glass magazine || Building bridges over troubled waters
Building bridges over troubled waters
Laura Albert chronicles her dramatic renewal at San Francisco's hidden mecca, Cavallo Point
“How can you live next to that?” Growing up I knew nothing but the constant metallic roar of the Brooklyn Bridge, our apartment level with the onramp across the street. When folks visited from mysterious lands of isolated silence, they’d marvel at its antique structure and then plug their ears at night. But for me, the constant noise of the traverse was my hope, a language I needed spoke so loud it was a part of myself. Being next to a bridge is like wearing some new-age magnetic jewelry: you don't have to do anything, it just works on you. It is the language of the unconscious. Bridges are utilitarian metaphors, the monstrosities included. They are feats of engineering skill and often architectural craft, allowing passage to another side. Even for those who jump off them.
I explored the stone base of the Brooklyn Bridge as a child in the 1970s when the possible metaphor of blowing up a bridge was fantastical, and there were so many easily leveraged wood doors opening into endless chambers. The denizens living under the bridge never called themselves homeless. Maybe it was the illusion of protection which being under a bridge offers, a shelter that's an escape route too, if need be. The Brooklyn Bridge has a gritty old-world heftiness to it as well, squatting in the harbour like a grandma in a kitchen, holding its own as modernity encroaches around it.
I ran away as a teen to the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge. Many of my new friends made nests in the cavernous hollows on the Manhattan base of the bridge. But watching the beauty of a whale from a distance is much different from being inside its belly. Washed up on the moorings were the bodies of kids who ignored the warning roar of its digestive tract. I watched the fireworks of the Brooklyn Bridge’s 100-year anniversary from the chained-fence roof of an adolescent psychiatric ward, where they housed kids that they caught living under bridges.
New York City has a powerful undertow, keeping you in the grip of its underworld. Entering into adulthood allowed me to leave the identity of being an institutionalised kid. I tried going back to my bridge, but that life was over for me. All the areas of urban wild had been sealed shut or turned into upscale housing. It was not sustainable, and it wasn't the life I wanted anymore. I would see photos of another bridge, San Francisco’s Golden Gate. Even its name is tantalising’ it’s not just a bridge – it’s an opening to possibilities. The orange vermilion soar blends in with changing vistas, equally fitted to a rumble-seat Packard and wood-framed Victorians as a revving Bugatti and mirrored skyscrapers.
So I moved to San Francisco. I couldn't afford a place to live with a view of its gate, but I biked to it often. Just to let its promise work within me. The areas that surround the bridge on either of its sides were military outposts that were being transferred over to parkland. I treasured this new landscape, its trails thick with trees. I even saw coyote and deer. Never having gone camping as kid, this was thick nature to me, accessible by bike in 15 minutes. So I watched its transformation with a wary eye. Suddenly there seemed to be mass clearing out of non-indigenous trees. Park rangers explained that the trees were aging and posing a serious fire hazard. I mourned the forest feel that the dense eucalyptus and cypress trees had lent.
When parents get divorced, the kids usually don't like losing the family they have, no matter how beneficial, in the long run, a clear cut will be. And that’s part of growing up, letting go of the immediate for a sustainable future.
It took me a while to get brave enough not only to cross the bridge but also to begin exploring the other side on my bicycle. The Marin side is more pristine and remote, and allowing myself to explore that makes it feel more scary than the underbelly of a big city. Let a butterfly perch on me and I scream. But I came for the dirt paths inviting into thickets of trees. No urine scent, broken glass or homeless – it is a real National Park, and that might as well be the Amazon for me.
Transformation On my bike, I started casting a wider circle as I went into the parkland, fighting my anxiety as I got further away from the steel moorings. Down in a protected gulch sat Fort Baker, being reclaimed into a resort called Cavallo Point Lodge. I scoffed. Great, this ramshackle military base, instead of being torn down, will now ruin this park. More places for the rich to lock out the lumpen masses. I watched as trucks loaded with materials came in and out, circling like a bird waiting for my chance to see what would be left of the carcass.
I kept waiting to be shoo’ed off as I went around and watched them work, but in almost three years they never closed the area down. The dilapidated Colonial Revival historic buildings slowly were painstakingly revived. Every now and then I would ask one of the workers something about what they were doing. When I inquired how were they were dealing with the lead paint that had to be in these old buildings, figuring they had just painted over it or worse, the worker put down his tools and settled down for a lengthy explanation. I learned more about the safe removal of lead than I bargained for. I watched workers constantly tending to over 58,000 planted seedlings. And they carted in sci-fi-thin solar panels that they fit into the governmental standing-seam metal roofing.
I expected them to stop my biking around there, but the staff only smiled and waved. From up on the Golden Gate bridge, I would gaze down at the nestled Lodge and find myself feeling protective and romantic about it. Cavallo Point didn't become the modern monstrosity that I'd feared, or some ostentatious version of Tara. The crouching 34 buildings disguise themselves in the muted tones of the 45 acres they snuggle in. When Cavallo Point finally opened, it was suddenly the destination where all my Green friends were attending events. It’s fast become the Bay Area location for TED-like conferences, workshops and lectures for Eco-Innovators around the world. Then the restaurant Murray Circle at Cavallo Point scored a Michelin star. But still no limos or searchlights. Casually passing by, you’d never even know that there was a big-deal restaurant inside. Folks just amble up, dressed more for exploring the countryside than what you’d usually expect for fine dining. A delicious investigation Finally a friend who was eager to see what all the hoopla was about invited me to investigate with her. I was fully prepared to get snubbed as I showed up fresh off my bicycle and dressed like it. Instead a conversation ensued with the friendly desk gal about exercise, and how many guests bike to dine rather than drive, and ending with her inviting me to attend a yoga class they offer in the mornings to guests. We were seated in a dinning room luminous by its fireplace and the effulgence of a clear view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The menu was seasonal and pretty much locally sourced. I am a gal whose mouth gets around, and I’ve come to know Liberty Duck when I taste it, but I didn't have to trot out my “name that farm” skill. The chef proudly displays it all. The pedigrees of the ingredients all make the menu, as they should. I mean, if you are going to eat silken tofu, pickled chanterelles, burnt onions, and yuba tuille, then why have anything less than tofu crafted by a Bay Area Tofu Master, Minh Tsa, using only certified-organic, non-GMO beans grown in the Midwest by Clay Family Farms, a fourth-generation family-owned farming cooperative that has been farming in Dakota, Illinois, for almost 100 years?
Joseph Humphrey came out and made the rounds, greeting his diners. This is not the kind of chef who’d be remotely familiar to anyone who watches reality-TV cooking shows. The shorthand way to describe Chef Humphrey is glowing. He exudes generosity, and it’s his spirit that lends Murray Circle a spark of magic. Whenever the waitstaff talk of him, they smile. This is not the militaristic, egotistical tyrant, throwing knives in the name of perfection, which we’ve come to know on TV. When complimenting him on the artistry of the delectable dishes, which seamlessly intertwine rich French gastronomy with clean sparse California cuisine, he blushes and defers to all the wondrous purveyors. He seems more than willing to be an instrument of higher purposes, allowing all the artistry of the small farmers who love their crops to become part of the sense of community felt by those who genuinely care about food and the process of getting it to plate. He shares the spotlight, and the dining room is all the more exciting from the buoyancy of the waitstaff to the bussers. It’s almost as if they are in on some secret joke, waiting for you, the diner, to get the punchline -- which is rolling your eyes toward heaven in that bliss of experiencing how sustainable culinary arts can make your mouth cum.
Murray Circle’s wine cellar is nearing 13,000 bottles, and I know because I tasted most of them that night. And after doing myself in with a, “Yes you can have your cake and veggies too!” wetdream of pineapple cake with a carrot semifreddo and a celery cake with peanut brittle, rum-raisin ice cream, my host forbid me to my bike ride home.
She booked us a room right there. I could pick between the modern newly built rooms or the charming and historic former officer’s quarters. While those quarters were romantic with lots of period detail, I wanted a sleek room up on the hill with a view. Either way, all the rooms are certified LEED® Gold: the new standard for really Green rooms.
In treatment I ordinarily dread hotel rooms, because, well, they usually plain old stink! I can deal with under a bridge -- those smells are at least organic in a sense. But the outgassing of formaldehyde in rugs and furniture, not to mention the chemical cleaning supplies, leave me nauseated – and it’s often not possible to open a window and air it out. But here every possible detail is attended to, with the use of low-VOC glues, paints and carpets and other Green building materials – we’re talking denim insulation, recycled woods, organic bedding even. When I made a bee-line for the bathroom, to nab all the toiletries before my host got a chance, I was disappointed that, aside from a very nice bar of soap and rich lavender moisturiser, the requisite bottles of shampoo, body wash and conditioner were instead fixed dispensers. And then it dawned on me, this was my old feeling at work, needing to take whatever was available NOW because I never know when I will get it again. Part of keeping a sustainable world is having faith that there will be enough and I can take just what I need for now. I don't have to take home more friends join the army of shampoo bottles in my bathroom drawer.
The next day I wanted to return some love to my host. Cavallo Point has its own beautiful healing arts centre and spa, and we soaked in the heated mediation pool while sipping exquisite brews from the tea bar. Wellness is not just lip service here, and the availability of a life-transforming stay is a possibility. Maybe the concept of merging luxury with sustainability will open some to examine their own viability – that true health does not have to leave comfort behind.
Dr Brad is on staff, offering an integrative medicine that merges eastern and western practices. I was amazed at the level of care available. This is not “paint your nails and buff your cares away”. This is a place where deep healing can begin. Issues from addiction to a metabolic workup can be found here.
I almost passed on getting a massage. My body wears the warrior scars of my past, and I have a hard-won pride in it now. For civilians, however, it can come as a shock, and I was not in the mood to explain or deal with anyone’s judgment. My friend knows my “issues” and confided in the staff. We were told there was no staff that would be judgmental, that everyone there is there because they are of soul, and they want to be of service of healing. Likewise, the clientele are not the usual spa bunnies. It is the full range, from the cancer patient to the local coming for treatment. My massage felt very much like a shamanic journey. My practitioner worked from compassion, intuitively leading me to release from long-stuck places of pain. I did not explain and did not need to. Feeling safe is not negotiable, it is not a grey, it is an absolute. And it always impresses me how a human being can transmute safety – can almost extend it as a right. Their being allows another to feel, to know, safety. And this seems to be the modus operandi of Cavallo Point.
As I walked to my room I watched some of the cleaning crew in a golf cart, waiting with reverence while the most splendid of butterflies blocked their path. One of the women pointed it out to me as I approached, telling me, “That’s a Mission Blue!” I nodded. “It almost didn't make it.”
Back in my room, huge windows allow me to take in the Golden Gate Bridge, floating in and out of the encroaching fog. I didn't miss living next to a bridge or under it. Standing in the company of all these endangered lives that had found a safe place to continue to be, I felt so truly grateful to know that there are new ways to find a home that allows for a future, that can bridge our need for comfort and hope. Cavallo Point you could call a world-class hotel, but you would be missing the quiet deeper truth. It is ironic that Cavallo Point was a former military base, for now it is a sanctuary. It was there to protect San Francisco from invasion, and now it is here protecting species from extinction. Born from the purpose of war, it now stands a place for the opportunity to explore new realms of joy.
We do no harm, we come in peace, a gate to another way of being one with all - this is what love looks like.
by Laura Albert
Cavallo Point – the Lodge at the Golden Gate 601 Murray Circle, Fort Baker, Sausalito, CA 94965 www.cavallopoint.com/
Room rates start at $265, but there are many special offers. Morning yoga is free, as are the guided nature and history walks on weekends, live music in Farley Bar and much more. The lodge sits in Golden Gate National Parks, with free access to miles of hiking trails.