Saturday in the Park

My lovely friend L came to visit, all the way from chilly Toronto. She was accompanied by (or accompanied, depending on how you look at it) her beau P, who was on a business trip. He’s one of those esoteric software guys who do things that are far beyond my limited intellect. We met up at the new and allegedly improved Academy of Sciences on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

As I waited for L & P to arrive, I gazed at the new and allegedly improved De Young Museum*, which is right across the way. It is, to my mind, quite hideous, and I miss the old, neo-classical building. P observed that it looks like a high security prison, complete with guard tower and no windows.

The Academy, on the other hand, is full of windows and light. It also, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, is full of screaming children and their keepers. We peered into the madhouse that was the café, and turned to each other with a single thought: No. P asked the hostess of the Moss Room restaurant if they were still serving. She said no, but he begged her to call the kitchen and see if they’d make an exception. He was so charming that she couldn’t say no, and neither could the kitchen, if we agreed to eat at the bar.

We made our way down the stairs, past the moss wall and into the serenity of the restaurant. We perched on stools and ordered delightful delicacies, such as Dungeness crab salad with Meyer lemon vinaigrette, and sipped organic wine. Everything on the menu is organic, sustainably farmed, and/or biodynamic. What’s not to love about guilt-free chocolate mousse?

Body and spirit rejuvenated, we headed back upstairs. The lines for the rain forest were as daunting as the Powell Street cable car lines at the height of summer, and when you finally get in there, it’s so crowded you can hardly admire anything. We were also disappointed to learn that the albino alligator was on the DL, so the swamp consisted of nothing but two immobile turtles and a dry ice effect à la any metal band you care to name.

I figured the penguins would make up for the missing alligator, and they were delightful, with their funny, rolling walk and ungainly manner of flopping into the water. But the rest of the room they inhabit has the old African dioramas I remember from the former building, and it’s jarring and depressing to go from the penguins’ antics to the dead, stuffed zebras. Sigh. Outside the morgue was a stream with bridges, from which we could admire the graceful rays as they flew elegantly through the water.

We checked out the much-touted living roof,which P pointed out was much like that on his condo in Mississauga, and the aquaria, including the tide pool where we could and did touch the sea urchins and sea stars, which is just as fun as it was when I was a kid.

To be fair, we didn’t see everything, but on the whole, I have to say it doesn’t seem to be worth nearly 10 years and $500 million. But it was great to see L again and meet P – they are a beautiful and charming couple. They gave me a ride to BART in their rented red Mustang convertible, and I was sad to see them drive off into the sunset, but happy to have spent time with them. They love it here, and I suspect they’ll be back.

*There are two exhibits I want to see there, no matter what it looks like: Warhol Live, and a retrospective of Yves St-Laurent’s work. At the still-beautiful Legion of Honor, I’d like to see the Fabergé, Tiffany, Lalique exhibit. So much beauty, so little time!