Moving to the San Antonio District

A year ago last spring I came to an old house in the historic San Antonio district of Oakland and moved into an upstairs room.

My new room was quite large, 15 feet by 13 feet, and also quite old. For a while I sat there, gazing at the ornate door casings, the old wooden ceiling, and the bare overhead light-socket which looked as though it might be from the 1930's or 40's--relatively modern compared to the house itself. I'm told this house dates from the 1880's, and there was no electricity back then. That was before my grandfather came to America. Before the first airplane flew, before automobiles filled the streets, before Jack London wrote Sea Wolf.

I thought of the long-ago inhabitants of this place, whoever they might have been. Were they happy here? Did things go well for them? And though they're long gone from this earth, might this room in some sense, still belong to them?

Truly a bizarre thought, it seemed to me as it crossed my mind, but as I sat there thinking about it, maybe it wasn't so strange to feel that this place and even this whole world might in some sense belong, at least in part, to the many generations who peopled it in the past and also to those who'll inhabit it during the decades and centuries yet to come.

And so, I set about unpacking my stuff, arranging my books on the shelves of my bookcase, and putting posters, maps and postcards on the extensive walls. I also had some old calendar pictures, among them reproductions of French Impressionist paintings. It seemed appropriate to hang a 19th century street scene by Renoir, something by Monet, and perhaps a self-portrait of Van Gough together on the same wall. And since this was, after all, the 21st century, I also put up a 2005 calendar commemorating this as the Chinese Year of the Rooster.

Daniel Borgström

This story was in the neighborhood newspaper, San Antonio Unity Aug/Sept 2006 issue