Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Ashes of San Francisco.

Back from San Fransisco. This was my second visit, but I can't remember much about the last one except walking on the boardwalk at Pier 39 is warm sunny weather. This time we spent a week there and had more time to explore.

We stayed at Fisherman's Wharf which in winter is a quiet spot lacking the bustle of the Downtown area. The Shearaton was a perfectly acceptable hotel, though it lacks a proper restaurant. The skyscraper hotels in Downtown may have been plusher, but I disliked the crowds and shopping is not one of my pleasures. The weather was mostly fine, though we had one day of rain and overcast skies. Otherwise it was sunny with temperatures in the sixties. Early morning faogs were not really a problem for us.

The main attraction in SF is Alcatraz, which all visitors must see.Set just over a mile from the shore it was first a fort, then a military prison then a Federal one. Famous inmates included Al Capone, 'Machine-gun' Kelly and Robert 'Birdman' Stroud. Trick question: How many birds did Robert Stroud have at Alcatraz? Answer: None; he had them at Leavenworth. He used the birdseed to make alcohol and was refused birds when he did 'bird' on the island.

The cells were very small and 'D' wing where the prisoners were kept in darkness was particularly oppressive, though the cells were larger there. Did Frank Morris and his two colleagues really make good their escape as the Clint Eastwood film suggests? No-one knows, but their bodies were never found.

Muir woods, over the other side of the Golden Gate bridge is a forest of giant redwoods approached by a scary mountain road. The redwoods came in useful for construction during the gold rush, but were very flammable in 1906 when the earthquake set the city alight. With water supplies disrupted by the quake, the only way to control the fire was with a fire break. All the wooden buildings downtown of Van Ness Avenue were demolished. Jack London, the author of 'Call of the Wild'. sought to make money be replanting the forests felled for timber and bought in quick-growing eucalyptus trees from Australia. Unfortunately these are useless as lumber and he lost his money. Nevertheless their progeny abound in the woods and glades around San Francisco.

We took a bus tour round the city seeing Haight-Ashbury, the Victorian houses, the gay district at Castro, Lombard Street - the second crookedest street in America after Wall Street, and looked down on the city from Twin Peaks. We rode two of the trolley cars and took the 'F-train' in tramcars from Milan and Birmingham. The 1989 earthquake severely damaged the double-decker road around the bay, and rather than rebuild it, the city decided to replace it with a light railway and bought in disused tramcars from around the world.

After three days we ran out of things to do. The Science Museum was propaganda for anthropogenic global warming and neo-Darwinism, neither of which I believe to be accurate descriptions of our planet, though the aquarium is worth a visit.

San Francisco is no longer the largest city on the Bay - San Jose has that honor. In fact the size of SF has not changed much since the 1950s when I knew about these things.

In general, I found the Americans in San Francisco extremely pleasant and friendly. The food was difficult; lots of it but pretty tasteless. The eight-hour time difference meant that we couldn't go out in the evening and we started our day in deep darkness.

I think this will be the last time I visit the west coast; the journey takes too long and my metabolism finds it hard to cope with the jet-lag.

I shall write about the ASH meeting when I get over the time-shift and have collected my thoughts.


Brian Koffman said...

You didn't mention one meal on your trip to the city by the bay! Besides the conference and seeing family and friends, the food was the highlight of the visit for me. SF is very vegan friendly. As you know I too was at ASH, probably the only family doctor among the 20,000 hematologists. The size of the crowds was overwhelming and I was naive in my belief that I would just bump into all the CLL and transplant gurus.
Be well

Terry Hamblin said...

Alas, the food was barely passable. Pot roast and fish and chips! We didn't have time to discover any reasonable eateries. You're right about the crowds. I saw Emili Montserrat, Pete Hillmen and Ben Kennedy, but none of the American CLL specialists.

Anonymous said...

Ash in San Francisco is just down the freeway from me, about an hour and a half by car. Of course, patients aren't encouraged to attended, if they somehow can even sneak in. And, it's very expensive.

Your lucky you missed the bad weather, it is pouring there now.

Since I'm so close, I probably should visit Alcatraz before I die. I'm old enough to know of the escape from Alcatraz. I like to think that they survived, but consensus is that they did not. I still have the newspaper somewhere.

Miur Woods is indeed spectacular, but a very small part of the redwoods that exist in California. The best specimens are further up the coast and in the Sierra.

I look forward to your take on ASH. I've reviewed the abstracts and didn't find much of interest for CLLers, sadly.

Anonymous said...

It's too bad you didn't enjoy fine dining in SF. I've hardly had a bad meal in the city, though you have to look, be prepared before you go. The local rag the Chronicle used to has the top 100 restaurants in SF and surrounding areas. I've hit many of them, and have had many excellent meals.

Just be prepared culinary-wise before (or if) you go again.

(Personally I find SF to be a depressing city, dirty, cold, windy and bleak. The liberal 'anything goes' political climate leads to more and more crime, a lower standard of living.)