How do we know that? Just listen! Aside from English, and of course Spanish, you’ll hear Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Cambodian, Thai, Laotian, Vietnamese and Tagalog, along with other Pacific Island and Asian languages. You’ll notice that the air is laced with spoken melodies of French, Italian, Portugese, Armenian, Persian, Greek, German, Russian, Polish, Hindi, Arabic and Hebrew. Various African words and phrases also float about, intermixed with Navajo and other Native North American languages as well. Some, of course, are more prevalent than others, but they all have their day in the California sun, and they all have their “say.”
In addition to hearing the multi-cultural diversity, you can now actually see it, thanks to Jaume Plensa. He is a world-renowned sculptor from Barcelona, who has bestowed his sculpture to San Diego, representing his interpretation of the “Soul” of the city. His multi-lingual expression graces the corner of Broadway and Pacific Highway, just outside the new Pacific Gate Tower. The work is an every-day reminder of the importance of diversity in creating who we all are—together.
The human figure, titled “Pacific Soul,” appears to be crouched down, gazing west into the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. The figure seems to grasp a knee with each hand, adding tension to an otherwise serene form. About this work, Plensa explains, “The ocean is always in movement, always changing; we never know precisely where a drop of water will go, or where it has been before. It is filled with potential.” San Diego is much like its ocean companion—always changing and full of possibility. Serenity and tension co-exist.
As you approach the imposing figure, you may be drawn to step inside. As you stand there, an infant in a womb, centered in the body, just imagine the magnitude of the idea—The life-giving waters of the Pacific are being drawn upward through the massive “roots” of the sculpture, giving strength and sustenance to anyone inside. We have a sense of being forever linked to the sea. As a baby is linked to its mother, we too are directly connected to the vast ocean beyond.
The brilliant blue sky creates stark contrast as we gaze upward. Woven together are seemingly random sweeping white ribbons and a variety of shapes. Quickly, letters come into view. These are the lines and figures that enclose us. The myriad diverse letters are gathered from many languages heard within and around the city. Words seem to float in the very air we breathe. You become, and remain an integral part of this bustling metropolis whether living here or just visiting. You can feel the ocean breeze wafting past you, like a balmy current through a screen door on a warm summer day. You are changed.
You begin to understand that your very presence makes you part of Plensa’s multi-cultural “Pacific Soul.” In addition to becoming part of the sculpture, you are also part of the unique, evolving and diverse collective we call San Diego.
We wrote another story and song about diversity in 2011, called “Layers” that you might enjoy reading. Instead of the warm San Diego sun, we were inspired by the hills of Tuscany, where centuries layer upon each other to create a rich history and incredible landscape. That layering deepens individual lives, as well as the texture of generations, forming unmatched magical diversity.
The little turret-shell/tower-shell is the home of the common sea snail. They’ve spent millions of years perfecting the art of home-making and now they’re finally ready to pass their secrets on to us. Shhh—Here’s how it works: We civilized folk think in terms of “time-lines,” past, present and future—an abstraction of our lives. It’s easy to become untethered to those strand-ed “life lines.”
The sea snail, on the other hand, thinks about “time spirals” that become tangible, functional objects—literal home-making. Every day, they are laying down new increments of a continuous spiral that will demarcate, protect and give meaning to their life. There’s never a question about where they started, where they are now, or where they’re going. Life is a tower. Life is a shell!
Artist/sculptor Joe O’Connell understands the lesson of the “tower-shell snail” very well. However, he also knows that the sea snail’s secret is so simple that it’s actually hard to convey to humans. Fortunately, he speaks a unique language that can communicate the story quickly and powerfully—spoken in a way that everybody understands the world around, all 7.6 billion of them. Art!
In 2018, Joe got the chance to speak to the world through his art of monumental sculpture, at a project in San Diego, California. Right smack-dab in the middle of a modern day “piazza” at the Park 12 Collection, he quietly placed his statement called “Growing Home,” for all to see—and what a beautiful story he tells. He speaks of people and their city in a way that even a sea snail would understand. This modern-day fable is told in the form of a tower-shell. We suddenly see ourselves like slow-moving sea creatures, rather than fast and frantic. We are methodically creating events that we instinctively lay down in a spiral day by day—building a beautiful soaring form around ourselves that literally becomes the shell/evidence of lives well lived. We magically become master-builders within a universe of master-builders. Meaning-makers on a grand and heroic scale. Most assuredly, we are spiraling down and growing home!
You might also be interested in another story with music that we wrote some years ago called “Homecoming.”
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t all equally important. In fact, the smaller they get, the more “pedestrian” they become, and in some ways, more important. Why? Because they make a real difference for local people in their every-day lives. Neighborhood bridges get built because individuals make it a priority, teaming up to create change on behalf of a community. Shared necessity. Common Good. That’s a beautiful thing!
San Diego has always been at the heart of local bridge-building. When you create a city on top of many canyons, spans become a priority. Following are some examples of local bridges that emerged out of ingenuity, persistence and community action, linking areas or locations that would otherwise be forever split apart. Bridging becomes a sacred human act. Following are three very different examples to consider:
First Avenue Bridge
Looking up from Maple Canyon.
The best place to observe the vehicular/pedestrian First Avenue Bridge is not on top, but rather, from below. Take the canyon trail down to the bottom. Wow! What a gorge! To go from one side of the canyon to the other would be quite a trek. Obviously a bridge was needed to connect the two sides. The canyon was actually disrupting the natural flow of everyday life, separating neighbors from one another. So the locals petitioned the city to construct it in the first place. From below, you can see the result of their request—a beautiful steel lattice structure spanning the gap.
Here, you’re looking at the original “People’s Bridge,” a modest span to meet the need, built in 1911 as a relatively quick and light-weight solution to the problem. It definitely worked for 20 years. Then, it was time to get serious, so the test-bridge was replaced with the permanent version—the one we know today. The crossing was here to stay, and that was a huge victory!
So now, we actually have the new improved version of that 1931 replacement bridge. It has become part of the historic fabric of the city, deserving a $12.7 million make-over. It was completely restored in 2010 to it’s original color and details, looking pretty much like it did when first completed some 90 years ago.
This restored edition of the bridge is truly a piece of Americana. It’s a great example of a steel arch bridge from the early 1900s—the only one in San Diego, and one of only a few left in California. Structurally, it includes about every trick in the book—a real “sampler” of 20th century steel construction. All of the pieces were made and then completely assembled on the floor of a midwestern fabrication plant, then dismantled for shipment to San Diego where it was reconstructed as it is today. The bridge is 463 feet long, 104 feet high and carries nearly 10,000 vehicles daily, linking both sides of the canyon—an essential connector!
Thanks to the many efforts of the local people, the First Avenue Bridge has become not only a time-saver, but also a money-maker and will hopefully remain an important San Diego landmark for many years to come. Power to the People!
Quince Street Trestle Bridge
The Quince Street footbridge crossing is one of the few wooden trestle bridges left in San Diego, and it’s a beauty! Originally constructed in 1905 and designed by a city engineer and local resident, George d’Hemecourt, this bridge allowed residents long-awaited access to the Fourth Avenue trolly line—spanning 236 feet at 60 feet above the canyon floor.
This bridge is also testimony to the power of the local people. After suffering years of damage to the wood structure and eventual collapse at one end, it was permanently closed and slated for demolition. That’s when resident Elinor Meadows led the way to have the structure designated a city landmark due to its unique construction. She persevered to victory in 1987 as the city finally agreed that it was an important part of the fabric and history of the city. After more than two years and $250,000, it reopened in August of 1990—revived, rehabilitated and ready to serve a new era of San Diegans.
Spruce Street Suspension Bridge
A bridge so special, it has at least three names.
This pedestrian bridge is so magical that it’s location defies naming. Some say it spans “Kate Sessions Canyon,” named after the revered San Diego horticulturalist. However, you can also find the trail under the bridge described as “Spruce Canyon Trail.” Or, you can find a sign declaring it to be “Arroyo Canyon.” For our purposes, we’ll just call it the “Suspension Bridge Canyon.” We will leave the definitive naming of its exact location “suspended” in time, just like the beautiful bridge.
Lay down on the canyon floor and observe the gentle motion of the bridge as it sways back and forth with a slow cool breeze. People find dangling their legs over the sides irresistible, letting themselves be lulled into a sort of twilight sleep by its gentle rocking. Ponder the simplicity of its design as it unobtrusively stretches across the canyon. Next, go up on top—it’s your turn!
The entrances are especially nice with the mature landscaping closing in around the steel cables. It makes it even more inviting and further accentuates the “secret” feeling you get when walking up to it—compelling. Pause for a minute before stepping out onto the wiggling walkway to notice the structure: the size of the cables, the towers and the connectors anchoring into the concrete—substantial and unique, surely one of the first “moving walkways” in the US?
So there you have it—three very different bridges that all do their jobs exceptionally well: all are functional, unique and grew from the needs of real people with local lives to live. Each one connects point A to point B, yet, creatively solving the problem in a very specific way. They bear the names of real people associated with them, those who cared enough to take action. Because of these bridges, we’re all a little bit closer to each other; more connected in unseen ways; a little bit better than we surely would be without them—bridging the gaps of our lives—bringing us together!
For a pedestrian experience of a different kind, you might enjoy a related post about an incredible hike that meanders around the city of Florence Italy—fantastic views from the surrounding mountains and valleys. The story is called “Renaissance Ring.”
Niki de Saint Phalle was a French-American artist/sculptor, born near Paris in 1930, and died in San Diego, California in 2002. She was a pioneer and celebrated the world over in feminist and monumental art. During the later years of her life she lived in San Diego, where there are many sculptural masterpieces that can be found throughout the area. If you aren’t already familiar with her work, please allow us to introduce you to Niki by way of this digital “tour” of her incredible legacy—culminating in her magical “Tarot Garden” in Tuscany, Italy. Shall we begin? Please follow us!
Mingei International Museum—San Diego
Balboa Park is legendary in San Diego.
It’s composed of 1200 beautiful rolling acres of urban green space. Several museums, gardens, theaters, and an outdoor amphitheater. Located on El Prado, in the heart of the park is the Mingei International Museum. Outside the entrance is Niki’s “Nikigator—a large lizard-like form made of colorful mosaics and mirrored pieces, inviting children to climb and explore the art from every possible angle. The materials, style and spirit of the sculpture is classic Niki, as we will see throughout this tour. Sit back, spark your imagination and enjoy!
Poet and Muse—San Diego
The second sculpture just outside the Mingei museum is called “Poet and Muse,” completed in 1998. This is a two figure piece, featuring a female angel or muse perched atop a male figure. The angel is a favorite motif that Niki uses again and again in her works to represent “feminine energy,” or unbounded creativity. The male form is a bit more buttoned-up in a suit, orange shirt and finished with a red tie.
We wonder if Niki was inspired by Rodin‘s Poet and Muse sculpture by the same name. Perhaps. Rodin also used the female figure as a muse, hovering over a male poet. But, Rodin‘s sculpture created around 1900 is a monochromatic, realisitic, serious carved marble statue, while Niki’s is bright, whimsical, and colorful, with shimmering mosaics. She always enjoyed making her art controversial and certainly used techniques that were unique to her, that others seemingly dared not do. Perhaps Niki was a bit of an idealistic artist contrarian.
Museum of Contemporary Art—La Jolla
Thirteen miles up the coast is La Jolla Village, where more Niki sculpture lives. Although it’s technically located “in the museum,” it’s actually in the garden area behind the museum which makes it easily accessible, as well as free! The first thing you’ll notice about this piece is that there are no mosaics. Big Ganesh is smooth and painted to be compatible with the previous Niki style, but is made of fiberglass instead—a technique that Niki used for many of her later works.
Ganesh(a) is one of the best known gods in Hinduism and is the remover of obstacles. Ganesh is depicted as having a human form, but with the trunk of an elephant, Traditionally, riding on a lowly mouse. Here, the mouse has gained independence and is actually standing alongside Ganesh—a companion in equal standing—the much preferred Niki interpretation
Sun God—University of California San Diego
Perched atop a topiary hedge, Sun God watches over a peaceful grassy area on the UCSD campus. Installed in 1983, it was Niki’s first outdoor commission in the US. The fourteen-foot bird is made of painted fiberglass and is carefully hidden from view within the greenery.
The Sun God is a deity celebrated in many myths and religions. In Hindu, it’s a Bird God, while Helios (Sun God) was the Greek version. Perhaps Niki’s Sun God blends these two entities into one magnificent creature.
In July, 2016, Sun God received a “make-over.” Restorers removed the original paint down to its base layer. The paint had suffered cracking due to its proximity to the ocean. After removing the surface damage and sanding the base coat, the sculpture received fresh acrylic paint. Finally, clear coats were added to seal out the harsh elements. The next restoration will most likely not be needed for another 20 years. We hope!
Kit Carson Park—Escondido
About 17 miles northeast of Sun God, is the town of Escondido. The park there is a delightful place for a picnic or family outing. But, in addition to being a destination, the park has the distinction of being the site of Niki‘s amazing sculpture garden—Queen Califia’s Magical Circle. It’s the last major international project that Niki created, which was completed in 2003. Nine sculptures are encircled within a serpentine wall. All of the pieces are mosaic with ceramic and mirrored tiles.
Queen Califia stands on the back of a five-legged eagle in the center of the garden. The surrounding totems include representations and symbols from many cultures, including Native American, Mexican and Pre-Colombian. As is typical of her style, Niki embraced and interpreted these cultures through her vivid imagination. The result is both fantastical and whimsical, yet always highly provocative. The playfulness of her work can sometimes hide the seriousness of her underlying messages.
Queen Califia was a warrior-queen who ruled the mythical island of California. The fictional character was invented by Spanish writer Garci Rodrigues de Montalvo around 1500. Califia’s story is the reconciliation between Islam and Christianity, probably representing the struggles between the two religions which had collided in Spain. Califia is also thought to be the preferred depiction of California, symbolizing bounty and beauty with an untamed nature.
Coming together—back in downtown San Diego
This is one of our favorite pieces. It stands majestically in a small garden, adjacent to the Convention Center on beautiful Harbor Drive. Niki’s design depicts the human challenge of integrating the opposing forces within all of us—the wholeness that comes from acknowledging the yin and yang of our existence.
The sculpture speaks to our ephemeral and delicate nature with the lacy design—almost invisible and translucent at times. The striking task she highlights is to bring the two halves of our existence together, integrating the shadow, depicted in the black and white portion of the sculpture, with the incredible bright colors reflecting the light of our limitless possibilities. The colors and contrasts on a sunny California day are awesome, much like the beauty of human form.
You may want to visit our “Behind the Scenes” story about Niki and her “Coming Together” sculpture—We call our story “Neither Black Nor White. Just click on the title.
Waterfront Park—San Diego
Three whimsical Niki sculptures grace Waterfront Park: Serpent Tree, Cat and Baseball Player, forming a trio of playful pieces that are irresistible to children and adults alike. The sculptures are on loan from Niki’s charitable foundation, but hopefully will be able to stay long term, making Waterfront Park the perfect location as their permanent home. Swing by and take a look, and maybe even play for a while!
The Tarot Garden—Tuscany, Italy
Niki discovered the incredible work of architect Antoní Gaudí in Barcelona Spain and was inspired to create her own magical park in Italy. She found a large wooded property to develop in southern Tuscany where she would design and build her fantastic creations—each year a new sculptural form emerged, peeking out above the tree-tops. This ongoing project was truly the culmination of her life’s work as an artist/sculptor.
Allow us to take you there by way of the following short video. The house you will see that’s literally built inside an enormous woman—Black Nana, as she called her, was Niki’s home where she would live while working every summer on her forever growing garden paradise. The Nana series was a favorite that Niki sculpted again and again, representing feminine energy. She created black versions, as well as white.
The mechanical sculptures shown in the Taro Garden video were done by Niki’s husband Jean Tinguely, a famous Swiss sculptor. They completed many projects together over their lifetimes.
The beautiful opening photo of Niki with a stylized snake painted on her face was first seen in the French Quarter magazine in an article called “Niki de Saint Phalle, French-American Heroine.”
Niki’s work can also be found around the world in Paris, France; Nice, France; Kiryat Hayovel Jerusalem, Israel; Stockholm, Sweden and Zurich, Switzerland. You will also find a number of artists with similar works that were influenced by her style.
Welcome to an amazing episode in the continuing story of Sara, the Wonder Dachshund. Cheryl: I will tell this story as best I can from the details Em recounted as he lay on the sofa recovering from his “urgent adventure” with Sara.
Dogs are incredible creatures. Did you know they have about 300 million smell sensors in their noses—about 50 times more than we do, mere humans? On top of that, their brains are 40 times more capable of analyzing those smells than the big person next to them. As if that isn’t enough proof, they can also sense pain/distress and will come to your rescue, trying all their wiggly, licky tricks to comfort and console, or even just lay on you. Anything to heal and make things better. We call it fur-therapy. Now, that’s a “best friend!”
The other day, Em was experiencing his share of stress around long-overdue feedback on things like relationships, communication, negative behavior, leadership style etc.—you know, ordinary things like that. He was working at the computer when our little longhaired dachshund Sara came to his side and wanted something. He picked her up to find she was shaking uncontrollably, which was really unusual. Thinking she might desperately need to go out, he leashed her up and hurried out into the grass. She did a token tinkle, but immediately started heading east across the lawn, pulling hard like there was something urgent that needed her attention (also not like her).
The leash was taut with Em in tow. Laser-focused, she jumped the curb and jaywalked them across Union Street. She stopped, momentarily sniffing and inquisitively looking up at a man on a platform 15 feet away—but no, he was not involved in this chase. Lurching left, she ran through a parking lot where she had never been before. Leaving the lot, she sniffed out a signal and immediately took a right turn, south down the sidewalk toward the trolley tracks. Then they bolted across the tracks where Em had to literally hold her at bay while traffic cleared on Harbor Drive. When the light changed, they were off again on a tear across six traffic lanes and a median of palm trees.
Without hesitation, she jumped the curb on the other side and launched up the ramped-drive toward the Marriott entrance. Sniffing as she ran, they circled around past the entrance (thankfully they didn’t need to go inside), taking a hard right toward the loading dock. Holy Moly! Em yelled to the guard as they darted by, asking if it was okay if they passed through to the other side. He said “the guard at the end will definitely open the gate since he’s afraid of dogs,” as he laughed out loud. Em shouted-out a quick “thanks” as his hair wafted in the breeze of the loading dock wind-tunnel.
Like clockwork, the guard opened the gate as they fast approached—a perfectly orchestrated team event and they were off and running toward the promenade along the marina. Those little dachshund legs were a blur as Sara scurried and sniffed her way to some unknown destination. Em mused that this time, the leash was pulled tight enough to pluck a low Bb, like on a stand-up bass.
They then crossed the promenade where she did the most remarkable thing: she literally jumped up on the bayside retaining wall (never before had she done such an exuberant thing in her entire life), and stood there like a statue looking out over the water. Evidently, the mysterious fugitive had made a cool get-away—apparently confounding his scent amid the boats gently rocking in the bay. After a moment of determined gazing, she jumped back down onto the promenade and then retraced their exact route back home—still sniffing and pulling Em along behind her like a man obediently following his fearless leader.
Arriving at home, they went inside as if nothing unusual had just happened. Sara immediately fell asleep. Em and I puzzled over her urgent adventure, wondering what in the world it was all about. Since she can’t talk and has no opposable thumbs to write her story, it remains a mystery. Then, a possible explanation dawned on us: What if she had sensed Em’s stress about insensitivity and over-assertiveness—his “leadership crisis”? She knew he needed help. We imagined her concocting a little adventure, combining her expert sense of smell with her innate human sensitivity to teach that “old dog” a new trick?
She decided to give him a first-hand experience that he would hopefully NEVER forget: the importance of learning how to FOLLOW.
What has a specific beginning and end, but no origin?
Labyrinths have been discovered throughout the world for at least 4,000 years. But that doesn’t mean we know who invented the first one, or where. Was he/she as old as dirt? Who really knows? However, something timeless and mysterious seems to tie them all together as if by a grand plan, yet no obvious big plan exists. Each labyrinth is more like a symbolic representation of some primordial pattern. And, that idea seems to have been hardwired into every brain in every culture. The labyrinth represents a common shared experience of living, making a journey, meditating on the meaning of life, achieving a goal or simply following your personal path—one step at a time. It is a metaphor for life itself. Even if we don’t know the exact origin of the labyrinth, we can all agree that it’s a powerful idea that remains meaningful and fully embraced to this day.
Nobody thinks much about a labyrinth until you’re presented a mysterious and urgent need for one. They’re like that special jar-opening tool in the kitchen that you need RIGHT NOW! There must be one around here somewhere, but where is it? (freeing the stubborn lid from a jar is reminiscent of a labyrinth’s ability to ease the cross-threaded barriers to living our best life). Well, we found ourselves in need of a labyrinth one day. One of us had a vague recollection of something like that just down the street from our place. You know the feeling? You’ve seen it out of the corner of your eye, but didn’t really pay that much attention. There was something that looked more like a garden sculpture in the center of some hedges. But wait. Upon closer inspection, a bold discovery was revealed—a fantastic contemporary labyrinth “right there in our own backyard.”
“Eureka!” We found it!
Twenty-five years ago, three artists were commissioned to create a piece of sculpture to commemorate the beginning of the “Martin Luther King Jr. Promenade” in downtown San Diego. Their idea was to create a labyrinth with messages set into concrete bordering a stone path. The series of phrases prompts the meditative walker to consider the ways we can grow by “shedding” that which is limiting and/or no longer useful. When we shed negative attributes, we create space to “don” positive qualities. The short walk culminates at an incredible bronze tower, apparently built from transformed scraps of metal, which may symbolize that “shedding/donning” process—soaring upward into the beautiful blue Southern California sky. The sculpture is impressive yet unfinished—much like our own life’s work. True transformation seems to require examining the negative to glean the positive. Which is the dismantling and which is the building? Hmm. Perhaps they’re one and the same.
In either case, there’s definitely important solitary work to be done . . . one step at a time!
Stepping into the labyrinth, there’s a concrete border on each side of the gravel path. Alternating from one side to the other as you walk are messages engraved in the borders—with “shedding” on one side and “Donning” on the other, as follows:
Shedding the cloak of Oppression”—”Donning the cloak of Reconciliation” Shedding the cloak of Fear—Donning the cloak of Trust Shedding the cloak of Prejudice—Donning the cloak of Respect Shedding the cloak of Malice—Donning the cloak of Compassion Shedding the cloak of Bitterness—Donning the cloak of Forgiveness Shedding the cloak of Despair—Donning the cloak of Hope Shedding the cloak of Weariness—Donning the cloak of Courage Shedding the cloak of Ignorance—Donning the cloak of Wisdom Shedding the cloak of Darkness—Donning the cloak of Light
We set out on a Friday morning in search of some simple, older halogen light fixtures. The task seemed straightforward enough. But we soon discovered that our little errand morphed into a scavenger hunt. One store led to another and then another and so on. The fixtures we needed weren’t readily available anymore. From big box stores to small shops, our prospects waned. Finally, at an old electrical supply store, the owner pondered our dilemma and suggested we go to TAP Lighting in Hillcrest. He said they probably wouldn’t have the lights in stock, but they might be able to order them for us. FAT CHANCE, we thought. But since it was on our way home, we could at least swing by. He jotted down the address and then added, “It’s a unique store with a jungle of lights!” His description got us interested, since it sounded like our kind of place.
During casual conversation, a trusted friend mentioned a great place at Liberty Station in San Diego called “Moniker General.” They said that it’s the best coffee in the city! In addition, they also sell surfboards, and stuff like that—which explains the “general,” as in general store? As you might have predicted, the next morning, bright and early, we headed to Liberty Station on Point Loma, curious to sample a uniquely delicious cup of coffee. No doubt, we were also intrigued about the surfboard thing.