The Right Stuff

As I write this, my brother is in the living room watching “Platoon.”  I’m not a big Oliver Stone fan (there are two directors that I would re-watch only one movie apiece from–Stone, for “The Joy Luck Club,” and Tarantino, for “Inglorious Bastards.”  The rest of their stuff I can do without), and I while I’ve been told what seems like two hundred times that this is a “classic,” it does nothing for me.

I’ve been told nearly that many times how great San Diego is, but most of the telling has been from the point of view of people who hate cold, or hate the relief of rain.  Most of the people who tell me are also not known for being the big nerd that I am–a woman with a love of good literature, good Gewürztraminer, and Bruce Springsteen music.  It’s no longer a matter of San Diego being lesser for me–we just don’t have the same tastes, and the same curiosity.  

Yesterday I turned my curiosity loose in Balboa Park.  I love Balboa Park but don’t get there nearly enough–if there aren’t slot machines or remote desert trails, I usually don’t make it to a place.  But yesterday I awoke at 6 am, walked to the train station, rode the train in the sunrise to Santa Fe station in San Diego (an old-fashioned station like one might find in foreign films or 40’s movies), and then took the trolley to City College Station.  San Diego reminds me of San Jose in its populated loneliness, a crowd of loners and hermits, no one making eye contact.  I was on the Orange Line to El Cajon, a car full of Saturday workers, it seemed.  They did not seem happy it was a Saturday.  I had to contain my wonder, wipe it off my face like a mask.

I could have boarded a bus at the station to get to Balboa Park, but, like my first forays into San Francisco, I don’t know the bus lines that well and wanted to read them from the street.  The days are getting cooler here, anyway; by cooler I mean that a t-shirt and shorts are now comfortable after the sun’s up, instead of avoiding travel in mid-day.  I walked from City College Station to the San Diego Museum of Art, a small gem about the size of my Legion of Honor.

I walked in and nearly wept.

Art is art, anywhere.  In San Francisco I went to the deYoung once a month at the least, but here I haven’t seen art museum art since my last visit to San Francisco.  Most of the art in Carlsbad has been sea-based:  weathered wood with half a layer of paint, shells, nets, sea-glass, etc.  This is beautiful stuff, but limited.  When I walked into the San Diego Museum of Art I see stuff not just of the desert or ocean, even though there are influences.  Diego Rivera had multiple paintings on the walls, but I couldn’t find Frida.  Georgia O’Keefe and Salvador Dali were in the modern art room (wing?  hard to say), and an exhibit on women and industry and war captivated me beyond measure.  Sure, yes, Rosie the Riveter, but have you seen the aviator war photos of the strong Margaret Bourke-White or the needlework of Nava Lubelski on stained canvas?  Have you seen An-My Le’s photos of 29 Palms that could be mistaken for Afghanistan?

Like the deYoung, the San Diego Museum of Art has a sculpture garden, and there is where I had lunch.  Over happy hour (between 11 am and noon on Saturday:  a glass of pinot noir, black bean soup, Moroccan shrimp, all half-price) I heard the clarion bells play “Roll Out the Barrell” and “Oh What a Beautiful Morning,” odd tunes for such a heady park and for the hour that drifts away from morning like stale flowers.  It was San Diego, though, and not San Francisco.  I kept hoping for more, more authenticity…but then it came time to get back on the trolley and see San Diego trying to prove metropolitan-ness.  I wish it wouldn’t.

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