Saturday, 28 January 2012

My exploits and Caesar's, and goodbye to Emeryville

Stations are romantic, exciting places. The sound of the trains sets the heart beating, while all around the joy of greetings for new arrivals mingles with the excited anticipation of those setting out on their journey.

Airports on the other hand are synthetic and soulless. Because San Francisco airport is my gateway back to home and Danielle it promises pleasure, but in itself it’s a miserable place. Utilitarian, pedestrian, rushed. No heart. The contrast is all the starker because I’ve spent a week in a hotel next to the Emeryville Amtrak Station, from which several times an hour I’d hear that haunting sound, iconic of the United States, of a train’s horn. Its mournfulness seems to express the sorrow that this country, which did so much to pioneer the railways, has since turned its back on them, preferring the dullness of air travel. 

How right one of my teachers was to say that  if God had intended us to travel by air, he would never have given us the railways.

While we were here, we didn’t actually use Emeryville Station because, although San Francisco itself is right opposite, the Amtrak lines run all the way along the Bay but not over it or under it. Instead we used the BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit. We took it several times in complete innocence, not realising until I was warned just a day ago that our nearest station is regarded as a dangerous place.

There’s no way we could have known: we had nothing but pleasant experiences there, above all with a wonderful woman who was manning (womanning? personing?) the information booth. She came out to help us get our tickets from those appalling machines the BART provides for the purpose, and which are entirely incomprehensible until youve undergone intensive training. After that, whenever we saw her she would smile and chat to us about how we’d enjoyed the city.

Nor is that the only pleasant recollection I shall take away from Emeryville. For me, the town will from now on be forever linked with Julius Caesar. 

‘Emeryille?’ I hear you cry. ‘Rome, certainly, even Spain, North Africa, Egypt, Asia Minor, all the places to which that extraordinarily mobile conqueror travelled. Even Britain. But Emeryville?’

He never made it to Emeryville, except in (my) spirit
Ah, but Caesar’s association with this little town is my own entirely, a purely personal link. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been enchanted by a series of podcasts recommended to me by my son Michael: The History of Rome, put together over a long period with considerable, pretty well unremunerated effort by Mike Duncan, as apparently disinterested in the enterprise as he was interested in the subject. 

This week,while I’ve been pounding the streets of Emeryville, I’ve been listening to his episodes about Caesar. Out running every morning, I’ve heard about the great general’s own feats, to the accompaniment of the boots of his legionnaires hammering the roads, like mine, though in their case they were criss-crossing Europe and the Middle East; as I’ve  targeted my own personal goal for this week’s runs, I’ve listened to the tale of the great statesman’s drive to achieve his objective of power over a great Empire. 

Let me say that my target was was no easy one for me to hit: to complete a half marathon. Not in one session - that’s not quite in my capacity - but at least over several. This morning I made it, as the sun rose above San Francisco Bay and Caesar fell to his assassins’ daggers.

The sun rises over Emeryville Marina, perhaps to salute my (minor) triumph
My achievement, I admit, hardly rivals his, but by my scale of things, it was quite satisfying enough. And at least it didn’t leave me bleeding to death at the foot of Pompey’s statue.

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