New Year’s in San Diego

Marlene & I paid a visit to my hometown in time for the beginning of the Centennial Celebration for Balboa Park.

I hadn’t been to San Diego since last Christmas, and I was excited to cross the county line at Camp Pendleton.  We arrived on Tuesday and went to the San Diego Museum of Art for their exhibit of 19th- and 20th-century art from Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Gallery.  I was especially interested in seeing the exhibit’s Van Gogh, “The Old Mill,” which was lovely.  (I went back to look it at three times.)  We also went to the Timken Museum to see Raphael’s “Madonna of the Pinks,” on loan from the National Gallery in London.  I’m not sure but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this is the first time a Raphael painting has been in San Diego.

Unfortunately, another unique San Diego painting is gone for the duration of the Raphael loan; the Timken sent Rembrandt’s St. Bartholomew to London in exchange.  Later in 2015, the Rembrandt will return to the Netherlands in an exchange for a Rijksmuseum Vermeer.

On New Year’s Eve, we paid a visit to the new Central Library, which was many years in the making.  When I was in community college, there was talk of building the new library next to the Santa Fe Depot.  A little over a year ago, the library opened on the opposite end of downtown, next to Petco Park.

While the library is inarguably beautiful, I have mixed feelings about our visit there.  To get there, we drove through and parked in the middle of a row of tents belonging to people without homes.  It was a jarring LA Bank District-next-to-Skid Row-esque mix of affluence and desperation.

The context of this photo tells the story.  From the 4th floor, facing east, there is this lovely view of Mt. Miguel.

IMG_1360 IMG_1359

However, what the photos don’t show is that if you look down from the same window, you see the tents of people without homes aligned on Park Boulevard.

The views from the 9th floor were even more stunning, with Tijuana in the distance.


As we left and returned to our car, an SUV was parked behind us with an open driver’s side door. Two women were sitting in the front seats and a man was standing by the driver’s side.  I was focused on unlocking the doors of our car, but Marlene noticed what was going on:  the driver and passengers were there to pick up a family member from the San Diego skid row.  The family member, clearly intoxicated, staggered over and introduced his friend, who also appeared to be high or drunk.

We left the library and headed to Balboa Park after this for the event that I had most wanted to attend, the official kickoff to the Centennial, a concert at the Spreckels Organ Pavillon.


By San Diego standards, the temperatures were out of a Jack London fiction, dipping below 40 at one point. The concert was beautiful, though.  It started with a parade of two Scottish bands, with drummers and bagpipers; they entered the pavilion and played several tunes.  The organ’s new pipes were then unveiled:


and the civic organist, Carol Williams, played a fanfare specifically written for the occasion.  After that, the high point of the concert for Marlene and me came, when the organist played “Highland Cathedral” with the Scottish bands.

The rest of the concert was lovely; unfortunately, we had to leave a bit before the end to make our dinner reservations at Kous Kous Moroccan.  The food at Kous Kous made up for that minor disappointment, however:  a vegetarian appetizer plate with eggplant spread on bread, endives with beans and lentils, and ratatouille “sliders”; a delicious vegetable tagine; and a custard dessert.

On New Year’s Day, we headed home, but we stopped a couple of times on the way.

First, we stopped at the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in north San Diego County.  I came here in my young adulthood, after I got my first car and started exploring my native county on my own, but hadn’t been back since.  Unfortunately, the museum and gardens were closed, but we were able to spend some time in other parts of the grounds that were open.


One such section of the grounds is a little courtyard that faces the Mission’s famous pepper tree, apparently the oldest pepper tree in California.


The cemetery was also open.  I was especially struck by the headstones for members of the Gomez family:   a young man who died in World War I in 1918, and his mother’s grave next to his; she died in the 1940s.  I’m reading Alastair Horne’s The Price of Glory, an account of the Battle of Verdun, and the book is full of horrifying statistics:  thousands upon thousands killed in the battles that led up to Verdun, in which countless thousands more were killed.  It’s difficult for my mind to grasp this:  as the quote says, one death is a tragedy; one hundred thousand deaths is a statistic.  I should be more upset by the deaths of millions than the death of one, of course, but the fact that this young man died and his mother outlived him by 20 years is haunting.  I can understand this and feel sorrow for this in a way that is not quite possible when I read about 10,000 dead in a battle; the idea is too abstract.

I wonder if we would have fewer wars if we required ourselves to learn the life stories of the war dead.

On a happier note, we stopped in San Juan Capistrano for lunch, and then went over to the Los Rios Historical District, where we saw this beautiful butterfly “sanctuary” in front of the historic Martinez Adobe.