Friday, August 31, 2007

Carmelite Convent - Santa Clara's Oasis of Tranquility

A few days ago, someone told our Weekly photographer Christy Kinney that he was delighted to read this week's cover story about the Carmelite Monastery on Benton St. The reason was that he had just visited it for the first time and found a wonderful tranquility in the grounds and the church.

That's what makes our efforts worthwhile.

The convent is one of my favorite spots around Santa Clara. I discovered it shortly after moving here in 1983 and often went there on Sunday afternoon for vespers. It was very healing for me at a time when I often felt disoriented after moving from upstate New York to work for a now long-defunct Silicon Valley startup.

The Carmelite convent was also a favorite of my mother's. When she visited, we often walked in the olive orchard and sat by the shady, secluded shrine of Virgin Mary. Afterwards we would ride out to Alviso for a light supper at Val's and a walk past the now "high and dry" early 20th century yacht club.

As soon as we crossed the border into Alviso, my mother would announce, "Well now we're in John Steinbeck's California." She liked that California better than Silicon Valley. She would be sad to see relentless gentrification pushing ever deeper into the faded, sleepy little town at the tip of the Bay.

Alviso has a close connection with Santa Clara history.

Santa Clara pioneer Harry Wade built a wharf in Alviso to accommodate freight shipping from South Bay locations to San Francisco. Harry's son Charles married Estafina Alviso, daughter of Ygnacio Alviso, majordomo fo the Santa Clara Mission and grantee of the Rancho Rincon de los Estros — where today's Alviso stands.

We don't do the best job in Santa Clara of promoting the historic charms of our city. One of the few times they get in the spotlight is the Historic Home Tour in December. I'd love to see a Santa Clara history and neighborhood tour. What are your favorite spots around town? Maybe we can talk it over some time over a cup of coffee at Val's.

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