Monday, February 28, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO PART 2: CHINATOWN

In January we spent some time with Andrew in Los Angeles's Chinatown, so we were excited to go to San Francisco's Chinatown and compare.  San Francisco Chinatown prides itself on being the largest Chinese community outside of Asia, as well as the oldest Chinatown in North America.  Wikipedia notes that it gets more visitors each year than even the Golden Gate Bridge.  Based on the day we were there, I can believe that.

A couple we struck up a conversation with in a restaurant on Saturday night mentioned they had taken a free "City Walk" tour.  When we got back to our hotel, I researched those tours on the Internet and discovered there was one in Chinatown available on Monday, and all we had to do was show up at the starting point, which was less than a mile from our hotel.  What a great deal!

Our tour guide was a retired high school history teacher with a love of the city.  He gave us the basic history, pointed out significant features and buildings, and took us down alleyways and into buildings we never would have ventured down and into on our own.  If you're ever in San Francisco and need a guide, we can recommend these City Walk Tours as a great place to start.

This is our guide (in the orange coat) and part of our group of about 20 walkers.


One of the entrances to Chinatown that happened to be located one block from our hotel






Our guide said this is the only "real" Chinese structure still standing.  Everything else is designed for tourism by American architects.
This mess of wiring didn't inspire confidence

Talk about prime real estate.  Chinatown abuts the poshest parts of downtown San Francisco's business district.
 Near the end of the tour, Bob and I were hungry and decided to branch off on our own.  We had seen lots of interesting food and were ready to try some.

If you need a live frog or turtle for dinner, this is your shop.  I was SO glad our hotel room did not have a kitchenette.

Bob selected some pork and a whole duck from one of the displays.  The shop's butcher cut it up into manageable-sized pieces for us to eat.

I think I would cut off my whole hand if I tried to use this cleaver.

We had some dim sum--Chinese appetizers--including chicken skewers, barbecued pork dumplings, and pork gyoza.

Tasty, beautiful desserts

While we were in the bakery eating our desserts, we noticed the banging of drums and clanging of cymbals out on the sidewalk.  As the ruckus got closer, we spied a dragon dancing in and out of the shops.  It had been the Chinese New Year celebration earlier that week, and we figured this was part of the tradition.  The dragon, a Chinese symbol of strength, power, and good luck, was bestowing his blessings on all the local business owners.  The drummers and cymbalists would stay out on the sidewalk making as much noise as possible while the dragon danced around in the shops.  When he came into our bakery, the women behind the counter made a point of reaching out to touch his furry head.





We did have one rather incredible experience.  As we were walking out of one of the shops at the Chinatown entrance near our hotel, we heard voice calling out, "Bob Cannon!"  It turned out to be Courtney Camp, a young girl from our ward in Redlands who has been attending the University of Utah and who was in San Francisco auditioning for the San Francisco Conservatory of Music graduate program in opera.  What are the chances?  It was a most auspicious meeting.  I think it had something to do with seeing the Good Luck Dragon earlier in the day.

All in all, San Francisco's Chinatown is fun, fun, fun!  We are looking forward to visiting a THIRD Chinatown in New York City in a few weeks.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO

"The Bay area is so beautiful, I hesitate to preach about heaven while I'm here." 
- Billy Graham

I think this is one time Billy Graham got it right.  Bob and I just spent President's Day weekend in San Francisco, a city we haven't been to since I was pregnant with Rachael more than thirty years ago.  Bob's brother lives just outside the city, and we decided we had lived in California too long not to have made the trip north to visit him.
Southern and Northern Californians don't really claim each other.  There have been many semi-serious movements to split the state into North and South, kind of like the Dakotas or the Carolinas.  In truth, there could hardly be two places more different than Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the animosity is real.  About the only thing we share is the San Andreas Fault.

Nevertheless, we Southerners decided to take advantage of a cheap flight and a long weekend.  We left our home on Saturday at 4:00 AM to catch a 7:30 flight out of Lovely LAX . . .
  

 . . . and before we knew it, we were swooping down over some of the most beautiful scenery in the USA.

Suddenly, all our prejudices evaporated, and we had to agree with John Lennon: "Los Angeles? That's just a big parking lot where you buy a hamburger for the trip to San Francisco."

It was a rainy day (not all that unusual, we hear), so we decided to spend the first of our three days in museums. Andrew, who spent a summer as art gallery intern in the Bay area a few years ago, had suggested some sites to see, so we followed his recommendation and headed for the DeYoung Art Museum in Golden Gate Park. It was a great way to start the trip--surrounded by culture and class.  Even the food in the museum restaurant was several levels above the average restaurant. 

The DeYoung Museum, first built in 1895, was badly damaged in the 1906 earthquake, demolished and rebuilt, and damaged again by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.  This latest version, completed in 2005, was built so that it can move up to THREE FEET on special plates during the next Big One.  It houses a huge collection of primarily American art, spanning 1670 to the present day.  We thought the displays were exceptionally done, many having excellent explanatory placards to help Art Dunces like the two of us.  Here are a few of our favorites:

Anti-Mass (2005) by Cornelia Parker.  Constructed from the charred remains of an African-American Baptist church in Alabama that was destroyed by arsonists.

Look carefully at this next sculpture of a cathedral:
The Spine and Tooth of Santo Guerro (2007) by Al Farrow

 It is constructed from gun parts, bullets, and shot pellets and is a commentary on the historical connection between religious intolerance and warfare:

Yes, that is a human spine and tooth in the nave.





Three Machines (1963) by Wayne Thiebaud.  (I'm a big Thiebaud fan.  He paints things like pastries and lollipops and does interesting things with perspective.)
An example of the excellent plaques that really enhanced our enjoyment of the museum.

I love this fireplace from the home of the former Governor of California, Milton Latham.  All we would need is the house to go with it:
Mantle for Thurlow Lodge in Menlo Park, California (c. 1872) by Gustave and Christian Herter

Detail from the mantle
Along with these pieces, there were paintings by John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, Maynard Dixon, Claude Monet, Mary Cassatt, Jasper Johns, Albert Bierstadt, and many other famous artists, photos by Ansel Adams (and one by his son of Live Oak Canyon just outside of Redlands), 800 sculptures, and a huge display of Mesoamerican artifacts.  We were surprised at the scope of the collection, and (to be honest) by our enjoyment of it.  Who knew there was such a great art museum in San Francisco?

We spent the second half of the day in the California Academy of Sciences, a brand new $500 million museum that boasts of its "sustainable architecture" (it is phrases like that which make Southern Californians' skin crawl) and multiple venues, including an aquarium, a planetarium, a natural history museum, a four-story rainforest, and other assorted delights.  It is handily located across the street from the DeYoung Art Museum.

There are fun dinosaur skeletons. (Not Bob--that thing behind him.)
Interesting architecture

A snow machine for the kiddies

A huge aquarium area with all kinds of bizarre stuff. (Again, not Bob, but the flora and fauna behind him.)

A beautiful rain forest full of butterflies and birds


Interesting exhibits about evolution

Beautiful displays of various animals

If you have a trip planned to San Francisco any time soon, be sure to put these two museums on your list, and make sure you eat lunch in the DeYoung restaurant.  My only complaint is that the California Academy of Sciences cost a whopping $35 a ticket.  The DeYoung Art Museum, in comparison, was a bargain at $10.


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