Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Living by the Sea

I grew up in Michigan, with the woods for a back yard. Whenever I go home and get a chance to walk through those same woods I have a powerful feeling of childlike excitement, a sense of well-being and simple joy of being back in my home place. It's still there!

But living here in San Francisco, just up at the top of the cliff that overlooks the ocean, also has its rewards. The daily experience of the majesty and expanse, the sheer, dramatic vastness of the place, is a refreshing reminder of one's insignificance, one's mortality, one's minor role, after all. It is about 500 steps from the top of our hill down to the beach. It takes about 30 minutes to walk straight down, turn around and climb back up. But I hate to do that, preferring instead to walk straight down, wander along the shore, climb rocks, watch the pelicans fishing, watch the boats steam through the Golden Gate under the bridge, and sometimes simply to stare at the waves, letting the sound and the motion hypnotize me.

At moments like that I sometimes think about the work I need to be doing, or the dinner I need to get on. But the sea makes it all seem so small.

I lost a great friend this week, Pierre Cabrol, 84 years old. He was an architect educated at the Beaux Arts school in Paris who came here in the 1950's to work with Buckminster Fuller. He gravitated to Los Angeles, took a job with a large firm there and ended up the lead designer. Maybe Pierre's best known work was the new Opry building in Nashville, built in the 1970's to replace the Ryman auditorium. In LA he also designed the Cinerama, based on a Fuller dome.

But it was not architecture for which his friends will remember Pierre, but his way of seeming to love all the world. He was a wonder with plants, constantly nursing some forlorn orchid he had picked up somewhere, or taming a crazy succulent. And Pierre Cabrol, the great architect, 6' 3", handsome, worldly, accomplished, had a way of making everyone else feel charming and smart and delightful. When you were with Pierre, you felt ever so much more so.

So today when we are experiencing the tail end of the typhoon that devastated the Philipines, I intend to take my walk down along the water and remember Pierre. Dinner may be late.