Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve Fireworks, San Francisco, 2008!

Exploding red balls sent fiery glows across the New Year sky, a fountain of sparkles rose up and cascaded golden rain over the Bay, a spangled rainbow arched low over the water and gold strands tipped with purple stars shimmered in the night air.

They were just some of the brilliant fireworks at the Embarcadero last night as San Francisco entered 2009!

It was a fantastic display of fiery bursts of stars and droplets in a galaxy of patterns, plumes, spirals and whorls, that streaked, wriggled, floated and flitted across the night sky. And in a multitude of colours. There was orange and scarlet, gold and silver, purple, yellow, reds, blues and greens

At times huge explosions sent flickers of colour high into the sky, muted by the hovering fog.

That endearing feature of San Francisco, the fog, hung overhead but stayed sufficiently high to allow most of the fireworks to be seen by the celebrating crowd who amassed, south of the Ferry Building, as far down as the Bay Bridge.

Across the bay, dinner-cruise ships festooned with lights, and smaller boats formed a glimmering backdrop as they floated in a long line.

Though we are nearly the last in the world to celebrate - it was 6 am here when Sydney produced their annual extravaganza and 4 pm when London's fireworks exploded over the Thames - we are not the least!

But we are some of the last major cities in the world to celebrate New Year, along with other Californian cities of Los Angeles and San Diego, Seattle in Washington State, and Vancouver.

To help with the celebrations, San Francisco provided free public transport with MUNI trains and buses for its revellers from 8 pm to 6 am. Extra services were also put on.

With three hours still to go till the whole world had entered the New Year, next were Alaska and the Gambier Islands, then the Marquesas Islands, followed by Hawaii, Cook, Tahiti, and the most western town of the USA, Adak in Alaska.

Finally, were Niue, Samoa and American Samoa.

First in line, officially, is Caroline Island, an uninhabited atoll in the Pacific, which came to fame at the New Millenium festivities.
But the first celebrations are on Christmas Island, known as Kiritimati in Gilbertese.

Israeli-Palestinian Protest - dinner in a war zone!

When John and Susan visited San Francisco they thought they would enjoy a romantic dinner for two.

But they didn't realise they had chosen a table in the middle of a mini Israeli-Palestinian war zone!

However, this friendly couple from Santa Cruz were unfazed last night as they sat in a hotel restaurant almost opposite the Israeli Consulate.

'We're eating calmly away, disregarding the rest of the world!' quipped John, as only a thin pane of glass separated him and Susan

from a seething tide of loud-chanting, banner-waving, drum thumping protesters decrying Israel's action in Gaza.

More than that, as the pics show, John and Susan virtually sat in on the incident of police questioning a drummer over the use of his hammer!

What did they think of the protest?

'Obama's got enough on his plate,' said John, unaware of his unintentioned pun. 'It's like a movie, one thing after another...the economic crisis, the Middle East blowing up...'

But then he reverted to a positive point.

'At least he (Obama) believes in diplomacy rather than shooting from the hip!'

And at least, too, with such a large slice of San Franciscan life, they were not suffering from indigestion.

A Happy and Peaceful New Year, John and Susan!

For an album of more pics click here

Israeli-Palestinian Protest - drummer

Is it a drumstick or an offensive weapon?

That was the question concerning police in the throes of supervising the very loud pro-Palestinian protest outside the Israeli Consulate last night.

(see previous blogs)

The protest was well underway with chanting supported by drumbeats when
suddenly, the police moved one of the drummers away from the crowd.

Ushering him to the back of the sidewalk they challenged him over his 'drumstick', a hammer-looking implement with claws.

'It's a drum mallet! A stick!' argued the drummer, carrying his large white plastic drum with him.

'A weapon!' said the first police officer.

'It's a hammer!' said a second police officer.

But after a few minutes, the police decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and he was left to continue his chant-leading drumbeats but with the head of the hammer wrapped in sticky tape.

For an album of more pics click here

Israeli Palestinian Protests at Israeli Consulate (3)

After over an hour of rumbustious shouting outside of the Isrsaeli Consulate (see previous blogs) protest leaders gathered their large banners and lined up across Montgomery Street.

Then they processed slowly down towards Market Street, hundreds of people falling in behind them still chanting, banging drums, waving placards and dancing in the street.

Among the crowd were people in wheelchairs, children and the occasional baby in a pram.

Police motorcyclists with sirens blaring drove down the sidewalk to get ahead of the procession and police and news helicopters criss-crossed in the night sky.

On Market Street, the main thoroughfare through the city, the procession stretched for about half a mile, bringing traffic, trams and buses to a halt. Many passengers could be seen disembarking from buses, deciding to continue their journey by other means.

Half-way along the route, Amro Jay, caught up with me. Originally from Ramalla with family still living there, he is one of the organizers with the Palestinian Solidarity Committee from Chico, in northern California.

Referring to the bombing of Gaza, he said, 'Collective punishment should not at any time be acceptable.'

As for the crowds around him, he said, 'I think it's great, and the Palestinian cause could always use more people.'

Not only more people it seems, but four-legged friends as well. Mimi - 'she's a mutt,' said her mum happily - was seen padding down the street with her own protest banner of 'Free Palestine' attached to her lead.

By 7 pm, about an hour after leaving the Consulate, the crowd wound into the United Nations Plaza at the Civic Center by which time some were beginning to depart.

For album of more pics click here

pics show: Mimi; a group dancing on top of one of structures in the middle of the street; crowds pouring down the middle of Market Street and passing a large mobile police unit; trolleys and buses lined up on the street

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Israeli-Palestinian Protest at Israeli Consulate (2)

Dina Wahbe balanced precariously on a fire hydrant outside the Israeli Consulate this evening, megaphone in hand, and led the chanting of hundreds of pro-Palestinian supporters. (see previous blog for first report)

Pausing to comment on the protest, she said, 'We need to let them (Israel) know we will continue to fight. We don't care how many bombs they drop.'

She was surrounded by swirling flags, placards and hundreds of demonstrators jostling on the sidewalk.

This was the second anti-Israeli demonstration in two days, this one being organised by the A.N.S.W.E.R - Act Now to Stop War and End Racism - Coalition and supported by various political groups.

One of the organizers was Nathalie Hrizi who had also been leading the chanting.

'I think it's fantastic,' she said of the turnout. 'More people are coming now, more people are feeling upset about what's happening in Gaza.'

She cited the numbers of people killed and injured in what she described as 'a year-long seige. It's a humanitarian disaster,' she said. But she was hopeful that the protests would bring an end to the war.

'I think the power of the people across the world have shown that the majority are against the war and that's the force that matters. We're going to stop the war.'

Not far from her was Dowa who said she was there 'to support Palestine.'

Did she have family there?

'All of them are our family,' she said first, though adding that she did have personal family members there.

pics show protesters with Nathalie Hrizi (top) and Dina Wahbe

Further reports and more pics in next blog
For album of more pics click here

Israeli-Palestinian Protest at Israeli Consulate

It was big! It was noisy! Though at the end of the day nothing like

the crescendo of missiles landing in Israel and Gaza.

But for over an hour hundreds of mostly anti-Israel anti-USA demonstrators chanted outside the Israeli Consulate this evening. They then marched from Montgomery Street down to Market Street and onto the Civic Center where they milled around

and dispersed into smaller groups, some continuing to parade the streets.

The pro-Israeli supporters were heavily outnumbered but undaunted as protesters lined both sides of the street outside of the Consulate at 5 pm.

From the start, the chanting got underway. 'Stop bombing Palestine...Stop bombing children...Free free Palestine!' And then the drums began to throb. The Palestinian supporters packed the sidewalk outside the Consulate but also were spread on the opposite side with the few Israeli supporters.

There was a large police presence with helicopters overhead.

On the Israeli side were Luda and Irina, Russian Jewesses.

'American Jews have very little understanding of what is going on,' said Luda, referring to the huge support for Palestine. 'I think they don't care to understand what is going on, they're superficial.

''They only support Palestinians because they (Palestinians) are poor. They don't know anything about Israel. Basically, they're just brainwashed.'

Suddenly, as if on cue, a figure waving a miniature Menorah strolled past and caught Luda's attention. She turned to talk to him.

'I'm Jewish American. I'm for human rights,' said Adam and went on his way.

'And that means automatically he supports Palestinians,' complained Luda. 'So Israel should let Hamas destroy us and do nothing about it! That would make all the anti-Semites happy,' she said.

Caden, a young Jew, was there, he said, 'to support the story of the other side.'

His friend, Jonathan, was one of the leaders of the Jewish counter-protest. 'I don't understand why the world is going crazy, because Hamas attacks Israel, because Hamas their goal is to destroy Jews, and basically they have been firing rockets for months...from the Gaza Strip.'

He said that of the nearly 400 people killed so far between 200 and 250 were terrorists, although conceding that many civilians had been injured.

As he was talking, Omar came up and accused him of bigotry.

'I know both sides. Trust me, I was there, I had rockets fired at me,' said Jonathan, referring to a school trip back to his homeland when he had been in the vicinity though not direct firing line of missiles.

'Israel stole the land from the Palestinians. I disagree with violence on both sides,' continued Omar with passion.

The two argued over the siege of Gaza and the blocking of transport routes.

'Supplies are coming from Hezbollah,' said Jonathan, defending Israel's actions.

'Blockading the country is an act of war,' said Omar.

By then Omar was one of quite a few Palestinian supporters who were crowding onto the Israeli side in an effort to dominate, their black, white, green and red flags mingling with the few blue and white ones.

The loud chanting continued, several conversations between opposing sides were taking place and police stepped in and broke up a couple of verbal altercations.

For more reports and pics see next blog.
For album of extra pics click here

pics show protesters outside the Israeli Consulate; mingling of Palestinian and Israeli flags; Jonathan and Caden; A.N.S.W.E.R Coalition leading the march down Montgomery Street

Monday, December 29, 2008

Travel back-ups from anti-Israel Protests in San Francisco

A major knock-on effect from the protest on Market Street was the traffic which was backed up everywhere.

In this picture it was backed up from the bottom of Third Street at the Giants' ballpark to Market Street, causing chaos during the evening commute.

Vigil over Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict cast a long shadow over San Francisco early this evening.

Protesters against the Israeli action are holding a vigil outside Senator Dianne Feinstein's office at the junction of Market Street and Montgomery Street.

The vigil is part of a growing protest being organized around the country at the Israeli attacks on Gaza.

It was co-sponsored by Direct Action to Stop the War along with various other groups including the Middle East Children’s Alliance, Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism and SF Women in Black.

Protesters had been asked to wear black, take candles, posters and banners and to expect acts of civil disobedience.

They gathered at 5 pm just as commuters were beginning their journey home and snarled up traffic on Market Street and surrounding streets.

As news helicopters hovered overhead and cameramen from TV stations and newspapers gathered around, a passerby commented that there 'appeared to be more cameramen and police than protesters!'

A copy of a New York Times article from yesterday giving a background to the conflict and headlined 'Israelis Say Strikes Against Hamas Will Continue' was being handed out.

Direct Action to Stop the War in a statement described the missile attacks as a 'brutal and murderous form of collective punishment' and an 'ethnic cleansing of Palestinians'.

They accused Israel of causing 'an unprecedented humanitarian crisis' in Gaza.

'Malnutrition rivals that found in sub-Saharan Africa, as Gazans cannot receive necessary food, fuel and medical supplies. The effects of the siege will greatly impact the hundreds of civilians injured by the missile strike.

'We recognize that the US Government is complicit in these crimes against the people of Palestine. We call on the US government to end its support of the Israeli occupation, to stop the billions of dollars in military aid sent to Israeli, and to end Israel’s criminal raids and siege on the people of Gaza. We gather outside Senator Feinstein’s office to send this message. We stand in solidarity and sympathy with the innocent civilians being bombed in Gaza.'

Other groups supporting the action are Break the Silence Mural Project, Global Exchange, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper, Beacon Presbyterian Fellowship, Jewish Voice for Peace - Bay Area, and American Friends Service Committee SF Office.

Tomorrow the A.N.S.W.E.R. - Act Now to Stop War and End Racism - Coalition are organizing a protest outside the Israeli Consulate at 456 Montgomery Street, again at 5 pm, as part of what they are calling a National Day of Action.

They are supported by the Muslim American Society Freedom, Free Palestine Alliance, National Council of Arab Americans and Al-Awda, International Palestine Right to Return Coalition.

According to Kron4 News this morning, Israeli supporters later joined the protest to add their voice.

Bridge in Air

There was not only love in the air today! (see previous blog)

But with a ringing of bells and lowering of barriers, so too was the little drawbridge at 4th Street.

Gazing in fascination were three-year-old Sidney and seven-year-old Oscar who happened to be strolling nearby with mum, Jennifer.

Sidney and Oscar have just celebrated Hanukkah.

What did they have?

'A Fancy Nancy doll' said Sidney, and an 'Air Hawk helicopter,' said Oscar.

Jennifer explained that presents are given for Hanukkah in America but 'in Israel, not so much.'

What did the children think of the bridge?

'I don't know,' said Oscar, suddenly overcome by shyness, but Sidney knew no such bashfulness.

'The trains can fall down in the water!' she exclaimed.

As indeed they could. The bridge carries Muni trains and buses, cyclists and pedestrians over Mission Creek.

The raising of the bridge was for routine testing.

Adoption Windows

When Jackie left home this morning, she little realised love would be in the air.

She was only going to do a few errands, but instead there was a match that could have been made in heaven. For in Macy's, Jackie
met Clifford.

And soon, with a few formalities completed on paper, Jackie and Clifford were going home together, if not hand in hand, then hand in paw.

For Clifford is a beautiful white and ginger kitten who was nestling on his ownsome in a cage - until Jackie came along.

Inside Macy's the SF SPCA - Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals - are administering the adoption of kittens, puppies, cats, and dogs, alongside their showcasing of pets in the much-viewed Christmas Adoption Windows.

'I came out to do errands and walked by to see the cats. Unfortunately, I fell in love!,' said Jackie, an older lady who preferred not to have her photo taken. 'I'm always falling in love with cats. And dogs!' she added.

So much so, in fact, that Jackie offers free dog-walking services to her neighbourhood.

Isn't Clifford a rather big name for a little kitten? I ventured.

Jackie agreed. 'I won't keep the name,' she said. 'Maybe I'll call him "Cliff".'

As Jackie sat completing the adoption process, Joan, the Outreach Coordinator who was helping her, said Clifford was two-months-and-one-day old.

His adoption is one more in a very successful Christmas event. Already numbers at the beginning of the day had totalled 289, surpassing last year's total of 277. This included 282 kittens and seven puppies.

People were continually walking by the adoption desk, making inquiries or popping into the small room nearby to see the pets in cages. 'It's been a really crazy day for a Monday. We didn't expect!' said Joan.

Of the numbers she said, 'We're absolutely pleased, especially with the economy!

'We're hoping to break the 300 mark and I think we will by Thursday - New Year's Day when the Windows close - but not our all-time record which is just a little over 300,' she said.

When people like Jackie adopt, they fill in a survey which aims to assess the type of home environment a cat will be going into. One of the questions caught my eye....'I would consider my household to be like.....A library...Middle of the Road...A carnival'!!!

Once the paperwork has been done, though, kittens are lovingly placed into cardboard carriers and are free to go to their new home, but with dogs more time is needed to match them with families. Hence the adoption numbers show that of the 289 adoptions, only seven are for puppies or dogs.

Today's windows had the most appealing triplets of chihuahua 'mixes'. Named Millie, Maggie and Missie, they are one month and 28 days old.

'I've met the mum, she's a chihuahua mix, she was very tall, very leggy for a chihuahua,' said Joan who is hoping to have more idea of the missing breed as the pups get older.

pics show: Joan reaching out a hand to Clifford in his box; Abigail, one of the SF SPCA helpers giving Clifford a final cuddle before sending him to his new home; Santa Claus announcing the latest tally; Millie, Maggie and Missie

Friday, December 26, 2008

It's Christmas - Again! Sales (3)

Market Street and the Westfield Mall (see previous blogs for other reports) were full of shoppers
though some stores were busier than others.

Marciano, the upmarket arm of Guess, and Chico's were offering huge reductions but at late morning their stores were fairly empty.

But ahead, Bloomingdales was attracting a lot of shoppers.

Browsing through a row of designer items was Susan.

'The sales are wonderful,' she said, looking at reductions on designers like Elie Tahari of up to 60 per cent.

She had shopped before Christmas and was back but said now, 'I'm done shopping because most of my sizes are gone.'

Reports of retail sales before Christmas have shown record lows. Today's profits are not yet known but the deep price cuts have obviously tempted thousands of people to spend at least something and to go home more than satisfied with their bargains.

pics show: Marciano's; shoppers pouring into the mall; Chico's; Bloomingdales

Mayor Wages Juicy Bet!

The mayors of San Fran and Miami have taken out a juicy and edible wager on a college football tournament taking place in the city!

San Fran's Gavin Newsom is putting up a case of California's Napa Valley wine and the city's signature sourdough bread against bags of Florida oranges from Miami's Manny Diaz, according to a breaking news item by the Associated Press.

The Miami Hurricanes are in the city for the Emerald Bowl game with the California Golden Bears, which will take place on Saturday at the AT and T ballpark.

And their cheerleaders and band were seen this morning walking among the thronging shoppers outside Macy's Christmas Adoption Windows for pets.

For the Associated Press story see:

It's Christmas - Again! Sales (2)

While Christmas shoppers flocked into the stores, the ice-skating rink in Union Square attracted post-Christmas revellers for an early morning glide and twirl.

Meanwhile, further down the street Father Christmas' bulletin in the Macy's Christmas pet Adoption Windows were announcing success. By today 272 pets had been adopted, just five short of last year's total and with nearly another week to go until New Year's Day.

Nearby, Crate and Barrel's ground floor where the Christmas decorations were was heaving. Many items had price cuts of 40 or 50 per cent while blue Sonora vases and silver tealights were being offered for up to 62 per cent off.

For more sales reports see next blog.

It's Christmas - Again! Sales (1)

Santa has had less than 24 hours in his bed after his exhausting round-the-world schedule but already San Francisco shoppers are preparing for next Christmas!

Thousands of shoppers had descended on the centre of the city by mid-morning and one of the most popular buys, judging from the queues, was Christmas decorations.

Macy's had performed a considerable feat by having taken down most of their decorated trees from their Holiday Lane and laid out the ornaments in open boxes - ready for eager shoppers. Not that all of their sales items were popular.

Kelly, a young woman of refined taste when it comes to tree decorations, was shopping because of the 50 per cent reductions. But she was disappointed at the quality of what was on offer. She was looking for higher priced items that would retail normally in 'the high 20s' of dollars, but today she couldn't find them.

'I think stores are not buying more expensive ones,' she said, also saying, 'We're noticing every year they seem to get smaller and smaller.' She held up a three-inch gold coloured ornament by way of illustration.

She used to purchase designer ornaments by Polonaise and Christopher Radko but these appear to have disappeared from Macy's. Instead, in her basket that she displayed for the pic, were trinkets worth originally about $17 dollars.

I asked if she had shopped before Christmas or if she had saved her spending for the sales, and she said that she had shopped beforehand as well.

In the queue in the Holiday Lane was Liana holding several overstuffed bags of already purchased goods - 'they're for my mum' - she said, just as mum Lily appeared.

Like Kelly, Lily had spent in the stores before Christmas but was back with a post-Christmas glow that would light any tree. 'The sales have been pretty good. It's tempting!' she said. 'But the time to get here is early because the sizes are limited.'

Lily, however, had triumphed with 40 per cent reductions on a cashmere and Elie Tahari sweaters, and a pair of Ralph Lauren pants - trousers - for $50 that would sell at full price for $300.

'We've also shopped before Christmas because the stores had 40 per cent off,' she said, pointing out, though, that in these credit crunch days some of the best bargains had sold then.

'But we're tired and we're ready to go home!' she concluded, heading with a patient Liana in tow to the cash registers.

Around the clothing departments, there were many signs advertising reductions from 40 to 60 per cent.

Not everyone in the store was there for bargains, however. Angela and George were having fun climbing into a replica Santa's sleigh for a pic.

'We're on holiday, this is our first few minutes in Macy's,' said Angela.

The couple are from Norwich, England, and spent Christmas in the city as part of a ten-day holiday here. This is the first time they have visited San Francisco.

pics show: Christmas decorations are very popular; queues in Holiday Lane; Kelly's ornaments; George and Angela take a sleigh ride.

For more reports see next blog

Post-Christmas Stroll

These two cute chihuahuas were walking off their Christmas celebrations along the Bay front early this morning.

Daphne, in red, and Sabrina, in blue, were out with mum Jan.

Did they have a good Christmas?

'They always do!' said Jan. 'I bought them these little chew things.'

But Daphne and Sabrina's life has not always been so happy.

'They're 'rescues', so they were very abused when they were babies,' said Jan, adding, 'we're from LA so they're LA girls!'

Daphne and Sabrina are now 11-years-old and were taken into Jan's home when they were aged one. They have been living in San Francisco for just under two years.

Often seen enjoying themselves on the Bay Front, they are a distinctive sight when being carried in Jan's double pannier as seen in the photo.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ferry Building Christmas Music

Christmas shoppers at the Ferry Building paused in their last-minute preparations on Saturday for an annual musical treat.

Above them in the Grand Hall the Main Street singers provided a Christmas atmosphere with beautiful songs including Renaissance, carols and traditional pieces.

The singers are students from Los Altos High School who have achieved an outstanding reputation in their 21-year history. They have travelled to 54 countries, performed in 26 languages, sung in over 175 international concerts and performed with the Beiijing Youth Philharmonic, the San Felice Orchestra of Florence and the Lima Philharmonic.