10 June, 2010

A bit of history

I have been missing old things. I mean really old things. Like buildings which predate the birth of my grandmother. Or antiques which are actually antique as opposed to retro or vintage. Sorry New World but I like things a bit aged. I studied history at university and spent almost all of that time reading about things that happened before the War of Independence.

So the other day as I was passing after a visit to my favourite wool shop, I popped in to the building that marks the beginnings of San Francisco, Mission Dolores (as seen in Vertigo to great effect). It is lovely. A small adobe chapel with a painted ceiling, it was originally part of a much larger complex some of which was destroyed in the earthquake of 1906.
A basilica now sits next door rather dwarfing it though it does show a neat comparison of then and now for the city's affluence and architectural tastes. The Mission itself was founded by the Spanish in 1776 as part of their chain of missions reaching north from Mexico. It is worth remembering that Californian history is very different from that of the eastern states. 1776 is the year the Americans formally declared independence from the British but California did not become part of the United States until 1850. Before that it was ruled by the Spanish and then Mexico, and was very briefly an independent republic.

Anyway I wandered through the chapel, past a little model of the mission as it would have been in the hills of San Francisco, into the basilica where a male voice choir was rehearsing. Closed my eyes and I was back in the old world, reminded of other choirs I've heard. Then into the graveyard. I love graveyards. All those lives lived with their own stories sometimes told in detail on the stones, mostly not. The striking thing here was seeing how far most of the inhabitants had come in their lives. Many people were from Ireland, some from France. There were the Spanish of Alta California and in one place wooden markers for the Native Americans of the area. It was a very peaceful place, oddly familiar. I realised afterwards that it was the first church graveyard I have seen since I arrived. Something that is so common in the UK is illegal in the city - no burying bodies within the city apparently.

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