an Francisco By The Bay
May 21-26, 2003
Our title makes reference to an old name for San Francisco that few people have probably heard of. That name is rather relevant or interesting given the events that dominated the news in March and April and continue to play a prominent role in it. To many older Californians San Francisco is known as "Baghdad By The Bay". What the origin of it is we don't know. Perhaps the allusion is to a busy, bustling market place with many ethnic groups jostling side by side. You might try the web site www.bagdadbythebay.com which is all about San Francisco, to see if somewhere in there the moniker is explained. Or go to Herb Caen, the once famous columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Something at the back of the head guesses that he coined the phrase.
It's really too bad that we don't have any pictures of our five-day stay. Or at least any taken by Gerry, as his camera went completely kaput a few days before our arrival and was in Irvine, California being repaired while we were there. We did get a few of family, courtesty of Gerry's cousin, Bob Goldsmith, who was our host, and had a digital camera.
We arrived to a wonderful welcome by Bob. Gerry first met him when Gerry was 5 and Bob was a 21-year-old, just out of the military, hitchhiking around the country. The next meeting was 56 years later, November 2002, when we were staying in New York City and Bob and his friend Linda made a flying visit to Manhattan. Then we had said to Bob and Linda that we might see them in San Francisco. They said that they would look forward to it, but having learned something of our erratic travels severely discounted the likelihood of it actually happening.
But it did happen. We got to California and then we got to San Francisco. When we arrived, or more precisely, as we arrived, we had to get used to San Francisco's steep streets. It was the biggest challenge our under-powered Ford Escort has yet had to meet. Bob lives high on the slopes of Mt Sutro (at 908 feet, San Francisco's highest) at the end of a street that is reached by a very steep street which is approached by a hairpin turn which is at the top of a steeper street that has a sign warning of things to come. In other words, even San Franciscans think it is a big thing to get up there. (The red dot at the bottom right of the map above shows where he lives.)
Our first morning we were treated with a visit to a young heron in Golden Gate park. Those in the know are excited by the recent birth and nesting of several herons near the boathouse of Stow Lake (see red dot at top center of map). Linda, the expert in the matter, led us and Bob to the area and then we partially ascended the hill at the center of Stow Lake to get a view. Shortly thereafter Bob and Linda left us to our own devices in the park; they, although both retired and degreed long ago, had to rush to get to a class on Shakespeare. If we were locals we would want to go too.
In previous visits we'd never spent more than half an hour in this park which plays the role for San Franciscans that Central Park does for Manhattanites. At 3.07 x 0.51 miles it exceeds the dimensions of New York's pride, which is 2.58 x 0.52 miles. Then again, even Brooklyn's Prospect Park has a greater area than Central Park. Ah, pride. How we and cities seek to express it!
Not having climbed any major hill in weeks we got some practice in by ascending what we will call Mt Stow, the hillock at the center of Stow Lake. Then, having had a nice view of park, nearby city, and even parts of the Golden Gate bridge, we descended and walked the short distance to the Strybring Arboretum and Gardens. That was a pleasant interlude. It is a fine garden but the most notable thing about it was the number of volunteers working there and their age. One, to look at her, was well above 80; she used a walking stick to get about and her chosen job was picking up trash. Incidentally, Linda crowds into her busy retired life some volunteering in the arboretum.
When we left the park we walked back to Bob's place. Lucky for us that we had practiced on Mt Stow, since the slopes of Mt Sutro challenged us on foot even more than they had challenged our plucky Escort.
We had another happy reunion in San Francisco. The above photo shows Bob and Linda, and in between them, Bob's mother, and Gerry's Aunt, Frances. We last saw her in Florida in 1986. Then, at the age of 81 she was doing volunteer work in a hospital. Now, at 97, she is unable to do that. She lives in an attractive retirement home in the center of San Francisco. There she is semi-self sufficient — she gets help from a personal carer for two hours a day. We, hoping that we live so long and in such a relatively healthy state, admired her condition. She, having to actually suffer from pains in the morning, inability to walk far, and loss of one eye, was much less satisfied. Those gigantic roses by the way come straight from Linda's garden. Aren't they magnificent?
We went to visit her three times, each time having dinner or lunch with her. We liked the food, but apparently we are easily pleased. Like almost all institutional food, the residents get tired of it. Aunt Frances doesn't have much of an appetite. She saves things from breakfast and gives them to Bob, who is sort of amused by it. He has a comfortable retirement, buys as he says, for pleasure, not to save money. So, we profited by her saved little cereal boxes because in our travels we don't get cereal as often as we'd like.
Although family occupied more than half of our time in San Francisco, we did have two days in which we did what might be called "touristy" things. On one of them we spent most of the day walking around the downtown area. Many years ago we'd been to Coit Tower, the Transamerica Insurance tower, and Lombardy, the little crooked street. And, many years before that, we'd ridden a cable car. In fact, at the height of the hippie era, two of Gerry's sisters had shared an apartment very close to Haight and Ashbury and Gerry had seen that scene. This time we skipped all of that.
Our walk started near Van Ness and first took us to Union Square, which was bustling in nice weather. We (or Gerry) regretted not being there for the anti-war demos that blocked traffic and annoyed San Franciscans a few months ago. We disagree with them but always are drawn to noise and bustle. From there it was a quick walk through Chinatown and then through the financial district to the Embarcadero and the Ferry building. Almost next to the ferry building is a Hyatt Hotel, once famous for being one of the first buildings to have a large indoor atrium. We had been impressed by it in 1978 when we first saw it. Twenty-five years later it has weathered and is not so impressive. (The same is true of us.) On the other hand, the once nearly deserted ferry building has been completely restored and it and the waterfront on which it sits were very impressive that day.
We had limited time for museums in San Francisco, but we did manage to visit one. We picked the Asian Art Museum as it had moved into new quarters and had its grand opening just a week before we arrived. Its old home was in Golden Gate park; it was moved both to give it more space, because the original building dated back more than half a century??, and because it had earthquake damage??. We hadn't expected to be very impressed. After all, we'd recently been at the Smithsonian Sackler Gallery, and had toured the best of Beijing and Shanghai museums. But we were impressed. The collection is big and it is good, and perhaps most impressive is that about 90% of the museum collection was amassed by one person, Avery Brundage, longtime head of the US Olympic Committee. The collection shows what an advantage it is to have travelled in China during the early decades of the twentieth century and to have had plenty of pocket money to pick up ancient artifacts that were going for less than a song.
Another pleasant outing was to accompany Bob and Linda to the movies where we saw "Winged Migration", a fascinating documentary about bird migrations. Some of the photography was stunning as the camera accompanied flocks of birds on the wing. [It is a low budget release which means very few prints are made. Some two months later it came to Phoenix while we were there. Hold out. It may come to a cinema or DVD player near you.]