Capitol Ideas

My Travels in California

It’s still a great place to hang.

By 10.2.13

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the shops that remain open display signs that say WE ACCEPT FOOD STAMPS. Weeds surround abandoned businesses, and all traffic lights are set to permanently blink, which is a formality as there are no longer any cops to police the streets. Vallejo is the one city in the Bay Area where you can park anywhere and not worry about getting a ticket…

Napa Valley prospers. It’s grape fields as far as you can see and the grapes were ready for the picking. But no workers were in sight. I heard they often work at night. They are well remunerated, happy to have the work and many have 401(K)s. But don’t ask me about wine. I can tell the difference between red and white but that’s about it. I prefer a Guinness stout.

We had come to see an old friend who lives in the Veterans Home in Yountville. George Yount started one of the early Napa Valley grape farms, in the 1850s. Today, from Yountville to Calistoga, it’s fancy shops and restaurants all the way. They cater to wealthy “enotourists” who spend hundreds of dollars a day.

The Veterans Home is a state-run facility with a thousand residents. It’s a beautiful place, I must say, with golf course and library. Almost up to country club standards — except that two veterans share a room, which can lead to conflicts. Women veterans live in separate housing. When transgenderism strikes I guess there could be trouble.

We returned to San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge. We drove to Lincoln Park, in the northwest corner. An absurd piece of sculpture consisting of angular twisted steel girders, the same color as the Golden Gate Bridge (international orange), was placed solemnly in front of a museum. The bridge itself, in all its magnificence, could be seen not far off.

Unlike the technology-aping twisted metal, the bridge is a real piece of art because it never tried to be “artistic.” Its aesthetic function was always subordinate to the mundane task getting people across the water. Once “art” is isolated from function and becomes merely “creative” —well, we are in museum-land. If you want to look at outstanding modern design, try the Boeing 747. There too, aesthetics came last, function first.

When I came to America I was attracted to New Orleans jazz. Musicians of the old school thought of themselves as artisans. Their business cards read “music for all occasions”: dances, weddings, funerals, parades. Artist? You wanted a sign painter? They wouldn’t have known what you were talking about. All was lost in the concert hall, as happened with European music in the 19th century. Suddenly we were expected to do nothing but summon up our finer sensibilities. The language of music was debased and then ruined by the avant-garde. Then it happened here too.

On our last night we were in Millbrae, close to SFO. We went to a packed Chinese restaurant and were the only occidentals present. Sunday night is family night, and most tables were set for ten. The wait for a small table was lengthy. I studied the menu. Among the items: vinegar cured chicken feet; preserved cabbage with gizzard; stir fried goose intestine. For dessert? How about home-made turtle jelly?

I also noticed this: At the big tables the Chinese men were in charge, as they are less and less here. We flew home the next day and I found myself thinking that the Chinese will become the world leaders, as America once was. But not till after my time.

Photo: UPI

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About the Author

Tom Bethell is a senior editor of The American Spectator and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity Through the Ages, and most recently Questioning Einstein: Is Relativity Necessary? (2009).