Tuesday, July 30, 2013

San Francisco's Painted Ladies

Colorful.  Feminine.  Frou-frou.  Photogenic. Historic.  And high maintenance!  These dames are very high maintenance.  Buying one of these old Victorian homes in San Francisco is a huge commitment.  Forget about travel or buying designer clothes if you own one of these ladies.  Your income will be spent on paint!  And endless home repair.  But, oh my, how wonderful!  If I didn't have such a bad case of Wanderlust, I would still be living in San Francisco right now, and I would have traded my apartment overlooking the Bay Bridge for a bright blue and yellow home further out in the avenues.

Actually, I remember when Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen's book entitled "Painted Ladies--San Francisco's Resplendent Victorians" came out.  It was 1978 and I had been living in the city for a year.  How I coveted these Victorians with their narrow steep stairs and alley-like interiors.  Huge windows overlooked tiny gardens in the back.  There were hardwood floors, high ceilings and architectural details that never stopped.  They were beautiful and stylish as all get out!

About 40,000 of these houses were built in San Francisco between 1949 and 1915.  Most of them were painted a very blah gray until the 1960's when Butch Kardum painted his home bright blue and green.  Some people were horrified, but Victorian owners were intrigued.  This guy was on to something.  One by one, neighbors combined their own favorite combinations and a garden of colorful homes popped up all over the city.

I spent a wonderful morning (in the fog) a couple of weeks ago walking around the Haight-Ashbury district, taking pictures, enjoying and coveting the Painted Ladies of San Francisco yet once again.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Mission Dolores

Along the Mission Trail

Although the official name for this mission is Mission San Francisco de Asis, no one calls it that.  The name Dolores stuck after the Spaniards named a nearby creek Arroyo de Nuestra Senora de los Dolores (Our Lady of Sorrows) during the Anza expedition to San Francisco.  In the tiny museum there is an account of the expedition with excerpts from the journal kept by Father Pedro Font.  He recalls finding a "handsome year-round stream of extremely fine water" and because it was the Friday of Sorrows, the stream was thus named.

Mission Dolores is the sixth of the 21 missions in California.  Founded on June 29, 1776, by Father Pedro Cambon and Father Francisco Palou under the supervision of Father Junipero Serra, it had everything going for it:  A native population, good land and lots and lots of water.  Despite all these advantages, it never was very successful. At its peak in 1783, it had only 215 neophytes.  The mission was plagued with disease and desertions.  It wasn't until after the Gold Rush when San Francisco boomed, that the mission finally came into its own.  Today the little chapel is lauded for being the oldest intact building in San Francisco and the only intact mission chapel of all the 21 missions.

  Unless you are a member of the parish or interested in mission history, I'm afraid this little church gets lost among the grandeur of the city surrounding it.  It is dwarfed, too, by the ornate towers of the Basilica next door.  It took a bit of coaxing to get my travel buddy and son to accompany me here.  "But, but, what about the Golden Gate Bridge, the America Cup boats, the wharf, dim sum . . .?"   With a promise of a good lunch on Union Street after our tour, they both agreed.  Reluctantly.
  That this little church has survived numerous earthquakes, especially the Big One of 1906, seems like a miracle to me. None of the others have.  Credit is given to Father Cambon who came to California after being stationed in the Philippines.  He had studied irrigation, agriculture and construction there.  This mission was built with 36,000 sun-baked bricks, each weighing 60 pounds.  The ceiling is redwood.  On the day of our visit, a memorial service was taking place, so out of respect, I took a quick photo of the beautiful ceiling and those solid- as- rock four feet walls and moved on.
 The best was yet to come.
 In the garden graveyard stands the most beautiful statue of Father Junipero Serra I have ever come across.  His hands are crossed behind him.  His face is looking down.  He wears a simple friar's habit with a rosary around his neck.  The artist, Arthur Putnam, wanted to depict Serra's humility; his bowing to the will of the Heavenly Father.  The stone statue stands over six feet tall.  Its height and weight evoke the monumental burden this man carried on his shoulders.  Not only was he responsible for the missions, but for the natives who were recruited to populate them.  He was a zealous missionary with a task of converting souls, but he also answered to the King of Spain.  Orders had been given to colonize California before Russian and English infringement and the missions were a vital part of the strategy.  How do you juggle the vows of poverty, defend human rights, and yet adhere to the wishes of a government who demands riches, glory and fame?

  Serra was a remarkable administrator.   As I follow the mission trail and get to know him better, it is clear  that he never broke his Franciscan vows.  He slept on a simple cot with one blanket.  He needed only one chair, one chest, one candlestick and one gourd.  No more.  No less.   That he took daily walks in the fields around the missions to reflect upon his duties to God and man, seems perfectly plausible.  I applaud the sculptor for capturing such an intense and private moment.

Arthur Putnam (1873-1930) was commissioned by the estate of Edward William Scripps, an American newspaper publisher, to create five works depicting the history of California.  This statue was simply entitled "Padre" and was scuplted in 1909.  It was placed in the mission's cemetery in 1918.  I have made a note to myself to seek out the others--renditions of a Native American, a  ploughman,  a Mexican woman and a soldier.

The cemetery surrounding the statue is a place of beauty and tranquility.  Five thousand native Americans and early San Franciscan pioneers were buried here.  The garden is planted with native trees, shrubs and flowers.
Of interest to anyone who loves literature, are the three bells that inspired Bret Harte to write his lovely poem, "The Angelus."  Its a nostalgic poem about the glory of the Spanish missions and their ultimate demise.

The poet lived in San Francisco for awhile in the mid 1800's.  He wrote about the pioneers of early California and is best known for his short story, "The Luck of the Roaring Camp."

Bells of the Past, whose long-forgotten music
Still fills the wide expanse,
Tingeing the sober twilight of the Present
With color of Romance!

(first stanza of The Angelus)
And so we left Mission Dolores.   After an hour of reflection, we decided to head over to Mission Street for some Mexican food in honor of California's history.  Funny thing, though, once we got a whiff of some  mouth-watering sausages, we decided on some German beer and brats instead.  Ah, the push and pull of a city.   Travel makes history fun, but how easily it gets lost amid the endless fascination of TODAY.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Nights at the Stanyan Park Hotel

Finding a hotel in San Francisco on short notice was a challenge.  The fact that it was over the July 4th holiday weekend, made the task nearly impossible.  Thanks to the internet and our tenacious spirits, we finally found a room at the Stanyan Park Hotel, way out on the eastern edge of Golden Gate Park.  What a gem of a place!  We couldn't stop raving about it to our family and friends.

"You know, I'm always being asked about a good hotel away from Fisherman's Wharf and Union Square," my brother-in-law told me.  He's lived in San Francisco for over 30 years.  "This one sounds perfect."
Not only perfect, but historical.  Stanyan Park, located on the corner of Stanyan and Waller Streets,  is the oldest extant hotel in the Golden Gate Park area.  Its origins date back to the late 1800's when Harry P. Heagerty had the foresight to build a saloon next to the grounds where the California League played.  Baseball fans were mighty thirsty after those games!  In 1897 the league moved, but Golden Gate Park was now attracting a new breed of people--The Tourist.  Businesses catering to these visitors were popping up all over.  Heagerty, seeing another golden opportunity, added rooms to his saloon, and a grand little hotel was born.  It has been there ever since, surviving even the horrific 1906 earthquake.  It is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

It went through a major renovation in the 1980's.  Our room, with its floral wallpaper and pink damask drapes, was lovely and quiet.   Unbelievably QUIET.  Were we really in San Francisco?

We were able to park our car across the street for $18.00 a night, but public transportation is easy and preferable in this city.  The hotel has a map with all the bus and tram routes.  You can get anywhere within fifteen minutes.  Or simply stay put.  Golden Gate Park is across the street.  Haight-Ashbury with all its shops and restaurants in just around the corner.  Best of all, the breakfast buffet was excellent and the coffee, hot, dark and strong.  I will definitely be back.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Mimi Goes Hippie

If you're going to San Francisco,
be sure to wear some flowers in your hair . . .
If you're going to San Francisco,
You're gonna meet some gentle people there.
                            Sung by Scott McKenzie
                             Lyrics by John Phillips

"I want to wear flowers in my hair."

"But you don't have hair!"

"Jeeze.  A hat then."
And so we put together an outfit that one of the flower people would have worn in San Francisco back in the Summer of Love.  The skirt is a silk tie-dyed number from Thailand and I wear it a lot when I travel, especially to beach destinations.  Funny how the hippie-look is now called bohemian.  The Free People catalogs are filled with such outfits.  Oddly enough, while shopping on Haight Street, the clothes in the windows were very Bettie Page--nothing bohemian about them!

If you love shopping vintage, however, this is a great place to roam.  Decades, Wasteland, Cross Roads and many other used clothing stores are all here.  Fun!
I think Mimi's on to something.  I like the roses in my Indiana Jones hat.  If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair . . .  Or hat!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Corner of Haight and Ashbury

That this neighborhood in San Francisco belongs to the annals of history is a bit disconcerting.  Even more so is the realization that the flower children of yore are now accountants, lawyers and programmers who are worried that their 401K's aren't hefty enough for retirement.

When I lived here in the 70's, the Haight had not yet recovered from the hordes of young people who had congregated here during the Summer of Love.  It was dirty-funky, man.  I avoided it like the plague.  It took nearly twenty years for these streets to get cleaned up.  The neighborhood began to change when the comedy clubs of the 80's drew a more professional crowd.  Robin Williams, Dana Carvey and Whoopi Goldberg all launched their careers here.  And those who came to see them, stayed.  They opened restaurants, bars and bookstores.  They bought old Victorian houses and painted them bright blue and yellow.  Haight-Ashbury was once again a "happening place."

In 1967, San Francisco, for some reason, became the center of the new revolution.  Life revolved around drugs, music, sex and above all, a freedom from the constraints put on them by the Greatest Generation.  They did not want to become their parents.  (And yet, they did.)

But as I walked the streets, I became acutely aware that an alternative culture of people still live here.  They are no longer called "hippies".  Bohemians, maybe.  Artists.  Musicians.  Young (and not so young) people who have carved out a life centered around creativity.  Dress shops are mostly vintage.  Restaurants are mostly ethnic.  The streets, however, are clean and colorful.  At seven in the morning, there were homeless men rummaging through trash cans, but there were also well-dressed hipsters walking their pedigreed dogs.

I left San Francisco in 1982.  To come back as a tourist puts the city of my youth into a far different category.  I can roam the streets without pain.  Those first jobs and those faithless friends are all behind me now.  Yes, I lost my innocence in San Francisco.  But did I lose my heart?  Not really.  It's a fun place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live here.