Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Neuland

I went to a screening of the docu-film Neuland the other evening at the Goethe Institute. In 2013, Neuland opened in Basel, and, although I was still living in Zurich at the time, I didn't manage to see it. The film highlights the lives of a handful of younger refugees living in Basel-Stadt & Basel-Land who are attending a two-year training course as part of their language and cultural integration into Swiss life. Without this schooling, I dare say these young people would be lost. The film deals with the refugees' anxieties around finding employment, understanding Swiss German (the courses are conducted in Swiss German-inflected standard German), and, of course, understanding the Swiss mentality.

Some students fared better than others, in terms of integration, and that seemed to be down to a combination of personal drive, the ability to learn German fairly quickly, and by their not being too hampered by current circumstances. One of the school's instructors was also featured prominently in the film. He seemed such a caring sort, but he was also 'no bullshit'. At one point, he told a student (who'd been cutting class to work any menial job he could find) that in order for him to continue on with his schooling, he needed to sign a contract stating that he'd both be in class Monday through Friday & also not be late for said class. No exceptions. What he did at the weekend was, of course, up to him. The student owed a huge debt to his smugglers who were now seeking repayment, and, were they not to receive it within the specified time frame, were threatening to take away his family's land back in Afghanistan as punishment. The pressure this young man must have felt---I just can't imagine. The teacher told another student, a bright & lovely girl who had dreamt of becoming a teacher in her native Croatia, that her German was simply not good enough for the teacher training track. He encouraged her to find work as a carer instead. She did & she excelled in the position.

The end of the film also marked the end of school for this particular group of students. And, as is the Swiss way, graduation was celebrated with a lively lunch at a restaurant. There were many hugs, many tears & many expressions of both congratulations & gratitude.

The film is well worth a watch. Check it out, if you're inclined.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Walk to work.

SF has a massive homelessness problem. I don't have stats, but it seems that in my time spent abroad from 2010 to 2015, ever more 'tent zones' have sprung up dotting bits of the Mission District and beyond.

There's one short block off of Market St. heading toward Mission St. that I have been walking down en route to one of my volunteer gigs since November of last year. It's since become a 'sleeping rough' corridor.




Monday, April 3, 2017

Sunday outing.

The hubs and I took a wander around town today with only one goal in mind. We were to find both a bike shop and a coffee shop that offered a good selection of product. After coming up short in North Beach--the only bike shops we could find were bike rental joints catering to tourists--we hiked up and over the hill en route to Polk St. Along the way, we bumped into Lombard St. (the windy bit), took a couple of fun snaps & kept moving. 

You can't mistake Lombard St. due to its unusual curves, but, really, you can't mistake it due to its unfortunate never-ending stream of motorists driving slowly down its hairpin turns. I would think the homeowners there would wish to band together to make this street off-limits to through traffic. Why this hasn't happened yet is beyond me. Don't the millionaires who live on this part of Lombard hate the throngs of cars constantly filtering past as they attempt to come and go in their fancy European SUVs? -never mind the ceaseless foot traffic. They paid how many millions of dollars to live on a permanently congested street? I just can't imagine...

Overall, it was a lovely day to be out and about. We found both tasty coffee at a hip joint and a bike shop with good chain lube. The temperature heated up to a toasty 75F around mid-day. For the hubs, who was wearing jeans, it became a bit unbearable toward the end of our jaunt. Upon our return home, he promptly took a nap on the sofa.

View from Lombard St., Transamerica building off in the distance.

View of Alcatraz, en route to Polk St.


Second-hand, tres expensive.


Stumbled onto Claremont St. which begins at the curvy bit of Lombard St. and ends as you see above. 

Same second-hand shop on Polk St. selling bottle/can openers for 8 bucks. Um, no thanks.


Brunch queue. Basik must be the shizz.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Coffee date.

The local historian aiding me with uncovering some nearly forgotten family information is actually friends with the woman, K., now living in the house that my great grandfather built just after the turn of the last century. The historian put us in touch a few weeks ago. Since then, she and I have been emailing a bit. She's shared some interesting information regarding what's gone on with the house since my family sold it in the 60s. Hippies in the 70s, she said, had bought the place & lived in it communally. At some point in the mid-70s, there had been a house fire that somewhat damaged the parquet flooring great grandpa Axel had laid down way back when.

Given that I was born after my great grandparents died, I don't have any first-hand information to share with the K. I do, however, have at least one old photo showing the facade of the house replete with a few generations of the family sitting cosily on the porch. Additionally, I have scads of pictures of the great grandparents, their siblings & offspring & those whom they married. I brought a few of those pictures over to my coffee date with her this afternoon. I learned a bit about her in the process. Interestingly, she is also an immigrant from Sweden just as my great grandparents were. Go figure?

The porch looks much the same is it did in the 40s when the picture below was taken. K. told me that Axel had lifted the house in order to accommodate & build garages for the two flats above. Until seeing the house, I hadn't really realised that the house was purpose built as a duplex. This new-found realisation explains why my Uncle had asked me which part of the house K. lived in. I said to him, 'The whole thing?' That was not true. K. has tenants below in the flat where my grandparents & the kids lived. I don't recall Dad ever telling me this, but I'm thankful I still have my Uncle to tell me things regarding his/their early life.

I put my Uncle, who lived in the downstairs flat with his brother (my Dad), another brother & their parents from '40 to '45, in contact with K., and, so far, it's been a profitable exchange. His memory has been jogged by her mentioning things about the house & giving name to the mostly forgotten Swedish dishes my Uncle's grandma used to prepare.

A shot of Crocker-Amazon/Excelsior, where my grandparents moved to after moving from Bernal Heights.

Swedes in Rockford, IL

K. was able to translate the postcard. Still not sure who the writer was as it was signed 'me'.

Swedes (and their spouses) on the porch

The great grandparents married in SF, early 1900s


I'll be scanning some of the above family photos for K's records. I'm glad to have made the connection with her.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Fireman Robert Ceiley

The San Francisco Fire Department, established in 1866, has had a rich history in its 151 years. From the earthquake of 1906 and resultant fires that left half of the city's 400,000 residents temporarily homeless to the Loma Prieta quake of 1989 that collapsed a portion of the SF-Bay Bridge, the Fire Department has grown exponentially. Today, the SF Fire Dept. serves approximately 1.5 million people, providing fire and emergency services to residents, workers and visitors of the city.

My great-grand Uncle was a man called Robert Ceiley. Robert was born in 1889 in Newton, New South Wales, Australia. He and his father, Henry Ceiley, came to San Francisco from Australia in 1910. My great-grandmother Bea, her mother and one other sibling had already made there way here. Having become a naturalised citizen, Robert served in the the US army during 'The Great War'. A few years after his service, in 1921, Robert joined the San Francisco Fire Department. He held various positions during his 36 year career. He worked as tillerman, the man who guides the long hook and ladder trucks from the rear, as truckman, and as hoseman. I had always heard from my Uncle, also an SF fireman, that Robert had saved 'a few people' from a burning building way back when and was awarded a medal as a result of his efforts. Many years ago, one of Robert's daughters shared a newspaper article with my SFFD Uncle regarding her father's bravery. She must have been very proud of her Dad and rightly so.

Bounty from the main branch library


Having recently discovered the SF History branch of the SF Public Library, I have been able to learn some of the specifics of said event through reading various newspaper clippings of the time. In 1933, Robert Ceiley carried a 'crippled girl', 'her 200 lb brother' and 'younger man' from a burning building at 1377 Ninth Avenue in the Inner Sunset. For this action, he was cited by the fire department for bravery. Both he and another fireman, a man called Dennis Magee, were given citations for heroism that year, but there was to be only one medal awarded by the then Mayor of San Francisco, Angelo Rossi. A coin toss was to determine who won the medal. My great-grand Uncle won the toss & received the Scannell medal for heroic action. 

David Scannell, born in NYC, became a volunteer fireman at the tender age of 12. As an adult, Scannell volunteered to fight in the Mexican-American war from 1846 to 1848. Of the 850 men who fought in his regiment, only 150 survived. After the war, Scannell moved back to New York before again crossing country in 1851 to seek his fortune in San Francisco during the Gold Rush period. At some point thereafter, Scannell joined the San Francisco volunteer fire department. In 1855, he was elected sherriff of our then burgeoning & still somewhat lawless city. He was the third man to hold the post. He served for one year. When the fire department transitioned from volunteer to paid staff, Scannell became the first fire chief of that outfit. He served as fire chief three different times over his career, totalling 27 years in the role. He died in 1893 at the age of 73. In 1909, a fireboat was named in his honor.

What an honor (and stroke of luck!) it must have been for my great-grand Uncle to receive such a medal.

Scannell Medal


RH Ceiley's modest home to the left of the tree in Ingleside, SF

Sunday, March 5, 2017

My SF History Day

When I went to the San Francisco History Days event at the Old SF Mint Building on 5th & Mission this morning, I didn't for a second think I'd be asking a most delightful 83-year-old woman at the Visitacion Valley information booth, Cris, if she knew my Uncle Buddy had been gay. 'Oh, we ALL knew he was gay!' She then went on to say that at that time they didn't use the word 'gay'. Cris told me, too, that she'd been a late-bloomer. -that she'd always had her head in books. She thinks that is probably why Buddy asked her out. She was a safe bet.

She also related a factually inaccurate story of my family that involved Buddy's father, William Larkin. Papa Larkin, hailing from somewhere in Ireland, had been a bit of a ne'er-do-well. -couldn't hold down a job, liked the drink, and raised his hand on more than one occasion to my nana. In a rather bold move, nana divorced William & moved on with her life. This would have been the mid-1930s. With two kids in tow, life couldn't have been terribly easy. Fortunately, she had her sisters around for support. But back to William...

Cris told me that William had killed himself by hanging & wasn't that awful? I told her that, actually, William had fallen into the San Francisco Bay and drowned. He had likely been drunk at the time. -least that's what I had always heard growing up.  I called my mom later to relay the meeting with Cris. When we got to the part about the hanging, she said: No, it wasn't Buddy's father, but rather the neighbor across the street that had hung himself. It's interesting what folk remember & how they remember. Grisly stories like a neighborhood suicide tend to stick in some way, I guess.

Until today, I didn't know that the San Francisco Public Library had an arm dedicated to the preservation of SF history. I dropped by their booth at SF History Days to peruse their wares. They had a smattering of SF high school year books (none that my family, to my knowledge, were in) from various different decades. More interesting though, were the three SF directories (the Yellow Pages of their time) on hand. One was from the late 19th century; two were from the years before and after the earthquake of 1906. At that time, two of four sets of great-grandparents were living here. I figured I'd look them up. I found great-grandpa Axel in both the '05 & '07 directories. That was a fun discovery. Prior to his living on Andover St., I hadn't realized Axel had been elsewhere in Bernal Heights & also down in the Mission. You don't know what you can no longer ask of anyone. My 80-year-old Uncle is sort of the last in line. Fortunately, he's keen to chat on all things family history. A phone call to him is in order.

San Francisco Directory, 1905. Sweden represent!


The Bernal Heights History booth was staffed by wonderfully enthusiastic Bernal lovers. I spoke with one woman who is a passionate researcher of Bernal lore. I left her my email address, so that she may mail me any information she might find regarding the Hallstroms, my paternal grandmother's Swedish immigrant parents. I took her card in order to send her turn-of-the-last-century photos depicting the house on Andover St. & snaps of the family.


When the Old SF Mint was new.

The three and a half hours spent at the Mint really flew by & I'm so glad I went.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Tuesday

The onslaught of rain in recent months means that we, after about five years, are officially out of drought conditions here. I saw a man watering his lawn in broad daylight the other afternoon, and thought: Good for you! The one downside of all the rain is that severe flooding & mudslides are displacing many from their homes, and, in some unfortunate cases, taking lives. The Red Cross has opened numerous shelters in flood zones around California for those affected & thank goodness.

***

Trump's still publicly trumpeting ridiculous statements that don't jibe with reality. His latest blather made it seem as if there were specific, targeted unrest in Sweden recently due to the influx of immigrants/refugees there. Sweden's US Embassy twitter account posted this in response: We look forward to informing the US administration about Swedish immigration and integration policies. Translation: they ain't having it. Former Swedish PM, Carl Bildt, also weighed in with this gem: Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound. Well, Carl, expect to be detained at length by TSA were you to come to the states during Trump's reign.


Bork! Bork!


Press Secretary Melissa McCarthy, perhaps so fatigued by having to constantly defend Trump's verbal gaffs to the press, he hasn't yet garnered the strength to respond to 'last night in Sweden'. To be honest, he's probably too busy attacking the good people at the Anne Frank Center right now. Take a break, Spicey, you've sort of earned it.

***

I'm currently taking a German course at a local school. Today, I availed myself of the language lab as part of my course requirements. It was my first time in the lab & I had no idea how to access the online course lessons. Sat near the students' area, I spied a German instructor who, I thought, was on-hand to help. (Well, at least that's what her colleague at the check-in desk led me to believe.) I turned to the instructor and said: ich bräuchte Hilfe/I would need help.  She said: Sie brauchen Hilfe/You need help. Ja, I said and continued to speak to her in German. She then responded to me solely in English. My German, in Germany & German Switzerland, is met with German & Swiss German, respectively. That means that my German, to put it crudely, doesn't suck. Why the instructor responded in English, I don't know, but it was off-putting at best. Before the meat of the exchange really kicked off, as I was settling in to my computer spot, she was making her way to leave. Her 'shift' was over, I guess? Not yet daunted, I did ask her if she knew where the online German instruction was to be found, and she obliged before dashing away. Note to self: don't rely on the language lab German instructor for help in the language lab regarding German. Ah, bless this school.

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