Archive for the ‘history’ Category

While His Guitar Gently Fandangos

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

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On my second Menlo Monday adventure I did make it (on time) to a Music@Menlo chamber music event. It was a lunchtime “Café Conversation” titled “Spanish Spirit: Spain’s Influence over the Guitar’s Concert Repertoire with Guitarist Jason Vieaux.” I learned all about the history of classical guitar composition and performance in Spain and was treated to some spellbinding pieces performed by a virtuoso.

CIMG1413The presentation was held Monday, August 9, 2010 at Martin Family Hall on the Menlo School campus which hilariously is in Atherton, just off El Camino Real. I managed to get there without making any wrong turns this time. I had never been to Menlo School so I allowed myself a moment to take in the grand sweep of the opulent grounds. The centerpiece is the magnificent Stent Family Hall, formerly Douglass Hall, an Italian-style mansion built in 1913 and nearly demolished after the effects of the Loma Prieta earthquake, but saved by the efforts of the community.

The Music@Menlo Café Conversations are billed as free informal discussions on a variety of topics. Martin Family Hall is an intimate but very comfortable 180-seat theater. By the time the talk started nearly every seat was full, including the five rows in the center section which were reserved for young musicians participating in the festival’s Chamber Music Institute, an intensive program that pairs world-class instructors with teenaged prodigies. CMI at Menlo has been described as a sort of Hogwarts School where they teach music instead of magic.

The talk was given by Jason Vieaux, a young American classical guitar phenom. He was performing at a formal festival concert that evening but at lunchtime he sat alone on the stage and gave a lively lecture on the history of Spanish guitar music, highlighting key performers and composers from the last 400 years. He explained how early figures like Alonso MudarraGaspar Sanz, Fernando Sor, and Dionisio Aguado were tremendously influential in promoting the guitar as a serious instrument, but their compositions were generically European, emulating the styles of cultural powerhouses like Germany, Italy, and France. Still he pointed out how elements we typically identify as Spanish were evident even in the early works, such as hemiola rhythms (think “I Want to Live in Amer-i-ca”) and Moorish muezzin fanfares reflecting Spain’s period of Arab conquest. Then in the early 20th century composers like Julián Arcas, Isaac Albéniz (piano), and Francisco Tárrega came along and proudly tapped into the folk idioms of their homeland, incorporating flamenco dance flavors into their music, and the Spanish revolution was underway led by superstar players like Miguel Llobet and the great Andrés Segovia.

Vieaux illustrated his talk with a few YouTube videos but of course he simply played many pieces for us live, and I was awed by his mastery over the instrument. His fast and powerful technique is balanced by exquisite expression, and he’s able to coax a wide range of timbres from the guitar by controlling everything down to the angle he holds his strumming fingers. I chatted afterwards with Art, an amateur guitarist in attendance, to get his opinion. Art told me he was really impressed with Vieaux’ lyricism and that the day’s performance compared most favorably to or outshone others he had seen. Watch the video below for a sample of what we were treated to.


YouTube

While he played, for a few mortified moments I thought I heard someone snoring loudly in the front row but humorously it turned out to be Vieaux himself breathing loudly into his headset microphone. At the end he took questions from the audience and expounded on topics such as the space-age construction of his own instrument—a Wagner spruce and cedar Nomex sandwich with a rosewood back and titanium-nylon strings in case you were wondering—and the care and feeding of his gnarly guitar-plucking thumbnail, as big as a pick. I was there with my own agenda. I knew from various accounts that in the Mexican days, the most popular instrument in California was the guitar. I asked him if he was aware of any classical guitar music making its way onto the Californio ranchos. He didn’t know but he was intrigued by the question and guessed that the tunes probably stayed in the realm of popular folk music. Click here for a video of a wonderful group I just found, The Alta California Orchestra, that recreates the music of the fandangos or dance fiestas that brightened the lives of early Californians.

CIMG1417After the program I drove down El Camino to the Menlo Park Safeway, my first time there since they remodeled, to do a little light shopping and grab a late lunch smoothie from the Jamba Juice embedded inside the store. I didn’t love that experience. The Jamba Juice is a small satellite so they didn’t have the apple cinnamon pretzels I always get, they didn’t take my prepaid Jamba card (I’m a Jamba junkie), and the line at the counter inconveniently blocked shoppers with carts trying to exit the store. After I finished my drink I got a terrible headache and ended up going home early feeling sick. Next time I’ll stick to full-fledged Jamba stores and get nothing but groceries from Safeway. An unfortunate ending but overall another magical Monday in Menlo.

You Haul

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

SVBC Move
[Photo from SVBC]

I love this story. Over Labor Day weekend the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition packed up and moved their office from Willow Glen to a new location at 1922 The Alameda, San Jose. The SVBC advocates for cycling as an everyday transportation solution that’s good for the environment and healthy for the participants so naturally they accomplished this big move completely by bicycle.

Travoy with BikeThey enlisted a team of over 20 volunteers, each with a trailer or some kind of load-carrying contrivance attached to a bicycle, and hauled everything. Computers, furniture, files…everything. They formed a ragtag caravan as they made the three mile trek. After they unloaded the bikes and carried everything to their new fourth floor office on my favorite stretch of El Camino Real, one of the volunteers won a new Burley Travoy trailer in a drawing.

IMG_9395I was immediately reminded of the 2010 Fourth of July Rose, White, & Blue Parade on The Alameda. The Cleveland Avenue neighborhood association entered a green-themed float entirely powered by bicycles. Carbon footprint: zero (assuming the huffing and puffing of the pedalers was too small to measure). It won first prize. The Bicycle Coalition move may not be quite as impressive a feat as the Murphy Party dragging covered wagons over the Sierra Nevada in 1844, but given the easier alternatives the SVBC could have chosen, their dedication to their cause is admirable as is the consistency of their message.

[Update] The SVBC is holding an open house at their new location. Come chat with other cyclists and enjoy some refreshments.

SVBC open (office) house

September 16, 2010 – 4:30pm – 6:30pm
United Way Building
1922 The Alameda Suite 420
San Jose, California
http://bikesiliconvalley.org/content/1436

Where the Summer Ends

Monday, September 13th, 2010

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Last year around this time I wrote about how the Mountain View Art & Wine Festival signifies the end of summer for me. We didn’t attend last year, but we did go this year on Saturday, September 11, 2010. This of course was the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. in 2001. To commemorate it the festival sponsor, Chamber of Commerce Mountain View, held a special Remembrance Ceremony to honor the heroes of September 11 and of the wars that followed.

We arrived a few minutes before 11:00 AM Saturday. We usually park for free in the garage at Villa (if we get there early enough) or on the street, but this year we patronized one of the convenient paid parking lots. It was adjacent to the festival and proceeds benefited Community Health Awareness Council (CHAC). The Remembrance Ceremony began with a single-file procession down Castro Street from Evelyn down to the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts. It was a solemn march of men and women in uniform. At the front were boy scouts carrying their troop banner and a United States flag. They were followed by Mountain View fire fighters and police officers. After them were soldiers from various branches of the military, predominately Army. A policeman on motorcycle brought up the rear. As they passed, festival goers and vendors stood aside and applauded. Some of the soldiers handed out mini flags to children in the crowd.

At the Center for Performing Arts the procession assembled, stood at attention, and saluted as the flag was raised and two talented teens sang the National Anthem a cappella. Air Force Lt. Col. Sanchez addressed the crowd with a moving reminder of the sacrifices the armed services have made since 9/11. He was followed by Mountain View Fire Chief Bradley Wardle who spoke of the terror and bravery of that day. The colors were retired and the ceremony was over. It was brief but inspiring and many attendees took the opportunity personally to shake the hands of our local heroes and to thank them for their selfless service. Watch KPIX’ coverage of the event here. View my slide show below.

CIMG0322It was by then lunchtime so we diffused into the side streets and loaded up with savory delectables. With us was Paulette’s friend Melanie who was visiting us from out of town for the weekend. Among us we had a Thai wrap, jumbo chicken wings (sweet and spicy), pizza, and lemonade. For dessert we found something new: pot holes. They’re fried mini donuts rolled in cinnamon sugar and dipped in chocolate sauce. ‘Sbeen done, you say. Yeah, I retort, but these are made out of potato. “Pot holes,” get it? Apparently they’re not new to the planet but that was the first time I ever heard of or tasted them. I thought they were great. They tasted like donuts, but there was a distinct tater undertone, like a sweetened french fry. The irony is that my son loves the donut fries at Psycho Donuts: donut batter formed like french fries and served in a basket with raspberry “ketchup” and custard “mayo.” French fries shaped like donuts! Donuts shaped like french fries! Stop the madness!

CIMG0317The women went off in search of a jewelry booth that had been recommended by a friend. My son and I ambled Castro at our own less urgent pace from end to end, El Camino Real to Evelyn. Naturally we lingered at the El Camino intersection which I mentally named “Issue Ghetto” because of the political and spiritual free speech tables located there. I took some photos of the historic bell marker in Mountain View Plaza and noted that the nearby flag was flying at half-staff. I stopped at the California Welcome Centers‘ showpiece Airstream and asked them about the Welcome Center sign I had seen in San Mateo on my bus trip the week before. They told me there is in fact a brand new center in the Hillsdale Shopping center to cover the long un-welcomed stretch between San Francisco and Pismo Beach.

The oddest thing I saw was the nyckelharpa, a 600-year-old Swedish musical instrument that’s bowed like a fiddle but keyed with the left hand with a row of buttons, one key per note. It had a beautiful tone and Aryeh Frankfurter played Celtic tunes on it masterfully. The main music stage was at the Center for Performing Arts and we overheard a cover band knocking out some Michael Jackson tunes. Street musicians were scattered throughout the festival so you always had something in your ear. At one point we were sitting in a spot where we could simultaneously hear an R&B backbeat from one busker and some new age flute from another and you know, the resulting mashup was surprisingly groovy.

CIMG0319The festival had a green lean to it. The garbage cans weren’t labeled “garbage,” they said “landfill” instead to encourage you to use the accompanying “compost” and “recycle” bins. Towards the Evelyn end Whole Foods was handing out tasty goodies like bite-sized Lara Bars and Casacadian Farms samples. Cherry pie. Chocolate Chip Brownie. It’s a tough job saving the planet, but somebody’s gotta do it.

With the perfect 81° weather, eye-catching art, and sensory delights taken to near hedonistic excess it was easy for my mind to wander away from the somber anniversary. It pains me to say that; I never want to forget the losses and shining humanity of that day. But it was only nine years ago. This was the 39th annual festival. Mountain View was incorporated in 1902 and the roots of the town trace back to the stage coach stop established in 1852 on El Camino Real on the Rancho Pastoría de las Borregas, originally granted by the Mexican government in 1842. This festival demonstrates to the fullest what no terrorist can undo: when people of good will come together, love and life endure.

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Around the Bay in a Day

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

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Last November I took a bus ride up El Camino Real from San Jose to San Francisco and blogged my impressions and observations. To avoid giving myself whiplash, that day I only looked out the right side of the bus at the eastern side of the street and doggedly ignored the left side so the job was only half done. Last Friday, September 3, 2010, I completed the task, taking the reverse bus trip from San Francisco down to San Jose, observing the west side. Back in November I scribbled all my notes on the bus by hand in a notebook and ended up taking four months to type them all up. It’s not that I’m a slow typist, it’s just that the scope of the project was much larger than I anticipated. For the second trip I found a more efficient way: I live-tweeted my journey.

If you’re unfamiliar with tweeting, it means I used my cell phone on the road to type and send text messages to the Twitter service. Twitter messages, or “tweets,” are limited to 140 characters each so it enforces brevity. A great advantage is that every message was timestamped and geocoded by GPS so I have a complete record of what I saw, when I saw it, and where I was. I tried to live in the moment and just write what was on my mind which means whatever happened to catch my eye out the bus window. I know it’s a pretty pedestrian read (irony intended) but I hope I conveyed a sense of El Camino’s diverse profile.

Follow allcamino on Twitter

Below are my 167 tweets from that day from my brand new @allcamino twitter account. It took some effort to extract them all from Twitter’s web site. There are web apps that do this but they didn’t work for me because they rely on Twitter’s search engine which failed me, returning only six tweets (?!). I wrote a Perl script to convert their HTML to the format I wanted for the blog. To improve the readability I put each time stamp and location stamp against the right margin above each tweet. You can click the location links to open a Google map. My live-tweeting strategy worked great. Last year it took me four months to finish the writeup. Here I’ve done it in less than four days.

I cleaned the text up, fixing obvious two-left-thumb typos and grammar issues, but the content is largely raw and uncut. I’ve put a few editor notes in [square] brackets and added hyperlinks for your reference. I’ve written broader post-trip comments in between tweets in italics. You’ll see a bunch of the photos I took, many from the windows of the buses. Please excuse their quality. (more…)

One Hundred One

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

Back in June my wife and I flew down to Los Angeles to attend the Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival. This is the annual event put on by the dynamic duo Heidi Durrow and Fanshen Cox, whom I wrote about back in April. The festival took place at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo, downtown Los Angeles. Little Tokyo is just one Metro light rail stop away from Olvera Street which commemorates the original site of El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Ángeles de Porciúncula.

CIMG1180Olvera Street isn’t literally the spot where Los Angeles was founded as a dusty little village in 1781 but it’s not far. It does contain the oldest remaining house in the city, the Avila Adobe. The city maintains Olvera Street as its historic district so it is bedecked with historical markers and the look and feel of old Mexico. It’s bustling with tourists, but across the street is a quiet little patch of grass, Father Serra Park.

It is a tribute to Junipero Serra of course and has a statue of El Padre Presidente holding a cross and a tiny mission. A few yards away is an El Camino Real bell. I had a vague recollection that there might be something special about this bell, and when we got home, I confirmed it. This is the first El Camino Real bell.

CIMG1182Sadly that’s a bit of an exaggeration. The first bell was placed by Mrs. A. S. C. Forbes on the other side of Olvera Street in front of the Plaza Church on August 15, 1906. That original bell hasn’t survived but a new bell was dedicated in the same location in 1998. To celebrate the centennial of that first bell, the Father Serra Park bell was erected on August 15, 2006. Read the L.A. Times’ story about the centennial celebration here on the web site of the California Bell Company which continues to forge the bells over a century later. I regret that we didn’t get over to the church to see the original bell site, but this centennial bell is very special in its own right.

As you can see from the photos, it was getting dark while we were in the park and we had to skedaddle before our light rail passes expired. The next day we took the $0.25 LA DOT DASH bus (“dot dash”…get it?) from our hotel in Chinatown back to Little Tokyo for the second day of the festival. I knew the shuttle was going to pass in front of the Junipero Serra statue so I held my camera phone up to the bus window to try to snap a picture in passing, just for fun. As we drove past this is the picture I got:
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It’s basically a picture of the sun through a gap in the trees. Somehow the sun, the Earth, me, my camera, Junipero Serra, and the centennial bell all lined up perfectly in the split second my finger released the shutter aboard a moving bus. It’s not much of a photo but it was a thrilling moment. Illumination can come when you least expect it.

Signposts

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Patricia Loomis
When I met Bill Wulf at the Rose, White, and Blue Parade on the Fourth of July, we got to talking about other local historians like Clyde Arbuckle and Ralph Rambo, both of whom he personally knew. He told me I needed to check out the work of Patricia Loomis. I was familiar with her name but had never seen any of her books. I looked her up in the San Jose Library catalog and saw that they had copies but they could not be checked out because they were signed by the author and had to stay in the King Library’s California Room.

Not long after, I was refreshing my Google bookshelf and remembered to add Pat’s books to the list. On a lark I Googled her to see what else I could find out about her and was sadly shaken to find she had passed away only a week prior. On a bittersweet note, just a few weeks before that she had celebrated her 90th birthday with a big party at San Jose Historic Park. Here’s a timeline that shows how these events all converged inside the span of 30 days.

  • 6/30/2010 — Pat celebrates her 90th Birthday at San Jose History Park
  • 7/4/2010 — Bill Wulf tells me to check out Pat’s books
  • 7/4/2010 — Paulette and I watch fireworks at San Jose History Park
  • 7/20/2010 — Pat passes away in Arroyo Grande, her hometown
  • 7/27/2010 — A memorial service is held at the South County Historical Society Heritage  House
  • 7/29/2010 — I learn all this when I randomly Google her

Pat was born in San Francisco in 1920 and grew up in Arroyo Grande near Pismo Beach. She came to San Jose to attend San Jose State University and stayed for over 60 years. She took a job at the Mercury News as a reporter but most famously between 1971 and 1981 she wrote a weekly column called “Signposts” in which she presented the history of the streets of Santa Clara County and the pioneers they were named after. That’s right, a history of the streets. This is why Bill Wulf turned me on to her. Select columns were published in two volumes called Signposts and Signposts II by the San Jose Historical Museum, the same group that runs History Park.

Last week I was up in Menlo Park and discovered a wonderfully funky used bookstore on El Camino called Feldman’s Books. I went inside and made a bee’s line to the California history section to see if maybe, just maybe they had one of Pat’s books. Eureka!

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CIMG1362Signposts II is a delightful book. The table of contents reads like a South Bay atlas: Bascom Avenue, Lawrence Expessway, Montague Expressway, and more. The very first article, Abel Road in Milpitas, mentions Oakland Road and Main Street which pass by Henry Abel’s old cow pasture. I had been wondering about  Abel since it has superceded Main Street in the modern era, and now I know all about it. I learned that Henry Abel’s granddaughter Mrs. John Donovan developed Serra Shopping Center in Milpitas, a kitschy tribute to Padre Junípero. Each page is deeply researched, vibrantly narrated, and illustrated with vintage photographs. I’ll treasure it.

She wrote another seminal history book called Milpitas: a Century of Little Cornfields, 1852-1952. It’s featured in the Milpitas Historical Society’s permanent display at the Great Mall.

Pat stayed active. After retiring to Arroyo Grande she wrote two more books: Streets of Arroyo Grande and Arroyo Grande Cemetery, which incidentally is located on El Camino Real down there. Clearly she was a girl after my own heart.

Booo!!!

Friday, August 13th, 2010

El Palo Alto, the giant redwood that gave the city its name, has been tagged by graffiti vandals. I am disgusted. This is so wrong on so many levels I hardly know where to begin.

Stanford University SealThis towering redwood stands over the bank of San Francisquito Creek in Palo Alto near the county line. It’s over 1,000 years old. According to lore it’s where Don Gaspar de Portolá and his expedition camped in 1769 after having discovered San Francisco Bay. It was said to be the tallest tree for miles around so it’s always been a landmark, a defining feature of the region. It dominates the seal of Stanford University and leads the band out onto the field at football games. (If that makes no sense to you, just Google it.) El Camino Real lays beside this majestic tree, humanity’s parade paying tribute as it marches by.

I suppose I shouldn’t judge, but it’s deeply disappointing that someone could deface a historic landmark like that. The police are investigating but I suppose the perpetrator may never be caught. At least we have philosophy. The tree has withstood a lot in the last millennium. It used to have a double trunk; one was lost in a violent storm. Pollution from the nearby Southern Pacific railroad nearly poisoned it, but still it stands. The senseless graffiti will fade as will the vandal who put it there, but what El Palo Alto teaches us is that goodwill always endures.

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[Source: Palo Alto Online]

Jain Center 10th Anniversary

Friday, August 6th, 2010

One of the great joys of this El Camino Real project is “discovering” treasures that are right in front of me and which have been there for a very long time. The human brain is a powerful filter and can swallow up entire continents in its blind spot if your focus happens to be somewhere else. One day I was in Milpitas looking for what was left of the O’Toole elms, and was startled to see a beautiful temple facing where they once where. I had “discovered” the Jain Center of Northern California.

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It stands on Main Street in Milpitas. I’ve been up and down Main Street countless times in the last decade but somehow I never noticed it. Once I realized it was there, I had no idea what it was; I had never heard of Jainism. I asked my co-worker Shashank, my go-to guy for all things Indian, and did some rudimentary research and learned that Jainism is an ancient Indian religion whose adherents strive for non-violence, or Ahimsa, in the extreme in the pursuit of perfect karma. They go beyond simply practicing peace in their dealings with other people. They are vegetarians to avoid committing violence against animals. The most devout, monks and nuns, don’t eat root vegetables because insects could be harmed in digging them up and they wear face masks to avoid breathing in microscopic organisms. Through meditation, rituals, and other disciplines they work to achieve victory over worldly concerns and unity with divinity.

This Jain Center in Milpitas is one of two in California and serves about 1,000 Jains in the Bay Area. Thursday morning I read in the San Jose Mercury News online that the center is marking its 10th Anniversary here with a four-day weekend celebration. There will be ceremonies, lectures, performances, and a parade. I went over that day to catch a glimpse inside the marble palace and enjoy a multicultural experience.

The parking lot was nearly full but I found a spot and made my way to the front door, admiring the architecture and landscaping. I was nervous, afraid I would make a misstep and offend the worshipers. Before leaving the house I debated changing my shoes and belt, wondering if it would be problematic to bring my leather goods—animal products—onto the property. It turns out my intuition was correct. Inside the spacious vestibule they have a special shoe room with cubbies where everyone is asked to leave their shoes and leather items; everyone walks around the temple in bare feet or socks. I was oddly comforted that I had gotten this right, and proceeded boldly.

IMG_9777The volunteer who directed me to the shoe room encouraged me to go upstairs and stay for lunch. Posted signs directed me that the temple was upstairs and that there were rules to follow: no socializing, proper attire required, etc. There was no solemn hush however; loud music was echoing from up there. I climbed the stairs and enjoyed a picture-window view of the Milpitas eastern hills. The second floor holds the temple proper, a large marble covered room. Around the walls there were a number of statues, most of cross-legged seated figures, each unique. The statues against the back wall were cordoned off and were attended to by a monk and nun in face masks. There were also three large black and white photographs of relatively recent individuals, obviously revered. There was an altar in the middle of the room surrounded by ornately carved columns. Jains sat cross-legged on the floor around the altar facing crowned officiants who were performing rituals with fruit and water. The Jains were wearing a variety of clothes including traditional saris, workday street clothes, and simple Gandhi-like wraps. Five musicians sat on the floor playing instruments and drums and singing lively stirring ceremonial songs over a blasting sound system. There were chairs ringing the room and I sat in one, deciding to play it safe and be a wallflower, as unobtrusive as possible. I probably needn’t have worried as there was some general milling about and children skipping around the room. An operator ran a videocamera which I learned was broadcasting video of the ceremony to the dining hall downstairs and over the internet. I stayed for about twenty minutes, wide-eyed and thrilled, before making my way downstairs again, opting not to back out of the room as I had seen the Jains do.

CIMG1328CIMG1329Downstairs I retrieved my shoes and entered the dining room which was laid out end-to-end with tables. Volunteers in the kitchen dished me out a serving of soup, rice, pancake-y things, and a sweet custardy item labeled “Whole, Hearty Grains.” Everything was vegetarian of course, and delicious. My favorite was the soup which was surprisingly spicy. A sign on the wall admonished us not to waste food so I cleaned my plate.

While I was waiting in the lunch line a woman entered who I correctly deduced was a reporter since she carried a notepad and was the only non-Indian in the room besides myself. I flagged her down and learned she’s Lisa Fernandez from the San Jose Mercury News who had written the story I read that morning and was there to follow up. I gave her my info and check it out…I’m a newsmaker! Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to plug AllCamino.com. D’oh!

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IMG_9778After eating I explored the ground floor some more, admiring large marble reliefs adorning the walls, the auditorium where the lectures will be conducted, and a massive statue of a seated figure in a shrine surrounded by a variety of animals and people. In one wing there were paintings on display, being sold in a silent auction. They were deeply spiritual, several depicting the same cross-legged figure motif which I believe represents the liberated soul. I was particularly impressed by a painting of the Milpitas temple, beautifully done by a 12-year-old prodigy.

I had many questions so I talked for a while with a gracious volunteer named Karuna Jain (it’s a common last name among Jains). She gave me a brief overview of the religion’s history, tenets, and practices. She explained that the statues in the temple represent the twenty-four Tirthankars, mortals throughout history who succeeded in attaining enlightenment through Jainism and are now worshiped as role models and teachers. Then we covered some deep El Camino topics. Let me catch you up.

The Jain Center is on Main Street or El Camino de San Jose. There used to be a row of elm trees that stretched from that point on Main Street to the O’Toole family mansion a short walk away. The trees and mansion were Milpitas landmarks for decades. The O’Tooles suffered mysterious misfortunes so the county acquired the property and turned it into an almshouse for the poor then later a jail. Elmwood Correctional Complex stands there today across Abel Street, named for the elm trees which sadly were destroyed in the name of progress in 2005. O’Toole Elms Park now spans where the elms were and new elm saplings have been planted in their memory. When workers were building the modern jail they unearthed Native American remains. The Muwekma Ohlone Tribe were brought in as consultants to remove their ancestral remains and properly re-bury them with all due reverence.


View Larger Map

There’s some delicious congruence here. Linguistically the puns are irresistible. The elms connect the Jail to the Jain, the Indians from long ago to the Indians from far away. Narratively it’s tempting to suggest that the misfortunes of the O’Tooles and the bad mojo of the jail may have been brought on by disturbed Ohlone ghosts and that the Jains’ pursuit of peace calmed them with positivity. Spiritually it’s striking that the Jains chose that spot for their temple,  that the Muwekma chose the other end for their hallowed burial site, and that the Franciscan padres stopped here to give penance by the nearby creek. There’s something about this place.

All of this was on my mind as I asked Karuna a loaded question: why did the Jains build the center here? Naturally she replied pragmatically that the land was available and affordable but when I let her know some of the above local history she became very thoughtful and told me something interesting.  She said before Jain temples are built many prayers and ceremonies are performed to ensure the location’s suitability. For example the trees that will be cut for the construction are asked their permission first. (The elms weren’t cut so I’m sure they took the opportunity to chime in.) The land is consulted. I believe this land has a lot to say. We agreed that perhaps it was no coincidence that the Jains came and the Buddhists came and the Franciscans built their road to their East Bay Mission here. Again, there’s something about this place.

I very much enjoyed my visit to the Jain Center. The building is beautiful and their beliefs are inspiring. I’m very grateful for the hospitality they extended; I decided to go vegetarian all day as a gesture of harmony. If I make it to the parade down Main Street on Saturday I’ll post some pictures.

10th Anniversary of Jain Bhawan Pratishtha

August 5th – 8th, 2010
Jain Center of Northern California
722 South Main Street
Milpitas, CA 95035
http://www.jcnc.org/10th

Rose, White, and Blue in the Face

Monday, July 5th, 2010

CIMG0054Every year I think I’ve written new Fourth of July traditions in stone. I let myself believe I’ve got the celebration dialed in, and that’s the way I’ll be observing it from then on. And every year I’m wrong. Something changes that causes a little tweak or a giant upheaval. Sometimes it’s an improvement, and sometimes it’s a back-to-the-drawing-board experience. For years though the cornerstone of our July 4 festivities was the America Festival at Downtown San Jose’s Discovery Meadow. Sadly in 2009 that mighty event fell victim to the deflated economy and had to be canceled. To console ourselves on the Fourth our family went to Calvin’s on The Alameda for cheese steaks and discovered quite by accident the Rose, White, and Blue Parade. We missed the morning parade but the accompanying festival was still on so we perused the booths and shops, and made plans to come back this year.

Fwd:We arrived early this year and found shady spots on the parade route, under the El Camino bell on the west side of The Alameda at Singletary. That was no accident; it’s a special spot for me. I’m generally not a parade person because they’re always too early in the morning (I like to sleep in on holidays; so sue me), but I was in the right mood and this one was delightful. It’s not a huge production with marching bands and animatronic floats. Rather it’s a heartfelt community showcase with neighborhood kids on bikes, girl scout and boy scout troops, vintage car enthusiasts, and elected officials. The geeky highlight was Grand Marshal Steve Wozniak riding an Egyptian barque, surrounded by his Segway polo friends, one of whom was coincidentally an old co-worker of mine from Apple, Bill Knott. The giggliest moment was a lone be-kilted bagpipe player droning out Rod Stewart’s “Da’ Ya’ Think I’m Sexy.” The most sublimely surreal moment was Chuck Reed, the mayor of San Jose, cruising down The Alameda in the back of a straight-up cherry low-rider, bewildering uninitiated onlookers every time it stopped and dropped so low it was scrapin’.

By the time the last of the parade passed by—two ladies on horseback (it was smart to put them last) with a police car chaser—it was lunchtime so we headed once again to Calvin’s. Tradition! I can think of no better tribute to the signing of the Declaration of Independence than Philadelphia’s best cheese steaks. We weren’t alone; the line was out the door. It was an extra long wait but so worth it, and we reveled in our “sandmiches” while an Elvis impersonator cheesed us from the “American Stage.” Then we worked our way down the double row of booths—nearly twice as many as last year—cleverly arranged on the shady western half of The Alameda between Lenzen and Race. Kudos to the prior and current presidents of The Alameda Business Association Larry Clark and Michael Barnaba for spearheading a successful and growing event. My wife was drawn to the vendors of handmade jewelry, but I had a different agenda.

Two agendas, actually. The first was chocolate. Schurra’s had a booth and I bought myself a Rocky Road treat: a giant homemade marshmallow brick topped with almonds and covered in chocolate. The lady asked if I wanted a bag. Ha! I told her that would only slow me down. It was gooey, melty wonderment.

CIMG1233That out of the way, I moved on to my primary objective. This was the third year for the Rose, White, and Blue Parade, but it traces it roots back to a legacy of Rose Festivals in San Jose dating back to 1896. At the 2009 parade I found Shannon Clark’s book, The Alameda: the Beautiful Way, which I acknowledge was the spark that convinced me finally to start this All Camino blog. This year I was delighted to see she had produced a new book in collaboration with her sister Allison called Roses on Parade: a Santa Clara Valley Tradition, an exposition of this very event. I bought the book at their booth, got it signed, and networked with my fellow El Camino history buffs. At least I thought I was a history buff, until I met Bill.

CIMG1232The booth next to the Clark sisters’ was a modest affair, simply a few rows of clotheslines with historic photos of The Alameda clothes-pinned to them, flapping like pennants in the warm breeze. A lone gentleman was narrating them, jovially taking questions and leading listeners from photo to photo to illustrate the timelines he was reciting from memory. His name is Bill Wulf and he’s a 71-year-old San Jose native, railroad enthusiast, Los Gatos expert, and Santa Clara Valley historian extraordinaire. It’s tempting to say he knows everything there is to know about local history and his ready facility with names, dates, and anecdotes would seem to back up that claim, but it would do him a disservice. He impressed upon me that though he has been meticulously and doggedly researching his subject for decades, he’s still learning something new every day and constantly having his understanding challenged and refined. That’s what amazed me. He’s not just a passive font of facts; he’s an active and probing student of stories, and a really nice guy no less. He’s the kind of historian I can only aspire to be.

I honestly have no idea how long I stood there talking to him, he was so generous with his time and information. I think it was a couple hours. I lost track of time and shamefully neglected my wife (she bought some jewelry in mock revenge), but I learned a ton of great things, like how Mrs. A.S.C. Forbes was inspired by her colorful father-in-low James Alexander Forbes to romanticize California’s Mission past and memorialize El Camino Real with posted bell markers. I learned about troves of primary sources to explore like forgotten county archives and collections of the Franciscan order. I appreciated his theories about practical land routes that were the basis of the real El Camino. And I only scratched the surface. I look forward to meeting him again.

Finally I tore myself away and my wife and I finished strolling the fair and went home. Our day wasn’t done though. You’d think we would have both had enough history for one day by then, but you underestimate our capacity. We grabbed a couple sandwiches from the Togo’s at Oakland Road and Brokaw and headed down to History Park in San Jose’s Kelley Park for the History San Jose Fourth of July Celebration. Can I possibly use the words “history” and “San Jose” any more in a single sentence?

If you had trouble parsing that sentence, it will help to know that “History San Jose” is the name of San Jose’s historical association. They host an annual members-only (yeah, I’m a member) Independence Day event at their showpiece village in Kelley Park, a collection of reconstructed or physically relocated buildings and landmarks from San Jose’s past. Kelley Park isn’t quite on El Camino Real (it’s three long blocks from Monterey Road) but its centerpiece is a half-scale replica of the famous electric light tower which once straddled the intersection of First and Santa Clara Streets downtown, so it represents. We rode the electric trolley and strolled the grounds and chatted with Judy—a long-time HSJ volunteer we met—and her family and friends until it was dark enough to enjoy the San Jose Giants’ fireworks display happening across the street at Municipal Stadium and the unsanctioned fireworks outbursts happening everywhere else.

That was our Fourth, dipped in San Jose and fried in history. It may seem odd to focus on a seemingly academic subject on this defining day of summer but when you think about it, it’s not so weird. The Independence Day celebration is plainly and simply a celebration of American history, a way to bring it percussively to life. San Jose was dubiously Spain during the Revolutionary War but we’re America now. If there’s one date an American schoolchild needs to remember from history lessons, it’s July 4, 1776. It just so happens that some people know a few more dates than that.

Railroaded

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010


View San Jose robbery and police chase in a larger map

The Milpitas Post reports that an alleged robbery and car theft that started on Sierra Road (that’s Sierra, not Serra!) in San Jose led to a police chase that ended when the suspect was apprehended at the dead-end at Railroad Court, at the northern end of Main Street in Milpitas. That happens to be where the Milpitas Post is located, so you could say the scoop landed on their doorstep. This funny little intersection is where Main Street crosses the railroad tracks, near Judge Weller‘s dairy farm. It used to connect with Milpitas Blvd and continue on to Mission San Jose and other East Bay destinations, but it was cul-de-sac’ed decades ago. If the suspect had been an avid consumer of arcane El Camino Real knowledge like myself he surely would have known this and not snared himself in the trap. Or perhaps that was exactly his problem; he was trying to flee to the mission for sanctuary and was following a really really really old map.

ECdSJ_diseno

Hopefully no one was seriously hurt (the police had to use a stun gun), property is rightfully restored, and justice will be served.

[Source: Milpitas Post]