Wednesday, September 21, 2005

NPRI (Nuclear Policy Research Institute). Tuesday was very tied up in assisting the new expatriates, and I enjoyed a quick bite at La Maison de la Reine afterwards.

On Wednesday I went to a showing with the Filmmaker and Executive Director of "Nuclear Deception" associated with NPRI, which I was introduced to from Dr. Caldicott's staff. It was in San Geronimo (Western Marin), and a small but well-educated group. The DVD is very worth seeing as there are a number of critical facts compellingly displayed. Before the screening, I drove through the tiny town and had a very nice dinner at the "Two Birds Cafe", the only restaurant in town!

San Geronimo is so quaint and interesting. Here is an article from the San Francisco Chronicle that has a good description:

Valley of the Artists Mural still speaks to bucolic San Geronimo

-Sam Whiting

Riding west on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, motorists and cyclists blow right by the San Geronimo Valley Cultural Center - unless they happen to know this is the place to see winter-run salmon in the creek and a WPA mural in the lobby.

The bucolic landscape is 15 feet wide, 7 feet tall, and 50 feet off the road. It's worth a stop just to see how little has changed along the way out to Olema and Point Reyes in the 70 years since it was painted by Maurice Del Mue. A Parisian by way of San Francisco, Del Mue came out here to live and paint in 1925 as part of a migration as consistent as the salmon. The valley claims the highest concentration of artists in Marin County, and that's saying something given all the watercolorists in Mill Valley.

"Because of the beauty, it's like Santa Fe, N.M. It just brings that out in people," explains Susan Lahr, who has lived here for 30 years. "It's a huge artistic community - recording artists, visual artists, literary artists."

There are enough artists that the Two Bird Cafe has its own curator. The valley has almost as many post offices per capita as there are artists - four for 4,000 people. Each of the villages has its own - Woodacre, San Geronimo, Forest Knolls and Lagunitas. "You meet your friends and neighbors at the post office on a daily basis," Lahr says.

There is no home delivery of mail, or much of anything else. When the power goes out, it goes out early in the San Geronimo Valley and comes back late. Last winter, Lahr lost hers for five days. Last El Nino, it was seven.

"This is a real '60s place. Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, Quicksilver - they all lived out here," says Lahr, who didn't arrive from her hometown of Pittsburgh until 1973 - which was in time for Elvin Bishop and the day Garcia died at Serenity Knolls, the recovery center in Forest Knolls. They also lost folksinger Kate Wolf, but she is brought back the third Sunday of each month with Kate's Cafe, featuring performance art in the Cultural Center. It starts at 6:30 tonight. The two galleries are open, and the mural is lighted in the lobby. (It can also be seen weekdays, or by calling Lahr, the Cultural Center arts and events coordinator, at (415) 488-9385, Ext. 4.)
Five miles west of Fairfax, the San Geronimo Valley is entered by crossing Brown's Bridge at White's Hill, the great divide between rich Marin and West Marin. Opened this year, the 380-foot bridge is touted as the longest single- span west of the Mississippi.

Another piece of technological trivia is that Alexander Graham Bell strung up the first telephone in California to link houses on the Mailliard ranch. Even back then there was a Bolinas attitude in West Marin. Bell ran the phone line between fence posts, and a Luddite came along and snipped the wires behind him, so they say.

The isolation ended for good when railroad tracks were tunneled through White's Hill. The passenger train that carried Del Mue is gone, but the yellow depot still sits behind the Two Bird.
The Cultural Center was built as Lagunitas School in 1924, and 10 years later Del Mue painted the mural. Because it is on canvas stuck to the wall, Lahr is convinced it was painted on site, and that somebody out there saw him do it. To flush out a witness, Lahr held a Lagunitas School reunion last summer. Former students in their 60s and 70s brought their report cards as proof, but none brought a memory of the man painting the mural.

At first sight, it is remarkably vibrant. Dirty, though, to an eye like Lahr's. It needs $20,000 worth of restoration, so Lahr got Trillium Press to make fine art prints of the mural to trade for a $250 donation. Some would rather have a print of the 1961 valley master plan, which hangs on the opposite wall as a cautionary tale. It shows where Highway 580 was going to come off the Richmond Bridge and run beside Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.

There were going to be 5,000 homes and a big motel. But 40 years of fighting whittled it down to a row of overbuilt Ponderosa-style ranch houses just west of the school.

"That's probably what the whole valley would have looked like," Lahr says, "but everything else got shot down."

The freeway would have upset the flight pattern of the swallows. Outside the center, there is a nest tucked under each of the eaves, and a plaque describing them.

"They'll be back," Lahr says, looking up at the empty nests. "They always come back." So do the coho and chinook salmon and steelhead. At the other end of the center is a footbridge over Larsen Creek, a 15-mile swim from the ocean.

"The kids are here every day after school watching them," says Lahr.

The fish will be coming with the rains and, if Lahr can sell enough prints, so will the mural conservator. That makes two spectacles to stop for this winter in San Geronimo.

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