Tuesday, July 29, 2008

John McCain Fundraiser in San Fran

Senator John McCain flew into San Fran late yesterday afternoon to held a fundraising dinner in the Fairmont Hotel. The hotel is in Nob Hill above Union Square.

While his cavalcade drove straight into the garage at the back of the hotel at around 5.30 pm, pavement supporters and detractors lined the narrow street at the imposing front entrance. The protest, with about 200 people, was peaceful with Democrats and other anti-McCain demonstrators outnumbering those for him.

Which perhaps was only fair as he had his supporters inside the hotel!

As the TV cameras came down the crowd, having filmed McCain's arrival, one group, Democracy in Action, began a few chants of 'No more Bush!'

And down the narrow street driving slowly in circles around the block was the huge Bush Legacy Tour bus run by Americans United for Change. (for more info see http://www.bushlegacytour.com/page/content/aboutthetour/ )

A private car with the slogan 'Impeach' also made a drive past.

One group that stood out were older members of the Asian community who had gathered behind supportive posters proclaiming 'Go McCain Go' and 'Asians for McCain.' But the three frontmen did not wish to be interviewed. Nevertheless there were some twenty people with them enjoying the event.

And not only were San Franciscans there. Four young Spanish journalists spent their last evening in the city adding their voice to the occasion.

Gabie, a member of Democracy in Action in patriotic hat, held aloft a large poster-photo of McCain. She was surrounded by posters of 'McCain, McSame, McBush,' and 'McBush III'

'We're trying to prove McCain is the same as Bush,' she explained.

Democracy in Action appeared to be the largest group there, certainly the most vociferous. 'We have a data base of 1,500,' said their leader, Alex, as he strode across the road on one of several forays to chivvy members on the other side of the street.

A few yards along stood longtime member of the Democratic Club in the city, Elsa, mother of two girls and four grandchildren.

'Bush has been an absolutely immoral president and has ruined college education and the environment,' she said, citing just two of the areas in which she thinks he has been a catastrophic failure.

Why did he go to war?

'He sold to the oil companies. They are the ones who gave him his money to campaign for president - also the Christian right in the south,' she added. But to her, his approval rating of 17 per cent spoke volumes.

Nearby, on the edge of the pavement, were Alex, Irina, Angela and Manuel, the Spanish newspaper journalists holidaying in San Fran. Alex was holding one of the 'McCain, McSame' placards while Irina, broad smile on her face, waved a star-spangled 'Octogenarians for Obama.'

'Obama is our hero!' she enthused.

Speaking in part through translation with Alex, Angela said, 'McCain does not concentrate.....He is not interested in the real problems of the US. He works for other people.' Her meaning being that McCain focusses his policies on the wealthy rather than the ordinary people of America.

As they spoke of Obama's recent visit to Europe, Irina declared, 'Europe is in love with Obama!'

Another McCain critic was Melanieblau. She stood by herself with a bright yellow poster proclaimiing 'No Soldier Left Behind.' Melanieblau works with PeaceActionWest (for info see peaceactionwest.org).

'A vote for McCain is a vote for continuation of Bush's failed domestic and foreign policies. The US' role in the world should not be an imperialistic one,' she said, calling for an immediate end to the war. 'When other countries have pulled out of Iraq, we have seen a huge drop in the number of Jihadist and terrorist acts.'

In her opinion, the reason behind the war was 'imperialism,' with Bush heavily influenced by an organization called People for a New American Century.

On the other side, though, both of the street and political viewpoint, were a small knot of blue placard carrying supporters of McCain.

For Luis, one of the strengths of McCain has been his willingness to take a stand on the surge in Iraq that is now achieving success. 'I think McCain has been a supporter of what even Obama admits is a success,' he said, adding that Obama can't escape the fact that he opposed the surge.

Of the war, he said, 'The real question is what do we do now?' The need, he said, was to find a solution on the ground first, and then 'figure how to work out troop reduction.'

Next to him was Tina, from a military background who felt that a lot of the demonstrators' disgruntlement with America was born of lack of experience of life elsewhere.

'A lot of people take for granted what we enjoy in this country, personal freedoms, economic opportunities, the possibilities here. And I'm a person who grew up - my father was a military person - seeing the sacrifices they made. Lots of people haven't travelled abroad and so don't realise how good it is here.'

Of the election, she said, 'John McCain, he's really been his own man. He's led the fight on difficult issues. He's a man of integrity. So I'm here to support that.'

Was she worried about his age? She laughed. 'I count it as wisdom!' she said.

For an album of pics click here. Click on pics to enlarge.

Festival of Sail - HMS Bounty Farewell

In a foggy bay, the HMS Bounty made a graceful exit, symbolising the end of the magnificent Festival of Sail.

At mid-morning her sails began to unfurl, and then without any fuss or ado she slipped quietly past the US Coast Guard Cutter Eagle and made her way towards the Bay Bridge before gliding along the bay, under the Golden Gate Bridge and out into the Pacific Ocean.

The Bounty, one of 19 Tall Ships in the Festival, was built for MGM studios to star with Marlon Brando in the film, Mutiny on the Bounty.

Most of the other Tall Ships left their various moorings in the morning.

Standing with me also taking pics were two ladies, one of whom, Laurel, has recently moved to San Fran from Alberta, Canada.

She said, 'I came out to watch the sailing of the Tall Ship. My past, in Alberta, is landlocked so it's a great opportunity to see something like this!'

The other lady said she had spoken to the Captain of the Eagle who had told her his ship was not due to leave until this evening, and then under motor power not sail. But before I could get her name, she jumped into her car and dashed off in pursuit of the Bounty!

For more pics of the Bounty making her farewell journey click here. Click on pics to enlarge.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Festival of Sail - HMCS Oriole

HMCS Oriole, the oldest commissioned ship in the Canadian navy, made a popular appearance in the Festival of Sail in San Fran this week.

On board to greet visitors on Saturday was 18-year-old Cadet, Eric, from Alberta.

An interview and report to follow

Festival of Sail - HMS Bounty

A theatrical piece of Tall Ship sat at the end of one of the piers in San Fran Bay last week: the HMS Bounty was specially built for the 1962 film, Mutiny of the Bounty, starring Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard.

Commissioned by MGM, it was modelled on the original Bounty. Its magnificent masthead, the doughty Bethia, came from Captain Bligh's ship.

More details to follow

Festival of Sail - USCGC Eagle

A fantastic Festival of Sail week-long celebration with tall ships in San Francisco Bay ended today. The ships paraded gloriously under the Golden Gate Bridge to berth in the bay for visitors to tour. They also sailed around the bay providing unique sailing opportunities and party venues.

The grandest ship of them all was the USCGC Eagle, the only active commissioned sailing vessel in the US military service that was making it's first visit to San Fran in over ten years.

We toured the ship and met retired National Guard Reserve Colonel, George Barantseff, now a volunteer Russian linguist with the International Affairs - Interpreter Corps of the US Coast Guard Auxiliary.

But before that as we embarked we were invited to 'Shake Hands with a Coastie'. This is for charity where each handshake means a new book for a child in need in conjunction with the organization First Book.

Next we passed a board with the answer to the 'most asked question'! What are the shaggy grey rolls around the rigging?

'Baggywrinkle,' is the reply. It is there to stop the sails chafing and is made, a cadet was overheard explaining, of rope yarn.

Then we wound around the deck and came across George, a gracious host to the hundreds of visitors pouring onto the Eagle. He was standing mid-ship in front of three huge wooden steering wheels.

'She goes 17 knots under full sail. Really fast!' he was saying, as we joined others who had clustered round to ask questions. The wheels were attracting a lot of attention. Why were there three, people wanted to know?

'Because you need six people at the helm if the weather's really bad. There's that much pressure,' said George. He pointed out that the ship is made of steel and therefore very heavy. One anchor alone weighs 2,200 lbs, he said.

In bad weather, however, clinging onto those wheels for dear life are not the hands of experienced sailors but the unseasoned hands of novices, for the Eagle is a training ship for cadets and future officers of the US Coast Guard Academy.

Why are they the ones left holding the wheels?

'They're the ones who need to learn!' said George.

The specifications of the ship show that there is plenty of opportunity to learn. She is 295 ft long and weighs 1,800 tons with over 22,000 sq ft of sail and more than five miles of rigging.

Many cadets are commissioned into the coast guard service for degree studies as well as seamanship and leadership training. Degrees often include engineering or environmental sciences. After all, said George, who gets called out when there is an oil spill! Some go through the sciences. 'I know of one officer,' he added, ' who went through pre-med.'

'They are a wonderful source of future leadership in our country,' he said proudly.

He is equally proud of the Eagle, a ship that was built by Germany for Hitler's navy in 1936 but acquired, and renamed, by America in 1945 as part of war reparations.

'She is magnificent!' he said. 'A sacred relic of the sailing past. It's our hand across the ages linking history.'

*I discovered that George, too, has a fascinating story. Using his linguistic and radio communication skills, he has saved lives, engaged in diplomatic missions and protected coastal waters in stormy seas.

See blog on George coming soon....

Monday, July 14, 2008

Cable Car Accident

San Franciscans woke up to the news early this morning that one of their beloved cable cars had hurtled driverless down a hill injuring four people, some of whom had been thrown onto the road.

Three of the injured had been hospitalized. But so quick had NBC11 been to get to the scene at around midnight, they were able to broadcast an interview with one of the passengers. The man, standing by the road, told how he had clung on for dear life.

Had he thought more quickly, he said, he would have jumped off before the car reached a reported speed of 55 mph. It came to stop at the bottom of the hill where the rails turn the corner to go up Powell Street heading downtown. Although the car jumped the rails, very fortunately it did not overturn.

According to NBC11 the car had stuck on the rails. The driver had jumped out to give it a push, but as it began to move, a glass door had closed and the driver was unable to get back in. The report added a comment from Muni, the transport organization that runs the cable cars, that drivers are not supposed to leave the cars. See NBC11's website for a video.

But the accident does not appear to have deterred visitors. Long queues have been curling round the start of the cable car run at Powell Street all day. Official statistics for 2006 show that the cars carried 7.5 million passengers.

I travelled on a car next to a friendly lady from Taiwan. She had not heard of the accident, and though sympathetic to the people who have been injured, was not fearful for her own safety.

Likewise, a family from Kansas who I spoke to at Powell Street. They were definitely looking forward to their ride on the cable car. They had not heard of the incident and when I told them, said that it did not put them off at all.

The accident happened at the junction of Powell Street and Washington Street, which is over the top of the hill from Union Square and several blocks down.

White chalk markings in the road show where the car came off the rails. One shopkeeper there said she had not heard of the accident. A man in another store had heard it on the news. He remembered the last serious accident with a car, coincidentally only a few blocks away at Mason, when a car had hit and killed an elderly female pedestrian in January 2006.

News had obviously got around a few people for there were small numbers of people milling with cameras. Two news vans were also parked there, including NBC11, preparing for the evening news bulletins.

A block up Washington is the Cable Car Museum which houses the cables that run the system. Outside the museum was a group of Muni drivers peering down the hill and who, by their hand gesticulations, were obviously discussing the incident.

According to the information in the museum, the city has 40 cable cars of which up to 26 are in operation at any one time. The cable cars move by gripping onto cables with machinery that keeps the cars running at 9.5 mph.

There are four cables that run in channels beneath the streets.

The cable cars opened on 1 September, 1873, having been originally pulled up and down the hills by horses.

They survived an attempt by the city's mayor in 1947 to have them replaced by diesel buses. The mayor was defeated in a public campaign led by the redoubtable Mrs Freda Klussmann of the San Francisco Federation of Arts.

She triumphantly formed the Citizens Committee to Save the Cable Cars and was honoured with a memorial arch at the centenary celebrations.

pics show accident spot with a cable car turning onto Washington Street by the San Francisco Cable Car Museum at Mason Street. For more pics click here

Hippies Remembered in Decades of Fashion

The once hippie area of San Francisco is alive with vintage clothing stores and who better to be running one of the best of them than a former Sixties teen model and 'flower child' herself.

Today Cicely Hansen cuts a distinctive dash around the streets of Haight-Ashbury to where she returned two years ago.

Her store, Decades of Fashion, has a small, though artistic frontage But step inside and you find yourself in a much bigger space, immersed in the fashion equivalent of Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium. There are a hundred years of history to browse through with magical clothes that would spin a yarn or two could they talk. Time-travel with a quick change and a flourish, or party with nostalgia, vintage clothes are hugely popular.

'There is so much fun going on,' said Cicely, revelling that afternoon in a navy 1920s dress. But then vintage clothing has been so much a part of the warp and weft of her life she has never truly been a child of her generation.

Her absorption with fashion began as a child in the home. With a grandmother who was a 1920s fashion model and a mother who was also a model, her young life was infused with style and design.

So much so she says of her schooldays, 'I thought I was always alienated at school because of how I was dressed. I was always way overdressed or too stylish.' Even as a teenager she wore vintage.

Her eye for style led to her not surprisingly being spotted by a modelling agency. Picture a precocious 14-year-old, stick-thin as Twiggy, tottering on heels with full 'beehive' and black-lined Bridgid Bardot eyes. The agency reeled her in and put her in teenage modelling shows in the intermission of music events called Battle of the Bands. Held in the city in the Cow Palace, the stage rocked to such Sixties greats as the Beach Boys, Moody Blues and Grateful Dead.

For a private schoolgirl living in the quiet district of Los Altos across the bay, the allure of the burgeoning hippie revolution proved too much: at the age of 16 years she ran away from home with a friend.

'I didn't tell my parents where I was for a month,' she confessed.

With the help of a disc jockey who befriended her, she began to make her own way in the world. She found lodgings among the teeming streets of Haight, at one point doing window-dressing as well as modelling for money.

'There used to be 10,000 people a day down this street!" she said, nodding towards the window.

Glancing down the narrow Victorian street of Haight, one can only wonder how they fitted in! But therein lies part of the folklore of the hippie movement that exploded with the 1967 Summer of Love in the Golden Gate Park at the end of the road.

The area was deluged with as many as 100,000 young people and one of the chief problems was housing. Cicely and her friend were given lodgings by a lady for whom they assembled earrings. The Victorian house was huge with eleven rooms and a long corridor, and each night their landlady would allow 50 homeless kids to sleep in the corridor.

'In the morning they would be gone. There was never any trouble,' Cicely said.

For the regular lodgers there was a cooking rota. 'Everyone would be vegetarian except me!' she said, recalling with amusement her fellow-lodgers reactions to her meaty meals!

It was a heady time of almost literally rubbing shoulders with some of the famous bands of the day who lived in the Haight. Cicely ended up in a flat opposite the Grateful Dead and had the unforgettable experience of being chased down the street by their enormous drummer 'Pigpan'! Other bands with whom she was friends included Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, the Charlatans, Country Joe, Salvation Army Band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Blue Cheer. Janis Joplin was a resident, too, and walked the streets.

One of her regrets, however, is that she doesn't have photos. If she had only thought, she could have collected a priceless photo album.

'We were friends,' she shrugged. In other words, mixing with musicians some of whom were to become very famous, and being in and out of each other's flats in part of a scene that was to become a piece of history, was such a part of everyday life she didn't think to record it.

The early days of the hippie movement were fun and friendly, she said, with bands giving free concerts in the park. 'You never knew what you would be doing. There were always invitations to parties, surfing or to tour.' She went out with one of the members of Blue Cheer and toured with them as their cook. 'I was a majorally good cook,' she said.

Another aspect was politics. The hippies took on anti-Vietnam protests with a vengeance, which Cicely took part in wholeheartedly. Likewise, the racial issues of black Americans in places like Alabama. Given the ease of cultural mixing in San Fran 'we couldn't understand what was going on in the South,' she said.

But after about two years, the fun and friendly scene took a downturn. 'Alcohol and hard drugs came into Haight-Ashbury and ruined it. It hit it like a bowling pin,' she said. She remembers with horror 18-year-old girls being shot in the head over drugs and the prostitution that arrived with the hard drugs.

The hippie world fragmented. 'People went three ways: to Marin County, (across the Bay), Haiwaii and Santa Cruz. We were bouncing between all three and appearing in concerts,' she said.

But then she left the music behind her and turned her still-young head to business. At the age of 19 years, she ran two clothing stores in the bay area and later worked for an auction gallery. The auction house would 'cherry pick' the items they wanted but Cicely soon realised that what people really wanted was a house clearance, so she persuaded her bosses to let her go in second and sweep up the leftovers. Often she would find little gems, like a handmade quilt, tucked under bedding.

'That's one of the reasons I got into this!' she said of her life of owning antique and vintage clothing stores.

On a family trip to her then father-in-law in Idaho, she decided she might as well open up her own store. Called 'Something Old Something New,' it was in the city's Mission District. Her father-in-law would put ads in the local paper and Cicely would collect things like brass beds and lampshades.

Another source of goods was her father. As a probate attorney he bought whole houses which Ciceley was able to clear out.

With a skill of accumulating barns full of items, she moved to Los Angeles. There, for 30 years she specialised in lampshades catching a few celebrity customers along the way. These included Mick Jagger, Barbra Streisand, Don Henley of the Eagles and Chris McVie of Fleetwood Mac.

And as if her work hasn't been enough, as her own children were growing up and leaving home, she learnt to rodeo and scuba dive, and became a foster mother.

Today, back in San Francisco, much of her stock is brought into the store by people who want to sell their old belongings or are sorting through a family attic. One woman recently was passing and was prompted to go home and rummage in the attic for her great aunt's washboard and some vintage children's clothes. That board had pride of place in one of Cicely's window displays.

As for vintage children's clothes, Cicely is a collector of them to her grandsons' delight. When her four-year-old grandson asked for a white Fred Astaire outfit with tap shoes and tails, she was able to find one, though only in black. Imagine his chagrin when later Cicely was able to get her hands on a white one for his two-year-old brother!

Although she has only had Decades of Fashion for two years, in that time she has had Keira Knightley and Daryl Hana browsing, and Japanese and New York designers, including some from Nine West, looking for inspiration.

'It might be a tuck, a bow, material,' she said. Inspiration is there in plenty. Cicely has a fabulous range of hats and accessories as well as outfits, and also fashions and boots for men.

Much as Cicely is an ex-hippie who that afternoon was dressed in the 1920s, her favourite era is the 1930s as 'it's the most feminine.'

One of the most fascinating aspects for me, though, remains the 60s memorablia. I found suede fringed jackets, a catsuit, a beautifully homemade dress in material of a patterned blur of orange, yellow and lime green, a sugar-pink dress with mandarin collar and cut-away sleeves, and turqoise dresses.

Only Twiggy was missing, but then I did have a lookalike with matching memories!

pics by Julie. For more fashion pics click here

Friday, July 11, 2008

New iPhone Launch 2

While Extremely Enthusiastic iPhone fans had queued all night, or at least from the early hours of the morning, outside the Apple Store, 'cheeky chappie' Lance spotted a gap...and stepped in!

By 9 am, an hour after the store opened, he stood at the head of the 'next batch' to be admitted to the store. With his friend, Dennie, he good-humouredly confessed that he had slipped into a gap when no-one was looking and that his wait time was...15 mins!!!

'I didn't know what the line was for,' he said, of the moment when he first noticed hundreds of people standing in line on the pavement.

Lance said he was now looking forward to an iPhone but confessed to not having either an ipod or an Apple Mac computer. 'I use a Zoom,' he said.

Next to Lance and Dennie was Scott, whose feet had been feeling the pavement since 4 am and who listened to Lance's story with amusement.

As I was about to speak to Scott, the Apple Store doormen called them forward and with a wave of the hand, Scott was an apparition, the sound of the new iPhone already ringing in his ears.

Several hundred yards away around the corner was the end of the queue. Quite by chance I found Queen Kellita, San Fran's Carnaval Queen and dance professional. Under her straw hat, Kellita was thrilled at the prospect of an iPhone.

'I've never had an iPhone before,' she said, predicting that it would revolutionise life for many people.

'I'll be able to show videos and photos in my palm,' she said. She stretched out her hand and contemplated the advantages both socially and professionally for her.

'I'll be able to revise dances I'm about to perform while I'm on the way,' she said. Accessing email would be another bonus for her.

'Having the phone will push me to learn more. I'm not really techy at all,' she said. But she has had a Mac laptop for a while which has made her appreciate the effort Apple go to to present their systems 'in the friendliest way possible to non-techy people.'

Further along the pavement were Junell and Ray, visiting San Fran from across the Bay to celebrate Ray's birthday.

'It's 7/11!' pointed out Ray, reversing the American date that writes 11 June as 11/7. Ray had known the iPhone was being launched and had made sure he and Junell were there early.

'We got into town at about 7.35 am and came directly here,' he said.

'I have a Blackberry, and a PC but I'm willing to trade it in for an iPhone,' he said. He listed a few things that attracted him to the new phone: photo albums, iTunes, the ability to access emails on the hoof and GPS.

Were they getting one each? Junell shook her head. The technology seemed a bit overwhelming, she said, but she was buying one for her daughter's fiance.

I wished Ray a Happy Birthday! and went back to the beginning of the queue.

The doormen were answering queries non-stop from people passing by and especially from those who wished to shop in the store for items other than the iPhone. 'Ordinary' shoppers were having to form a small queue of their own and wait for a staff member to accompany them inside. They were also being told they had to purchase something as the store was not available for browsing in.

Besides the doormen, other young staff in the signature orange tee-shirts were offering free bottles of water.

Next in line to be called into the store was Samantha and mum, Dana. For sacrificial motherhood...read on!

Dana had placed herself in the queue at 5.30 am while Samantha slept on peacefully then sauntered to Starbucks!

Dana explained, 'I'm from New York. I had conference calls at 6 am so...I did my three conference calls and let her sleep in as I had to be up anyway!'

The phone, though, is a well-earned graduation present for Samantha from her aunt, who at the same time was queuing in Los Angeles for her son - Samantha's cousin.

'I'm excited for the ease of the internet in my hand. I can check my email before I get out of bed!' Samantha, who has gained a Math degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, said happily.

But at least, as she made her way from Starbucks to the Apple Store, she brought a hot chocolate for her mum!

Pics above show crowd entering store and Dana and Samantha.

Click here for more pics in album and click to enlarge.

For first report of the day, see previous blog

New iPhone Launched

Enthusiasm for the new iPhone hit the streets of San Fran this morning as hundreds queued outside the Apple Store.

But it seems it was not without technical hitches. First man in the queue, Dale, who camped in a tent for 36 hours, took over TWO HOURS to emerge from the store, and when he did Apple had given him a FREE phone to compensate.

There were problems, it seems, with service provider AT and T, exactly what is not known at this stage.

'Disappointing,' said Dale.

A 'mobile strategist' himself, who works with the business and marketing aspects of mobiles, he said, 'I'm less concerned about myself than I am about the industry.'

But with free phone finally secured, he was upbeat about his 36-hour camping experience.

'Being in line was a fun process. I got to meet people and have conversations I don't normally have,' he said, adding that once inside the store he had had to return to the pavement at the request of the police to move his tent.

Did he sleep? Apparently so. With a mattress, sleeping bag and earplugs, Dale entered the Land of Nod. For food, he ordered pizza and well-trained friends also kept him supplied.

'I figure if you're going to camp, you might as well do it in style!' he said.

But for a man who had just spent 36 hours in a tent on a pavement, he was remarkably well-groomed, a fact that also caught the attention of Sukhjit and Rachael, who were outside the store sending live video onto the Seesmic social networking site.

'Did you take your suit off?' asked Sukhjit.

'Yes,' said Dale, 'I took the suit off!'

'Why did you want to be first in line?' said Rachael.

'Because I didn't want to be the second!' he replied.

As he left, I spoke to Tom Krazit, writer with CNET Networks, who was also beside us. Tom is a tech industry journalist specialising in coverage of Apple, who had set up his laptop on a conveniently-placed metal cover opposite the store's entrance.

His report was going online to his editor in an office down the street, and then straight onto the internet.

Of Dale's problems with the iPhone connection he said, 'It might take a couple of days to really know what happened.'

For updated info keep in touch with him at http://news.cnet.com/8301-13579_3-9989549-37.html?hhTest=1&tag=blog.promos

In the interim, iPhone fans continued to pour into the Apple store in well-controlled batches, with staff applauding each new arrival.

More interviews with iPhone fans on the way...

Pics above show Dale, on right, and street at 9 am.

For album of pics click here, and click to enlarge.