Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Golden Gate's 'Beauty Mark'

This Friday, I went cycling with my cousin who'd come down from LA - we started off near Fisherman's Wharf and rode all the way along the Marina, over the Golden Gate, and down to Sausolito - its an 8 mile trip with a couple of uphills and a lot of downhill (once you get over the hump of the GG Bridge)...stopped at a Starbucks in Sausolito before taking the ferry back to the Ferry Building (quite appropriately :)

We chose perhaps the worst day possible to do the trip - it was cold and raining - and we got drenched three times over the course of the day - but it was also very empowering - now that I've done it in lousy freezing weather - I can do it anytime.

While I've only biked over the Bridge once before, I've driven across it many many times - but even now, crossing the bridge feels like a bit of a special event. The Golden Gate's attraction is a little difficult to understand if you haven't seen it - and perhaps even if you have (if you're a philistine :) . it requires a certain ability to buy into mythmaking in addition to just a basic appreciation of beauty. At one point its claim to fame was being the longest single-span bridge in the world - but there are newer claimants to that throne. So today you could see it as just an old red coloured bridge...But I think its so much more - I love it for its simple elegance, easy symmetry. For its incongruous red colour that stands out against the blue water and the greenery on either side but that also seems to make it look like a natural (rather than man-made) part of the scenery. I think the view of the Bay without the Golden Gate would feel rather like a well-formed sentence without a would feel incomplete.

Its probably one of the few instances where humans took a beautiful natural setting, imposed structures that they needed for their convenience and in doing so actually (unwittingly?) enhanced the panorama. Thats quite an achievement really and a pretty rare one. Go ahead and google images of the ugly structures on SF's other distraction, Alcatraz, to see what I mean....or heck, just take a look out of your own bedroom window!

Because it was raining, there wasn't much of a view from the bridge which is really why you would want to do this trip in the first place...and that's perhaps why I noticed for the first time Golden Gate's 'beauty mark'. It is its equivalent of Enrique Iglesias' now-departed mole...or of the mascara dot that doting newly-minted Indian parents - believing their kids to be perfect - sometimes put on the baby's face to ward off the Evil Eye.

Its just two small blink-and-you'll-miss-it sign-boards but the concise text is powerful, disturbing and poignant. The signs show a picture of a telephone to use in case of emergencies...not the kind that Alistair Maclean manufactured in GoodBye California - the US President is kidnapped by a gang and held hostage on the Golden Gate - but a much more individual, personal crisis. The Bridge is the site of multiple (unfortunately successful) suicides every year - and the hotline is to give people a last chance to be literally talked back from the edge.

I cycled on...the signs left me feeling vaguely disturbed...I find suicide and its associated despair and deep sadness difficult to understand and a little scary. But I was also glad that the city was trying to extend help to those lonely, despairing persons who stand on the bridge contemplating and seeking mortal rather than spiritual salvation. According to Wikipedia, "beauty marks were particularly highly-regarded during the Renaissance and it became commonplace to create false beauty marks" if you weren't born with them. SF has done something similar with the Crisis Counselling signs - except that these signs despite not being congenital, in their motivation, are true beauty marks.


Uday Chandra said...

cool post.

I mean, nice desription of Golden Gate and the surroundings. I have not done the cycling thinig there yet. I will in the summer sometime.

I felt the same thing when I saw thos signs there on the gate. its a little disturbing but nice that they do it.

rain and cold are the worst combination. he he he

arjun said...

i wonder how many people use this facility "just for fun". not very funny, that, even for me.

arjun said...

hmmm ... feel like going out for cycling. been a long time since i did that. nice to see the snow melting finally. we should go cycling at peru in august, what?

Anonymous said...

I liked this blog of yours a lot. It's well written and I could easily relate to your discomfort about suicides.