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Stateside With Rosalea: Time For A Sesqui

Talk about Tam and Tem, the new hot men! Midweek I switched from one channel - where Mr Temuera Morrison was looking dangerously polite in a promo for the new 'Star Wars' movie - to another, just in time to catch Mr Lee Tamihere being interviewed on the set of the latest James Bond movie about his attempts to get Madonna to make a cameo appearance in the costume he's had "built" for her. Such is the power of making movies about a universal experience but rooted strongly in the cultural markers of a specific place.

I refer of course to 1995's 'Once Were Warriors' - directed by Tam and starring Tem - which is well-known here and often shown at fundraising events for women's refuges. Without in any way minimizing the tremendous achievement of the LOTR-meisters, I have to say that not many people actually know the 'Fellowship' was filmed in New Zealand. And when I tell them that, they say: "Oh, right - great scenery!" Unless they're one of the many people recently laid off at Mr George Lucas's special effects company Industrial Light and Magic, in which case they wonder if there's any jobs going at Weta. Hey people, the speeches at the Academy Awards weren't an attempt to get more workers, but an attempt to get more projects!

Even San Francisco has trouble getting Hollywood film projects to come to town, judging by recent comments by the woman from the city council who is responsible for luring them here. So there was plenty of brouhaha this week about 'The Incredible Hulk' being filmed locally. Some North Beach residents complained about having film crews taking up all the parking spots, but they were probably just jealous that they weren't any of the tenants of several apartment blocks who were paid to live somewhere else for the duration of the filming of the helicopter scenes in their street.

In this time of frequent FBI terrorism alerts, all the media made sure we didn't have a collective panic attack when we saw military helicopters buzzing the Bay's bridges. They were only civilian helicopters dressed up in military paintjobs for the film. Up on the hill above where I work, Nick Nolte and Jennifer Connelly were filming in the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and at work we were, coincidentally, sent an email saying not to worry if we saw helicopters up on the hill - they were conducting an aerial survey of fire hazards. A likely story!

No, I mean it - it's a very likely story. In 1991 a wildfire raced through the East Bay hills destroying more than 3000 structures and killing 25 people. With the fire season already started several months ahead of time over in Colorada, and conditions likely to get as bad here, sooner rather than later, cleaning up all the brush and dead wood likely to fuel a blaze is a wise move. Especially since there still isn't a fire station up in the hills above Berkeley, despite the money having been set aside for it in a voter-approved bond measure that has already paid for the seismic retrofit of existing fire stations and the building of an Emergency Operations Center down near the Bay. I think the delay has something to do with Oakland City Council not wanting to pitch in with the costs.

This coming Saturday, May 4, Oakland is celebrating the 150th anniversary of its incoroporation in 1852. The following year, the University of California, of which the Berkeley campus is the mother ship, started in a rented room on the corner of Fifth and Broadway, Oakland, as the College School. In 1869 Oakland became the western terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad, and in 1874 the first edition of the 'Oakland Daily Evening Tribune' was printed. In 1926 the Oakland Port Authority was created, and the Grand Lake Theater (which is where I last saw 'Once Were Warriors' playing), with its "mighty Wurlitzer organ", was built. And in 1936, months before the Golden Gate Bridge was opened, the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge - "one of the engineering wonders of the world" - came into use.

Mysteriously, when I bought my Amtrak 'Coast Starlight' ticket in LA, where I'd just arrived in 1999, the ticket seller said: "Ooh, you'll be going over the Bay Bridge" when I told her my destination was San Francisco. She seemed awed. I tried to picture what the Bay Bridge looked like, and came up with something totally wrong - supermodern like the Anzac Bridge in Sydney. As the bus that took me from Oakland's Jack London station into San Francisco crossed towards that city on a brilliantly clear December night, with the buildings of the Embarcadero Center edged in lights, I thought that view must have been what inspired her awe. Eighteen months later, just after dawn on a cold, foggy morning with only a few yards' visibility, I revised my notion of awe-inspiring as the steel beams loomed in the eerie silence, creating the illusion of being a tiny entitity in a vast machine or constructed environment of infinite dimensions.

The original 'Star Wars' sets immediately leapt to mind - as the 'Star Wars' striders do when you see the cranes in the Port of Oakland, which they're based on. Out in the Pacific Ocean right now are two of the largest cranes in the world, being delivered to the port this week as part of its expansion. They will sneak under the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge with only 26 inches to spare, the same as the first four that were delivered in 2000. For eight minutes we will all hold our breath - as it's sure to be televised live, the same as last time. Somebody actually sits right on the highest point of the crane to judge the distance. Well, they did last time. Or did I just imagine that?

Oakland - its downtown solid with buildings a 1940s movie gumshoe would operate out of and movie palaces a gangster's moll would haunt; its waterfront alive with industry and the raucous bars Jack London used to frequent - is a wonderful, if unlikely, muse for the imagination. But if my take on the city sounds a tad backward-looking, let me balance it with a snippet from the timeline published in today's 'Oakland Tribune'.

"2000 -- The U.S. Census counts 399,484 residents in Oakland and ranks Oakland residents eighth in the United States in overall educational achievement. More than one-third of Oakland's residents have a college degree, twice the national average. American Association of Electronics ranks Oakland third in the nation for percentage of households with Internet access."

Lea Barker
California
Sunday 28 April, 2002

Link to Oakland's timeline: http://www.oaklandtribune.com/Stories/0,1413,82%257E1726%257E576376,00.html


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