Tuesday, June 26, 2007

San Francisco

Two years of whinging finally bore fruit last week when I was sent to cover the San Francisco leg of (web usability guru) Jakob Nielsen's world tour. Like all consultancy firms, the Nielsen/Norman Group make vast sums of money from pointing out the blindingly obvious to people who suspect it already, but need a third party to rubber stamp it with research to effect any sort of organisational change. Nevertheless it's no bad thing to step back and consider the blindingly obvious occasionally: the fact that you should use plain language in your website's navigation, for example, or that we're all going die. And if education was the thinly sliced proscuitto and tallegio of the trip, then fun was the light ciabatta that held it all together.

It was thirteen years ago that I last visited the city and I was at the time a little too jaded to appreciate it fully. San Francisco must be one of the most beautiful cities on Earth; and despite the warnings of perpetual fog, I saw not a cloud in the sky the whole trip.

I stayed at a hotel at the summit of Nob Hill, and Thursday evening took me upstairs to the moderately famous "Top of the Mark" bar for cocktails with live jazz accompaniment, and the company of my colleague Bart and his girlfriend Ali. As a native Californian and Berkeley grad, Bart had connections in the city and we soon found ourselves in the largely Hispanic Mission district for genuine mission-style burritos (i.e. incorporating rice and beans within themselves) and a few cheeky beers.

On Friday night I met up with an ex-colleague, the excellent Mr Amr El-Shimi, for sushi somewhere downtown; several large sakes washed down various exotic sea creatures including conch and blue-finned tuna, its flesh as red as claret.

On Saturday I finished at five and took a wander down through the neighbourhoods to Fisherman's Wharf, then turned around and looped back through North Beach where I paused for a Manhattan and a call to the young Master and his mother; I then continued South through Chinatown, where I stopped for tea, and hailed a taxi to "New Chinatown" or Richmond as it's otherwise known, where I was meeting Bart and Ali and their friends Nick and Miss Jessica for dinner. The taxi driver looked a little like an emaciated Willy Nelson and as I eased myself into the back seat I noticed the ethereal delights of Metallica's Master of Puppets emerging listlessly from the dashboard. "This takes me back," I said.

"Cool," he replied, simultaneously turning it up to eleven and kicking his foot down on the accelerator. It felt rather like a chase scene from one of the Dirty Harry movies, we must have been doing sixty at least, weaving in and out of traffic and paying only the most cursory attention to the law, the twenty minute journey condensed to no more than eight. I tipped him well.

The Peking duck was excellent and afterwards Nick and Miss Jessica took us on a little city tour.

Sunday found me sitting on the dock of the bay and touring the Ghirardelli chocolate factory (not as good as Cadbury World) before attempting to access the city's mass transit system from the wrong side of the Northern hemisphere's largest gay pride festival. Still, it was the perfect day for a party.

The view from the Top of the Mark. That's the Transamerica Pyramid, by the way.

Inside, Bart and Ali enjoy a drink.

Cheers! Mine's a Lynchburg Lemon Drop. Not available in Lynchburg, of course. And, if it was, you'd probably be better off sticking to the Jack.

The eclectic mix of Victorian architecture, Spanish influences, old world charm and modern urban landscape. Half way up a hill that's as steep as Keere St and two miles long.

Looking downhill, Alcatraz island in the bay beyond.

Sitting on the dock of the bay. Hard to see what Otis Redding was whining about.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

An afternoon at the park

Time at last for a much anticipated update on baby fluffy's progress. He returned from New York with the ability to crawl and an improved pitching action which enables him to play fetch with himself and opens up the possibility of a spot in the Mariners' bullpen come 2027. He can pull himself up to standing position with the help of furniture and enjoys a spot of run-run-running, if you would be so kind as to hold his little hands. He smiles at everyone and makes new friends wherever he goes. And, without wishing to jinx it, he seems to have rediscovered the simple pleasure of sleep; in the morning one may enter his room to find him standing up in his crib in his sleepy sack, thus bearing a passing resemblance to Swee'Pea from the Popeye cartoons.

Here then are some photos from our stroll through Laurelhurst Park on the Sunday before last.

Nothing quite says municipal park like a Toxic Algae Bloom. Yes, the lake really is that green.

It's thirsty work this. Fortunately I have staff.

A gentle swing seems a pleasant enough manner to idle away a few moments.

Sitting on daddy's knee.

and mummy's lap.

A happy smile.

Yes, stop here a moment so I might take in the view.

Specifically, that of a heron on a toxic lake.