For a change of pace, I headed southwest on Capistrano this time to take Peralta Avenue, where I encountered a colorfully decorated mailbox and some January snowflakes (the only kind we’re ever going to get in Berkeley).
I took the windy portion of Thousand Oaks Boulevard up to San Fernando Ave. Along the way I saw vintage cars, a family of gnomes, and a few horses enjoying the sunny afternoon.
I made my way up the busy thoroughfare of the Arlington, where I noticed an abandoned building that was quite large. How can such prime real estate be uninhabited and in falling apart? There’s a mystery to be solved there, to be sure. But my mission was to walk the paths in the furthest north reaches of Berkeley, so I had no time to investigate.
Directly east of the last bit of the Arlington that is still in Berkeley City limits is the Boynton Walk, which ends on Boynton Avenue. It was short, shady, and had a nice steady rhythm to it (3 steps, short landing, 3 steps, short landing, etc.).
A few steps further on the quiet, residential street, and I was at the bottom of Maryland Walk, which was different from most other paths I’ve taken so far in that it had sturdy aluminum railing. As I trod along the steep and somewhat crooked steps, I decided that I certainly benefited from the banister and was glad it was there.
It was not a particularly scenic path, but it was definitely the most direct route from Boynton to Maryland Avenue. The streets up in that neighborhood are curvy and are laid out in a rather random fashion, possibly due to all those rocks and hills.
At the end of my trek, I checked the Map My Walk app. It had recorded a few portions of my walk and then connected those parts with straight lines to make up for those portions that it didn’t record. I’m deleting it NOW!
I think one of the reasons I have so much fun walking around Berkeley is because I enjoy the variety of creatures I meet en route to the paths, from plastic dinosaurs to camouflaged Rabbits.
Today’s paths were in the northwest corner of Berkeley, near the Albany border to the west and the Kensington border to the north.
On this particular day, I brought along a companion, our foster dog, Joaquin, who was eager to climb every set of stairs he encountered. And there were many of those opportunities before we ever reached the Visalia Steps (#16), which was stop one on our tour. So he got a lot more exercise than I did because he took several side trips only to have to retrace them when I didn’t let him go onto properties all along Capistrano, San Lorenzo, and Visalia Avenues.
I think the Visalia Steps may be the steepest I’ve encountered so far. Some of the steps were nine inches tall! (I didn’t take my tape measure with me, but I used my arm to mentally mark the height and then measured the distance on my arm when we returned.) Now nine-inch steps are plenty high for a human, but somehow my tiny companion leaped each step effortlessly, despite his legs being significantly shorter than nine inches. I’m sure he thought I was a wuss when I had to stop halfway up to catch my breath.
Then it was a short walk on Menlo Place and up the Alameda until we reached Vincente Walk (#15), which was almost as steep, but since we were going down this time, it wasn’t as hard. Vincente Walk brought us right back to Vincente Avenue, where we wandered around looking for El Paseo. Which is to say, we did not take the most direct route, despite the path entrance being on the same street that Vincente Walk ended. I’d like to say that we were interested in taking in more scenery, but the truth is that I can get lost walking in a straight line…
During our, shall we say, detour, we saw a beautiful garden decorated with two metal peacocks and met another dog, whose owner confirmed that we were actually heading in the right direction.
I am beginning to realize how many boulders make their home in North Berkeley.
Before I started walking the paths, I thought Indian Rock was the only site one would come face to face with a rock that wasn’t purchased at American Soil for an arm and a leg. But today I saw one boulder on the edge of the Visalia Steps and another protruding halfway across El Paseo Path that looked as if a giant had just dropped it there.
Oh, and I received a survey from Map My Walk asking how I was enjoying their app. Ignoring my inner rage and frustration, I decided to give it one more try before giving up and writing up a scathing review.
Note: Becoming the urban hiker has not at all curtailed my appreciation of theater. I probably should have two blogs, but I just can’t face the added responsibility right now. Is it schizo to include walking and drama on the same blog? Let’s reframe…
In walking up two flights of stairs to reach SF Playhouse, I may have only covered a tiny portion of my 10,000-step goal; but once I experienced The Nether, by Jennifer Haley, I traveled an immense virtual distance.
Set in the possibly near future, the Nether is the descendant of the Internet, a world to which humans can retreat for brief visits. Or they may cross over to become “shades,” permanent residents of this alternate reality. Earth has lost so much of its greenery that a tree is a rare and prized commodity, and set designer Nina Ball reflects this in the opening scene, where reality is a cold, steely place.
In great contrast, the Hideaway is a Victorian dream world of flower-filled vases and genteel manners, inhabited by its creator, Papa, and an unknown number of quite young girls in prim, frilly dresses with full white petticoats.
The play opens in the middle of a heated interrogation that is meant to rattle the calm and cardiganed Mr. Sims, aka Papa, and find out if any of the activity in the Hideaway is illegal, or, more pointedly, immoral. Sims puts up a thoughtful and reasonable defense that is difficult to argue against, but the investigator has her own baggage pushing her to get the information she wants.
Thus, the central question posed by Haley’s provocative drama: when does a virtual crime become real? Several times during the play, I thought of 1984. Of course, my freedom-loving side abhors the concept of thought policing. Yet The Nether takes us into that ultra-creepy place of pedophilia where even card-carrying ACLU members are unlikely to jump to the defense of those free thinkers.
Watching this playcaused me to examine the conflict between two of my deeply held beliefs: I believe that one has the right to think and act freely, so long as it doesn’t negatively affect anyone else. I also believe that men who want to have sex with little girls are depraved and unfit for civil society. But the Hideaway is specifically designed to be outside of civil society. Despite the advances in the Nether’s sensory technology, all acts inside a virtual world are still virtual.
Although there is no graphic depiction onstage of either the sex or violence that occurs behind the scenes, the hints of both make viewing the play a decidedly uncomfortable experience at times. But I think it should make one uncomfortable, and I’m willing to bet that Haley was counting on this reaction. Theater at its best is after all not only entertaining but thought-provoking.
Of course to compound the ick factor, the actresses that alternately play the 11-year-old Iris are not women dressed as girls. The night I went, 8th-grader Matilda Holtz portrayed Iris. And even though I know she was representing a virtual entity, Matilda is a living, breathing middle-school student. As a mother, I couldn’t help but wonder how embodying these roles might affect the young actresses. (The other Iris is a 6th-grader.) But as an audience member, I appreciated Matilda’s amazingly believable performance.
I commend director Bill English (who also serves as the company’s artistic director) for boldly staging a play that would have seemed like complete science fiction 20 years ago but is now a harbinger of what is probably just around the corner.
So despite Nether giving me occasional but serious shudders that made me want to shower, I’m still thinking about this play a week afterward. And I think it’s really good.
I’m ready to give up on the Map My Walk app. Grrr. It has yet to keep track of my route in any sort of consistent way. But I’m trying to chart my path progress just the same.
Turnbridge Lane (#11) with its mossy stones looked particularly verdant, probably due to the recent rainfall. It begins on the east side of the Arlington and heads up to the curvy Southampton Avenue, where I (eventually) found a wide and inviting Chester Lane (#12), which ends on San Luis Rd.
On San Luis, I walked back and forth quite a bit trying to find Laurel Lane (#10), but it was inaccessible and unmarked. I saw where it was supposed to be, but it appeared that it had gotten annexed onto someone’s personal property. Oh, well…
After I gave up on Laurel Lane, I proceeded south on San Luis to Upton Lane (#13), which leads to the edge of John Hinkel Park.
The paths in the same vicinity do seem to be numbered so that one can take them in order to a certain extent, making Paths 11, 12 and 13 easy to do on the same day, but they don’t all work like that.
I must confess that organizing this post took way too long because I got confused as to which photos were of which paths. I’ve got to devise a better system…
On my way home from teaching, I was driving in Kensington, when I caught sight of a small sign.
Now, my official map of pathways in Berkeley does have a few trails in Albany, Kensington, and Oakland. But the map stops south of where I found this sign, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and be spontaneous. It’s true that I wouldn’t have a map to consult, but I’m pretty bad at reading them anyway…
I parked on the Arlington, walked back to the sign, and, well, followed where it led. The first block was a steep set of steps that brought me panting up to a small residential street. That may have been all there was to the official public path #6, but across the cul-de-sac I spied what appeared to be an entrance to some path that was not connected to the homes on either side of it. So I continued along this much narrower trail that looked as if it were made of stepping-stones and rocks leftover from a big landscaping project. It didn’t really go anywhere particular but spit me out on another residential road, where I decided I may as well walk the long way back to my car and take in some of the quiet neighborhood in this tiny town known as Kensington.
I happen to notice some words carved into the sidewalk beneath my feet. I don’t know if the “proper” was a mistake or if the writer who created it was trying to spoof the Vulcan greeting or if it was just someone hoping to be a civilizing influence on his neighbors.
The next sight on my walk was a patch of colorful mushrooms–a rare and delightful sight in our drought-stricken part of the world.
And then on the busy thoroughfare of Arlington Avenue, I passed some ceramic snakes in a front yard. Perhaps they were art projects that just needed a home, but I wonder if they were meant to scare away wildlife intruders who might otherwise nibble on the plants there.
It was another instance of seeing so much more on foot than from the car. I’d certainly driven past these snakes and mushrooms on several occasions without knowing they were there. Which is one of the benefits of being an urban–or in this case, suburban–hiker.
Residents of Thousand Oaks in North Berkeley receive a little newsletter about neighborhood goings-on. One of the regular features is a column called “On the Avenue,” which keeps tabs on Solano Avenue businesses. This commercial thoroughfare through Berkeley and Albany has so many changing storefronts and for-lease signs that TONA (the Thousand Oaks Neighborhood Association) thought regular updates would be helpful. The person who was responsible for writing it recently decided it was beyond what she could reasonably handle in addition to her other duties. So guess who the new Solano Stroller is?
My maiden voyage as the Solano Stroller revealed many changes.
While I walked in a downpour on a recent Thursday afternoon, I passed the recently shuttered architecture and design bookshop William Stout Books (1605 Solano at Tacoma), where people inside were taking books off the shelves and packing them in preparation for their move to Richmond. Their new store will open in February on 1328 South 51st St. No news yet as to what might take their place on that corner.
In the spot where Tangerine used to be (1707 Solano between Tulare and Ensenada) is Jin’s Café. Although it opened for a short time in late 2015, the windows are currently covered with paper, and the sign on the door says “Thanks for your support for the past 8 weeks we opened!” and proclaims that they will reopen early this year. I don’t know if they are remodeling or just taking a vacation, but I look forward to paying them a visit, if the reviews on Yelp are accurate.
The Fickle Bag at 1885 Solano has closed. This handbag and accessories shop was on the north side of the street near The Alameda. No word on a new tenant for that spot.
In November Yves Mozelsio opened YJM Photography and Gallery of Fine Arts in the spot that used to house KNA Copy Center (1865 Solano). Now that the renovation is complete, YJM is selling handcrafted jewelry and paintings by local artists, including Mozelsio himself.
The Bone Room (next to the UPS store, close to Peralta) closed its 1569 half and is residing in the room next door (1573 Solano) that used to be reserved for events presented by The Bone Room. The 1569 half is currently empty.
Last March a new store selling all sorts of rocks, crystals, and minerals opened across from The Bone Room called The Stone Room. (The two have no relation to each other, but apparently the proprietors of The Stone Room asked permission to use the name that so closely echoes their neighbor across the avenue.)
And of course, the Oaks Theater remains shuttered–a sad reminder of when I used to be able to walk only a few blocks to see movies on the big screen…
It’s hard to keep up with the avenue’s ever-changing face. As Dorothy said, “People come and go so quickly here!”
I had thought my posts for Urban Hiker would be all about the walks themselves–the sights, the discoveries. I suppose I assumed that I’d include my ponderings upon my surroundings, which were likely to be profound, or at least insightful.
Because I’ve been listening to season two of Serial* and PRI’s Selected Shortson podcasts as I walk, I feel up to date on the Bergdahl case and culturally enriched from short stories written by Grace Paley, David Rakoff, and others, read by esteemed actors (who also hawk Zabar’s bagels to pay the bills). But in my surely noble efforts to better myself intellectually, I may not be allowing myself to enjoy those more serendipitous moments of walking the paths of Berkeley. Instead of reading the sign about the urns of Thousand Oaks when I happened upon it, I merely snapped a photo of it with the genuine intention of looking at it later.
But I haven’t yet.
Okay, I am not going to be any the worse for not knowing the full history of some huge ornamental concrete urns; but the information on that sign was more organically connected to my path-trekking than hearing Mary Louise Wilson rant in a New York socialite persona in a Dorothy Parker piece, as funny as that story may have been.
So I’m going to try to be more present with my thoughts as I make my way down the list of Berkeley’s paths, and I’ll save the podcasts for gym outings. (Because who wants to be in the moment when you’re exercising?) Maybe that way I’ll also be less likely to get lost and have to retrace my route. Nah…
*You’re not listening to Serial?! Check it out. Now!