Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Berkeley, November 2010

Barry and I with some characters at the Dia de los Muertos concert

One Thursday I noticed they were doing flu shots at the JCC right after my exercise class, so spent $25 to have one.  These are free at home for people over 60, but I thought with our plans to visit NYC and stay close to our very pregnant daughter-in-law and shortly thereafter her baby, it was a no-brainer. They were advertising them at this price at the University Health Center, but the JCC is closer.  Barry forgot to get his there, so he had one recently at the local drug store for $30. A friend  tells me her doctor charged her $40!

The next evening we decided to see the movie "Social Network".  We went to the El Cerrito multiplex which is a little further afield than the 3 or 4 cinemas we frequent, and we discovered that you can order a meal and drinks to consume in the cinema.  There are broad benchtops between the rows which serve as your table top when they deliver your food.  In fact Charlie, our neighbour, had told Barry about this place during our first year here,  but somehow we have never gone. And this evening we had eaten dinner before we went out, so stuck to an ice cream for Barry and a decaf coffee for me, but we resolved to go there again and try it out, just for the novelty value. I saw some healthy looking veggie plates with hummus as well as pizzas and burgers, so if we do go we'll need to get there a bit early to check out the menu.  We enjoyed the movie, though it would be hard to like Mark Zuckerberg as he is portrayed. I suspect the version of reality depicted in the film will come to be accepted as the true history of the origins of Facebook, irrespective of what actually happened.  I have been looking at Facebook a bit more frequently since.  I started this blog as a substitute for emailing my friends about our travels, and no sooner did I begin than social media began to replace this form of communication.  I don't really do a web log: I am too far in arrears, too wordy, and not interactive, but it works as my travel diary.  I don't really want to use the features such as "liking" stuff and twittering about it, but am intrigued by how my  "friends" who do manage to find the time. Despite a long career in the computer industry (or maybe because of it?) , I just don't "get" Facebook. I am still an old media fan, I guess, rather than a native user of new media.

Church of Saints Peter and Paul, North Beach
Tai Chi in Washington Square
We had arranged to go to a Dia de los Muertos concert at Davies  Symphony Hall on Saturday afternoon, with Guy Emerson, a grad student from ANU who is here for a couple of months and enjoying Berkeley very much (he had joined our dinner for the GSI's the week before) . We decided to take a walking tour of the North Beach area in the morning - usually we don't choose morning walks that start so early as we like a leisurely start to the day on weekends, but to make the most of the day got ourselves out of bed and met Guy at the North Berkeley BART station quite early.  Rather than find the bus stop and pay 3 fares, we shared a taxi from Montgomery Station in downtown SF and got to North Beach early enough to grab a coffee in this
very Italian restaurant-rich neighbourhood.  There were several groups of mostly elderly Chinese doing Tai Chi in Washington Square in front of the church (Sts Peter and Paul) where the tour began - I took several photos of larger groups but however slowly I thought  they were moving, the photos must have come out blurred as apparently I deleted most of them which must have been really awful, and only this not very good one made the cut.

Mural featuring musicians, writers, boat builders of San Francisco
We have had this Walking Tour guide before - he led the Gold Rush City tour that we took with Ben and Lissy back in 2008.  I thought we spent way too much
Literary sculpture: looks like birds up there but it's books...
..and these words have fallen to the pavement from the books!
time in the church looking at all the sculptures and hearing about the origins and quirks of the different families and communities who had a hand in building it, and too little time looking at temples of the Beats such as the City Lights Bookstore - we didn't even visit the store, got no closer than across the road. But then I am much more interested in the cultural history than religious history.  And if Barry had gone into the store, judging by past experience there, he might never have left to continue the tour! Too much talking, not enough walking - and I just read my blog post about the earlier tour and discovered I said the same thing about that tour. I think this guy teaches history at a local community college - maybe I want a little less historical depth and more colour and movement.  We wandered about the area and were shown places (former tea rooms, ex-hotels, cafes, park benches) where the Beat poets hung out, wrote and read their poems, drank, listened to music from the '40s to the '60s- Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Bob Kaufman, Jack Kerouac  and others. To encourage participation, the guide had prepared a little handout with significant landmarks and a poem by Bob Kaufman.  He asked us about what one line ("Mexico Mexico, fill my nostrils") might mean - Barry volunteered that these guys had been fond of travelling to Mexico for the drugs as well as the boys, so it wasn't exactly a mysterious line!  We heard how San Francisco had seemed a paradise of liberalism and freedom (as well as sunshine)  to these guys from the mid-West and the East coast. He shared with us his own discovery of the Bay Area and and generally managed to ignite some fellow feeling amongst us (especially the tourists ) for their excitement at finding a like-minded community in the Bay Area and never returning to their original home.

After the tour we walked a couple of blocks into Chinatown and chose a Vietnamese restaurant for lunch pretty much at random. We continued our quest for dry fried string beans to equal the first ones we ever tried  in NYC's Chinatown over 30 years ago : these were not terrible, maybe a 6/10 . They came with a tasty brown sauce and were clearly not a real version of the dry-fried dish, but we like green beans anyway. Then we walked half the way to the concert through Chinatown - there was a funeral procession in train so no taxis about on the street we were walking along, but we wanted to get there early as there were various activities with Mariachis, demonstrations of making pan de muertos (the special bread eaten on the Day of the Dead, formed using the knuckles) , which we missed, though we did catch various folkloric groups in costume once we walked a few more blocks and got a taxi - see the photos.

La Coronela
There were displays of papel picado, and various reproductions of Posada's famous engravings, including
some in 3D.  There was Mexican hot chocolate to sample and many multi-generational families there for the concert with kids dressed up for the occasion. The coronela pictured was particularly relevant as the concert ended with an abridged version of the music and ballet from Revueltas's La Coronela - the music and dancers told a story of the workers' triumph over the decadent bourgeoisie. Ballet (and dance in general) is not my favourite art form, and without the programme notes I would not have had the faintest notion of what the ballet was about.  Even with the notes, it was pretty unclear to me, though it received a standing ovation, but most things we see seem to - I think the San Francisco audience is a cheap date! The one other piece that received loud applause was Rosas's Sobre las Olas (Over the Waves), and it also a kind of collective sigh at the point where the introduction ends and a familiar tune emerges. I found a Russian army orchestral version on Youtube and can't resist putting it here: do have a listen and the tune will stick with you all day!


All of the music was by composers who had significant connections with Mexico, whether born there or not, and was very easy listening though we had only recently heard Revueltas's Sensemaya last time we were at Symphony Hall. There were lots of children, and I was surprised that most of them were very well-behaved through quite long stretches of classical music (though one little boy on the other side of Barry was rather wriggly and obviously very bored).

After the concert we wandered back to Union Square, found an authentic looking, if reconstructed,  diner (complete with classic car) where Barry ordered a hot fudge sundae (with 3 spoons) and we each had a drink, then Barry and I got the BART back to Berkeley, after pointing Guy in the right direction for his next set of San Francisco adventures.  Two activities in one day were enough for me, I guess I am getting old and lazy!
A couple of characters in costume : and note the papel picado in the background.

After last week's all star cast in Compulsion, my next brush with famous performers was at the SF Opera the following Tuesday evening, to see Alfano's Cyrano de Bergerac, featuring Placido Domingo.We drove in with Sonya and Philip and their friend Judy and encountered less traffic then we had expected (with five of us in the car, we sailed across the Bay Bridge in the car pool lane) and had time to kill at a bar before we ate, only I was not drinking so I could have some wine with dinner and not risk falling asleep at the opera.

We had a beautiful dinner first at Jardiniere, the very classy restaurant near the opera house where we have eaten with Sonya and Philip several times. It is always difficult to choose what to eat - it seems a good idea to have two starters as they always sound wonderfully delicious, but the mains are tempting too.  And the desserts are particularly good, though I usually just sample  OPs (other people's!)
Get a typical  menu here:

The opera itself was very well-staged, most of it recitative with no memorable arias.  Domingo, 69 years old,  was in very good voice (though we thought his prosthetic nose was way deficient as he didn't look at all ugly), and Roxane, sung by Ainhoa Arteta, a Basque native who is something of a protegee of Domingo's, was also excellent. The standard of the productions here does set the bar quite high, even though the stage is quite small.  Again, I was struck by how only the designers or occasionally other non-singing members of the production team have ever worked in Australia - in the three years we have been attending performances, I don't think more than one or two of the dozens of singers profiled in the programme notes have ever been seen down under. It certainly leaves me questioning whether we are as world class in these arts as we like to think.  There was, however, a tribute to La Stupenda in the programme for the final opera of our season, so some Australians make the grade!

You can hear some excerpts from the production and see a photo of Placido Domingo's nose at:


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