DM's San Francisco 2011 Diary

Day 2 - San Francisco

Sunday, 23 January, 2011

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Sunday was a free day, since the conference didn't start until Monday. I'd made no plans with any of my colleagues, so headed out for a day in San Francisco by myself. I again walked to Millbrae BART station and caught the train in, this time as far as Embarcadero station. There, I walked towards the Ferry Building, an historic ferry terminal, now converted into a market full of interesting food shops and eateries. On the way, I passed a street market in the process of setting up for the day. One woman was selling hand made fridge magnets, sculpted out of modelling clay into the shape of various fruits and vegetables. I bought a broccoli for my wife (her favourite vegetable).

Fruit & Veg Fridge Magnets
Fruit and vegetable magnets

The Ferry Building was worth visiting, with many little shops selling all sorts of intriguing and delicious looking foods: mushrooms, fruits, vegetables, cakes, pastries, cheeses, and so on. Out the back of the building, it of course faced the waterfront of San Francisco Bay, and heading out there gave me good views of Yerba Buena and Treasure Islands, as well as the Bay Bridge. I climbed up on to the public viewing area of what I guess is an international ship passenger terminal to appreciate the views across the bay.

Cowgirl Creamery Cheese
Cowgirl Creamery Cheese shop in the Ferry Building

From there I walked north along The Embarcadero, alternately along the street in front of the various piers with their old warehouses, or along public walkways closer to the waterfront, behind the buildings. It seemed to be a popular walking and jogging route, as there was a constant stream of people heading to and fro along the way, both locals out for some exercise and tourists enjoying the warm sun on this winter's day and inspecting the sights to be seen.

Straight to the point
Pier on the Embarcadero, looking towards Treasure Island

Eventually I reached the vicinity of Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf, where the density of tourists skyrocketed. The first thing I came across was the Aquarium of the Bay. Despite having been to the city three times before, I'd never been inside this attraction. So I paid the entry fee and took the plunge. The aquarium is a little smaller than others I've been to, and seems more geared to heavy tourism than the scientific aspects of the creatures and ecosystems on display. Nevertheless, there were several interesting and beautiful displays, with tanks full of fish, crustaceans, and soft-bodied sea critters of various types. The real highlight, I thought, were the jellyfish tanks, which contained beautifully coloured moon jellies and sea nettles. There were also a pair of underwater tunnels with transparent walls, through which large tanks containing rays, small sharks, other fish, and various invertebrates could be watched. These were captivating, although it was difficult to get a decent photo of the many fast-moving fish! The final attraction was a large pair of touch pools, in which small sharks and rays swam about, allowing inquisitive kids and adults to stroke their bodies, as well as a selection of squishy things like starfish, anemones, and sea cucumbers.

Pacific Sea Nettle
Pacific Sea Nettle, Aquarium of the Bay

The aquarium completed, it was now lunch time. I walked across to Pier 39 and Boudin Bakery, where on a previous trip to San Francisco I'd had clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. It was so good that time I had to go the exact same place and order the same thing again! And it was indeed again delicious. The only problem was my wife wasn't here this time to share it with me.

Chowder
Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl at Boudin Bakery

Following my lunch, I did a brief walk around the touristy bits of the pier, then continued my walk along The Embarcadero, ending up finding myself in the Musée Mécanique, a museum of antique mechanical arcade machines, including such classics as the gypsy fortune teller, various "lover rating" instruments, an arm-wrestling machine, loads of coin-operated musical dioramas, player pianos, mechanical pinball machines, and so on. All the items are in working order and still accept coins to operate their various entertainments. It was really an impressive collection.

Gypsy Queen
Gypsy fortune teller, Musée Mécanique

If I'd had more time, I would have continued my walk to Ghirardelli Square and then beyond, but for the afternoon I wanted to visit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). I figured the nicest way to get there was to take the MUNI F-line streetcar service back along The Embarcadero and down Market St to a stop near the museum. This was cheaper and more relaxing than the tourist-laden cablecars, and gave me another cool experience of the city.

A short walk south of Market St brought me to the SFMOMA, where I paid the entry fee and was told that the second floor was currently closed. This was disappointing only briefly, as I entered the vast atrium style lobby of the museum, with a steel footbridge spanning the vast chasm five floors above me. The museum is largely vertical in layout, with five relatively small floors connected by a glorious staircase that affords expansive views of the architecturally interesting interior space from all parts. I began by climbing all the way to the top, planning to work my through each floor on the way down.

Overview
Entrance lobby of SFMOMA, seen from above

The museum contained numerous cool works of art and exhibits. The bridge across the atrium was itself part of a piece of artwork, a sonic sculpture, in which directional speakers played the amplified sounds of the building itself to people who walked across it. The sounds were collected by sensitive microphones in strategic parts of the building, such as the boiler room, and the bridge itself, where they could pick up the creaks and groans of the building structure as it responded to various stresses. The sounds created an airy impression as you walked across the bridge.

And from here above, a spotlight shone down on the lobby floor below. This was connected to motion tracking software, and it automatically singled out and followed a particular person as they walked across the lobby. Furthermore, directional speakers beamed sounds to the person in the spotlight beam, sounds that anyone outside the beam couldn't hear! And to make this work interactive, it was actually controllable by museum visitors from a computer panel on the fifth floor, overlooking the action on the lobby floor below. Users could direct the spotlight to track different people.

Smokin'
Modern art, SFMOMA

There were plenty of non-interactive exhibits too, various paintings and sculptures of different types. And there were three special exhibitions: a collection of over 300 photos of the photojournalistic work of Henri Cartier-Bresson; an exhibit titled Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance, and the Camera Since 1870 which showed many examples of people being photographed without their knowledge, in voyeuristic scenarios, by paparazzi, or by surveillance cameras; and How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now, a collection of displays relating to wine, wine making, wine drinking, and the artistry involved in various aspects of the wine industry, from labels to glassware to winery estate architecture to use and portrayal of wine in entertainment and media. All of these were excellent.

Science!
Exhibition of wine and design, SFMOMA

I spent the entire afternoon in the museum, leaving only when it was getting close to closing time. I ducked into the museum shop to pick up some souvenirs, including a hanging photo display mobile and a set of magnetic sculpture balls. As I was leaving the museum, I turned to take a final photo of the staircase in the lobby, only to see another photographer standing on the staircase a few levels up, aiming a camera down at the lobby area, including me. We saw each other and through a quick series of gestures, agreed to take a photo of each other taking a photo!

That done, I walked back to Market St and the Montgomery St BART station to catch a train back to Millbrae. By the time I got there and began walking back to the hotel, I felt like some dinner. I stopped at a restaurant called El Torito on the waterfront, a block or so before my hotel. There I had a dinner consisting of a chicken tamale and a cheese enchilada, with beans and rice, plus a Corona beer to wash it down. It was different in style to the Mexican places back home, somewhat simpler in construction, but just as delicious. And I even had space left over for a dessert, for which I picked the chocolate volcano cake, named presumably for the hot magma of chocolate sauce buried inside the cake. Thus satisfied, I returned to the hotel for sleep before the beginning of the conference.

Mexe-Meal
Dinner at El Torito



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