Continuing our adventures in San Francisco...
We ventured further afield on Thursday, crossing to the East Bay on the BART system to visit Berkeley. Berkeley, which describes itself as a small place with a big reputation, is probably best known as a centre of liberal politics and political upheaval, especially back in the 60's and 70's. At its heart literally and metaphorically, is the university campus.
We found it an interesting place to walk around and explore (IB was delighted to visit another branch of Amoeba Records, whilst I could have spent weeks in the wonderful bookshops!). Berkeley is a strange mix of the achingly trendy and the tragically dispossessed (many homeless people).
We had a quiet couple of days then, mostly in the neighbourhood where we're staying as we wanted to conserve our energy for the Spiral Dance on Saturday night.
It was held in the Kezar Pavillion in Haight-Ashbury. We caught the bus - I was nervous about missing our stop, but we did fine! The venue had been beautifully decorated with amazing altars - once again I took lots of photos - and was filled with hundreds of people, many in fabulous costumes. I was really looking forward to experiencing a ritual on such a grand scale.
And it was a grand scale, with many, many people sharing the priestessing, a choir, dancers, stilt walkers (and white-clothed 'Graces' scattered throughout who did a wonderful job as greeters cum information points cum guides cum ushers). It was spectacular, both visually striking and theatrical. On the downside, I found this cut down on the possibility for fully participating as it creates something of a performers/spectators dynamic. For example the choir were both talented and polished in their performance, but most of the chants and songs they used were so elaborate (with so many verses) that people tended to listen rather than join in. My personal preference would be for simple chants that the choir could lead, but which the community as a whole could really join in with. But that's just me!
The invocations of elements, deities, the dead and descendants were beautiful and moving. The main part of the ritual was a Trance to the Isle of the Dead, where we were reunited with our Beloved Dead, and this was done wonderfully. We then began the Spiral Dance, an amazing feat of organization when dealing with so many people (we guesstimated about 600-800). The Graces really came into their own here, supervising the joining of people to the snaking line until at last everyone was dancing the spiral, laughing, singing, smiling, crying. I think there were actually two separate spirals weaving around each other, and I was just blown away by the sheer number of faces passing in front of me. What an experience! The dance culminated in a huge cone of power, after which we devoked and priestesses came around with baskets of baked goodies to share ('May you never hunger!'). I have to say the cookie I received was very welcome by then!
We bravely caught the bus home again instead of hailing a taxi, and this in itself was an experience - the bus was crammed with Hallowe'en revellers in high spirits wearing every costume imaginable including vampires, zombies, mermaids, cats, nurses, skunks, devils, medusas etc etc.
The next day was Samhain (Hallowe'en), which we celebrated in a much quieter yet no less enjoyable way, with a quiet 'Dinner for the Dead'. This was an absolutely delicious meal cooked for us and the neighbours by Deborah, at which we set a place for our ancestors and Beloved Dead and ate by candlelight.
Later, we watched the latest game in the finals of the baseball World Series (makes me giggle every time I hear 'World Series', given that only the Americans play it...). Despite having no understanding of baseball whatsoever, I found myself getting more and more interested in the outcome. This is mainly because the final games were between the teams of our lovely host city (The San Francisco Giants - hooray, hooray!!) and their opponents (The Texas Rangers, with George W. Bush sitting prominently supporting them - boo! boo!). The Giants won that evening, leaving them with just one more game to win to secure the title...
The next day (yesterday) was spent mostly in the neighbourhood shopping for souvenirs, although Deborah also took us out for a drive to see some of the city's best-kept secrets (including what is allegedly the REAL twistiest street in town - Vermont, as opposed to the more famous Lombard). I have to say, despite living in a hilly part of the world like Wales, some of the hills in San Francisco are truly daunting!
Later, with bated breath and fervently whispered prayers, we watched the baseball match - and San Francisco won! This is the first time in over 50 years the Giants have won the World Series, and the city just exploded in celebration! At first we listened to the sounds of jubilation erupting all around us, but then we just had to jump in the car and drive round the city (honking the horn and shouting 'Go Giants!, naturally). And so did everyone else. The whole city was out on the streets, honking horns, playing drums, tootling vuvuzelas, letting off fireworks, singing, dancing, shouting, waving flags and banners, and embracing total strangers. Quite a sight to behold. We think it's very considerate of San Francisco to win the baseball before we have to go home!
Today is La Dia de Los Muertes, the Day of the Dead. Tonight we will join those celebrations for our final night in the city. And tomorrow we will travel home... it will be nice to be home, but what an amazing trip it's been. We will be sorry when it's over.