Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Earth, Wind, Fire & Oil

Another week, another Chevron perk! This time it was their sponsorship of a concert at Wente Vineyards. It turns out that there's wine country south of us as well as north, quite a bit in the Livermore region, and Wente is one of the oldest, run by the fifth generation of the family.

To supplement their wine business they've diversified, with a posh restaurant on site, a golf course, and a little concert venue where this year they're hosting a "legends" series; Liza Minelli, Willie Nelson, and tonight Earth, Wind & Fire. A friend's brother was into them when I was growing up, and Hannah had one song on a tape she got free with breakfast cereal, but I have to admit to being more interested in the free buffet.

Everything was very nicely done, and we sat around corporate tables on the lawn enjoying food and drink. There was a customer survey card left at each table setting, with the first question being "Do you own a Mercedes Benz?" I didn't bother to look at the rest. It got quite chilly, although the wine maker who introduced the band told us that this was perfect for the grapes. They're obviously made of hardier stuff them us.

The band was excellent, and funkier than they should have been given their age (next year they celebrate 40 years together! Although I think only three original members are left out of about 12). We danced and cheered, which warmed things up considerably. Chevron linked to environmental warming? Nah.

Plenty of people could answer "yes" to customer survey question one.

The band! Earth on the left, Wind on the right, Fire in the middle.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Festival city

Oakland has one of the worst crime rates in America (to be fair, there are 23 worse places) but when people aren't shooting each other they like to have festivals! We BARTed there today for Eat Real. "Putting the food back in fast" the sign said. Unfortunately the shuttle buses weren't fast, or even existent, so we decided to walk the 12 minutes from the station to the event.

Wouldn't you know, on the way we bumped into another festival! This one seemed Chinese in origin, with a few dragons and lots of free food (appetizers before the main event). The queuing system was decidedly non-British, and dependent on age. Pensioners could push in and grab freebies whenever they wanted, us youngsters (ha!) had to hang back. It worked quite well.

Eventually we got to the right festival and were greeted with street upon waterfront street of kiosks selling food. Sorry SF, this is one that Oakland did a lot better than you. We met up with Fi and headed to the wine bar before perusing the merchandise and chowing down some pulled pork, some Argentinean Epanadas (almost as good as Fini's), some rabbit (Hannah reliving childhood stews), and ice cream. Then, with the sun uncharacteristically blazing down, we sat through a phenomenal butchery competition where two professionals cut up half a pig carcass each in 30 minutes in front of a cheering crowd. Wow, I would not want to get on the wrong end of their blades.

The only downside of the day was that I was mistaken for an Australian. Twice! I know they're used to seeing convicts around Oakland, but really...

Someone had evidently eaten the shuttle bus.

Still, no worries when you serendipitously find a festival!

Dragons standing on poles! Impressive, even before you realise there are two people, pantomime style, in each costume.

Festival #2. More people. The sun brings them out.

Cheers from the wine tent.

What do you do with an old school bus? Turn it into a mobile industrial kitchen!

I hope Gerard is hungry.

Pork lover.

Not a Cornish pasty, an Empanada.

More pictures of people eating.

Two bee or not two bee.

They'd removed the fluffy ears and cotton tails before serving.

Butcher vs. butcher.

Dave the butcher, the winner, shows his skills.

Prime cuts.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

V.J. Day

After many years of distinguished service in the US military, today Vince received a well deserved promotion to Major. Apparently this makes him a 'field officer' which means he gets to stay behind at HQ and give orders rather than having to go into battle himself. A nice perk.

We made the trip down to Monterey with Silvi, Ignacio, and ever-growing Ignacito, and onto the military base where Vince and Christine are learning Russian in anticipation of becoming diplomats in Moscow (or Azerbaijan, or Kyrgyzstan). You thought the Cold War had been rough this far?

The ceremony was actually very touching, with a senior officer saying lots of nice things about Vince while a crowd of military and civilian guests cheered him on. Vince got a certificate (in a frame!) and new things to wear on his shoulders. Who says the British are the only ones who do pomp and ceremony? After that the real celebration began at The Crown and Anchor pub. Major Vincent J. Mucker - I suppose I have to give you more respect now.

Every trip has to start with a decent brunch.

And photos with the baby.

Hannah tries on a Major's hat for size.

Things get started on the base with a reading of the orders that promote Vince. Everyone stands to attention - very proper.

Vince's real senior officer gets to apply the new rank.

Attendance award.

The navy congratulates the army. A first?

The forces need more officers like Silvi.

I try to strike an appropriately epic pose. "You look like a customs officer," Ignacio remarked.

"We all know who's really in charge," says Claire with a wink.

Military family.

So guys, about this war in Afghanistan...

Spot the American citizen.

Which one has the greatest potential for destruction?

Me, Claire, and a properly dressed soldier.

As you would expect, there are some traditions involved in such a day as this. Here is Vince having to race Jack to the bottom of a pint of beer to retrieve his Major's badge. There's also something involving everyone punching the new officer, but apparently that's frowned upon these days. Pity.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Boiling point

I'm typing this blog lying on our sofa in my underwear. A lovely image, I know, but this is not for your enjoyment but merely the practicality of getting maximum surface area exposed to the air conditioner.

Today the temperatures in Walnut Creek hit 100 and kept going. Fahrenheit, rather than centigrade, but to be honest it wouldn't make much difference. The familiar English feeling of always being slightly damp due to constant rain has been replaced by unending sweatiness. "You sweat two pints a day through your feet!" my Dad always used to tell us, his rationale for making us always wear socks (even on the beach). I used to scoff, but now I have a suspicion he's right.

When discussing the situation with Israeli friends they've told me to close the windows and turn on the air con. Close the windows? In England you open the windows to cool the house down, or to let the smoke from your coal-burning fire out into the frigid August air. Still, I have followed their advice and things are certainly more pleasant.

It's due to drop to less concrete-cracking temperatures later in the week, when more manageable warmth in the high-80s (28C) is expected. 28C is manageable - that's how suburban Californian we've become. As for tonight, I'll be sleeping in the pool.

101F (38C) in the shade. They don't have a thermometer in the sun because it would melt or explode or something.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Glorious food

It was back into the city today for the 2nd annual (i.e. they had it last year) SF Street Food Fair. Various food vendors lined several streets in the Mission district offering tasty treats, all organised by La Cocina, a very interesting, very West Coast "incubator" for food entrepreneurs. Basically if you have a foodie idea you can rent their kitchen space and they'll help you start your business. Maybe they'll help me introduce British cuisine around here (tripe, boiled brussel sprouts, spotted dick, etc.)

Last year they expected 5,000 visitors and got 13,000. This year they expected 13,000 and got 20,000. This made it all a little crowded, but Hannah and I hungrily pushed our way through to sample some crunchy organic granola, make-your-own fruit pies, and a Virgin Mary made from jelly.

San Franciscans like their food.

Not sure what they were cooking.

They weren't casting the nanny, only the troublesome families. Disappointed.

Immaculate Consumption.

And after all that, you need...

Night on the town

It's been many years since Hannah and I frequented trendy city bars. Hang on, we've never frequented trendy city bars! That's probably why it felt so strange heading into SF last night for our friend Sarah's birthday party.

We started early with a quick drink with Jack and Amanda, up from Monterey with some guests, and then decided to walk to the birthday bar instead of, you know, spend money on transport that might be safe and convenient. It turned out that our route (kindly supplied by Hannah's new Chevron smartphone) took us through the middle of the Tenderloin district, just as night began to fall.

A skim of the Wikipedia page on the Tenderloin offers such highlights as "a seedy character and reputation for crime", "a high crime neighborhood, particularly violent street crime such as robbery and aggravated assault", "brazen daylight shootings", etc. It quickly became clear that we didn't really want to be there, so I put on my scariest face and hoped that, if confronted, my English accent would charm any would be attackers. We also walked very fast and didn't look at anyone.

Thankfully we completed our journey without incident in a time that Roger Bannister would be proud of, and were soon in a much nicer neighbourhood where the only crime was how much they charged for drinks. It's amazing how quickly the character of this city changes within a couple of blocks. Where I grew up you could walk for miles and only see cows and apples (and the odd witch). We enjoyed our drinks and caught a lift with Dan and Fiona back to the suburbs, where we belong.

Dan shows off his posh side with a "Lychee Mermaid" cocktail at Bar 821.

Mixing it up with fellow ex-Haasies.

Young? Trendy? No.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Goodbye Hanno

After a week of showing off the finest sights that the West Coast has to offer, we put Hanno on a plane back to the East. It was a fine few days of reminiscing about the North East of England (Hanno still does a mean Geordie accent), eating at the finest restaurants (In 'n' Out, The Cheesecake Factory), and being taught about classical music (apparently it doesn't all sound the same). He also admitted to always wanting a pet sea lion when younger, so SF really was the perfect city.

Tourist on a cable car.

Roller-coaster SF.

Thrill seeking on the outside of the cable car. Wearing a new sun hat!


Always new things to see in this city...

Monday, 16 August 2010

Wine, woods

Hanno's whistle-stop weekend tour of California included wine country (19 is old enough to drink in the UK...), Marin County, the Pacific, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Up among the vineyards we went to a strange Haas Alumni event that had been advertised as a relaxing wine-based social but turned out to be a frantic find-a-job networking opportunity. My shorts and t-shirt gave me away as an impostor fairly quickly, at least until the Singer girls arrived and all hell (otherwise known as Sofia) broke loose.

Hanno, with one of his role models.

Sticking to some legal olive oil tasting.

Outside the impressive Jacuzzi Cellars.

The alumni event. I met a lady who had been to Haas in 1988 when it was $700 a semester.

Not sure what they'd been drinking...

Today, in the redwoods.

The Pacific: windy.

By the bridge, too British to ask someone to take a picture of all three of us.