The Things Quakes Bury

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My father would sometimes come home with an object unearthed at one of his construction sites. A lady’s high-button shoe. A silver half dollar. A hand-forged spur. A Chinese cherry blossom incense burner. A ceramic dog’s head.

I especially like the dog head, so I keep it around. When I hold it, I feel like it’s from a place I’ve traveled, sometimes forgetting that I lived there.

My father was the guy who worked for a large construction company who spent his days driving from one building site to the next, looking over the blueprints and schedule, checking over the progress, making arrangements for the delivery of the next day’s materials and heavy equipment. He would have several of these to manage in San Francisco.

Where there was a building going up in San Francisco, there was almost always a building that needed to come down. And when the old building was finally down, and its pieces cleared away, there would be the exposed ground, and in some of that was likely rubble from the great earthquake and fire of 1906.

Out of that disturbed earth came objects my father brought home. He would, of course, leave behind the pieces broken bottles, shards of tile, tea cups and dinnerware. These were just the unidentified fragments of things a departed generation had forged or manufactured and took into their homes and their lives.

My father was a man on some contradictions.  He loved being part of a new building going up, and he loved the history, and finding a connection with the past from the objects of the past.  He  was also resigned to the notion that what he called “progress” was unstoppable,  as unstoppable as death and the cycle of each generation replacing the next. The objects he brought home usually went into some box in the garage or garden shed. Once home, he was done with them.

I think my father might have kept a pair of gloves in his pickup truck. I think he might have put these on when he thought he might want to spend some minutes sorting through some rubble that had spilled from a backhoe bucket.

These days, I like to hold the dog’s head in my hands. The dog’s fur is expertly etched into the piece with what looks like might have been a small stiff-bristled brush, laying down the hairs in exactly the pattern that a dog’s fur grows on its head. That is, up the muzzle, then splitting in the different directions: over and under the eyes, across the top head, circling around the jowls.

I wonder about the artist, and the dogs this artist must have loved.

You see, this is no generic mantlepiece dog. If you saw him tied to a post near the door of a Starbucks cafe, you would recognize him.  He  is an individual with eyes of animal who appears to recognize someone that he had been waiting for. There’s a graying muzzle, a testament to the years in that household. It’s the same with the saggy lips at the corners of what would be a drooly mouth, and the same with the floppy folds running down the neck.

The head is hollow. Inside I see finger impressions. When I hold the head, I can poke around inside with my thumb or fore finger.  My fingers go where the artist’s fingers must have gone while the fingers on the other hand worked at the pinching and clay shaping.

No human being can know all that was buried in the cold earth in the 1906 earthquake. Pieces of the ceramic dog’s body must still be down there, or in the old landfill in nearby Brisbane. Paws, haunches. Tail. That’s lost, of course. I take some comfort in knowing my father was responsible for resurrecting a few things, stuff that had joined the living, and again held in warm hands.

Out Of The Archives:
The Berkeley People’s Park Mural

People's Park Mural in Berkeley
People’s Park Mural in Berkeley

There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious that you can’t even tacitly take part … you’ve got to put your bodies on the gears, the levers, and all the apparatus and you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it and own it that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented from working at all. – Mario Savio quote within the mural

This is only one small part of the mural that covers the entire wall of what is now Amoeba Records at the corner of Haste and Telegraph in Berkeley. This part of the mural commemorates the speech that Mario Savio gave on the steps of Sproul Hall that infamous December 3rd afternoon in 1964 that brought UC Berkeley to a screeching halt and served as the beginning of the Free Speech Movement (FSM), where the students challenged the administration of the University to allow them to participate in political activities on campus. It resulted in a year of protests, and sit-ins, and a decade of a national political movement that used Berkeley as its center and completely changed in way we think as a country.

Other parts of the mural depict the riots that brought about the birth of People’s Park. A block of land sitting next to the mural and owned by the University, that was taken over by students in 1969 and made into a park for the people of the community. When the University decided to take the land back, the students and community protested and the then Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, first called in the Alameda Sheriff’s Department and then the National Guard with their horses, guns and tear gas to settle the dispute between the community and the University. One person, who was not even participating in the protests, lost their life in the conflict and another was blinded by the birdshot the Sheriff’s unit used in their guns. The park remains a park to this day, but still not without controversy.

The mural was painted by Berkeley artist and lawyer Osha Neuman.

The actual quote:

There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part, you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all! – Mario Savio – December 3.1964

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Sproul Hall in 2006

Out Of The Archives:
Potsdam’s Little Amsterdam

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The Holländisches Viertel – Dutch Quarter – in Potsdam is unique in that it was not only built to house Dutch craftsmen, it was also built in the Dutch style for the sole purpose of making them feel comfortable while living there. The four square block neighborhood of red-brick, gabled houses was built between 1734 to 1742 by King Frederick Wilhelm I. The director of the construction on the buildings was Dutch master-builder, Johann Boumann.

The Dutch who moved here provided their skills as goldsmiths, cabinet makers, and masons.

While wandering the streets, the street level viewing will bring all of the typical touristy delights one might think to find in such a neighborhood – food, crafts, flowers, coffeehouses, and biergartens. The more interesting detail to look at here is the architecture. How the roof lines cut the sky. The red of the brick. The shutters on the windows. The old wooden doors. The symmetry.

While there are no canals, such as there are in Amsterdam, running through the neighborhood, Potsdam is surrounded by water. The Jan Bouman Museum can be found at Mittelstrasse 9 and besides showing off its original construction it also has a lot of information on the building of the quarter.

Out Of The Archives:
The “New” Addition Of The Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche

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The new church of Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche was designed by Egon Eiermann and incorporates the remaining ruins of the original Protestant structure that was bombed during The Second World War, during an air raid in 1943. The “new” church isn’t exactly new, it’s just newer than the original church which was built in the 1890s.

The foundation stone for the new church was laid on May 9, 1959 and the church was consecrated on December 17, 1961. Even if you are not a Christian or have no interest in churches, this one is a beautiful one to sit in. The overwhelming blue of the light coming through windows is quite peaceful.

Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche
Breitscheidplatz, Charlottenburg
10789 Berlin
Hours: Open daily 9am – 7pm