Monday, July 30, 2012

Our June Trip: San Francisco!

My friends, if I absolutely had to go live in a big city somewhere, San Francisco would be high on the list. At least, that’s what I’ve been thinking since our trip there last month.

The thought struck me immediately as our taxi waited at an intersection with Market Street, on our way to our hotel our first day there: I noticed that all up and down Market, the “main street” of San Francisco, at regular intervals, there were rainbow flags. Big ones. As far as the eye could see.

June, of course, is Pride month internationally (it commemorates the Stonewall riots that occurred in New York in June 1969, which mark the beginning of the modern gay rights movement). And San Francisco has one of the biggest LGBT pride celebrations in the world, with a huge parade that goes down, yes, Market Street. Everybody goes.

I was fortunate enough to have an internship in San Francisco during the summer of 1990, so I got to attend one of those festivals. I saw the parade and everything. By the end of that summer, I was practically a “resident” of the City.

(I used public transportation a lot!)

(But even though I used public transportation a lot, I still had a big hill to walk up to reach my house! That burned a lot of calories!)

People like to talk about how wonderful America is—about our diverse population, the immigrants cherishing their freedom and opportunities, and so on. It’s not so much of a “melting pot” as it is a stew, where people from various ethnicities and cultures blend harmoniously, yet retain distinctions from the “old country.” To be proud Americans, yet retain what is precious and colorful about our roots. At least, that’s the goal, I think.

Of all the places I’ve seen, San Francisco seems most “American” in this way. It is proud of its diversity. It goes well beyond tolerance—the citizens of that city seem pleased to have cultivated a place where everyone can be who they are.

Of course I wax nostalic—I know it’s not a utopia. But how can I not be irreversibly impressed, and deeply moved, when I come from the Midwest? Sue and I don’t dare fly our rainbow flag outdoors in our neighborhood, in our city. It would be begging for vandalism, because too many Missourians think that it’s cool to put down gay people. I know it will be many, many years before Jefferson City puts rainbow flags all along High Street!

Anyway, you just have to imagine how it feels to a gay person from the homophobic Midwest to arrive in a city that goes out of its way to show you that you are not just tolerated, but valued as a contributing member of society.

Here's another example. This is an inscription on one of the walks at the AIDS Memorial Grove at Golden Gate Park. The grove is an exceptionally beautiful, peaceful place. The city dedicated park space for this memorial grove.

Well, that’s enough words for now. This trip, we were flat-out tourists, and we had a great time trying to see as much as possible in the three days we were there.

We rode the cable cars!

We had a breakfast at the venerable (and touristy!) Sears Fine Food, on Powell Street across from the Sir Francis Drake! (I had actually never eaten there before, and you know what? It was really good! They deserve their reputation!)

Then there is the big Asian influence. Yes, Chinatown is always rather fun, but so are lots and lots of other Asian areas, such as Japantown, and the Japanese Garden at Golden Gate Park (this is the entrance of it):

Because of our interest in Asian art, we also had to visit the Asian Art Museum! (When I lived there, this building was the main branch of the public library!) The collections are spectacular and varied, including a wide geographical range, and ancient through contemporary works. Very impressive!

Do I even have to mention the excellent Asian food?

With all the delicious chow available, San Franciscans should be grateful there are so many hills to climb, and beaches to walk. Even when it's windy!

Anybody familiar with this part of the coast ought to know these flowers: ice plants! These are some of the plants that grow closest to the beach. They smile at you coming and going.

Another thing this little tourist was eager to see was the rebuilt Steinhart Aquarium, part of the California Academy of Sciences (and also in Golden Gate Park). The last time we were in San Francisco (2005), they had torn down the venerable old aquarium and had moved to temporary new quarters, and this new building was basically only a big hole in the ground.

So it was a real treat to see the "finished product," a "green" building with up-to-date displays and interpretive information. I'm not convinced that video screens, which need electricity to work, are in any way better than printed signs, but what do I know. Still--the state-of-the-art aquaria was neat to see.

Here I am at the entryway to the new Steinhart. That above me is a life-size model of the jaws of a megalodon, a Cenozoic shark that was 52 feet long and lived in ocean waters worldwide. The teeth are about 7 inches long. Whoa, nelly!

The aquarium is on the lower level of the California Academy of Sciences, though some of the larger tanks are two stories high and can be seen from above and below. There's a nifty tunnel beneath one of these huge aquariums full of large freshwater species. If I lived in San Francisco again, I think I would come here to just sit on the bench and read.

In this big tank are three arapiamas, which, I think, are the very same fish that lived in the Steinhart back in 1990. I used to visit them! I have a special appreciation for arapiamas. Did you know they are the largest strictly freshwater fish in the world?

Okay, now, a disclaimer: In this post, and in the last one (about Florida), the BEST pictures are the ones taken by Sue! Mine are the pedestrian snapshots. Here's one of my pedestrian snapshots, of Sue as she's taking a real photo!

My abundant thanks to Sue for letting me post so many of her photos!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Our May Trip: Florida

We've been lucky as all get-out this year. First, we got to stay at my uncle's timeshare on Captiva Island, Florida. Uncle Tom offered his week (at the end of May) to my parents, and they asked Sue and me if we'd like to go with them. They didn't have to ask us twice!

The biggest deal there is the beach. Captiva and Sanibel islands are world famous for the huge numbers of shells that get washed up on their white sand beaches. That Captiva has mainly private homes and resorts means that the beaches are people-quiet and clean. Which is to say, relaxing and beautiful.

There really are gobs of shells on these beaches. This is me, performing the Captiva Island version of the famous "Sanibel stoop." It's hard to walk on the beaches without pausing every so often to stoop down to examine something. Here, I'm rinsing the sand off of some treasure the very first night we got there. (Those are my flip-flops in my pocket, by the way.)

On one of the days, Sue and I took a short day cruise northward to Cabbage Key, where one of the prime things for tourists (like us) to see is the restaurant. The place got famous because it provided Jimmy Buffet the inspiration for his "Cheeseburger in Paradise" song. Naturally, one of us had to get the cheeseburger.

They serve libations there, too. (Oh no I dih-unht!) (Oh yes I did!)

On our previous trips to Captiva, we had not visited the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, which has a natural history museum, several hiking trails, and native plant nursery. Very much worth seeing! I wish we'd gone there sooner. And what a great idea to combine the native plant nursery and sales with the environmental education: as the green world goes, the rest of nature follows.

This (below) is simply a view from along one of the trails.

Here's a view of Pine Island Sound, taken during the aforementioned boat trip.

Manatees are pretty much emblematic of southern Florida, and it seems that whenever one of these "sea cows" lifts its cute little nose out of the water to catch a breath, people gather around and watch. I'm glad that the education about manatee conservation has reached so many people.

Another new part of this trip was visiting the Thomas Edison and Henry Ford Winter Estates in Ft. Myers. The homes and grounds (actually, an arboretum) are well cared for, and the museum and its staff are professional and informative. Here's our docent/tour leader. She did a great job!

There is a statue of Edison under the huge banyan tree that was apparently planted in 1925. It's one of the largest banyans in the United States. Its lower limbs reach out sideways and send down aerial shoots like a mangrove tree. This single tree constitutes its own small "forest."

Here's the statue of Ford, which is located near his winter home. The homes were indeed fun to see, but I have to admit, I got more excited about the many tropical plants all over the grounds!

As with the last time we visited Florida, we made a trip to the Everglades. You know you're getting close when you stop at a rest stop and, when reentering the car, a half dozen mosquitoes fly in with you! This mosquito is squashed against my driver's side window. Well? It wouldn't leave on its own.

Another new place this trip was the Fruit and Spice Park, which is part of the Miami-Dade County parks system. It's in Homestead, Florida, and it's incredibly fun for anyone interested in food, botany, agriculture, or gardening. Yes, bug spray was a good thing, but then, what other botanical garden lets you eat (indeed, encourages you to eat!) the fruits lying on the ground?

I could go on and on about this place, but I'd better hold off. But if you're headed that way, make sure you visit it.

Banana flowers!

Bananas! (Yeah, they sent us away with some; it was late in the day and they were closing up shop: "Here, take these back to your motel with you.") I'm pretty sure this is the variety called "apple bananas," which you can purchase online at Robert Is Here. I had never eaten a banana that tasted so much like a . . . fruit. They were sort of creamy and juicy, but certainly not "overipe." A revelation!

Folks, that Fruit and Spice Park had jackfruit trees, too! You can see the huge, watermelon-sized fruits forming on the trees! They even let you stand under them! (For those of you who are into such things, the jackfruit is in the same family as the mulberry and the Osage orange. The jackfruit is more or less like a big huge edible Osage orange! Another point of interest: Jackfruit is the original flavoring for Juicy Fruit chewing gum!) These jackfruits were forming close to the ground, but others were high in the tree!

This here is a baby pineapple. A variegated or red-tinged one, I think.

. . . And a dragonfruit! Easily the coolest-looking of the tropical fruits down there, because of the nearly florescent magenta pulp color and the nifty green and red outer rind. How does it taste? It's actually pretty mild. The texture (including that of the edible little seeds) is a lot like a kiwi fruit. They're available June through November, and if you keep an eye out for them, your supermarket might get a few in the "nifty gourmet stuff" section of their produce department.

Then, the Everglades. This year, while we traveled, Sue and I read Marjory Stoneman Douglas's Everglades: River of Grass. It's pretty intense, but it really is a great crash course in what the Everglades are all about. Recommended reading for any American. You have to read it! You just have to!

This year we finally drove all the way to the last "stop" on the Everglades National Park scenic road, the Flamingo area, where land and water are no longer clearly defined. We took a guided natural history boat tour there (again, very worthwhile), and saw lots of neat stuff. Here, for example, was one of the baby crocodiles we saw!

Yes, a crocodile! At the very southern tip of the Everglades, there's an overlap in the ranges of the American alligator and the American crocodile! Ain't he cute?

Well, that's all for now. We had two days between the Florida trip and the one to California. Soon, I'll post some pictures from San Francisco!

Wherever Have I BEEN?

Hooo doggies, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted. As you can imagine, my absence from virtual life signifies a greater participation in real life.

What have I been up to? Well, for starters, I’ve been working steadily each day to get my trumpet chops back. I honestly don’t remember what I’ve said about this, but right before I started blogging, I gave up trumpeting due to mysterious muscular imbalances in my face. It made playing with accuracy extremely difficult, and the frustration wore me down.

Last fall, I actually went to a doctor about it, and a diagnosis of partial facial paresis led me to PT sessions, which have actually helped. And I’m coming back from the dead, trumpet-wise. It’s huge!

But it really cuts into my blogging time . . .

But you know, I had started blogging as a replacement creative outlet after I stopped playing the trumpet. And folks, there’s no comparison: playing the trumpet is waaaay more fun than blogging. Just sayin’ . . .

So the blogging has been on the back burner, but then in the last few months we’ve been on vacation. A number of vacations!

Sure, I thought about posting during our trips—showing you pictures of the ocean, and the other ocean, and America’s north coast—but I don’t think it’s a good idea to announce to the entire universe: “Yoo-hoo, our house is vacant!”

I don’t post vacation pictures on Facebook, for the same reason. I’ll only post them once we’re back!

So—at long last, here are some pictures for you!

Our first trip was to Captiva Island, Florida (late May and early June). Above, the beach and the Gulf of Mexico.

Our second trip was to San Francisco, California (second week of June). This is Ocean Beach, and that's the Pacific Ocean!

And our third trip was to northern Ohio (Fourth of July)! This is a view from the Giant Wheel at Cedar Point amusement park. That's Lake Erie in the background!

And of course, we have paid for all this fun since we've been back, in terms of catching up with work, housework, and all the rest. It's taken us some time just to download and prettify our photos!

More pictures soon!