Prophecies and Portents in San Francisco

Posted: Jun 27, 2005 10:01:33 PM

Transamerica Pyramid"A wise old owl sat on an oak
The more he sat the less he spoke
The less he spoke, the more he heard
Why can't you be like that wise old bird?"

"Yes my friend your greatest fault is that you talk too much."

San Francisco is a place of prophecies and portents. Well, not really, but on my latest trip to The City I came across various visions of the future that were most entertaining. This particular fortune was given to me by a grandmother in a box. More about her later. Her fortune, however, was much more useful than the first one I was given: "The smart thing is to prepare for the unexpected." Hey, buddy, if you honestly don't know what's going to happen just say so. This ineffectual fortune was served up by a friendly neighbourhood fortune cookie, purchased in the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. The tea garden was founded as an exhibition (different from the exhibition that led to the Palace of Fine Arts, mentioned in the last report - who would have known than San Franciscans were such exhibitionists?) in 1894. It's full of everything Japanese, and having been to Japan I found the pagoda, moss gardens, carp-filled ponds, sacred gates, and souvenir shop most familiar. Such attention to detail! It felt so much like a real Japanese souvenir shop it brought a tear to my eye.

The real reason we went to the tea garden, however, was to get a fortune cookie. To the dismay of all badly-researched Oriental historical movies featuring fortune cookies, it was right here in America that the first ones were created, back in 1909, and it just so happens that it was right in the Japanese Tea Garden that the first ones were sold.Grandmother You can imagine that I was expecting something profound and sagacious, like "Fear the third pope from the left", rather than an admission of prognosticatory miscarriage, but at least Siobhan's was funny: "You have a quiet and unobtrusive nature." Heehee.

Back to the grandmother in a box. This is her here: quiet, polite, just waiting to be asked for advice. And then she has to go and insult me. Oh well, at least she softened it with a nursery rhyme. This wonderful contraption, and a couple of hundred others, are the attractions at the Musée Méchanique in Fisherman's Wharf. They're all carnival / circus attractions from about a hundred years ago forwards, and they're all still in working order. If you remember the make-a-wish scene from the movie 'Big', you'll know what we're talking about here. For a quarter, you can be entertained in any manner of interesting ways.

You can get a prophecy card from one of about a dozen wizards, grandmothers, gypsies, and gypsy grandmothers - the prophecies range from admonishing ("Make better use of your spare time") to the alarming ("Beware, beware of the Number 7, unless you want a one way ticket to Heaven") Monster to the unfortunately inappropriate ("A friend will urge you to take a trip. Don't do it. Your best interest lies in remaining at home"), and the only accurate one is the always-present "Drop another Coin in slot and I will tell more."

There are the peep-show attractions, most of which are mildly pornographic; "Dare you look at the Unknown?" was the best titled of this kind, although I'm not too sure what's so unknown about a collection of semi-nude Victorian ladies. Some produced a giggle, however. This one ("See the Horrible Monster"), for the price of a quarter, reveals to your eagerly awaiting eyes ... a mirror. Oh ha ha flippin' ha. Some were more animated, moving little dolls around in some typically macabre dance (a lot involving public executions or fevered whisky-dreams). The oldest machine in the museum is a zoetrope of a girl jumping rope; other machines flipped movie stills over in front of some viewing goggles to create what were at the time the first movie theatres. Some were even interactive, such as this armwrestling machine. Yes, I tried, and yes, I lost, even though it was set on bantam-weight. Stupid machine. Bah! I say. Bah.

Arm WrestlingSo much of San Francisco so far has focused on the past, I figured it'd be nice to explore something of the future, and in San Francisco the best place to do that is at the Exploratorium. It's an interactive science museum, one of the first, famously founded by the brother of Robert Oppenheimer (he of the Manhattan Project to create the world's first nuclear weapons), and dedicated to allowing children (and ignorant adults like me) to revel in the curiosities of technology.

Walking through it is really like walking through an anarchist laboratory: on one side there are complicated exhibits involving magnets and levitating objects, on the other there are two-metre-long bubbles and giant pendulous spirograph machines. One morbid section had glass boxes containing animals that have been decaying for ten years, while nearby children gleefully watched animal parts (mostly eyes and brains) get dissected for their pleasure. There were square wheels that rolled unimpeded, waterfalls that seemed to spiral through the air, and visual illusions even in the columns on the walls. Back on the bridge The kids loved it, and at least some of them were taking it all in, as we listened to a particularly precocious six-year-old explain the inner workings of a simulated comet exhibit. I prefer this version of the future, personally.

The gift shop in the Exploratorium was particularly good, and I purchased a couple of items that I'm most pleased with. The first was a Rubik's Cube. Those of you who know me will know that I spent part of last year teaching myself to solve the Rubik's Cube, so you can imagine the size of my eyes when I saw a new cube ... 5 by 5! Suffice it to say that it is insanely complicated, I have not yet worked out how to solve it, and I am very happy with the purchase. The second was a gift for Siobhan: a large stuffed doll of a yeast microbe, one million times amplified. It's completely accurate, except for the cute brown eyes. You can see a picture here. Why, what did you think I meant when I said I had given her yeast?

And that's part two of San Francisco. There are still many places yet to see and activites yet to try, such as Chinatown, Lombard Street, Alcatraz, and the cable cars, but I'll have to save those for another report. Next week's report is going to be a bit late, interrupted by the quintessentially American holiday of the Fourth of July, so stay tuned!


FraZ   Jun 28, 2005 1:21:42 AM


MumE   Jun 28, 2005 9:32:01 AM

Oh I'm so jealous. I've read all about the Exploratorium
when doing research for my thesis, and you are right one of the first, if not THE first, Science Centres to make the mysteries of science accessible affordable and fun for us common ol garden folk.
Fortune cookies Yum are they exportable?
By-the-bye nice plaid shirt,(if a little North American). Sooo you've been clothes shoping too? See any hat-pins?
Catch you soon
Arohanui Mum

Mo Jo   Jun 28, 2005 1:23:44 PM

Ellis finish 1 2 & 3.

Good report Damon.

$15|<4   Jun 28, 2005 8:50:08 PM

and 4th
I knew those fortune cookies I tasted, tasted America!

$15|<4   Jun 28, 2005 8:51:11 PM

then again I was 5th Ellis counting Damon :-D

Michael   Jun 29, 2005 11:07:14 AM

Hey Damon. Hope all things are going well with you.

Today I was asking the all mighty omnipresent google to help me find out about "NZ5073" which is the designation of a flight my parents were arriving home on today. I just wanted to find out what time they were getting back to see if i should ring up and see how it had been. They have just been to Greece and had a great time touring and going to a sheep conference. (Note: for any non New Zealanders reading this not all New Zealanders love sheep almost as much as they love rugby etc. My dad is just a vet ok.) The second result google gave me was a very interesting web site about a very strage guy who likes orange cheese or something.

Not to much exciting news from here in palmy. Our local Manawatu team just played the lions yesterday. It looked like we might have almost had them with 79 minutes to go but the lions came through with a FEW tries in the finish.

Agnes and I are getting a new kitten this weekend to keep our Macky company. It's a 12 week old female blue bi-colour Ragdoll.

Anyway Hope you are enjoying the weather over there. It has to be better than here :) Anyway I better stop typing so i can put my hands closer to the heater.


Damon   Jun 29, 2005 5:59:29 PM

Hiya Mike! That is quite the coincidence regarding the flight numbers, but I'm most glad that you checked in. Say hi to Agnes and the cats for me. I heard about the rugby too - heehee, Manawatu sucks! I may even be able to catch the third test, perhaps, on pay-per-view here.

For Mum: yes, I have some new duds, owing to it being oh so warm and sunny here all the time. Fortune cookies are alas unexportable due to their great fragility, and I haven't gone searching in the Walmart for the pins just yet. Walmart is the domain of the devil, as popular culture has taught us well.

fangler   Jun 30, 2005 6:33:23 PM

'Nother good report Damon. Glad to hear you are having fun. The fortunes were classic, especially the one about the trip. oops. And for trivia's sake, that arm wrestling machine was featured prominently in the film "The Princess Diaries" starring Julie Andrews & Anne Hathaway. Say hi to bandit for me.

Damon   Jul 1, 2005 2:07:58 AM

Oh, really? Sweet, another film sight visited. Thanks F!

Also, I'm heading off for the weekend and will most likely be out of 'net contact the whole time, so I'll see you all on Tuesday, when hopefully the next report will be written.

Maladroit   Jul 1, 2005 2:41:15 PM

Thanks again, Damon, for sharing your travels with us sticks-in-the-mud.
(I'm interested to see what sort of July 4 celebration you attend, if any, and what you think of our, um, patriotic fervor at this point in time!)

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