Home > Comments and Articles > The Bear's Progress > Day Thirteen
It was a cold San Francisco winter morning. SkeptoBear and pirate Jim wanted to sleep late and The Bear's lady companion had some secret women's business to attend to, so the male companion set off for the breakfast diner to get a table and order the pancakes and bacon. As he walked into the diner, the speakers on the ceiling started to sing.
|All the leaves are brown|
And the sky is grey.
I went for a walk
On a winter's day.
He felt a wave of nostalgia wash over him as he remembered how long ago it had been when he had first heard that song, a song with particular piquancy as his grandmother had also been known to everyone as Mama Cass. Damn that icy wind, it was making his eyes water. Equilibrium of a sort was soon restored as the rest of the party arrived for breakfast. Pirate Jim was leaving the group after breakfast, but he promised to get to Australia in the near future. The project for everyone else that day was to visit the Exploratorium, a science museum which only had to be half as good as its reputation to be very good indeed.
Getting to the museum presented an interesting logistical problem. You may remember that while waking around Las Vegas and then submitting to a treadmill in the hotel gymnasium, the male member of the group had acquired what was being called "an expletive sore foot", an ailment later diagnosed as plantar fasciitis. When he found out what was really wrong and had it described to him he was glad that he didn't know what was happening before the diagnosis because it sounds even more painful than it is. The problem here was that there were two ways to get to the Exploratorium from the diner. One was to catch a convenient cable car to Fisherman's Wharf (or as near as they could get before the trip was prematurely terminated) and then walk some distance to the museum. The other was to walk some distance to an inconvenient bus stop and catch a bus which appeared to go to the right place (but who knows in a strange city?). It was decided that the principle of "no pain, no gain" would be employed and the painful part would happen first. That would allow the foot to rest and recover on the bus before all that walking that was inevitable in the museum. The group set off for the bus stop, passing the tattoo parlour on the way. To nobody's surprise, it was closed.
Outside the building housing the Exploratorium is a collection of civic architecture from another time entirely. It is a set of colonnades and arches which remain from the buildings housing the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition. Looking at the picture above (click on it for more information) and comparing it to what is left suggests that the original buildings would have been very impressive indeed. The arches which are still in the park are of such a size that it was difficult to get a photograph which didn't show SkeptoBear as just a white dot. Very impressive, and a nice surprise too, because none of this magnificence seems to be on the normal tourist routes. As was the case with the real fisherman's wharf, it is often the case that a better touring experience can be had by ignoring the guidebooks and going to other places.
The Exploratorium is one of those other places. It is not really a science museum as it does not house artefacts from history but is instead a collection of hands-on exhibits. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a word in English other than "museum" (except the self-referential "exploratorium") to describe a place like this. It is an enormous hall full of things that teach children about science and how science reveals the world and universe around us. Not only the hard sciences are covered, but there are exhibits dealing with psychology, perception and other social sciences as well. There is no attempt to make the place pretty, just useful. Exhibits are clearly marked with an explanation of what principles they are revealing and how they are doing it. One nice touch which reveals how science doesn't have all the answers is that some of the exhibits have signs which say that the exact workings of the phenomenon are not fully understood. If kids take away just one thing from a visit there and that thing is that science is a search for truth, not the truth itself, then any amount of time spent there is worthwhile.
Seeing the edges of things
Seeing with heat
Someone described the male member of the party as being "like a kid in a science museum". What was planned as a short visit was only concluded when everyone was too exhausted and sore of foot to continue. This place is an essential point on the itinerary of anyone interested in science who visits San Francisco. Allow at least one full day to see it and bring your own lunch, because the only less than optimal thing there is the food available in the small eatery. The place is so good that even spelling mistakes on the things for sale in the shop can be almost forgiven. (Almost forgiven, because the Smithsonian Institution should know better.)
All the members of the group were interested in jazz, and there was a unanimous decision that it would be remiss of them all to visit San Francisco without attending a jazz club. A suitable club, Le Jazz Nouveau, had been located and it showed promise as it had been established by refugees from New Orleans. Like all good jazz outlets it didn't open until late, so the party went next door to an excellent Mexican restaurant named Margarita's. As both The Bear and his male companion were partial to the drink of the same name this seemed like a good place to find a useful cocktail bar, although both agreed that neither of them had either the spare brain cells or liver capacity to do anything about the more than 200 varieties of tequila on display. Still, the meal was excellent and the glasses were of adequate size. If you are in San Francisco and like Mexican, this place is highly recommended.
The club finally opened and the group secured a table with a good view of the stage. The performance that night was to come from the Carlos Bandera Band. While none of the skeptic group had ever heard of them, it seemed that everyone else had. Carlos had apparently been a regular performer at the place a few years before and this was a reunion night for the band, the fans and the friends. Except for three Australians in the corner everyone knew everyone else, so it was more like a party than a show.
The three members of the team came at jazz from different directions. The lady is a very well-trained musician who plays jazz clarinet and wants to see Dixieland performed in Bourbon Street, New Orleans, one day. The man plays guitar like Hendrix (that is Hendrix now, not before he died), likes Miles and Coltrane, and wants to drink bourbon in Bourbon Street while listening to grizzled black musicians play slick guitar. SkeptoBear's interest is more technical and esoteric. One of his doctoral theses had explored the possibilities of a merger between the twelve-bar blues chord progression and Arnold Schönberg's 12-tone method of composition. (One of the group suggested that multiplying the two twelves together would produce music that could be described as gross. Another said that you wouldn't drink bourbon and cola while listening, but perhaps gin and atonic might work. SkeptoBear called them both Philistines and sulked for ten minutes.) The music this night was a fusion of rock and South American Mardi Gras dance music. All three agreed that it was competently performed by good musicians, but Don Burrows had combined bossa nova with Chicago years before to better effect. This was something like that combination of Metallica and a symphony orchestra, where both produced excellent music individually but the combination seemed confused. Still, everyone could now put a tick in the box next to "San Francisco jazz club" on their "Things to do and see in life" form.
As the music wasn't really to any of their tastes, the group voted to leave early (well, early for leaving a jazz venue). They decided to stop at the breakfast diner for a cup of coffee, and the taxi dropped them off at a nearby intersection. As the cab drove away, they heard the unmistakeable sounds of blues music. The cab had let them out immediately in front of another jazz club! As they were inspecting the signs outside, the man on the door came out and invited them to come in, and as it was late, they could come in for free. It was a basement club, as it should be, and the band was the Holmes Brothers. Ancient black men with grey beards, playing guitar like they had invented the thing. Melodies played across both bass and six-string guitars as if both instruments were in the same pair of hands. Blues as it should be played. Pure magic! The only thing missing was smoke in the air, a fact commented on nostalgically by both ex-smokers in the party. SkeptoBear wanted to light up and was annoyed when the smoking ban was pointed out to him. He said that the ban only applied to tobacco and he wasn't planning to smoke that. A session on stage with the artists got him back into a better frame of mind, and everyone agreed that it was disappointing that they hadn't known about this place earlier because it was just around the corner from their hotel.
After the music had finished for the night and CDs had been bought and autographed, the group walked the short distance to the hotel. It was very late and nobody expected the tattoo parlour to be open for business. It wasn't.