Friday, December 5, 2008


GOLDEN GATE We drove to San Francisco starting at 3.30 p.m. it was a 45 minutes drive. There was a lot of mist and it was quite chilly. The first view of the Golden Gate was that of a huge structure cocooned in cloud and only 10 percent visible. After parking our vehicle we began walking towards the bridge. The bridge has been the basis for three works of fiction. Alistair Maclean’s “Golden Gate” followed by Colin Forbes “Year of the Golden Ape” and Vikram Seth’s “Golden Gate”, a novel in poetic form --mainly quatrains. I had also total recall of the Hitchcock movie “Vertigo” where dark doe-eyed Kim Novak attempts to kill herself at the southern end of the bridge and her being rescued by James Stewart. At last I was seeing the bridge that has become a symbol of San Francisco as also America. And in sunlight what a bridge and what an engineering marvel! The sample of the suspension cable is so thick that it reminds you of the leg of an elephant and it is packed with wire rope of great strength. The bridge is somewhat curved and once it was supposed to have bent further with over a million people walking on it. Thereafter they banned such a collection of people on the bridge. We walked along the bridge and the mist lifted and we could see clearly the sea as also the stark “Alacatraz”, the world’s highest security prison. For me it meant two movies. “The Birdman of Alcatraz” with Burt Lancaster and “Rock” with Sean Connery. Meanwhile we walked on the bridge freezing in the cold air. Lots of tourists -several in scanty attire!. How they could bear the cold we wondered. Half way, about a mile-we returned and did the rest of the tour by car. Pushpa drove us on the bridge and Anand drove on the way back. The small peak on Marin county afforded us a different view of the bridge which was quite breathtaking with San Francisco houses in a lovely cluster. Those with interest in the Golden Gate read on. The Golden Gate was declared open in May 1937 after four years for construction. It links San Francisco with Marin County. The bridge is two miles long with a main span of 4200 feet. It was the longest suspension bridge when it was constructed. The 746 feet suspension towers were higher than any New York structure. Joseph Strauss the bridge’s builder –he was a poet too !--was a specialist in steel bridge design who had built more than 400 bridges all over the world.The bridge’s name comes from the nickname given to the entrance to the harbour by early visitors. Its actual colour is “international orange”. Painting the bridge is a never ending job. A team of 25 painters adds another thousand gallons every week. The Fort Point lookout from where you can start has a statue of Strauss and a sample of the 3 foot thick suspension cable. The north end is the vista point. The view from here has San Francisco as the backdrop. There are three lanes with separate access to walkers, cyclists and cars and other vehicles. Eleven men died during construction of the bridge and it has continued to be the favourite suicide spot. It is a more than 200 feet drop from the bridge to the water. If the impact doesn’t kill one immediately, the swift current will take him to the sea with the likelihood of being drowned or eaten by sharks. Despite these factors some have survived the bridge jumps, including an 18-year old woman who jumped twice in 1988. She survived the first jump but not the second. In 1995 there occurred the thousandth leap to death. There was a rush to be the thousandth and entry into the hall of fame or infamy!. USA is notorious for such feats! A suicide barrier was proposed but voted out as it would spoil the aesthetic beauty of the bridge. Ironically, proposals for the suicide barrier once included the one by the Rev Jim Jones whose moving anti-suicide speech in 1977 was undermined a year later when Jones himself led a mass suicide of over 200 persons in Guyana.


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