Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
Another small trip. Another simple diary, a record for our own, since we expect a quiet time.
A few months ago, Marianne's brother Tom mentioned that he and the family would be traveling to Europe in the summer. Of course we would be jealous, but in consolation, he suggested we take time off to mind their house while they traveled. Leave Fresno in July and August? GREAT idea.
Tom and Kate and Clara had already left when we arrived at their house in Albany (California), so we invited ourselves in and made it our home. We drug in our normal pile of gear (cameras, computer stuff, art supplies, ranges of clothes), fed Latte the cat, opened wine, and had a snack in the back yard. We checked the weather back in Fresno and noted that it was 107F, over 30F higher than Albany. THAT's why we are doing this!
For exercise, we walked up to Solano Avenue, the local shopping street, and scouted out exercise locations, that we will probably avoid, and restaurants, that we will not. We resolved to walk a lot!
Tuesday morning, we started with a half-mile walk back to Starbucks on Solano. We had our normal Starbucks coffee and breakfast and talking. We needed to plan something for the day. I think this is an almost completely unplanned trip, but maybe we will get inspired as we go.
Just for starters, we decided to drive along San Pablo Avenue and see if some of our old favorites could take up some of our time. Ohmega Salvage, a huge place filled with old architectural bits and pieces is always fun, except on Tuesdays when they are closed. Nearby, Berkeley Wood Works shows wonderful custom-made furniture that we would have liked to lust for, if they weren't also closed.
Then we tried the Sawtooth Building, a collection of a couple dozen art and craft studios that we had never visited before, but which sounded like our kind of destination. Again, no luck. Nothing was open. Maybe we should have planned better.
Finally, Marianne spotted the sign for Berkeley Mills, a company we recognized from advertisements in Architectural Digest and other high-end house-associated publications. We probably visited here 25 years ago, when we were furnishing our home in Los Gatos, but did not buy then, nor would we now. We might WANT that table and chairs, or cabinet, or kitchen, but prices seemed to start at $10,000 and go up from there. Way up.
Looking, however, was free, and the Berkeley Mills people proudly showed us everything, including the spotless shop where craftsmen were using the fanciest woodworking machines I had ever seen. If we ever win the lottery, we are coming back.
Now we were hungry. We had wanted a good German lunch at Gaumenkitzel, but we discovered they were open only for dinner. Darn. Not deterred, we Googled "German food" and found "The Junket European Cafe and Delicatessen" in El Cerrito Plaza, not far at all from our Albany home. We ordered liverwurst and head cheese sandwiches, sauerkraut, and a Bitburger pilsner. Pretty authentic. The owner, British, not German, was charming as well. We probably need to revisit.
At 5, we needed to watch the Democratic Debates on CNN. I won't wander off into political discussion. We are on vacation.
Wednesday, still no plans, but that's what breakfast at Starbucks is for - planning. We started with our half-mile walk to a Starbucks down on San Pablo, one of the main thoroughfares in this part of the East Bay. The heavy morning traffic did not seem to disturb a few wild (?) turkeys from strutting back and forth across the road. Why DID the turkeys cross the road?
Fortified with our first cups of coffee, we came up with a plan: two attractions, a Marianne art-centric one and a John nerdy one. The first would be in Berkeley and the second on the Oakland harbor. Getting to each would give us experience with more of the infamous local roads and traffic. That's why Marianne drove, she's better at calmly managing challenging cities. I navigate.
Our art goal was the Berkeley Art Museum - Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), just across the street from the University of California - Berkeley. On another day, we should just wander around amongst the locals. The area seemed to maintain a bit of the radical feeling from our era, fifty years ago. I guess "radical" can become "traditional", given enough years.
Inside BAMPFA, our Fresno Art Museum passes gave us free entry, a welcome deal since there was a disappointingly small amount of art on display. Several contemporary art and calligraphy exhibitions had just closed. Too bad. The largest remaining display was "Unlimited", a gift from the William Goodman & Victoria Belco Photography Collection. The gallery included works from a wide variety of mostly-local photographers and the largely black-and-white pictures included many haunting images of people in stress. As an amateur photographer, I can only dream of catching life images like these.
There was also a wall with the work of Dennis Feldman, a local photographer who came to fame in the 1970s with a book portraying American people of the day. Just out of school, he traveled to 49 states and observed life with his lens. The collection contains many pictures that became icons of the era.
The big event of the morning at BAMPFA was Dennis Feldman himself, describing his wall of work. After a few minutes of rambling mutterings, we concluded that Feldman was a photographer, not a public speaker. We snuck out and headed to our afternoon event on the Oakland waterfront.
We headed off the beaten path, across the remnants of the Alameda Navy Base to tour the USS Hornet Museum. Military landmarks are not normally on our tourist radar, but this museum sounded worthwhile. Despite a few detours, it was easy to reach and had tons of free parking.
This USS Hornet, referred to as AC12, was the 8th in a series of US Navy ships with the Hornet name. It's predecessor, AC8, left in April of 1942 from this same pier with Jimmie Doolittle's 16 B-25s on board and would launch them by the end of the month on the first bombing raid over Japan. In October of that year, AC8 was sunk, to be replaced by AC12, our tour ship, 16 months later. The ship went on to survive 59 attacks, without being hit by a single bomb, torpedo, or kamikaze airplane. At the end of her career, in 1962 and 1963, USS Hornet retrieved the Apollo 11 and 12 astronauts on their returns from the moon.
The almost 900-foot Hornet towers over the pier. Walking up the gangway gave us exercise and a sense of the size of the vessel.
We entered on the hanger deck and started with a safety presentation. The docent was friendly but firm in admonishing to listen to announcements and, most important, do not move while taking pictures. Apparently plenty of people wander around looking only at their smart phone screen, and fail to notice the numerous tripping or head-bonking hazards on the various decks. We listened and survived unscathed.
The hanger deck is huge and, with just a handful of planes on exhibit, open and easy to roam. I imagine when it held the ships complement of three or four dozen planes, it was a different story.
Over almost twenty years of service, the Hornet went from launching WWII propeller-driven torpedo planes to catapult-launched jet fighter bombers off of Viet Nam.
The last significant missions for AC12 were the recoveries of the Apollo 11 and 12 crews on return from the surface of the moon. The hanger deck still displays a mock-up of the Apollo Command Capsule, the original Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF), and the helicopter that plucked the astronauts from the Pacific.
Up on the flight deck, there were three planes from eras spanning the ship's career. The oldest, and smallest (yellow), required only a small assist, partly from wind due to the ship's headway. By the time jets arrived, steam catapults and blast shields were added to headway to get the heavier aircraft aloft.
Originally, landing was on the same runway as take off, but the Hornet was modified in WWII to have a second, slanted landing runway. This innovation from the British allowed simultaneous launching and landing, but when I looked to see how short a space was provided for either, it was miraculous the process worked at all!
Landings were guided by an ingenious application of lights and optics. Pilots would look at this array of colored lights and use the center light, or "meatball", to determine if they were descending at the right pace. Undoubtedly, this was made enormously more difficult by the reality of the deck itself rising and falling in the rolling sea. Another process miracle.
From the flight deck, visitors can look at the neighboring ships, supply ships I believe. Unlike the Hornet, these seemed to all be in current service, or at least waiting for a call to load up and head out. The San Francisco skyline was visible off the stern.
While I was having fun taking pictures up on the flight deck, Marianne stayed below. After mugging in the "We can do it!" cut-out, she settled into reading and getting current on all the modern distractions (messages, email, news, etc.) However, she did look up enough to see the Navy aircraft simulator and signed up for a spin. Her five-minute ride was enough for a take-off, aerial combat, and successful landing. Not bad.
From the flight deck, I stepped through the door with the hazard warnings, onto a stationary escalator from two levels below. When planes were being launched, pilots would ride this escalator from the ready rooms up their planes.
There were four ready rooms on the Hornet and one is outfitted as it would have been when the ship was in service. Twenty soft recliners fill the room and it was easy to imagine a bunch of gung-ho young Navy pilots laughing and joking before the serious business of learning the day's mission. It was harder to imagine seeing an empty chair in the next briefing. A dangerous business.
The rest of Deck 2, and Deck 3 below (off-limits to self-guided tours) housed a virtual city. Passageways ran along the whole length of Deck 2, easy to pass in quiet tourist times, but traffic with a crew of 3,400 sailors on board was probably something else again.
The officer's galley and dining room mess, kitchen and dining room to land-based folks, occupied a large space. Officers, including pilots, were reportedly served generous meals by white-gloved stewards, on china and white tablecloths. The crew was served cafeteria-style, down on Deck 3. Probably no tablecloths.
Forward of the galley was a complex of rooms that made up the ship's hospital. There was one operating room (pictured) as well as separate examination, clerical, laboratory, and X-ray rooms. One sound-proofed room was dedicated to diagnosing hearing damage, undoubtedly an occupational hazard in this city. There were separate berths as well, with additional overflow space in nearby crew bunk spaces. All this looked relatively modern and manageable, except if one imagined the facility serving dozens or even hundreds of sick or wounded.
Berthing space varied by rank and duty, at least to a degree. At the top, the Captain and Executive Officer had suites. Here are the two rooms of the "XO's" suite, complete with a full-time Marine guard.
All the other officers, including pilots, had two-person rooms, with bunk beds, a sink, and a single, two-drawer desk. Pretty spartan.
Finally, there were the crew berths, many relatively large rooms with 20 or 30 bunks, three high. With a crew of well over 3,000 sailors, one can only imagine the difference between this clean and spotless, tourist-friendly display and real life.
And that was the end of our tour. Overall, I think the Hornet should be a must-see for people interested in history, naval or otherwise, aviation, engineering, or just organization of people. Not to mention bravery. No job was easy. None were highly paid. Many were extremely dangerous. From pilots in tiny yellow WWII fighters, through crews crowded in harsh spaces, to astronauts returning from the moon, AC12 tells a story worth seeing.
Leaving the Oakland waterfront, we crawled back to Albany through inevitable East Bay traffic. We did bypass the worst of it by heading up into the Berkley hills, where traffic was still slow but the scenery was interesting. The old Victorian and Arts and Crafts homes are worth the slow drive.
Back in Albany, we parked, tidied up a bit, and headed to dinner on Solano Avenue again. Our dinner choice was Fonda, where we made the most of happy-hour specials. Good drinks and interesting small plates, including dessert splurges. Dieting may have to wait.
Part of the fun was striking up a conversation with Jessica and Phillip at the table next to us. She was Berkeley-raised, but practiced her family-learned German for a few minutes, before we all settled into good old American English. They had just returned from a family visit to Italy, so we listened to their stories with a tinge of jealousy! However, they did allow us to tell our own Europe stories, something we avoid since the eyes facing us often glaze over. A good ending to Day 2
Thursday called for a quick trip home so Marianne could present her work again at ArtHop. We joined the traffic of the East Bay freeways about 9:30, late enough to miss the worst, but there is never a really good time. I really don't know how people do this every day.
We stopped for breakfast in Dublin, far enough east that it was warm enough for our Fresno-appropriate clothes. We saw a "bakery" sign and figured that would be about right. And it was, sort of. The bakery was in a large, modern shopping center, that was completely Asian businesses, from restaurants and a super market to an English-as-a-second-language business. Our bakery had a wide selection of baked goods, none of which we recognized. We simply chose a couple items each and experimented. I have to say they were tasty enough, but heavy on sugar and calories. (Next time, I have to remember pictures.)
We were in Fresno in the early afternoon and pleased to discover no surprises. Leaving our 80-year-old house unattended is always an opportunity for unpleasant developments, but the pipes and cloth-covered wires were OK and no new bugs or pests had decided to move in.
Of course, the big event was the ArtHop at Vernissage. Marianne had shown in July as well, but the slow summer season warranted two months in hopes of getting reasonable attendance. Unfortunately, the August edition of the show did not have many folks, mostly family (Mamo) and family friends (Helen, Mamo's hairdresser for decades.) No sales, but more good exposure.
On Friday morning, we needed to do our hand watering for the week. Someday, I will re-engineer our irrigation system to avoid the extra work, but until then we need to add water to lots of places, especially since Fresno would be back in triple digits for the week while we would be gone. Our fish would keep an eye on the backyard.
The three-plus hour drive back to Albany was uneventful, boring but uneventful. At our second home, we made friends with Latte and fed him his smelly canned cat food. He did not look any thinner for having gone without for 36 hours.
Speaking of food, Marianne and I decided on a German dinner at Gaumenkitzel, not far from us. Because we had not eaten lunch, we justified having heavy, traditional dishes: schnitzel with noodles and pork with dumplings. This is why we need to go back on diets when we return home.
Saturday was a more challenging day since we were going across the Bay into San Francisco. To avoid REAL city traffic, we needed to go via BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and other public transport. To do that, we needed to learn.
Step one was getting on at the El Cerrito station. We went to the Information widow and pleaded ignorance to the lady behind the bullet-proof glass. She was filled with helpful information and even closed up her booth and took us over to the fare machines to make sure we got what we needed. Exceptional service!
Up on the train platform, we waited for the Red Line that would be direct to San Francisco, Embarcadero Station. The train was relatively clean, better than Paris, not as spotless as Frankfurt. From our station, there were a couple of above-ground sections for sight-seeing, before we went underground, below San Francisco Bay, however the "sights" were limited to the rougher, more industrial parts of Oakland. Nothing seemed picture-worthy.
In Embarcadero Station, we went to another friendly BART ticket window and bought "Senior Clipper" cards, keys to one of the best bargains around. With the card, we could now ride on ANY of the local public transport; BART, trams, buses, even ferries, for 62% off! And having automatic passes makes going through entrance and exit gates a breeze.
Up on the streets, we needed to walk a block or two to find the #30 bus stop. San Francisco public transportation is extensive, and getting one place to another might now be cheap, but we would need a lot more experience before it becomes worry-free.
Bus #30 was pretty full, but we also qualify for the "senior seats", and younger people actually get up and make room. (I'm not sure I really like being identified as "senior" simply by how we look, but a seat is a seat.) Since we went through China Town, the stop announcements were in English and Chinese. It felt like we had brushed up against a foreign country.
At our Fort Mason stop, we discovered it was quite a hike over to the Festival Pavilion and the American Craft Show. Oh well, a little exercise was good.
Inside, there were more than 250 booths with some of the "best jewelry, clothing, furniture, and home decor from artists across the country", according to the unbiased show program. In fact, when we left hours later, we probably agreed.
For the most part, I figured taking pictures would be futile: too many pretty things and too many photo-distracting shoppers. My only exception was for a Fresno-local potter, Ren Lee. I have admired her work back home, including at Vernissage where Marianne is now showing. Being accepted at one of only four American Craft Shows of the year demonstrates that she is skilled and talented enough for the big leagues. Congratulations.
As expected, Marianne moved through the craft displays far more slowly than I did. I suppose, without me she might have taken even longer, but as it was, I needed a distraction.
Fortunately, this is the San Francisco waterfront and photographer distractions are everywhere. I had to walk no farther than the pier surrounding the Festival Pavilion. From here, I could watch fishermen and crabbers as they ignored the unique City scenery. The tall ship Balclutha was docked at the Maritime Museum just east. (In high school, I remember taking the ship's picture on one of my first photo excursions - with a completely manual, "cut film", Speed Grafic camera - close to 60 years ago.)
Alcatraz looked peaceful, backed by the fog bank that had rolled in, obscuring the Golden Gate Bridge.
Meanwhile, back inside, Marianne was busy too. She collected a dozen or more cards from craftsmen who either exhibited a technique she might use or offered a product we might not live without, some day. (clothing, furniture, jewelry, and etc. Always etc.) In the end, she did order some glasses, to replace ones at home that are tarnishing (and becoming unusable?) At our stage in life, we don't need MORE things, but I guess it's still within guidelines to REPLACE things for good cause. Life's too short to drink from bad glass.
We went from the Fort Mason Pavilion to the nearest BART stop via Uber. The adventure of buses and trams did not seem worth the hour it would take to walk, wait, ride, transfer, and ride again. Besides, Uber across San Francisco was enough adventure. Our driver was taciturn, almost grumpy, but I still gave him a five-star rating because he navigated traffic I could never imagine making it through. The streets have changed since I drove Mom's Renault on these hills 55 years ago.
BART back to El Cerrito was a bit slow and extremely crowded. One track in San Francisco was under repair and that was enough to make the trip longer and less fun.
Once off the train, we headed to La Mancha. We had seen the place the day before and it had had a crowd spilling out the doors, so we decided to get there at 4pm, opening time. Even so, the only space was at the bar, but that's our favorite location anyway. We settled in and caught up on social media. (That's what one does, nowadays.)
We were early enough for happy hour, when the Malbec red is decent and each $5 glass comes with a tapas bite. We supplemented the free bites with a couple of full orders, including some excellent octopus (pictured) and something else I can not remember.
By the time we rolled out and drove five minutes home, we were worn out. This tourism stuff is almost harder than gym workout and gardening back home. More fun though.
Sunday. SF MOMA. So many pictures it earned itself a separate page. (Under Construction)
Monday started slow. I think we were recovering from our all-Sunday art museum marathon. The only activity planned was dinner and, hopefully, a little photography out at the Berkeley Marina. A day later, I can't even remember anything but that dinner/photo-extravaganza.
Dinner was at Skates on the Bay, a place Tom and Kate had recommended for the view even more than the food. In our case, the food was just fine, although I am having a hard time remembering 24-hours later just what it was. (I DO remember we passed on alcohol, so that's not the reason.)
We sat by a window, looking out at a very gray San Francisco Bay. I was not encouraged for pictures, but Marianne said she LIKED the hazy view of The City off in the distance. I had my reservations.
As with other things artistic, her intuition is often better than my judgment. After dinner, I spent two hours out in the gray-and-then-red evening, thoroughly enjoying photography.
As expected from a good session, I ended up with far more pictures than I need or should share. Oh well, skip through them at will, but I will try to show enough pictures to give a sense of my evening.
First, those hazy city views. There is nowhere like The City.
Besides, here was a body of water approaching sunset, with the scenes that promise: small boats, clouds, reflections in water, waves and rocks, and even birds.
At one point, I was so taken by the challenge of seeing how many different ways water rushed up to and over rocks, I took a whole series. I think I will try to make a repetitive poster, like Andy Warhol might.
Once the sun started to go down, the skies turned a wonderful red. This is a sky photographers search out. Those dull, gray, skies transform and for twenty minutes, before and after the time of official sunset, it's hard to stop clicking, or to select "keepers" back in the darkroom
Again, I was taken with repeating, this time focused on the middle of the red-streaked clouds. I just kept clicking and clicking. Another Warhol candidate? Maybe nature had the idea before Andy,
Exhausted and cold, as only a San Francisco summer can be, I packed up and we headed home.
Tuesday started and ended unplanned. I worked on photos from the last two days and built this diary. It takes time, but it is like any craft, one step after another after another. Marianne tried a little painting with the kit she brought and we walked in the neighborhood for breakfast and lunch. Really, a quiet day.
Wednesday was our last day and we expected nothing more than meals, packing, and the long drive back to the heat. To steel ourselves, we returned to Sam's Log Cabin for breakfast, starting with some of the best scones we've ever had. That's probably why they have remained in business since 1930.
We started the drive below 70F and finished it at almost 100F. I prefer cooler than Fresno, but I have to admit it was nice to warm up after chilly SF Bay summer weather. Nearing Fresno, we stopped at Chase's Chop Shop in Madeira. It is a great, old-fashioned, family-run butcher shop and we try to stop by when we can. "Family" in this case means sister-in-law Leisa's family - brother, nephews, wifes, and such. Always a friendly stop and great meat.
Since we would need fruits and vegetables, we also stopped at the Wednesday Vineyard Farmer's Market. Another of our favorites and a good reminder of the better parts of our real hometown, especially in the summer when local farmers have so much to offer.
Not much excitement planned in the near future, other than a photography deal on Thursday, but we'll see.
John and Marianne