A Christmas wonderland to keep children safe from harm
In San Francisco going to The Nutcracker has been a Christmas tradition since the 1940s. The San Francisco Ballet performed it twice last Saturday, once at 2pm and once at 7pm, even as the flag hung at half-mast on the roof above. Children were walking towards the auditorium in their Christmas clothes.
“A canon [sic] will be fired during this performance,” stated a notice near the box office. You could see that everything was very considered and well thought out. Tickets start at $35. The stone walls of the foyer were hung with Christmas greenery – it was terribly glamorous in that oldfashioned way that children approve of.
It was the day after 20 primary school children and their teachers were murdered in Newtown, Connecticut. The flag hung at half-mast on the roof of City Hall too, and inside there was a wedding. “It’s a private function,” said the man on the steps. “You can’t go in.” He had just handed his hip flask to a friend. Inside the glass doors you could see people in their party clothes. The day was dull and chilly.
In the square in front of City Hall there was a special play event for children. “It’s Snow Day,” said a lady in red Santa hat. “It happens every year. It’s free.” The mayor’s office referred to it as the Snow Park.
There was a gentle snow-slope constructed in the middle of the sandy ground of the square, to provide Californian children with the snow of which they are probably deprived. Small children were climbing the steps up the back, and being carefully placed on large plastic trays – the organisers referred to them as saucers – then gently launched downhill.
The slope was so gentle and the organisers so careful that some of the smaller, lighter children hardly made it half-way to where their parents were waiting with cameras at the end of the enclosure. Even so, some of the saucers wobbled on their journey and the kids spilled out, surprised.
All the adults working on the entertainments were wearing Santa hats. In fact Santa himself was there, in a small pavilion tent, accompanied by a talking reindeer. Some of us felt that the reindeer had overdone it a bit on the lip gloss, but she seemed an amiable sort, one of life’s enthusiasts. “Did I ever!” the reindeer was saying to some small children and their mothers. “Did I ever!”
There were three bouncy castles, one of which was a special one for people under four years of age. Each bouncy edifice came with a strident warning: “Do not enter unless operator is on duty”. The under-fours were not allowed on to their specific bouncy thing, another sign said, unless accompanied by an adult.
It was the same on the snow slope. The snow had arrived on a truck that morning, the young man who seemed to be in charge of it said. “No throwing snow,”said a sign sternly. Admission was forbidden to anyone who was taller than five feet, said another sign.
At the side of the park a party of schoolchildren from the Robinson School in Daly City was on a little day trip. Their teacher introduced the children to a small, white man with grey hair who seemed to be some sort of scientist, or at least an environmentalist.
“In a minute I’ll explain to you how solar power works,” said the small white man. We were all bundled up tightly against the cold. Art Caranay’s five-year-old twin daughters were sharing a drink from a cardboard cup.
“I couldn’t even watch the news,” he said. “I got sick to my stomach. Oh Lord, they’ve finished my coffee.”
The children from Robinson School had come into town to sing, Mr Caranay explained.“They’re not bad,” he said.
Back over at the snow slope Joyce Medici was talking about her twin great-nieces who are four, and very calm in the face of tobogganing. “I keep telling them they should rob some banks,” said Joyce. “Even their fingerprints are the same.”
“Listen to her twisted mind,” said the cheerful lady in the Santa hat. But Joyce was addressing her remarks to the two middle-aged ladies in Santa hats who were working on the little gate of the snow slope because those two middle-aged ladies were also identical twins. They didn’t seem too enthused by Joyce’s suggestion that they should rob banks on the grounds that no jury could ever convict them.
Joyce Medici had brought her brother’s grandchildren – all five of them, three boys aged 9, 7 and 6 and the twins. She had taken several action photos of them all coming down the slope and now the children had run off for their last turn on the snow slope.
“I didn’t let them watch the news,” said Joyce, who is a tall African American woman in her 50s wearing silver earrings and a little silver in her hair. “I was in the army and my first concern was that it was a vet with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] who did it.”
Later it started to rain so hard that the Snow Park was packed up. The bouncy castles were deflated and folded away until the next day. Down at Market Street the children from Robinson School must have finished their singing. Now there was a religious group preaching. They had a sign too. “Don’t be caught dead without Jesus,” it said.