A Perfect 34 Hour San Francisco Weekend

Saturday was one of those glorious spring days demanding that you pay attention.  The sky was so blue, the wind slightly brisk, and the sun decidedly persistent as it cut through the morning fog. Heading up to the City in the morning to take full advantage of the day, we took Interstate 280. It’s a short 45 minute ride up the peninsula from Palo Alto to San Francisco as long as it is not during rush hour. 


Interstate 280 follows the curve of the Santa Cruz mountains to the West and up the middle of the peninsula. From Palo Alto it cuts through pasture lands on the backside of the Stanford Dish, past the Crystal Springs reservoir and the route 92 cut-off. Further on, as you drive along the spine of a ridge, you look down on the San Francisco International airport spreading itself along the shore of the Bay. This is just before the road skirts the the city suburbs of San Francisco.  Shortly afterwards, the road veers to the East, crosses the peninsula, and deposits you in the heart of the City.


We took the 6th Street exit, to reverse our trajectory and take us once again westward to Pacific Heights. After crossing Market Street and driving half-way up a hill, we turned left on Sutter Street. This took us across Van Ness and right to Franklin. From there we popped over to Pine on our left. The route, although circuitous, is prudent on the hills of San Francisco since we drive a stick shift car. There is nothing worse than waiting in line for the light to change on a steep hill and then doing the emergency brake, clutch, gas pedal maneuver while praying that the gears don’t grind. The solution is to find routes with more friendly hills.


Our first stop was, as always, the Boulangerie on Pine Street. Here we stocked up on olive rolls for lunch and croissants for Sunday breakfast. I can hear you saying, “Croissants! Much better freshly bought the same day.” But, that would mean we would have to get up, dress and trek out to get them, when all we want to do–and do do–is lounge around in our pajamas, drink cappuccino, and eat a croissant that we heat up on the toaster. We also selected a few macaroons. These lovely little flourless confections are treasures. My favorites are pistachio, cassis, and hazelnut. Then, of course, we also bought a piece of pear tart to share for a late afternoon indulgence. 


From the Boulangerie we headed across Steiner Street to Pacific Avenue and on to our weekend getaway, a small flat we bought ten years ago.  On our way, as we crossed each intersection, we slowed to take a good look down on the gleaming Bay and stark Alcatraz, and beyond to Angel Island and the Marin county towns of Sauselito and Tiburon. 


Our flat is a small gem high up on Pacific near the Presido. When we bought it, it looked out on a vacant lot surrounded by a ratty fence and overgrow weeds where once a grammar school had stood. By the time we arrived, the only still visible remnants of the school were shads of the foundation and concrete playground. Sometimes, when I opened my door, I imagined that I could hear the cacophony of children playing there. Unfortunately, the City sold the land and for the last five years or more we have lived among considerable construction noise and grime as one stately mansion after another has gone up on that land. I wonder if the owners realize what a mess they have made for their neighbors. I think they are oblivious. Fortunately, for us, we are usually there on weekends, when relative calm descends. 


On this Saturday, the street was busy with the comings and goings of neighbors as they hauled babies and groceries, walked their dogs, or jogged for exercise. After leaving our overnight bags and the goodies from the Boulangerie, we joined them for a walk and headed for the Lyon Street steps, just a couple of blocks away. These steps connecting Green Street with Broadway up the hill are surrounded by gorgeous flower gardens between Vallejo and Broadway Streets and hail a spectacular view of the Palace of Fine Arts and the San Francisco Bay below. They are one of our favorite destinations. Sometimes we join the fitness crowd and walk the 288 steps for exercise; but mostly we walk them for the sheer pleasure of it, stopping whenever we feel like it to take in the views. Sometimes, when the fog has rolled in off the Pacific Ocean, and our neighborhood is veiled in what I call, “Sherlock Holmes’s fog” we sit at the top of the steps wrapped in Polatec jackets and listen to the fog horn far below.  


Returning home to a quick lunch and change of clothes, we were out the door again to head to the Opera House. We don’t often go to matinees but had decided to attend the San Francisco Ballet’s New Works Festival in the afternoon. An admirer of Mark Morris and John Adams I was excited to see Joyride, choreographed by Morris to John Adams’s Son of Chamber Symphony. Adams, himself, conducted that afternoon. The opening reminded me of West Side Story and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was the give and take between the pulsating groups of dancers that signaled something akin to the choreography of Jerome Robbins or perhaps it was the excitement in the music that was reminiscent of Bernstein’s score. Missing, though, was Morris´s tongue in cheek. I kept waiting for it but it never showed up. Whatever, this piece is a complex melange of meter and tempo and I think I need to see it at least once more to really let it in. Perhaps my favorite piece on the program was James Kudelka’s The Ruins Proclaimed The Building Was Beautiful with music by Rodney Sharman after César Franck.  The piece is divided into group work and couple work. When the women first emerged on stage they were like a herd of tiny tremulous deer who sense danger and yet go forward. It was beautiful and set the mood for the entire piece. Kudelka hits an emotional chord in both the assemble and couple work, but the interplay between groups is disjointed, and this dislocation has stayed with me.


After the ballet, we went over to Union Square for a walk before dinner at Rubicon There are three excellent reasons to visit Rubicon: First, the food–fresh, unpretentious and delicious; second the wine–always a gem of a burgundy to try with wine trivia to accompany it; and third the sumptuous Dale Chihuly glass sculptures adorning the downstairs dining room. 


Once we finished dinner we were tired and so made our way to our flat to call it an early night. Sunday was going to be busy too. 


Sunday started at dawn with preparations for a trip down to the San Francisco airport. My niece, Caroline, who had spent her spring break with us, had to head back to Boston and the start of school on Monday. It is not often that the day arrives so sunny in San Francisco, but it did on this day. Another “awfully blue” day greeted us as we wolfed down croissant and cappuccino and headed out the door. 


Even though the morning was rushed, getting up early had given us plenty of time for some Sunday fun. On our way back from the airport, we headed over to the Mission district and Silvia Poloto’s Open Studio. I met Silvia in 1998 and have been collecting her art since then. I love the way Silvia works with color, texture and leitmotifs. Sometimes her work makes me laugh, sometimes it makes me think, sometimes it makes me fill with emotion. Even if Silvia isn’t hosting an open studio, she is very accessible and will set up an appointment for you to see her work.


Silvia and I have become close friends as have our respective families. On Sunday, since Silvia was busy tending visitors to her studio, Bill and Liam, her husband and son respectively, came out to play with us. Our destination, with bike in tow, was Crissy Field at the Presidio. Once an Army base, the Presidio is, today, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Crissy Field used to be an airfield; today it is a launching pad for all kinds of activities including bike riding, walking, kite flying, picnicing, sand castle building, or just hanging out to see the sights. Once there, we bought sandwiches at the Warming Hut and sat in the sun to enjoy them. As I munched my tuna sandwich, I enjoyed to my left the Golden Gate bridge looming up in all its fiery orange majesty and to my right the skyline of he City with the dome of the Place of Fine Arts in the foreground and the 853 foot Transamerica Pyramid in the distance. The people watching was excellent as crowds–hip and dowdy, young to old, from here and there, and speaking a myriad of languages–strolled by or relaxed at tables and on the grass.


After lunch I jogged and Liam biked down the length of the Field and back. The ever-present blustery wind pushed the wind surfers out in the bay at breakneck speeds. At one point we swore we could see a surfer actually take off and ride the wind rather than the waves.  The blue water, the wind in our face, the sun on our skin, the laughter on our lips was so perfect, we decided then and there that there is no finer place to spend a Sunday afternoon than Crissy Field.


After dropping Bill and Liam home, we made a mad dash for our flat to change for our final adventure of the weekend, a concert with pianist, Leif Ove Andsnes, at Davies Symphony Hall. I had never heard Andsnes play and fell in love with his technique.  How he kept some distance between himself and the audience reminded me of Claudio Arrau whom I had heard play several times in Boston’s Symphony Hall. And, how he played was pure musical pleasure. I couldn’t keep my eyes away from his hands on the keyboard as he played  Debussy. This was a perfect ending to a perfect weekend.


All original content copyright 2008 Mary E. Slocum



2 responses to “A Perfect 34 Hour San Francisco Weekend

  1. Pingback: Chihuly: The Glass Master « A Year in an American Life

  2. Hi – reading yr ‘blog’ (is it a blog?) brought back my brief time in SF. It’s very evocative! I can imagine the probs of driving a stick shift (manual as we call them) in SF! It’s bad enough driving one round Heathrow airport (I’m a taxi driver).
    Luv, Ally

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