New Cal­i­for­nia Dream­ing The Golden State from No-Cal to So-Cal

We’ve got plenty of rea­sons for Cal­i­for­nia dream­ing: from the ori­gins of the lo­cal food move­ment and the tech revo­lu­tion to rem­i­nisc­ing about the Sum­mer of Love

ZOOMER Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Anne O’Ha­gan

WHAT COULD BET­TER RE­FLECT the com­plex­ity of Cal­i­for­nia t han a cer­ti­fied or­ganic farm­ers mar­ket un­der a state free­way? This was my sin­gu­lar thought as I stood on a rainy Sun­day morn­ing in Sacra­mento amid grow­ers’ stands stacked with awe­some bounty – per­sim­mons, es­o­teric nut va­ri­eties, cit­rus in sur­pris­ing shapes and shades – and over­head the belch and roar of traf­fic. Even look­ing up at the un­der­side of U.S. Route 50 be­tween 6th and 7th streets was an es­thetic con­tra­dic­tion. “The Bright Un­der­belly” is the work of lo­cal artists, a fan­ci­ful mu­ral – like anti-graf­fiti – cov­er­ing 70,000 square feet of con­crete. Against a back­ground of sky blue, there are vi­gnettes for each of the sea­sons, birds in flight, wildlife and trees and, on the sup­port pil­lars, naïve-style text doc­u­ment­ing the work.

Sacra­mento is a foodie cru­cible, sur­rounded by fa­mous ly fer­tile farm­land, ranch es and vine­yards, with a year-round grow­ing sea­son and a Mediter­ranean cli­mate. It shows in the olive oil, the salad greens, the toma­toes and in the restau­rants. I ate de­li­cious food at ev­ery turn while vis­it­ing and made the ac­quain­tance of “shrubs” – an ar­cane recipe newly re­vived in which ar­ti­sanal “drink­ing vine­gars,” made from acidu­lated fruit and botan­i­cals, are mixed with soda and im­proved with a shot of al­co­hol (or not). But in my mind, gas­tron­omy doesn’t re­ally jibe with the gold rush – the city’s legacy – or the gov­ern­ment, its rai­son d’être. You can be sure that Sacra­mento’s first cit­i­zens, pioneers who crossed the coun­try by stage­coach in the mid-1800s to seek their for­tune, flee debtors’ prison and rein­vent them­selves, mostly wor­ried about scurvy.

The gold rush made Sacra­mento, but it’s not what makes it in­ter­est­ing to­day. It’s more about what that bo­nanza wrought. When prospec­tors struck gold in 1848, Sacra­mento was a hard­scrab­ble back­wa­ter, Cal­i­for­nia was a ter­ri­tory owned by Mex­ico and to travel east in any com­fort you had to sail around South Amer­ica. Two years later, Cal­i­for­nia had joined the union; 20 years later, the transcon­ti­nen­tal rail­road had come through and, by the 1870s, Sacra­mento, by then the state’s cap­i­tal, was es­tab­lished as a west­ern show­piece of neo-clas­si­cal ar­chi­tec­ture. Those peo­ple got the job done.

Sacra­mento’s ac­cel­er­ated de­vel­op­ment makes its el­e­gant capi­tol build­ing with its por­ti­cos, ro­tunda and dome all the more im­pres­sive. To­day, this is where Gover­nor Jerry Brown, a Demo­crat, holds of­fice. Here, too, is where the Yes Cal­i­for­nia cam­paign ral­lied sup­port on Nov. 9, the day af­ter a Repub­li­can out­lier and re­al­ity TV star be­came the pres­i­dent of the United States. Yes Cal­i­for­nia – the state that put Hil­lary Clin­ton over the top for the pop­u­lar vote win – wants to se­cede from the union and is at the fore­front of a very cred­i­ble anti-Trump move­ment.

A few blocks from Sacra­mento’s Capi­tol Park is the Crocker Mu­seum, an Ital­ianate man­sion built in 1885. Orig­i­nally con­ceived as an in­te­grated com­plex, a house and gallery to­gether, it be­came the first pur­pose-built pub­lic art mu­seum in the west. The rail­road agent (read rob­ber baron) for the state, Judge Ed­win Crocker, and his wife filled it with Euro­pean masters, in­clud­ing draw­ings, paint­ings and ceram­ics col­lected dur­ing their buy­ing trips to Europe over a pe­riod of just four years. Ad­join­ing the her­itage build­ing is the mod­ern wing built in the 2000s, home to an ac­claimed col­lec­tion of Cal­i­for­nia art.

In­no­va­tion is in Cal­i­for­nia’s DNA – it didn’t start with Sil­i­con Val­ley. The com­ple­tion of the rail­road was the sin­gle big­gest trans­porta­tion dis­rup­tor of the 19th cen­tury, the self-driv­ing car of its era. Then came Hol­ly­wood, the 20th-cen­tury dream fac­tory that com­mod­i­fied fan­tasy and made rein­ven­tion semi-ac­cept­able as a ca­reer path. It was mo­tion pic­ture tech­nol­ogy that turned “back-of-the-en­ve­lope” ac­coun­tants into stu­dio moguls. Steve Jobs, raised in Moun­tain View, a sub­urb of San José, had his­toric role mod­els.

Driv­ing south­west from Sacra­mento to­ward Sil­i­con Val­ley, from one of Cal­i­for­nia’s old­est set­tle­ments to its most pow­er­ful, is like time travel with moun­tain vis­tas along the way. Some of the fastest grow­ing tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies in the world are here. Rev­enue is dou­bling an­nu­ally; they can’t hire big brains fast enough. Yet it feels like “there’s no there there,” as Gertrude Stein said. We drive along subur­ban free­ways, pass­ing down-at-heels strip malls, go­ing from one tech tem­ple to an­other. The cam­puses of Google, Face­book and Ap­ple all seem to be her­met­i­cally sealed uni­verses where em­ploy­ees work, eat and play.

The most clois­tered of all is Ap­ple’s new head­quar­ters, dubbed “the space­ship,” now un­der con­struc­tion in Cu­per­tino. Plans have been closely held, the con­struc­tion site re­quires se­cu­rity clear­ance and the in­ter­net is ob­sessed. Drone pic­tures re­veal a gi­gan­tic sil­ver oval ring, which will ac­com­mo­date 13,000 em­ploy­ees. The pres­i­dent of Ap­ple, Tim Cook, calls it “a cen­tre for in­no­va­tion for gen­er­a­tions to come.”

It’s at first ar­rest­ing to see the bricks and mor­tar ver­sions of the brands that lit­er­ally gov­ern our lives. In San Fran­cisco, too, you look up from your phone to see the Airbnb, Uber or Twit­ter logo af­fixed to a build­ing’s fa­cade. But un­less you’re a ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist, there’s not much to do in Sil­i­con Val­ley other than shop. On each of the cam­puses, there’s a store­front sell­ing branded swag. More com­pelling to me is the Beam store on the main drag of Palo Alto where you can buy your­self a ro­bot – from a ro­bot. No store clerks, no at­ti­tude, I guess.

San Fran­cisco felt like a sea change af­ter Sil­i­con Val­ley. Walk­ing through the lobby of the Four Sea­sons Ho­tel, even the air smelled so­phis­ti­cated. This, too, is a city that grew out of the gold rush, a city built by dream­ers. So while it looks Euro­pean and feels ul­tra-mon­eyed, it is also the prod­uct of fierce en­ter­prise, eth­ni­cally di­verse and left-lean­ing. San Fran­cisco is where coun­ter­cul­ture move­ments were ig­nited, gay rights ac­tivists launched their cause and where the Sum­mer of Love – one mo- men­tous sea­son in 1967 – de­fined a gen­er­a­tion and an era. This year marked its 50th an­niver­sary, and the city hon­oured it with a full cul­tural pro­gram of con­certs, art ex­hi­bi­tions and hap­pen­ings.

Yet tech­nol­ogy is never re­ally in the back­ground in San Fran­cisco. One evening, I ate oys­ters at Water­bar on the Em­bar­cadero, over­look­ing the city’s most bril­liant pub­lic art – the Bay Bridge swathed in 25,000 LED lights that pulse and twin­kle from dusk to dawn. The artist Leo Vil­lareal pro­grammed The Bay Lights so the pat­terns are ev­er­chang­ing and never re­peated.

Orig­i­nally a two-year in­stal­la­tion, it was gifted to the State of Cal­i­for­nia last year and is now per­ma­nent. In­no­va­tion for the peo­ple: there’s a rea­son it’s called the Left Coast. www.vis­it­cal­i­for­nia.com

Tech­nol­ogy Drive street sign in Sil­i­con Val­ley, Calif. Sun­set over San Fran­cisco

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