What is the tie that binds people together?
The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), an underground/overground system of transport for San Francisco and surrounding towns, runs smack dab through a whole set of long-established out-skirted communities of Berkeley. Instead of a searing scar of uprooted houses, friends wrenched apart from friends, shops from shoppers and chunks of living divided from each other, the BART sails overground on huge concrete pillars.
And underneath? Oh, underneath is magic! A most wonderful path meanders through many a village. I love it. Absolutely love it. There’s a serenity, a security about it all. Hedges and fences offer a peek into community eco-gardens, sharing the land and the precious water in this desertous country. Gloriously painted garage doors depict cartoons or heroes. Children have designed ceramic tiles that make up some of the seats along the path. On makeshift notice boards written posters made of unfolded brown paper shopping bags invite people to coffee on the second and fourth Saturdays “to learn what’s possible”.
There are parks, running paths, cycle routes. Sounds – aside from the sharp sudden roar of an overhead train — are gentle. The chuff-chuff of a runner on the sandy track. The thump-thwack of an early morning tennis game on the community’s courts. The tinkle of a cycle bell reminding me to move over. The soft satin rustle of a flock of wild turkeys settling down on the wayside benches.
Early morning walks bring scents of wild grasses lining the paths, mingling with the sudden whiff of after-shave from a commuter on his way to BART station, or the enticing aromas wafting tantalisingly from the Brazilian open air café on the corner, getting ready for the day’s business.
So what makes this different from my cherished English village?
I think it’s the visible, tangible pride they take in the area’s history, reminding every walker, every cyclist every wild turkey of the many peoples who make up this community.
A massively long tile mural portrays the settling of the area, from10, 000 BC, and pre-human ice-age settlements, the respectful Ohlone Tribes living in peace, singing their songs, telling their stories. The Spanish settlers with ranches, horsemanship and fiestas — “The land is our gold” they said. “Let the Californians go after the gold rush.” The miners from out east. The Blacks, the Irish and their contributions. Victorian agriculture. The University of Berkeley. Dairy farming. Streetcars. World War II shipyards.
All of this is visible to anyone walking the path. Everytime someone comes outside, the lesson is there to see. They are a community of communities. They are proud of their rich heritage. And show it off well.
And in this quiet suburb of houses is this sign, marking the end of the Santa Fe Railroad, connected by the Western Pacific Railway. The last spike, linking together the whole width of the United States was driven into the track in 1909. Nothing remains here of the railway. A railway completed and closed down within my Dad’s lifetime. West Coast recorded history is so young.
Santa Fe Meatloaf
Adapted from Slow Cooker Revolution from America’s test kitchen. As a veteran meatloaf maker I would never EVER do a meatloaf in a slow cooker, preferring instead the hot circulating oven air for a dark crusty outside, and a juicily mouth-watering innards. But just take a look at the whopping number of ingredients! I just had to try it out (and add a few more, of course). Meatloaf is great for long-stay visitors. Serve it hot with baked potatoes the first night. Slice it cold for sandwiches the next day.
In a food processor throw in: 1 quartered peeled onion, 1 quartered de-seeded red bell pepper, 4 peeled garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons oil, 1 tablespoon tomato puree (paste), 2 teaspoons fresh oregano or ½ teaspoon dried, 2 teaspoons chilli seasoning* (WARNING: see note below), 1 can drained black beans, 2 slices white bread, 2 lbs lean minced (ground) beef, 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, ¾ cup corn kernels (yes really), 2 large eggs, 2 tablespoons coriander leaf (cilantro) or parsley, 1 heaped tablespoon pickled jalepeno peppers and 3 slices of meaty bacon. Grind until smooth. If the mixture is dry, whirr in ½ cup of milk. Shape into a loaf, or several smaller ones. Stud with pimiento olives and a bay leaf or two. Bake in slow oven for about 1 ½ hours. The outside should be dark and crispy looking.
In the last 15 minutes of baking, pour off any fat (if necessary) and spread on ½ cup barbecue sauce, or ½ cup ketchup mixed with 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce and a tablespoon of brown sugar. (Chipotle ketchup will add eye-watering zing.)
*WARNING ABOUT Chilli. Please read the ingredients on your bottle of chilli “powder”. In England there is something called “chilli powder” which is nothing but ground dried chillies. In America the chilli powder is a mixture of chilli, paprika, garlic and onion powders, dried parsley and basil, etc etc. Thus, you can use 2 teaspoons, even 3. The difference was one I learned the hard way in my first month of marriage….ooh it was breathtaking.