Saturday: Vietnamese Lunch, Oakland Museum, Dim Sum Dinner
On Saturday, we stuck relatively close to home and kept the costs down, going to lunch at Le Cheval (Vietnamese restaurant in downtown Oakland), then stopping by Endgame (nearby game store) to say hello to Shannon's buddies there before venturing onward to the Oakland Museum, where we checked out lots of cool stuff. We were there primarily for their 1968 exhibit, which was really interesting, chock full of period photos and dates and film clips and tv clips and furniture and chotchkes (I never know how to spell that, and "spell check" never likes it) and campaign buttons and posters and really great stories. I was surprised how visually familiar much of the stuff was from my own childhood, since I wasn't born until 1970 and probably wouldn't remember much before 1973 or so, but I guess 1968 liiiiiingered well into the 70's.
I was particularly struck by the exhibit about the two athletes -- Tommie Smith and John Carlos -- in the 1968 Olympics who were stripped of their medals for raising their fists in a "Black Power" salute on the podium. I was of course familiar with the famous photos, and I knew the basic what and why, but I'd never realized that the athletes involved were stripped of their medals as a result! How could I not have ever heard that? I also hadn't realized that the crowd booed them as they got off the podium and that they were largely ostracized by the athletic community in the years afterward.
I could totally understand if the media -- even the international media, even the Olympics head honchos -- were critical of them in the aftermath, said what they thought of this kind of protest action in this kind of context. You know: gave opinions. Exchanged views. Vented their spleens. Said it was inappropriate or offensive or selfish or whatever. But kicking guys out of the Olympics and stripping them of their medals for nothing but a symbolic gesture that hurt no one and only raised awareness of legitimate racial problems in the country in question ... to me, that's not right.
I wonder if they would have kicked out black South African athletes if they'd made a similar gesture in L.A. in 1984 (if 1968 had not set a precedent). Would it have been different if the head honchos had sympathy for the oppressed? Would it have been different if most of the other nations present agreed with the political opinion being expressed?
In my opinion, you can represent your country honorably without being a kiss-ass and pretending that there are no problems. You can express yourself and your feelings of disapproval without harming a strong government. I think you can be proud to be an American, even while being deeply troubled by some of the country's problems. That's why I was so shocked by the treatment of the athletes who made this particular gesture: because I don't think what they did was in any way "unsportsmanlike" or "disloyal" or even "inappropriate" ... and it was the exact opposite of "un-American." The U.S. has long had a firm commitment to freedom of speech, and so I feel these guys were showing themselves to be the truest kind of American in that moment.
Whew! So ... yeah. That particular exhibit got me a bit worked up. Apparently I still am, even a couple days later.
There was also a less emotionally stirring exhibit of social justice posters from the Bay Area, which worked well as an adjunct to the 1968 exhibit, since the use of this particular media started in the 60's. What I found most interesting about the posters was the diverse artistic styles in which they were made, and how the style often enhanced or commented on the content. Like I said: not the most exciting part of our visit, but interesting.
We also meandered casually through some of the art areas, some of which we'd seen before on previous visits, but much of which was unfamiliar. It just wasn't our primary reason for being there, so we just walked through without staring intently at each individual piece. My favorite piece was a sculpture of Jackson Pollock with a wolf on his head (bronze on wood, by Robert Arneson, 1989). Gotta love the weird stuff! At least I do.
We were lucky enough to happen upon the final weekend of the Daniel Clowes exhibit, which I'd discussed with Shannon months ago, back when it first started, because he's such a comics/graphic novel guy. It wasn't as interesting as I'd hoped, though, because it was just a bunch of individual pages of his work, framed on the wall, completely out of context. I ended up just sitting down on the conveniently located benches (there were little cafe-style tables, too!) and relaxing while Shannon made his circuit around the room.
Once we'd had our fill of museum, we figured it was time to get our fill of something a bit more concrete, so we walked to the nearby Sun Sing Pastry (my favorite take-away dim sum place) to get some cheap dim sum for dinner. We got our usual stuff (baked bbq pork buns, sesame balls, har gow, shui mai, etc.) and took it home, where we pigged out in comfort and made ourselves not-quite-ill with unhealthy victuals. Like I said: we went to get our fill of something a bit more concrete.
Sunday: Walking with Tourists in Sausalito and San Francisco
Sunday morning we headed in to the city to catch a ferry to Sausalito, where we'd decided to spend our anniversary proper. On the way from BART to the ferry building, we passed maybe 20-25 vendor booths, all official-like, selling high-quality, unique-looking merchandise (not like what you get off the random tables set up on Market Street). On a whim (though a whim that involved probably 20 minutes of contemplation), I ended up buying a gorgeous and unusual oxidized copper necklace pendant from one of the jewelry sellers. The guy was French (I think). He designs and makes jewelry with his wife, and their work is really interesting. The pendant I bought looks like these, which remind me of tiny model solar systems. At first, Shannon and I just walked past his booth and I commented how cool French Guy's stuff was, but a few minutes later I just had to turn back. Shannon was very patient with all my dithering (and there was a lot of it) and didn't rush me at all as I dithered. I'm very happy with the pendant I ended up buying, though it's the most expensive piece of jewelry I now own (aside from my engagement/wedding rings), and so I may be hesitant to wear it casually.
The ferry to Sausalito gave us some nice views, with one tower of the Golden Gate Bridge in clouds and the other in sun. Alcatraz and Angel Island were attractive, and Marin was pretty in its rolling green-brown hilliness.
The first place we went upon stepping off the ferry (and fighting our way through teeming throngs of tourists) was this art gallery that caught our eye: Petri's Fine Arts. Once again, we were intrigued by weirdness. In this case, much of the draw was a showing they had of the "Secret Art" of Dr. Seuss. They were paintings and drawings that clearly reflected Dr. Seuss's style, but were a bit different from anything I've seen before, often with a slightly darker, more adult perspective.
My favorite piece in the Dr. Seuss exhibit was "Venetian Cat Singing Oh Solo Meow," because I love the screwy perspective, the framing as if through a strangely-shaped window (which takes up quite a bit of the overall canvas), and the vaguely sinister tendrils/tentacles in the foreground. I'd post a photo of it here, but you really need to see it bigger, because of the detail, so just follow the link if you'd like to see some Dr. Seuss weirdness.
Shannon and I were also a bit puzzled, and perhaps intrigued, by some weird sculptures of animals/people with clockwork, verdigris, metal type, and random stuff stuck in the sides (and tops and bottoms and pretty much all over). The artist is Nano Lopez, and you can see more of her stuff here, if you like. She definitely likes giraffes, though the example I posted here is one of her various cat sculptures.
Almost immediately next door was another bit of weirdness, though of a completely different stripe: the Sausalito Ferry Co., this crowded little store full of funky anime/Japanese/weirdness/cool chotchkes. I'd been sort of casually looking for a Totoro keychain during the last few months, and this store had at least a dozen different ones! I ended up buying a keychain with a little Totoro playing his flute/ocarina, which you can see here, because it's so cute. (Note: the webpage says Totoro is holding a nut. He is not holding a nut, unless his flute in the movie is made from a nut. He is definitely playing his musical instrument as shown in the movie. Sheesh!) This store had all kinds of random, weird stuff: rubber/plastic animals and people of various sizes, earbuds shaped like ladybugs and sushi and whatever, bobble-head Rolling Stones dolls, Tintin stuff, funky candy, etc. We looked around for quite a while, and -- once again -- Shannon was very patient with me.
At this point, even though we'd been in the vicinity of the ferry port for less than half an hour, we were itching to flee the tourist crowds. We walked around, had a brief look at the area, decided to skip Lappert's ice cream because it was packed, and headed out into the Sausalito hinterlands where tourists dare not go.
Basically, we were walking toward the Bay Model, which is this cool, huge, working model of the San Francisco Bay (and marshy environs) which was built by the Army Corp. of Engineers to investigate scientific questions regarding the bay's functioning, simulate potential effects on the bay from various causes, etc. I'd been there a few times in the past (2 or 3 times -- I can't remember), but Shannon had never seen it, and I knew he would love it, so it was a significant part of our Sausalito plan.
I'd made reservations at a restaurant (based on both Yelp! recommendations and the restaurant's website and online menu), and it was right along our walking path to the Bay Model, so I suggested that we stop by to check it out, just so we'd know where it was and make sure that everything was copasetic. So we swung by there, and discovered that the restaurant doesn't exist anymore! There's some other, considerably more expensive restaurant where it used to be located! The new place is called "Seafood Peddler," and on their signs they describe themselves as a "restaurant and fish market." This place is really quite expensive, and "fish market" doesn't sound terribly upscale (I don't generally want to eat at a fish market on a special occasion), so I was a bit puzzled by their self-definition. But apparently this new restaurant kept the phone number from the previous restaurant, so it's the same phone number and same address ... hence confusion. Change your phone number, people! We weren't too happy with the switch and the increased prices, and so ended up canceling our reservation, with a plan to find another restaurant in more spontaneous manner.
Eventually, we did make it to the Bay Model, and Shannon loved it, particularly because he has now bicycled the Bay Trail around much of this area in the last year or two, so he really enjoyed seeing it in miniature, seeing so much of it at once and putting it all in context. I sat down part of the time, as my feet were getting a bit tired by this time and I'd seen the Bay Model a few times before. I was mostly there so Shannon could see it, and he did seem to enjoy showing me various things after he'd had a chance to look around on his own.
I was surprised to learn that the Bay Model is no longer in use by the Army Corp. of Engineers, as they turned it into a mere tourist attraction in 2000, but Shannon points out that they can probably do most of these kinds of simulations on computers now, so a big plaster model that takes up a couple warehouses probably isn't all that practical. Still, it was really neat getting to come check out a model that was still in active use for various tests and experiments, back in the old days. It was science! Happening before our very eyes! But the model still has the very pragmatic look of a military science project, rather than the glossy feel of your standard tourist attraction, and I like that feeling like you're part of something that's doing something, an elaborate working tool, rather than something designed to make visitors pull out their cameras.
The nice (but somewhat clueless) ranger at the Bay Model gave us a Chamber of Commerce map to help us find a restaurant for dinner, and so after we were thoroughly sated on Bay Modeling, we went off on a quest for a nice anniversary dinner in an unfamiliar landscape. It was all very intrepid and adventurous. While in the planning stages, I had described the weekend as our Anniversary Adventure ... and it was living up to the description more than I'd expected.
We ended up having a lovely dinner at a Florentine restaurant called Osteria Divino, which had an extensive, varied menu. We both each had a different kind of seafood risotto (there's a lot of seafood in Sausalito). Shannon's was full of flashy shells and tentacles, while mine was populated by a great many shrimp still sporting their tails. At dessert, Shannon had a dramatic "Molten Chocolate Cake," and I had a tiramisu bigger than my head. I could only eat half of it. The half I ate was delicious, though, and I assume the other half was, as well.
Back we went to the ferry port, and it was still packed with tourists. (We didn't really think of ourselves as tourists, though I suppose Sausalito folk would disagree.) We were lucky enough to arrive right before a ferry was departing for Fisherman's Wharf in SF, so we hopped into the lengthy line for a relatively brief wait. While in line, we had a very nice chat with a woman from Texas who was wearing 4 layers of clothes and chuckling about the fact that she was feeling very hot in our mild Bay Area weather. She seemed like a really nice lady. Eventually, her husband showed up, and he was less loquacious. I guess they're kinda like Shannon and me: I'm the chatty one, and he's friendly but less talkative in general. He doesn't generally make best friends with strangers in line for ferries, but I totally do.
Once again, a lovely ferry ride with beautiful views. I was wearing a long dress with slits in the sides, and it was literally flipping out on the ferry. I was totally exposing my hairy legs to the innocent tourists from Iowa and Kansas. They were probably traumatized for life. Poor ladies.
Since we were at Fisherman's Wharf anyway, it was impossible to pass up Ghirardelli Square, where we bought some delicious chocolate. Then onward to the MUNI stop, where we caught a bus containing a very aggressive crazy person who knew a lot of swear words and didn't seem to like women in menopause very much, if I understood his ranting correctly. He also loudly used the other "F" word, which made Shannon and me comment to each other that he isn't going to be very popular in San Francisco if he likes to throw that word around. But crazy people on the bus probably aren't popular, just in general.
Eventually, after some more public transit and some more walking, we found ourselves home sweet home. Overall, our trip on Sunday involved about 9 miles of walking, 3 BART trains, 1 MUNI bus, 2 ferries (from 2 different companies), 3 different counties, 6 supplemental clothing items carried all day but never used, about 6,000 clueless tourists (not counting us), 1 persistently shining sun in the sky, and 2 tired adventurers collapsing upon arrival at our humble domicile. The cats were happy to see us.