Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ai Weiwei @Large

You can see from the poster above that the Ai Weiwei exhibit was held on Alcatraz island from Sept. 27th to April 26th. Having seen the publicity and having heard fans like artist Anna Conti enthuse about it, I knew it opened in September. I planned to go sooner rather than later. So....when did I finally make arrangements to attend the show?  Thursday April 23rd, three days before it closed.

It wasn't easy to attend. Since the show was displayed on Alcatraz, art lovers had to reserve space on the Alcatraz Cruise line with all the other tourists planning to visit the prison, and it was necessary to book in advance since the ferries fill up, especially on weekends. I started to check the cruise schedule early in the exhibit's last week and found tickets were unavailable on the weekend and were scarce  during the week. Watching Friday's reservations disappear, I quickly booked for Thursday morning.

We launched from San Francisco's Pier 33 with a full boatload of tourists and a few last-minute art lovers.

Alcatraz Ferry Terminal at Pier 33 with Telegraph Hill in the background

The only way to get there

                               I got goosebumps approaching The Rock---my first visit to Alcatraz


A grim world awaited us as we walked up the flower-lined path and entered the first building. Ai Weiwei had designed ceramic flowers to fill the toilets and sinks in some ancient hospital-ward cells. There were touches like this throughout the prison buildings.

I originally thought that works for @large Ai Weiwei would be exhibited in one isolated "museum" building which one could view and then look around Alcatraz or return home. In reality, Ai's works were installed throughout all the prison buildings, forcing the viewer to experience the artist's vision in an actual prison setting, so his message and protest could resonate clearly in insightful and beautiful ways...

"Every one of us is a potential convict"
Ai Weiwei himself is detained in China for speaking out against the government. He can't leave the country, so of course he never saw this exhibition. He and his assistants constructed the seven pieces in his studio. He then sent three teams to erect the installations in seven rooms on Alcatraz. The National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy and the Fore-Site Foundation hosted the show and volunteers helped install it and take it down. Read about it here.

Cheryl Haines, exhibition curator, consults with the artist in his Beijing studio ( Photo from Fore-Site Foundation)

"With Wind"

The entire floor of the New Industries Building (designed as a laundry and work-space where prisoners could work for money) was covered with portraits of men and women from all over the world who made sacrifices in the struggle for individual freedoms. Viewers could wander around the portraits created with colorful Leggos, assembled to depict faces with remarkable likenesses to the subjects. We only recognized a few...

Martin Luther King

Edward Snowden

We wandered around the various buildings discovering new installations and soaking up the atmosphere of the old, deserted prison. The scope of the exhibit was vast, and the logistics of putting it together must have been monumental. The employees were well-informed and happy to answer  our questions.

View of the Leggo exhibit from an upper corridor

An old prison electrical junction box

View from the Gun Gallery of a massive Ai Weiwei construction entitled "Refraction"

A prison path with a view of the Bay Bridge in the hazy distance

When we'd had enough of prison life, we wandered down to the dock, took the ferry to San Francisco and, at Dean's suggestion, hailed a pedicab back to Bart. We did it! We can cross Alcatraz off our bucket list. We're home FREE!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Palm Springs Jaunt

Hello to Palm Springs---capital of mid-century modern architecture

Last week we took a four day mini-vacation to Palm Springs. After a three hour delay at SFO due to fog and an hour and thirty five minute flight, we landed in the desert, greeted by temperatures in the mid-nineties. After securing a list of must-do activities from the friendly car rental staff, we drove toward town in search of Sparrows Lodge.

Unmarked sign for Sparrows Lodge

Dean having breakfast in the "barn"
Formerly called the Red Barn, a '50s hangout for Hollywood celebrities, this stylish lodge has been remodeled into a 20 room rustic hideaway renamed Sparrows Lodge. We entered through the beautiful pool area, flanked by guest rooms, and registered in the open "barn" which serves as office/bar/breakfast area. Though many guests are from the L.A. area, we befriended couples from Brooklyn and Rhinebeck. They convinced us that the Hudson River Valley would be a super vacation spot.
PS: No one under 21 is allowed at Sparrows, but dogs are welcome!

The rooms are rustic-chic with exposed wood-and-stone interiors and exotic Bali bathrooms with open showers. There are no TVs on the property, so the atmosphere is quiet and relaxing. And fortunately for Dean the pro basketball playoffs didn't start until the following week. With the San Jacinto mountains as a backdrop, we spent lazy afternoons reading on our lounge chairs. When temperatures soared into the hundreds, the staff turned on misters installed around the pool to cool the outside air, and handed out icy fruit popsicles. Swimming in the crystal-clear pool was delightful.

Bali bath with open shower

Between swimming and lounging, we saw a few of the recommended mid-century desert marvels which make Palm Springs so interesting, and differentiate it from the endless sprawl of condos from Palm Desert to Rancho Mirage.

We passed the classic Palm Springs Visitors center, originally Frey's Tramway Gas Station, here  on our way to Palm Springs aerial tramway. When it was built in 1965 it was the first landmark for tourists driving in from Los Angeles on Highway 111.

A view through the vines of the restaurant at the Parker Meridian Hotel

We snuck a peek at the Parker Meridien. The hotel was originally established in 1959 as a Holiday Inn. In fact, it was California’s first. In 1961, the non-descript concrete and cinderblock property was purchased by singing cowboy Gene Autry for the main purpose of lodging his newly acquired baseball team, the California Angels, during Spring Training.  He changed the name of the site to Melody Ranch (it was also often called The Autry Hotel) and added a few luxury touches, like a second pool, tennis courts, a bar, and a couple of restaurants. We loved the mid-century, eye-popping decor.

Then we traveled on streets named Bob Hope or Dinah Shore Drive to the Coachella Valley Preserve for a desert hike under a scorching sun. Here the San Andreas fault can be viewed at close range. This is definitely earthquake country!

100+ degrees and still smiling!

And on our last day we took the aerial tram straight up the mountain to view Palm Springs from about 8,000 feet. At that altitude it was cold and windy.

Late Friday afternoon as plane-loads of tourists were arriving, we flew out of scenic Palm Springs airport with the majestic San Jacinto mountains in the background

Palm Springs Airport with San Jacinto mountains in the background

Oh, and I almost forgot, the culinary highlight of the trip was a DATE SHAKE! We drove to Indio to find a roadside stand selling the date shakes I remembered from a long-ago trip to the Coachella Valley, but Indio was quite desolate and there were no date stands or shakes to be found. Finally I checked online and we struck gold at a chocolate shop called Palm Springs Chocolate and Fudge, on Palm Canyon Drive. The shake was made from date paste, milk and ice cream and it was delicious. We were told that some shakes are made from date crystals in place of real dates—they're inferior. And the best date variety is medjool. Since they sell dates at the Berkeley Farmers' markets, I'm going to experiment with making my own shakes soon.

Date Shake