Weekend bonus shot, 04.25.09


Behind the café, Berkeley, CA.


When she was a young woman, my mother lived with her mother in the apartment building pictured in the background, above.  Berkeley still had its Key Route streetcar system back in the 1930s, and she rode one every day to high school, lugging her violin case on days when she had her lessons. 

(Want to see what a streetcar ride through town looked like, back about a hundred and two years ago? Check out this silent film from the American Mutoscope & Biograph Co, June 1906: it’s complete with fracas between the streetcar operators and an uncooperative pedestrian at about two minutes into it. Gotta love that the fight was broken up by, among other people, a lady with a fancy wide-brimmed hat.)

What’s now a corner café was once a gas station, perhaps even in my mom’s day. Under the thick overgrowth of trumpet vine are the remnants of art deco styling.   Along with the espresso drinks, the place offers up a minimum of pretension, good hot sandwiches (omelettes on weekends), outdoor seating, and friendly folks behind the counter who humor my bad Spanish. No accessible electrical outlets mean that laptop jockeys are outnumbered by the folks reading actual paper pages in books, or talking to friends face-to-face, or tending little ones.

I’d like the place even if I didn’t feel as if my mom were watching us from an upstairs window.

7 thoughts on “Weekend bonus shot, 04.25.09”

  1. Your first sentence and the photo go beautifully together to create the sense of place.

    Speaking of snack time, do you guys watch The Backyardigans? I have no idea if you even let them watch television but oh my, a different musical genre every week! A jungle ep with Gilbert and Sullivan, the Yeti with James Brown, etc.

    And then they always end to go get a snack. Sorry to wax on but it seems ideal for the children of someone as musical as The Beloved.

    If you already know, sorry–I know everyone else in the world knows this show but as I have no children, I’d never watched it till twitter bud @marlaerwin turned me on to it.

    Now I dvr them during the week and listen to them on weekends while I’m cooking and doing housework- my parrot adores them.

  2. I don’t know much about the Berkeley area, but this reminds me so much of some of the small towns in Mississippi where I live. Probably not so much the actual trees, weather and such, but the sense of living in a generational place. It’s such a blessing to live near where your extended family has lived and to be able to share that heritage with your little ones — place infused with memory. It makes life alive.

    • Beautifully put, eyejunkie. You know, so much of the Bay Area is filled with people who just moved here (last I heard over 50% of California was like that?). But some towns, like this one, have been around a long time and have accumulated at least one or two layers of generations. San Francisco, more. One of the top three reasons I was so happy to move (back) here was that I would be able to point out to my kids where their grandmother used to be (my sister lives in our childhood home, so we have that era covered). Even if my mom’s favorite malt shop was closed down ten years ago, her high school’s still there, and the library she went to after school. Just being at an intersection I knew she stood at helps. Since she died, history and the perseverance of things began to mean so much more to me.

      Do you know the book My Mississippi? David Rae Morris, a dear friend and an amazing photojournalist, collaborated with his father Willie Morris on a book about the state (yes, the North Toward Home Willie Morris). His dad wrote an extended essay, and David took hundreds (thousands?) of photographs, edited down to a 105-photo essay. Most of the images are of small towns, sedimented with just the history you describe.

      VT, I have just heard of The Backyardigans. Gilbert & Sullivan? James Brown? Now I must search them out. Whatever your parrot likes, I’m pretty sure will go over well with these ones.

  3. Wow. Wow! Yes, I know My Mississippi very well. I have a copy and give it when I can to non-Mississippi-ers. It’s outstanding. Willie Morris is of course incredible, and the photos are wonderful. Cool that you and David Rae Morris are good friends. I’m continually amazed at how small and big our world is.

    I’m actually from (and live in) north eastern MS as opposed to the western river Delta area most people are more familiar with. However, I was able to design and do a small amount of writing for a social science website project focused in the area last year and revisited it. (http://www.deltadirections.org) We were able to include an essay by Willie Morris (linked toward the bottom of the home page) and I was reminded again of his extraordinary gift and the juxtaposition of past and present in so much of my state.

    Juke Joint by Birney Imes (a photographer and newspaper man from Columbus, MS) is another truly Mississippi book you may want to check out. But, clearly I’m rambling 🙂

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