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California IV Bonus: Soul of a People

March 10, 2009

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Just to let everyone know: The ride on Highway 1 wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared (not so far, at least). Dad took the picture above, at one scenic overlook, and I even managed to take a few shots from the driver’s seat myself (at one point, just catching myself from lifting up the camera as a policeman passed me in the other lane!). 

403808_cover.inddAs a bonus, another quick excerpt, this one from the new book Soul of a People: The WPA Writers’ Project Uncovers Depression America by David Taylor (who will be interviewed on this site over the next couple of weeks). In the chapter “Poetic Land, Pugnacious People: California,” Taylor writes about poet Kenneth Rexroth’s contributions to the WPA Guide to California:

Rexroth… quickly fell in love with San Francisco, which he found “a truly Mediterranean city” for its setting and the rich heritage of its Italian population. It reminded him of the bohemian Chicago of his boyhood, before he was orphaned at thirteen. His father, a pharmacist, had been drinking pals with Theodore Dreiser and other writers, and his mother had been a suffragette.

“San Francisco has always cherished its eccentrics,” the WPA guide notes. “It has been inclined to regard graft with a tolerant eye; it has always prided itself on the international flavor of its food and drink, and its cosmopolitan tastes in feminine beauty; it has always been a ‘good’ town for the actor and the musician.” Despite daily morning fog, earthquakes, political scandal, and labor wars on the wharf, the city “remained unmistakably itself” amid the neon lights and the skyscrapers that were replacing the rambling old buildings of the Embarcadero and Market Street.

As Taylor points out later in the chapter, Rexroth also played a role in encouraging another WPA project: the painting of the murals inside Coit Tower, several of which I photographed just this morning, including the detail of one below.

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