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- The Californiacs - 2/4 -
fairy frost world into which the whole country turns.
Do you suppose I ever talked about Massachusetts? Not once. And so I have one criticism to bring against the Californiac. He is a person to whom you cannot talk about home. He grows restive the instant you get off the subject of California. Praise of any other place to his mind implies a criticism of California.
On the other hand, that frenzied patriotism has its wonderful and its beautiful side. It is a result partly of the startling beauty and fecundity of California and partly of a geographical remoteness and sequestration which turned the Californians in on themselves for everything. To it is due much of the extraordinary development of California. For to the average Californian, the best is not only none too good for California, but she can have nothing else. Californians even those not suffering from an offensive case of Californoia - speak of their State in reverential terms. To hear Maud Younger - known everywhere as the "millionaire waitress" and the most devoted labor-fan in the country - pronounce the word California, should be a lesson to any actor in emotional sound values. The thing that struck me most on my first visit to California was that boosting instinct. In store windows everywhere, I saw signs begging the passer-by to root for this development project or that. Several years ago, passing down Market street, I ran into a huge crowd gathered at the Lotta Fountain. I stopped to investigate. Moving steadily from a top to a lower window of one of the newspaper offices, as though unwound from a reel, ran a long strip of paper covered with a list of figures. To this list, new figures were constantly added. They were the sums of money being subscribed at that very moment for the Exposition. Applause and cheers greeted each additional sum. That was the financial germ from which grew the wonderful Arabian Nights city by the bay. It was typically Californian - that scene - and typically Californian the spirit back of it. And four years later, when the outbreak of the war brought temporary panic, there was no diminution in that spirit. Whether it was a "Buying-Day," a "Beach Day," an "Automomobile Parade," a "Prosperity Dinner," San Francisco was always ready to insist that everything was going well. It was the same spirit which inspired a whole city, the day the Exposition opened, to rise early to walk to the grounds, and to stand, an avalanche of humanity, waiting for the gates to part. It was the same spirit which inspired the whole city, the night the Exposition ended, to stay for the closing ceremonies until midnight, and then, without even picking a flower from the abundance they were abandoning, silently and sorrowfully to walk home.
Let's look into the claims of these Californiacs.
I can unfortunately say little about the State of California. For with the exception of a few short trips away from San Francisco, and one meager few days' trip into the South, I have never explored it. Nobody warned me of the danger of such a proceeding, and so I innocently went straight to San Francisco the first time I visited the coast. Stranger, let me warn you now. If ever you start for California with the intention of seeing anything of the State, do that before you enter San Francisco. If you must land in San Francisco first, jump into a taxi, pull down the curtains, drive through the city, breaking every speed law, to "Third and Townsend," sit in the station until a train, - some train, any train - pulls out, and go with it. If in crossing Market street, you raise that taxi-curtain as much as an inch, believe me, stranger, it's all off; you're lost. You'll never leave San Francisco. Myself, both times I have gone to California, I have vowed to see Yosemite, the big trees, the string of beautiful old missions which dot the state, some of the quaint, languid, semi-tropical towns of the south, some of the brisk, brilliant, bustling towns of the north. But I have never really done it because I saw San Francisco first.
I treasure my few impressions of the state, however. Towns and cities, comparatively new, might be three centuries old, so beautifully have they sunk into the colorful, deeply configurated background that the country provides. Even a city as thriving and wide-awake as Stockton has about its plaza an air so venerable that it is a little like the ancient hill-cities of Italy; more like, I have no doubt, the ancient plain-cities of Spain. And San Juan Bautista - with its history-haunted old Inn, its ghost-haunted old Mission and its rose-filled old Mission garden where everything, even the sundial, seems to sleep - is as old as Babylon or Tyre.
You will be constantly reminded of Italy, although California is not quite so vividly colored, and perhaps of Japan, for you are always coming on places that are startlingly like scenes in Japanese prints. Certain aspects from the bay of the town of Sausalito, with strangely shaped and softly tinted houses tumbling down the hillside, certain aspects of the bay from the heights of Berkeley, with the expanses of hills and water and the inevitable fog smudging a smoky streak here and there, are more like the picture-country of the Japanese masters than any American reality.
If I were to pick the time when I should travel in California, it would be in the early summer. All the rest of the world at that moment is green. California alone is sheer gold. One composite picture remains in my memory-the residuum of that single trip into the south. On one side the Pacific - tigerish, calm, powerfully palpitant, stretching into eternity in enormous bronze-gold, foam-laced planes. On the other side, great, bare, voluptuously - contoured hills, running parallel with the train and winding serpentinely on for hours and hours of express speed; hills that look, not as though they were covered with yellow grass, but as though they were carved from massy gold. At intervals come ravines filled with a heavy green growth. Occasionally on those golden hill-surfaces appear trees.
Oh, the trees of California!
If they be live-oaks - and on the hills they are most likely to be live-oaks - they are semi-globular in shape like our apple trees, only huge, of a clamant, virile, poisonous green. They grow alone, and each one of them seems to be standing knee-deep in shadow so thick and moist that it is like a deep pool of purple paint.
Occasionally, on the flat stretches, eucalyptus hedges film the distance. And the eucalyptus - tall, straight, of a uniform slender size, the baby leaves of one shape and color, misted with a strange bluish fog-powder, the mature leaves of another shape and color, deep-green on one side, purple on the other, curved and carved like a scimitar of Damascus steel, the blossoms hanging in great soft bunches, white or shell-pink, delicate as frost-stars - the eucalyptus is the most beautiful tree in the world. Standing in groups, they seem to color the atmosphere. Under them the air is like a green bubble. Standing alone, the long trailing scarfs of bark blowing away from their bodies - they are like ragged, tragic gypsy queens.
Then there is the madrone. The wonder of the madrone is its bole. Of a tawny red-gold - glossy - it contributes an arresting coppery note to green forest vistas. Somebody has said that in the distance they look like naked Indians slipping through the woods.
Last, there is the redwood tree! And the redwood is more beautiful even than the stone-pine of Italy. Gray lavender in color, hard as though cut from stone, swelling at the base to an incredible bulk, shooting straight to an incredible height and tapering exquisitely as it soars, it drops not foliage but plumage. To walk in a redwood forest at night and to look up at the stars tangled in the tree-tops, to watch the moonlight sift through the masses of soft black-green feathers, down, down, until strained to a diaphanous tenuity it lies a faint silver gossamer at your feet, is to feel that you are living in one of the old woodcuts which illustrate Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream."
Most people in first visiting California are obsessed with the flowers, the abundant callas, the monstrous roses, the giant geraniums. But I never ceased to wonder at the beauty of the trees. And remember, I have not as yet seen what they call the "big" trees.
Yes, California is quite as beautiful as her poets insist and her painters prove. It turns everybody who goes there into a poet, at least temporarily. Babes lisp in numbers and those of the native population who don't actually write poetry, talk it - no matter what the subject is. Take the case of Sam Berger. Sam Berger - I will explain for the benefit of my women readers - was first a distinguished amateur heavyweight boxer who later became sparring partner for Bob Fitzimmons and manager to Jim Jeffries. In an interview on the subject of boxing, Mr. Berger said, "Boxing is an art - just as much so as music. To excel in it you must have a conception of time, of balance, of distance. The man who attempts to box without such a conception is like a person who tries to be a musician without having an ear for music."
Is it not evident from this that Mr. Berger would have become a poet if a more valiant art had not claimed him?
In that ideal future state in which all the world-parts are assembled and perfectly coordinated into one vast self-governing machine, I hope that California will be turned into a great international reservation, given over entirely to poets, lovers and honeymoon couples. It is too beautiful to waste on mere bromidic residential or business interests.
So much for the State of California. I confess with shame that that is all I know about it, although I reiterate that that ignorance is not my fault. So now for San Francisco.
Many people do not realize that San Francisco tips a peninsula projecting west and north from the coast of California. Between that peninsula and the mainland lies a blue arm of the blue San Francisco bay. So that when you have bisected the continent and come to what appears to be the edge of the western world, you must take a ferry to get to the city itself.
I hope you will cross that bay first at night, for there is no more romantic hour in which to enter San Francisco; the bay spreading out back of you a-plash with all kinds of illuminated water craft and the city lifting up before you ablaze with thousands of pin point lights; for San Francisco's site is a hilly one and the city lies like a jewelled mantle thrown carelessly over many peaks. You land at the Ferry building - surely the most welcoming station in the world - walk through it, come out at the other side on a circular place which is one end of Market street, the main artery of the city. If this is by day, you can see that the other end of Market street is Twin Peaks - a pair of hills that imprint bare, exquisitely shaped contours of gold on a blue sky - with the effect somehow of a stage-drop. If you come by night, you will find Market street crowded with people, lighted with a display of electric signs second only in size, number, brilliancy and ingenuity to those on Broadway. But whether you come by day or by night, the instant you emerge from the Ferry building, San Francisco gets you. Market street is one of the most entertaining main-traveled urban roads in the world. Newspaper offices in a cluster, store windows flooded with light, filled with advertising devices of the most amusing originality, cars, taxis, crowds, it has all the earmarks of the main street of any big American city, with the addition, at intervals, of the pretty "islands" so typical of the boulevards of Paris and with, last of all, a zip and a zest, a pep and a punch, a go and a ginger that is distinctively
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