I went to San Francisco yesterday for a job interview.
San Fancisco is my city. I moved there in 1967 to go to San Francisco State and stayed for 15 years. I love San Francisco.
I finished the interview at noon and had four hours to kill before meeting my friend. I had just read the day before that SFMOMA had an exhibit that features Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keefe.
It was first Tuesday – and first Tuesdays of the month are fee entry days into the museum. I did not know this when I decided to go there. The cost for the exhibit was five dollars. For another six I got the audio guide.
Earphones in place, I wandered (and wondered) through the exhibit of photos by Steiglitz, Weston, and Adams, and paintings by O’Keefe. All what I would call landscapes.
In one photo, Adams captures a lone dead tree in Owens Valley, a valley that had become desloate because water had been diverted from it to water the lawns of Los Angeles. In another, he captures sunrise over the Sierra Nevadas with the snow-capped peaks in brilliant sun, the foothills in dark, and a lone horse grazing in the meadow, a ray of sun illuminating that one spot. Apparently he waited patiently for the horse to turn so he could capture his profile instead of his rear end.
Patience pays off.
Stieglitz apparently saw Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings, exhibited them in New York without her permission, and when she came to protest, their chemistry transcended the 32-year difference in their ages. Thirty years ago I got a book of Stieglitz’s photos of O’Keefe. Theirs was definitely a union of artistic souls.
Displayed side-by-side are Adam’s photograph of a New Mexico church and O’Keefe’s painting of the same church – a church that looks as if it rose from the earth as a rock formation.
Color, O’Keefe says on the audio tour, is how she expressed feeling. You can understand why New Mexico, rather than New York, became her landscape, much to Stieglitz’s dismay. California is clearly Adams’s landscape.
A part of what distinguishes the artists displayed in this exhibit is that they didn’t go to Europe to study art. They stayed home and let the landscape educate them. In the very best sense of the word, this exhibit is an American landscape.
The audio tour also talked about how O’Keefe and her New Mexico home became a place where artists of all expression would come to – well, come to just be with each other. Poets, photographers, painters.
After I left the exhibit, I spent some time in the café, where a woman in perhaps her 70s or 80s wore a Seargent Pepper like costume with a crown-like hat. Shortly, her companion appeared – a man of a similar age in a red-silk shirt, a colorful vest and leather hat. His long grey hair was in a single, neat braid.
I took the N-Judah to Cole Street, met my friend, and reminisced about the stores, restaurants and cafes that had been a part of the Cole Street landscape over the forty years she has lived in the neighborhood. I had lived there thirty years ago. It is one of my landscapes – my neighborhood.
At the corner of Cole and Parnassus, the bakery where you could buy a birthday cake changed to the Tassajara bakery shortly after I moved there in 1976. I would on my way to work at UCSF for coffee and a croissant every morning. Sometime later it became a Just Desserts café. I don’t know when it became the French bakery and café it is now.
Cole Hardware is still there – a neighborhood hardware store that survives in this Home Depot and Loew’s Hardware era.
My friend and I used to eat dinner at Bambino’s before our Hospice Volunteer support group meetings. Wonderful garlic-rich pasta meals before an evening of intimate discussions about our experiences witnessing life coming to its end.
Last night we talked about the third friend who used to join us for the meals and intimate discussions, and how strange it is that we are now witnessing his life as it is coming to its end.
After way too much food, I got on the N-Judah, where a tiny young man, sitting next to a more robust young man who wore an Oliver Hardy-like bowler hat, played the ukele and sang songs. They were, the ukele-playing young man told us as we traveled along, members of a circus performing group.
Across from them was a woman who resembled someone I know from Livermore, the town I now live in. Finally I asked, “Are you from Livermore?”
She was indeed the woman I had seen in Livermore. We rode the rest of the way home together, while she told me her story of having a stroke six years ago and that she couldn’t be sorry. The stoke had almost taken her life, but he first day she walked out of the hospital she looked about and felt the beauty of the day.
She feels that way every day since. What the stroke took from her, it also gave her.
I drove her to her home in the countryside outside Livermore. We both said we used to think that the sueded brown hills looked desolate in summer, but had come to see their beauty. The sun was beginning to set and rain spattered the windshield. Few clouds were scattered across the sky so it seemed to come from out of the blue. Sunset-red and -orange haloed around the clouds as we drove, and she, an artist who will need to learn anew how to practice her craft, marveled over and over about the beauty of the landscape.
Her landscape. And mine.
Serendipity. Free entry into the museum where landscapes by artists of profound vision were exhibited and a ride on the N-Judah and Bart that helped me discover my landscape.
I don’t think I will ever again say that I have time to kill. I will know, instead, that I have time for life.
And now some of my landscape from Mendocino (Livermore landscapes will follow in the near future).