Wednesday, March 19, 2008

round round get around

I ended up doing a little walking tour today of central San Francisco.

First of all, let me state that apparently in northern California, they still do this thing called... winter. Who knew?! I was sure winter had gone out of fashion, but, no, they just can't give up the ghost here in the Bay Area. It's like 50 degrees outside and gray and, did I mention it's cold? I mean, before I went outside I totally prepared for cold weather Hawaiian style. My t-shirt had long sleeves! Surely that is enough protection for any weather. But, no. It's not. So I had to go back up stairs and get my big sweater back on despite the fact that I only intended it for the 40s temps predicted for the night time.

Then suitably prepared in the sweater I haven't worn since 2003, oh, and random people walking by did have coats on, so I haven't just become a cold weather pansy over the last 4 years, I started my great tour. The great choice was north towards Ghirardelli Square and the Factory, or east to Union Square and China Town. I chose the latter. The reasoning behind this will become clear when I tell you all that I knew about Union Square:

Yeah, so that's a solid case, isn't it?

So I went to Union Square. The walk there isn't the superest (don't tell me it's not a word; I'm a linguist. I make words. I am a word god. Bruhahahahaaaaa. See, watch this. "Pernordle." Word. Well, it is now. It means "to make up words when in a rather punchy mood and to be slightly annoying." So, yeah, I just pernordled the word pernordle. I'm going to start planting that word surreptitiously in the places that lexicographers go when looking for new words. It'll be in the dictionary within 3 years. Guaranteed.

OK, I'm done.)

exciting or beautiful walk. Just random stuff, almost all of which has graffiti on it and is covered in big iron bars. Then you get to Union Square and, boom!, it's Tiffany's and Yves St. Laurent and Hermes and Chanel. Unfortunately, that's what Waikiki looks like as well about 2 blocks from my front door, so, if I had come all the way to Gold Mountain for that, I would have been disappointed. But, I did find a Xanadu Folk Gallery designed by Frank Lloyd Wright! Really. It's on Maiden Lane, which seems like a contradiction in terms, shouldn't it be matron lane?, and was once Morris' Gift Shop or something like that. That's who hired Lloyd Wright anyway. It really is quite beautiful. It's only two stories and the inside is like a mini Guggenheim with a big broad circular ramp going to the second floor.

Nice random find. I wouldn't have known it was a Lloyd Wright building, but I was stopping to look at the facade because it was cool, and a nice older woman who was apparently very excited about some knowledge she had said, "can I tell you something?"

"Uh, sure."

"I was on a tour this morning and they said that Frank Lloyd Wright was so proud of this design that he put his initials right here," and here she showed me a little square by the door in bright red with a RWL signature. She continued, "I wouldn't have ever noticed this square if they hadn't told me."

And I said, "Well, I wouldn't have ever known this building was Lloyd Wright if you hadn't told me."

And that was that.

About two blocks away, you find the Chinatown gate. And so I went in. Chinatown seems to be about 8-10 blocks long and 3 blocks wide. It wasn't quite as hopping as I had expected. Maybe people here realize it's cold, too. But there were a hundred dim sum shops and places to buy pork stomach and the like. Even more than that, were shops to sell China-themed knickknacks. I felt sort of obligated to stop and eat dim sum. I mean, for much of the family, I'm still the China guy, no matter that I haven't been there in 16 years now or that I only speak a little Mandarin and zero Cantonese. And I like dim sum just fine. But the truth is I have absolutely no idea which shops are the good ones and which ones are worse than the ones in our little 4 block Chinatown in Honolulu. And as I was walking along, trying to decide that to do, I came to a big tunnel with stairs leading to the top, which I took. When I did this, Chinatown was gone and I was suddenly in Nob Hill, a super fancy, but also quite beautiful area of San Fran.

This is the San Francisco of movies. Wrought-iron fences and balconies, tall thin residences of 5 stories, hills climbing and falling everywhere. I walked along here until I came to Huntington Park and Grace Cathedral.

Grace Cathedral is stunning. Here's a link to see the facade. Inside are towering stain glass windows lining the whole and an "indoor labyrinth" on the floor, which I will mention again in a minute. There's also an AIDS memorial chapel. Apparently, the artist designing some of the main features of the chapel died of AIDS just a few weeks after completion.

It was a busy time at the cathedral as well, because they were doing several events to commemorate the 5th anniversary of the Iraq War. Inside, the labyrinth had army boots lined in circles to represent the fallen. Shoes were also found in pairs all the way up the stairs to the cathedral. As I was going in, a priest in a brown robe passed a program to me for 6:00 when they would read the names of all the soldiers we've lost. They had also prepared a vast scroll, where they had written the names of 76,000 Iraqi civilians, each written in Arabic, that have been documented as having died in the conflict.

During the 1st Gulf conflict, I once hatched an idea to light a candle for each person who died, American, Iraqi, and Kuwaiti, in a great field. I hatched the idea again in the current war. Naturally, I never tried to make it happen. I accept people knowing of the tragic consequences of war and believing that they are necessary, but I don't accept pretending these consequences aren't real.

I left Grace and proceeded on to a Nob Hill grocery store, picking up a lunch for my backpack that I expect to be far cheaper than the lunch options at the conference tomorrow. Finally, about this time I realized exactly what I wanted for dinner. It was cold and I was in San Francisco. Clearly, I needed to find a sourdough bread bowl full of some piping hot soup.

Turns out it's harder to find this than one might think.

But in the process I passed a guy tossing pizza crusts in a window. And then someone else spoke in actual Italian to him. Italian! For those of you from NY or PA, this is nothing. (Nadda, nuttin'.) But for a guy from Louisiana/Mississippi/Tennessee/Minnesota/Hawaii, this is pretty rare. (I couldn't add the New Jersey years in there, because that defeats the point of the list.) Seriously, Hawaii is just lame when it comes to pizza. Papa John's even wants close to $20 to bring you one of their mediocre jobs. So I went in.

Spinach gnocchi in alfredo sauce. Nicely done, paca, my son, nicely done.

Finally, I found my conference site on the way back, and then back to my hotel.... and now the tourism is over. I'm going to work on a paper and then start attending meetings tomorrow.

That's my San Francisco.


Robin S. said...

Sounds like you made some good, good tourist choices, paca paca, and, even while freezing your llama buns off, you had an excellent adventure. And amazing Italian food.

Very cool.

Let us know how the conference goes.

Precie said...

Excellent! Thanks for the tour...and the new word.

pjd said...

Because my stupid feed reader makes it look like I've already read all your posts, I failed to see that you're in SF until now.

I work in downtown SF at Market and Beale, near the Ferry Building. If you feel like grabbing a cup of coffee, drop me an email at peter at (Today I'm working at home, but I'll be in the city Friday.)

writtenwyrdd said...

Okay, now you know: Winter in SF is cold because it's so freaking damp. I always had a minimum of three blankets on the bed back when.

I wish I were still there and I could take you the Pacific Cafe (best fish in town last I was there). If you want chowder in a bread bowl, go to Fisherman's Wharf, which is about the only place I could explain where you could find that. Maybe on Market Street.

I hope you enjoy your visit to SF! I haven't been back in several years and am so jealous! I also like the new word.

And PS if you walk across the Golden Gate? Bring a parka!

pacatrue said...

Ooh, cool invite, pjd. Unfortunately, I don't think I can take you up on it. I was at conference all today until now, and then I'm headed out a bit later again. Doh!

Ello said...

That sounded awesome! and spinach gnocci? YUM!!!!

uh pictures?!!!

pjd said...

No worries. Friday was a busy, rough day for me anyway. Hope you had a good conference!