The Presidio Brat

Friday, August 27, 2010

Yes, we had a Civil War too.


Fort Point: They recently had a Civil War re-enactment there. Yes, you heard me. Not about to be left out of the whole Blue-Gray craze, we San Franciscans proudly celebrate our Civil War heritage.

I have lived on the Presidio on and off for 30 years and have only been to Fort Point twice. It’s dog-ass cold, that’s why. And it’s a creepy place, an old battery, shaped like a beehive with honeycomb passages, etc. I’m sure some eager businessman is thinking up a way to make it a little more friendly. (You’ll need a bike shop, a day spa, and at least two manicure outfits.)

However, last Sat it was the site of some good learnin. I found out, for example, what an enema bellows looks like:


Prompting the wonder: how long do bacteria survive on wood surfaces? Not to mention: um, WHY WOULD YOU NEED ONE?

And that CW doctors used to smoke cigars during surgery. And use "medicinal tobacco” to cure all ills. (Hey, it works!)

The best part was Alonso Chattan, who knew anything you could possibly want to know about Victorian medicine.

The thing that really got me was a stranger approaching the table and announcing that those surgeons killed George Washington with their “bleeding” techniques. Yes, they bled him to death, trying to get those nasty “vapors” from his system. She was a very old woman and she said this as if someone had killed her cousin, and I found myself wondering….

So wait, you’re saying: SF had a Civil War? But where has it been all these years? Why haven’t we seen it at the family picnics? Yes, we, the city that likes to spout about “suppressed histories”, have carelessly forgotten that during the CV we were massive Confederate sympathizers. Ooo-OOPS! What??

That might explain why a search for “San Francisco civil war flag” produced this first hit:


Wrong, Google. Wrongskies!

Attention Tourists!

You will come to San Francisco, right? And you will rent bicycles. (You don’t know it yet, but you will.) And you will bike from parts east all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. Along that famed trek, you will reach this corner.

The proverbial fork in the road. To the left: a hill leading into a dark forest. It’s so steep that you think it ought to come with a staircase.


To the right: a smooth, flat, winding road leading toward – voila! – the Golden Gate Bridge. You can actually see it.

What do you do? Of course you go right, along the flat surface, toward what appears to be the GGB. But you will only reach....

FORT POINT, a desolate, windswept place where you can SEE the Bridge, and wonder why you can’t REACH the Bridge.

And wonder what maliciousness kept anyone from building, heck, a road to the bridge plaza? You could bike up a cliff right now, you’re that angry.

You bike all the way back to the corner, pissed, not even sure you WANT to reach the damn bridge. Wondering why the bike rental folks didn’t tell you to go left. Wondering why the little map on your handlebars doesn’t show that Fort Point has no connection to the Bridge. And why the hell the Park Police didn’t at least post a sign for those ten million tourists saying: GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE, LEFT. YES, THAT STEEP HILL. WALK IF YOU HAVE TO.

Rules for travelers: take the hard road.

Just to be on the safe side, you stop and ask directions. And apparently every time that happens, I will be walking my dog on that corner.

Thank you by the way for finally disabusing me of the notion that everyone in the entire world speaks English and that we Americans ought to be ashamed of ourselves for imposing our white male, imperialist language on you. (In case anyone still believes in our world supremacy, I encourage you to come to San Francisco, a city where almost no one speaks English -- and that includes the people who live here.)

You Spanish, Portuguese, French and Italian speakers: A Sinistra. I studied Latin. You’re welcome.

You Russians: nyet-skies. Go left-skies.

You Scandinavians: why do you speak better English than me? Stop it. It freaks me out.

You Chinese: soooooooo-REE! I didn’t mean to stare. It’s just that, when confronted by the sounds of Mandarin after spending my whole life hearing Cantonese, you do sound like an extra from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Hypnotic and strangely sexy. Now fly UP the hill.

We're all in 1491 over here


So today I picked up this modest-looking book by Charles Mann.

I haven't started reading it yet, but the SF Chronicle says it "has chronicled an important shift in our vision of world development, one our young children could end up studying in their textbooks when they reach junior high."

Chronicle, I love you, especially your book reviewers (that’s capital LOOOOOOOVE) but I want to point out that this was the kind of stuff I learned in middle school in San Francisco. I don’t remember everything, but what I do remember was seared into my mind. I can safely tell you that:

We are the bad guys.

We killed all the Native Americans because we were greedy for land and resources, and we just couldn't share.

Did I mention we are the bad guys?

World War II: Yeah, we may have defeated Hitler, but then we blew it by nuking the Japanese, so we're still the bad guys.

Imagine me, army brat, with my loafers and monogrammed backpack, at a middle school where kids were dropping acid in the bathrooms. “But I thought we wrote the Constitution and set men free.” No, darling, the Constitution was based on the works of Hiawatha. Yes, Hiawatha. Oh, we may have written it down, but scribes are just the guys who write shit down.

Scribes, baby.

I don’t have a hard time with that. I have a big imagination, so I pretty much have a hard time with nothing, for a short period of time. But I have to admit to being bothered that most people would probably not agree with a take on the Constitution that picks out the narrow strand of influence and pretends it’s the central feature of the story. Like when you tell someone that your cat died in a car accident involving a green moped and they’re like, “oh my god, a green moped, how weird. What color green exactly?” and you’re like, “excuse me, my cat died.” Priorities, people.

And yet, and yet….with all this digging into forgotten history, we’re still not prepared to admit we were Confederate sympathizers. (Waaaaaaaa! Can you tell I love that? I do love irony. That’s lower case looooooooove.)

Anyway, for all I know, this book really does offer a new perspective. I'll start reading and let you know.