Sunday, June 28, 2009

Memories of San Francisco

We just got back from a trip out to San Francisco, so I thought I'd share my memories of San Francisco in general as well as our most recent trip there.

My first sight of San Francisco was in 1982. I was on a trip to California with a friend of mine and the first weekend she went off to see her sister and I met my relatively new boyfriend (now my husband), in the city for a romantic rendez-vous.

Since then we've visited the city on the average of once a year ever since. How many trips does it make? I've lost count. We were there in the early 80s when the cable cars were out of commission for two years while they restored the entire line (we have pictures of the excavated streets exposing the cable system). We were also there in 1984 on the very day they put them back into service. Somehow we caught the first cable car going up Russian Hill - I think it may even have been a test run as there was no fanfare. We rode all the way to the end of the line while people along the sidewalks cheered and gave out balloons.

We've seen changes in the skyline - the addition of a new Marriott Hotel that San Franciscans hated, which now blends into the famous skyline just as the Transamerica Pyramid did after people got used to that. We remember when Union Square was mostly grass, before they built another layer of parking underneath and made the top of it mostly concrete pavers. It still has the palm trees, though.

We've seen the changes in the culture; the spread of AIDS, the gloom over the Castro District, now thankfully reviving. There is an annual AIDS walk and posters reminding people to be tested, but the atmosphere is more lighthearted than in those dark days.

We visited the Castro District once again on this trip, wandered the streets, and had lunch at Orphan Andy's before heading back. We used to go to a great little place that had brunch and lunch specialties but it has been replaced by another restaurant now so we tried Orphan Andy's and enjoyed some excellent burgers and fries.

We like getting to the Castro by taking the historic streetcars on the "F" line (pictured below) which run between Fisherman's Wharf and the Castro - you can get there on the regular MUNI system but the streetcars are more fun. Some are originally from San Francisco but a large number of them are from other cities. They're all painted in different colors representing the various cities that used to run these cars. This line of antique streetcars wasn't running when we first used to come out to the city - it is a welcome addition, another wonderful way to see San Francisco.

On each trip we always read the San Francisco Chronicle every day, and in the old days we would never miss a column by Herb Caen, San Francisco's biggest proponent. He would write gossipy articles about local celebrities (all of whom he knew personally), interspersed with nostalgic columns about bygone days, or amusing anecdotes of people and sights he'd seen in San Francisco. But under it all was his love of the city.

When he died in 1997, he had recently won the Pulitzer Prize. After his death the city named a portion of the Embarcadero after him, calling it "Herb Caen Way..." with the three dots that were his trademark way of moving from one subject to another in his columns.

We still read the Chron but it is not the same without Herb. He was the last voice that remembered an older San Francisco, the one that Sam Spade walked around in.

One of the many quotations he is known for is this one:

"One day if I do go to heaven...I'll look around and say, 'It ain't bad, but it ain't San Francisco.'"

I hope for Herb's sake that his heaven ended up being San Francisco in all her glory.

Speaking of changes, our own traditions have changed as well. In the beginning we would go eat at seafood restaurants down by Fisherman's Wharf; now we frequent small neighborhood bistros that we've found in our walks in the many neighborhoods we've explored.

We spent at least two trips attempting nearly every walk in Adah Bakalinsky's Stairway Walks in San Francisco. This book was a marvelous way to learn about the neighborhoods throughout the city and see fantastic views at the same time. A few times we didn't complete the walk, if the hill involved was just so steep as to be nearly insurmountable to our out-of-shape New Jersey legs, but we hit the key points of each one.

Some restaurants we liked have come and gone; For instance, The Petite Cafe on the corner of Green and Larkin turned into an Italian restaurant that we liked, but then changed yet again to one that still had good food but played terrible music so we abandoned it. It has morphed yet again to another Italian restaurant which is a bit on the pricey side. Maybe we'll try it again, maybe not.

North Beach and the Telegraph Hill area feel like home to us. We used to stay near Union Square because there are always good hotel bargains there; but we usually ended up in North Beach by the end of the day. So on this trip we decided to stay right in North Beach at the Washington Square Inn, where we had stayed once a number of years ago. It is a bit of a splurge for us, but we were only staying for three nights so we decided it was worth it.

This is a picture-perfect B&B style inn, which provides beautifully decorated rooms furnished in antiques, the usual amenities in the bathrooms (including hair dryers), and several have bay windows with views of Coit Tower and Sts. Peter and Paul Church. (Below is an evening view of the church taken from our room in one direction, and below that a view of Coit Tower taken just outside (the bay window to the right is our room).In the afternoons wine, cheese, crackers and homemade cookies are served in the downstairs lounge, and guests sit on the comfortable couches and enjoy their appetizers before heading out into the city for the evening.

During our last visit in San Francisco, we finally tried Sodini's Restaurant, which we'd been walking past for the last 20+ years and somehow never got around to going into - they don't take reservations and it was always packed when we went by. But we'd wistfully look in at the candles gleaming, embedded in their wax-bedecked wine bottles, at the happy crowds enjoying what looked like very good Italian food, and say "We really have to try that one next time." Somehow we kept going back to our favorites and hadn't gotten there until our last trip. We finally went and it was great. So we went back twice this time!

Sodini's sign at night:
View of the street from the window of Sodini's (note candle in window on right side of picture). Second picture below - a view of the interior of the restaurant.Nighttime view of the block that includes Sodini's.
We had gone to Sodini's the first night in town and had a great meal of homemade pasta with pesto and grilled salmon. The second night we had reservations later on at another of our favorites, the Hyde Street Bistro, but we decided to stop in at Sodini's for a glass of wine at the bar in the late afternoon. An hour and a half later we were best friends with the bartender, Ana, and a couple of other people at the bar, including Fredo. Ana was very clear that she is a native San Franciscan whose family ties went back to the Gold Rush. Fredo, on the other hand, is officially a "local," not a "native," because he was not born in San Francisco, but moved there when he was 8 months old. He explained you have to live there 15 years to be a local. DH and I wonder, do all our trips count toward that goal?

So of course we went back to Sodini's the next night for dinner, sitting at the bar for a chat with Ana first.

This is one of the things I've always noticed about San Francisco bars - you walk in out of nowhere and by the end of the evening you've gotten into all kinds of conversations with very interesting people. We used to frequent a bar called the Overflo over on the edge of the Tenderloin when we stayed near Union Square, which despite its less upscale exterior, had the same kind of welcoming atmosphere as the bar at Sodini's. Unfortunately it has been taken over by a new owner and we haven't been back. Maybe it's still the same inside - maybe we should try it again.

I can't mention San Francisco and North Beach without talking about the Saloon. This bar has been there since 1851 and is still going strong. We make sure to be there on either a Friday or a Sunday night, when Johnny Nitro and the Doorslammers are there playing their own take on Chicago Blues, and anything else they feel like playing. There is a doorman guarding the door of the bar named Greg who has long hair and a longer beard; we've watched the beard and hair change from mostly black to mostly white over the years. (You can see a picture of him on the link to the Saloon above). There is a bartender that has been there the whole time as well, who once looked a little like Tom Petty but now has aged and gotten thinner (we suspect he may have a drug problem...). But he's always there and always serving up the drinks and rocking to the music.

Some bars have come and gone - the Lost and Found Saloon across Grant Avenue and up a bit from the Saloon has changed into an Irish Bar. But the Grant and Green Saloon on the corner of, yes, Grant and Green, is still there and also has some good bands.

No trip to North Beach would be complete without a focaccia sandwich and a cappuccino at Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Restaurant, overlooking Washington Square Park with a view of the beautiful Sts. Peter & Paul Church on the other side. So of course we went there for lunch our very first day in town. Here's a view of the park and church.

Our other favorite coffee place is Caffe Trieste, on the corner of Grant and Vallejo. This is the original North Beach coffee house and has great espresso, cappuccino and other variations, as well as pastries and savory fare. It is family run and owned, and although there are now a number of other locations, we've only ever gone to the one and only original in North Beach. They used to have family concerts every Saturday - and we've attended several. Everyone in the family can sing and they get up and sing arias from operas or sentimental ballads. The jukebox is full of opera music as well. The concerts are less frequent now so we didn't get to see one this trip but will probably get to one next time.

We always have to go to the top of Telegraph Hill and see the views from Coit Tower. We usually also take a walk down Filbert Street (which at that point is no longer a street and has become a stairway) and admire the gardens and cottages along the stairs, which brings you down to the parklike campus of the Levi Strauss Corporation. This link takes you to a descriptive walking tour of Coit Tower and the Filbert Steps, including descriptions of the WPA murals inside Coit Tower and the history of the Filbert Steps and Grace Marchant Gardens. This time we didn't go that route and instead walked back down the hill into North Beach from the direction we came up on the #49 bus.

While we were in the city we also stopped in at the newly-restored Ferry Building, which now houses shops and restaurants full of gourmet delicacies. Here is a picture of the building from above and then another of the interior:

I could go on to talk about other neighborhoods and other places we've been in and around the city, but this was the area we concentrated on during our trip last weekend.

We also took a short trip over to the little town of Tiburon on the other side of the bay. We prefer it to Sausalito, which is much more touristy. We enjoy the ferry ride over, eat at Sam's Anchor Cafe on the wharf, wander around the town and stop in at the little wine tasting room from Windsor Vineyards, (this time I ordered 6 bottles to be sent home to New Jersey) and then head back. It's a nice afternoon excursion and there are lots of nice views to be seen to and from the city.

Pictures: Immediately below, the outdoor eating area of Sam's, followed by views in and around Tiburon.

I'll end with some other pictures we took while we were there.

View from the other side of Coit Tower:

One of the new hybrid electric MUNI buses, followed by a Smart Car we saw on the street. San Francisco, not surprisingly, is ahead of the curve in reducing fuel consumption. We saw many more regular cars and much fewer SUVs and trucks on the road out in California.Entrance to Jack Early Park, a little stairway pocket park tucked into the city. There are places like this all over San Francisco.Landscaping near Fisherman's Wharf.Transamerica Pyramid taken from Coit Tower with a zoom.Pretty ladies all in a row...
Chinese women doing Tai Chi in Washington Square Park - a morning tradition.

Update: Just realized I was misspelling "Sodini's" so have corrected it and added a link to show you where it is!

(Cross-posted at Marvelous Meanderings)

Monday, June 22, 2009

High Expectations for Barack Obama

Jib-Jab has an amusing new video about Obama being here to save the world. Unfortunately we really do have these high expectations for him and he will need to do a lot to live up to them. Let's hope he will really do what he said he will. So far he hasn't been a superhero in quite a few areas of concern. But the video is fun anyway - love the flapping ears while he flies!

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Dispatch from San Francisco

My weeklong absence is due to several very busy work days followed by a trip out to Cailfornia for the wedding of my high-school friend's daughter, in Livermore. After two days there we are now spending several days in San Francisco, our favorite city.

The wedding went off without a hitch and the reception was held at the Deer Ridge Vineyard in Livermore, which was a lovely location. The cocktail hour was in the wine cellar surrounded by barrels of wine; the tables at dinner had a great view of the vineyards and the sunset.

What was also a pleasure was the weather. After experiencing only about four days of sunshine in the entire month of June back in New Jersey, we were thrilled to be able to actually sit outside in warm sunshine and take dips in the pool at our hotel.

The weather in San Francisco has been equally delightful - sunny every day with comfortable temperatures in the high 60s or low 70s. We've been spending our days doing all of our favorite things, wandering around the streets and stopping at various places for food and drink.

Since we haven't downloaded pictures yet I'll wait until the next post to post more details about our trip.

In the meantime, while we're enjoying a vacation, revolution is happening in Iran, politics goes on as usual, and life continues elsewhere. And of course, the fight for LGBT equality continues and is certainly in evidence here.

Rather than write further about this issue myself, I'd like you to go read an excellent post on the subject over at Travelingman Rick's. He sums it all up better than I ever could.

We'll be heading home on Tuesday and shortly thereafter I'll post pictures from vacation, followed by a long-delayed post by Baxter. He let me know before we left that he is Very Annoyed at not having gotten to post last week and I promised I'd make it up to him when we return!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Discouraged and Fearful for this Country

I've been wanting to write about President Obama's reluctance to live up to the promises he has made regarding civil rights for the gay community, including his pledge to do away with Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and the Defense of Marriage Act. So far he has done neither of those things, and as many have already talked about, the Department of Justice recently dismissed a case pertaining to gay marriage by upholding the legality of the Defense of Marriage Act and basically saying it had to defend that law.

"Justice spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said Friday that the department, as it generally does, is defending existing law in court.

'The president has said he wants to see a legislative repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act because it prevents LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) couples from being granted equal rights and benefits,' she said. 'However, until Congress passes legislation repealing the law, the administration will continue to defend the statute when it is challenged in the justice system.'"

That's all well and good, but where's the beef? If President Obama is so keen on getting DOMA repealed, why doesn't he demand that Congress bring him a law to sign that would repeal it? He hasn't been making this a priority, and I don't blame the LGBT community, and everyone who believes in civil rights for all of our citizens, for being upset about this.

As for Don't Ask, Don't Tell, that is another sore subject. Harry Truman integrated the armed forces with an executive order. I don't see why Obama couldn't do the same for the gays and lesbians serving already serving honorably in our armed forces. The idea that the armed forces should only allow gays to serve if they hide who they are, and if they don't, they are subject to dismissal, is absurd, and it is clear discrimination. I don't understand how anyone could see it otherwise.

It is well past time to right these wrongs; justice deferred is justice denied.

Those who defend Obama's inaction on these issues may say that he has a lot on his plate and that he will get to them in good time. But people are tired of being told to wait and there really isn't any excuse to delay these changes any further.

If the Republicans were making any effort whatsoever to work with the President and the Democratic Congress, you might think that he is trying to get some of his other priorities, such as healthcare, pushed through with bipartisan support and doesn't want to rock the boat until he has accomplished these goals. But since the GOP has done absolutely nothing to try to work with him (with the exceptions of the few moderate Republicans left in Congress), this explanation doesn't hold water. He has absolutely nothing to lose by fulfilling his campaign promises and I dearly hope he will come through soon.

I am still hopeful that this President does mean well and will do what he has promised. But his willingness to compromise with those who mean him and the rest of us no good is disturbing. Maybe he'll learn his lesson if the healthcare initiative is stymied by these obstructionists and he'll realize that if he wants something he has to just make it happen despite them. We shall see.

But in the meantime, with the shooting at the Holocaust Museum, the murder of Dr. Tiller, and the the continual hatefulness of the neocons and those who speak for them in the media, my alarm at these recent developments is even eclipsing my indignation about the lack of action regarding gay rights on Obama's part.

Frank Rich wrote today about the upsurge in hatred that has apparently helped to spur the increase in right-wing vigilanteism and points out the kind of language that is no doubt adding to the increase in violence we've been seeing lately.

Rich reports that Shepard Smith, the Fox news anchor, has been seeing a huge increase in hate-filled e-mail.

"What he reported was this: his e-mail from viewers had 'become more and more frightening' in recent months, dating back to the election season. From Wednesday alone, he 'could read a hundred' messages spewing 'hate that’s not based in fact,' much of it about Barack Obama and some of it sharing the museum gunman’s canard that the president was not a naturally born citizen. These are Americans 'out there in a scary place,' Smith said."

This scares me a lot. Barack Obama is the first African-American President. That alone puts him in danger. Then when right-wing talk show hosts and others continue to spew hateful rhetoric about him and his policies (calling them both socialist and fascist - a dichotomy that is a little hard to achieve), it just builds up more hatred, which puts President Obama and the very fabric of this nation at risk.

Whatever our disagreements with some of President Obama's actions - or inactions - since he became president, they pale in comparison to the disagreements we all have with the Republican policies and beliefs. Let's remember which side we are on and make sure that we stick up for this man. He does not have an easy job of it. That doesn't mean we shouldn't criticize him if he's not doing what he said, and certainly we must write and let him know when we disagree with him. But he has enough enemies out there - we need to support him.

I am getting very discouraged about this country. There are too many people out there who are completely out of touch with reality and who truly believe their own lies, that Obama is a Muslim, that he's not really an American citizen, and all the rest. These absurd beliefs, coupled with the increase in gun sales that has been happening, are a frightening combination.

I don't know what this country stands for anymore. There are whole groups of people out there who really don't believe in democracy; they feel that if their side loses, they don't owe the duly-elected president any loyalty at all. And they don't have any interest in compromise or working within the system.

Today we were driving with the "60's on 6" satellite radio on, and they played Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction." The words seemed eerily appropriate even more than 40 years after the song first came out.

The eastern world, it is exploding
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’
You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’
You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’
And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin’

But you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
of destruction.

Don’t you understand what I’m tryin’ to say
Can’t you feel the fears I’m feelin’ today?
If the button is pushed, there’s no runnin’ away
There’ll be no one to save, with the world in a grave
[Take a look around ya boy, it's bound to scare ya boy]

And you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
of destruction.

Yeah, my blood’s so mad feels like coagulatin’
I’m sitting here just contemplatin’
I can’t twist the truth, it knows no regulation.
Handful of senators don’t pass legislation
And marches alone can’t bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin’
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin’

And you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
of destruction.

Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
You may leave here for 4 days in space
But when you return, it’s the same old place
The poundin’ of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead, but don’t leave a trace
Hate your next-door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace
And… tell me over and over and over and over again, my friend
You don’t believe
We’re on the eve
Of destruction
Mm, no no, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
of destruction.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Reflections on Cape Cod

Heading off to Cape Cod fills me with a different feeling than going to the Adirondacks. It must hark back to my childhood, when we went there almost every summer for two weeks. There is a certain excitement and anticipation that has a different quality than the feeling I get when we head off to the Adirondacks. That feels more like an escape, while this is a feeling of being a kid again.

The feeling reminds me of the cartoon, "Rose is Rose," where the characters revert to being little kids when they do something kids like to do.

As she has done for the past six years or so, my mother went with us. This year we took the new Jeep instead of the Saab wagon, since it holds more. Nevertheless, the luggage and various other supplies still filled the entire trunk area. Somehow our stuff always expands to fill the space allotted to it.

In addition to my mom, who rented her own cottage next to ours, DH's dad joined us this year as well. Since the cottage we rent has two bedrooms, he was able to come up for part of the week and stay with us, and not have to rent a separate cottage. He arrived on Monday and stayed through Friday morning with us.

As I mentioned last year, my mother, now 90, is slowing down. Whereas a year ago she refused to bring her cane, this year she brought it with her. (She still didn't use it, but she brought it. It's a start.) She has to hold onto my arm even more this year, since in addition to her shaky legs, she is now having more trouble seeing due to macular degeneration, so she finds it hard to see where her feet are going.

Long ago when I was just a toddler, she no doubt matched her steps to my tiny stride; now I have to match my steps to hers. We still joke about it - my mother will ask me to slow down and I reply "If I went any slower I'd be walking backwards!" But this year I couldn't help feeling melancholy thinking about it. Who knows how many more trips to the Cape with my mother are left?

We were luckier with the weather this year than last June. There was sun for about half of each day; sometimes our day started with sun and it clouded up in mid-afternoon; other days started cloudy but turned sunny later on. So we were able to sit outside, go to the beach, and enjoy ourselves more than we did last year when the last three days were cloudy and dismal.

This trip went faster than usual; maybe it was having both my mom and DH's dad with us; or trying to fit in all of our favorite restaurants and activities. As it was, we didn't get around to doing a few of the things we always do. A week just isn't long enough, I guess.

We were happy to see the Eastham Lobster Pool restaurant is open again, with a complete makeover. It's now Woody's Eastham Lobster Pool and has been remade with a new look: kind of modern, with spare furnishings and stainless steel exposed beams. In addition, instead of waitress service, the new deal is you go up to the counter and order what you want, and then come back and get it when they call your number. The food was good (we had lobster, my mother had grilled tuna) but unfortunately the music was a bit loud and it was noisier than I'd like. But I'd definitely go back, and it's nice to see it back in business again. I was also happy to see they saved the original Eastham Lobster Pool signs by mounting them on the walls of the restaurant, since they replaced them with a new outdoor sign saying "Woody's Eastham Lobster Pool."

The second night we were there, we picked up some fresh bluefish at Hatch's Fish Market in Wellfleet and cooked it up in the cottage for my mother and us. It was delicious and it was fun to eat at "home" for a change. I am usually so busy back home that I don't have time to cook, so when I'm on vacation it's actually a pleasure!

After DH's dad arrived, we all went up to Moby Dick's in Wellfleet that evening, a great casual seafood restaurant with nautical decor and enjoyed lobster rolls and, for me, scallops.

Another night we went to Mac's Shack in Wellfleet, where DH and I ordered generous platters of ultra-fresh sashimi, DH's dad had a huge stuffed lobster, and my mother enjoyed flounder stuffed with crabmeat. (I sampled it and it was delicious). We ordered the sashimi because by this time we'd had our fill of lobster and other types of cooked fish and were ready for a change!

As we always do when we visit the Cape, we got together one afternoon with our friend Sally, who owns the Midway Motel and Cottages, where we always stayed until we wanted to bring our dog up to the Cape. Unfortunately the Midway doesn't allow pets, so a few years back, we moved on to Gibson Cottages, which do allow pets and are on a picture-perfect pond where Diva can go swimming.

But make no mistake, the Midway Motel and Cottages are kept up beautifully, have lovely landscaping and flowers on the property, and have everything you need for a wonderful vacation on the Cape, as long as you don't have a pet you want to bring with you. We had stayed there every year for about 18 years and became good friends with the owners, Sally and her husband Ron. In the old days we'd go out to dinner with them, but now that her husband passed away a few years ago, Sally comes over to our cottage for lunch instead. We get a "to-go" order of lobster rolls and fries from the Friendly Fisherman (the lobster roll is huge, with tons of lobster meat) and enjoy it out on the deck with a little wine!

Diva got to swim every day in the pond, and we took her on a number of walks in Wiley Park in Eastham and in Nickerson State Park in Brewster - and of course, on the beach.

The last full day at the Cape was rainy and chilly, as was the day we left. But as soon as we got off the Cape the weather was sunny and warm for our whirlwind trip to the Adirondacks for one night so we could show my mother our cabin at Lake George. So our luck with the weather was pretty good overall! And we were happy to see the great progress that has been made at the cabin: the well has been drilled, the propane tank is there and is hooked up, much of the plumbing is done, the propane fixtures are installed, the walls and ceiling have been painted a soft cream instead of stark white, and the floors are partially finished. (Still another step to go). We may actually be able to stay in our cabin over the 4th of July weekend if the generator is in by then to run the well's water pump!

Here are a few pictures from our trip:

The pond at Gibson Cottages, close to sunset. Mom, DH and his dad enjoying cocktails on the deck of our rental cottage.
Mom with her sherry and cigarette. Seabirds on a rock in the ocean at the Nauset Coast Guard Beach.
Diva on the beach.
Now for something completely different....a view of our cabin in the Adirondacks with the ground dug up for the gas line that leads from the new propane tank to the cabin!
Interior of the cabin showing newly painted ceiling and walls.

The propane tank!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Back from Vacation!

We arrived back last night at around 7 p.m. after a week at the Cape and then a whirlwind trip to the Adirondacks so my mom could see our cabin. Much progress has occurred on the work being done there, and I'll post more about the whole week when I get my head above water here at work.

However, in the meantime, here is a picture of Diva relaxing on vacation and enjoying herself at the Cape. Pardon if it's a little blurry, it was taken on DH's cell phone!