Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Those Catholics. Gotta Love 'Em

Before I forget and hit CTRL-C or something, a selection of the pictures from today (i.e., the better ones) are already organized, captioned, and posted. It's all so much easier, now that I've figured out how to put in links like that.

We got out of here really, really early by our standards. It was something like 9:45. That's later than we left here yesterday, but beyond that we don't agree on any of our recent transitional history. Just one of those insignificant things people can discuss, and disagree about, without rancor, to fill the long, otherwise silent elevator ride to the parking garage.

I was heading south on Mission Bay Boulevard, our usual route to the center of all the action here in San Diego, when it occurred to me that I didn't really know where we were going; we'd discussed so many things, but always in kind of a tentative way, like everything was mere suggestion and no actual decisions need be taken. Once we arrived at a consensus, we consulted the map and eventually tracked down Mission San Diego, out by Qualcomm Stadium. So we headed out there, and found it after only two tries and possibly one illegal turn, by the H&R Block Hair Salon.

San Diego was the first Spanish mission in California, founded in response to a perceived threat from the Russians, who apparently were following otters down the Pacific Coast. You'll recall that, 250 years ago, it didn't take much to establish a claim to vast areas of real estate. A few trappers who hail from Moscow, wandering around alone, and voila! you have title to millions of prime acres. This, of course, was before the lawyers and realtors got involved. Nowadays, I think, it would be much more difficult for me to claim I own all of California on the strength of three car trips here in a decade; but it seems that, had I but driven here in the 1760s, instead of waiting for the roads to be paved, I could afford a second home on the beach, and maybe a high-definition TV.

Anyway: San Diego, like many Spanish missions, was not an instant hit. It was originally put downstream by the Presidio, but, well, let's say the Spanish soldiers and the local indians rubbed each other the wrong way. So after about five years, the head guy, Father Jayme, moved the mission a few miles upstream to its present location. (Father Serra, who had founded the mission, had gone off to open a branch office in Monterey.) Father J seems not to have been the best pastor in some respect, because a year and a half after moving to the suburbs, the locals clubbed him to death and burned the mission to the ground. Which did them no good, of course, as there were other Franciscan priests to take his place. Father J is considered California's first Christian martyr; that may be, or maybe he is California's first really bad PR guy.

So you're thinking, maybe, that the title of this blog relates to that incident? Not at all what I had in mind when I named it, in advance of actually writing it. (Usually I do it the other way around.)

But I digress.

When the Mexicans won their independence from the Spanish, the Church was one of the big losers. Eventually, the nationalization of church property reached this remote outpost of empire, and the Mission property was set aside to be divided up among the indians. In fact, it and all the rest of California (and Mexico) went to cronies and relatives of high officials in one of the more corrupt régimes in North American history. These people, the cream of Mexican society, became the group known as the californios, who were dispossessed in turn when the US took over after the Mexican War in the 1840s. It's hard to feel sympathy for anybody in the sorry tale of California history. Sadly, Zorro was not a real person.

Eventually (in 1862), the US government gave part of the property back to the church. By then, it was in pretty sad shape; between abandonment and earthquake and pilfering by neighbours, there was only a facade and one room left standing. But it got rebuilt, and has been an operating parish church for well over a hundred years now, and is in pretty good shape for being so old.

Our next stop was Presidio Park, where the mission had originally been set up. There are no visible remains of the original buildings there. They were built of adobe, and after a local retail magnate donated the property to the city (after having built the dramatic Serra Museum on the crest of the hill), the decaying ruins were covered over with five feet of dirt to prevent further destruction, until a way can be found to preserve them. I learned this in conversation with a local history teacher, who was there hiding from a group of 90 schoolchildren who were about to descend on the Serra Museum after fortifying themselves with lunch. A quick walkabout and a short drive through the neighbourhood above the Presidio, and we ourselves went for similar fortification at Fred's, in Old Town. An unwise choice, and that's all I need to say about that.

The rest of the afternoon was spent puttering around in Old Town State Park, touring the various buildings -- some reconstructions, some original, all modified over the centuries -- filling our minds with interesting tidbits of San Diego history, like the novel Ramona (which figures perversely in the area's history) and shopping, shopping, shopping. Jeff and I discussed the Machado-y-Stewart house, a largeish adobe building built by a corporal at the Presidio early in the city's history. He wondered at its size, rather large for a mere corporal, no matter how many kids he had. But I pointed out how close the freeway was, and the train tracks, and theorized that he could only afford it because it was such a crappy location. Jeff seemed unconvinced.

It was Nancy's turn to cook tonight, so we had to stop at Ralph's for some chicken, but after running off to the beach with Sherry for a while, she managed a very good meal despite the primitive state of our kitchen.

I did laundry. Woo.