January 2019

Night Bloom

Sometimes one’s winter heart is warmed by experiencing a glorious burst of civic engagement and mellow cooperation, one sparked by creative people who produce a communal artistic experience that leaves the participant stunned. And i said “participant” rather than “passive viewer”. This is not a museum. Not that i have anything against museums, just that, for me, there are higher forms.

One such form, to which my friend Bob took me just after Christmas, was Night Bloom, a light and sound exhibition at the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park.

So what is it? You can click on the link in the previous paragraph to get the official story, but the short version is that a company called Lightswitch put together a light show inside and outside the Conservatory, and some industrious volunteers figured out that the way to allow the maximum number of visitors to enjoy it without crowding is to admit a small group of people every hour on the hour from 5:00 to 11:00 PM.

You queue in front of the building shortly before your appointed hour. There’s a good view of the building, but it’s cold outside and there’s no need to be early since being at the front of the line confers precious little advantage.

Here’s the Conservatory from the waiting line.

Conservatory of Flowers Night Bloom

When your group’s time comes, you are admitted into the foyer and given an introductory talk by a witty, vivacious, and utterly delightful young Chinese woman. Not that i could understand more than a couple of words in her rapid-fire monolog, but she delivered it with such panache that i suspect she has training in the theater. Off to a great start here.

Then they flung the doors open, and as i passed the young woman who’d given us that fine introdution, i said “Brava” and gave her a thumb’s up, which she acknowledged with a chuckle. Then we were in the central hall, the part with our beloved 40-foot philodendron, the jewel in the Conservatory’s crown that bloomed 25 years ago when the director of the Conservatory was a ballsy young man who erected a scaffold beside the plant so that the adventuresome could climb way up there to the top to view the blossom.

After just a couple of minutes, people had started moving ahead at their own pace, so from then on we were well dispersed along the trail laid out through the conservatory, and there was no sense at all of being crowded since the trail as it wound around turned out to be a full mile long. On the contrary, there was a wonderful sense of shared experience. Many of us were snapping photos, and somehow the sense of togetherness made the photography even more enjoyable.

It was like stepping into an illuminated jewel box. I overhead someone fret over it not being well enough lit. Oh please. No, the whole thing was not cranked up to sunny-day-in-Phoenix, but that was a plus since it left your eyes free to seek out the illuminated bits here and there and savor them.

Night Bloom

And so we wandered through the connected greenhouses, each with its own climate and all finely illuminated. Throughout the whole system, there was playing at a gentle volume what my friend Bob described as “a bunch of chirps and chimes with small animal noises” but which i kept trying to think of as music. In any case, it certainly added to the experience.

Night Bloom

One thing that struck me was the large number of species in the Nepenthes  genus on display now. Yeah, yeah, i now know that there are 170 species in this genus, but i’d had no idea there were so many, and i was astonished at how large some of them were. These here are nine inches long whereas the largest i’d seen before had been something like three inches.

Nepenthes at Night Bloom

It was just one treat for the eye after another.

Night Bloom

Some of it almost surreal.

Night Bloom

Truly a marvelous tour through the greenhouses on a winding trail that’s a full mile long although it doesn’t seem like more that a hundred yards.

Night Bloom

And once you get outside, you notice a number of rather strange forms on the lawn, all of impermeable cells, this one rather like an igloo

Night Bloom

Alas, the show ended in January. Catch it next year.

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Folks, January has been difficult, and to compound the problems, WordPress has updated itself with a new release that supposedly has a plethora of excellent features. Unfortunately, i’m having a great deal of trouble using it and cannot, for example, even throw in a damn photo. Worse yet, i can’t figure out how to revert to the previous release, which was working just fine. Please be patient while i crawl in bed and pull the covers over my head, whimpering softly.

Ahhh, nothing like a solid hour of whimpering to help me figure out a workaround. The alt attribute is empty, but this’ll do until i find where WP has hidden the Add Media function in this release. Hmmm. Maybe a kind reader who uses WP can send me a helping hand. mattegray.sf@gmail.com

Night Bloom
Night Bloom

Late note: Turns out that I thought I had a workaround, but now the pic doesn’t show up. The good news is that after months of bashing around with it, I’m now much more successful at getting pics to show up.

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The Cruise

My flesh creeps as i imagine myself trapped on a boat with most of the kinds of people that i hear about taking cruises. But then, people i like tell me about their cruises, and i realize that i wouldn’t mind being on a boat with them. But still, the very idea of being trapped on a boat bothers me and not because much of the time the nearest land is over a mile away…straight down.

I’ve already made a transatlantic voyage on a boat, one that i did not particularly enjoy. My voyage was from New York to Bremerhaven on the USNS Simon B. Buckner in August of 1964 when i was a brand new US Army 2nd Lieutenant on my way from Brooklyn Army Terminal to my first duty assignment at the USAREUR ASA headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany.

The Buckner was no cruise ship but rather a WWII troop transport measuring a fraction of the size of a modern cruise ship but employed to carry almost as many passengers. Well, see, the accommodations were somewhat more cramped.

Since i was an officer, i resided luxuriously: Four of us lieutenants shared a room that was the length of two bunk beds plus two feet for a cabinet between them and the width of the beds plus two feet. In the wall opposite from the beds there was a door leading into a tiny bathroom that we shared with a similar room next door. Oh, and pearl beyond price, at the far end we had a porthole giving us a view of the ocean. Hate to date myself here but one of the inhabitants likened looking out the porthole to watching the test pattern on a TV. Still, it was way better than no porthole.

For the enlisted men, life was grim. They were stuffed into “compartments” deep in the bowels of the boat, and when i say “stuffed” i mean that the bunks were stacked four high with barely enough space between them to walk through.

My duty assignment for the eleven-day voyage was Commander of Compartment C-3, and my entire duty consisted of a morning and night ritual at which the men filed past me as my NCOIC called their names in alphabetical order, showing me their ID’s so that the Army could determine the precise twelve-hour period in which someone had gone AWOL. I rather imagine that my duties would have become more complicated had one of my charges disappeared, but none did.

Pretty easy duty, right? Well yes, and a good thing it was, too, because as a fresh new second lieutenant i was petrified that i would somehow screw up and make a fool of myself. However, i lucked out because at the very beginning, when a naval lieutenant commander met with my NCOIC and me to explain to us how to conduct our twice-daily headcount. Immediately after he left, my NCOIC (roughly my father’s age) asked me why the naval officer had called me “Mister” when it was obvious that i was not a warrant officer but rather a lieutenant. Thank goodness i was able to get some credibility by telling him that field grade naval officers traditionally addressed company grade officers as “Mister” rather than with their precise ranks.

After that, it was smooth sailing. Well, at least until the eighth day out when i was awakened in the night by the pitching and rolling of the boat and was feeling a bit queasy by the time morning arrived. Yes, the weather had turned and the seas were up.

Alas, it was not just i who was queasy. When i got down to my compartment and opened the door, i was hit by an awful stench. It had never really smelled like roses in there, what with 253 men packed into a space about the size of my one-bedroom apartment. But today was dramatically different since during the pitching and rolling night a number of them had been unable to make it all the way to the head before they threw up. And this almost immediately made others sick, and some of them didn’t make it to the head, either, so it fed on itself. Yes, it was foul.

And i was already queasy. Oh no, i prayed, pleasepleaseplease don’t let me throw up in front of 253 enlisted men. The horror, the horror. Luckily, i didn’t need to say anything during the headcount – Bailey, Carter, Clemens – so i could close my nostrils like a camel and breathe through my mouth to lessen the stench – Douglas, Edwards, Ellis – while i speculated that there was a conspiracy to drag out today’s headcount until i finally tossed – Gates, Goodwin, Graham.

It crept on – Hamilton, Howard, Innes – as my stomach churned and i locked my jaws tight. And on and on until finally – Watson, Wright, Yarbrough – the end was near. And then, Zamboni, and the count was done and i needed only to open my mouth and utter one sentence to turn the compartment over to my NCOIC. Which i did successfully.

I’d almost made it. All i had left to do was, showing no haste at all, stride purposefully toward the door, open it, go through, and walk calmly away as it slowly swung shut.

But wait. I can’t throw up here because even if someone didn’t open the door and display me heaving, i would be by far the most likely source of the mess on the floor. So no, i had to put some distance between me and them, so i started running up the flights of stairs (6? 8?) until i got to my level where i’d seen barf bags tucked into the handrails along the hallway.

Finally i made it all the way to safety, leaped into my hallway, grabbed the closest bag … and nothing happened. I even kinda tried to throw up, but no, i was simply not at all sick anymore.

So there it was. I had invented the perfect seasickness cure and could have made a million dollars if it had only been patentable.

The remaining three days to Bremerhaven were uneventful.

Meanwhile, an interesting paint job on a house across the street.

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