This summer, I travelled to Mountain View in California. I was there on an internship, which limited just how much exploring I could do, but I managed to see a fair few sights in the weeks that I was there! As expected, the weather was scorching the whole time and without the air-con that was installed in nearly every building, I’m sure that I would have actually melted.
Stanford University & Cantor Art Centre
My lovely hosts being former Stanford students, it was natural that the first place I should visit would be the world-famous university. The grounds are vast and full of beautiful buildings and plants, packed with students and tourists alike. One of the buildings I looked in was Jordan Hall, home of psychology, where Zimbardo’s famous Stanford Prison Experiment was conducted. Being a psychology student myself, I had to go and look at the very hallway where the experiment was run. I can report that it is now full of disappointingly, average-looking filing cabinets and not much else, supposedly to keep away tourists!
The campus is full of art, most notably many by Rodin, the famous French sculptor who created ‘The Kiss’ and ‘The Thinker’, amongst others. Whilst some of the art is outside, most of it is in the Cantor art centre, a museum set up by the founders of Stanford. They change their exhibits regularly, showcasing art from all over the world. When I was there, there was a collection of contemporary Chinese ink paintings, performance art from Sierra Leone and of course lots more Rodin! These sit alongside their permanent exhibits which range from indigenous and ancient art to modern pieces.
The Rodin wasn’t particularly my cup of tea, but one exhibition that I particularly liked was Do Ho Suh: ‘The Spaces in Between’. A Korean-American artist, Do Ho Suh explores themes of cultural identity and migration. My favourite piece in his collection was called ‘Who Am We?’ (2000). At first glance, it was just a beige piece of wallpaper that covered half the room. On closer inspection, and with a magnifying glass, you discover that it is made up of thousands of tiny pictures of people. These were portraits of the artist’s classmates in school, and represent childhood connections and friendships, and how they change as time passes. Another piece, ‘Screen’ (2005) had a similar message, shown in many colourful figures holding one another up.
The Winchester Mystery House
Unless, like me, you went through a phase of being obsessed with Ghost Adventures when you were fourteen, you probably haven’t heard of the Winchester Mystery House. The story goes, after the tragic deaths of her husband, who created the Winchester rifle, and her daughter, Sarah Winchester sought out a medium. The psychic told Sarah that she was cursed by the souls of everybody who died at the hands of one of the rifles. The only way to stop the haunting was to build a house (with the copious amounts of money made from selling the weapons) and never stop building it, as the construction noises would keep the spirits away. Sarah did just that, building an extravagant mansion in modern-day San Jose. She had the builders working day and night for 38 years. The story goes that the second they heard that she’d died, one night in 1922, they threw down their tools and legged it. The house has 160 rooms and includes doors that lead to nowhere, séance rooms and hidden passages. Unfortunately, Lionsgate having just made a (terrible) film about it, we weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside, but I managed to get one before going in. The house is only 100 years old, but that’s old for America!
Sadly, I didn’t get the chance to look around the city as much as I wanted, but what I saw, I loved! Vibrant and bustling, it is full of great shops, tall buildings and lots of palm trees! There are so many things to do and see, such as the San Francisco MoMa, Union Square (full of theatres) and riding on the famous trams. I appreciated how windy it was, considering that everywhere else was constantly sunny and scorching. We also went down to the port, which was beautiful, and had lots of little independent shops selling food and hand-made jewellery.
I had a great time in California, and highly recommend it as a place to visit. There’s so much to do and see, and I’m already looking forward to returning to the streets of San Francisco!
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