Monday, January 4, 2016

Hungering for Every Wasted Hour

Final day itinerary on the West Coast:

1. Brenda's French Soul Food for brunch, yet another NOLA experience on the West Coast, this time set to '60s R & B and not requiring the wait on the sketchy sidewalk we'd anticipated. Timing is everything.

Tomato jam sweetened my bacon and egg tartine and a beignet filled with oozing Ghiradelli chocolate finished the meal, topped only when one of my all-time favorite Motown songs, "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," played overhead.

2. The Asian Art Museum for a wide-ranging look at Eastern art and, too often, the annoyance of people more interested in taking pictures of art than actually taking in art. The museum's collection is so extensive it was impossible to take in even most of it, but we did our best.

Interestingly enough, they were also hosting "Looking East: How Japan Inspired Monet, Van Gogh and Other Western Artists," a show I'd seen in Washington a few years ago.

3. The museum was housed in what used to be San Francisco's main library, a gorgeous Italianate building, conveniently located next to its replacement, also a notable building, so we made an impromptu stop.

Coolest feature? Wallpaper made of old card catalog (look it up, kids) cards with commentary written on them by thousands of different people. Most adrenaline-inducing moment? Five armed guards charging a small old man because someone mistook the insulin pump on his hip for a gun.

4. The California Historical Society Museum because we are history geeks and they had mounted an incredible show about the Panama- Pacific World Exposition called "City Rising: San Francisco and the 1915 World's Fair."

So many fascinating tidbits gleaned! The Gillette Pavilion had columns shaped like razors. Four minutes after the fair opened, the first car rolled off the assembly line at the Ford Motor Car pavilion. There was an exhibit of live premature babies in incubators. There was a giant typewriter at the Underwood pavilion that typed on paper that was 9 feet by 12 feet. There was a western show with Wild Bill Hickock.

5. Moving from state to church matters, we went up to Nob Hill to check out Keith Haring's altarpiece at Grace Cathedral and wander around the enormous church, watching people walk the labyrinths inside and out to reach a blissful place.

6. A far more excellent way to achieve an altered state, we decided, was at the Tonga Room in the famous Fairmont Hotel a block away, where the Supremes used to play for three weeks at a time back in the '60s. For that matter, so did Miriam Makeba, Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown.

The basement pool had been converted to a high end tiki lounge back in 1945, complete with rain showers every 20 minutes in the pool, grass canopies and boat ropes tied to the ceiling, and attracting movie stars and high rollers.

It was just about as groovy as you can imagine a tiki bar could be, a sense that was only enhanced with a Lava Bowl for two: dark rum, overproof rum, fresh lemon and pineapple juices and housemade orgeat, served in a bowl depicting palm trees and topless dancing girls complete with bright red nipples.

I could almost pretend I was Dorothy Lamour on the road to Tonga if I'd had a grass (mini) skirt.

And that, gentle reader, wound down my final day in the Paris of the West, which is what the 1915 fair organizers were trying to convince the rest of the world San Francisco was. Hence the razors and preemies, I suppose.

What better place to ring in the year of the monkey?

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