When I lived near Paris, I didn’t go to see the famous places until the very end. I vividly remember the hectic schedule that I put together to see the Louvre, Les Invalides, Musee D’Orsay, Jardin Luxembourg. You name it and I probably saw it in those last few weeks. With the exception of Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. We both knew at some level that things would never be the same between us again and this girl and I were going through this frenzy of doing things together for the last time.
Here I am, twenty years later, near another beautiful city and I haven’t really seen it except for the Golden Gate, Crooked Street and Golden Gate Park. That is a little exaggeration, because I have seen a few other places, but nevertheless, the city has largely been a stranger to me. In the past few months that we’ve been coming up to the city with Maya, we’ve finally started to get to know San Francisco better.
The day began with Maya wanting to have croissant and milk, her favorite breakfast when we come up to the city. She then wanted to go play at Dolores Park. Summer is almost here and that means San Francisco is beginning its second winter. The wind was shaking the trees like some storm was heading our way and it was cold. Shanthala elected to stay indoors a little longer and so, Maya and I took the public transit and headed to the park. Once we got there, we found that the play structure was sealed off, torn down for renovation. We stood there wondering what to do when we saw an old tram approaching. Papa, lets just get on the tram and go, she said. So, thats what we did.
We got off at some random stop when Maya thought it fit to get off. We wandered the streets a bit and Maya said that she wanted to ride a tram into the tunnel and then take the stairs to surface from the tunnel. Instead of doing our usual run up to Embarcadero, I decided to jump off the tram at the Civic Center. Maya had seen the City Hall from the car a couple of times and so she was eager to see it up close.
We followed a sign titled United Nations Plaza to the surface from the underground. What a beautiful sight greeted us!
The sight seemed straight out of some European city. Maya squealed her delight and started running up and down the wide, pedestrian mall. And her delight turned to squeals when she spotted the fountain behind us.
Signs of how little I know of the world I’m immersed in becomes apparent once again. The entire place is covered with aspects about the UN. Quotes from different people about the need for UN, date the UN charter was signed, a pillar for each year since the UN wS founded with a list of nations that joined that year and so on. I thought that all this was in keeping with the name of the plaza.
Almost seventy years ago, between April 13 and June 26 of 1945, 50 allied nations met in San Francisco with the aim of setting up a global organization that would help resolve conflict through peaceful means. The US along with 50 other allied nations and various non-governmental agencies crafted the UN Charter, here in San Francisco, creating the UN. So, the plaza we were on was not just another dedication to the UN. It was where the UN was founded!
The plaza was mostly empty except for a homeless man sitting by the fountain. Gulls and pigeons were the only other animals that seemed to have more than a second’s interest in the place besides us. Maya ran round and round the fountain, chasing the birds or just watching the water. The fountain is not particularly pretty or memorable.
Back in 2003, the fountain was almost demolished. From a newspaper article published in 2003:
“It’s become an intolerable situation, and we don’t have additional resources to continually clean it,” said Alex Mamak, a spokesman for the Department of Public Works.
Department crews clean out human filth and hypodermic needles every morning, only to find a new mess the next morning, Mamak said.”
Something happened after that time because the fountain is still here and looked quite clean. The only droppings I saw were the birds’.
After exhausting the novelty of the fountain, Maya headed towards the Civic Center, passing a large statue of Simon Bolivar on horseback and a monument called the Pioneer Monument.
Along the way, pillars framed the mall upto Bolivar’s statue with each pillar dedicated to a year when one or more nations joined the UN. One of my memories from history lessons from school is that only 4 nations were not part of the UN, one of which was Switzerland, a nation long famed for its neutrality. So, what do I see on the pillar dedicated to the year 2002 ? Switzerland.
As we approached the City Hall, Maya spotted a children’s playground and took off running. I stayed behind, trying to get different shots of the City Hall.
After lunch, Maya, Shanthala and I headed to Embarcadero where Maya spent a considerable time playing at another fountain, the strange looking structure called Quebec Libre. Constructed by a Quebecois sculptor called Armand Vaillancourt, it is a structure that Shanthala immediately considered ugly, grotesque and an eye sore. It seems to be an opinion shared by others. One critic called it, “Stonehenge unhinged with plumbing troubles” and another described it as “the funeral of beauty in art”. One blog recently bemoaned the logic behind spending $1000 a day to pump water through the fountain.
But, Maya was oblivious to all of this. There was water and she could get wet. That’s all that mattered as she ran along the pathway that took her into the heart of the fountain, with water spilling all around her.
The afternoon turned out to be quite beautiful and warm. Thanks to Maya, we were enjoying a mild summer day in the city that is considered by many to be the city to visit in the US.
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