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Stateside: Memories Are Made Of Mist

Stateside With Rosalea:

Memories Are Made Of Mist

One of the hidden extras about being an ex-pat is the unseemly delight you experience in the presence of something that reminds you of your original home. That bloke on a peak in Darien could not have squealed more loudly than I did at my first glimpse of the great, vast Pacific Ocean from a hill in Daly City on my way to Pacifica recently. There was just something about the reflection of the sun on that sheet of water that shouted "home!" It reminded me of that first sight you get of the Tasman Sea when coming from the south into New Plymouth near the racecourse. It was a popular car game when I was a child to try to be the first to call out "I can see the sea plain" and giggle at the joy of puns and winning.

Pacifica is only about 20 minutes south of San Francisco along Highway 1, and consists of a string of hamlets along the San Mateo County Coast. Though my guidebook described them as "sleepy seaside towns", that's only on the sea side. The shopping centres on the inland side of the highway feature all the usual suspects - nationwide chain stores selling shoes, coffee, groceries, takeaways. If you get off Hwy 1 and onto the old county road, you are nearer the beaches and can stop at shops with names like "Rusty Hook Bait and Tackle", and you can buy fresh veges and fruit at the Pacifica Farmers Market, rent a surfboard or have your palm read.

That's the route the 112 SamTrans bus takes from the Colma BART station, ending its run at the final hamlet on the string - the Linda Mar shopping centre. Across the highway from there is a long sandy beach punctuated by some sugarloaf islands at its southern end. In the opposite direction from the beach, back towards the hills, are the Sanchez Adobe and the Sanchez Art Centre. Formerly an elementary school, the art centre is the result of local community efforts. Many of the classrooms have been converted into artists' studios, and the passageways in each of the two main buildings serve as galleries. The architectural style is from the '60s and reminded me of the Egmont Village School in Taranaki.

Besides the studios, galleries and rooms used for teaching art, the centre includes the old school hall and was hosting a concert for children the day I was there. New kilns are being installed for a ceramics studio, and the overall impression is of a community putting volunteer time, effort and donated money into making space and opportunities available to both creators and enjoyers of art and crafts. The work on show ranged in price from double to quintuple digits, but for the perfect little gift for a traveller to send the folks back home, you couldn't beat the nice selection of greeting cards made by local artists.

Heading back towards San Francisco, and within walking distance of Linda Mar, is Rockaway Beach. Tiny but popular with surfers it is host to an incongruous number of motels, some local and some international like Holiday Inn and Best Western. There's a chintzy little shopping mall here and a restaurant co-owned by actor Rob Schneider and his brother, who both went to school in Pacifica. A disused quarry to the right of the beach now hosts a scenic walk along the hills that separate the beaches along this stretch of coast. Across Highway 1 is Sea Bowl, a bowling alley that stays open 24 hours a day.

Two miles north of Rockaway Beach is old Pacifica, so famous for its storms that the sale of teacups is banned there. I jest of course, but it's a sure bet that if there's a storm warning in the weather forecast, there'll be news footage later in the day of people standing on Pacifica's old pier or the paved promenade getting whumped by huge waves. Houses built on the small bluff above the sea have one by one been bulldozed over the edge as they became undermined, and there are a couple still there today awaiting their moment in the 6 o'clock news.

The fishing pier might soon be a thing of the past as it's part of the outfall system from the settlement ponds, which are on the inland side of the promenade, hidden behind a Spanish-style wall. Once those are relocated it's unclear who will pay for the upkeep of the pier, which has the shaky look of something not long for this world anyway. On the day I was there the pier was crowded, so I assume there's plenty of fish to be caught. This coast is also host to the migration of the gray whale - southwards between November and January for the birth of their young in Baja California lagoons in winter. On their northward migration between February and June they come in closer to shore.

North again of old Pacifica is Pacific Manor shopping centre. This is more down-homey and has the bonus of a movie theatre that charges only $3 for matinees but has the latest releases. I've been told it doesn't advertise, so I guess you have to be on a mailing list or pick up the programme from the theatre itself. Once the bus is headed north out of Pacific Manor it starts climbing up to Skyline Drive, past an alternative school that must surely have the best view on the peninsula, perched as it is looking out over the Pacific towards the Farallon Islands and towards Point Reyes in the north.

Cynics would say that's only on the days without fog, because Pacifica is famous not just for storms but for the marine fogs that cling there, sometimes all day. On my visit I was lucky to see just a wisp of fog, clinging to the treetops on the hills to the south of Linda Mar. Being one whose roots were watered by a culture that says such wisps are the evaporating perspiration of Papa and Rangi as they rest after making love, the fog was a gentle, welcome sight. But you can check the sex life of the sky and earth on this side of the Pacific any time yourself at

Happy (early) Waitangi Day!

Lea Barker
California Sunday,
February 3, 2002

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