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San Francisco Day 3

We began the Day 3 by traveling form our hotel down the hill on a cable car – for the fun of it!  We then visited the Cable Car Museum to observe the cables that are constantly running underground to keep the cars moving.  While the cables are moving, a gripman uses a lever to grab the cable and the car moves.  When he releases the lever the car stops.  It is a simple mechanism that takes lots of maintenance since the cables fray and need replacing and the gripper on the lever wears out.  There are eight different cable car lines and each has its own, constantly moving, cable.  The cable cars date from 1873 and enabled the city to expand up the steep hills, hills that were treacherous for horse and wagons.

The red arrow above is pointing to one of the constantly moving cables. Below is the device that grips the cable.

We then learned about some of the mansions that occupied Nob Hill but were destroyed in the 1906 Earthquake/Fire.  The largest was a 127 room Victorian built by Mark Hopkins, one of the “Big Four” very wealthy men who financed and created the Central Pacific Railroad. The railroad  became the western part of the First Transcontinental when it linked up with the eastern part in Utah in 1869.  Below is what the mansion looked like.  A hotel now occupies the site.

We visited Grace Cathedral also located on Nob Hill. Construction began on the church in 1927 and was completed in 1964.  It replaced one destroyed in the 1906 earthquake that dated back to the Gold Rush of 1849. The main doors of the Cathedral display a replica of the 15th century Gates of Paradise by Lorenzo Ghiberti that are on the Baptistry of the Cathedral in Florence, Italy.

The Cathedral is the third largest in the US and has gorgeous stained glass windows.

The church supports and promotes various arts events including an annual artist residency.  Installed in a side aisle of the nave is this years project by Benjamin Bergery and Jim Campbell, entitled “Jacobs Ladder.”  It consists of a ladder of light tubes with a changing pattern of colored lights that depict a figure moving up and downward that reference a passage in Genesis where Jacob has a dream where he sees angles descending and ascending a ladder to heaven.

The Ferry Building on the wharf is one of the few buildings that survived the earthquake and fire of 1906.  The building covers three acres and was the transportation hub for ferries until the 1930’s when the bridges were built to accommodate people coming to the city from the Bay Area.  Today it houses a food court and that is where we had lunch before hoping a ferry to Alcatraz.

The island started out as the first lighthouse and fort on the West Coast.  From 1850 to 1934 it was a military prison and then from 1934 to 1963 it was a federal prison.  Only three men escaped from Alcatraz who were never caught.  There is doubt that they survived the cold waters of the 1.25 miles to the mainland. Today it is a National Park.  The audio tour was an excellent way to learn about the facility.  Narrated by former prisoners and guards, the tour revealed inside perspectives of what it was like to be imprisoned there.

Referred to as “The Rock,” I was surprised to see the lush gardens on the grounds.  These gardens were started by the military families who lived on the island and were maintained by prisoners.  The park system has restored them as they were.

The prisoners occupied small, individual cells. The photo on the right is one of the cells where an escapee removed concrete around the opening of a ventilation duct using spoons.

Visiting Alcatraz was a sobering experience!


A Weekend with the DuPonts

I just returned from spending a delightful long weekend with friends outside of Philadelphia visiting two du Pont estates, Winterthur and Longwood Gardens. I had visited both places thirty years ago, but enjoyed returning at a different time of the year because the grounds and gardens change seasonally.

Winterthur was the boyhood home of Henry Francis du Pont (1880–1969.)  As an adult, Henry began to collect American decorative arts including architectural moldings and panelling, and to display them, he had some of the rooms in his mansion redone to display his collection. As his passion increased, additions were built on to the original portion of the house until now it is a museum with 175 period rooms with 90,000 objects that date between 1640 and 1860.


We toured about 10 of the rooms, some were rooms that Henry and his family lived in and others that were purely showrooms. There were some rooms that Henry imported in their entirety from other historic homes including wall paper and floor boards.




Henry, his wife, and two daughters loved to entertain and used both their home as well as the grounds for their parties.





The landscaping on the 60 acre estate is naturalistic with lots of specimen trees and shrubs arranged as glens, meadows, and wooded areas.  Winterthur is very well known for its fabulous display of azaleas, but we were a bit too early to see it.  Just a few were beginning to bloom. We did enjoy both pink and white  dogwood and cherry trees.



Longwood Gardens and house was the home of Pierre S. du Pont (1870 – 1954) whose passion was horticulture. During his life time, he created spectacular gardens of all sorts, a huge conservatory, and behind the scenes growing areas where plants were grown for display and research. The estate consists of 1000 acres of gardens and today has a budget of $50 million and a staff of 1,300 employees, students, and volunteers.  The house is very modest and is used as a small museum today.  The gardens, on the other hand, are spectacular!

We visited the conservatory first where there are 4600 plants in room after room, many with their own climate control. Most of the plants are changed throughout the year so they are viewed at the height of their blooming period.















We took a tour of the greenhouses which revealed how extensive the work is behind the scenes and how much research is done to improve plant stock.  We also learned that a major concern is to prevent diseases and insects from entering the gardens.  To this end, the new plants are all propagated in the greenhouses.  And they make their own garden soil in the room pictured below.


Now the staff is growing and preparing mums and poinsettias for fall and winter displays.


Here is a yellow Cllivia that was developed at Longwood.



All of the watering both in the greenhouses and in the conservatory is done by hand.  The hoses have valves that operate various water sources.


In the conservatory, the hoses are in the floor and the controls for the water options use special keys.


All of the maintenance in the conservatory and gardens is done at night – we saw no grounds crews at all.  And, all of the plants were in prime condition – no fading blooms or brown leaves at all!

Below is a wall garden with thousands of plants.  The corridor leads to the restrooms and in 2015 they were designated as the best public restrooms in the US.


The highlight of the outside gardens were the tulips which were in full display!  The photos look like they are right out of a bulb catalogue!





We finished our visit with the Italian garden that has a fountain feature.


Longwood is a place to return to many times because the gardens and displays change all the time.  For instance, there are extensive waterlily pools that don’t open until May.  There is also a mature topiary garden, a rose garden, wisteria and peony gardens, meadows, and more.  They are currently remodeling the main fountains that are programed for a light, sound, and dancing water display.  For more information, visit

While we were in mushroom territory, we visited a mushroom display room to see how they are commercially grown.


And for lunch I had a delicious porcini crepe!


Our final stop was a visit to the Brandywine River Museum to view paintings by the Wyeths and other painters in the American realist tradition.


In two weeks I am going to Sicily and expect to have lots to post then. Ciao for now.


New prints

I am very much enjoying working in the print studio here where I have access to great facilities and equipment in a creative and stimulating atmosphere.  Here are three prints that I finished yesterday, the first in a series of “Sticks and Stones.”  They measure 6 x 6 inches.  Obviously, I began with images of stones and am now working on some sticks. The images are a bit more realistic than I normally work, but they continue to be explorations of my interest in playing textures and patterns off one another.




Monarch butterflies

Since my first travel blog is no longer on-line, I am re-visiting some of my earlier travel experiences.  This one is from 2011.

Monarch butterflies go through four generations a year.  The first generation emerges from cocoons in March and April and they produce the next generation that emerge in May and June.  These produce the butterflies that appear in July and August and they make the ones that then appear in September and October.  While the first, second, and third generation live only two to six weeks, the butterflies of the “super” generation live six to eight months because they are larger and more vigorous. It is this super generation that travels to up to 2500 miles to California or Mexico for the winter months where the cycle beings again.

The Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed plants and then die. After four days, baby caterpillars are born and they devour the leaves of the milkweed for two weeks before spinning their cocoons. About ten days later, the butterflies emerge. The diminishing amount of milkweed plants in the US accounts for the decreasing number of Monarchs.



In 2011 I and friends, Linda and Steven Cohen, visited the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in the state of Michoacan, Mexico, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The reserve covers 350 square miles of high altitude terrain (up to 10,000 above sea level) where millions of Monarchs spend the winter in hibernation.  The butterflies are attracted to this area because of the altitude and the forests of oyamel firs on which they cling.

There are several entrances to the reserve and our guide took us to the one that offered horseback rides into the mountains. The soil was dry and loose and our horse would occasionally slide on the steep grade while kicking up clouds of dust.


After traveling by horseback long enough to get a sore butt, we then walked the rest of the way.  We began to notice some butterflies, then as we continued the butterflies became more dense until we were in the middle of the colony.  The boughs of the fir trees were sagging with the weight of butterflies – a lot of them when you consider how light one butterfly is! And because we were there in March, the butterflies were coming out of hibernation and filling the air creating a magical scene.




I spent my time alternating between being awe struck and photographing. I took hundreds of picture and present just a few here.






The Monarchs mate in Mexico and deposit their eggs on milkweed in Texas where the next generation will return to the northern US and Canada.


Here are Steven and Linda who were so patient with me as I struggled with breathing difficulties at the highest altitudes!

I am looking forward to planting a garden of milkweed next summer to help sustain the Monarchs!