So open up your golden gate…

Flew into San Francisco two weeks ago to visit my brother, D, in Cazadero (population 294), Sonoma County.  We both teach and have the same spring break.

Sunday went to Bodega Head to watch for whales.  Three had been by already, but it was going to be another hour-and-a-half until more showed up (they – the docents, not the whales – were on the phone communicating with others further south), said one of the docents who had a table set up at the end of the parking lot, full of whale books, a chart of different whales, a sample of baleen, a whale vertebrae, and so on. They recognized my brother.  Turns out they’re not only into whales, but volunteer at the bird rescue1 with D.  We started chatting and the husband mentioned that he had gotten a degree from U of A, and had worked in optical sciences, which had just been discussed at the last science lecture that I had attended. It’s a small world, after all.  (If you’ve been on that ride at Disneyland, that song should be ringing in your mind now…)  We didn’t stay for the whales, but left to taste wine.

Sonoma Wineries

We visited two wineries (Fort Ross2 and Joseph Phelps3) that were on the list of Best of Sonoma, but their wines were too expensive for me.  The next day we researched, starting with cards that I had gotten for free tasting, culling half that D said were too far, and then getting the number down to four that had wines (specifically whites, as I have been drinking more of them with my fish, chicken, and salad meals, and I still have a number of reds in my wine cabinet) that I could afford.

Started with the Taft Street Winery, with an unprepossessing building, not on Taft Street, but Barlow Lane, Sebastopol.  They do not have their own vineyards, but buy all of their grapes.  They advertise, Garage Crafted, Russian River Valley.

Like the renegade Bordeaux winemakers known as “Garagistes,” Taft Street began in a garage rather than a grand chateau, stressing quality without pretense.

They had a nice 2013 Pinot Gris, which I bought, but a marvelous Chardonnay Russian River that I purchased a bottle of despite it being over my price range because it was so delicious. My one splurge.

Stopped at Geyser Peak.  Told the sommelier (or was she merely a pourer?) that I could only afford the California  Series, the least expensive of the four tiers, and she replied that I would do better going across the street to the grocery store, as they bought the wine in large quantities and their prices were better.  But she gave us a few tastings, and I didn’t like them anyway.

Next went to Rued Winery, with its rolling hills of vines.  The first wine of the flight that we tried was a 2013 Pinot Grigio Dry Creek Valley that I absolutely loved. Got two bottles. Then there were two great Chardonnays. The first, 2014 Russian River Chardonnay,  didn’t even taste like a chard – not buttery or oaky; it had been aged in a stainless steel cask. I bought one and so did D, and he hardly ever drinks wine, preferring ale.

Wednesday we spent the day with friends of D’s from when they had all worked for Colossal Pictures.  I found the most entertaining gossip about Stephen Hillenburg, who they had worked with and who created SpongeBob SquarePants.  (D did not know him, having only worked for a short time in animation.)  Anyway, Hillenburg had not taken the hundred thousand or whatever he was offered by (maybe) Disney, as he wanted to retain control.  So now he has the TV show,  the t-shirts, the dolls and all, the movie  (which he did write).  Probably worth  $$$$$ but, they said, still just a nice guy.  Interesting afternoon.

Science Lecture

That evening we went to a California Academy of Sciences Conversations on Science lecture on Minds of Their Own: Animal Intelligence with Virginia Morell, whose recent book is Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures.  She was interviewed by Roy Eisenhardt, who has interviewed such luminaries as Stephen King, Gene Wilder, Desmond Tutu – you get the idea.

(California Academy of Sciences is a relatively new science museum in Golden Gate Park.  I had toured it back in 2008, just after it opened, as an architect, because the building had received a LEED platinum award, with old bluejeans being used for insulation, a green roof covered in wildflowers and so on. Back to the lecture.)

The rigorous test by scientists for intelligence in animals was discussed.  Jane Goodall could not say that the chimp conspired with her to get a banana after the alpha male  (haven eaten the entire rope of bananas without sharing) fell asleep, because that would have been anthropomorphizing.  And there is debate as to whether an earthworm is intelligent when it chooses between four materials put before it to close its tunnel.

Alex the parrot  (now deceased, but if you haven’t heard of him, you can easily find a YouTube video, or read the book, as I have, Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence–and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process) is a marvelous example of intelligence as he used English; he didn’t just “parrot” it back.  (He made fun of one of the other parrots he didn’t like. Say better, he’d call out from his corner, which meant Griffin should speak more clearly.)  The Economist magazine devoted the whole of its obituary page to him when he died.

Ai Weiwei at Alcatraz

SF 004

The next day we went to Alcatraz to see the show by Ai Weiwei: @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz5, 9/27/14 – 4/26/15.

“The misconception of totalitarianism is that freedom can be imprisoned. This is not the case. When you constrain freedom, freedom will take flight and land on a windowsill.”
— Ai Weiwei

With Wind

SF 008The first room held With Wind.

He says that for him, the dragon represents not imperial authority, but personal freedom: “everybody has this power.” The individual kites that make up the dragon’s body carry quotations from activists who have been imprisoned or exiled, including Nelson Mandela, Edward Snowden, [both shown here] and Ai himself.

SF mandelaSF snowdon





The next room in the New Industries Building was Trace, carpets of Legos, with portraits of 176 people from around the world who have been imprisoned or exiled because of their beliefs or affiliations.  Photos here show Aun San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King (among others), and pages of the notebooks around telling what each person was incarcerated for.   Notice that the US is guilty also.  (You can click on the photos to enlarge them.)

SF 027 SF suu kyi







SF kid


Stay Tuned

dickPhoto of my brother in one of the cells.  (They are quite small.)  The three-legged stools are heavy metal made by Ai Weiwei and I believe bolted down.

This sound installation occupies a series of twelve cells in A Block. Inside each cell, visitors are invited to sit and listen to spoken words, poetry, and music by people who have been detained for the creative expression of their beliefs, as well as works made under conditions of incarceration. Each cell features a different recording.


SF 054Ai’s father, the renowned poet Ai Qing, and his family were sent to a labor camp in the 50’s. He spent five years cleaning toilets.

The artist has designed intricately detailed encrustations of ceramic flowers to fill the sinks, toilets, and tubs that were once used by hospitalized prisoners in several Hospital ward cells.

…an ironic reference to China’s famous Hundred Flowers Campaign of 1956, a brief period of government tolerance for free expression that was immediately followed by a severe crackdown against dissent.

I’ve taken altogether too long to finish this.  So I’ll stop.  See the web page for the rest of the installation.


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2 Responses to “So open up your golden gate…”

  1. Jim Says:

    The wild animals who regularly visit your yard, have the intelligence to know you and trust you; do you have the intelligence to know them and trust them?
    Did you get to sit and listen too – in one of those charming little rooms? If so, did it arouse any emotions in your soul?

    • notesfromthewest Says:

      Not sure I trust the bobcats. Was out in the vegetable garden the other day and the cat, who usually stays with me, went out behind the wall. A bit later I heard her growl her Don’t mess with me growl, which I’ve only heard when she’s confronting a bobcat. I rushed out front to find only her, the other animal having dissolved into the brush. I’ll never know.
      And I hardly consider the tiny Alcatraz cells charming. But yes, I did listen to all of the recordings.

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