Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Not for the first time, I urge Canadians to read Christopher Moore.

Even international readers might have heard about the Idle No More protests currently dominating the headlines in Canada: it's a nationwide series of protests by First Nations groups (what Americans call Indians or Natives) to try to get the government of Canada to live up to its treaty obligations, which it has failed to do so for untold decades at great human cost. Canadians don't tend to think about our First Nations people very much, or know why the situation stands as it does. As usual, historian Christopher Moore has the remedy in this post: Kay on Treaty History: Well-meaning, wrong-headed:

Thursday, January 03, 2013

San Francisco

I’ve alluded to this before, but me and the lady-people I live with will be pulling up stakes (again) and moving to Chicago in a couple of months. There are many consequences to this move, the most obvious being that we won’t be in California anymore.
That’s a “well duh” statement if there ever was one but bear with me: I’ve barely been living in California to begin with. I do not surf. I do not tan. I do not like beaches and the many body-crevasse-invading grains of sand they contain. I have little interest in spotting celebrities, less ability to recognize them when I see them, and no idea how to act when I do. Nightlife, being something that happens at night, and therefore requiring me to stay up past 10 pm, is but a distant memory for me.
We saw this at the Monterey Aquarium, which was incredible. Sana's favourite animal there was the hammerhead shark, but Sana is not writing this blog.
So we are left with the Golden State’s considerable scenery, the vast majority of which has remained unmolested by my sight. With a departure date of mid-February looming, Amynah and I decided that we had to visit San Francisco, in order to visit the one American city where I a) had known relatives and b) had been repeatedly assured by sources I trusted was a place that I would love.
Of the two a) was most pressing, as the relative in question – my cousin Stephen and his wife Megan – had moved to California at roughly the same time as us and had even visited Los Angeles twice in that time, somehow catching us on the rare occasions when we were out of town. We’d never reciprocated, and this trip was intended to make up for our failure. Of course, we failed: they moved back to Canada four days before we arrived.
With that auspicious beginning, nothing else could go wrong, obviously (were this 1994, a Wayne’s World-esque NOT would be apropos here). Our plan was to drive up the California Route 1 (also known as the Pacific Coast Highway or the PCH). This is a road that serves as the mise en scene for about half the car commercials you’ve ever seen (the salt flats providing the setting for the other half).
Of course, a scenic route is almost definitionally not the fastest route. And a route like the PCH – winding, as it does, through wave-smashed wind-whipped seaside cliffs – is slower than most, as well as being prone to rockslides.
With that in mind, and going against all of my well-honed travel instincts to half-ass all preparations, I actually made a point of checking the CalTrans website for road conditions the night before we left. It informed me that there had been a landslide roughly 60 miles before our first night’s stop. Those of you that know me probably know what I did with that information.
I ignored it.
The next morning, Amynah, myself, three suitcases, two bags of food, four bags of toys, a bag of books and a travel crib piled into the car. We drove for three minutes, realized we’d forgotten to load the children, and came back. Setting off again (“again” in the sense that the preceding sentence is not true) we made our way to the PCH, and were instantly embraced into a vast and welcoming fellowship of EVERY OTHER MOTHERF##KER WITH A CAR IN LOS ANGELES that was also doing the same route.
Our journey North was thus considerably slowed and by the time we made it to San Simeon (home of the Hearst Castle) our rearmost passengers were mightily unhappy about the sustained inactivity to which they had been subjected. I pulled the car over to get everyone some air, only to be confronted by these hideous sea-beasts:

Some several miles earlier we had passed the last possible detour before the landslide I was steadfastly pretending did not exist. There was no way the California Highway Patrol, or a CalTrans official, would not have posted a sign saying there was no throughway to Monterey, was there? No, there was not, I decided, and so my hardy fellow-travellers and I pressed on a further 60 miles, long after darkness fell. The hordes of lane-blocking geriatrics in Cadillacs disappeared, and soon the only car on the road was my own, pressing ever onward, over mountain, through hairpin switchbacks and dancing on the knife-edge cliffs. The road had to be open, I thought. It had to be.

At one point we passed a micro-hamlet in which the sign I’d expected many dozens of miles earlier informed me that the road was closed ahead in 16 miles. A man of lesser powers of obliviousness would have assumed that this probably meant that the road ahead was closed, likely within the next 16 miles.

“Maybe they just forgot to take it down after they cleared the road,” I reasoned, tightening my grip on the wheel. We traveled the next 16 miles in silence, and darkness both spiritual and literal.

In 16 miles, having witnessed the stark and terrible beauty of a road closed sign in the middle of a coastal highway, we turned back and drove nearly 100 miles of labyrinth twists and turns back to the turnoff we should have taken when the day, and we, were young. And then another 40 miles to cut across to an open North-South highway. And then another 120 miles to our hotel, which we reached 12 hours after we’d set out that morning.

I did nothing so idiotic on the rest of the trip, and so will render the rest in photographic form:

On the boat tour of San Francisco Bay. Sana charmed a group of South Korean school teachers with her verve and ability to withstand the cold. Inara spent the hour-long tour pointing over various railings yelling "Wawa! Wawa!" in case we hadn't noticed all the water on which our boat was floating.
INara scaled a height proportional to a grown-up climbing the CN Tower, I'm pretty sure, despite my pleas that she let me carry her and finish in the same calendar year in which we started. Also, in applying the graffiti to this photo I noticed the detail below. One armed pushups? Big deal. Try being a baby.

To distract her on the ride up, I let Sana play with my old camera. This was her view for 12 hours.