Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Notes From The City - Peace Out San Francisco

During my recent post-Christmas visit to spend time with our families in San Francisco and the East Bay, I re-visited a few areas of my hometown that I haven't been to in awhile. The first was the Haight. Or Haight-Ashbury. Of course, I was too young to experience the Haight in its day, but here are a few terms that were associated with the area - flower children, hippies, the Vietnam War (or the opposition to), free love, gender equality, LSD, Marijuana, psychedelic.... Some good things and not so good things came out of this time. There emerged many firsts - ground roots movements in the areas of politics, art, religion and social justice. It was the center of the hippie movement starting with the Summer of Love in 1967, a social event that brought to this district upwards of 100,000 young people, kicked off an American counterculture which, turns out, marked the beginning of some significant social changes that are still at the heart of change. 
Today, you can see prominent reminders of the Haight's historic past blended with an eclectic mix of today's updates in its people, restaurants, homes, and shops.

One thing that stands out are the many colorful buildings. Imagine a whole city this colorful - it's kind of hard to be a gloomy gus with surroundings this colorful.

There are all manner of shops now - and tourists. From modern elegant to vintage, hippie to hipster, and Army surplus, you can find clothes to fit most styles. 

As well as accessories of ALL kinds

And the requisite number of coffee shops, pizza places, and cafes. We ate at a little place called the Blue Front Cafe and had the best pureed lentil soup and a delicious salad, along with some local beer.

We happened upon this shop and it looked so intriguing I had to browse. 

 It was called "Loved To Death" which turns out is featured on the TV show "Oddities - San Francisco" (I don't watch the Science Channel! - I didn't know!) It really is the oddest store I've been in. They specialize in "odd antiquities" and Victoriana. They have all manner of antiques, art, home decor, jewelry - all with a -how shall I say - a morbid? bent? They started out making miniature Victorian taxidermy dioramas (these intrigued me the most)- which you can find hanging on the walls throughout, along with - well it's hard to describe everything in there. (They won't let you take pictures.) Creepy does not do it justice. There are jars with real floating...umm, then there are the furry dead...hmmm....they have candles shaped like...well...let's just say if you want to explore the creative dark side you definitely want to go here. 

I found the decorative detail on this building fascinating (????) 

This beautiful building was constructed as a hotel in 1904 so that people from downtown could catch a cable car and venture to breathe the fresh "country air" of nearby Golden Gate Park. It takes about 10 minutes to drive from here to Market Street downtown now. In the late 1960's The Red Victorian was at the forefront of the peace movement, social justice movement, and the ecology movement. Presently it is a bed-and-breakfast inn with 18 rooms that commemorate The Summer of Love. For instance, they have a "Flower Child" room decorated with - well flowers everywhere- a blast from the decorative past. It also serves as an art center and is a living museum of the peace movement. (didn't know there was one?) The Peaceful World Center  - complete with an art gallery, gift shop, and many ongoing events promotes, encourages, and engages in - Peace.

In addition to the history and uniqueness of this district, it serves it's purpose as a community neighborhood with some lovely homes (on the expensive side)... 

and apartments (Still on the expensive side)...

Grocery stores...

 and really colorful and eclectic neighbors!

Speaking of Peace,  I found myself  a couple of days later waiting for my sister-in-law in the Yerba Buena Gardens. In 1981, the city's largest convention center was built. It was called the Moscone center. This fueled the decision to build an area filled with museums, shops, restaurants, gardens, hotels and such. It was known as the Yerba Buena project. Today those things and more have come to pass, with the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, The Metreon, restaurants, beautiful gardens with plants from all over the world, and the impressive, meditative Martin Luther King Jr Fountains and Waterfalls.

After strolling through the lower gardens and waterfalls and meandering along the paths, this was where I found myself - on one of a long row of benches on top of the infinity pool over the fountains. While I was taking in the view, I realized I was staring across at the Church where just a few years ago my family went together to a mass that was being said in honor of my Dad who had just passed away. Before that day I had never been to this particular Church. The large building to the left is the Marriott Marquis Hotel, and on the very top is a restaurant called The View. We went there after the service to have a drink and toast my Dad and look over the incredible views of the city. And here I found myself sitting on a bench by myself staring across the infinity pools and remembering that day and my Dad and well - it was a peaceful place to have that moment. 

The view from the large grassy area below.

Here are the fountains where you can walk the winding pathways to the upper levels on either side and behind the falls on the bottom..

Behind the waterfalls, etched on glass, are some of Martin Luther King Jr's quotes. A beautiful memorial and lasting reminder 

The smaller fountains

Our destination was the Samovar Tea Lounge, which is beautiful and restful inside, but we had tea outside in the sun and took in the views. I had the freshest, brightest green sencha tea, served in handmade cups, and a rice bowl which included smoked duck, mushrooms, seaweed, squash, kale, and was served with a mild tea which you pour over all to make a kind of soup. Unique and simple and utterly wonderful and fitting for the setting. I discovered the fascinating and inspirational blog of its owner, Jesse Jacobs. It's definitely worth checking out his story, all about tea, and inspiring thoughts on meditating, exercise, and life!

Our next adventure that afternoon - and I'm not including the cab ride - blech - was to the heart of the Castro. This is another area of San Francisco with significant historical impact. (It is also the location of another Samovar tea shop!)

A very bustling, energetic, livable part of San Francisco, this area you may or may not know was historically one of the first gay neighborhoods in the United States and currently the largest.You may recognize all the rainbow flags above.  And, like the Haight, has had significant historical impact on America's political and social movements. 

The Castro district is surrounded by some of those famous San Francisco hills and many gorgeous Victorian homes.

It also houses the beautiful historic Castro Movie Theater 

With this lovely entrance and ticket booth where, when we walked past that evening, had people standing in line outside waiting to buy tickets. It reminded me of my childhood. We used to have many movie theaters scattered across the city - neighborhood theaters - when I was growing up. Sadly most of those have gone  by the wayside. The Castro Theater also has sing along movies! 

And wouldn't you know we were there on the wrong night or we could have gone to a sing along of The Little Mermaid! How fun is that!!

We met up with some of my sis-in-law's long time friends at the famous Harvey's for cocktails and appetizers after shopping at some lovely little shops in the area. 

Harvey's was originally called The Elephant Walk and is steeped in the history of the Castro and Gay rights. It was renamed Harvey's in the late 1990's after Harvey Milk who lived in the area, was a beloved and outspoken figure of gay rights, and eventually became the first openly gay member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. In 1978, Harvey Milk and then Mayor George Moscone (the same Moscone the above convention center was named after) were assassinated at City Hall by fellow board member Dan White. (Have you seen the movie Milk with Sean Penn?) 

So how do I fit in with all this? Well hmm, I was probably playing with watercolors in kindergarten when the whole Summer of Love started in 1967 just 10 minutes away. It wasn't but a year after that when Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. Shortly before Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk were assassinated I met George Moscone's son at a mutual friend's house and talked with him. We were Sophomores in High School. And now? I am fortunate enough to be able to revisit these places that show the scars and the successes of their history and serve as a reminder that some things are always worth the pursuit - namely - love, freedom, and equality.

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