Tuesday, our last full day in San Francisco, began with a visit to the Yerba Buena Arts complex, just south of Market Street. We walked past the stunning new Contemporary Jewish Museum, designed by Daniel Libeskind (about whom I wrote here):
We then crossed the gardens to view the Martin Luther King memorial:
But our main destination this morning was the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The guide books are right to say that the gallery's permanent collection struggles to live up to the building in which it's housed. SF MOMA's main strength lies in mid-twentieth century pop art, though the famous Jeff Koons sculpture of Michael Jackson and his chimp wasn't on display when we visited. I was more interested in the small selection of Post-Impressionist and Expressionist works on view, including a temporary exhibition of Paul Klee's sketchbooks. There were also some good pieces by Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and I liked this Vermeer-ish work by Gerhard Richter:
In the afternoon we decided to visit Telegraph Hill and the Coit Tower, going via Battery Street so that our fifteen-year-old son could make a pilgrimage to Linden Lab, home of Second Life. Then it was a steep climb up the Filbert Steps, accompanied by parrots chirping in the trees above, passing hillside houses that could have served as locations for Tales Of The City (Maupin lived around here while writing the books).
We didn't actually go up the Coit Tower, but the views from the surrounding gardens were breathtaking, and it was good to see the Rivera-inspired murals around the base of the tower, their social realism a reminder of San Francisco's radical heritage.
Returning to our hotel, we found ourselves mingling with security men in shades and earpieces, as limousines drew up and disgorged guests arriving for that evening's world premiere of Milk at the Castro Theater. The movie is based on Randy Shilts' biography of Harvey Milk, the gay San Franciscan district supervisor who was assassinated, along with Mayor George Moscone, in 1978. I had brought the book along to read on the flight, having already seen the brilliant documentary film by Rob Epstein. We retreated to the relative quiet of the hotel lounge, seating ourselves in a strategic position so we could see any celebrities who might happen to stroll through the lobby.
As we sat there, I noticed a familiar face, not to mention a familiar cream pantsuit, at a nearby table. It was none other than Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, taking afternoon tea with a couple of associates. She may have been there for the premiere, or simply passing through her home congressional district. Either way, it took a long time for us to catch the attention of the waitress, who was understandably preoccupied attending to the needs of the most powerful female politician in the country.
That evening, as we set out for a meal downtown, the Milk guests were assembling in the hotel lobby, waiting for their transport to the movie. Unfortunately the premiere had been sold out weeks before, so we were unable to join them. We didn't spot any more celebrities, but we did notice a large number of 'No on 8' badges.
On Wednesday morning, we did some last-minute shopping in Union Square before a final lunch at Scala's, and then got ready to leave for the airport. As we sped down the freeway, the driver had the car radio tuned to KCSM, the Bay Area jazz station that I often listen to via the internet when I'm working at home. Then there was one final celebrity sighting before take-off: in the departure lounge we saw a man and woman being filmed as they walked backwards along the moving walkway. I was informed by my son that the man was Tay Zonday, who apparently is some kind of Youtube star, probably recording his new video.
And so it was farewell to sunny San Francisco, and back to the wind and snow of England. We hadn't managed to do everything we wanted in our brief visit - Golden Gate Park, Haight-Ashbury and the Civic Center will have to be on the itinerary for a future visit. At the end of the day, H. and I are probably more East Coast than West Coast kind of people, but the five days we spent in this sparklingly diverse muddle of a city had been enormously enjoyable and endlessly stimulating.