Noe Valley Voice October 1999

Florence's Family Album: This Exciting Era

By Florence Holub

A lot of astral activity went on this year. Did you see any of it? There was a partial lunar eclipse where the shadow of the earth took a bite out of the moon. Then there was a total solar eclipse where the moon moved between the earth and the sun, blotting out the sun except for its flaring corona. Meanwhile, the moon cast a small round shadow on the Central Asian landscape. We watched it on television.

Also, our planet witnessed a spectacular meteor shower. (Alas, it could not be seen from our fog-bound metropolis.)

I remember seeing one in the 1940s when we lived in a farmhouse outside Walnut Creek (before it became the suburbs). It must have occurred in late summer because I recall standing over a hot stove all day, preserving a bumper crop of tomatoes. It was evening when I screwed on the last Mason jar lid and went outside to cool off. Then I was treated to a magical apparition such as I have never seen before or since. It looked as if the sky were happily flying asunder with swarms of shooting stars. The light show continued for hours.

Only this year I learned that it was the Perseids meteor shower, the fragments of a steadily disintegrating meteor, our most reliable annual shower (around Aug. 12). San Franciscans rarely get a chance to see it, unless we travel far from the city's bright lights.

The moon, on the other hand, gets our regular attention because it is so big and beautiful rising over the Bay. The moon is thought to be the first object in the heavens studied by early man (and woman). Hunters and gatherers needed to know when the plants and animals that were their livelihood would appear.

I imagine a caveman trying to measure time by scratching a line in a bone with a sharp rock at each new moon. Since there is a new moon every 28 days, 13 scratches would signal the end of the lunar year. (Believe it or not, this system is slightly more accurate than our solar year.)

Archaeologists have unearthed several ancient relics that support this idea. One is a 25,000-year-old carving of a woman called the Venus of Laussel. The Venus holds a crescent-shaped horn that has 13 lines scratched in it. Another is a 32,000-year-old piece of bone with small pits carved at different times. The pits appear to mirror the phases of the moon. These two examples suggest the beginning steps in humans' efforts to fathom the mysterious night sky.

When I was a young girl, sometimes at night when I went to bed and sleep did not come, I would scoot down with the blankets around me to the end of the bed so that I could see out my window and look up at the billions of tiny flickering lights. The stars were fascinating and beautiful, but they made me feel so insignificant, I wondered if I would ever know what they were all about.

Who could have dreamed that in 75 years such brilliant advances would be made in science and technology that today anyone who owns a television set can take a look at the stars.

A major aid to our vision has been the Hubble telescope, which orbits 30 miles above the earth's atmosphere. The Hubble sends pictures back to NASA, whose experts relay them to astounded ordinary folk like myself. A newer aid is the Chandra x-ray telescope, but it has already sent back dazzling images showing remnants of a star's explosion.

Unfortunately, I often lose track of the images and their scientific explanations. Maybe it takes a more agile mind, like my man Leo's. (We're both in our 80s, but he's a photographer.) Still, I do remember one remarkable view in color of swirling currents that scientists deter-mined to be the birth of planets in space!

I believe this is the kind of material that is truly worthy of the TV medium -- and something the entire world can share simultaneously.

Which is what Leo and I did on July 20, 1999, the 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. We celebrated this awesome achievement by going to an exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The museum now has on display (until Jan. 11, 2000) more than 50 photographs snapped by the Apollo astronauts.

NASA released rough images to Bay Area photographer Michael Light, who digitally perfected them for this gallery exhibit. The show includes lunar landscapes that have never been seen before, but there are a few familiar ones. The one I lingered over lovingly was "Earthrise," showing our tiny, water-covered home planet rising over the barren and inhospitable moon.

Leo and I had earlier celebrated another anniversary, but in a more casual, down-to-earth manner. On July 3, I arose early and stumbled downstairs to claim the front page of the paper over my mug of coffee. Soon Leo followed suit, burying his face in the Datebook section. I mumbled a "Happy Anniversary," but he said not a word.

We then exchanged sections of the paper. I went immediately to the page that holds my favorite cartoonist, Mike Twohy. The cartoon was especially appropriate that day. It showed the weirdest-looking couple imaginable, holding hands over a table and saying, "Isn't it amazing that in this whole big world we managed to find each other?" Then I noticed that Leo had written below in big red letters: "Happy Anniversary 1999." And it was.

At about 3 o'clock that afternoon, we went to Eric's on Church Street to celebrate. Since the restaurant is uncrowded at that hour, we had a leisurely dinner. I ordered my favorite dish -- Eric's Spicy Eggplant -- as I always do, but Leo, who prefers change, ordered something new: Chicken with Mango. I used to worry about this difference in our temperaments, but in our 58 years together, it has not proved to be a major problem.

So when he asked me if I wanted to go for 59, I answered "Sure." We may be weird, but we've really enjoyed our front-row seat in this crazy, inventive, exciting era!