Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Oakland, California

Early morning on the canal by Jack London Square, a clear blue sky opens an unseasonably hot spell. We stroll down the boardwalk of a rough neighborhood gone condo. Mostly. From the waterfront the riots of a few days past are unseen, unheard, though their imprint remains.

The contrast of this pale pearl-colored water is so stark, the soft clinking movements of boats in the marina so dispassionate, the dogs so mundane on their walks before their owners scurry to work. At the edge, brown ducks dive among sawed-off pilings. The half-submerged cylinders are bone-white and dislocated without the dock that must have been. Closer to the square, kayaks lie stacked in the sun, heavy machinery lies unmanned on a new hotel site, and even the sun seems to hold its breath as it rises.

On the other side of town, we walk to Lake Merritt, brimming with birds and the mussels they pluck from shallow brine. Not a freshwater lake but an inlet of San Francisco bay, its boundaries are ringed by grass and a paved path streams steadily with walkers circumnavigating its several-mile loop. At one end a personal trainer pitches his services for two bucks, standing at attention between weights and a fitness ball. At another, winter greens grow in cordoned-off community plots. The least hospitable stretch narrows to unadorned concrete with cars rushing by.

Yet flowing water and the constant movement of wings proclaim peace, an oasis among urban violence and noise. Tall trees reach across the grass, a homeless man wakes, and seven television news vans line up in a row, antennae extended for more bad news.

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