea of building tiny houses for those with nowhere to live. Many people don't realize that what is being done (not done) is one of the most expensive solutions to homelessness because of the health care costs in the emergency wards and other expensive side effects. Still, Oakland people are not looking the other way, they will keep working on the problem. I believe.
I haunt early morning cafes since I am a lark, and know all the places that open at six. This place is called Blue Bottle Coffee but has no real sign, you are just supposed to figure out that it is this exclusive coffee company, by the ambiance. The fancy coffee makers are picturesque and the coffee is great, but so is most coffee in the area due to competition. I was reminded of Hopper's "Nighthawks" paintings since the cafe houses lonely looking people inside the glowing cube of a renovated building, against the cold morning dark. A refuge for anyone from CEO to high school student from the school across the street. Coffeehouses are so all inclusive.
I moved to the Bay Area looking for traces of the sixties: Bob Dylan or Janis Joplin. But things have morphed while I was gone for 45 years. Now it's all about melding of cultures and innovation for the future. It took time to get used to all the Asian and Hispanic faces and language when I realized that whites were close to being in the minority. The children are more often biracial than not. The authentic ethnic restaurants are one sign of the fusion of people and practices, and when I saw these tattered but beautiful paper flags flying in the wind at what looked like a Mexican restaurant, I decided I didn't care any more if they were Tibetan prayer flags or El Salvadorian festival decorations. Bay Area is past being a mixed salad of cultures and is just a jamboree of life from everywhere.
One reason I feel so close to Oakland is that I see myself reflected in its streets and people. I am such a conglomeration of my past, mingled in with my present, and am reluctant to toss out parts of the old me until I see if I really might still need them. But with 68 years of experiences it is getting crowded in my sense of self. So I enjoy the crazy contrasts of bold new ventures and risky ideas but still value my sense of caution and traditional values. I feel sometimes as young at the twenty year olds on the skateboards, and at other times, crotchety as the hunched over bag lady on the corner. As an artist I am not neatly organized in a type, but demand the freedom to hop around among personas. And like these seemingly tilted structures next to a moving crane, I like to play with perspectives.
Not too many places agree to keep the old sign for the former business when they move in with a new one. But the new restaurant that moved into the Crab Shak understood that such an ancient landmark could be beneficial to their business. Lots of Oaklanders respect the old, even glorify "vintage" as they call it, even while they patronize the newest, most high tech new cafe that somehow knows, when they walk in the door, that they are there and will have their custom made latte ready for them, paid for and delivered without the bother of credit cards or even taking out their phone and pushing some app. This leaves more time for everyone to go on to more important tasks like writing the next best seller, whether patron or server, in the free time created.
The philosophy of preserving history whether it be an art deco theater from the 30's or a "mid century" neon sign fits well with the culture of recycling and inclusion. Still I find it hilarious that generation millennium will pay a fortune for a refurbished Danish "Modern" chair we baby boomers scoffed at in the sixties as being like Grandma's house - so uncool! It makes me wish I kept the old hippie clothes I threw out in the seventies, since I see they go for big bucks on Ebay. UPDATE: they changed the name on the sign to the new place: Copper Spoon!