Independence Day - a celebration of all things Red, White & Blue

(NB: Re-posted from my Pisco Diaries 2007-2011)


As we come to the close of another 4th July celebration, Friday’s National holiday meant many people took a long weekend for travel, leaving the city in the hands of the transient, a million tourists, and a few locals who took solace in the fact that you could find parking in the 7x7 city.

Bizarrely enough, three day weekends encourage people to do things they wouldn’t normally attempt.  Local television programming is overrun with adverts for replacing “that ol’ carpet”, or “renovating the kitchen” – both tasks normally left to professionals, or at least Summer break when the kids come home from boarding school.

Like any good Aussie long weekend, Independence Day wouldn’t be such without mega-plex chain stores selling barbeques you could roast a small dinosaur on, and bags of charcoal so huge, even BHP Directors look to invest. 

At hardware stores across the city, men of all sizes groaned under the weight of hardwood and fire lighters, while ladies of the city loaded their double-chassis supermarket carts scouting the aisles for the jumbo bags of corn chips and the “maxi value packs” of meat.  Anyone would have thought a natural disaster was upon the city, not a three day weekend.

It also appears 4th July is the day where the American tradition of grey-market trading hits pay-dirt, as parking lots are brimming with people scouting for deals, willing to part with hard earned cash in exchange for a potential pyromaniac bonanza.  Instruction manuals lay strewn across an array of opened boxes and small children jump in glee at the impending display, as police turn a blind eye to man’s long standing temptation to blow things up.

With city officials managing the “official” fireworks, it seems not even San Francisco’s signature Summer fog could deter those destined to test out their new fireworks’ setting skills.  For a city that proclaims harm minimization, environmental awareness and all things liberal, these values all go out the window for 40 minutes on July 4th when patriotism and spectacle replace any thoughts of sustainability or carbon footprint.  Oh, and the fact the California Fire Service is battling over 200 bushfires.

As the swarm gathered on the wharves across San Francisco preparing to celebrate another year of freedom, CBS 5 broadcast the Independence Day Festival, complete with Huey Lewis & the News, and everyone’s favourite washed up teen idol, Rick Springfield.  It seems recycled pop stars never die, they just do more Celebration gigs…

No gala event would be complete without a stirring rendition of “Star Spangled Banner” sung by a young starlet, backed up with an assembly of Marines which made even a newcomer Aussie become somewhat misty eyed.  Somehow Nicky Webster’s version of “Advance Australia Fair” didn’t quite have the same impact…

So with the 4th over, it seems America gathers its collective hangover and does what every good long weekend encourages – goes shopping! 

For those who have visited the U.S., you know that stores go on SALE more often than Lindsey Lohan goes into rehab, however this does not stop those with pockets stashed with cash to part with “must have” seasonal items.  I did have to laugh, when in true “freedom tradition”, most supermarkets and chain stores actually traded on the 4th – I guess someone has to get this economy out of recession!

Another bizarre past time of the weekend seems to be museum and gallery visiting.  Whether it is a lack of other activities, or people’s conscious desire to tap into creativity, (after all, those fireworks were VERY well timed) public spaces across San Francisco were overrun with people looking to get a bit of kultcha

With full disclosure, I too was one of the guilty, but reasoned that with so many locals out of town, maybe waiting times for the Frida Kahlo exhibition at MOMA would be short, or that Dale Chihouly’s glass exhibition at DeYoung could be seen up close.  How wrong I was…

Upon entering both museums it quickly dawned on me that this was where the rest of California came to vacation.  MOMA was overrun with eager museum goers – some of whom seemed more pre-occupied with giving their own narration of each exhibit rather than listening to the narrative.  A young girl with unfortunate fellow in tow, felt it necessary to shout out each installation’s title – as the 6 foot young lad was either hard of hearing, looking for the nearest exit, or both. 

The exhibition of Frida Kahlo’s work was interesting but somewhat disturbing.  I am sure not even a decade of therapy could go toward peeling the onion of emotion that lay within a woman who clearly was a retirement cheque for many a therapist.  Ironically, the comment of the day came from a young lass teetering on heels and weighed down by makeup, who asked “why didn’t she just wax?” Upon leaving the MOMA, it was also a weekend for a trip to the DeYoung museum set in picturesque Golden Gate Park.

For anyone who has seen Dale Chihouly’s work, it really is quite breathtaking in its scale and workmanship, but it seems colour still attracts the masses and the DeYoung museum was packed with people hoping to catch a glimpse of his mastery and maybe re-live the LSD inspired color hazes his work evokes. 

Crowds here were less frantic and a whole lot more gracious – was it the medium or the subject?   Cash registers chimed as Chihouly’s studio works were devoured at the end of the tour, and for just for one minute people forgot they lived in an earthquake prone city...

So another weekend over, San Franciscans return from Monterey, wine country or wherever their gas guzzlers have taken them, unload the people movers and prepare for another week ahead. 

Thanks to everyone who has come and visited me over the last month, either at conferences, quick coffee stops or fleeting dinner encounters and a very special thanks to Nina and Ann-Marie, both who both re-instated my faith that normal Aussie chicks really can drink most American men under the table…