Friday, July 10, 2009

Science, Food & All That Jazz

It seems like these summer blogs are becoming less about psychology than they are about my travels and hobbies. Last Saturday, Sharon and I left early in the morning and headed to San Francisco for my Birthday Boy Bash weekend (July 5). She wouldn’t tell me where we were going exactly but we had to get there by 9:00 in the morning.

Day 1: July 3, 2009
When we arrived at Golden Gate Park I followed her directions and found the destination was the new Academy of Sciences Museum. Even though we got there before the doors opened, the lines were so long it took us thirty minutes to enter the building. Once inside, we stayed there until closing at 5:00. A surprise benefit was the food available in the two cafes. Usually, food in these places is overpriced and underwhelming. We forgot we were in San Francisco, the Mecca of fine food. The meals were delicious.

The California Academy of Sciences is a world-class scientific and cultural institution based in San Francisco. The Academy recently opened a new facility in Golden Gate Park, a 400,000 square foot structure that houses an aquarium, a planetarium a natural history museum and a 4-story rainforest all under one roof.
The new facility is also home to the Academy's staff of world-class scientists, an education department that provides a wide range of student and teacher services, and an extensive science library with over 20 million specimens and artifacts.
This place is a stunning science museum. The building, itself, is a wonder to behold. It is the world’s greenest museum. The roof is called a "living roof" because it is composed of plants, soil and solar panels. You can see a picture of the roof here. Visitors can visit the roof and see why it is the largest public energy efficient building in the world. The website, itself, is quite educational and entertaining.

Inside we attended an amazing planetarium show with the latest digital effects. The aquarium consists of many different nooks and crannies for seeing a large selection of marine life. There is also a natural history museum and the one place we were not able to get to – the tropical rain forest.

After closing, we left the Academy and walked across the street to the De Young Museum. Since it was Friday night there was no admission charge. It was open to the public with entertainment by members of Stellamara. They presented live music and dance from the Middle East, North Africa, and the Roma "Gypsy" trail. You can hear a sampling of there music here. At 9:00 we drove to our hotel in the financial district for a good night’s sleep.

Day 2: July 4, 2009
The Ferry Building by the Bay is an unusual building. Not only is it a ferry landing but it is also the site of one of the best Farmer’s Markets in California. The large Saturday market is found in front of, inside, and behind the building that overlooks the Bay. About ten to fifteen thousand people crowd into this place each Saturday. Being San Francisco, the food is exquisite.

We left the Ferry Building around noon and caught a bus to The Fillmore, land of jazz, to wander around the Fillmore Jazz Festival. It stretched up and down Fillmore Street for about seven long blocks and touts itself as the Largest Free Jazz Festival on the West Coast. We listened to Sam Reider, a local twenty-something who is making his musical mark in the New York jazz scene. Later in the day we listened to another local musician, Bobbie Webb and his Smooth Blues Band. Bobbie is a local legend. Although he has played with every great Blues musician in the world, he was never a full-time musician until recently. He realized early that he needed to take care of his wife and eight children which would have been difficult as a musician. He became a mechanic by day and a musician on weekends and during vacations. Now that he is retired and has a pension and social security he has devoted himself to playing non-stop.

In the late afternoon we drifted into Yoshi’s, one of the premium jazz locations in the Bay Area. We got good seats and were entertained by a Latin jazz group. Around dinner time we went to the Jazz Club (another jazz room in Yoshi’s) for a jam session. We were lucky to get one of the last tables. We had missed Marcus Shelby on the street but caught him at a jam session in Yoshi’s Jazz Club. He had just come back from Jazz Camp West. Marcus brought four people with him from the jazz camp and they improvised for an hour and a half. BTW, Yoshi’s has great ribs.

Around 8:30, as it was getting dark, we got on another bus and headed to Pier 39 to see the fireworks over the Bay. We thought it started at 9:00 but it didn’t get going until 9:30. Even so, there were a lot of people. Everyone had taken all the places for sitting so we, and hundreds of others, had to stand. It was a beautiful night and everyone was friendly and in a good mood. As we waited for the light and noise to begin, we watched about half a dozen cruise ships take their place out in the Bay for the paying customers on board. Along the waterfront, there were four different locations where the fireworks were being set off. We could just barely see another location at Pier 27 and noticed that their fireworks were perfectly synchronized with the fireworks we were watching.

It was a spectacular show and when it was over, we walked to Fisherman’s Wharf and had a snack. From there we walked a few more blocks and caught a free bus (have I mentioned that all the entertainment during this day was free — even the music at Yoshi’s?). The city provided free bus service back to the Ferry Building. From there we walked the mile or so back to our hotel.

Day 3: July 5, 2009
We were planning to get up early, drive to Muir Woods on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge and do some hiking. Instead, we slept in and just goofed off for a time. At 10:00 we walked about a mile to the new Contemporary Jewish Museum. Quite a place! Although founded in 1984 it took over a historical landmark, the Jessie Street Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) Power Substation. They hired the renowned architect Daniel Libeskind to design their new home. The architecture is full of contrasts: historic and contemporary; subtle and boisterous. The blue cube in the picture on the right looks like it is falling down but is actually a part of the museum’s external structure. The inside is open and airy and is full of surprising angles. One of the exhibits we enjoyed highlighted the work of Marc Chagall and his work with the Russian Jewish Theater in the first half of the twentieth century. Other exhibits included "Being Jewish": A Bay Area Portrait, Jews on Vinyl, and Susan Hiller: The J Street Project. Fascinating.

It was finally time to head back to Sacramento except we took a side trip to the Stern Grove Festival. This is an annual summer event held in a beautiful setting among trees and hills. Roberta Flack appeared here in June. The San Francisco Ballet will be performing in August. We were privileged to listen to the San Francisco Symphony with an exciting and very young conductor James Gaffigan.

Prior to the symphony we were surprised with a half hour of jazz by the Inouye Jazz ensemble. The leader is the principal trumpet player of the SFS. The bass player is the principal bassist of SFS and the drummer is also a member of the SFS. They had added a non-SFS member, Jeff Massanari, to play guitar. Jeff is one of the most in-demand guitarists in San Francisco.

It was engaging to listen to musicians who are so talented they can be stars in both classical and jazz music. It reminds me of the young Andre Previn who is a virtuoso jazz pianist and a top-ranked orchestra conductor.

And then we had to go home.

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