A Letter Written By Hana Dubova to a friend, Lili in Cincinnati, 1951
As you see from the stationary, I am staying at the YWCA in San Francisco. Although I have been here only three days, I know that “This is the Place” as Brigham Young said when he arrived at the Salt Lake City Valley after a long, tiresome journey.
In spite of your good wishes at my departure, I know that in your heart you thought that I was a little out of my mind to give up my job and room and take a train alone to an unknown place; a young girl without any contacts, any friends or relations. I remember how relieved you and your mother were when I told you that I bought a round trip ticket just in case... But let me tell you that although that ticket is still in my possession, although I do not have a job -- and it is most important that I get one soon -- although I do not have a room of my own, I am going to stay and I am convinced that I am doing the right thing.
But let me tell you about the wonderful trip before I get to the city at the Golden Gate itself (I do not know much about the city as of yet). The trip to Denver was quite uneventful. I stopped in Chicago where I had to change trains and managed to take one of those sightseeing buses, which I usually dislike, but it was the only way to see a little of Chicago. That which impressed me most was the Medical museum, a unique place where among other exhibits is shown the development of homo sapiens from an embryo to a full fetus. The development of science and medicine from dark ages to our times could here be admired. It was extremely impressing and as usual I felt a little envy and admiration for these outstanding people, who contributed so much in science and medicine for the improvement of our health and social standards.
On the train to Denver, I met in the dining car a gentleman who struck up a conversation with me. I was rather glad to be able to talk to someone, but told him a lie. I said that I am going to visit my family at the west coast as he might have thought it quite odd if I told him the truth. But I told him that I would stop off in Denver to see a little of Colorado. He was heading for the same city and we had dinner together after I checked in at a little boardinghouse. So my first evening there was not too lonesome. The next day I went on exploring the city. The weather was beautiful, a real autumn day. The city is extremely clean. In the park which surrounds the City Hall, the trees had already colorful leaves. From bright yellow to red and rusty brown. It almost looked like different materials from which you create expensive draperies in your workshop. In the afternoon I visited the museum, the library, and took a streetcar to the outskirts of the city. Just got on one and rode to the end stop and the back again to the opposite side of the city. Again I got the same impression of a clean, well organize city with friendly people and hardly any slums. I saw the Jacob Riis TB hospital over which entrance are inscribed these words: “Those who enter may not pay, those who pay may not enter.” The building from the outside looks like a luxurious hotel. When you enter, there is not the typical hospital smell which usually strikes your nostrils. The walls of the corridors are decorated with modern paintings and this gives you immediately an impression of a place of peace and well-being. I imagine that even critically sick would have a feeling of confidence and hope for recovery upon entering this building.
The next day I took a limousine trip to Pike’s Peak. We were five tourists and a driver. One was an elderly couple, the man constantly smoking a big fat cigar which he hardly took out of his mouth; it seemed to be glued to his lips; his wife a stout woman wrapped in some expensive fur but extremely jolly and with an unsatisfied curiosity such as asking the driver at each junction about the direction of route B or X without waiting for an answer before popping another question. The two others were a young French boy and a girl who came to this country on a student exchange. I was extremely pleased to have these two in our car. It gave me a chance to speak French. Their experiences reminded me a lot of my initial mishaps here in the States. When the trip was over, we were very good friends. They were saving their allowance by “not eating” so that they could explore the country a little on their own. Their diet consisted mainly of fruit and Italian bread. They ate two pounds of apples or peaches or grapes and a loaf of bread each a day at the cost of 40 cents. The rest they spent on excursion trips such as this one.
The first stop was Colorado Springs. It was almost summer down there in the valley and even the fat lady had to take off her furs. The sun was beating on the car and we all felt uncomfortable.
There was not much to be seen in the town. Soon the car started slowly to climb uphill, and up it went the rest of the trip. The nature started to change. Trees were scarce, the dark brown of the soil was changing to a reddish brown and soon there were earth formations in a rich red color in fantastic shapes and figures. We reached the Garden of Gods. And it truly is! There are mammoth rocks to which men gave different names according to his imagination, such as three mammoth rocks called “Three Graces.” To me they looked like “Three Giants, or Three Monsters.” Two others are called “Siamese Twins” just because they are joined at the bottom. It looks quite grotesque. Still another is called “Old Scotchman.” It has a human face all right, with tight lips and narrow chin but it reminds me more of a prudish woman. I took a picture of a “Balanced and Steamboat Rock,” which is true to its title. I had the film developed and all pictures came out very well. I will send you some. I only regret that I did not have color film. How different, how much more satisfying to the eye and imagination this nature is than the vast monotonous cornfields of Ohio! It was too late in the season for the annual Indian Pageant which certainly would have been interesting to watch. Even so, I could imagine how the Indians were hiding behind these magnificent rocks haunted by the white man or even fighting among their own tribes, jumping on their wild horses and performing their ceremonies in this glorious valley.
We were quite disappointed when we finally reached our destination. Up on Pike’s Peak it started to hail and even some snowflakes came down. The fat lady wrapped herself in her furs and the rest of us pulled up our collars. We could not see too much. Big pieces of ice were coming down. back to the car we went and now started a dangerous descent. The climb to the peak had been very curvy, but I had not paid much attention to it as I was full of impressions from the Garden of Gods and leaned back in the seat recollecting again and again the marvels of nature. It was the first time I saw a cactus in bloom (not in a flower pot but out in the free and several feet high at that!). There were so many new fantastic things to take in that my mind was far away from the climbing car. But down! Oh!!! Our fat lady almost got an epilepsy attack. Her husband’s cigar fell out of his mouth and the three of us in the back got rather pale. In one of the curves the car suddenly skidded on the road which by now was extremely icy and the driver lost complete control of the wheel. Around, around we went in a circle, on a road which almost hung on the cliff. On top of it all another car came behind us. Nobody was sure whether the other car would be able to stop on the city road or run into us which was the only other alternative. But, the other driver stopped, ours regained control. Back went the cigar of our friend, but it was dead and out fat lady was unable to speak for the rest of the way which made the return rather pleasant.
Three days later, I saw quite a different picture of Mother Nature. First now on this trip I realized how huge, tremendous and full of opportunities this country was and still is. In Salt Lake City, I admitted the courage, the everlasting curiosity, the drive to go on, the exploratory spirit of Man. In the beginning of the letter I quoted Brigham Young. Spending 2 days in Salt Lake City I was so impressed by this man who lived one hundred years ago. He was an explorer, a philosopher, a writer, an engineer, and a marvelous architect and to top it all, a Mormon with 14 wives (and who knows how many children). The entire city is his work. One of the guides while showing the sights of the city cracked a joke stating that when Brigham Young saw the valley and imagined all the possibilities this beautiful place had to offer, he sent a messenger (for the women) with these words: “Bring plenty of women and bring them young.” But his actual words while seeing the place from the top of his ox-cart on July 24, 1847 were: “This is the place, drive on” (he must have had a stenographer on his staff to recollect his words so precisely).
The city has broad, straight streets, lined with green trees and white or light gray houses. The guide’s interpretation of the wide streets was, that Brigham Young had 14 wives and as many mothers-in-law and built the houses so far apart so that the wives and mothers-in-law could not get in each other’s hair. The streets are name First East, First West, First North, First South, First South East, First North West, First West South. Then comes the second in the same order. The first street is the nearest one to the Capital and the 30th or which ever it might be is the furthest. The local people claim it is easy to find your way about, but imagine if I, with my sense of direction, had a date at the Northeast corner or 5th Southwest Street. The poor fellow would stand there till eternity.
This beautiful city was just a green valley one hundred years ago. Nothing was here, except green, fertile land. When Brigham Young and his pioneers arrived in 1847 by ox-cart, he saw the possibilities of cultivating such a place, building houses, a cathedral, the Mormon Temple (to which I could not get admittance). Impressing not in its majesty but in its simplicity. The Tabernacle is a circular wooden structure. A tremendous organ with huge pipes domineers with center, what one may call the alter. A pin can be dropped there and the acoustic is so excellent that the sound of it can be heard in the very last row. I attended two organ recitals there and afterwards walked in the beautiful garden with its green lawns, small ponds with water lilies and around the famous seagull monument. While I was listening to the music and later walking in the garden I felt like meditating and was convinced that I had done the right thing in going West. I went to the State Capital Building, a small replica of the Capital in Washington D.C. and went to see the Mormon Battalion Monument where I learned that Salt Lake City was first called Deseret, which means honeybee, the emblem of industry according to the Book of Mormon. Incidentally, the Mormons do not smoke, drink, use coffee or tea. There is not a single bar in the entire city (although there are liquor stores) and on the premises of the Tabernacle or Temple one is not supposed to light a cigarette, cigar or pipe.
I went to see the Silver Mine. It is a tremendous place dug in a horseshoe shape with platforms overlapping each other. I saved a piece of stone containing a little silver as they were just blasting a section while I was there. The mine is on the outskirts of the city and the bus took us back passing the Great Salt Lake. If I had had a swimming suit with me, I would have gone for a swim there, just float, so salty and heavy is the water. This way I only took off my shoes and dipped my feet in it. On the way to the city we saw all the salt beds, miles and miles of white salt on the ground and occasionally piled up in white pyramids. A tiny toy train loaded with salt ran back and forth on small rails to a refinery. No wonder salt is so cheap.
In the evening I went to a high class hotel -- I forgot the name of it. I took the elevator to the top floor (26th) as I wanted to see the sunset over this magnificent valley. To my relief -- as I wouldn’t have been able to meet the prices -- I was not admitted without escort. But I hid on the terrace taking in the view of the purple sun illuminating the valley and finally disappearing behind the majestic mountains; the same mountains which man conquered in search for better living and happiness.
Then I boarded the famous California Zephyr to reach my goal. It is a wonderful train with three two-story cars, so called view cars. The roof of these cars is of glass and in passing different canyons with terrible names such as “Devil’s Slide,” “Suicide Hop,” etc. The stewardess tells you, through a loud speaker, how to take your pictures, at what exposure and opening. I took a whole roll through the car window. These are not developed yet.
In the train I met a young girl of about my age and we stayed all the way to San Francisco. She too was traveling alone and returning after five years absence to the city she loved. It seems she had an unhappy, short lasting marriage and was just through with her divorce procedures. I liked her at the first sight and suggested that we take a room together at the YWCA when we arrive in San Francisco which she agreed to do. Since she knows San Francisco she will be able to show me around and as a matter of fact already has. From the practical point she can tell me where to look for a room and which sections of the city are undesirable, as I would not know the difference. Actually I have not seen too much of the city at the Golden Gate. Since our arrival the weather had been most unfavorable. Rain, rain, rain. Every day, all day long. This prevents me from looking for a room without getting soaked. We both go through the daily papers every day, change our dollars for dimes and spend them either on the telephone or on the streetcar. My plan is first a room, then a job, then an apartment, all to myself. I hope my plans will materialize. As a matter of fact, I know they will. You see, the sight of the city while approaching it on a ferry was promising of much good and happiness.
The train goes only to Oakland. Then one has to take the ferry to San Francisco, which puffs its way cross the bay under the Bay Bridge, not the Golden Gate Bridge, as I thought. As I mentioned before, I haven’t seen too much of the city yet. As I know I am going to stay I have plenty of time for sightseeing after I get settled. San Francisco is very hilly, and I love to ride on the cable cars. It is an unusual streetcar with cables underneath and it almost sings pushing its way up the hill and the breaks scream downhill. One cannot be satisfied with two or three rides but has to repeat them over and over again and each time there is something new to see. Fortunately the Y is located near a cable car stop so that I can take this jolly means of transportation every day. From the cable car you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, the Golden Gate Park, the Pacific Ocean and the bay, the Fisherman’s Wharf. You climb the hills with its luxurious hotels and go through picturesque China Town. The cable car takes you also to Market Street, the downtown area, with its customary department stores, offices and employment agencies. As soon as I learn more about this cosmopolitan, picturesque, friendly, hilly city, I’ll write again. In the meantime be well and give my regards to all our friends and especially to your mother and fiancé.
P.S. Tell my landlady that in a week I will have a place to live so she can send me my two suitcases.