By Alan Watts
The following essay was written by Zen philosopher Alan Watts for a symposium on the eccentric Sausalito artist Jean Varda:
I came to live in California because I was looking for the Mediterranean, and finally settled in Sausalito because it was the nearest thing in the United States to a small town of the Riviera. Then to gild the lily, I was able to acquire the ferryboat Vallejo from my old friend Gordon Onslow-Ford -- and Varda came with it. And with Varda comes all the color, the attitude, the tempo, and the very smell of that most civilized of seas. To be realistic, I suppose this is the dream of every imaginative Englishman sick to death with boiled beef and carrots, and the damp, bone-breaking cold of his country’s winters. Yet, also to be realistic, I got what I wanted.
I had, of course, been warned of Varda’s vagaries and limitations -- his supposedly total irresponsibility in matters of money and business, his alleged propensity for inviting hundreds of guests for all-night orgies, and his weekly habit of beguiling friends into dangerous voyages on the Bay in that lateen-rigged dhow from the Aegean fairyland which is suitably named Perfidia. Nevertheless, I found myself the neighbor and shipmate of a highly civilized person.
The external observer would never imagine that life on the Vallejo is civilized, for, on the outside she is a grey and dilapidated old hulk in an area of the waterfront which certain finicky outsiders consider a houseboat slum. In Europe, Americans are quick to recognize the “fascination that is frantic in a ruin that’s romantic,” but they don’t notice it at home -- where everything aged and feisty, like good cheese, is promptly doused with gallons of Clorox and buried under clean, flat concrete.
Yet every time I slip over to Varda’s end of the ferryboat there is a curious exaltation of the solar-plexus. His sculptures or “conceits” of old wine-bottles filled with vari-colored waters standing along the window suggest an archaic pharmacy or alchemist’s laboratory. The entrance to his studio, looking out over the water towards the hills of Belvedere and Angel Island, through a forest of masts, is planted with a potted pine tree, and with such vaguely heraldic objects as his own mysterious flags and inverted, face-like pots and bottles set on poles.
Varda himself “holds court” sitting at the end of a long table scratched and stained with the memories of innumerable banquets of minced lamb in vine-leaves, stuffed peppers, and fish cooked in herbs and wine. Above, hangs an enormous lantern in the form of an amphisbonic turtle, and along the wall opposite the window are always his most recent collages of celestial cities, courtly ladies, luminous fish, and plants from the gardens of paradise. This is somehow a place where the sun is out even on wet and foggy days.
I say that Varda is highly civilized because he is a true Bohemian, which is a European phenomenon distinct in style from the American beatnik or hippie. It is distinguished above all by what Montaigne called une certaine gaiete d’esprit, for which the recipe is a marvelous amalgamation of exuberance, sensuality, culture, and literacy, salted with that essential recognition of one’s own rascality which is the perfect preservative against stuffiness and lack of humanity.
Since the summer of 1961, when I first came to live on the Vallejo, Varda has been astoundingly productive for a man in the seventies. Knowing, as I do, that in these parts dawn is the most enchanted time of day, we are both up between 6:30 or 7, I in my library, and he in his workshop beyond the wall where I can hear the hammering, scratching, and rustling where-with he converts piles of scraps and debris into his glowing collages, which seem to come out by the hundreds. My wife is a late riser, so it is often that, after two hours or so of work, Varda and I get together in his studio for coffee and hilarious gossip. By this time, too, the first trickle of his endless stream of visitors, students, handymen-helpers, and local friends begins to arrive, and conversation around the table -- half in French and half in English -- gets under way with the cackling and guffawing that goes with Varda’s outrageous fantasies and anecdotes.
There are, of course, the more serious exchanges in which we try to figure out what we must do to keep the boat from collapsing into the mud, how to arrange mutual financial arrangements in which neither of us are interested, and what to do about the excess of callers who both boost our egos and interfere with our work.
Of Varda it is peculiarly true that le style, c’est l’homme meme, that his style is the man himself. Americans, who are apt to affect sincerity and naturalness, find this hard to understand. Americans are apt to see the foreign accent, the mischievous wit, and the many-colored effervescence of a Varda as a big act -- mere showmanship. Yet to maintain such an act — especially upon the diaphanous foundation of a, literally, floating life without any wealth or substance except sheer nerve and joie de vivre -- surely this is the same essential courage which keeps even God going on his own, with nothing to stand on and nowhere to go in emergency.
Alan Watts aboard the Vallejo.
Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society
By Alan Watts
By Steefenie Wicks
A dictionary explains the definition of ‘docent’ as a person who leads or guides tours especially through a museum or art gallery. That being said, one would then refer to Jeanne Fidler as the Grand Dame Docent of the Sausalito Historical Society. Born in Birmingham, England on August 29, 1932, she has been part of the Sausalito community since 1972. She not only takes you on tour in the Historical Society but also inspires you with her knowledge of Sausalito and this can be most intriguing when she wears one of her extraordinary hats. Jeanne Fidler is art and inspiration; sharing an afternoon with her is a real adventure in learning about Sausalito.
When asked how did she become involved with the Sausalito Historical Society, she tells how the Society became involved with her. Having always loved tea parties, she attended one that was being presented in what was then the Victorian room that was part of the Historical Society. Everyone was dressed in Victorian dress and the costumes the women wore were just glorious and they really impressed her. She was approached by a young man in Victorian dress who asked if she was enjoying herself and she said that she was very impressed by the event, at which point he said that you should come and join us. That young man was Phil Frank and the year was 1991.
Jeanne began working as a docent with the founder of the Historical Society, Jack Tracy. She recalls his explanation of how he founded the Historical Society. He was driving to work one day and just as he was about to cross the bridge into San Francisco, he pulled his car over and the idea of starting a historical society hit him. He turned back into Sausalito to begin the project of putting a Historical Society together, which she believed was his dream.
She goes on to say the learning under Jack Tracy was a grand experience because he was so knowledgeable about Sausalito’s history and could answer any question one might ask. He trained her by asking her to look for things and bring them to him and that’s how she learned where things were kept. But the one thing he insisted upon was that a good docent should always treat people with respect and make them always feel welcome at the Historical Society
When asked what she feels is one of the most positive things about the Historical society she thinks back to how she has dealt with the past because she does not mind dealing with the past and memories of those that have passed. When speaking of those that have passed, her most favorite memories are of working with Phil Frank because he was so full of life and so loved Sausalito and its community.
She recalls that Frank did so much to entertain the community and then to help others understand the history of where they live. She goes on to explain how both Jack Tracy and Phil Frank had the most influence on the Historical Society and put forth the most in projects to involve the whole town.
Among her favorite Sausalito characters, Jeanne describes Sally Stanford as a very striking woman who always had her long cigarette holder with a smoking cigarette and how her hair was always put up in an Edwardian style. It was Sally who donated all of the Victorian furniture to the Historical Society. Fidler goes on to say that Sally Stanford was only one of those she remembers, along with Sterling Hayden, Allan Watts, Varda and many other talented people who lived here and the history they have left behind, and how it is her job to help them stay remembered.
The biggest change that Jeanne has seen in the Society is how few people now come in to research. She tells of days when the Research Room was always full with people researching their homes in Sausalito and their families, or the famous artists and writers who lived here. Then there is the waterfront and the many boats and boat builders whose long, spirited written histories are on file in the Historical Society. Jeanne feels that most research is now done online, thus decreasing the number of visitors.
Fidler is not only a docent but has also served on the Sausalito Historical Society’s Board of Directors. She has written for the Historical Society’s newsletter and
has been part of the Society’s school programs with Susan Frank. When her friend and former Mayor of Sausalito Amy Belser, passed she wrote her a poem to honor her, which proclaimed:
Amy Belser, a woman to love for all reasons.
Here are some of the reasons, as I knew her for 20 years.
Amy was a natural beauty, always easy to look at
for her eyes were blue and true.
Amy was composed; she always knew what she wanted to do,
Why she wanted it, and how to get it! She was together always.
Amy was genuine in her like for all people.
She always did her best for you.
Amy never had loud words but effective quiet ones.
Her achievements were many. A shy winner.
Amy enjoyed life, loved parties, events, parades,
Visiting sister cities, and cutting ribbons.
Fidler says, “Memories, wonderful memories. That’s what the Sausalito Historical Society is all about and that’s what it has become for me, and you can put that in print.”
Jeanne Fidler with the display of Phil Frank cartoons at the Historical Society’s Exhibit Room.
Photo by Steefenie Wicks
By Larry Clinton
Among the many legends growing out of the Trident in the 60s and 70s is the story of a late night robbery by wetsuited gunmen.
According to newspaper reports from the time, in October, 1971, at least three armed men in “in Scuba gear” entered The Trident from the waterside, captured two employees, and robbed the safe of approximately $30,000 in cash.
One of those employees, Patrick Pendleton, has provided this eyewitness account on the website www.tridentrestaurant.com:
“About 2:30 in the morning, I’m mopping the kitchen floor and I felt something and turned around to see the largest gun I’d ever seen pointed right at my face. The guy holding it was a little shorter than I and dressed in a wetsuit that was not wet with a neoprene hood that covered everything but his eyes and his nose. He asked me who was here and I told him about Tom, the window washer in the dining room… and they grabbed a dish-apron off a counter and threw it over my head and then Tom and I were led to the men’s room and told to sit on the floor and stay there, a request with which we were only too happy to comply. …
“We could hear the guys drilling the safe and coming in periodically to check on us. After about an hour and a half, we risked talking and determined between ourselves that these guys had gone and we ought to tell somebody about it. So we got up and quietly checked the premises for stray bad-guys and hit one of the panic-buttons and I went out into the parking lot to wait for the cops to show up. We didn’t have long to wait…
“It was a pretty big deal because these guys weren’t a bunch of strung-out hippies, they were professional thieves who had taken the time and trouble to plan this thing. Of course, we planned too and were careful to clean up any incriminating evidence of our nightly debauchery before the police got there. After being interviewed by the detectives assigned the case, I still had to finish cleaning the kitchen – [Chef] Pierre was not one those guys I wanted to disappoint and I was just finishing up when he came in at about 6:30 am. So I told him our sad tale of woe and he had this slightly amused look on his face as if to say, “Goofy…I’m glad you managed to not get your head blown off”…
“Looking at mug shots and talking with the DA and police detectives was somewhat unsettling to me. Since I couldn’t identify any of the guys from the book of mug shots, I thought that perhaps they wouldn’t call me to testify but they did and I was able to identify the guy I saw in court, which made the state’s case, the DA happy, and me?
Well… I got a clean driving record out of the deal so all in all, not too bad. It turned out that the guys had come all the way over from San Francisco in a zodiac boat and somebody saw them on their way back and that’s how they came to be caught. Cool, huh? The Marin newspaper, Independent Journal, started calling it the Frogman Heist or something like that and we got quite a kick out of that because we knew the guys didn’t swim up to the deck – their feet were dry.”
Once owned by the legendary Kingston Trio, the Trident has recently been lovingly restored, and will host a benefit party for The Sausalito Historical Society on Monday, January 28, 2013 from 5:00 to 8:00 pm at 558 Bridgeway, Sausalito.
The benefit will be a tribute to The Kingston Trio and will feature the World Premiere of “The Lion Sons” composed of Josh Reynolds and friends (Mike Marvin and Tim Gorelangton) singing folk songs made famous by Josh’s father, Nick Reynolds, of The Kingston Trio.
Chef James Montejano will be preparing delicious hors d’ouvres. A complimentary beverage is included in the admission price. In addition there will be a cash bar.
People are encouraged to come in costume of the 1960s and ‘70s, and there will be prizes for the best costumes.
Admission is $45. For advance reservations, call 415-289-4117 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or send a check to SHS, PO Box 352, Sausalito, CA 94966.
The deck of The Trident was featured in movies such as Woody Allen’s “Play it Again, Sam.”
Photo Courtesy of The Trident Restaurant
The following article is excerpted from a January, 1943 issue of The Marin-er, a newsletter for workers at Marinship. Chippers prepped and painted steel plates in Marinship’s Plate Shop, often using loud pneumatic tools.
THEY are deaf mutes—unable to hear a word spoken to them—yet they are doing a BETTER job than many other workers can do.
They are the chipper gang in the Plate Shop, working on all three shifts. With them deafness is a
blessing, an occupational aid which makes them better fitted to help our nation build the ships for Victory!
Several months ago Ray Brown, head man of all riveters and chippers in the yard, thought of using deaf mutes as chippers. So he spoke to John “Dutch” Philes, chipper leadman in the Plate Shop, and they got hold of Frank Dentici, who is entirely deaf.
As an experiment Dutch put Frank to work in the Plate Shop as a chipper, and the results were favorable. So, Frank got some of his pals, who are also handicapped by deafness, to join him. They all went to work under Dutch on the day shift.
After all, it was a natural. The toughest thing about chipping is the terrific noise, enough to drive normal chippers into a case of the jitters if they aren’t careful.
Chippers who can’t hear aren’t bothered by the noise. Of course, there’s still plenty of vibration and plain hard work in chipping—but a deaf chipper is still ahead of a chipper who can hear it all.
One big problem was communication. Dutch didn’t know any more about the sign language than any of us do. So he had to learn how to be a deaf mute while his buddies were learning how to be chippers. Now, Dutch can speak with his hands with the best of them. It has worked out—not as a handicap—but as a big help. Now, it doesn’t matter how noisy the double bottom Dutch and his men are standing on. They can talk to each other with a literal flick of the wrist!
Almost from the beginning it worked like a charm. More deaf chippers were added, so that they are now on duty in the Plate Shop around the clock. And maybe you think Dutch isn’t proud of his unusual gang! They are good workers, don’t beef, and have a fine record on production, absenteeism, and War Bonds.
What are these deaf mutes like? Well, they are just like you or me, except they lack the ability to hear or talk as we do. They are a swell, game bunch. Here are some typical ones. Charles Martucci is happily married and mighty proud of his three children. Frank Dentici has two children. Both met their wives while they were attending school for deaf mutes in Berkeley. Nick Kanihan will be remembered as a star fullback for Santa Rosa High School in 1934. Paul Auteri is a basketball player, and others of the gang like football and bowling.
So when you pass the Plate Shop and see some of the boys wiggling their fingers at each other through a curtain of chipper noise, you’ll know that it is some of the 14 deaf mutes who are doing a swell job building ships.
Say hello to them. . . they won’t hear you, but they’ll recognize your smile!
Copies of the Marin-er and other Marinship publications are in the archives of the Sausalito Historical Society.
Standing in front of a stern frame, five deaf chippers spell out VICTORY in sign language.
Marin-er photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society.
By Steefenie Wicks
There were three of them, Frank Lee Morris, the brains of the outfit with an IQ of 133, and the Anglin brothers, Clarence and John W. … would their plan work? Sometime in the early hours of June 13, 1962 they put their plan to work and escaped from Alcatraz. Their bodies were never found but in Sausalito, the escape raft washed up at the foot of Johnson Street and was discovered by artist Barney West. The police were called and the scene took on a life of its own.
Arriving in his vehicle and known for looking quite dashing was Sheriff Louis P. Mountanos, who ordered patrols all along the Marin waterfront. Sheriff Mountanos had been named Sausalito’s Police Chief in 1955, when he was only 27 years old. At that time he was one of the youngest police chiefs in California and with his youth came daring that would one day make him a political leader in Marin County. Mountanous, elected sheriff in 1958, would run for re-election four times and win. One hears of individuals who become legends in their lifetime, and it is safe to say that Louis P. Mountanos was one of those individuals.
Mountanos was the son of Greek immigrants born and raised in the tight Greek community of the San Francisco Mission District. He attended Mission High School and served in the Navy during WWII. After the war he returned home and became a member of the San Francisco police force, then found his way across the Bay to Sausalito, where his destiny awaited.
In his career as Sheriff, the escape from Alcatraz would be only one in a list of world news events his name would be connected with. In 1953, it was written in the local Sausalito newspaper, that Mountanos, “decided that he could not let the Greek royalty pass through these parts with out a personal greeting.” The article went on to mention that Mountanos, whose parents came from Sparta, spoke in Greek to Frederika, the German-born queen when she and the King visited Muir Woods. He reported that her English and Greek were “out of this world.”
In 1963, Mountanos, as Sheriff of Marin County, told the Sausalito Board of review that things had been very different in Sausalito when he was Police Chief. “The Chief of Police should be the City manager… meaning that all decisions should rest with him and not some City Manager who wants to write memorandums.” Never one for memorandums, Mountanos the maverick went his own way. Then, in 1970, an event that rocked Marin County took place in a shoot-out at the Marin County Civic Center.
On the morning of August 7, 1970 a call came over the police scanner about a possible gunman at large in the court area of the Marin County Civic Center. News photographer James J. Kern would later testify that he had been on a call at Marin General when he heard the call come over the scanner.
When he arrived on the scene, Kern said he saw Superior Court Judge Harold Haley, a shotgun taped around his neck, and convict James McClain, holding a jurist in a tight grip, another gun at the judge’s head, and also holding something that looked like a “home made bomb.” Sheriff Mountanos and two deputies were standing against the wall, their hands up. Mountanos, is quoted as telling the convict McClain, “if you blow his [the judge’s] head off I’ll blow yours off.” To this day no one is sure who yelled “fire,” but as the inmates tried to drive away from the Civic Center, when the smoke cleared all you could see were bodies.
This event became known as the attack to free the “Soledad Brothers” and would result in the death of Judge Haley, 17 year old Jonathan Jackson and convicts James McClain and William Christmas. In 1972, a young woman named Angela Davis went on trial for this event. But it would be the career of Mountanos that began to crumble.
Because by the late 1970s the “House Boat Wars “ on the Sausalito waterfront
would challenge his authority with what was filmed and reported as an out and out “war”on the waterfront houseboat dwellers by the local police and
Sheriff’s departments. Mountanos defended his department’s handling of the Waldo Point Harbor houseboat “riot” and felt that his job was to move his department toward more modern crime fighting technology.
But in 1978 he was defeated and left his position in Marin to become part of the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company. In 1982 he ran for Congress as a conservative Democrat and lost to Barbara Boxer.
Mountanos was a graduate of the FBI academy, a Greek with a heritage that led back to Sparta, and he led his life as a warrior who faced the challenges of his world with the spirit of his ancestors.
Louis Mountanos when he was police chief of Sausalito
Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society