City Hall and the Asian Museum

Catch-up post from June 19.

We’d seen the Civic Center from our open-air tour bus, and now we headed over from the Muni bus to see the relocated Asian Museum. On our way, we speculated out loud about whether the Gyro King would be a good stop for lunch. A delightful lady in front of us turned around and told us how very wonderful it was, so we popped in and in FindingOurWay fashion, we weren’t disappointed. Great chicken gyros!

We were disappointed in the Asian Museum, however. We’d seen it long ago in Golden Gate Park, and it had been a somber, old-fashioned museum. In its new location, in one of the many classical, pillared granite and marble buildings on the Civic Center Square, it is much the same. The graphics, the two-storey entry with banners and glass courtyard were promising, and the audio tours were free: a nice touch. The actual exhibits were still rather underlit, the walls still somber, and the displays still much the same. The move was either limited by funding or by a very staid board of trustees who didn’t like change. Among the numerous Asian deities, there were some exceptional artifacts, but we grew very weary, not from over-, but rather, under-stimulation. Excitement never overcame our tired feet, and we stepped out into the square with relief.

The square, itself, has also undergone change. City Hall has been shored up somehow, and elevated onto a system of rollers and bearings, which should protect it from seismic events, and the long reflecting pools that once dominated the center of the park are now beautiful colonnades of polled sycamores, providing pools of shade and flickering rows and patterns of trunks to the passer-by.

We’d chosen a week of great legal change for many people, and City Hall was the epicenter, where marriage licenses would now be issued to loving couples: whatever their gender preference. The very first of these new marriages had just happened on the weekend, for two female gay rights activists, both in their eighties, who had lived in a committed relationship for many decades.

Having been personally blessed with friends in such relationships, whose love and sense of family has supported our own, we just had to go there and soak up some of the good energy. After having our bags carefully examined, (sigh) the great feeling hit me as we entered the echoing halls. Tears welled up, for I knew that some gentle and historic shift had happened here. A guide at the marriage information desk at the foot of a massive column agreed with me. She said she’d happily cried through the whole first hour of her shift after the licensing had begun. She said that things had calmed down a bit, but that Friday and the weekend would be packed. We arrived at the rotunda just in time to see a happy couple stride down those beautiful steps and embrace for their friend’s cameras.

We wandered into the South Light Gallery to see some large wooden architectural models, including a cutaway of the rotunda, complete with exquisite, laser-cut ornamentation. Different woods had been used to create better contrast and detail and it was a true masterpiece. I kept dashing from the model to actual rotunda to compare and understand better what I was seeing. The North Light Gallery, was hung with large photos of ordinary people and their quotes about the rights and potential of all humanity. Beneath these, rows of tables had been set up and decorated, to smoothly process all the documentation for those seeking marriage licenses.

Along with the usual day-to-day feelings that brush against the walls of a city hall, joy was abundant here, from polished marble floors to the fine, coffered dome above.

As we descended the steps outside, a smiling blond lady, waving fistfuls of daisies, asked two men ahead of us if they’d just been married. They said, shyly, ‘No’ but they’d just got their license. She pressed flowers on them and then to us and we laughed and hugged and celebrated the happiness and the feeling of heart on this great San Francisco day.

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