Friday, July 29, 2011

Paintings and Prison and Potatoes

Hi, are you still sweaty and hot? Because I am. Even though there is a fan pointed right at my body. So how about we transport ourselves to San Francisco on a Monday in early June? Ok, here we go.

We slept in and grabbed a quick breakfast at a cafe next to our hotel on Monday and then walked over to the Museum of Modern Art to spend some quiet time out of the rain since sadly the de Young Museum was closed (and yes, I realize that sounds like a White Whine.) We were particularly interested in seeing The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso and the Parisian Avant- Garde exhibit that had just opened the week before.


The Stein exhibit was spectacular. I had no idea that Gertrude Stein and her family were such avid and bold art collectors. They bought early, they bought carefully and they filled their modest Parisian apartments with what are now nearly priceless and utterly famous Picassos, Matisses and Post Impressionist classics. The exhibit was packed which was a bit difficult since you couldn't get a clear view of the work, but it was worth pushing through the crowd and waiting our turns. The pieces were hanging on the wall next to large photographs of the paintings in the locations where they hung in the Stein's apartment. It was a huge display with paintings and sculpture and pieces that were each detailed and the woven in with salacious and fascinating stories about the family and the trajectory of the collection and their change in tastes and preferences over the years. The personal audio tour helped to add a layer of understanding for me about the art and the history of the time. And frankly Matisse is pretty much my favorite. I don't care if this makes me cliched, I just love his work.



We wandered through the museum after the Stein exhibit for another couple of hours and just stopped to look at the sleek modern Mario Botta designed building. After the museum we walked through the Yerba Buena green space and then went off to seek some lunch.



After a quick lunch at the fanciest most varied mall food court I've ever experienced (thanks for the recommendation, Chealsea and Deborah,) Joe wanted to make a stop at the Cable Car Museum. This was a perfectly acceptable idea except here's where things went a bit wrong.

We walked from the mall over to the biggest cable car stop so we could take a cable car up the enormous hills to the museum. There was a very, very long line of anxious tourists. I had zero interest in waiting in this line. Especially because there was a perfectly servicable and perfectly empty bus stop just up the corner. So we hoofed it over the bus stop, hopped the bus, and up and over to the cable car museum we went. Except Joe over shot the stop we chose and instead of avoiding Russian Hill like he thought, we were deposited right at the base of it, with this enormous obstacle and two more blocks keeping us from a museum that I was less than thrilled to visit. And it was raining and humid and I was done. See below picture for proof of exasperation.

As previously mentioned in my earlier post, oh let me just quote myself: "An entirely accidental ascent of the evil Russian Hill caused a small, rain soaked tiff between our usually happy traveling team, causing me to say "maybe we don't talk until we get up this goddamn hill," and leaving me wanting to choke my dear husband, then wandering resentfully around the Cable Car Museum until I got over myself." Yep, pretty much sums it up. But here, look at how pretty the view was from up that high, (I like the sign that states the obvious "Hill", well no kidding, the frigging road disappeared) and yes the museum was fine and I was unnecessarily cranky, but it happens. It happens to everyone.




After the Cable Car Museum we were able to catch a cable car trip back down to our hotel, hanging onto the outside just like a Rice a Roni commercial, cool wind drying our rain soaked hair and putting a huge smile on my face. Joe looked like a little kid he was so happy. Really fun, touristy things are touristy for a reason, sometimes they are just straight up fun. Unmissable joy.


So we went back to the hotel, changed into boat worthy clothes and took a cab over to the dock to pick up the ferry over to Alcatraz. It was breezy and sunny on our ride over. Joe captured some great photos and then we hit the island. THE ROCK.




The US National Parks service has done a phenomenal job with organizing and structuring visits to Alcatraz. They are orderly and leisurely, full of upbeat and knowledgeable tour guides and free time to wander around inside and out, and then the audio tour portion in the actual prison.


The audio tour is narrated by actual former guards and inmates. Full of history and famous stories, prison breaks, violence and the actual vivid sound effect of a prisoner getting stabbed with a homemade shiv. Yeah, that was gross but effective for telling the story.


We spent more than two hours on the island and I have to say that I was really unsettled. It's an eerie, spooky place, filled with violence, sadness and some damaged people. But it was an exciting and curious place to wander with that voice in my ear telling me that in this cell lived Al Capone or over here two prison guards were killed in a riot. Right in the middle of all that history, but it made me quiet and contemplative, you know, between trying out my Sean Connery accent.


Joe wandered off and took so many photos on this portion of the trip. I could have posted 50 here just on Alcatraz if I had the space.


The bleakest, grimmest library I've ever seen. But I guess any small amount of books and reading material is better than nothing.


These two photos are two of my absolute favorites from the whole trip. See what I mean by eerie?




So sunset came upon us, our tour guides herded us back to the boat, with tales of breath taking near escapes and we landed back on dry land just in time to saunter down to Fisherman's Wharf for a bowl of clam chowder for dinner. A warm and hearty end to a packed day.




I might mention that I'm only wearing this ridiculous hood because it was windy and my hair kept getting in my mouth. Really windy, I promise.

Tuesday morning, and it's time to get out of downtown and head into some of the other neighborhoods around San Francisco. When Joe and I were researching for this trip before we left, we consulted San Francisco expert Maggie Mason over at Mighty Girl and this breakfast stop was one of her brilliant ideas.


St. Francis Candy Shoppe over in the Mission was old fashioned and delicious, an ideal way to fuel up before our several mile walking tour through the Castro. I had the aptly named nebulous potato thing and it was yummy and unbeatable. The feel of this neighborhood is wonderfully eclectic. Ethnically diverse and filled with young hipsters and Mexican grandmothers, I felt at home here. Quirky and cool, with traditional taquerias right next to trendy donut shops, I could have walked around here all day.
Instead, we grabbed a bus and headed over to the Castro where our City Guides tour leader, Emmanuel took us on a fast paced jaunt around this historically gay neighborhood.


Our group of twelve visited significant historical spots like Twin Peaks, one of the first openly lesbian bars with big glass windows so bar patrons weren't hiding in the dark but visible to the community and Harvey Milk's former camera shop and political offices, now the offices of a suicide prevention group. Our tour guide was in his 60's and has lived in the area for almost forty years. He was bawdy and cynical and hilarious. He told us racy anecdotes and complained about the price of real estate and gave us his lecture on the tragedy that is 1950's renovated Victorians, and then he thoughtfully talked about the impact of HIV and AIDS on the community in the early 1980's.




This tour was one of the highlights of the trip for both of us. Great exercise with lots of walking and lots of hills, an ideal way to get to see the real parts of the city and not just the showy highlights. A chance to walk through small secluded neighborhoods and hear from real residents about their daily lives and experiences. Again, take this tour if you go to San Francisco. Ask for Emmanuel.


And what better or more stereotypical way to end a visit to the Castro than with three completely nude gentlemen sitting at an outdoor cafe. I'm not sure what this was about, but it was awesome. Of course we saw penises in the Castro because as much as this neighborhood may have become more family friendly, it's still a place where personal freedom and eccentricity reigns. And penises.


After relaxing a bit at the hotel, we ventured out and grabbed some coffee and hung out in Union Square for a little while before our big plans for the evening. Union Square is a gorgeous piece of property with huge skyscrapers on all sides and tango lessons in the summer. I love that. Group tango lessons. So on to the big plans!




That evening we had tickets for a production of Little Shop of Horrors over in the Tenderloin at the Boxcar Theatre. The Tenderloin happens to be the one neighborhood that several people told us to avoid. Instead we walked right on in, past a variety of drug deals and working girls, and got ourselves some live theater.


This production of Little Shop was ingenious. Since the story takes place in an unnamed city, in a rough neighborhood just called Skid Row, the play itself actually starts outside on San Francisco's skid row. Using the real street as the initial setting. Actors play prostitutes and street people. And the line between reality and fiction becomes a bit blurred. Is that homeless looking guy in the wheelchair a part of the play or not? Hard to tell. At least until he opens his mouth and out comes the most beautiful strong baritone, and then the male prostitute starts singing and the lady in the stocking cap who looks like hasn't showered in a week joins in and you know the play has started. It was energetic and unsettling and invigorating.


A few songs took place outside and the play moves fairly seemlessly between the sets inside, the actual box office area is the front of the flower shop and most of the action takes place in the back of the flower shop, on the actual stage area. The music was wonderful and modernized a bit with samplings of Rocky Horror and current pop culture references. And here's where things get tricky and sad.


I loved this production. I loved everything about it. To me it's exactly what new small live theatre should be. It breathes life into stale old stories and songs. But that's the problem. This production was shut down just a few weeks after we saw it because of licensing issues. The small changes that we loved and thought brought this play into our decade, were frowned upon by the license owners. And so they had to close. The day Joe forwarded me the article about this closing I wanted to cry. As a theatre nerd, I was saddened to hear that this little theatre company was being punished for their creativity and bold flexibility with the script and score. But it happened. Joe emailed the director and shared our praise and support and that's really all we could do from here.


Next time we visit I plan to make sure we see what the Boxcar Theatre is up to, because as the director's mother told me while we stood next to each other in the bathroom line, "My son has lots of creative ideas. I wonder what he'll do next." Me, too.



Snowfairy said...

Wow, this post really makes me want to go there. The gallery, food, touristy trips all sound amazing. Thank you for sharing and perhaps one day when we win the lottery...

melbov said...

Hotel recommendation?
Lyz is thinking about a trip to check out art schools in the fall. This is a perfect intro for her and Kent.

margherio said...

Were there other people you knew on the Alcatraz tour? Because I believe I spy a Jayhawk sweatshirt in one of your pics and that seems like a heck of a coincidence or, you know, just somebody you actually went there with.

Kassie said...

Emily, you guys totally should, if we win the lottery let's meet there! Melissa, we stayed at the Galleria Park in downtown but I bet Lyz would prefer something a little more unique. Michael, we stalked the Jayhawk couple a bit but didn't know them and with everyone wearing headphones never got around to saying hi. Just an odd little coincidence, like the time we ran into a couple who went to K State in line to see the Duomo in Florence. Odd.

Caroline said...

WHAT a FUN trip! I'm glad you posted this and I got the tour!