Sunday, September 28, 2008

California Academy of Sciences - First weekend

Between 16,000 and 20,000 people were expected to pour into the California Academy of Sciences on its opening day yesterday, but in the end the museum could only let 15,000 in.

So intrigued and captivated were the thousands of fortunate people who made it through the doors, that they lingered.

'The building capacity is only 4,000 at any time,' said Communications Specialist, Andrew Ng, today, 'and people need to leave the building before we can bring more people into the building.

'As a result our total yesterday was around 15,000,' he said.

Yesterday was a free day, courtesy of sponsorship from the lead corporate sponsors, the energy company PG & E.

Today was the first admission-charging day, and the Academy was crowded with people enjoying the exhibits.

For more pics:

California Academy of Sciences - Living Roof

We stood on the unique 'living roof' of the world today, one day after the momentous opening of the California Academy of Sciences in the Golden Gate Park where the art of architecture fuses with nature.

Here we gazed close up at the green, newly-planted mounds that symbolise the seven hills of San Francisco, part of architect Renzo Piano's imaginative 'picture' of lifting a slice of Golden Gate Park, sliding the museum underneath and putting the park back on top!

The resultant roof is described as 'the most complicated living roof ever constructed by architects and contractors.'

And it has been named The Osher Living Roof in honour of the Bernard Osher Foundation who donated $20 million dollars for the roof and for what is now called The Osher Rainforest.

One of the small surprises when you wind across the park, through the glassed Academy and up onto the roof is to realise the smallness of the viewing area in comparison to the 4.5 acres of overall roof and 2.5 acres of planted land.

Still there was plenty of space for the thousands of visitors making their way there today.

Laurel, there with her eleven-year-old son Andrew, was thrilled by it.

'I'm a home-schooling mum, although it's a misnomer because we're never at home!' she began, 'and we plan on coming here very often. It's a great resource for people who are educating their children.

'So we're really excited. This is our first of thousands of visits, and I know the Academy will be offering classes and they have internships for 13-year-olds upwards.'

A prospect that pleases Andrew. 'It is a great place to do home schooling,' he said.

Another delighted visitor was Suzanne from San Diego, captivated by 'the whole idea that you have this beautiful natural space and an informative space below.'

And the views. She spiralled round pointing out the 'cloud-shrouded' city that could be glimpsed between mounds, the architectural presence of the de Young Museum and the beauty of the park.

'This is the surprising, amazing and interesting thing about this,' she said of the location. 'But I do wish it was a little warmer!' she shivered. Therein, though, lies the endearing characteristic of San Francisco: the fog!

It will waft and wane at will, and for this, other weather reasons and the steepness of the hills, the plants have been specially chosen by botanist Frank Almeda.

He designed a 'plant test', picking 30 species to see how they thrived on steep slopes without artificial fertilization or irrigation. At the same time these plants had to look pretty throughout the year, provide a habitat attractive to native wildlife and be a species of Northern California.

No pressure!

The winners were beach strawberries, self heal, sea pink, stonecrop, tidy tips, miniature lupine, California plantain and goldfield plants and they were planted last year.

Two of the butterfly species they will attract are the endangered Bay checkerspot and San Bruno elfin who will now, hopefully, find preservation in the largest sweep of native vegetation in San Francisco County.

In total there are 1.7 million plants with a combined weight of soil and plants of 2.6 million pounds.

The roof hills provide energy conservation and insulation, reducing temperatures and low-frequency noise. The two largest mounds are also domes for the planetarium, rainforest and aquarium with automatic skylights giving ventilation and letting sunlight in. There is also a solar panel canopy.

For more pics:

California Academy of Sciences - Congress

For the inspirational opening of the California Academy of Sciences yesterday - see previous blogs -House Speaker Nancy Pelosi presented Mayor Gavin Newsom beforehand with a Congressional Record. She was unable to be there herself as she had to be in Congress.

The Congressional Record is as follows:

'As Speaker of the House of Representatives I send the appreciation of the Congress to those who have given San Francisco, as well as the world, the magnificent gift of the new California Academy of Sciences as it opens on September 27 2008.

Generations of Bay Area residents have grown up with the Academy as a cultural treasure in Golden Gate Park visiting as schoolchildren and then bringing their own children to this center of exploration and natural sciences education. Worn by earthquakes, age and the love of so many children, its friends reimagined the best possible version of this beloved institution.

How fortunate are we all that the Academy's board and leadership secured the talent and vision of the brilliant Italian architect Renzo Piano who transformed this natural science museum into an architectural triumph and forward-looking example of energy-efficient design. The Academy also benefited greatly from the crusading spirit of former Executive Director Pat Kociolek whose enthusiasm for a 21 Century natural history center became infectious.

The California Academy of Sciences is home to the Steinhart Aquarium, the Kimball Natural History Museum, Morrison Planetarium and world-class research and education programs. The magnificent new site boasts a four-storey living rainforest and awe-inspiring corral reef eco system, a living roof of California native plants which is an engineering marvel of seven hills reflecting San Francisco's landscape. The Academy is committed to preserving natural habitats and protecting essential natural resources.

San Francisco prides itself on being a model for the nation, indeed the world, when it comes to preserving our beautiful planet for future generations. Therefore it is fitting that the California Academy of Sciences will be the greatest nature museum in the world and stands with the de Young Museum to make Golden Gate Park a destination of world class museums.

This extraordinary renovation of the Academy benefited greatly from large private philanthropy, due in great part to the tireless work of the Academy's board of trustees led by the task force of William Wilson, Martha Karpf, George Montgomery and Richard Bingham. The renovation also benefited from funding from the city and the state and I am pleased my colleagues in Congress join with me to obtain $8 million in federal investment for this innovative project.....'

For more pics:

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Arrival of Maltese Falcon

For a few fleeting seconds this afternoon one great symbol met another - when one of the world's most luxurious private yachts, the Maltese Falcon, sailed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge on her first visit to San Francisco.

A fire boat sprayed a watery greeting, small boats accompanied her and a helicopter flew overhead taking pics.

For an informative article on the Maltese Falcon and her visit see the San Fran Chronicle click here.

For more pics:

California Academy of Sciences - First Day

The first few moments after the official opening of the California Academy of Sciences saw hundreds of people step excitedly into the building.

The academy bears the distinction of the only institution in the world to house under one - living, world-class, stunning! - roof, an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum, and leading research and education programmes.

A louche rare white alligator stares up, one of the first greeters of visitors!

With hardly the bat of an eyelid, he is already securing his place as one of the most popular exhibits, a role he is unlikely to relinquish without a snap of his jaws and a swipe of his mighty tail!

He hails from St Augustine, Florida, and so angered was he when transported to the museum, that even with a muzzle on, he knocked over two of the men trying to get him into his new pool,
said friendly docent, Peter, who was there to help welcome people and explain about the alligators in their pool.

Eventually, a group manoueuvred the angry, recalcitrant gator in!

Peter peered over the side, looking for the dark female. He spotted her under the water.

'He - the white alligator - tends to chuck her off the they're not an item!' he said.

Around the pool, said Peter, tracing the shape of the railings with his fingers, are the original railings and tiles from about 1924.

As a child, Peter remembers standing looking over the railings at alligators, and hoping he didn't fall in!

Around the corner, children especially though not exclusively! were trying to lure scurrying Madagascan bugs into pitfall traps, first by filling the traps with tempting morsels of apple, banana and oatmeal.

All as an interactive floor exhibit and just one of several activities.

Around a corner again and in African Hall another entrancing feature is the penguin pool.

Here you can stand nose to beak with a penguin and almost stroke its tummy as it slides gracefully up a pane of glass to the surface of the water.

The effect of the design of the pool where the water rises four feet above the floor, giving eye to eye contact with the birds and a bird's eye view into the pool is mesmerising.

Mind you, these sweet-appearing penguins are not so cute or, very cute, depending on perspective!

'They're like spoilt children!' said their docent to an avid cluster of watchers. 'Some will only eat certain fish, so they are fed individually,' she said.

And if a piece of their food happens to slip from their beaks to the bottom of the pool! My word!!!

'They won't eat it if they drop it!' said the docent, who is left with the task of clearing up the unwanted food with a scooper.

'It wouldn't be that way in the wild!' she added.

Indeed it wouldn't!

But then we'll forgive these princes and princesses of their penguin pool - there as part of the Species Survival Plan breeding programme - for being so lovable.

One of the great features, too, of the Academy is the trained docents who are friendly, approachable and knowledgable. They are there to help and will be a source of information and entertainment to the multiple thousands of visitors, young and older, who will pass through the Academy and leave enriched by the experience.

pics show the alligator and Peter at the alligator pool; stamping on Madagascan bugs!; a lovable penguin.

For more pics:

For more info and a live web cam of the penguins - feeding times 10.30 am and 3.30 pm click here for the Academy's website.

This is just a taster of some of many fascinating aspects of a museum that will provide many more blogs in the months to come

Opening Ceremony of California Academy of Sciences

'When I came here, I said "Mamma Mia! I really need this job!" said Renzo Piano, one of the world's greatest architects.

He not only got his dream job, but today was standing outside of the California Academy of Sciences in the Golden Gate Park for the opening of what is being acclaimed as one of this year's finest new buildings in the world. And the greenest.

The project began nearly ten years ago.

'I spent a lot of time on this bench,' he said, indicating one, 'trying to feel out what (the) building should be.

'This picture came out of the blue.'

And what a picture.

Out of his imagination that absorbed the natural beauty of the park and surrounding hills, there arose a building of glass that connects to the park from within and without, and a living roof like no other: one that has green gently-curving knolls like the hills of San Francisco that are planted as habitat for wildlife.

Running through the centre of the building you can see the park from one end of a piazza to the other.

'Normally a science museum is dark and intimidating', Renzo said, 'but this is transparent, the opposite of opacity, enjoying the place, enjoying all this nature.'

Beside him on the platform were Mayor Gavin Newsom, Executive Director of the CAS, Dr Greg Farrington, Board Chair, Bill Patterson, and Nancy McFadden, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs, of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, lead corporate sponsors who are also sponsoring the weekend's celebrations including free entry to the museum today.

The ceremony opened with the presentation of flags by the San Francisco Police Department followed by a performance of the national anthem by soprano Heidi Melton, Adler Fellow with the San Francisco Opera.

There was then a Native American blessing, at the end of which the audience were asked to give a traditional response of 'Oooh!' rather than applaud.

'Have a beautiful day,' said Martin Martinez as he ended the blessing.

Next, Dr Farrington introduced Renzo Piano as a Pritzker Prize-winning architect - the equivalent, he said to the amusement of the audience, of winning a Nobel prize or American Idol competition.

In the early days Renzo, he said, had climbed on the roof of the old museum and looked down, and stood on the nearby hills.

'He came to understand the soul of this institution,' he said, calling the museum a 'kingdom of light, a celebration of nature.'

The museum, he said referring to Renzo's original sketch, had evolved from 'that one little imaginative curve nearly ten years ago.'

Renzo, who is Genoan-born and celebrated his 71st birthday this month, responded to the compliments. 'I am very, very touched. At a certain age,' he went on, 'you become more romantic.

'What can I say? I should say, "I love San Francisco!"'

He turned to Gavin Newsom, 'Lord Mayor, you have the most beautiful city in the world to run,' he said, meaning also natural attributes of sun and sea.

And he said of the Golden Gate Park, 'This place is loved...I hope it's going to be loved more and more.'

The museum has been designed with enormous emphasis on the environment, a subject that motivates him deeply.

We have a great duty to care for the earth because it is fragile and it made sense, therefore, he said, for the institution to have an important role to 'tell the story' of how fragile the earth is and that it needs our help.

'I can see millions of young people coming here and seeing the need to know and to love nature.'

Concluding with lightheartedness, he said of the handover of the building to the city, 'This is a very important day. Up until yesterday, this building was mine!

The audience gave him a deserved, enthusiastic standing ovation and the Executive Director again thanked him.

'Renzo Piano has given our city and our world one of the greatest buildings anywhere, he said. And the city, he added, were fortunate that a small group of people had had the vision to push the project through.

Nancy McFadden spoke next. She said they were committed to 'stewarding our fragile earth' and would continue to support the museum with other free days.

She praised Mayor Newsom for his care of the environment and said that with the Academy he was setting standards higher than ever.

'Today the Academy is wowing the world,' she said of it's magnificence.

Mayor Newsom spoke with pride of the city's new museums, of the de Young facing him across the park, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the Conservatory of Flowers and Arboretum, and the Japanese Tea Garden, also in the park.

'What an outstanding compilation,' he said.

He gave credit to Senator Dianne Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, for their support for the museum and to say that they were unable to be present due to their need to be in Washington over the current financial crisis.

Then he quoted from Plato, that 'if there is any hope for the future, those with lanterns will pass them on to others.'

He looked down from the dias at former mayor Willie Brown - sitting with Mayor Newsom's wife - and said that the institute 'would not have been possible without his faith and consistency.'

A few thousand people had already made their way into the park and were queuing to take advantage of the free open day. Overall, the museum capacity would be about 30,000, said Mayor Newsom, and he paid tribute to a mother with three children who had put herself and her family at the front of the queue by being there at 5.30 am!

Mindful of the $488 million cost that has meant the largest-ever cultural fundraising effort in the city, he said, 'I want to thank the taxpayers of San Francisco for their support of this institution as well.'

In a final tribute to Renzo Piano, he quoted first from an interview Renzo had given to Vanity Fair magazine, in which the architect had said he lifted up the Golden Gate Park, slid the building underneath and put the park back down on top of it!

'This is the greenest building of it's kind anywhere in the world. This is the best of the best!'

Dr Farrington then introduced Rock Kids, the museum's link with students. He held up black logo-ed teeshirts for sale and said that anyone wearing one would have free entry to the museum.

And then the Rock Kids performed the finale to the ceremony. Carrying boxes that contained butterflies - symbols of transformation and metamorphosis of the new Academy, said Dr Farrington - they stood at the front of the stage and released the butterflies into the park.

As butterflies flew up into the air the sun sparkled through their wings - although many, to the merriment of the audience at first perched overhead on the entrance to the museum, perhaps for shelter.

All that was left was for Dr Farrington 'to declare this Academy of Sciences open!'

And with that hundreds of excited people, press and members first, streamed in through the doors. Outside in the park, a programme of entertainment, which runs over today and tomorrow, was starting.

Pics show: Architect Renzo Piano; Dr Greg Farrington; Rock Kids releasing butterflies; Mayor Gavin Newsom with Renzo Piano

Friday, September 26, 2008

Mission Creek Sports Park - Charity

Saturday saw the Grand Opening of the visionary Mission Creek Sports Park beneath the freeway at Mission Bay...see previous blogs...

The Grand Opening of the Sports Park was not just about having fun. This dedicated team are in a desperate race against time to save the life of their friend, Michelle.

Their quest is to find a suitable donor for a life-saving bone marrow transplant, and so at their table by the creek they were collecting cheek swabs from willing volunteers.

Michelle Maykin is a 26-year-old who grew up in the Bay Area and in May found herself relapsing with leukemia. Her family, friends and co-workers rallied to help her.

At the creek, Claire, Mary Eric - pictured - and Mary's husband, Kim, are on a rota for a team that juggle work schedules to go out into the community every day they can to find possible donors. It is a dedicated act of love.

In the apartments in Mission Creek, Mary has been putting up posters.

For Michelle, the need is for an Asian-American donor, but the campaign is working for donors for all patients, said 25-year-old Eric, a friend and accountancy firm consultant.

Michelle, who graduated from UC Berkeley, was originally diagnosed in February last year. As she began to improve with treatment she launched Project Michelle to find bone marrow donors for others who needed help.

Her bombshell news of her relapse came in May of this year.

Project Michelle has now become a national campaign, said Eric, reaching places including Hawaii, New York, Wahington DC, Boston and Texas. About 15,000 people have registered as potential donors.

On Saturday they collected 25 swabs, a low number given the numbers of people at the Grand Opening, but unfortunately their table was on the creek path to the side of the main activities.

Eric, though was not downbeat.

One of the great encouragements to him that day had been that Mayor Gavin Newsom had spotted their table, posed for a pic with the posters, and encouraged and supported them.

Secondly, he had the memory of recently collecting 1,400 swabs in Berkeley in two days.

And thirdly, he has a positive attitude: 'We're happy even if one person turns up,' he said.

Also pictured doing his bit is Brooklyn, a cross between a Jack Russell and Westie.

For more info on Michelle and a lovely pic:

Mission Creek Sports Park - Artists

Saturday saw the Grand Opening of the visionary Mission Creek Sports Park beneath the freeway at Mission Bay...see previous blogs...

Ginny is an artist living what one imagines to be a romantic life on one of the houseboats on the creek. She also volunteers many hours as a conservationist caring for the wildlife and nature around her.

Ginny's tasks involve 'supporting the tidal community,' as she puts it, and looking after the banks and wildlife gardens, including one for butterflies - 'it's not been a great butterfly year,' she said.

She stood at her stall, one side representing her work for the Mission Creek Conservancy, the other her art.

Speaking first as a conservationist she said the small creek, amazingly, is a habitat for over 60 different kinds of birds. She handed me a blue sheet of paper which held a record of their sightings, although I later realised that they date from September 1987 to February 1988.

Nevertheless, spotted on the creek have been birds with exotic names such as Northern Mockingbird, Red-throated Loon, Bonaparte's Gull and Black Phoebe. There is even mention of a Budgerigar.

Western Gulls, Rock Doves and European Starlings were the most common.

Generally today, gulls and cormorants seem to be the most visible birds - there is a group of four cormorants that are often seen socializing on some pilings - while last week a lone brown pelican spent a few days swooping over the water and perching on a piling.

But beneath the water is a world, amongst others, of tiny invertebrates that live on the pilings, rocks, and boats.

'I wouldn't have known it existed if my daughter hadn't done a science project,' said Ginny.

The fascination of learning of these creatures living round about her was what drew her into conservation work.

It illumines her art and brings an unexpected bonus: she can swim daily in the creek knowing that if certain little beings are alive and well, then the water is safe for her!

As an artist she works in fabric - 'material is more alive than wood or bronze' - fashioning her wildlife. A plump, green, velvet giant sea anemone with pink fronds waves out of her contact card.

Next to it, as we looked at her display board, were a sea squirt and an acorn barnacle. A deep- blue Pacific mussel stood on a sea of green, it's mouth gaped open.

'Do you know,' she said, 'that mussels sift 33 gallons of water an hour?'

Her gallery showpiece, however, of which she is immensely fond is a 16ft pink velvet earthworm.

Ginny, who works in wood for other things, has created perches with floating islands of drift wood on the creek and has been commissioned to provide permanent perches around Mission Creek.

Her floating islands attract the same gull family every year.

'They know me. I know them,' she says. 'They share everything - time on the eggs, getting food for the kids. They've brought a lot of baby gulls into the world.

'It's been interesting raising a child and hearing this other family outside.'

Another artist of quite a different hue but making a visual impact was Jim Tulare, whose inventions are made mostly out of trash!

'It's just junk!' he said, 'Things out of trash cans!' We were looking at his water-pump contraption that used a lot of plastic bottles, the trash for which came from a Tenderloin apartment.

'But aren't you cutting-edge San Franciscan?' I said.

'Yeah, right!' he replied with wry humour.

Behind him, the Spoon Moon Jogger with Mystery Sails made with old bicycle wheels was turning in the wind.

'Do you know what the sails are made of?' he asked.

I didn't.

'Laundry baskets,' he said. And the wooden spoons, he added, came from a sale at Walgreens.

But his piece de resistance was his interpretation of a three-wheeled bicycle. Children especially loved pedalling it by the creek.

Throughout the day, a fascinated stream of people peered up and down and around his inventions.

At 76 years of age, he has spent the last ten years recycling and building things.

HIs motivation is simple. 'I was trying to build something I could sell to get out of the Tenderloin!' he said.

'Is there a big market for this sort of thing?'

'No!' he said.

But for fun and entertainment at public occasions, we say...

Keep 'pedalling' Jim!

pics show Ginny Stearns with her conservation work and art; the puzzle of the water-pump with the Spoon Moon Jogger behind; Jim Tulare with two-year-old James

Ginny can be contacted and her work viewed at: and

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mission Creek Sports Park - Sports

Saturday saw the Grand Opening of the visionary Mission Creek Sports Park beneath the freeway at Mission Bay...see previous blogs....

One of the outstanding achievements of the sports park is to have the only beach volleyball court in San Francisco.

It sits at the end of the creek and, like the basketball court opposite, is under cover of the freeway and sheltered from the weather.

Little could the designers have known when they conceived their plans that Misty May and Kerri Walsh would catapult the sport into the headlines by

winning their second Olympic gold medal.

The court has been ready for a few weeks and is already popular.

'I think it's wonderful they have this court available,' said Erin. 'This is the second time I've been here. It is a great environment and a nice resource.'

Erin and Cassie, both in their twenties and regular players, were sitting on the side at a picnic bench watching a match.

Cassie said that up to now they had been having to travel as far away as Santa Cruz to play so it was great to have a city court.

'Only we don't want it to be too popular!' quipped Erin.

Since Cassie discovered the park, she has been organizing games of both five or six a side, and twos, she said.

Does she have any aspirations to be the next Misty May and Kerri Walsh?

She laughed, joking about her age of 25 years. 'I realise that if I'm not on that track by now, I never will be!' she said.

The basketball court across the path was full of people from early morning enjoying practicing skills and playing games that were organized by volunteers.

'I think it's really great that they have all these volunteers to set something up for the community. It gives us a chance to meet our neighbours,' said Ada.

Later in the day some were trying out the new fenced-in tennis courts on the other side of the freeway.

Others took advantage of the bright sunshine and paddled up the creek in bright red and yellow kayaks past picturesque houseboats.

The craft are stored in an artistically designed Kayak House alongside the creek that is especially eye-catching at night. Styled as a hull of a historic wooden ship with a translucent blue skin, it is lit at night and shines like a beacon down the path.

More a lighthouse than a Kayak House!

A plaque on the side describes it as 'a small dramatic structure that adds a whimsical sculptural element to the park's experience.' That it certainly is. It's designers are MK Think, an architectural and designer firm, and the kayaks are owned and run by UCSF Campus Life Services and are able to be hired by the public.

During the Grand Opening party, children had their own spot too. A long table had been set up near the volleyball and basket ball courts where they could sit and crayon and have their faces painted by Fairy Willow.

Dad Frank, sitting with one-year-old Kenton on his knee and four-year-old Kelly playing alongside, was very happy with the park.

'I like it here,' he said. 'This is good to meet people and know how to get community,' he said.

And if you didn't want to engage in sports, you could simply stroll around the beautiful gardens or sit by the side of the creek admiring the view and listening to the band, the aptly named Pollo del Mar.

pics show the volleyball court; Fairy Willow, Kenton (1), Frank, Kelly (4); basketball with Ada, in pink.

For more pics click here

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Unique 'Pooch Park' at Mission Creek

Saturday saw the Grand Opening of the visionary Mission Creek Sports Park beneath the freeway at Mission Bay...see previous blog...

The sports park is not just for two-legged members of the community!

Aware of the popularity of dogs in San Fran society, designers have included a unique dog park.

And to mark the Grand Opening, beloved pooches had their own sports and social programme!

Situated at the end of the new sports facilities, the small park is completely closed in with secure fencing and gates. It is covered in tiny stones rather than grass, with a path and benches along one side and newly planted trees in the middle of the lower end.

While those of the two-legged species played ball games and paddled kayaks on the creek, high-spirited, agile members of the four-legged community practiced their sporting abilities too.

They leapt over bars, padded through a tube and dunked in paddling pools for balls, all the while keeping up with their busy social lives.

Sitting on a bench were proud parents Katie and Josh, watching Riley.

Katie was full of praise for the park. 'They made it especially for dogs. I think that's pretty cool,' she said.

What particularly attracts her to this 'pooch park' is the fact that it is a secure enclosure. 'This is the only one with a fence around it. You can sit here and read and play music while they play,' she said.

Riley, an appealingly cuddly miniature golden doodle - a cross between a poodle and retriever - was attempting a run through the tube.

At first cautious, he made a few footfalls into the tube and retreated each time, even nipping round the side in between attempts to keep up with Miss Maddie and his other pals.

However, with gentle coaxing from Christine of the San Francisco SPCA, who were supervising activities, he soon made his - maiden?! - master run.

And with his new skill tucked firmly under his fur, he was off, tail high and nose down moseying along the path to find his next adventure.

'He's too bright for his own good!' said Katie.

Not only bright, but as a dog that resembles a giant teddy bear, he is a showstopper wherever he goes. Car drivers when they spot him, Katie said, seem compelled to call out of their window at him, 'Teddy Bear!'

Skipping around Riley was Miss Maddie, a pretty, white Havanese, and Bogie, an alert, nimble-footed chihuahua, who also navigated their way through the tube.

A few moments later, showing great gamesmanship, they raced away to join an excited cluster of bigger dogs that had bounded over to scale the agility bars and chase each other.

Miss Maddie's mum, Anita, liked the park. 'I think it's great,' she said, but also commented, 'I would like more grass but I think the maintenance is expensive.'

'The most positive thing is that you get to meet more people,' she added.

Anita and Miss Maddie are already familiar with the sports park, which has been open informally for a few weeks. In the summer Anita held Miss Maddie's first-birthday party there at the picnic tables on the grass beneath the freeway.

'I set up a nice little spread, a lot of the dogs were there,' she said.

Bogie was one of the guests and mum, Davi, was complimentary of the park.

'I think it's great for the community and what they did today is excellent,' she said. 'The park's been open for a while but not many people know about it. It needs a grand opening.'

Another party guest enjoying himself was Ace, a cute mini schnauzer whose dad, Jack, agreed with Anita about the surface of the dog park.

'I think grass would be preferable,' he said. 'A lot of us were over at the park on the other side of Mission Creek. One, it's ten times the size of the ground and it's easier for dogs to play in.

'Unless they're chasing a ball, the dogs tend to stay on the path. And it's dusty. The big dogs kick up the dust.'

Lending a helping paw in public relations that day was Capone, sportily dressed in a sloganned tee-shirt. He was supporting dad, Rob, a lawyer and co-owner of Who Let the Dogs Out!, in their canvas booth on the other side of the fence.

Rob was impressed with the overall development of both the sports park and area. 'This is starting to become a robust neighbourhood,' he said.

'This was a blighted, run-down area of San Francisco. They've done a great job in rennovating it. It's also good because it's got lots of affordable housing.'

Of the dog park, though, he was more reserved in his comments.

It needs more shade and a natural surface,' he said, also mentioning dust levels. But he conceded that the difficulty for the city of grassing the area lay in maintenance.

He pointed to a clump of trees in the distance on Potrero Hill and said that was the park he used.

His company are familiar in nearby streets with their smart red vans and large white lettering, and offer dog walking and jogging, vet and groomer taxi services and boarding.

By the entrance to the dog park was the SPCA stall with Tracy standing there. 'Agility classes,' she said of the activities in the park that day, 'are a great way to exercise high energy dogs and to work on their training. And,' she added, 'it's a sport.'

She said the organization provides an education for training, agility or obedience, and in San Francisco works exclusively with dogs and cats. All SPCA units are autonomous so some work with a wider range of animals, she explained.

With so many young people not getting married or having children until later in life, she said, the dogs are their children, so an important part of the SPCA's work is to foster good relationships between tenants with dogs, and landlords who are reluctant to give them a home.

Not only do the SPCA work with owners to train their dogs but they provide a canine resume proving all-important 'good tenant' qualifications.

Overall, Americans spend $39 billion on their dogs each year and, Tracy said, 'There are more dogs in San Francisco than children - and that's licensed dogs!'

She was philosophical about the park's stony surface.

'I think maybe the dogs would prefer grass or sand because the stones can get stuck in their paws. But these dogs are having a good time!' she said.

Christine, who had strolled over, agreed. 'I think they're so happy to be off leash,' she said.

And of the lack of shade, she said, 'These trees are going to grow. Eventually they are going to give shade. This is a new park.'

pics show: dogs enjoying the agility bars and tube; the lower end of the park; Jack & Ace, Davi & Bogie, Anita & Miss Maddie

Happy belated birthday wishes, Miss Maddie!

Click here for more pics.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Opening of Mission Creek Sports Park

'Volleyball under a freeway! exclaimed San Fran's mayor, Gavin Newsom this afternoon. 'This is an example for the nation!'

His statement heralded the opening of a visionary sports park at Mission Creek, a park he defined as not just iconic for San Francisco but for the nation.

Several hundred people today were celebrating the Grand Opening of the Mission Creek Sports Park in downtown San Fran as part of the 2008 Mission Bay Parks Festival. They also saw the festival inaugurated as an annual event in the city's calendar.

The sports park, sited literally under the expressway, is a triumphant reclamation of 4.5 acres of neglected, partly shady land.

The former disused land lies at the end of the creek running down from the Giants' ballpark. It's sporty and recreational makeover includes a designer kayak house, beach volleyball, basket ball and tennis courts, garden and grassy areas, a children's playground and dog park, in part artistically designed around enormous concrete pillars that support the freeway. Restroom facilities are soon to be added.

To mark the occasion a great number of activities took place from early morning to mid-afternoon, including sports and face-painting for children, a charity event, and informative displays on conservation and development of the Mission Bay area. There was also a band that played throughout the day, a couple of local artists, and stalls promoting Mercy Housing and rental or purchase of newly-built condos and apartments.

'Candidly, I saw the vision of this project a few years ago but you never know how well things are going to turn out,' said Mayor Newsom. The outcome, he said, had exceeded his expectations.

Standing alongside the translucent blue Kayak House, he recounted taking a kayaking trip from Sausalito.

'I got out under the Golden Gate Bridge! I ain't never going to do it again! he said. With a glance at the far gentler waters of the creek, he smiled, 'This is more my style!'

Thrilled at the benefits that the park will bring to the community, he said that the city had also redone 70 parks and playgrounds in every community.

Two Proclamations were presented to formally establish the park and also the Mission Bay Parks Festival as an annual event.

One, signed by the mayor on behalf of the City and County of San Francisco, was read out by compere Corinne Woods, Chair of the Mission Bay Citizens Advisory Committee.

The second, a brief one from the California Legislature, was read by Francee Covington, Commission President of the SF Redevelopment Agency, and is as follows:

"Congratulations on celebrating the Grand Opening of the Mission Creek Sports Park. I commend your efforts in providing recreational facilities for the benefit of the community. Your dedication and commitment continue to contribute to the public wellbeing. Congratulations and thank you for all that you do!' It was signed by Assemblyman Mark Leno.

Commenting on the park, the Commission President said, 'This is a gorgeous park and I'm happy to be here,' adding that it is the fifth one in Mission Bay.

The Director of the Redevelopment Agency, Mr Fred Blackwell, also spoke. He called the park a 'wonderful' achievement.

'I'm new at the job,' he said, 'I get the opportunity to get the credit for a lot of things that have gone on here!'

He described the urban development project as a 'mixed use area' that is transit-oriented and includes retail and commercial units, and housing.

The area is a showcase for some of the latest expensive apartments and condos, but Mr Blackwell said 30 per cent was affordable housing to reflect the entire city of San Francisco.

At the end of the main speeches, a long turquoise ribbon attached to kayak paddles was unfurled. Mayor Newsom, waving a large pair of scissors, cheerfully invited all those who wanted to join him to stand behind it!

A small number of people eagerly clustered with Maxwell the beagle in centre spot.

And then with the whole crowd giving a hearty countdown followed by a few - wrist-wrenching! -snips...San Francisco had one of the most innovative parks in the country and a new festival.

***other interviews to follow***

Click here for an album of pics

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Misty May and Kerri Walsh in San Fran

Olympic gold medallists Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh are in San Francisco!

Hundreds of people turned out this afternoon to sit in hot sunshine on the end of a pier to watch them play in a beach volleyball tournament. And afterwards the girls willingly mingled with excited supporters who queued for their autographs.

To loud cheers, Misty and Kerri won their match, 21 - 17 in the first game and 21 - 16 in the second, and are through to the quarterfinals to be played tomorrow.

The girls are rising celebrities since they won their second gold medal and are having an enormous influence on the sport and young people.

As the match was in progress, three thirteen-year-old girls were allowed by an official to kneel close to the pitch and take pics.

Afterwards, the teenagers were exuberant.

'I really like Kerri Walsh and Misty May,' said Lizie. 'I think they're really good together. They have talent! Very good talent!'

While Julia said, 'I think it's really cool that we can see them up close and that we can get their autographs, because I'm a really big fan of Kerri Walsh and Misty May.'

'I've known them for a couple of years - I've been watching them for a couple of years,' explained Payne. 'I think they are amazing athletes and I remember watching them at the Olympics and watching them now, it's really cool.'

All three girls play beach volley ball themselves. Payne added of watching Misty and Kerri, 'It encourages me to play like them.'

While Lizie said with a big smile, ' It inspires us.' Julia nodded enthusiastically at her side.

The tournament is called the AVP Crocs Cup Shootout and is being held on Pier 30 -32, about midway between the Giants' ballpark and Fisherman's Wharf.

The gold medallists' opponents were Annett Davis and Jenny Johnson Jordon, an equally tall and athletic-looking duo who for a few rounds in the first game kept the scoring close with some spirited and skilful play.

But the superb skills of the Olympians were destined to win out. Watching the girls in real life gives an appreciation of their athletic physique and prowess. It was also fun to see their finger-waggling secret communications to each other behind their backs.

In the second game, as the score reached 20 - 15 the crowd were asked to stand for match point. We were almost there! The game closed to resounding cheers at 21 - 16.

Some of the tournament proceeds are going to a children's charity, Dig 4 Kids. This helps to provide education and exercise programmes in disadvantaged communities and was founded by another Olympic Gold Medallist in beach volleyball, Eric Fonoimoana, eight years ago.

During one of the breaks, a group of young people scrabbled in the sand to find a plastic bottle of hair product hidden on behalf of hair company Paul Mitchell.

For the winning girl who produced it with a flourish, the prize was...a volley ball!

Afterwards, at the end of the match, a group of young girl dancers and singers, the Beach Girlz, performed on a small stage to a backing version of the Beachboys.

But many of the crowd still had their eyes on Misty and Kerri. Misty sat in the players' rest area by the side of the pitch to meet the public while Kerri moved slightly out of the pitch arena. She organised the crowd into a long queue, and with police keeping an eye on security, happily stood and signed autographs, many signatures going onto mini volley balls that people were wearing around their necks.

I caught up again with Lizie, Julia and Payne and so took another pic of them triumphant with autograph.

Also in the queue were a young couple who had thoroughly enjoyed the match. 'It looked like they- Misty and Kerri - beat them easily,' said the guy.

Did they think the crowd were fired up in support of them, rather than the other girls?

'Yes,' said the girl I was speaking to, 'I think they're fired up because they - Misty and Kerri - won the gold medal.'

Kerri, who is from San Jose, in the Bay Area was interviewed on Friday by NBC and repeated what she said after the Olympics that both she and Misty hope to retire for a while to start families.

***pics show the tournament and autograph signings
***pic of Lizie, Julia and Payne have blurred faces at the request of one of their mum's.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

9/11 Giants Ballpark Memorial 2008

'I heard the first one (plane) hit, and I saw the second plane hit,' said Tony, reliving the terrible disaster at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Visibly distressed, he was standing outside the Giants' ballpark this morning searching for the name of his friend and friend's brother on the enormous banners that list every person who died.

'It's very upsetting. I'm looking for my friend who died, Sean,' he said. 'He and his brother died in the World Trade Centre.'

A young New Yorker, Tony is visiting San Francisco and had stopped from a jog to reflect at the Giants' memorial. It didn't take long to find the names of Sean Patrick Lynch and his brother, Farrell Peter Lynch.

When you love somebody they (the terrorists) can't take that memory away. He was so funny, so funny,' he said, his voice petering out.

At the time of the attack, Tony was living in downtown New York. He remembered hearing the first plane hit.

'You don't hear that sound in New York city, so I said, "That's not right,"' he said. 'In fact, I heard the plane flying over. It was so low, I said "That's not right."

'So I walked down and all of a sudden I saw a giant fireball.' At that moment he knew America was under attack and the rest of the day was unreal.

'The whole day was like you were living outside of your body. Where are your loved ones? Where is everybody? How can we help?' he said. 'We don't do a lot right as Americans, we're bullies. But the taking of life forcibly is not the answer.'

HIs thoughts led momentarily to reflections on the the Iraq war. 'You know we hurt so many people in the war. You feel guilty.'

But then he returned to Sean and his brother. 'They were Irish guys. Sean and I went to school together.'

In a brief, final tribute to Sean, he said, 'He was a funny guy. A good dad.'

And then he continued on to the bay front to grieve in private.

Only minutes earlier I had left the vicinity of the Giants' offices where Shana Daum, Public Affairs officer, had talked to me about the memorial.

'We designed them,' she said of the banners that are strung between palm trees on the plaza by the entrance to the ballpark. They were first hung as a very visible, public tribute on the first anniversary of the tragedy in 2002.

Several Giants' fans died on 9/11 and the Giants pride themselves justifiably on their family ethos.

"We all know someone, or someone had a friend who knew someone, who died. Lots of people from the Bay Area were killed that day. A number of people who were killed on the airplanes were Giants' fans,' said Shana.

The Giants, she said, chose to honour the memories of those who died in this way because 'It was the right thing to do. It was a national tragedy that affected all of us and we believe it's something you can't forget, and that's why we continue to do it every year whether our baseball team are playing at home or not.'

The plaza borders the main street that runs along the bay front up to the tourist centre of Fisherman's Wharf and was chosen as the memorial site for that reason. As such a public place, the Giants saw it as a focal point for tourists and fans.

'We have a place where they can come, it's such a beautiful spot with the palm trees and the statue of Willie Mays,' she said.

The Giants have honoured the memories of the fans who died in various ways. On that first anniversary, their families were invited to stand on the field before the start of the baseball game, and they have been invited to other games and functions as guests.

***I found a tribute to Sean and Farrell's family, and especially to Farrell online. Click here.

***The blue banner names the crew and passengers on the four aircraft.

Memorial Service for 9/11

Sombre memorial services for the firefighter victims of 9/11 were held at all fire stations across San Francisco early this morning.

In the dimmed light of almost 7 am firefighters stood respectfully in the streets and read out the names of all 343 of their comrades.

'It means a lot to us because 343 of our firefighter brothers died. Every year we hold the ceremony at the same exact time when the second plane hit - 6.59 am in San Francisco and 9.59 am in New York - and we have the flag put to half mast all day long,' said Battalion Chief Kirk Richardson.

Battalion Chief Richardson was speaking at his unit in Bluxome Street, just off 4th Street.

At the completion of the roll call, a firefighter on the roof of the station solemnly tolled a bell three times and lowered the flag to half mast. There then followed a minute's silence.

Fire Chief Richardson said no members of this unit were directly involved in the tragedy but members from the Battalion spent quite a few weeks there helping in the recovery effort.

'A lot went to attend funerals,' he said.

Members of the public were invited to attend the memorial services. In the quiet side street here, three people paused and joined in while a few others drove slowly past.

Eric Barnes stopped on his way to work. 'I think it was very nice. Very touching to listen to,' he said.

But he was angry at former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani. 'They - the firefighters - didn't have to die. Rudy Giuliani refused year after year to buy a decent set of radios. They warned him they could not communicate on the walkie talkies they had in tall buildings and Giuliani told them '"No", they could not have a new communication system.'

Firefighters pressed their case and eventually Giuliani acceded, but gave a 'no-bid contract' to a friend who provided a system that was no better than the old one, said Eric.

'The enormous loss of life of firefighters was due to the fact they could not hear the evacuation orders before the buildings collapsed.'

I put this point to Battalion Chief Richardson.

'Communications could have been better but wouldn't have prevented the tragedy,' he said. 'There were no communications between the police and firefighters.'

The police, he added, had a helicopter in the air and so had a better view and were able to give evacuation orders to their officers. But he stressed that 'no-one knew the Twin Towers were going to come crashing down.'

'Communications are always a problem. It is to this day, pretty much for all the emergency services. We're still trying to work our way through it but it's gotten a lot better,' he said.

Monday, September 8, 2008

HIlton San Diego Resort & Spa

Sitting on a cushioned sunbed in a cabana - open-sided tent - in scorching temperatures besides a shimmering pool is a luxurious way to spend the day!

Beyond the pool is a sparkling lake and as we gaze between palm trees we see the tips of sails race by, their windsurfers unseen below.

Around us are beautiful grounds filled with palm trees and flowers, and a thin ribbon of pale sandy beach contours the lake.

We have found an ideal retreat in the Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa. Tucked in on Mission Bay, it is an hour's flight away from San Francisco.

On this sweltering afternoon we are enjoying watching lots of people have fun in the pool from young couples to families with children. Even tiny babies are having a gentle swirl.

And we have found the ideal cabana! For the first time we are poolside with internet access and a TV!

With wifi and power points, we can send pics to our family or work if we have to! Or keep up with the news or watch a film on the TV hanging in the corner on large hooks. All whilst reclining on luxury orange sunbeds.

This is supposed to be a holiday location, but the couple next to us seem quite happy to spend all day on their laptops!

Of course this cushioned indolence comes at a price, costing an extra $75 dollars a day at the weekend but was free yesterday (Friday) though whether there is seasonal variation on charging, I can't say. If you simply want to check your email, a tip is that you can pick up a free signal by sitting close by.

For our money we have also been given a complimentary fruit bowl - I expected an exotic fruit platter but it is only four crisp apples, and definitely not for the dentally-challenged! - a jug of lemonade and a few bottles of water.

The poolside service here is excellent, too, with a great cocktail selection, mostly with rum as you would expect for a city with one eye on the Caribbean. And also has a charming Paris look-alike as hostess!!!

This is Rajah-style living in the New Millenium in San Diego!

Across the lake we can see the observation tower of Sea World ascending and descending only a mile away, and during the season up to the end of August, the nightly firework displays can be watched from here.

The resort also offers a comfy, shady seating area with hot tub, a spa, wedding services and a wide range of water sports and activities.

Today wedding preparations are in full swing. A white-painted, wooden bower decked in red bougainvillea stands on the grass giving views across the lake. In an area to the side of the pool, paper lanterns are being hung and pink sashes tied in bows to chairs. The wedding party have been here celebrating since yesterday.

...I have just made a trip to our room and coincidentally caught sight of the bride in musical procession making her way down the 'aisle'. Apart from the absence of a church, there are all the attractive trappings of a traditional wedding...

For those who wish to be active, there are bikes of all sizes to hire to cycle on the path around the lake, including ones for small children and ones with a child's bike attached. Or simply the opportunity for a scenic walk.

And then there are water sports, hugely popular on a day like today. Wind surfing, kayaking, sailing including on yachts and catamarans, jet and water skiing, scuba diving and snorkelling. There is also beach volley ball for anyone aspiring to an Olympic gold!

As usual, the day ends with food! A review of a bar and one of the restaurants is in my next blog.

Overall, the amenities, location and service are highly recommended. The resort appears to be particularly family-friendly with children's facilities, and the staff are especially pleasant and attentive.

For further info on the resort click here.