Friday, November 4, 2011

"I had no idea what fog was..."

KALW tells an offbeat story about improvised housing in the war years: a temporary town of Laguna and Acoma Pueblo Indians living in boxcars within the Richmond rail yard where they'd come to work. Or rather, for many individual people the village was temporary housing, but it existed for 60 years, from 1922 until the Santa Fe Railroad finally turned off the power in 1982.

The phrase about the fog is from Bertha Hicks, who as a child traveled out from New Mexico to live with her father in the boxcar village.

Acoma, well -- to a visitor, at least, Acoma seems terribly old, ritual-embedded, manicured, circumscribed, dry, clean, high up, known specially for its meticulous pottery design. This memorial photo essay, presented as an introduction to the pottery tradition and to one beloved potter, captures some of the sense that got through even to me as a herded stranger on a strictly escorted afternoon tour many years ago. A poem in the photo essay begins, "Imagine living in one place for a thousand years..." Acoma is like a Southern French medieval castle town, except drier and, at least currently, more carefully defended.

Not at all like a California industrial waterfront landscape -- no moisture, no room for weeds, no scrap metal, no gears or rails or rust or spilled oil, maybe not much improvisation. In fact it's hard to think how a place could host related people, voluntarily settled, at a similar population density, and be any more different than that Richmond rail yard village would have been from Acoma. But what do I know, I wasn't there.

The idea for the KALW story is credited to that "California Crossings" exhibit at the Bancroft -- the one I mentioned earlier. It's a cool exhibit for an educational institution because it's a kind of survey course or sampler platter, full of little hooks ready to grab on to the right visitor and keep tugging all the way to a dissertation -- or, for example, a news feature. Nice to see at least one of them caught on.

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