Thursday, February 5, 2009

There There, Oakland

The author Italo Calvino spent some time in the Bay Area and wrote that San Francisco is "the only American city to have a 'personality' in the European sense: there is no problem loving San Francisco, everyone can do it." As for Oakland, he was silent.

People find it a lot harder to like Oakland, and outside of hip hop lyrics you can essentially find one famous quote about the city, by author and longtime expat Gertrude Stein who grew up in Oakland:
“What was the use of my having come from Oakland, it was not natural to have come from there, yes, write about it if I like or anything, if I like, but not there, there is no there there."
Unfortunately, the wording of this statement renders its meaning about as clear as that of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution; however, most people have focused on the phrase "there is no there there" and interpreted this as meaning that there's nothing going on in Oakland, or at least nothing worth mentioning. In reality, Stein was returning to California on a book tour and her hopes of visiting her childhood haunts were dashed by the fact that they no longer existed.

Which brings me to an "Only in Oakland" moment relating to things that are no longer there. Near the corner of 4th and Clay sitting in a weedy patch of ground next to the BART tracks with a lovely view of the jail in the background sits this lonely plaque and accompanying boulder:

The boulder appears to have once held a plaque of its own

The plaque behind the boulder

So the plaque is actually a plaque that invites you to a plaque dedication ceremony in 1976, but isn't the actual plaque itself. Presumably the actual plaque comemorating Oakland's first public school was attached to the boulder, but has since been stolen. Not only is there no there there, there is no plaque commemorating there there.

There are many things that could be pointed out here, like how this scene somehow perfectly captures something about the way Oakland works on a very basic level, or how the City of Oakland/Alameda County Historical Society has had, oh, 32+ years to remove the "invitation" plaque and probably a significant amount of time to replace the missing "actual" plaque, or that there is some darkly delicious irony about a plaque commemorating education getting stolen. Feel free to insert your own interpretation.

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