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It so happens that the last thing in my Google searchbar is “Golden Gate bridge stats”. That’s right, I’m living in Troyes, France, was born in the Bay Area, and planned an English lesson on the Golden Gate Bridge, but actually had to look at the monument’s Wikipedia page to tell my class anything about it. Like much of the information the internet spits up, this particular search left me with a new fascination and an unpredicted nostalgia for something I didn’t realize I’d forgotten. I found all the information I could have needed or wanted on a website I had no idea existed, goldengatebridge.org. The whole site is dedicated to providing visitors–and locals, as I prove–with in-depth history, statistics, fun facts, and practical information on the bridge, and does so with great pride in the effort and funding that went into making it one of the world’s new wonders.

The science of the world’s ninth longest suspension bridge (I had always thought the Golden Gate was the longest, so this was a disappointing side fact) is quite complicated, and I had some difficulty explaining “tension cables” and their resulting compression of two 22,000-ton towers to a group of French high schoolers who barely understood the question, “Has anyone been to San Francisco?” But once we got over specifics, I told my students that the Golden Gate Bridge was once closed for General Charles de Gaulle of France, and has only been closed for one other dignitary, President Roosevelt. My anglophiles-to-be thought it pretty cool that one of their fellow countrymen had not only visited the Golden Gate Bridge, but also hogged it for his crossing, and that “not even Obama” has yet had such an honor of peace and quiet on the Golden Gate.

I’ll let you explore the website on your own, because maybe you don’t have as much free time as I do and don’t find facts about a too-narrow bridge (really, 1.7 miles long and only 90 feet wide?!) to be particularly interesting, but I certainly found it ironic that I had to come all the way to France to learn about my own neighborhood. My students always ask me why I moved from San Francisco to Troyes (they seem to think the change is permanent–I’m looking at you, French husband!), and I can only ever sputter about cheese and culture. To me, speaking a new language and delving into centuries of history is exciting; to my students, their own town is dusty and grey, while San Francisco is a huge technological hub where everyone wears bikinis and sandals to work and George Clooney dines at all the neighborhood restaurants. Complacency tends to be our most common feeling toward familiar places and activties, and Google caught me ripe (or rotten) and guilty. Paying $5 every time I sit in an hour of foggy traffic to get over the Golden Gate Bridge and into San Francisco is not glamorous, but even my own city seems great to me when I see it as my French students do: record-breaking, passionate and extraordinarily beautiful, even during its most horrible weather. Now, if only the bridge crossed a sea of champagne…


Frank Fennema photography, as published in the daily Telegraph.