California diaries – Part 2

Of museums, mystery houses, and time with friends


This is an attempt to chronicle our Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4 in the cheerful State of California. As you read this, imagine a place where the sun is always bright, the roads are filled with passersby dressed for summer, and where the pavements are lined with shocking pink, blood red, and yolk yellow flowers in full hearty bloom.


The day begins with the notes of Ben- I’Oncle’s version of Frank Sinatra’s I’ve got you under my skin filling the room with a sense of beautiful melancholy. The sun crawls its way through the blinds, on to our feet, nudging us to wake up. We do, our heads heavy after a late night session of conversation, taboo and beer. After a full-blown South Indian meal at a restaurant nearby, we make our way to Winchester House.

The Manchester Mystery House

From outside, it looks like a fancy bungalow. But as history goes, it is the strangest house people around the area have ever seen. With around 160 rooms, 47 fire places, doors leading to nowhere, stairs leading to a dead end, it almost seems like a lego project left unfinished by a bored kid.

The house is a roofed maze, dark, dingy and uncomfortably narrow. The guide tells us that he has had a supernatural experience. He once saw the ghost of a man who was Mrs Winchester’s employee, walking along the stairs one evening. We refuse to believe, but walk closer to each other from that point.

Mrs Sarah Winchester was the wife of firearm magnate William Wirt Winchester. She attributed her husband’s death (due to pneumonia) and their child’s death (due to marasmus), as revenge by the ghosts of those who were killed by the Winchester rifles, and was convinced that the ghosts would follow her wherever she went.

There is also a movie loosely based on the myths surrounding the house. Click here to watch the trailer.

We discuss the story over hookah at Tangerine in San Jose, and then split to meet a friend at The Mint restaurant. A reunion after 15 years. Stories are shared, laughs are had.

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It’s 9 pm, but the night is still young. Next stop: The Sandwich spot. Cool evening breeze and chill beer keep us company, as we pull out episodes from the past, and make plans for the future.

Day 3 starts early. We catch the morning train from Sunnyvale to San Francisco, and head straight to Rooh. We are served a delightful drink called Kerala – a cocktail of rum, pineapple, lime and aloe.

A cocktail called Kerala at Rooh

With that, we are SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) ready. We walk by photographs, paintings, installations and a cluster of spiders.

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Spiders by artist Louise Bourgeois

Back in the house, we let the conversation dribble from one topic to another, as we gulp down spoons full of home-made mushroom soup. Before calling it a night, we head to Nirvanaa! for a scoop of ice cream each.

Day 4 is spent at San Jose Museum of Art, a tiny haven of art compared to the massive SFMOMA. Here, I walk alone from floor to floor, gallery to gallery, soaking in the many block prints and video installations, and making plans to buy a house made of bottles.

Mildred Howard’s installation

Andrea Bocelli’s Time to say goodbye runs in my head.

In no time, we are mid air, on our way back home. The State reduces to a pattern of bright dots. Like a 1000 stars shining for us. A reminder of the bright days and warm moments we had during the brief stay in the West Coast.


Back from the Golden State!

With a bagful of stories.

We gazed at the endless blue of the Pacific Ocean, only disturbed by the sturdy pillars of the Golden Gate Bridge; we marched along the steep roads of San Francisco, sometimes chasing the slow-moving cars along the famous ‘Crooked Lane’ at Lombard Street. We spent some mornings soaking in the brilliance of Paul Klee and Andy Warhol at SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), and evenings, watching a pod of seals share docks at Pier 39. We hopped on and off of ‘Caltrains’, and stopped to drink soup out of sourdough bread bowls and gobble spoons-full of Affogato. Some evenings we spent smoking orange mint hookah, and some others, getting spooked inside a 134-year-old haunted Winchester Mystery House. We bid goodbye to California, but missed our connecting flight to Philadelphia. Stuck at Phoenix for the night, we traveled along roads, marked with tall cacti on the sides, to a nearby hotel. Finally, we reached home at dusk the next day. Now, as we put our feet up, and leisurely sip tea at our patio, we miss the cool breeze of the Bay, and the bark of the seals. It’s been a good trip.