What do giraffes have in common with Mexico? It sounds like a trick question, or a goofy one-liner. If you ask Google, you are pointed to a rather interesting spiritual society called “Free Giraffes in Mexico”, a recipe for “giraffes huevos rancheros”, and an unfortunate story of a giraffe dodging traffic on a Mexican road while trying to make a run for it from a local circus. So the better question to ask: what do giraffes have in common with Mexico IN OAKLAND? The answer is a section of town with two busy thoroughfares that run in one-way directions under Hwy 580. Oakland Avenue and Harrison Boulevard transect a portion of the lower hills; parallel roads that connect the northern tip of Lake Merritt with the highway, MacArthur Boulevard, and the Oakland Hills. Therefore, people often move fast; too fast. The statuesque giraffes have been a part of this confluence of intersections for 32 years. Aztecali, a casual neighborhood eatery with home-style Mexican fare, has just joined the area this year. Both give cause to slow down and appreciate craft in two different forms; it makes giraffes and Mexico synonymous in my book.
Eat Local. Eat Organic. Eat Sustainable. Eat Clean. Eat Whole. Eat Real. These edible catch phrases have become so commonplace that in many ways it is easy to mock them. When several come together on one package it can make your head spin. Yet as our culture becomes more and more educated on their value, we can set aside the light-hearted teasing and appreciate what it means. If we have reached a time when these terms have become more commonplace in the grocery store aisles, we are headed in the right direction; one towards a healthier lifestyle in favor of good food that is good for you. Oakland is fast becoming a hub of food culture that supports all of these phrases. Food artisans are tucked around every corner, eager to offer up their flavorful combinations. What is special about this movement is how it is being fostered from the ground up on a local level. It takes a lot to reach the point of success where one’s product name sits on a market shelf; if that is even the goal. For many just to make, create, craft and then share something that is both artistic and edible allows passion to thrive and grow. Food Craft Institute, itself a passion project born out of the wildly successful Eat Real Festival here in Oakland, is a unique place where those with the desire to take their artisan skills to the next level can come.
Knowland Park. It’s a place that many people think of for a moment as they pull into the Oakland Zoo. I never really understood what Knowland Park was all about, why it was part of the zoo. It is really the other way around; the zoo became part of it. It’s ironic that as the largest public park in Oakland, it is one of the least used. It is acreage named for a man who once owned our beloved Tribune, who built its tower, and who served our state parks for over twenty years. Knowland Park came to be as a way to honor a man who worked so hard to protect state land. As someone who loves to spend time in nature, my visit to this wild and open public space within our city limits was long overdue. As an Oakland Zoo member, I have been feeling conflicted about the hand it has been dealt as the zoo expands up the hillside, further into Knowland’s wild side. I thought my early morning visit to the hilltop would give me clarity, but as I have continued to read I still don’t seem to have it. I do know I have another place to visit when I need to take time to look for it further, on this issue…or any others that life hands out.
I have a deep level of admiration for those who entertain children for a living. Play isn’t something that comes naturally to me. When I watch jugglers, magicians, balloon artists and other performers at birthday parties and events, I am in awe. To take oneself to the level of a child may be “down” in the physical sense, but it actually requires one to move “up” in the sense of energy, creativity, and imagination. Puppeteers have always fascinated me in the ways they combine a piece of art, their hands, and their voices to create a character that will cause little eyes to open wide. While digital animation has taken over much of children’s entertainment in the 21st Century, iconic puppets still dance across our screens in long running shows such as Sesame Street. Yet there are few places where you can still watch a curtain move aside and see lively characters dance in front of your eyes. Oakland’s own Children’s Fairyland is one of those special spots. Along the shore of Lake Merritt, Fairyland has been home to our country’s longest running live puppet theater. Now celebrating sixty years, the Storybook Theater at Fairyland, and its dedicated director, invited me behind the scenes to see just how it has been pulling strings for so long.
When Gertrude Stein coined the phrase, “there is no there there” in relation to her childhood home, little did she know that it would have a renaissance in the Oakland of the 21st Century. While some feel the statement was a negative comment about our city, what she really was speaking to was change. The Oakland of her youth was gone, her version of “there” was gone; a new place was now there and it was unfamiliar. Cities change. They shrink and grow. They struggle and flourish. They crumble and build. Often, these things happen at the same time; a confusing dichotomy of positive and negative that is hard to understand. As I sat down to write this I remembered that I had touched on Oakland’s current climate in my very first post so I decided to go back and re-read exactly what I had written:
“I don’t intend to use this as a platform to jump in on that debate; but I do hope that I can use this site as a vehicle to not only share some of the amazing spaces and places that are planting new roots in Oakland, but to also occasionally highlight our city’s history, communities, and people. Will see how I do.”
When I look at that statement almost a year later, I feel a couple things. While I still feel I am not qualified to be on a platform, I do feel that I have a responsibility. I feel that since I have become a more visible member of the community it is my duty to share, to help educate, to give people something to think about. The Oakland Museum of California is doing the same thing. Their new exhibit, “Oakland, I want you to know…” is thought provoking, inspiring, upsetting, and hopeful. It is an invitation to our community, a challenge, to fight to keep our “there there.” As a member of the community I experienced all of those emotions when I spent time viewing it a couple of weeks ago.
When I think of Jack London, I typically think of the snowy Klondike, sled dogs, and a little log cabin by the Oakland Estuary. It is just recently that I learned more about his love for the rolling hills of the Sonoma countryside and his dedication to his land and property in Glen Ellen. Yet Jack London…surfer? This was news to me. When a fellow Oaklander gave me the idea to look into Jack London’s South Pacific travels, I was intrigued. I started to read about his love of adventure and sailing. I learned more about his interest in South Pacific cultures; his desire to build the perfect vessel to sail around the world. In fact, I have learned quite a bit about Jack London recently. While inspired to share more over time, it is his taste for the tropics that I have chosen to focus on as our Bay Area summer has turned mild. I dug around a bit and was connected to a source for images from Jack London’s personal photo albums. An amateur photographer, London often carried a camera and was passionate about documenting his experiences. It is clear that his cameras often traded hands as he moved from capturer to subject. As I skimmed through picture after picture of his travels through the islands it was clear to me that even over 100 years ago, the lure of the tropics was too much to resist.
The tropics. White sand meets picturesque blue water. Palm trees heavy with coconuts, fields of sugar cane, sweet tropical fruit. A lack of seasons means flip-flops year round; a golden tan that never truly fades. So many of us daydream of a tropical island as our permanent home. There was a time in my life when I thought I was meant to be an islander; I was twenty. A year spent abroad on the shores of Australia had me convinced it was the way I was meant to live. Twenty years later as I approach forty, with two kids and a mortgage, it’s a daydream I sometimes still revisit; a “what if” that creeps in when days are long. As the depth of summer sends images of tropical locations across my social media feeds, I have been thinking about ways to bring its allure into my own life. What happened is I discovered the ways a couple of iconic Oakland names went after their own tropical dreams; the first of which was a man with a wooden leg who turned his Oakland watering hole into a Polynesian-themed empire.
To use the word “vacation” when traveling with small children is a bit of a stretch. As a good friend once shared, the word “trip” is a better adjective to describe a getaway with little ones in tow. Long gone are the days of a suitcase full of books, hours of solitude in the sun, leisurely dinners, endless cocktails with no concern for what may follow in the morning; another day of laziness awaits. As I type the words I even sigh and daydream of a time that once was. A certain mindset is needed when you enter into a trip with a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old; deep breaths are involved. Parenting challenges can become all the more challenging when you alter their routines. While exciting adventures and beautiful spots may await, sometimes young kids could care less. Last week, to celebrate my daughter’s second birthday, my family and I spent seven days in a rustic cabin on the hillside above Fallen Leaf Lake, just west of Lake Tahoe’s southern shores. I coined the phrase “ten minute moment” a couple of days in, as I shared with my husband my approach to finding relaxation and joy in days that still required the patience I often struggle with at home. I was determined to grab as many of them as I could. It’s advice that I think can hold true to anyone, anytime, anywhere.