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Last Monday, I made a trip to visit the Cartier store on Rodeo Drive which was opening a jewelry exhibit to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the French company.

We arrived around 11 am but the upstairs portion of the exhibit was still not ready. We looked around for a few minutes on the ground floor which had regular merchandise on display and plus some of the remarkable jewels designed in the past century and which had been gathered for the special show. I started asking questions but the sales lady did not know enough so she got a docent to give us a guided tour. For over half an hour we were treated to a dazzling display accompanied by information on the advances in techniques in design of jewelry, watches and other luxury items that Cartier so famously produces.

The most impressive piece of the show was a wreath of diamonds that held together a cascade of diamonds and deep green emerald drops. This brooch was designed for Marjorie Merriweather Post and it was accompanied by a picture of her wearing it in the Roaring 20s. Pinned near the shoulder of her dress, the cascade of glittering stones almost reached her waist.

Another celebrated jewel collector, Hollywood star Elizabeth Taylor, was represented by no less than three displays. Her diamond and ruby suite was in the street window. Upstairs, her fabled engraved and heart-shaped Taj Mahal diamond that Shah Jehan bestowed on his wife Mumtaz centuries ago, hung from a ruby-studded gold rope designed by Cartier to replace the original silk cord. Nearby was her pearl and ruby necklace, featuring the enormous La Peregrina, a teardrop pearl once worn by Mary Tudor and generations of Spanish queen consorts. Next to the necklace was the design sketch on which Ms. Taylor scribbled a request to change the setting from gold to platinum. Richard Burton was a remarkable husband to lavish so many magnificent jewels on his wife.

Although we were clearly not high-rollers, I appreciated the courtesy that the store extended to us by giving the private tour. That is what I call great customer service. I was so dazzled by the display I did not take any video of the store’s exterior. Sadly yet understandably, I was not permitted to photograph the displays inside. It was a great marketing effort featuring skilled craftsmanship, rare gems, celebrity and romance.

After browsing the windows of other fabled jewelers such as Harry Winston, Van Cleef & Arpels, Garrard,Tiffany, Buccellati and Bulgari, we stopped for a late lunch at McCormick and Schmick’s. Our booth overlooked Wilshire Boulevard and the Beverly Wilshire hotel. Great spot to count the Rolls Royces and Bentleys on the street. Food and service was very good. We enjoyed a salad of arugula with goat cheese, seafood in a flavorful lobster broth, and a moist thick slab of shark with grilled vegetables. Dessert was a trio of sorbets and a dainty key lime pie. A tad too dainty for my hearty appetite. After all, every jeweled bracelet we saw that morning had larger diameters than the pie!

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Being the Saturday before Mother’s Day, today brings the traditional Fair Oaks Street Garage Sale in  San Francisco. Located one block east of Dolores Street, Fair Oaks is 5 blocks long, running from 21st to 26th Streets. This address is considered Noe Valley in spirit although technically part of the Mission District.

The annual Fair Oaks Street Garage Sale in front of Victorian homes

The annual Fair Oaks Street Garage Sale in front of Victorian homes

It is amazing that an entire neighborhood can get so organized to have this major block party and sale which serves as a fundraiser for the Jamestown Community Center, a nonprofit organization benefiting Mission neighborhood youth. Then again, they’ve been practicing for over 30 years. There seemed to be many vendors selling jewelry, clothes and junk who appeared to be professionals so  I am not sure that their proceeds go to the community center.

Vintage toy train accessories at annual Fair Oaks Street Garage Sale

Vintage toy train accessories at annual Fair Oaks Street Garage Sale

In any case, it is fun to just watch the activity or find a Mother’s Day gift. Food sold along the street include traditional fundraising goodies such as cupcakes, popcorn, carrot cake and cookies. Since this is San Francisco, not to mention the Mission district, tamales were also being hawked. Filled with moist chicken and a surprise—diced carrots—these were a delicious treat for $3.

The best treasures are perhaps to be found in other garage sales in the area capitalizing on the Fair Oaks traffic. At 25th and Dolores, outside a Victorian mansion, the offerings included antique wrought iron and a Thonet washstand.

Such a long name for a patch of forest! As in all of the surviving forested preserves in the San Francisco Bay Area, the majority of the redwoods here are second growth. Douglas firs are abundant too in this part of the Santa Cruz mountain range. In many parts of the Purisima Creek Preserve, you will encounter classic Mediterranean chaparral vegetation such as sagebrush, manzanita and madrone. The drive to the trailhead on Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35) itself is quite scenic, as is the road that continues twisting down to Woodside. At the junction with La Honda (Highway 84) , the fabled Alice’s Restaurant is the favorite pit stop for motorcylists and other travelers. It was extremely crowded this Sunday so I did not stop to sample the fare.

Alice's Restaurant in Woodside, CA

Alice's Restaurant in Woodside, CA

Motorcycles fill up the busy parking lot at Alice's Restaurant

Motorcycles fill up the busy parking lot at Alice's Restaurant

Turning onto La Honda heading West towards the coast takes you through more beautiful rolling hills, past farms and the picturesque, ramshackle white Victorian stagecoach stop at San Gregorio, before arriving at Highway 1 at San Gregorio Beach.

Red barn seen from La Honda, Highway 84

Red barn seen from La Honda, Highway 84

I went back to the festival to get the grilled duck hearts that were sold out last week. But I was not destined to taste them today (at time of writing, April 19th). The O Izakaya Lounge foodstand at the Hotel Kabuki did not have enough to serve them to the crowd so they offered chicken skins instead. Coated in a light batter and fried to golden crisps in the kitchen before being put on the outdoor grill for a light toasting, the crunchy skins were served with dainty wedges of lemon. This traditional Japanese snack was an unexpected first-time treat for me but I resolved to make yet another trip to Japantown to nosh on the duck hearts.

The parade arrived in Japantown soon after I finished my snack. I stood under a fir tree pruned into a bonsai outside the hotel for shade. It was very hot for San Francisco, reaching a recordbreaking 87 oF (30 oC). George Takei, the parade’s Grand Marshal was near the front of the procession. He gestured the Vulcan salute, to the delight of the huge crowd lining Post Street.

George Takei does the Vulcan salute in the Cherry Blossom Parade, San Francisco

George Takei does the Vulcan salute in the Cherry Blossom Festival Parade

Dancers in kimonos parade down Post Street in JTown

Dancers in kimonos parade down Post Street in JTown

Taiko drums, politicians, diplomats, marching bands, martial art and dance troupes went by. And several floats carrying beauty queens. I have never seen an anime costume contingent before but this parade had one.

A contingent of anime costumes at the Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, 2009.

A contingent of anime costumes at the S.F. Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, 2009

Ladies in kimonos on a parade float

Ladies in kimonos float by

The end of the parade was suitably raucous and festive with a a Shinto shrine stacked on a tower of sake barrels, guarded by three almost naked men . This shrine, the Taru Mikoshi, was carried by energetic men of all ethnicity, mostly in traditional Japanese garb such as hapi coats, and a few in fundoshi. the traditional diaper-like loincloth. The bold graphic patterns on the coats were a visual feast. Would love to have one myself.

Since circumstances do not allow me to do international travel now, I am grateful that a festival in my own hometown offers such a sensational show of Japanese culture and a much needed dose of joyful exuberance .

This is the first weekend of the Cherry Blossom Festival at Japantown that continues next weekend. When I got there this afternoon, sunshine and a strong breeze which kept the the sky of clear of clouds provided fine Spring conditions for the event. My first stop was at the Peace Plaza to watch a few minutes of the martial arts demonstrations.

Peace Plaza tower and cherry tree in blossom

Peace Plaza tower and cherry tree in blossom

Martial arts demonstration at the Japantown Peace Plaza

Martial arts demonstration at the Japantown Peace Plaza

Then I went indoors into the Hotel Kabuki where meeting rooms were used for various demonstrations and exhibits: swords, traditional music, origami, paper dolls, and Ikebana. The Ikebana floral designs were breathtakingly beautiful and some were very unusual.

Ikebana floral design

Ikebana floral design

After an hour of flower arrangements, clever origami dinosaurs and spaceships, I came back out into the sunshine and made a beeline for the outdoor food stand featuring the chefs of the hotel’s O Izakaya Restaurant, who offered rather exotic grilled meats including duck hearts and tsukune (chicken meatballs). Unfortunately, the group ahead of me in line bought all those kebabs and I had to make do with walu. The skewer costing $4 held 3 cubes of the rich, moist and tender white fish alternating with 2 cubes of sweet, warm pineapple. A delicious combo.

Chef brushes skewers of walu on grill with marinade

Chef brushes skewers of walu on grill with marinade

Still hungry, I tried Okinawan soba noodles at the Festival’s Food Bazaar. The noodles were thick and surprisingly yellow. I guess I am used to brown buckwheat. A shaker of chili flakes was at the counter. It jazzed up the light noodle soup. This snack was tasty too, but in a different way. Rustic. Next week, I’ll try to return for a taste of the duck hearts and tsukune! As an extra incentive to return, next Sunday’s schedule includes a parade featuring actor George Takei as Parade Grand Marshal. I wonder if he will stop in at the origami room to see the Star Trek Enterprise spaceship made of paper.

When I was a kid growing up in multicultural Malaysia, I noticed some neighbors and teachers would quietly disappear just before midday on the Friday before Easter. They were off to church. After I moved to San Francisco and settled as an adult in the even more diverse and multicultural Mission district, I often visited the Mission Dolores church just a block away from home.

There are actually two buildings of worship at the Mission Dolores complex. A low white structure, the actual Mission Dolores church , was built circa 1782-91 of adobe brick, and survived the earthquakes of the 1800s and the famous big one in 1906. It is the oldest surviving building in San Francisco. Next to the Mission, on the street corner (Dolores and 16th Street) is the Mission Dolores Basilica. A Victorian Gothic Revival brick church on this spot was severely damaged in the 1906 quake and was replaced by the current Basilica. Although designed in the Spanish Plateresque style, the exuberant exterior decoration is not carved of stone, as at the cathedrals of Salamanca and Santiago de Campostela, but appears to be of cast material.

Mission Dolores church and Basilica

Mission Dolores church and Basilica

One Good Friday years ago, I went to the Mission’s Basilica to watch the Stations of the Cross, a rather long ceremony performed in front of a series of plaques illustrating the significant moments on the last day in the life of Jesus. Then I understood what my Catholic neighbors and teachers had experienced.

In the evening of this most somber of Christian holidays, a service called Liturgy of the Word is held simultaneously in both buildings at Mission Dolores. Conducted in English in the old Mission, and in Spanish at the Basilica. I went to the Mission for its Old World ambience. After about an hour and with no pause—so I did not know the service had ended—the congregation was led into the Basilica by singing choristers where the next ceremony called the Veneration of the Cross and Holy Communion was conducted bilingually. There was a lot of kneeling and standing. Then a large cross was paraded up the center aisle by priests and attendants, and passed over the heads of the worshippers, pew by pew. This veneration took a while as there were a lot of pews. After the communion was celebrated, a solemn procession called Santo Entierro started from the Basilica’s portal into the street. Santo Entierro means Holy Burial in Spanish and it was interesting to witness the local, predominantly Hispanic Catholic community continue this old religious tradition at this historic church.

Santo Entierro catafalque with Christ figure on Dolores Street

Santo Entierro catafalque with Christ figure on Dolores Street

Youth carried black and white banners at the front of the procession. Next was a wooden catafalque with a painted figure of Jesus lying down and covered in white fabric. The catafalque must have been heavy as the men in black robes carrying it stopped often to change positions. A statue standing on a slightly smaller platform decked with flowers and carried by women followed. I assume the figure is of the Virgin Mary. Worshippers singing softly formed the rear portion of this short procession. The designer in me wished they did not use fluorescent bulbs in the catafaque’s canopy to light up the Jesus figure. It might have looked better with LED lights powered by batteries. The LEDs bulbs could be discretely placed along the wood frame or even under the white shroud.

Statue borne by women in the Santo Entierro procession

Statue borne by women in the Santo Entierro procession

This modest and mournful parade of about 100 participants. some carrying lit candles, slowly crept 2 blocks towards Dolores Park before turning around. In contrast, the noisy San Francisco Chinese New Year parade (see video) illuminated by klieg lamps draws an audience of over 700,000. San Francisco is certainly blessed to have such an incredible range of cultural events every year.

Driving on Cabrillo Highway (Highway 1), just south of Half Moon Bay,  it is difficult to miss this solitary white building sitting grandly on a gentle slope, set back from the road, watching over the Pacific. The house looks large from the highway but its simple New England salt box design seems perfect for its coastside setting.

Johnston House seen from the North-west

Johnston House seen from the North-west

A garden on the south side is protected by a white fence

A garden on the south side is protected by a white fence

History buffs can arrange to tour this house which has its interior and exterior renovated. Tour dates are limited. In addition, a Holiday House event with crafts for sale is held for two weeks each November. A garden on the southern side of the has also been restored. The garden seat is an aluminum replica of the iron English original.

South garden with replica of antique English garden bench

South garden with replica of antique English garden bench

The Johnston House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a treasurel as California does not have too many buildings surviving from the 1850s.

This small county park is a bit more than an hour’s drive south of San Francisco. It is hidden in the Santa Cruz mountain redwoods but can be easily reached from either Interstate 280 or Highway 1.  You will encounter very few people on the trails even on a weekend. I like the mix of shady forest and open sunlit meadows that provide views of redwood covered mountains in the distance.

Mountain and forest view from Sam McDonald Park

Mountain and forest view from Sam McDonald Park

As it is spring, the meadows are a lush green and it is very pleasant to lie on the soft grass and contemplate the view. By summer, the grass will dry to a brittle golden brown. A small cluster of old-growth redwoods can be seen at Heritage Grove.

Jack Brook Horse Camp is nestled in the hillside

Jack Brook Horse Camp is nestled in the hillside

An ideal spot to picnic in solitude is up at the Jack Brook Horse Camp with three small sites equipped with picnic tables. This location is much more attractive than the heavily shaded and noisy picnic areas around the Ranger Station’s parking lot. Apparently the horse camp is only operational from May 1st until November 15th so springtime is great for taking advantage of this space.

Overall the views at this park are pretty, but not jaw-dropping spectacular. This is simply a restful place to escape to when you need a quick getaway from urban life.

Drake's Bay from Elephant Seal Lookout at Chimney Rock

Drake's Bay from Elephant Seal Lookout at Chimney Rock

On the long road to the Point Reyes lighthouse, is a trail worth making into a side trip. Chimney Rock is a short trail high on a bluff with views of spring wildflowers and of Drake’s Bay with its elephant seals. The seals are visible from a lookout; access to the beach where the seals rest is prohibited.

An old US Coast Guard Lifeboat Station can be seen on this string of coves.

US Coastguard Lifeboat Station at Chimney Rock

Old US Coastguard Lifeboat Station in Drake's Bay

Springtime is a good time to visit as migrating whales can be seen off the coast. And the hillsides are colorfully blanketed with a variety of wildflowers.

Wild iris at Chimney Rock, Point Reyes

Wild iris at Chimney Rock, Point Reyes

When visiting Point Reyes north of San Francisco, I always yearn for fresh oysters. A convenient place to stop and indulge in such as fancy is the Farm House Restaurant in the hamlet-sized town of Olema. This restaurant is now part of small resort Point Reyes Seashore Lodge which also operates a conference center. As it was a mild spring afternoon, we sat outdoors on a terrace at the back of the restaurant. The terrace overlooks a well-kept garden with a creek, and the adjoining carpark.

Oysters by half or full dozen at this restaurant are offered raw with a cucumber mignonette sauce, fried with tartare sauce, and grilled as Oyster Sartains with a garlic butter heavily flavored by the Sartain’s chipotle barbeque sauce. I only tried the last two options. The fried oysters was the more successful dish as the batter was a crispy envelope that held each oyster moist inside with its juices. While I like barbeque flavors, the Sartain based sauce was a bit strong, overwhelming the delicate flavor of the oysters.

Grilled oysters with a barbeque sauce

Grilled oysters with a barbeque sauce

The oysters were described by the waiter as medium sized, but they were quite large. Drake’s Bay Family Farms where the oysters are harvested is nearby and is open to visitors.

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