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Tom Briant

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

San Francisco - Cold, Foggy, Shabby, Crammed with People, Glorious and Beautiful

Every year when we come to MacWorld, I'm always reminded that San Francisco is a city of contrasts. One block has homes that are on every tourist's Facebook entry, while a few blocks over are abandoned buildings, covered with grime and graffiti. One day you have sunshine and temperate weather, the next day it's raining, dark, cold, and seemingly deserted. 

And of course there's the fog. 

But there are also beautiful sights to see, and a lot of art and culture all over the place. While we haven't taken in much of the music that's available -- we'll save that for another year -- we are busy getting in all the tourist stops we can, along with an exhibition at the Asian Art Museum, "Maharaja: The Splendor of India's Royal Courts".  So this afternoon should be one of those days when we come out of a museum with our memories stuffed full of beautiful and priceless works of art. There's nothing better than that. 

And last night we had a bowl of clam chowder at Pier 39 that was pretty good. We keep trying new restaurants down at Fisherman's Wharf. 

But best of all, yesterday we went to the Winchester House. It was built and built and built by Sarah Winchester, the widow of the man whose company manufactured the Winchester rifle, the gun that won the west. It's said that Sarah built the house to appease the spirits of all those gunned down by her husband's rifles. 

That lady must have seen thousands of haunts, and she built rooms for almost every one of them. Most of them are small, cabinet-sized rooms, while a few are large enough to be comfortable and livable. Of course, the only person who lived there was Sarah herself. She had a ballroom built, but no one ever danced there. There are music rooms that had instruments such as pianos, organs, and violins, but only Sarah heard the music that she made. 

Sarah Winchester was a brilliant woman and a trained musician, but she lived in a era when women were not allowed to have lives of their own. So she created a vast, lonely, and downright spooky home, that was her lifelong labor. 

The most interesting spots for me were the doorway that opens to the outdoors -- one story off the ground! Watch that first step; it's a doozy. There are staircases that go nowhere, and there is a seance room where Sarah is said to have communed with good spirits every night at midnight. 

Yet Sarah was a practical woman. She grew extensive orchards, and shipped fruits to companies that in turn sold jellies and jams and other fruit products over a wide area. She had elevators installed, and one of her elevators worked on hydraulics. She had her own water supply, irrigation systems, and gaslights that were fueled by acetylene that was made right on her own property. She also had indoor plumbing that was very advanced for those days. And we saw a small gasoline engine that ran an electric generator for the electricity that was installed in the early 20th century. 

We took the general tour through many of the 160 rooms in about one hour. It was like a room a minute. And we also took the behind the scenes tour through the basement with its enormous furnace, and through the stables where she kept her carriage horses in cozy comfort. Presumably, they had no problems with the spirits in the stables. 

Arnold's just come back, so we're off for another day of sightseeing. 

More to come!

Cristael & Arnold

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