Archive for the ‘Travels – I Has Them’ Category

San Francisco, Part 7.

Wednesday, January 30th, 2019

Cricket and I went to a game reserve near San Francisco and we’re going to delve deep into that but first! Art! Really good art!

We went to the Museum of Design one of the days we were in San Fran. Important information: The Museum of Design is TINY. It’s one and a half rooms. That’s it. We walked there twice – the first day we walked three miles and got lost and the second day we walked three miles and made it to the museum. Which, due to them changing out the exhibitions, was only one room. One room. Cricket started laughing so hard I had to walk away from him so I could silently fume in a corner. However, all was not lost. The one exhibition was a clay artist I had never heard of, Gustavo Perez. His work was amazing, very fluid but also mathematical. It reminded me a little of the design style of the atomic age. Perez had a display on a shelf.

And one that covered the entire floor.

I did research into his work and I have a new favorite clay artist. Perez manipulates the clay in a way that makes it abundantly clear that he is in complete control of his medium. If there’s an exhibition of Perez’s work near you I recommend you checking it out.

Okay, game park. The climate in the hills outside of San Fran is very similar to the savannah in South Africa. So there’s a game park with no major predators, some cheetahs but nothing bigger. Lots of antelope (which I love, a vastly underappreciated ungulate group). I took a bazillion pictures. Get ready because here we go.

Did you know there were different types of giraffe? Most people do not. This place had two types. The dark one was a Maasai giraffe, very big, and another was a Rothschild’s giraffe, he was fourteen months old and he had a massive crush on the Maasai giraffe who was almost twice his size. He kept coming over and gently hitting his head into Mrs. Maasai’s neck and eventually she would get irritated and saunter off.

There were three rhinos. In one pen was a male and a female rhino but they were just friends, not mating like the game park would like them to. So off to the side in a smaller pen was a male they had brought in in the hopes that the lady rhino would find him sexy. The female had a straight horn which is something I’ve never seen before (but to be honest I don’t look at many rhino horns). It has to do with the way she rubbed her horn on various surfaces. Since it’s compressed hair it wears pretty easily.

And here’s the new male. Look at his sweet little hairy flower ears.

There was a herd of ankole cows. You’ve seen them before. They have crazy huge horns. They live with the Watusi tribe and were bred to look like this. There’s no real purpose. Let’s quickly go through the different between antlers and horns. Antlers are solid and fall off every year. Horns are permanent, filled with spongy bone and are used mostly to cool down the blood before it reaches the brain. It’s also useful for scratching your rump.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpY7S1N3Kg8

Neat fact: Santa’s sleigh is pulled by reindeer, right? And all the reindeer who pull the sleigh are assumed to be male, right? Nope. Males shed their antlers in the fall and females shed theirs much later in winter therefore the reindeer pulling the sleigh are all female.

Okay, back to ankole. When they get up and walk around they make a great bonking noise as their horns tap one another.

Near the ankole was a solitary black angus cow (which looked super-small next to these massive-horned bovines) with a solitary black angus calf. Hanging out like they were part of the herd.

The story I got on that was that one day this black angus female showed up from a ranch nearby. The game park keepers called the ranch-owner and he said he would come pick his cow soon. But he never did. And when she wandered over she was pregnant and now she’s part of the ankole herd. So that’s that.

Way over on the other side was more ambling herbivores. There were eland which is the heaviest antelope in Africa. A full-grown male can be 2100 pounds. Big boy. The male looks weird with hanging skin and lumpy humps. The females are pretty and sweet-looking. They lived in an enclosure with zebra and a few waterbuck. We arrived at one of their feeding times so everyone sauntered over to the feed bowls.

 

This is a picture of a mother waterbuck with her baby. This picture is exciting because this is the first time the baby had been seen.

All the above-mentioned herbivores were herbivoring when someone massive and imposing started approaching the food bowls. All of a sudden everyone had something important to do somewhere else.

It was a male cape buffalo. Cape buffaloes are a notoriously skittish and aggressive. Rhinos, when you approach them, will run away and rhinos are tanks. Cape buffalo will start crap for no reason. That explains why when the single solitary buffalo walked up to a bunch of animals that weighed forty times what he weighed they all left. Look at the zebra’s body language. “Nope.”

There was a herd of cape buffalo. The guide clearly said, “If you drop anything like a phone or glasses don’t get out of the vehicle. I will get them for you. Except if you drop it in the cape buffalo area. If you drop it in the cape buffalo area it is their possession now.”

We saw other land critters as well. There were wildebeest:

And a gemsbok:

And some red river hogs (and a tortoise). Team Red River Hogs forever. Big fan.

Next entry: Birds and the end of San Francisco.

San Francisco, Part 6.

Sunday, January 13th, 2019

More California Academy of Science! You thought we were done? Not even close.

In addition to Claude the albino alligator the academy has Methuselah. She is, uh, beautiful on the inside I’m sure. Here is a video of Methuselah.

https://www.calacademy.org/explore-science/meet-methuselah-celebrating-a-longtime-academy-icon

One of the best aquariums I’ve ever seen was the Philippine Coral Reef. Cricket has gone on a ton of scuba dives and he said it was spot-on. I spent a real long time sitting downstairs staring at the fish, probably too long. I do not regret creeping people out.

There were great smaller tanks behind the giant tank and I saw an animal I thought I would never get the opportunity to see. Appropriately, I freaked out.

It was a flamboyant cuttlefish.

Here is a video of the flamboyant cuttlefish.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51jB8YljliM

Do you appreciate how amazing this is? Do you see that with the stripey-stripeys? It helps to know he is very wee, like the length of my thumb pad. I made a short gif based on a video I took of my wee sweetie.

Since this is a natural history museum they do have a small area of taxidermied animals. It’s pretty small but it has all sub-Saharan animals which is my jam. They had a lot of antelope and a bushbaby and a steinbok. One of the most surprising things was how close you could get to the stuffed giraffes. Every time I’ve seen a giraffe it has been far away. I got to get right up next to one and I never realized that I can walk right under it and the top of my head would not come close to grazing the bottom of the giraffe’s belly. I’m five foot six so that’s pretty high. And that’s just the bottom of the stomach. There’s a ton more midsection above that and only after that the neck starts. The giraffe is massive. At the end of the short dead animal area was a penguin exhibit, live penguins. But because the California Academy of Science is smart as hell the penguins are behind a thick plate of glass because penguins STINK. They stink so hard because, you know, they eat fish all day and then they poop and there you have it. Vibrant, nuanced. But the CAS has installed plate glass which is glorious.

Now here comes the coolest part of the Behind the Scenes tour. We got to go to the specimen rooms. Specimen rooms, in case you don’t know are rooms filled with jars and drawers of nearly organized dead things, a.k.a. my dream place. Here’s an article with all the examples.

https://www.businessinsider.com/museum-of-natural-history-behind-the-scenes-2016-3#and-inside-the-museums-paleobiology-collections-are-approximately-40-million-fossil-specimens-that-span-25-billion-years-of-life-on-earth-including-more-than-1500-different-dinosaurs-11

I only saw the wet specimens and dry specimens. The wet specimens are natural elements in jars filled with ethanol. That prevents the specimens from decomposing. I mean, none of them look good, but they’re still vaguely shaped how they’re supposed to be shaped. The ethanol strips them of all their color so all the animals are gray or brown or black. You can see a picture of wet specimens in the article above, it’s the room filled with amber-colored jars. I didn’t take too many pictures in there but I did take three of significance. One, a big jar full of vampire bats. Suuuuuper dead bats.

A fact I found amusing was when the academy started the jars weren’t big enough so some of the specimens are clearly in former mayonnaise jars.

Here’s the most important pic of the day. In one of the jars was an anglerfish. I had resigned myself to never seeing an anglerfish due to the fact that they live at the bottom of the ocean and when they get to the surface they die because their bladders cannot handle the lack of pressure. Now I was being presented by one, in its entirety, directly in front of me. Aaaaaand for a change of pace, I freaked out. Cricket took a photo of me. The reason my hands are all curled up is because I am making every effort to not grab the jar of anglerfish and run away forever.

I know it’s really dark in the jar so I put that photo in the upper left for reference. You can kind of see her lower jaw in there. I know it’s a lady fish because anglerfish have a very unique way of procreating. Because it’s very hard for one anglerfish to find another, when a male finds a female he latches on to her underbelly (he’s very small compared to the female). Eventually his mouth parts fuse to her body and her blood flow goes through him, but whenever she needs sperm there he is, a parasitic testicle. You could see her fishing lure on her forehead. I loved her. Some of her transparent scales had fallen off so when the jar was moved it was like she was in a snow globe with glitter. I asked the tour guide why it was like that and he said, “She’s fabulous.”

One last photo from the Academy: some scary baby birds.

Here’s another pic that really captures the weirdness.

Coming up next: Ceramics and live beasties. Two things I am very fond of.

San Francisco, Part 5.

Monday, January 7th, 2019

The best thing ever! But first, other things.

An orchid I saw at the Conservatory of Flowers. I’ve never seen an orchid that looks like a hand.

At first I was pissed at the Conservatory of Flowers because it was clearly a “crystal palace” which is like the big ole greenhouse. Here’s the one in NY and London.

See? Clear. Clear glass. Now, at the San Fran building they painted it white. I was confused and displeased.

Uhhh, what the hell is that? So the first thing I did upon entering is ask the ticket dude what possessed them to paint a magical glass facility. Ticket Guy explained that this conservatory’s collection is made up of forest floor plants so if they left the building clear the plants would die. He said once the paint had to be scraped off and repainted and during the time that the panes were bare some of the plants got burn marks on their leaves.

Huh. Well then. I apologize for my ignorant and unwarranted grumples. The plants can have all the shade they want.

The plants were lovely but the facility is small so don’t plan to spend more than 45 minutes total in there until you’re really into pitcher plants. Lotta carnivorous plants. I asked the docent if they need to bring in crickets for the little meat eaters and the docent said no, the plants find enough buggies to feed themselves.

Okay, get ready. We’re going to see the greatest thing I saw on this trip. I was walking to the San Francisco Museum of Art and Design (more on that later) and as Cricket and I turned a corner there it was on the sidewalk chillin’ like nothing.

That’s an owl. An owl. Oooowwlllll. Holy crap, owl. That’s my favorite animal in the whole world. I handled it pretty well, considering.

Closer photo of one of the best things that happened in San Francisco.

I was concerned that Mr. Owl was out during the day so I very slowly walked up to him so I could collect him and we could hang out and go on adventures forever but he flew away. I promptly contacted Snorth and she told me it was a Burrowing Owl. I don’t know all the owls, there are a lot of owls. I know like 25.

Which is correct because Burrowing Owl are diurnal as opposed to nocturnal so it was completely normal for Mr. Precious Angel to be hanging out during the day.

Okay, onto the California Academy of Science. Guys. Guys. If there’s one place you go while you’re in San Francisco, go to this. Most Museums of Natural History have a ton of dead things. This museum have a ton of live things. And take the Behind-the-Scenes tour. Phenomenal. Totally worth it, every penny. You want an aquarium? They got an aquarium. You want a botanical garden? They got some of that. Allow me to take you through some of the exhibits they have there.

1) Let’s talk about the building itself. Apparently the old place fell down during an earthquake and was rebuilt to be crazy environmental. There’s no heating or cooling system, the BTUs of the visitors’ heat and the windows and skylights maintain a controlled, comfortable temperature. Cricket and I were taken up the living roof. The roof is covered with the indigenous plants of the area and it’s someone’s job to go up there and pull out the plants that don’t belong. There are rock paths that provide drainage. And there are big humps with windows on them which help control temperature as well.

In addition to the beautiful flowers there were also whale bones. Why, you ask? It’s because when whale bones arrive at the museum they are greasy and the scientists don’t want to work with them. So they leave them on the roof to bleach in the sun and when they’re done bleaching their not greasy anymore.

The other cool thing is the building is built on four concrete blocks that have springs underneath them so if there’s another earthquake each block will move individually.

2) The rainforest. It’s a 4-story space inside a big dome. There are butterflies flapping around. There are poison dart frogs. There are lizards. There are birds. There are fun facts on plaques. It’s built like the Guggenheim Museum in New York where you walk up a circular ramp that leads you to the top and you take a elevator down. From the top level you can see most of the rest of the museum.

3) The swamp. Claude lives in the swamp. Claude is an albino alligator. He can’t live in the wild because the prey would see him immediately and he’s blind. He was born in 1995. He has been at the museum since 2008. Claude had a girlfriend but they had to be separated because she bit his toe off due to him constantly bonking into her (he blind). There are also large snapping turtles in his enclosure but they don’t bite him much.

That’s it for now. Coming up: More California Academy of Sciences and a bunch of art.

San Francisco, Part 4.

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2019

We’re going to delve into Muir Woods! But first, not Muir Woods.

I got my first coffee with a fancy pattern! And it was at a profoundly hipster coffee shop! I was delighted.

Continuing with the consumption theme I went out for dim sum in San Fran Chinatown. It was awesome. Look at this sampler platter.

I rotated the sampler so you could see the bunnies.

The plants in San Francisco are better. They have a far more temperate climate so they can have bougainvillea, and palm trees, and hibiscus. Their Roses of Sharon look more hibiscus-y than ours.

Okay, Muir Woods. I’ve spoken about it before (you have to scroll down quite a bit, it’s there) but I have new information this time. Let me share this new information with you.

I was in California during the horrible fires in Paradise. It was horrendous to see on the news and people in San Francisco who probably have friends and family in the affected area were distraught, justifiably. The air was filled with smoke. People were wearing bandannas and painter’s masks in an attempt to curb the smoke inhalation but none of them took the major gaps of either approach into their judgment. While a good thought they were useless. The reason I’m mentioning this is my pictures at Muir Woods are particularly beautiful due to the particulate in the air but it’s a bittersweet beauty because you know how much suffering is associated with it.

The trees be old.

I admired their aggressive will to survive. For example, this tree was struck by lightning or burned or something, it’s black and dead. Look in the middle, you can kind of see it. So it made children with its roots and sent them up all around it. I think it’s called a Family Tree.

I also was impressed by the trees that fell over with their roots out of the ground and were like, well, I’ll just grow vertical trees out of my horizontal branch. Send roots down through it. Problem solved.

Look at the size of these clovers! They match the trees in beefiness.

In case you don’t have a sense of the size of the trees, this hole at the bottom could accommodate four or five full-grown adults sitting. Big. Very big. And large. And also tall.

And now the beautiful / sad photos. No photoshop of any kind.

It was nice to see that Muir Woods has signs about conservation and the environment and when you get to their gift shop and cafe they actually walk the walk.

Next post: Art and the bestest thing that happened to me on this trip.

San Francisco, Part 3.

Tuesday, December 25th, 2018

Alcatraz! But first, other stuff.

On our first day in San Fran Ness-Ness took us to the Castro district for lunch. That is the historically gay neighborhood. I believe it’s referred to in the movie Milk (phenomenal movie, go see it). There were your standard gay area shops but there was also two naked guys wandering around. Older naked guys. Wandering around the streets being naked. To be honest they weren’t completely naked, they were wearing tiny sparkly cape over their parts. Not the eggs, only the stalk. And one guy’s cape was too short so his stalk was peekin’ from the bottom which somehow made it worse. Once the gentlemen had passed we went to a cafe for lunch. Please note the name. Keeping faithful to the area and its motif.

At first I was like those prices are kinda high and then they brought the food out and I was like never mind. The portions were big, the food was excellent, you should go there. The fruit crepe was dope as hell. A+ fruit crepe.

Another thing I saw whilst strolling the streets: a sign shop that does hand painting. Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about anything with calligraphy or hand-painted letters (big big fan). Imagine my delight at seeing this. So many styles! So crisp, so even! Strong, purposeful brush strokes! I swoon.

Now, Alcatraz. Crickets loooooooves behind-the-scenes tours. Loves ’em. I do too but he did all the booking so we saw all kinds of secret magical things. One of those things was a tour of Alcatraz conducted by a person (the basic tour has you carry around a little tape recorder that instructs you where to go). I am now awash in knowledge. Allow me to share it with you.

As I said before I only took three photos at Alcatraz because I was trying to live in the moment but I will rely on the gazillion other people that have been there to provide me with pictures. Okay, so Alcatraz was a tortoise-back-shaped island until around the mid-1800s when it was made into a military fort. I think it’s been part of the U.S. Government (as opposed to San Francisco property) since then. I know it’s now considered a national park so when we went on our tour a federal park person accompanied us. She pointed out that since we were on federal property, even though we were only a mile from San Francisco, no one could use marijuana or marijuana-based materials at any time. (I do not personally partake in the healing weed but that point of it being illegal intrigued me.) Now, one might think it’s only a mile to San Francisco, why didn’t any of those escapees make it, and it’s because of the temperature of the water – very cold – and the current. There is a race to swim to San Fran every year but it was pointed out that these people had trained and, more importantly, were wearing cold water wet suits which insulated them. One of the first things the soldiers did when they got to the island was hack a chunk of the side of the tortoise back so there was a sharp cliff. That way invaders didn’t have a way to get up to the fortress. They also grew agave plants all over the side of the cliff because you cannot navigate through them, they’ll slice you right up. Here’s an oldey-timey picture where you can see the man-made cliff.

When the fortress was done fortressing it was used for holding POWs and the prison was built right on top of it. So when you’re standing at the base of the main building you can see massive stone chunks which then turn into cement and that’s where the prison layers begin and even those are visibly different, from the POW prison to the criminal prison. There are several other buildings on the island because the guards and their families lived in the same place as the prisoners. The guards had nice apartments and there were twelve ferries every day back and forth from San Fran so the wives could go and pick up necessities and the families could go see a movie or whatever, but they lived right next to the cells. Imagine being a little kid and growing up like that. Anyway, because of the guards being residents there was a social house and a school house and a power station, etc. Alcatraz was only the prison we know it as from 1930-something to 1960-something, not that long.

If I had to sum up my experience at Alcatraz it would be astonishment at how similar it was to Shawshank Redemption. I’ve probably mentioned numerous times how that is my favorite movie but I figured it was hyped up to make it a more interesting story. I was wrong. Apparently the new inmates came off the ferry chained together at the feet, were hosed down and given anti-lice powder and then were walked to their cells naked while the more experienced prisoners yelled “New fish!” at them. The cells at Alcatraz look just like they do in Shawshank (except that the walls are painted pretty shades of salmon and mint, which is weird). They had The Hole which I got to visit. The showers were all open with rows of overhead pipes and sprinklers. They showed movies twice a month. Heck, even look at this picture of the yard. It’s got the layout and same stepped area that is in the first scene where Red takes bets on who will cry first. The similarities are nearly endless.

More on The Hole: It is solitary confinement in the dark. It’s supposed to really break you down. In Alcatraz it was originally a leftover portion of the fortress underground.

There was a toilet off to the side for the guard to use and let me tell you that was the scariest thing I saw on the whole tour. If anything is haunted there it’s that toilet. I don’t know how to describe it but it was run down and the smooth white seat was cracked down the middle and I think it didn’t help that it was on the edge of a looooooong corridor that was dark (remember, we’re in the fortress here so many creepy corridors to be had) so if you were sitting on this toilet (no stall, out in the open) on your left were prisoners trapped in darkness and on your right was a tunnel leading to who-knows-what. POW corpses probably. Nightmare fuel, I tell ya. Eventually they moved the solitary confinement upstairs where it was sound-proof and in complete darkness. Here’s an article about it. Don’t read it, maybe. Because once something is known, it cannot be unknown.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/11245414/My-19-days-in-solitary-confinement-on-Alcatraz.html

The SC cells looked like this:

I have to say the coolest part of the tour was showing how the cell doors opened and closed. I’ll try to explain it. At the end of the rows of cells is a large box. In that box is three levers. Over the all the cell doors in a massive bicycle chain with metal pins in it. The guard chooses to open cells 2, 5 and 13. The guard pulls the first lever to 3 (there’s a strip with numbers on the side of the lever so he knows where to line it up to). He pulls the second lever to drop the pin into the door of cell 3. He pulls the first lever to 5. Pulls second lever to drop pin in cell door 5. Pulls first lever to 13. Pulls second lever to drop pin in cell door 13. Finally, he pulls the massive third lever, those door with pins in them move with the bicycle chain and open. The rest of the doors don’t have dropped pins in them so they don’t open. I found a video showing you how it works. Start at 3:39.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbVMbdaz8ZI

The reason I know how all this works is because they have a section of the chain housing covered with plexiglass so you can see it in operation. It’s pretty awesome. There’s no electronics so it works in a blackout. Totally worth checking out.

Next entry: Muir Woods and other stuff.

Addendum: Cricket took a picture of the upsetting basement toilet. Horrifying. Enjoy.

San Francisco, Part 2.

Monday, December 17th, 2018

I don’t know if I mentioned it, but I was in San Francisco for a wedding. Cricket and I decided to stay in the Queen Anne Hotel. It is supposedly haunted. Here is the haunting information:

The Queen Anne Hotel is a hotel in San Francisco, on Sutter Street. The hotel is an historic 1890 Victorian mansion, in the namesake Queen Anne architectural style, and decorated in the painted lady style. It was originally a girl’s boarding school. It narrowly survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.The hotel is a popular site for ghost hunting. The headmistress of the former finishing school, Mary Lake, is said to haunt her former office in Room 410. The hotel’s paranormal history was explored in an episode of the television show Haunted Hotels.

We did not stay in room 410 so I didn’t experience the haunting. I have to recommend this hotel, the room was great, the bed was hella-comfortable, the breakfast had make-your-own waffles, there’s an enormous living room / salon with fireplaces and comfy chairs AND every morning if you sign up for it you can take a black car anywhere you want in the city for free. We didn’t go to the afternoon tea and sherry but I imagine that was lovely as well. I had a strong attraction to this piece of furniture.

And this heater.

And the floor inlay.

The only problem I had with the hotel was the decor. Victorian is a really tough design period, there’s a lot of clutter and bric-a-brac, it’s all dark wood, kind of ornate, it can go downhill real fast.

And in some places in this hotel it did. For example, why did you paint the lady’s heads in the dining room? Now I’m eating breakfast surrounded by dead eyes. It’s hard to eat your yogurt with that.

Nope, that’s a hard nope from me.

I don’t know what they were going for with the dead flowers. I’ll tell you what, it really complemented the dismembered lady heads everywhere.

Now, this is cool and then it is not. A bunch of stained glass windows survived the earthquake in 1906 and they are above your head as you climb the stairs. Lovely. However some jackass put fluorescent tube lights behind them so they have all the warmth and charm of a second-grade classroom. Why? Why do you do this to me? Anguish.

This isn’t really a complaint, more of a flumoxing really. This was our bathroom wall viewed from the toilet. What… what is going on here?

I understand some of the elements like the light switch and the plug things but the everything else, I have no idea what’s going on there. Many questions left unanswered.

We were right next to Japantown which consists of two very large buildings built in a Japanese-esque style and a tall tower.

We went early in the morning which I do not recommend because almost nothing in the two Japantown malls is open until around noon. It was a perfectly fine mall, lots of shops and food stalls. I have to admit I am jaded. There was a Japantown on the way to my previous office and therefore I was regularly exposed to a chunk of Japanese culture. I imagine this would blow someone’s mind if they were from a Japanese-starved area but I was okay with it, not mind blown. But I do recommend checking it out, there might be something there that isn’t in your area. Here’s a list of the stores.

http://sfjapantown.org/directory/

The one thing they had that gave me warm fuzzies was the beverage vending machine. I fell madly in love with the beverage vending machines in Japan so I got a little teary-eyed to see my old friend again.

That’s it for today. Next entry: Art and Alcatraz.

 

 

Aaaaaand we’re back. San Francisco, Part 1.

Thursday, December 13th, 2018

I had maybe all the work to do. I still have most of the work to do. But I feel like it’s time to start to start sharing my trip which was, what, like over a month ago? Yeah, I need to get on that. I didn’t take a lot of pictures because I was trying to live in the moment like the magazines say but luckily many other people took pictures so I will pull their photos from the internet.

The first thing I did when I landed was hook up with my friend Ness who moved out to San Francisco to become a police officer. She’s been a cop for several years now and I’m still salty about it. I will never be unsalty about her leaving me. (I know she went there to pursue a better life but being completely self-absorbed I still think she left me. Personally. Just me.) Ness took me and Cricket all around the town. She drove us through the Tenderloin (“That’s the corner where you buy heroin… and that’s the corner where you buy crack and weed…”) I was like, heyyyy, Police Officer Lady, shouldn’t you do something about that maybe? Ness said, “First of all I’m off the clock. Secondly the drug trade is so inherent in the city that arresting them would accomplish nothing.” And honestly the drug trade was not an issue for me. The homeless people freakin’ everywhere was very much an issue for me. Seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Kowloon Walled City popped up in midtown. If you don’t know about the Kowloon Walled City, it is cool as hell. Here is a description:

https://www.businessinsider.com/kowloon-walled-city-photos-2015-2

So the homeless people have tents everywhere which doesn’t bother me too much. And many of them sadly have some kind of mental problem, which is unfortunate but doesn’t bother me too much. What DOES bother me too much, and I’m sorry to get all graphic here, is the human feces all over the sidewalk. You heard me. In New York where people are civilized the homeless either poop in a corner edge of a building or poop on a piece of cardboard and throw it away (I’ve seen them do this, it’s the neighborly thing to do). That way it’s not in the middle of the sidewalk. In San Fran I walked with my head down the whole time because if I stepped in some I planned to cut off my foot at the ankle and burn it in a trash can. I need my foots so I was determined to not let that happen. When I was being a tourist in Chinatown (San Francisco has the oldest and largest Chinatown in America but New York’s is the most densely populated) and I skidded on a shiny leaf my first reaction was “FECES!!!” That’s not a great way to go through life. The other thing about San Francisco that I did not care for was the imminent perpetual threat of theft. Ness says they’ve stopped arresting people for snatch-and-grabs or car break-ins. According to one news piece I watched there are 31,000 car break-ins A YEAR. That’s straight-up bananas.

Not everything in San Francisco is trash, please don’t get that impression. There were many things I really enjoyed. I loved the old houses. LOVED.

       

Another gorgeous structure; The Now Scientology Headquarters of SF, Formerly The Original TransAmerica Building.

Other things I loved about San Francisco: I had dim sum, it was magnificent; The California Academy of Science was the best natural history / aquarium / botanical garden combo pack in the world (more on that later); Muir Woods is breathtaking and glorious (more on that later as well), the weather is scrumptious… there’s a lot to love.

I think Ness should return to NY tho.

 

Vienna and Krakow, Part 11 and done.

Friday, May 11th, 2018

Salt mine! But first, other stuff.

I was told the typical food of Krakow is the deep-fried crispy pork knuckle, so I went to a typical restaurant that had tablecloths with those awesome Polish flower patterns, they look like this:

Where I ordered the pork knuckle. I have limited knowledge of the porcine foods being brought up without them in my home so I was not prepared for the massive meat knob that was placed before me.

Seriously, it was huge. I started delving in and it was nice. It tasted exactly like a turkey leg from the RennFaire. And it’s really not as much meat as you’d think, there’s a giant bone going through the middle. The knuckle came with mustard and horseradish. Lemme tell you something: Eastern Europe loves its horseradish and I am 100% here for it. Horseradish is a wildly underappreciated foodstuff and we need to incorporate it into more of our daily meals because hell yeah. So good. The Moomins got another authentic Polish dish which was duck with apples. She loved it.

But the true star of the meal was the personal pan pizza-sized breadloaf filled with mushroom soup. Yes. Oh yes.

The other restaurant we went to, and I recommend this heartily, is Grandma Raspberry. That’s the name of the restaurant. Raspberries are a big deal in Poland, kind of like blueberries in Maine. The top floor of the restaurant is fine but we were seated in the basement which… okay. I’ve never personally been to a bar / brothel in the Wild West during the gold rush so I can’t say if this is what it was like but I can say that this is what I imagine it was like. Sort of. The basement was decorated with swagged fabric and flowery couches and lamps that I can only describe as slutty (“Gentlemen, why don’t you rest your weary feet here for a moment and have a refreshin’ glass of fizzy water while I go get the girls?”). There was a man in the corner playing jingly-jangly music on a pianer. The waitstaff was all underage pretty blonde girls with roses in their hair (“We got a lovely new crop of ladies on the train last week, they’re as fresh as a new penny and rarin’ to please”). I think in an attempt to “Grandma” it up there were vitrines filled with antique dolls but it only contributed to the prostitute-y vibe.

Make an effort to check it out if you go to Krakow. The food was really good too. Here’s the menu: http://kuchniaubabcimaliny.pl/files/menu/krakow-ul-slawkowska-17_12-11-2013.pdf

Okay, salt mine. Remember the whale bones which were mistaken for dragon bones earlier? That means there used to be a sea there. The sea dried up, the salt was left behind. For millenia bubbly salt water came up to the surface and people gathered that but around 1300 the water dried up so people started digging for the salt crystals. The salt is vaguely green due to a small amount of other minerals mixed in with the salt, same as how Himalayan salt is pink. In a couple of spots the salt is reddish due to minute amounts of iron. But it’s all mostly greenish.

It starts with you waiting in a room that looks like it’s from a train station. The salt mine has been a tourist attraction for hundreds of years apparently. It’s still in use and extremely large. We were in there for about two hours walking through both big and small chambers and we only saw about 6% of the mine, so there’s a ton more that’s actually being mined presently.

 

Important to know: if you suffer from claustrophobia don’t visit this mine. In order to keep oxygen flowing there are all kinds of scary metal doors and the doors behind you have to slam closed in order for the doors in front of you to open so sometimes you are trapped in small shafts with many people for a several seconds at a time.

You then walk down waaaaay too many steps. I wouldn’t have had a problem with it except they were kind of spiral steps so you get dizzy and lose your sense of up or down about halfway through. It is not awesome.

Because salt is plastic and has some flex to it the miners cut down the entire forest surrounding the mine to prop up the inside. A great deal of it is painted white because you need fewer lights to illuminate a white space. It makes everything easier to see and when it’s 1753 and you’re under the earth dealing with oil lamps that is definitely a plus.

 

Until fairly recently the miners used their own back-breaking labor to chop the salt out of the walls. Now they use machines and dynamite but in the parts we were in you could clearly see the pick marks from the pick axes.

And in some places moisture got in and made what is called “salt cauliflowers.”

The early employees there were apparently treated really well. They were paid decently and they only worked eight hour shifts. The only problem is they had to walk up and down all those gazillion stairs. Some of the workers had artistic skills and that’s where the coolness of this place kicks in. Being super-devout Catholics they carved a chapel. The floor, the walls, the chandeliers – all carved out of salt and all by mine workers. It’s very impressive.

 

There are other chapels throughout the mine but they have non-salt elements. WHICH IS CHEATING.

There are pools of saltwater and no surprise here, they are very salty. In the 1800s there used to be rowboats you could rent and paddle around down there but a boat tipped over and three people drowned so no more rowboats.

In addition to the chapels and pools there are niches with sculptures, both religious and non-religious. There’s King Casimir the Great who, it is said, “inherited a Poland of wood and died in a Poland of stone,” implying that he built up Poland and brought it into the modern era (as modern as it gets in 1350).

They have gnomes that come to life at night and help the miners (TRUTH. FACTS. POLAND.)

There’s Princess Kinga and the story of the mine. Taken from Wikipedia:

There is a legend about Princess Kinga, associated with the Wieliczka mine. The Hungarian princess was about to be married to Boles?aw V the Chaste, the Prince of Kraków. As part of her dowry, she asked her father, Béla IV of Hungary, for a lump of salt, since salt was prizeworthy in Poland. Her father King Béla took her to a salt mine in Máramaros. She threw her engagement ring from Boles?aw in one of the shafts before leaving for Poland. On arriving in Kraków, she asked the miners to dig a deep pit until they come upon a rock. The people found a lump of salt in there and when they split it in two, discovered the princess’s ring. Kinga had thus become the patron saint of salt miners in and around the Polish capital.

There are a couple of people I do not recognize:

And Pope John Paul II who I very much recognize:

As we headed out we walked through the giant room where wedding receptions are held. It is pretty common for people to get married in the salt chapel.

In a children’s play area there are anthropomorphic salt crystals harvesting… themselves, I guess.

And if you’re wondering did I lick a random probably unclean wall? I most certainly did. It tasted pleasantly salty.

Okay! That was my trip to Eastern Europe (you should go) in winter (but not in winter). Now back to art and internet posts.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 10.

Sunday, May 6th, 2018

Okay, we covered the depressing. Back to the positive things humanity has contributed to history.

But first! A doorframe. I saw a Baroque doorframe with angry… weasels? Lizards? Dog griffons? I couldn’t tell. Thankfully, the club made their logo a line drawing of the guardian beasties so that mystery was solved right quick. Thank you, Klub Pod Jaszczurant.

This was our heated towel rack. I developed a deep and powerful relationship with this towel rack. I would come back from sightseeing frosty with crisp extremities and drape myself on this towel rack. I think the towel rack and I are married in some villages, so intimate was our contact.

In one of the churches I visited I saw a ceiling motif of the ten commandments. Now I’ve always seen them split even in two, five on one side and five on the other. Here it was the first three on one side and seven on the other, which I found odd. I asked my dad why they did that and he said the first three commandments deal with your relationship with God, where the remaining seven deal with your relationship with your fellow man. Ergo, the uneven split. Knowledge!

So if you remember I mentioned that when a building needed repair in Krakow they repaired it in whatever style was popular at the time of the repair, not the style that was popular at the time of the building’s creation. This worked out well for me because one whole church interior was fixed and painted in the Art Nouveau style which is my favorite artistic movement.

The windows were stained glass in the Art Nouveau style but they weren’t very good so I didn’t hurt myself trying to take pictures of them. The church was very dark and the windows were very bright and my camera was like, “What… precisely… are we going for here” so I didn’t fuss with the windows.

Before WWII Krakow had a ton of Jews. Now it’s got about 200 permanent resident Jews but approximately 700,000 Jews visit Krakow every year so the former Jewish district has been turned into a sort of cultural center with restaurants and museums relating to the community that used to live there.

Most of the buildings are around a small town square. This was the oldest remaining building from 1300-something.

Here’s the school off to the side. I like brickwork and am a sucker for a good brick building. Mock me if you must, I will find solace in my bricks.

Here’s a bit of Roman wall. The Jews were sent outside the city limits at one time and it’s cool to see where the city limits used to be.

This was the butchers market. In the center of this octagonal building is where the actual kosher killing happened and then the stalls where you would buy the meat. Now there’s a vintage and second-hand market there on certain days in the stalls.

The Old Synagogue (so named because it’s from the Renaissance) is now a museum. It has a really lovely clean interior with several original elements remaining.

The main thing I took away from visiting this museum (which I recommend, it’s small but excellent) is that Jews loooooove lions on their religious objects and, bless their hearts, they cannot make a decent lion for all the money in the world. There was these ones:

And this:

And these cheerful failures:

And my personal favorites from the 1700s that I call “If I’m going to get lions wrong I’m going to get them epically wrong.”

Brief moment of grimness (listen, it’s Europe, it’s Jews, things are going to get crappy, it’s unavoidable). We walked through the former ghetto. This was the SS office in the center of the square.

After the ghetto was liquidated and everyone in it was sent to concentration camps, the Nazis threw all the furniture in their apartments out of the windows and the square filled up with furniture. So as a memorial the square is filled with bronze chairs. Some believe it represents all the furniture that was thrown out. Some say they are waiting for their owners to come back (spoiler alert: it never happens). It’s a very impactful memorial.

We also went to the Remu Synagogue. From Wikipedia:

The Remah Synagogue, is named after Rabbi Moses Isserles c.1525–1572, known by the Hebrew acronym ReMA (pronounced ReMU) who’s famed for writing a collection of commentaries and additions that complement Rabbi Yosef Karo’s Shulchan Aruch, with Ashkenazi traditions and customs.

I was interested in going there because I heard a story (remember, we’re in Krakow where there are no myths and fables, only TRUTHS and FACTS) that Rabbi Moses Isserles wrote a book that was very important and then he buried it in the backyard where a tree grew out of the book. Then when Rabbi Isserles died he was buried under that tree as well. When people tried to dig him up to move his body to a better cemetery the tree smacked the crap out them with its branches (“No move body! I smack!”) and when bombs were dropping the tree bent over and protected the body from damage. I love that this rabbi is protected by something that is half Whomping Willow from Harry Potter and half Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. I wanted to see the tree and wandering around an old cemetery is always on my list.

 

Headstones had lion fails as well. This one looked like Courage the Cowardly Dog screaming.

Someone had taken the broken headstones and embedded them on the back wall.

The interior of the actual synagogue was very small and cute.

And it took me a while to figure out why there was a lobster on the ceiling because, hello? Sooooo not kosher? But apparently there were the signs of the zodiac around the perimeter of the room (which still makes very little sense because isn’t that Greek mythology, whatever).

Next entry: The Salt Mine! With the Salt Church! And that’s the end of the trip.

Vienna and Krakow, Part 9.

Friday, April 20th, 2018

Alright, let’s do this. Better we just get it over with. Head’s up: It’s going to get pretty dark so if you’re not into that maybe skip this one.

Auschwitz is the German name for the Polish town of Oswiecim. Here is some info from the Wikipedia page:

Auschwitz I was first constructed to hold Polish political prisoners, who began to arrive in May 1940. The first extermination of prisoners took place in September 1941. Auschwitz II–Birkenau went on to become a major site of the Nazis’ Final Solution to the Jewish Question during the Holocaust. From early 1942 until late 1944, transport trains delivered Jews to the camp’s gas chambers from all over German-occupied Europe, where they were killed en masse with the cyanide-based poison Zyklon B, originally developed to be used as a pesticide. An estimated 1.3 million people were sent to the camp, of whom at least 1.1 million died. Around 90 percent of those were Jews; approximately one in six Jews killed in the Holocaust died at the camp. Others deported to Auschwitz included 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Romani and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses, and tens of thousands of others of diverse nationalities, including an unknown number of homosexuals. Many of those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labor, infectious diseases, individual executions, and medical experiments.

Just to give you an idea of how many people were killed, there was one point in the war where 5,000 people arrived at Auschwitz every day for years. When the Soviets came in there was a total of 7,000 people there, many of whom died after being liberated. The purging was extremely thorough.

We arrived at the main camp called Auschwitz (the secondary camp is either called Auschwitz II or Birkenau). I think it used to be a Boy Scout summer camp with rows of brick buildings. I saw the sign and I thought I was going to freak out but I didn’t. Surprisingly to me, I thought I was going to freak out at several moments and I didn’t. I was just sad.

 

All these buildings are now displays of exhibitions. Each building has a theme. We only walked through about two of them. They had piles of the things left behind, like 800,000 shoes, or eyeglasses.

Or the opened cans of Zyklon B.

Or human hair. Everyone arriving got shaved and the hair was woven into blankets and socks for the German submarine crews. When Auschwitz was opened there was approximately 7.7 tons of hair.

I decided a while back that even though I really did not want to go to Auschwitz I would because sometimes you need to suck it up and see history but I had one condition: No Mengele. I cannot deal with the idea of medical experiments. As soon as we walked past Mengele’s building I was getting ready to bolt out of earshot but luckily the guide basically said, “This was the building where Mengele worked,” and that was it. You could go in if you wanted to and see the exhibit but I decided I’d like to not have nightmares for forever so I took a hard pass on that.

We walked past the firing squad area. There were all kinds of bouquets and memorials all over different part of the property. It was kind of heartwarming to see, these acknowledgements of the loss and sacrifice.

We also stood where the band played every day to set a marching rhythm for the prisoners coming home from the fields. I found that particularly macabre, being a prisoner, having to play upbeat music while people are struggling and carrying their dead friends (your whole bunk was penalized if everyone wasn’t there for roll call, meaning you had to hold up the dead on your shoulders until everyone’s name was called).

I was surprised to see the lack of gas chambers and crematoriums, but that was to come in Birkenau. We took the short drive over to the second camp where I got to walk through the Gate of Death.

That’s where the train cars would come in filled with people. Between the tracks they were separated into two groups – ones that were fit to do forced labor and not fit. Interestingly, the opening scene from the first X-Men movie does an excellent job of showing what that was probably like. 95% were found not fit and sent to the gas chambers immediately. (The fit ones would be worked to death, a process taking on average about three months, after which they would succumb to starvation, alimentary dystrophy, gangrene, necrosis, internal hemorrhaging, and typhoid fever.) Zyklon B would come out of the shower heads instead of water which took approximately 20 minutes to kill everyone. Zyklon B contains potassium cyanide which prevents cellular respiration. After everyone was dead they were brought to the crematorium which ran 24/7. They still could not burn the bodies fast enough so some prisoners’ jobs were to grind up the unburnt remains like teeth and bones of strangers as well as potentially their friends and relatives. The ash was then thrown into the fields or dumped into the lakes in the area.

Before the end of the war the Germans didn’t want the world to know what they did so they destroyed most of the gas chambers and crematoriums before they abandoned Birkenau. There are remnants left.

To represent the destroyed gas chambers, a memorial was built in the location of one with phrases written in every language of people who were sent there to die.

If you’re in the area I recommend you take some time and visit. It’s definitely depressing but I think it’s worth the opportunity and Auschwitz is far more sanitized than other camps I have visited (like Mauthausen, which is in far better condition and where I found myself standing in the gas chamber itself.)

Next entry: Back to churches and art and probably churches.