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One move to America, one surprise pregnancy and a lot of fun later.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Tale of Two weekends

A Weekend in San Francisco by Jarlath Keating

On occasion, these trips are somewhat forced upon you. In this case, I was in San Francisco for client meetings and a technical seminar from the 22nd until the 25th September and was then due in Seattle for more client visits on the 28th & 29th September. It did not make sense flying home from San Francisco just to turn around again and fly back across the country to Seattle 2 days later.

I therefore found myself getting on the Bay Area Regional Transport (BART) on Friday afternoon taking a train to the Embarcadero area of San Francisco and then a taxi to the Marriott hotel on Columbus Avenue, located just off Fisherman’s Wharf in the north of the city. I got to the hotel around 4.00 pm if I recall correctly.

As usual, the first task on arriving at a hotel is to get hooked up to the internet and work e-mail system and download all the crap from that day. After this, I spoke with Hazel to let her know I had [safely] arrived at the hotel. I then crashed out for an hour – it’s a tough life in sales!

Having got my ass out of bed around 7.30 pm and showered and clothed by 8.00 pm it was time to explore Fisherman’s Wharf. What I fancied was finding a nice, small, cozy Italian restaurant where I could have good red wine and simple food and then move on to a pub or bar that had some music and a good atmosphere. What I hadn’t figured when deciding to stay in this area of the city was that it was a mini-Blackpool. The strip was as tatty as hell, with loads of shops selling junk, tourist crap and cheap jewelry etc. I walked East down to Pier 39 which is the main restaurant area and a little more up market. However, it was really busy and I did not really want to fight my way into restaurants that no doubt had a 45 minute wait. I decided to head West instead. On my way, I stopped at the end of the pier to look over the water towards Alcatraz – my destination for tomorrow. It is a beautiful view over San Francisco bay, but more on that later. I also happened across the area where an entire herd of sea lions make their home. There were hundreds of them using floating mooring rigs as their base.

Heading West, I saw a bar called ‘Jack’s which looked suitably ‘pubbish’ to attract my attention. I went and discovered that it was an alehouse serving lots of different beers – Jackpot I thought. I ordered a beer and sat at the bar. I soon got chatting with a couple from Hackney in East London who were on their holidays. 3 beers later, I realized that I still had not eaten and that this was not a good idea. I therefore left the pub and pretty much walked into the first restaurant that did not look too crap. It was an unremarkable experience. A plate of ribs and a glass of pinot noir later I was back on the road looking for an Irish bar that was advertised on the map I had picked up at the hotel.

It is a sad fact, but a true one. If you are looking for a bit of music and a half decent atmosphere, head to the nearest Irish bar. Why the American bars can’t get this right is a mystery.

I found the bar (Tirnan’s Irish Pub) on Beach street and settled in at the bar. There was a moderate crowd and a solo musician singing a mixture of Irish and pop songs. I stayed there for about an hour and then headed back to the hotel. It was about 11.30 pm when I crashed for the night.

Waking up on Saturday morning feeling a little groggy, I was out-and-about by 10.00 am. I wanted to get to Pier 33 before 11.30 am so that I was in plenty of time to get the ferry to Alcatraz. I had booked the ticket on the previous Wednesday and was booked on the 12.00 pm boat. Before I headed out to Pier 33, I walked around the seafront. There are a number of WWII submarines & ships moored in the area as tourist attractions. I did not go onto any of them but took a few pictures. I also stopped by the sea lion colony again, as in daylight you could see better how big it was and watch the sea lions swimming.

Arriving at Pier 33 at 11.15 am, I got my ticket and grabbed a cup of tea. It was busy! All the tours had sold out, so it was a good thing I booked the ticket several days in advance. The boat ride to Alcatraz took about 15 minutes and gave a great view of the bay. You could see the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges really well. Impressive structures to say the least. Once on the island, I made my way to the pick-up point for the audio tour equipment and set off on my tour of the most secure prison in US history.

What is interesting about Alcatraz is that most people think it was just a maximum security prison for the likes of Al Capone, The Bird Man and Machine Gun Kelly. It actually started life as one of the forts defending San Francisco from the sea. It was then used in the civil war to imprison rebel sympathizers and native Indian’s who were supposedly causing trouble during the re-settlement of the tribes. That said, most tourists come to the island to see the prison and learn what it was like from the 1930’s to the 1960’s when it housed its more notorious prisoners.

The audio tour is excellent, and I highly recommend a trip to Alcatraz if you are in the San Francisco area. It is difficult to imagine what it would be like being imprisoned for one week on that island, never mind 10 or 15 years which is what most of the inmates jail time was on Alcatraz.

Returning to the main land, I decided to grab some lunch, have a nap and head downtown for the evening. I fancied North Beach or China Town but I didn’t make either. It’s funny who you bump into unexpectedly.

I went to Jack’s bar as it had an outside area and it was a really nice day. I had just sat down (I had not even ordered a beer), when a familiar face was walking towards me. Marie Piazza is a colleague of mine at BioReliance. She lives near Seattle and has been on maternity leave for the last 3 months. Her husband, daughter and 2 friends from Edinburgh were also in San Francisco for the weekend, and coincidence would have it that they were in the same bar. The afternoon therefore took on a slightly different tack and I stayed chatting, drinking and eating for a couple of hours. However, I was not going to be denied my nap, so I headed back to the hotel after saying my goodbyes to Marie et al.
Waking up around 7.30 pm, I turned myself around and made the decision to stay in the local area. I could not be arsed with getting a taxi downtown and trying to find somewhere to spend the evening. So, I walked to a couple of bars and had a couple of pre-dinner drinks and then found an Italian restaurant that was not as tacky as the others. I had a nice meal and a glass of good Pinot Noir and lingered far longer than usual when dining alone. A nice experience. I then headed back to the Irish bar I had been in the previous night (sad I know), and listened to the live music. I rolled out at about 12.30 pm, headed back to the hotel and crashed.

What to do on a Sunday morning in San Francisco when you are mildly hung-over, need to eat, pack, get to the airport and fly to Seattle? I decided to walk.

West of Fisherman’s Wharf there is a number of famous districts that hug the waterfront, namely Fort Mason, the Marina and the area around the Golden gate bridge. I decided to walk from the hotel to the Golden Gate Bridge, a round trip of approximately 7.0 miles. It was a beautiful day, with the temperature in the high 70’s. There is no doubt about it, the Golden Gate Bridge is an impressive structure spanning 2 miles connecting San Francisco to Marin County. It dominates your view as you walk West along the seafront and even after an hours walking seems no closer that when you started.

I passed through Fort Mason – now a cultural centre with shops, galleries and restaurants (it was once a depot for shipment of supplies during WWII), the Marina, where there are a shit-loads of boats, big and small bobbing about and lastly along Golden Gate Promenade that was very busy with joggers, cyclists and people out walking. The beach that runs along the promenade was surprisingly busy, with a few brave souls in the water. I say brave, because the bay water is generally cold and cleanliness is a question as well!

I got to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1.5 hours and was conscious that I needed to start the return journey almost immediately if I was to get my taxi to the airport in time. I grabbed a load of pictures, a cup of tea and a brownie (energy for the walk back!), and started off. The walk back was quicker as I took a more direct route rather than the meandering route I had took on the way out. I was back on the Wharf by 2.00 pm and took the opportunity to look at a couple of the old ships on the harbor, one of which was built in Glasgow. The name escapes me right now.

My weekend in San Francisco was rapidly drawing to a close. I was due on the 4.00 pm flight to Seattle where I would spend the next 3 days working.

In hind sight (and I can only say this after my trip to Seattle), I should have spent the weekend exploring Seattle as I had never been there before and the bits that I glimpsed of it during my 3 days there were beautiful. However, San Francisco is definitely a place to visit should you get the chance. The challenge lies in mixing business with pleasure and the ability to ‘turn off’ from one day to another. Solo sightseeing tours are also a challenge because whilst you have the advantage of doing what you want, the camaraderie of being with others is lost. Lastly, there is no way of getting around the fact that drinking on your own in a bar is lonely, even with a talkative barman and live music!!

I will no doubt be back in San Francisco in the near future, and I will make an effort to see other parts of the city. Hiring a car is probably a good idea as this would open up far more opportunities in what is a large city.

For now, it’s hasta la vista to San Francisco!

Here is the link to see the photos of my trip:


My Weekend at home by Hazel Keating

Well this is the first weekend that Jarlath and I have spent apart. Is it wrong of me to be looking forward to it??!! Of course I spent the weekend pining away in bed for him so nothing to write – only joking.
Saturday was the National Book Festival in Washington DC. It was held in The Mall in front of the Smithsonian buildings. It is run by The Library of Congress and is an annual event. The first ever one was held in 2001 just two weeks before 9/11 happened.
They had several large tents set up with various themes: Fiction & Fantasy, Teens & Children, Children activity, Poetry & Prose, Mysteries & Thriller, History & Biographies and smaller tents for the book signings. There was a large list of authors that were given talks in each tent and each talk lasted between 30 and 40 minutes. The authors were then scheduled for book signings at the book signing tents. I have never really been in getting autographs from people and the queues at the book signings made my mind up even more not to bother.
I met Vicky at the metro station in Bethesda to ride downtown as we knew parking would be horrendous in Washington. We meet early at 10.00a.m. as the first author I wanted to see was on at 11.00a.m. We made it in good time to have a short walk round and go to the Fiction and Fantasy tent.
My first author (and the one I desperately wanted to see) was Jodi Picoult (pronounce Peecoe by her which settled a mind debate I have always had). She came across as a thoroughly real and lovely person and just seemed to be full of fun and the joys of the world. It was interesting to hear how much research she puts into each book and never just sits down a writes a story without at least 18 months of detailed research. I think you can tell this when you read her books as the technical and legal sides of them are always very detailed and realistic. She discussed various items but mainly her latest book – Handle with Care – and she told us about the real families she met during her research that went through the same issues as the book. It was interesting to her of real people having to sue their OB-GYN just so they could give their child a decent life. As she said, very topical in todays climate of major Healthcare reforms in America.
She then went on to mention the book she is in the middle of researching to write next year. No detail apart from that it will be about embryonic research and gay rights. Very intriguing!
At the end of the talk they allowed questions from the audience. The best question was what she thought about the movie version of “My sisters Keeper” and whether she agreed with the change in the ending. Well her answer clearly said that there was a bigger story there. She said “that she had been blatantly lied to her face on several occasions” and that “changing the ending was the worst mistake they (the film producers) had made’. She said this in such a vitriolic way that I would have loved to hear the full story. So hopefully that answers the question of all the RISI people about whether she knew about the change in ending.
We then saw Jeanette Walls. She wrote The Glass Castle which is her memoirs of her life being brought up in poverty in America where her parents end up being homeless on the streets of Manhattan. I read this about a year or so ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, despite not really liking misery memoirs. She is currently writing her next book which is about the life of her Grandmother. Most of the questions were, obviously, her mother’s mental health and her siblings. Her mother is now living with her on her horse ranch in Virginia and is still somewhat different in her spirit. Many questions were about the mental health of her mother but Jeanette refused to really speculate on that and just described her as loopy but a free spirit. Now if you have read her book you will know that this must take a lot of forgiveness for her to welcome her mother back into her life. If you have not read The Glass Castle, I would recommend it.
Next we saw an author called Julia (pronounced Hoolia) Alvarez. She is originally from the Dominican Republic and moved to America in the fifties when there was a political meltdown in the DR. Her most famous novel is How the Garcia Sisters lost their accent, which is basically about herself and her sisters and their move to America. Bizarrely this book has been banned from several schools in America because it supposedly contains a paedophile scene – this is just a flasher showing his willy to a young girl – not quite enough to be banned in my opinion. It was Vicky that chose this author as she has read a couple of her books. I had never heard of her but will be putting the Garcia sisters book on my Bookmooch wishlist and giving it a try.
Next came John Irving – A prayer for Owen Meany, The Cider house rules, The World according to Garp etc etc. He seemed very shy and his talk was presented as an interview by someone else rather than him just talking. He is 67 years of age but would pass for in his forties. He had his first child when he was in college and still has one child living at home now. He was very interesting – he starts every book by writing the last sentence in the book first and working back from there. He said this was not something he had ever planned but just always seemed to happen that way. He could see what he was trying to achieve so then went about achieving it. Even more interesting was that he does not use laptops or word processers ever. He hand writes the first several drafts of all his books before then typing them up himself on an old-fashioned type writer. Now can you imagine writing A Prayer for Owen Meany out in Long hand even when copying it, never mind actually writing it from scratch!!? This practice of long hand has caused him to have mild arthritis in his fingers. He was also a very good wrestler in his day and still coaches kids at wrestling now. He didn’t take any questions from the audience. He came across as an eccentric genius during his interview.
The last author we stayed for was Nicholas sparks. I have only read The Notebook (and watched the movie) but have another of his on my shelves and always planned on reading a couple more of his. His style is not my favourite but are quite simple, effective reads. He came across as a bit arrogant or as I put it “up his own arse”. He writes a book a year and seems to write on demand without any research (his own words). His latest book (the name escapes me) which he just finished in July was actually written on demand for the Disney Corporation. He had an idea last year which he discussed with the Disney Corporation and they bought it to use as a vehicle for the second movie of Miley Cyrus (after The Hannah Montana movie). He was then asked to actually write the screen play before the book so they could shoot the movie in line with Miley’s schedule. He then went on to actually write the book. Now, I don’t know about you but this just seems wrong to me! I prefer to think of my authors as writing from the heart and being inspired by something in life, so when a book is written as a movie vehicle for someone like Miley Cyrus I think it is just wrong, wrong, wrong! Anyway he lives in North Carolina and has 5 children, 3 boys and then 2 girl twins.
It is quite telling that all the authors I chose to see were in the Fiction tent (although why Jeanette Walls was under fiction I will never work out). This is my favourite genre for books so it is not entirely surprising to me.

After the book festival Vicky and I got the subway home to Bethesda and then had some dinner and a couple of beers before each heading home to our separate houses. It was raining toady and quite cold which is a real change in the weather from the summer weather I have been experiencing since I got here, so it was a bit of a shock for me and I was chilled to the bone. I got into my pyjamas and furry slippers as soon as I got home to try and get the chill out of my bones. I then made the mistake of choosing a horror movie to watch – at night when I am on my own in the house!! Well after the movie I went to bed to read my book and was convinced that someone was creeping up the stairs of the house. I then crept out of bed to see what was going on to realize that it was actually the sound of that rain on the roof of the bathroom – that will teach me for watching a horror movie.

Sunday morning I had a lovely lie in and woke myself up by reading my book in bed for ages (I am missing Jarlath honest!). I then decided I should try the homemade Raspberry jam that I made this week with the raspberries from the garden. I went and got a couple of fresh croissants from the baker across the road. OMG the jam was the most delicious jam I have ever tasted. I don’t want to sound big headed but it was so tasty and fresh but I supposed it should be as the raspberries were fresh from the garden.
I was still sitting in my jammies when I got a text from Vicky to meet her at the metro station at 1.00p.m. to head across the city to go to the Latino Festival.
It was a celebration of Latino culture with contributions from a variety of Latino countries. I guess the nearest UK equivalent would be something like The Notting Hill Carnival. We met up with Vicky’s friend Sarah and made it by 2.00 p.m. in time for the parade of countries. It was very interesting to see the parade with all the different music and all the colourful costumes. It was very hot and some of the costumes looked really warm and the people very sweaty in them but everyone was having a good time. The dancers were all very lively and subject to contrary opinion it was the Peruvian woman and not the Brazil that were the best looking. I was also surprised at how many people there were from Bolivia there. Not sure why really but it is not a country that I really thought had lots of people living elsewhere in the world and there was at least five separate groups in the parade from Bolivia alone.
We then just wandered about the festival between the various dance stages. It was quite a bizarre experience as nobody was talking English and all the signs were in Spanish as well. I felt quite isolated as I seemed to be the only person that couldn’t understand a word of what was being said and couldn’t join in the jokes made by the bands. I discussed this with Vicky and Sarah and said that this must be how immigrants feel like when they move to a country with a language they can’t speak. It was amazing how isolated you can feel in such a short time and on a fun day out.
After the festival we walked a mile down the road to an area called Adams Morgan. Adams Morgan is a culturally diverse
neighborhood in Northwest Washington, D.C., centered at the intersection of 18th Street and Columbia Road. Adams Morgan is considered the center of Washington's hispanic immigrant community, and is a major night life area with many bars and restaurants, particularly along 18th Street (the primary commercial district) and Columbia Avenue. Much of the neighborhood is composed of 19th- and early 20th-century row houses and apartment buildings. Along with its adjacent sister communities to the north and east, Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan long has been a gateway community for immigrants. Since the 1960s, the predominant international presence in both communities has been Latino, with the majority of immigrants coming from El Salvador, Guatemala and other Central American countries. Since the early 1970s, like other areas of the nation, Adams Morgan had seen a growing influx of immigrants from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, as well. Gentrification and the resulting high cost of housing, however, have displaced many immigrants and long-time African American residents, particularly those with young children, as well as many small businesses, but the community still retains a degree of diversity, most evident in its array of international shops and restaurants. In the five-square-block area where most of the commercial establishments are located, one can choose from a variety of ethnic cuisines, among them Spanish, Ethiopian, Guatemalan, Mexican, Italian, Dutch, Vietnamese, Ghanaian, Cajun, Brazilian, Palestinian, Peruvian, Indian, Israeli, Thai, Lebanese, Eritrean, and Chinese.
Adams Morgan also has become a thriving spot for night life, with a number of bars and clubs featuring live music. Over 90 establishments possess liquor licenses, putting it on level with other popular nightlife areas like
Georgetown and Dupont Circle. Local stores along the 18th Street corridor were rapidly replaced with late-night establishments, leading to a moratorium on new liquor licenses by the Alcohol Beverage Control Board in 2000 after successful lobbying by resident groups. The moratorium was renewed in 2004, but eased to allow new restaurant licenses.
Despite the exodus of many immigrant, as well as African-American residents from Adams Morgan caused by high housing costs, a nexus of long-time institutions, many established specifically to meet the needs of Latinos and other non English-speaking residents, continues to serve as magnets for immigrants and their families. Adams Morgan is home to Mary's Center, a clinic focusing on healthcare delivery to Spanish-speaking patients, and the Latino Economic Development Corporation, as well as numerous businesses and churches that employ and cater to immigrants. Adjacent Mt. Pleasant also hosts a number of commercial enterprises, social service agencies and other institutions that help to anchor local immigrants to the area.
Another barometer of the enduring pull of Adams Morgan for immigrants is the linguistic and cultural diversity of its public schools. Many of the families served live beyond the boundaries established for routine student enrollment; however, Adams, Reed, and H.D. Cooke elementary schools all have international populations, with children from well over 30 nations in attendance. Latino and African-American children comprise the majority of students in the public schools, and virtually all are children of color.
It is a very interesting area and one I have been meaning to visit on a night out for a while. It made me realize just how much of Washington I have still got to visit, despite making my best efforts over the summer to get out and about and see all I could, I have barely touched the surface of this city.
Well that is the end of my weekend and it has been fun on my own. It shows me that I have made friends and a life in this country of my own that allows me to enjoy myself even when Jarlath is on the other side of the country.
No photos from me as Jarlath had the camera and I have not fixed my other one yet.
Be well everyone. Xx

1 comment:

  1. What a fabulous weekend, Hazel, and there I was thinking that she was Pee coo - wrong again - doh!!! I've also been to San Francisco (part of our honeymoon) and Seattle for a month staying with my very dear friend Rosaleen so it was lovely to see J's photos especially the noisy sea lions! Keep on living the dream. Tx