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[whitespace] Miss Fortune
Photograph by Eric Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

Fortunes in Alviso

By Eric A. Carlson

"Futile the winds,
To a heart in port,--
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart."

--Emily Dickinson

THE SUN BEAT DOWN RELENTLESSLY on the Photo Group of the South Bay Area Women's Caucus for Art (SBAWCA) at the Ghost Marina in Alviso on a recent Saturday morning. I had been hired on as guide by Dottie Cichon. Mme. X and Chris had already bailed out due to the hypereffects of solar radiation on Scotch-Irish skin. And we were down to seven. The first Annual Underbelly Tour of Alviso (AUTA) was not without mishap.

Near the Great Alviso Boat Slip, a miniscule canal of mud and reeds (and very little water) that meanders out to the slough--which in turn meanders out to San Francisco Bay, we commenced the most dangerous leg of our journey. A reckless trek wherein we would encounter swarms of stinging insects, black mud capable of swallowing a grown man in minutes, unpredictable Alvisoan hermits and gaggles of overly protective mother ducks, geese and sandpipers. A small price to pay for the chance to photograph rotting boats and sun-bleached ruins.

The first treasure we encountered was the rotting carcass of the old Bayside Canning Company (1906-1936), founded by Thomas Foon Chew--The Asparagus King. Bayside was the third largest cannery in the world in 1920. Thomas had the quaint notion of treating his workers well--and they responded by doing good work. In lieu of sensitivity training, "open door" policies and ergonomic seminars, he provided good pay and free housing. The ruins of the cannery are now home to myriad mud-nesting swallows that rise and plummet through the air like miniature Stukka dive-bombers.

As we walked along the levee, we observed the Alviso Slough apparently flowing backward toward high-rent San Jose--tide rolling in, pushing against the mighty Guadalupe River. A sight to behold. Why go to Italy when you can see such things in your own backyard? Two hermits live in the slough: Cry Bob--the emotional hermit, and Filipino Phil--the rock-throwing hermit. We climbed up the levee and walked toward the South Bay Yacht Club (SBYC) ... in search of beauty in the raw.

The clubhouse of the Alviso Yacht club is sometimes called the Blue Lady, a structure regal in blue and white. The Alviso Slough flows serenely before it, and boats in various states of decay and disrepair are tied to a slender dock--most of which is no longer adjacent to water. It came as a bit of a surprise to find a few boats actually capable of venturing out. Charlie "Tuna" Bell was tending to his vessel and was kind enough to let us venture onto the dock to snap pictures. A boat named Miss Fortune, high and dry on the reeds, seemed emblematic of the town of Alviso--beset as it is with various high-tech intrusions: Cisco here, a planned "server farm" there, a new row of half-million-dollar homes and even a few joggers at the outskirts of town.

If you dig into the history of Alviso, you will find old photos of boats laden with oyster shells. Dredged up and then pulverized, oyster shells were, and are, a vital ingredient of poultry scratch (food)--providing much-needed calcium for chickens. This, in addition to grains, greens, proteins and some vitamins, will guarantee your chicken's happiness. And lots of water placed close by, as they are too stupid to go looking for it.

Several in the Photo Group seemed obsessed with finding rust ... to photograph. And Jade Bradbury informed she was looking for textures as well as rust. They had come to the right town. Alviso is unsurpassed in these characteristics, as well as kitsch approaching high art.

Final note: "Endangered Spaces: The Alviso Project" photos by the SBAWCA will be on exhibit at Serra House, Stanford University, from April 6 to June 29. Reception on Friday, May 11, from 4:30 to 7:30--public cordially invited. Serra House, 650.723.1994. I will be there with bells on.

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From the April 12-18, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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