These days, just everybody – tout le monde – is talking about the mysterious medallions that are appearing in Berkeley’s sidewalks. You read about them in Berkeleyside, you see them on Twitter, your hip friends are talking about them. “Plaque” might be a better word for what these are, but medallion gives us alliteration with mysterious.
Colleen Neff is part of the DNA of Quirky Berkeley. She has done as much as anyone to nurture the idea and reality of Quirky Berkeley. She noticed this medallion in May and sent me the photo this week.
David McEwan sent this photo in mid September. As far as I can tell, there was no / is no Berkeley writer named Howard Abernthy.
Justine Ganzenmuller sent me photographs of two more.
A Quirky Berkeley reader who requests anonymity because, I suspect, they fear the consequences of open support for this crazy idea of a venture, sent this one, the first addition of 2020.
I love it.
I am sure that there are more. I am sure that there will be more. Please – let me know if you know any others or come to know of any others. Best yet – send photos with location identified.
“Mysterious” is perfect, no? The only other mystery I know around us is in the phrase “the mystery walls of Berkeley” – very old stone walls in the East Bay.
My friend took a look at the mysterious medallions and we started to talk about mysteries in popular culture.
Who was the one-armed man from The Fugitive?
Who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp?
What did Billie Joe and “a girl that looked a lot like you” throw off the Tallahatchie Bridge?
Who knows what evil lies in the heart of men?
Who is Superman? Of course we know.
Who was that masked man? In January 2020 I met someone who (1) is really good with websites; (2) plays a five-stringed extended range bass; and (3) as a child met Clayton Moore in the 1960s
Who was Bat Man? Of course we know.
Venus on the Half-Shell is a science fiction novel by American writer Philip José Farmer, writing pseudonymously as ” Kilgore Trout,” a fictional recurring character in many of the novels of Kurt Vonnegut. The central question in the book is “Why are we born if only to suffer and die?” I read the book in the summer of 1976. I was staying at Tony and Nancy Gaenslen’s house on Schrader Street in the Haight studying for the Bar. Loved the book. And the answer to the mystery question is answered late in the book – “Why not?”
My friend and I both thought of one more mystery at the same time. We both agreed it was the best one.
Who is the mysterious lady in Peter Pan? What my friend and I loved was – a woman actor playing a boy impersonating a woman who has enchanted a pirate and we all know about pirates and boys. Gender-bend away!
P.S. Cyril Ritchard played Captain Hook. His funeral mass was celebrated by Archbishop Fulton Sheen, a man who loved his capes.
My friend asked me – “Do you wanna know who is behind the mysterious medallions?”
I was firm – “No, I don’t care. I don’t want to know. Mystery is better on this. Somebody is doing it. That’s enough for me.”
My friend nodded. “I’m with you on that. The world will always need magic.”
I clapped for that comeback. “Speaking of magic, what do you think of the post?”
Jim Milstead was inspired by the “Province of Cats” medallion and wrote a comment about Rudyard Kipling’s “The Cat That Walked Itself,”
How can I not riff on this?
This is Jim with his late wife Alaisande “Sandy” Lorraine Tremblay. She died in 2010.
I have known Jim at least 30 years. He is a member of the union I work for. We did negotiations together and became friends. He has been responsible for a number of good Quirky Berkeley discoveries. He played the “Four Green Fields” at our memorial service at work for Debbie Mazzanti.
“The Cat That Walked Itself” was first published in the Ladies’ Home Journal of July 1902.
It was then collected in Just So Stories, illustrated by the author.
It also got stand-alone treatment.
Jim wrote: “Nenni!’ said the Cat. ‘I am the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me. I will not come.’ But all the same he followed Wild Horse softly, very softly, and hid himself where he could hear everything.”
These delightful, clever and winsome medallions bring to mind and are perhaps inspired by the equally mysterious and far more cryptic so-called “Toynbee Tiles” that have been placed in many cities throughout the U.S. and have also been found to a lesser degree in South America. They are always set in asphalt pavement and contain obscure quotes by the 20th century British essayist, Arnold Toynbee.
Here is an addendum to the tangential reference to the crudely fashioned mysterious so-called “Toynbee Tiles” containing obscure references to the British historian Arnold Toynbee, that in turn are likely to have inspired Berkeley’s own Mysterious Medallions.
There was a 2011 documentary film made about them called: “Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles”.
Berkeley’s unique iteration are equally mysterious and decidedly more clever.
Perhaps they too will inspire a documentary film by an intrepid local filmmaker.
The cat medallion also brings to mind a quote from a story by Rudyard Kipling, “Nenni!’ said the Cat. ‘I am the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me. I will not come.’ But all the same he followed Wild Horse softly, very softly, and hid himself where he could hear everything.”