Saturday, May 16, 2009

A week behind...Colma and San Francisco!

(Above: One of the hundreds of angel sculptures in Colma, California. Click on any image in this post to enlarge.)

Steve and I took over eight hundred images during last weekend's trip to San Francisco and Colma, City of the Dead. During this past week we deleted, sorted, named, and organized them. a's our trip!

(Above: Just one of the beautiful buildings located all over San Francisco. The city could provide a paint company with a source for advertisement on every block. Most houses seemed to have no fewer than three colors....some as many as seven or eight! We became "experts" on the bus system....and no area of the city wasn't interesting!)

We flew west on Thursday, May 7 and had plenty of time to find The Mosser Hotel just off Market Street where we booked a tiny double with shared bath accommodations....just like traveling in Europe in the 60s and 70s and at a price of only $55 per night. The location couldn't have been better!

(Above: One of the vintage arcade machines. Steve put quarters into ones that played appropriate music while we looked at these often forgotten amusements.)

That first evening we walked all the way to Fisherman's Wharf admiring architecture, steep hills, multi-lingual signs, Chinatown, crabs ready to be boiled, a sunset on Alcatraz, and picking out a fabulous restaurant in the Italian section of town with a red-and-white checkered tablecloth on an outdoor table. We also wandered into a large collection of antique arcade machines that were sort of creepy and nostalgic all at once.

Friday was COLMA....City of the Dead...
and the "art reason" for the entire trip!

(Above: A fitting sign to greet people at the city limits!)

Colma's city slogan is: It's Great to be Alive in Colma. They boast 1, 500 residents above ground and well over 1.5 million below in their 17 cemeteries that occupy three-quarters of the land. There seems to be only a few types of businesses in Colma.....florists...

....who provide funeral and grave arrangements....monument companies...

...who have decades upon decades of experience....and car dealerships! (We have no idea why!) Steve and I never had lunch. There was no place within walking distance to grab a bite to eat!

(Above: Gate into a primarily Chinese section of Woodlawn Cemetery, Colma, CA.)
Colma was more than I expected....there's no way to explain just how many tombstones, epitaphs, mausoleums, and columbariums there are in this suburban town.

(Above: A general view of the Italian of the most beautiful places we visited.)

San Francisco outlawed burials within the city limits after the Great Earthquake in 1906. By the 1920s almost all existing cemeteries were physically moved to Colma. It had its own railroad station for this gigantic relocation of graves.

(Above: Columbarium designed like a Victorian Library at Woodlawn Cemetery.)

(Above: Children's Section in the Italian Cemetery. After a half hour, Steve said we needed to move on. It was way too emotional.)

(Above: Steve took this photo of me preparing to make a grave rubbing.)

I could have spent weeks wandering, collecting grave rubbings (crayon on silk or polyester lining), and writing down interesting words. I took hundreds of photos, especially of angel sculptures.

(Above and below: Angel sculptures in Colma. I saved almost fifty images from the trip! Every one is simply beautiful, spiritual, and timeless.)

In addition to taking photos of angels, I aimed my camera at all sorts of the porcelain portraits on many of the tombstones.

(Above: One of over thirty images of porcelain photos found on the gravestones in Colma)

The reflections of the cemetery itself in the glass mausoleum doors were amazing as well the many stained glass windows inside these solemn structures.

The bas relief sculptures mingled with the lichen and other signs of passing time. The entire place was peaceful, serene, and filled with inspiration. I wrote down dozens upon dozens of touching epitaphs....some in foreign languages....some in special symbols. I didn't have enough time in Colma. Before leaving, I wanted to return!

(Above: Bas Relief with lichen.)

Pet's Rest is also located in Colma and it was unique. We'd never been to a pet cemetery before.

The words for departed dogs and cats were as touching as those for beloved human family members.

(Above and below: Gravestones for pets....most at Pet's Rest were professionally made and many included porcelain photos. More plots in a smaller area were very, very well maintained here than anywhere else in Colma. This was another location at which Steve got more than a little choked up.)

We spent so much time in Colma that I was sunburned.

Between cemeteries, we dropped into the Town Hall where the two nicest young ladies (Christina Acosta and Kristina Krow....THANK YOU! Truly ambassadors for your town!) gave us additional information, bus schedules, fruit bars, bottled water and souvenirs! They sent us on to the Historical Society to meet truly informed experts in local history....where we bought T-shirts and looked at a collection that included the town's first computer as well as vintage funeraral jewelry made of human hair and an excellent research library.

That night we had a great dinner at Annabelle's, a "green restaurant" specializing in organic dishes and went to see San Francisco Ballet's contemporary triple bill performance. It was a grand day.

On Saturday we rode the Powell Street Cable car....hanging on for dear life...trying to capture the experience on video mode....laughing the entire Fisherman's Wharf and then went on to three of the only cemeteries within San Francisco itself.

The first place was the Presidio's Pet Cemetery.

Started by military families living in the area, it was a charming place of mostly homemade markers and plenty of blossoming bushes. It was a short distance to the military cemetery where I got a few great rubbings that have already been basted into at least one future grave rubbing quilt....a dove of peace with the words "Purple Heart", "Korea" and "Bomb".

(Above: The cathedral facade at Mission Dolores.)

The last cemetery we visited was in the churchyard of Mission Dolores. We admired the church, the cathedral and the graves before going on to the Sutro Baths.

(Above: Churchyard cemetery at Mission Dolores.)

(Above: The ruins of Sutro Baths and a view to the Pacific Ocean.)

(Above: One of the amazing views from the Coastal Trail.)

As the sun began to set, we hiked along the Coastal Trail with great views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the pounding surf, the rocky shoreline, and the colorful foliage. By the time we returned to our room, we were too tired to venture out....but we bought great Californian red wine and cheese on the way for dinner!

(Above: Another view from the Coastal Trail....toward the Golden Gate Bridge and the bay.)

(Above: San Francisco Ferry Station.)

Sunday was our final day in the city. We stored our luggage behind the front desk and went to the Ferry Station for the first boat to Sausolito.

Lunch was at a pizza joint overlooking the bay....where we found Bill Dan creating his famous balancing rock cairns. Immediately, I was in a deep and interesting conversation was art, life, and a creative lifestyle....Steve paid the lunch bill and took the photos later!

(Above: Discussing art with Bill Dan.)

(Above: One of Bill Dan's balancing rock cairns.)

We returned to San Francisco via the bus to the Golden Gate toll booth area....for more hiking along the coastal trail.....and another amazing bus ride across the hilly cityscape. After collecting our suitcase, we took the BART back to the airport where we had dinner...using airport utensils.

It was an amazing trip....totally inspirational....completely non-stop activities...and the weather was GORGEOUS the entire time!


Genie said...

Hi Susan ,
thanks for sharing the photos of your trip, sure looks like you had a fabulous time.

Chris said...

Oh, for crying out loud! What a post! How can I comment on everything? Fabulous. I love a good trip. Yours sounds like it was great. How does that guy balance those rocks that way??

lindacreates said...

Oh my gosh Susan, what a glorious trip you two had. I was living vicariously with you as I read. It is amazing all that you accomplished in a fairly short amount of time. The graveyards were phenomenal and the angels just so beautiful there are no words to describe them. Thank you for sharing it so beautifully with all of us. The photo of you and your husband was lovely!


Fabulous! Loved ALL the photos..but I guess the one of you two in front of the pizza joint is my favorite! You both look so happy!

Anonymous said...

What beautiful photos of Colma! I, too, was struck by the beauty of the angel sculptures. We went to Holy Cross to find the graves of my ancestors. On leaving I was captivated by the beauty of one angel in particular, with the surname Cunnigham carved in her stone base. She is very similar in facial features and wings to your photo 12. Do you happen to have any information about the identity of the sculptors of these fabulous angels? The feelings of peace and serenity they lend to their surroundings is profound.

Susan Lenz said...

Dear "Anonymous"
I hope you check back here because I have no other way to reach you! I've been to Colma twice. It is a very, very special place and the angel sculptures are amazing. I've made numerous grave rubbings on fabric, shot hundreds of photos, and scribbled down too many thought-provoking epitaphs to number. I don't, however, record the name of any of the gravesites. My interest is more "universal" than "individual". I also don't know much about the sculptors for these incredible angels....except that I know that many are exactly the same....casts....especially popular in the late 19th c. and early 20th century. I know that the "little bird girl" featured on the cover of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" was one of three identical pieces. The one in Savannah had to be removed from Bonaventura Cemetery due to the threat of vandalism and the high degree of disrespect taken by tourists visiting the place. It is now in the local museum. I'm not sure where to learn more about these artistic treasures....but....if you find out, please leave me a comment!