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Friday Slide Show: The Legion of Honor Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

30 December 2016

Yesterday we decided to escape the bunker where we produce Photo Corners. But we had no idea where to go or how to get there. On a whim, we decided to visit the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, as it's officially known. There is an exhibit of the pins worn by Madeleine Albright when she served as Secretary of State.

But the exhibit was just a pretext to enjoy the beautiful day. We drove over there, found a parking place immediately and as soon as we got out of the car, we started taking photographs of the place.

The place, not the palace.

It's a stunning location, after all, on the headlands above the Golden Gate. To the west, the Pacific Ocean. North is the Golden Gate Bridge. East is downtown almost always rising through the mist. And surrounding the Legion is Lincoln Park Golf Course, acres and acres of lawn.

We won't tell the story here but if you're curious the History of the Legion of Honor fills in the blanks.

If the place is beautiful, the palace is impressive.

If the place is beautiful, the palace is impressive. It's the site of many wedding photo sessions and it seems no one can pass through its courtyard without taking out a camera.

It's also something of a sanctuary for us. A place where art can be found and enjoyed.

Over the years we have visited what we like to think of as old friends many times. Once we made an appointment at the Achenbach Foundation for the Graphic Arts downstairs to hold in our hands an etching by Alberto Pasini (no known relation). We always say hello to Rodin's bust of Victor Hugo. And we always walk through the north galleries to find Whistler's gray pier, painted on a small wooden panel the year of his fiftieth birthday, its boards falling apart at the far end, a metaphor of old age itself.

There is also the furniture and silver and period rooms and, well, always something more.

Like Albright's pins, for example. We found the exhibition at the foot of the stairs and made a quick tour.

The first one we looked at was a gift from a survivor of Hurricane Katrina. Albright tells the story about a brooch that had been an anniversary present:

Another I call my Katrina brooch. I was in New Orleans about a year after Katrina, the [2005] hurricane. A young man came over and said, "My father is a veteran and he earned two Purple Hearts [U.S. military medals]." This young man opened a box and there was a beautiful brooch with two amethysts and some diamonds. He said: "This is the brooch my father gave to my mother but she died as a result of Katrina and we want you to have the brooch."

I said: "I can't possibly accept," but they said: "No, our mother loved you and she would want this to happen."

Then there were the no-more-than $3 pins, one for each year, that a friend had given her on a momentous birthday (we'll never tell which).

There were insects and animals and fruit and musical instruments and birds and all sorts of things made into pins.

Moving and fun as they are, "The jewelry's true interest lies not in their materials or monetary value but in the roles they played during her political service: Albright used her pins as silent yet visually outspoken codes to foreign officials and the press," the exhibition notes tell us.

It was so busy in the small room that we couldn't see them all. But we'll be back.

We always return to the Legion of Honor. It's where other souls have soared and our imagination beats its little wings and tries to take flight.

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