The door of the glove compartment in Steve’s ancient Honda was held shut by the leg of a pair of drug store glasses. “It got broken when I was a suds bud” he explained, and went on to tell the full tale as we drove west on California towards Golden Gate Park,
“A friend of mine launched a special soap for chest hair” he told me “There was a promotion at the Bear bath house. I did the lathering” Hairy gay men are known as bears and Steve is nothing if not passionate about pelts. “They had a porn star there as eye candy” he went on “After everyone was properly rinsed and toweled, I gave him a ride home and he broke the glove compartment. ” The car is so old the dealer has had to send off to find the right screw.
By then, we were approaching de Young museum, and I was distracted from the story of the suds, the stripper and the screw by a statue of Robert Emmet, one of the United Irishmen executed in Dublin by the British in 1803.
The statue has been in the Golden Gate Park since 1919 and was unveiled by Eamonn DeValera. It was the gift of an impassioned Irish American to the city. There is a similar statue on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin, which you would expect, and another one in Washington DC just blocks from where I live. I begin to think the Boul’ Robert Emmet is following me around.
Most visitors to this part of San Francisco’s park don’t come for a lesson in Irish history but rather to admire the exterior of the de Young museum, which was built by Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron and opened in 2005. There has been a museum on the site since 1895. The first one was destroyed by an earthquake in 1906 and the replacement by another earthquake in 1989. They are very resilient people, the residents of San Francisco.
Check out Google Images of the De Young Museum here
The building is copper clad and then wrapped in copper mesh. At first I thought the wrapping was designed to ward off pigeon poop but Steve explained it was art, and part of what made the building special.
When he’s not up to his elbows in bubbles and body hair, Steve is an architect. “Just think how well this building will weather” he said, pointing out that the pimples on the building and pock marks on the surround would soon be verdigris. I can see the charm of this but at first sight it looked like a high security police station during the worst of the Troubles in Northern Ireland—very dark and menacing.
The museum is free on Fridays after five. Very few people seem to take advantage of this because we rode to the top of the tower that looks over the city and were almost alone. Once on the ninth floor, I began to see the point of the building. The views of the ocean, the city and the Academies of Arts and Sciences with its green grassy roof were truly spectacular and it interesting to be inside a structure where the corners aren’t right angles. The mesh, the glass and the wood floors work well together and on lower floors the irregular lines of the outside walls are complemented by giant prehistoric ferns. It looks great and it will be even better when it’s a blue-gold-green.
Steve and I stayed inside the museum just long enough to establish that we don’t share the same taste in paintings, and then it was off to dinner. Over our aperitifs we were joined by a friend of Steve and BJ’s (Steve’s suitably hirsute husband) who raises millions for aids and breast cancer research and care.
Mike had just masterminded a highly successful auction called This Old Bag. San Francisco’s beautiful people donate their unwanted purses and the rest of us snap them up. One Hermes Kelly bag, gently worn, had sold for $13k. We agreed that fat girls have the most bags because there is so little else in the clothing line that they can successfully carry off. The Bag man explained that the people he likes to see most at his events are oversized women who have had a drink or two—they spend like the BP Gulf rig once gushed oil. I poured myself a glass of red and resolved to keep a close eye on my wallet. I have spent more on handbags than Bear lover Steve has spent on vacuum bags and I was NOT in pursuit of a purse.
All week, I stayed in a hotel close to Union Square which is the shopping center of San Francisco and prime real estate filled with the world’s most upscale stores. Walk a couple of blocks though, and you hit the Tenderloin where homeless people would chase you for money, if only they had legs to carry them. Just yards from Saks and Barney and Nordstrom 49ers in search of their next 40 panhandle pie-eyed and amputees stretch out their hands from beds of cardboard sheets. It’s hard to take.
I had dinner at the Punjab, all formica and bright lights. In Washington DC the ordinary everyday curry houses are not worth visiting—they sell tasteless brown slop—but something told me that San Francisco did it better and certainly the Punjab pulled off a curry that would be a credit in Mirfield and perhaps also in Mumbai.
Years ago, Indian restaurants used to offer vegetable dishes as side plates and so it was possible to have a selection without looking and feeling overly greedy. Here, the dishes were priced like sides so I ordered three—gobi (cauliflower), eggplant and dahl. The lentils arrived in a bucket and there was a vat of each of the other vegetables. All of it was good, but the cauliflower was the star—dry and aromatic with lots of cumin, mustard seed and coriander. I would post pictures but I dropped my iphone in the dahl and that was the end of that. I did what I could with the mountain of roughage, treated myself to a nan and a Kingfisher beer, paid my $21 and weebled back to the hotel trying not to feel guilty that I had wasted so much food as I traveled two or three blocks littered with the sunken eyed and sallow skinned.
All of human life was on the streets of San Francisco this week, mainly attired in orange and black. The city took Tuesday off work to celebrate the homecoming of the Giants, victors in the baseball world series.
There was some quiet satisfaction too about the results of the election in this defiantly blue city. No triumph for Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman who could have bought a lot of cauliflower curry with the money she spent on her race. No victory for HP’s Carly Fiorina in the Senate set-to. Of course it was a tough week for Nancy Pelosi. Steve knows her chief of staff. He wears a T-shirt that says Nancy Boy when he’s on official business. That’s San Francisco.