Sunday, October 20, 2013

Western Time Diary: San Francisco

It has taken me until now to post my California diary here, Western Time, in a nod to Laura Ingalls Wilder's remark to her husband Almanzo when the time zone changes, "Western time now" in the collection of letters "West from Home." The West does feel so different from fast-paced life commuting to New York City from congested northern New Jersey.

In the R.E.M. song, I Remember California, Michael Stipe sings of memories of redwood trees, bumper cars and wolverines, the ocean's trident submarines, lemons, limes and tangerines. Here is what I remember of San Francisco, where Steve and I spent the first leg and last of our honeymoon in early October last year which I still want to document as love letters to a very happy time, including some reflections on my American dream.

The Golden Gate Bridge, of course! History-loving me wanted to know the origin of "golden gate," and according to the bridge's web site,

"The Golden Gate Strait is the entrance to the San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean...It is generally accepted that the strait was named "Chrysopylae", or Golden Gate, by John C. Fremont, Captain, topographical Engineers of the U.S. Army circa 1846. It reminded him of a harbor in Istanbul named Chrysoceras or Golden Horn."

Of course, gold would play a huge role in the development of the state, and we'll visit a gold rush town a little later.

The art deco architecture of Ocean Park Motel, which opened in 1937, the same year as the Golden Gate bridge. The rooms were on the small side but this was just fine. I needed a comfortable bed at the end of the day to rest my head, and I love the retro feel here. I kept having my favorite old Hollywood movie star Dick Powell's music running through my head. Mr. and Mrs. is the Name felt appropriate.

Loved their zen hot tub area.

In a word, I'd have to describe the whole vibe of San Francisco on this trip as "zen."

Breakfasts like granola bowls  with fresh fruit, cinnamon sugar baguettes, and hummus bagels with sprouts and soy lattes at the nearby Java Beach Cafe. The presidential debates were being held while we were here, and the locals gathered over their newspapers and had lively discussions. It's hard to believe we are already talking about the next presidential election. I like to "vote" with how I spend my dollars, including patronizing small businesses as often as possible. Politicians can talk about helping small business, but it's up to the masses to support them. That's my contribution to this morning's café political round table.

Strolling on the beach after breakfast. These waters are too rocky for swimming, though I meant to wade like Laura did in the Pacific Ocean. Leave it to Laura to wade!

Haight Ashbury. I found a nature-inspired green dress at a vintage shop on the corner here that reminds me of the woods. One of the things I love to vote and advocate for is a strong reuse market.

We didn't register for our wedding, and asked for honeymoon contributions instead, so our entire trip was paid for. We've outfitted our household since we moved into our two family home almost entirely through secondhand (garage and estate sales, charity thrift shops and even curbside rescues).  As often as I can (I'm not perfect), I vote again corporations with their cheap foreign made wares they sell to the public, and that's my hippie spirit of the 60s.

 I love seeking out gardens in big cities. One of my favorite places in New York? The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Strolling the peaceful Japanese tea garden in Golden Gate Park here.

Lunch at the tea house.

Jasmine tea, miso soup and fortune cookies. Some history on fortune cookies from the tea garden's site:

"According to family members, Mr. Hagiwara introduced fortune cookies to the United States from Japan in the 1890's or early 1900's. Initially, the cookies were made on site by hand using a special iron mold or kata. When demand grew, Mr. Hagiwara hired San Francisco confectioner Benkyodo to produce the fortune cookies in large quantities.  Original fortune cookies made in Japan were savory rather than sweet, and it is believed that Benkyodo developed a vanilla recipe for Mr. Hagiwara to make it more appealing to Western palates, the flavor that is now widely popular across the U.S."

 Green tea with kuzuomochi, sweet rice cakes in flavors of green tea, mango and strawberry.

We also toured the botanical gardens. I think blue flowers are my most favorite. Author Elizabeth Gilbert recalled her "gardening mother's wise adage, which she used to tell us all the time when we were kids: Every day that goes by that you do not touch the soil, you aren't really alive." I feel more alive when I observe the magnificence of nature each day.

The Fog City Diner. More art deco love.

Not your average diner food. At the Fog City Diner, butter lettuce, walnuts, grilled pears, goat cheese in a citrus vinaigrette.

The seals by the wharf. I don't know how they get any sleep!

A salted caramel hot chocolate on a brisk, windy day at Ghirardelli Square.

The tomato soup bread bowl at Boudin Bakery. The Fisherman's Wharf area is very touristy, yes, but sometimes it's okay to do the "touristy" things, because well, you are!

A tea tasting at Vital Tea Leaf in Chinatown. I sampled wonderful teas, including a rose tea, and left with a batch of rosemary lavender green tea. I feel like I'm drinking in the garden physically and spiritually when I have it. A friend of mine referred to the "ritual" of her tea routine and I love that word to describe savoring a cup of tea.

Steamed veggie dumplings at a restaurant in Chinatown.

The Palace of the Fine Arts, from the Pan-Pacific International Exposition which Laura was visiting in 1915 which she wrote about in West from Home. We came here around dinnertime and practically had the place to ourselves. I'm so glad Laura led me here. I believe in surrounding yourself by people who make your life more fulfilling, and that includes storytellers.

Driving down the crooked Lombardi Street at dusk.

Coit Tower by night.

The view from the Coit tower.

The eco-friendliness of the city. Curbside composting bins? Why doesn't every city have that? We were here on the first day of the plastic bag ban and 10 cent fee for bags, something I favor after having done numerous river cleanups and seeing where these end up.


The City Lights Bookstore. With the popularity of so many electronic readers, I worry for these book shops. I find so much of what I read because someone bought a print book and passed it on to a thrift shop or library book sale. I'm sticking to my print books - threat of dirty electricity, zero.

Alcatraz. Some unexpected things I learned here:

That long before Occupy Wall Street, there was an actual occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1969, taking a "stand again broken treaties, broken treaties, and broken lives suffered by America's native people since the arrival of European explorers in the fifteenth century."

The treatment of the Native Americans is one of the darkest spots on our nation's history, and remains shameful. We'll visit this more when we get to Yosemite.

Amid a world of criminals, movements towards civility, such as the impressive libraries, and...

the prisoner gardens.

A spot of refreshment for birds of flight, amid the former home of so many caged birds.

Lunch in Sausalito, which reminded me of being in Italy. My avocado and brie cheese club with a California white zinfandel at Venice Gourmet.

Two more places coming up for reflections on nature before we get to the wine country.



  1. Catherine, I was so thrilled to see you posting again yet I've been busy enough myself that I am just now getting a chance to start reading through them. I have thought about you over these past months and hoped that all was well with you and that you were just busy with a full life and not able to post. As always, I love reading about your travels, seeing your photos, and appreciating your take on things (especially your wonderful veggie food finds!). I shall be catching up on these posts over this week I hope. (But I confess, it is also a week to be filled with much anticipation of the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special coming up, so I might get a bit distracted!) Glad to have your words and images back on my laptop!

  2. Amy, so good to hear from you. I hope you and your family are all well. Thank you so much for the kind words. Food is a great pleasure of life, and so sad our culture associates it with so much guilt. One can eat quite wonderfully, and with so many vegetarian options.

    Enjoy that Doctor Who special. I completely understand the importance of these things. I intended to post a bit more frequently and then I'd get a Downton Abbey disc and it trumped everything. I devoured three seasons and it made me long for a visit to Tea and Sympathy.

    Wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. Oh, I do understand getting sidetracked by Downton Abbey! I am glad after the hullaballoo of Doctor Who is over that I shall have the next season of DA to look forward to! We might be making a brief trip to NY in January and I am hoping to be able to squeeze in a visit to Tea & Sympathy myself! But for the moment, I am settling down on this chilly November morning to spend some time with the rest of your recent posts. And a very Happy Thanksgiving to you as well.