San Diego and a different SoCal

Trip Start May 26, 2007
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Trip End Jul 06, 2007


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Flag of United States  , California
Monday, June 4, 2007

Well took the train down to San Diego. Most of the way it runs through interminable suburban and urban sprawl but at times it runs rather wierdly, direclty next to the beach, so you can actually see people in the sea, mainly surfers in wet suits, or walking on the beach. I reckon WA beaches look better, these are totally flat and there are no dune lines backing them. The surf looks a lot smaller too, but that could just be the weather conditions. All in all a beautiful day, clear, not too hazy and warmish - around 30C I would think.

Met some Amish guys on the train, coming down from Pennsylvania on a fishing holiday. How uexpectedly normal. The wore their outfit - white shirts, black pants with braces and a black waistcoat, black hat, Beards but no moustache. I listened carefully to their converstaion to see if they still spoke German but it was English with the odd word thrown in, and the accent wasn't far off standard American either. I ask them if they still spoke German and they said yes, but when I spoke to them in German they looked a bit blank, and fumbled around before answering in English. I got them to say somethings in their dialect, and it was a sort of south west German. They proudly told me that they still read their Bible in German, but I really wonder how much they understood!

Met by Mike, who looks a lot older than the promotioanl picture used in his books. He is an utterly amazing person. At various stages in life he has been a meatpacker, a truck driver, a full time political / community organiser (for SDS), a civil rights campaigner, a union organiser, editor of New Left Review, author and college teacher. He teaches history at Irvine, (the Ornae County campus of the UC system), studied politicla economy, had originally intended to study field biology and is very skilled amateur geologist. He is one of the most bioliterate people I have ever met, extremely knowledgable about the southern Calfornian ecology and plants, and animals and bugs. AT 62, he still takes part in a sport called mountain running, and has delightful 3 year old twins, Cassandra and James Connolly, as well as three older children. His wife Alejandra Moctezuma, is a lecturer in art and museum studies and also a muralist in that Mexican tradition of wall painting. And she is also a direct descendant of the last Aztec emperor. He is incredibly knowledgeable with an amazing recall of information and details and as he drives you around you are regalled with history, politics, anthropology, ecology, whatever as the story is woven around what you see.

I learnt of a very different San Diego through him and saw city that is absolutley central to the US war machine, with nclear submarines, aircraft carriers, navy seals, a whole marine division. He said in the year leading up the Iraq war, the hills around San Diego wrere crawling with military exercises. Also a city riven by social and racial tensions. A great part of downtown San Diego was developed by the Spreckles dynasty, freebooting sugar barons who were instrumental in the usurpation of the Hawai'in Kingdom and its incorporation into the USA. I have met these guys before on my odyssey - the built the Legion of Honour Palace in SF.

He also showed me the invisible dividing line between beach lifestyle California and redneck lifestyle California. In the South EAst interior parts the dominant ethos being the cowboys and the rancher. The whole of interior southern california has to be seen as part of the west, not the beach California we are rega;ed with on TV. That's a creation of the resettled mid westerners who came for the aersospace industries after WWII.

We also looked at an interesting park in the barrio, called Chicano Park. Like People's park in Berkeley, it was only created after a massive public campaign and commnity mobilisation. It seems so odd that in the USA in poorer areas in particular parks come about through social struggle and political campaigns, rather than being laid out as a matter of course. Anyway this park was developed on some waste land under the freeway flyover, but this has meant that the concrete pylons have been used for some amazing murals. The murals capture the entire Mexican tradition - the Aztec warrior, the Madonna, armed peasant women in the 1910 revolution and current political struggles over immigration and imprisonment. A police cruiser parked across the road the whole time I walked around taking photos!

We drove through some very beautiful richer areas of town too, with big houses and landscaped gardens. Being a military town a lot of these places are home to retired marine and naval officers, and the Republican support is shown by the sheer volume of US flags flying - every second house virtually. We past one condo where 8 flags were flying. Talk about overkill!

We also visited the border - being the weekend it was impossible to cross into Tijuana as the return cossing takes upwards of four hours as the Border Patrol check every car inside and out. The border had some similairties with the Iron Curtain as I saw it Germany in the 1970s with the double fence stretching into the ocean and the National Guard depots right on the fence. On the Mexican side middle class Tijuana is built right up to the fence, and there isa bullring about 5 metres from the borderline too!


Mike' kids are delightful. Cassandra in particular took to me and drew me a picture to keep. James took me outside to help him look for bugs and spiders to look at under the rocks, and he showed me his marvellpus collection of toy planes. he has his on memership at the Aviation Museum. Alex's aunt lives with them too, purely Spanish speaking we were able to communicate in individual words and gestures, and eventually got to exchangingcooking ideas - swapping AFrican Piri Piri chicken for Mexican style chicken.

That afternoon we drove into the mounians of the interior to visit a ranch owned by a froend of Mikes. Don is an expatriate Brit, grew up in South America worked as an engineer in East Africa and came to the states in 1970. A real Graham Greene character, now he has an avocado ranch, and is married to a Japanese lady. His foreman's grandson had been christened that morning, so there was a fiesta, with heaps of food - BBQ chicken, soft tortillas, rice, beans, salads including a delightful one made from the leaves of the prickly pear plant. The cooks and I had a fine old chat while turning chicken pieces and marinading them in Corona. The two gift tables were decorated with arches of balloons, and the present swere piled up on them. About 60 people there, with an outdoor Mexican DJ, heaps of beer, kids in their Sunday best running around. It was an absoute blast and finished up with the kids belting the pinata shaped like a tiger.

The avocado trees are planted up and down the montainsides which are very rocky and steep. People have to climb up there and hang on while pickng the fruit. Looked like incredibly hard work.

The mountains are incredibly sparse - they only had 7 cm of rain last year, and everything i dry, far dryer than in our late November which is the comparable season. The colour is also very different, the chapparal on the mountain sides looks grey, compared to the brown of Australia and the tawny yellow of South Africa. Fire season is expected to start early.

That's the summary folks, hope youare enjoying reading about my rambles through Empire as much as I am doing them! Cheers for now.
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