Dan Soderberg Photography

Dias de los Muertos

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While we in the U.S. go all out for festive, imaginative–if not outrageous–costuming, parties and trick or treating at Halloween time, in Mexico they begin celebrating Dias de los Muertos, Days of the Dead.
On Halloween Day, 2004. I was in the heart of Old Mexico, Michoacan. They don’t celebrate Halloween as we know it. October 31st, Hollows Eve, marks the beginning of a three day celebration which also encompasses All Saints Day and All Souls Day. These are Dias de Los Muertos. The focus is not so much on costumes and trick or treating, but on remembrance of dead loved ones and connecting with their spirits.
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Don’t mistake this as grim and serious. These are days of parties, feasts and family reunions from both sides of the grave and mortal plane. The departed are not sadly viewed as having vanished from daily life. But they’re happy, active participants. Their spirits are guardians of the living.
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Each region of Mexico offers a slight variation of these customs. But generally this is a holiday with marigold adorned altars in the home, favorite foods of the loved ones prepared and lavishly displayed, favorite drinks even booze or cigarettes if those were enjoyed. There are ceremonial skulls and skeletons. Paper decorations in bright colors. Harvested crops. Tall continually lit candle sticks.
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Every object placed at the home altar has meaning. Four symbols of nature are always present. Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire.
Earth is represented by flowers and crops. Souls are enticed to the altar and fed by aroma; the mouth watering smell of their favorite foods.
Wind is symbolized by a moving object. Colorful tissue paper and hanging cut out decorations are commonly used to to sway or toss about in a breeze or draft.
Water in a decorative bowl. Quenching a soul’s thirst after a long journey home. Even a hand towel is provided.
Fire glows with candles.
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Some regions of Mexico are more known for one particular aspect of the holiday than others. For instance, La Calaca “the skeleton” is famous in the Mexico City region. Bakeries have skeleton and skull decorations displayed. Attached are verses dedicated to the dead. Special breads are shaped and baked to be sold specifically for altar offerings.
In something like trick or treating, children collect candies on this holiday. But often these are muertos, little candy skulls.
La Calaca is not meant to be scary, but fun. The typical female ceremonial skeleton is lavishly dressed, adorned with jewelery, and a floppy wide brim hat. The man often has a bottle of booze in hand. In short, they’re ready to party.
The altar tradition is deeply rooted in Michoacan. I visited the small village of Santa Fe De La Laguna on the road from Morelia to Uruapan. The residents are an indigenous people, The Purepecha Indians. They mainly speak Purepechan rather than Spanish. Many still wear traditional garments. When the Spanish arrived in the 1500’s they found this group battling the Aztecs. Needless to say neither group was any match for the Conquistadors.
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The Spanish called these Indians The Tarascan. After slaughtering thousands of them in conquest, Spain sought to be a kinder, gentler ruler. One gesture was to not to completely strip away their spiritual beliefs. Instead many rituals, including Dias de Los Muertos, were allowed to remain. And these were folded into Christian customs. Thus you have this blending of pre-Hispanic rituals with the All Saints and All Souls tradition.
People of this village retain old values of openness and hospitality. I walked by an open door. I saw inside just a bit. There I noticed a beautifully flowered altar. A seated group of Tarascan ladies warmly extended an invitation to enter. Their simple yet welcoming home had three main rooms. The largest was devoted to the altar. Men sat in a smaller room. The other was occupied by the women. This village has a unique variation of Dias de Los Muertos. The women attend exclusively to the all the aspects of planning and setting up for the holiday. The altar, the food, the cleaning and decorating of the grave site, etc. The men are involved only with harvest rituals.
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I studied the array of yellow, orange and red altar flowers, the tall candles, the uniquely shaped bread offerings, the prepared food, and the apparent keepsakes of a child. This was All Saints Day dedicated to the spirits of children.
I was invited to a delicious bowl of red tomato fish soup and a tamale wrapped in banana leaves. The women were very pleased I accepted their offering. They smiled at my obvious enjoyment of the meal. I was offered another serving.
Other regions celebrate this day with parades. A Lidless coffin lifted up to catch flowers, fruits and candles. A crackle of firecrackers. At night the tall altar candles burn continuously in remembrance.
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November 2nd, All Souls Day, is the day of spiritual reunion with adult loved ones. Activities shift to the graveyard. Flower strewn paths to family plots.  Sites are cleaned, groomed and lavishly decorated with marigolds and other flowers. A picnic is enjoyed a savory array of the departed one’s favorite foods. Some share tequila. Others set off fireworks. A Mariachi Band is often present. Festivities for this “Night of The Dead” are an all night affair. The night glows from a myriad of burning candles.
A lot of Americans who visit Mexico this time of year may well leave impressed with the color, beauty and charm of this occasion. These are intriguing customs that have spiritual value. Not just a party excuse or candy grab. It is to honor and remember deceased loved ones as well as to eat, drink and be merry.
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But there is some danger of all this falling by the way side. The U.S. manner of celebrating Halloween is expanding and becoming ever more popular in the urban and border areas of Mexico. Wall Mart and others well supply Mexico with all the mass produced witch’s hats, Spider Man costumes, and other Halloween paraphernalia available in the U.S.. This influence seems enough for government and private institutions to now educate about and promote the old traditions.
Santa Fe de La Laguna, has resisted change for centuries. Hopefully they will continue to hang on to what is uniquely theirs. Even in the midst of N.A.F.T.A., globalization and the new world order.
Architecture

Connecting The Dots

Stockholm, Sweden, is composed of fourteen Islands and an archipelago fanning out into The Baltic. Traveling the city whether by foot, bicycle, car, bus or subway means taking bridges tunnels or ferries. Not ravaged or spoiled by war, architectural elements of the city are old but not run down. A pristine quality. Buildings of bright color, copper clad roofs and soaring spires often reflect in waterways. Modern structures blend well. Visits to such sights as the Vasa Museum and The Royal Palace show glimpses of Medieval Stockholm.
The residents are a gentile people. Reserved but without attitude. English is freely spoken with Americans.
Traffic moves orderly and at a moderate pace. Rarely have I witnessed a speeding vehicle or heard a horn blaring. Cars are driven slower during rain with a space reserved between vehicles. Pedestrians enjoy having cars stop for them.
Children are taught to use “indoor voices.” Not once have I had the urge to call out for “Super Nanny” to come deal with badly behaved children. Dogs can be seen in public places. Have yet to encounter a street turd!
A down side can reported in one word. “Expensive.” There’s a hefty sin tax on alcohol. Haven’t found even a medium glass of beer for less than eight U.S. dollars. Lots of great cafes and eateries, but not much on the cheaps.

Stockholm Sunset

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Water, water everywhere. Stockholm often referred to as Venice of the north.

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Trees and copper spires.

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Stern of the Svea Viking – a sightseeing boat. Below image showing the wide view.

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The Lonely Planet provides this blurb: “This corny but fun Viking longship – complete with burly Viking warriors – runs 1 3/4 hour trips around the inner archipeligo islands. Viking food and drinks included.” I didn’t partake. But got several shots of the harbor with this boat help framing the image.

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Svea Viking bow

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Harbor boats, Stockholm.

Architecture

IL Duomo

Milan’s High Gothic Cathedral “Il Duomo,” from 1386 is having a face lift. A long needed cleaning to turn dark gray into white with hints of pink. So for now views are obscured by scaffolding. Several of the statue topped spires are complete. And looking nice. Ceremonies and services continue inside.

DanTravelman

Bull’s Balls Worn Off

The Galleria, Milan, has Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Sherman Oaks Galleria) beat by a hundred years. The mall entrance is at 45 degrees from the Milan Duomo (Cathedral), facing the piazza. Exit The Duomo after completing spiritual obligations. Make a right hand turn and indulge in materialistic quests at The Galleria, Vittorio Emanuele II.
An array of Italian Designers retail here. But moreover, a place to see and be seen. Here you’ll see Milan is no different than many popular destinations when it comes to the ritual of tourists adopting some beloved object or icon to rub on. Here the genitals of a bull are offered. And it works like this. You find the bull’s mosaic on the mall’s terrazza. Step on the bull’s doo-hickies with one foot and perform a pirouette. Its a real crowd pleaser. All ages and genders join in. But so much fun has worn off the bull’s balls. There’s a hole, a perfect circle, marking the spot for everyone to take their turn, their spin, on his goodies for good fortune.

Architecture

Milan Central & The Original “Dukestir”

The Milan Central Train Station is undergoing restoration. There’s not too much mention of this being an architecture of political statement. A looming Fascist monument. Designed in scale beyond anything human. It took more than 7 years to complete. A cavernous mountain of concrete and marble adorned with power icons. Ferocious beasts, Muscular men, angry gargoyles.
I was approached by an Italian gentleman while shooting pictures. He asked me if my interest was in the distinctive advertising displayed.
I replied it was the architecture.
He said this was a pet project of Benito “Duce” (“Duke”) Mussolini. A statement to the world about Milan’s importance as the railway hub for all of Europe. A show of Italian power.
The marble interior and barrel vault ceilings are impossibly high. A hall that breathes power. Loudspeaker announcements are like a frightening voice of God.
Yet amidst the hustle and bustle (train travel seems no less busy now than ever) there is a quiet. Sound radiates through the vast space and vanishes. The filtered sky lighting eases your senses.
Overall, an approach to architecture that occurs when a head of state is in love with the pomp and circumstance surrounding his bloated ego.

DanTravelman

Click Clack Trolley Track

While the trolley street cars of San Diego and Los Angeles are only a memory, Milan, Italy, kept theirs from that same era in service. These vintage cars creak and clatter. They smell of fuzzy dusty machine grease oozing from joints and rivets. Doors, benches and interior siding all of varnished wood grain. A trolley driver works a worn shiny brass crank. A sign “don’t bother or harass the driver while the car is in motion.” And “trolley dodgers” are chased from tracks by a clanging bell. For three Euros ride all day–go on and off as you please. It’s a decidedly slower trip than the Underground. But the street car/trolley is a good and fun way for a tourist to enjoy a city’s scenery and street life. And the locals utilize it as well.

Trolley Servicing Milan, 1920’s. Milan Central Train Station

Architecture

Pan Pacific

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Pan Pacific Auditorium, Welton Becket, architect. Surrounded by barbed wire and cyclone fence, circa 1988.

Before Los Angeles had a commerce and population requiring such indoor venues as The Staples Center, The L.A. Sports Arena, and the L.A. Convention Center, there was the venerable Pan Pacific Auditorium. The nearly endless list of events there included Ice Capades, Harlem Globetrotters, Wrestling, UCLA basketball, Political rallies, and concerts of all musical genres. In fact, Elvis had left the building…following his concert there in 1957.
The striking streamline moderne facade of that multi functional hall made an impression on me at an early age (1960’s) when Dad took me on his tropical fish store route. Later during my years at UCLA I liked to drive by and admire it. But the old beauty by then was neglected and left behind by the newer, larger, exhibit halls. Talk was afloat for years about restoration. But the only result was more crumbling and decay. It is a scenario all too familiar, especially in San Diego with the California Theatre and the La Jolla cottages, Red Roost and Red Rest.

While I was taking this photo from behind the post office, a resident of the neighborhood said “It’s a fire waiting to happen.” Sadly he was right.

http://www.lafire.com/famous_fires/MajorIncident-index.htm

“Even vanished Becket buildings have left an indelible after-image: the Pan Pacific Auditorium remains a part of the mental landscape of L.A. long after the actual building burned and crumbled.” –Alan Hess

Historical photographs of this and other L.A. landmarks, go here:
hollywoodphotographs.com/search….

Home and Family

Immigrant Soderbergs

On Sunday I drove to Aunt Greta’s to do some background gathering for the upcoming trip to Sweden. She provided me with a copy of her journal of the time she spent in Sweden from 1938 to 1940. A lot of this trip will be to retrace some of those steps of that by gone time. To see the homeland of my Dad and Grandparents.

Seeing Greta’s scrap book made me regret not bringing a scanner a long on this visit. But when I got home I located one of Dad’s scrapbooks. I just finished scanning it and here’s one from the batch.

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That’s Gunhild, Bill and Gustov Soderberg taking in Big Bear Lake. This was clearly a favorite recreational destination for the young family. Greta says Gunhild was an earthy woman who liked to get outside. Didn’t mind getting a little dirty along the way or roughing it. She eventually went by Margaret in the U.S.A.
Lack of jobs in the building trade and unpaid bills promted Gustav to immigrate once more. Gunhild chose not to go. “It was too hard the first time,” she said. He moved on, leaving behind his family, to live in Australia. There he became a member of the Communist Party and started another Soderberg family, unknown to us here. UPDATE: It is true Gustav was a Communist and started another family, but not in Australia – he returned to Sweden. More about this to come.

Dan Soderberg Photography

The Ferry

2009 marks the 40th year since we last saw the graceful San Diego Coronado Ferry Boats.  This part of San Diego history is remembered fondly by many of us who rode these wonderful vessels.  There was kind of smell associated with the ferry boats.  A combination of marine air and the tar coated timber pilings at the dock.

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The Crown City was one of the newer sleek ferry boats.  It could carry the most cars of any in the fleet.  The Coronado Historical Association’s Newsletter of Spring 2008 reports it is still in service at Martha’s Vineyard.
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The Coronado went to Argentina and served on the Amazon River.  It is reported she is beached and abandoned somewhere there.

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The San Diego skyline from the Coronado ferry dock.  Not so big and built up as we know it today.
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The ferry boats were basically an extension of Harbor Drive.  Here you can barely make out the the Harbor House Restaurant sign.

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The San Diego is aground on the banks of the Sacramento River.  The Coronado Historical Association indicates there were repeated efforts to bring her back to San Diego to be adaptively reused as a dinner boat.  But no such success. UPDATE: The San Diego was finally taken apart for scrap. She is no more.

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The handsome San Diego Coronado Ferry offices.

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The bridge that replaced the ferry boats is a great achievement and an important element of our cityscape. But we missed a great opportunity to save part of San Diego’s history by letting all the ferry boats go away.   They were an iconic part of San Diego’s identity for so many years, and added a lot of character to our port.  No doubt in my mind if one had been kept in service here for harbor cruises or a party boat, it would have been a very popular tourist attraction.  Is all hope gone to ever bring one back for that?

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The passenger deck. Gorgeous wood interior – benches, rails, banisters. Brass fittings. Very craftsman.

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Stairs from the auto deck to the passenger deck. Note the city bus on the right.

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The San Diego crossing toward Coronado

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Cable Crossing Don’t Anchor West

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City Bus Route on the ferry.

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The Coronado departing Coronado.

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The Crown City with Coronado and North Island in the background. Shot from one of the other ferry boats.

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Coronado Ferry Landing

 

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The ferry boat on the right was the Silver Strand, which appears to have been moth-balled at this point.

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The inactive Silver Strand.

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The apparently moth balled Silver Strand and North Island. Tied up at a rather cluttered repair and maintenance dock.

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While autos obviously drove onto the ferry, passengers had a separate ramp.

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Pedestrian Passengers came aboard the upper deck.

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The San Diego loading cars and passengers in Coronado.

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The San Diego leaving Coronado

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The Crown City boarding cars at Coronado. Note the Western Metal building in the background

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The easy-on-the-eye San Diego skyline of January 1969 – and jet landing.

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The view of the San Diego ferry landing from the Coronado ferry landing. Several sites in good view here. Old City Hall (County Admin Building), Harbor House Restaurant, The SDG&E Power station, and before the Power station is the Old Police Headquarters.

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Ferry passenger ramps, Coronado terminal.

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Looking over to the moth balled Silver Strand ferry boat. Some of the windows are boarded.

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The Crown City heading to San Diego.

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The Coronado.

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The Coronado once more.

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The San Diego.

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A past facing the future.

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The Crown City

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The inactive Silver Strand

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The Coronado

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Life boat aboard The San Diego.

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Certificate courtesy of Steve Lieber.

Misc

A Big Fan

Fan. Short for fanatic. An ardent devotee; an enthusiast. Here’s a nearby house to illustrate this word in a dictionary.

Hippies Use the side door. Beatles Parking Only, sign says. Also adorning the yard CD’s with picutres of the fab four glued on.