Friday, January 14, 2011


The Gate, the true Story by John Van der Zee is one of the best book about the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. You have to overlook the poor quality of inaugurated reproductions of drawings & photos but you really get the incredible problems that Joseph Strauss had to overcome. Aside from about ten years of political bull shit he waded thru, and the surprising innovations of the bridge, and given that all this happened in the middle of the Depression, we are fortunate it all turned out so well. Other than the fact the bridge was paid off a long time ago and the district subsidized the ferries and the bus system in order to burden us with ever increasing fares.
Strauss, the purported engineer of the bridge, was actually the promoter of the whole thing, he fortunately hired the best engineers in the US (Ahman, Moiser, etc.) but especially Charles Ellis, a brilliant man in the wings who really made it feasible. Fortunately, Strauss’s first design, a combination cantilever/suspension structure (Ugly!) was replaced by the all suspension type, which was a thousand feet longer than any built to that date. A span of 4,200 feet was really stretching the envelope at the time. It was only recently spans were built longer. Roebling Company, (Brooklyn Bridge) spun the cables and inaugerated safety measures on the bridge, even using hard hats made of leather.
In those days, you figured on one death for every million dollars of construction cost.
As the bridge cost 33 million, that no one was killed during the initial stages was a miracle. However, when the deck was nearly completed, a large platform used for stripping forms of the concrete roadway collapsed, sending twelve souls to the water. Two survived the fall, broken up a bit.
The color? Originally to be silver, like the Bay bridge, the architect (Riding in on his white horse!) Convinced all that International Orange would be perfect. Praise the Lord!

For the past few years, after I have my morning porridge & coffee & read the newspaper, I escape to one of several coffee emporiums to read a book. I could do this at home but my wife chatters all the time, even though I have my nose in a book. I have about four places I can go to have a second cup and read in peace for about an hour. As the old saying goes: ‘There are mosquitos in Paradise’. A couple of problems have emerged to squelch my early morning tranquility. One is music over the loud speaker system. The Village Bakery, was run for years by an attractive Scandinavian lady who had wonderful classical music softly on the background. Recently, she retired and sold to a young jitterbug who took over, although he didn’t change the food (Fortunately!) He blasts your auditory system with the usual banl pop music that really is disconcerting. The same thing happened to my Forestville shop, except it was louder there. Asking the teen-bopper working there to tone it down only gets reprisals with worse music louder.
But wait, there’s more! Inevitibally, after I’ve become a regular, people begin to act friendly, interrupting my concentration on “The trial of Socrates” or my current tome. My only hope is the Union Hotel Bakery in Occidental, where They still make a fabulous Italian turnover. However, I do bitch about that as years ago, some younger member of the clan decided to change from white flower to whole wheat which made the turnover tend to fall apart more easily. Oh, the horror of it all!

Joy and I have a small, older (1975) cabin on Donner Summit that we have owned for ten rears, but with the economy in the toilet, and real estate selling at it’s lowest in years, we are putting it up for sale. We would like to keep it for another couple of years, but look, I’m not getting any younger and we’ve got to get to Europe soon before the dollar gets better over there. Anyway, if you’re interested, we are expecting about $380,000 for it. It’s really great if you like shoveling out of ten foot snowdrifts every time you go up to do a little skiing. But mostly, I’m telling you this to pitch all the furniture, and accouterments that we will have to get rid of. What to do with our 6 Breuer dining chairs, the oak dining table that easily breaks down for moving (My famous Nomad Furniture), a Breuer lounge chair, plus a couple of original Eames ply chairs.

Recently, my favorite grape grower, Dominic Canale, died. When my friend, Dodson and I were making wine, we loved the experience of buying our grapes from Dominic. He had 75 acres of zinfandel and Cabernet that bill and I mined. Dominic was one of those characters one is fortunate to run into, He came to the US when he was five to escape Mussolini’s influence. While fighting in Italy in WW2 he was a valuable asset to the Allies as he could speak Italian and French. His father sang opera, which Dominic did also, and when Dominic got to Monte Cassino , the monks taught him the Stradella, based on the life of a 17th century Italian composer. After the war, who else would use the GI Bill to study at La Scala in Milan for six years?
It was always a memorable experience buying our grapes from Dominic. We would arrainge to meet at his farm in Dry Creek Valley and he would have all the grapes picked, usually about one half ton. He would dump them in his crusher and then fill our 33 gal containers with the must. Of course, during this whole process, we would be drinking his wine , as well as his port, eating a selection of cheeses and bread until everyone was pretty loopy and really shouldn’t be operating any machinery at all. But that’s one of the hazards of making wine and one just has to live with it. Anyway, we all had just a terrific time and managed to get over to my place in Graton to innoculate the grapes with the proper yeast in order to begin fermentation.