Today, being a travelling day, was always going to be slightly frustrating and a reliance on the Internet, for opening times and full information made it even more so.
The day started well with a short walk in the blazing LA heat up the road to the Simmon Wiesenthal Center, the home of the Museum of Tolerance.
The first thing you would expect from a place called the Museum of Tolerance is, well, tolerance. Initial impressions were so entirely opposite to this that I found it hard to even enter the exhibition. After an ID check to allow yourself through the doors, you were faced with a pair of extraordinarily stoney faced receptionists, playing the role of sales prevention officers. Nothing to cause us a problem, was too much of a problem to them.
After paying and having to agree that we would stay for their minimum of 1.5 hours, we were subjected to a lecture by the search team. We were told that if we took a picture, our camera would be confiscated and not returned,. The smoker in our group was not just told to get rid of a cigarette lighter, they were made to put it fully in a litter bin outside. No explanation, no information, just surly and unnecessary unhelpfulness. I understand the obvious political sensitivities of such a display, but there is no excuse for this level of unpleasantness at a front desk. compared to the Getty Center, which had a far more wealthy benefactor and probably needed the cash more, it was truly awful.
We split into two groups. One to see the holocaust exhibition and the others seeing the general exhibits. As I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures, I can’t show you what I saw, but I will tell you, that the holocaust exhibition is comfortably the most harrowing exhibition experience I have ever been through in my life.
It is a timed exhibition where you move through multiple displays watching a series of films, posters and clips, moving from room to room as the series of lights dictates. We were told it would take 65 minutes and you were not allowed to leave before the end. The lady who took us down to the start, gave us each a plastic credit card with a child’s face and name printed onto it. We were to put this card into a machine (when we were told and not a moment sooner) and it would tell you the story of that child. As we began, an elderly gentleman who worked in the Center, came over and inserted a card that he held, which was his story. He had escaped from Poland in 1947 and was one of the very few Jewish children to survive. He also told us that Elizabeth, the lady who had showed us down, was also a holocaust survivor. By this time, we were forgiving the few surly people at the start and felt truly humbled.
Following through the exhibition, you are lead from room to room, with each one getting increasingly oppressive and cold. The material presented got harder as the plight of the Jewish people throughout Europe got more appalling. After an hour, we walked through a brick built corridor, given the choice of able bodied or one for women and children. This lead you into a full scale mock up of a gas chamber, complete with gas valves in the roof. There was a minute or more of silence before any lights came on and the appalling finale began. At this point, if a bit of dry ice had come from the ceiling vents, I would have run out in tears, but thankfully they remained quiet. I won’t retell the story here, but it is one we should all understand, perhaps all experience and certainly all ensure can never happen again. I was glad to leave, but distraught by what I had seen.
It was a silent walk back to the hotel.
It was in fact a silent cab ride to the airport.
And it was still pretty quiet when we boarded the plane to San Francisco. Their message had hit all of us, and hit hard.
The power of the exhibition was in the extreme nature of the material, but also in the dramatic monochromatic settings they took you through. The increasing tension, the increasing cold and, in truth, the increasing anxiety. This was far more than intolerance, this was a story of an horrific slaughter. Not comfortable material, but one I’m very glad I have experienced.
I can feel myself struggling to write this and that is over 12 hours later.
What a day to see such a demonstration of intolerance. 9/11. Intolerance doesn’t seem to do it justice. I can only imagine that they have called it this because no-one would surely want to see the Museum of harrowing, awful, appalling, unbelievable, tragic, terrible, hateful, outrageous, disgracefulness.
The airport and transfer was fine, apart from the now standard semi strip you need to go through to get into a departure lounge. Belt, shoes, wallet, keys change, laptop, drinks, sanity, dignity etc etc. You get through to the lounge needing a drink to be told that a Coke is $3.58. is this a sensible price, or an airport cashing in on the fact that people can’t carry a drink through these days. Judging by the $10 sandwich, my feeling is that it is nothing less than extreme profiteering. I skipped lunch.
Arrival at the airport was on time, luggage was waiting for us and a queue of taxis were in line for their waiting prey. Both groups, having been on an amazing drive from the airport, reported viciously rude drivers on arrival at the hotel. The difference in the architecture from LA to San Francisco is incredibly noticeable and so is the attitude of the cabbies. We followed route 101 into San Francisco – and the taxi driver wouldn’t speak – not even answering questions. I didn’t tip him. he spoke then. He insulted me. Bad ad for the city.
The one thing I was determined to do whilst we were here was the Segway tour. I have always wanted to ride on a Segway, so I’d been online and checked all their times. The last trip on their three hour tour left at six, so it was a rush to get all of the team over to the right bit of Fishermans Wharf in time for last orders. But no. the last one goes at 4.30. Just to rub salt into the wound, as we had a really late lunch at Buena Vista, they came past us, in their gilets and cycling helmets. I absolutely believe they rerouted past my café, just to wind me up.
This café, had a view from one window over Alcatraz out of one window and the golden gate bridge out of the other. They claimed to be world famous for their Irish coffees, but I’d never heard of theirs, so I didn’t have one. The good old Urban Spoon application gave them 87%. I’d say this was pretty fair.
After our late lunch, it was already getting dark and much colder. The mist was rolling in over the Golden Gate Bridge, creating a beautiful scene for the little banjo busker to play to.
Now, 29 years ago, my Dad came to San Francisco on a business trip, when he worked for Allied Breweries. He bought me back a small wooden model of the trolley bus, so it was something I had to do. $5 seemed a bargain for a thrill ride of my lifetime, hanging off the side, seeing scenes from every major cop show of the 70’s, bouncy ball TV ads and the chase scenes from Bullitt. It was like being in the filming of the Streets of San Francisco. An 100 year old system, that’s just as relevant today as I presume it was then. It had a queue around the block – admittedly the two groups in front of us were from Glasgow and London – but it was still an extraordinary experience that I will never forget. Its operational controls are still completely agricultural and it takes some physical strength to control it, but locals were jumping on and off, like it was a little local hopper.
If our Nottingham tram drivers displayed the level of character this driver did, marshalling his customers into their correct places, I would imagine the NET would be a huge tourist attraction in its own right.
We went to have a run on the Metro too. An underground system with little two car carriages buzzing around. Clean quick and efficient and again, well patronised. It was only $2, which makes the London Underground look extortionate.
And so to bed. Or rather for me, and so to write. All the others seemed to be flagging a touch, so I had to pop in to the 7/11 around the corner for a few Budweisers and some crisps. It’s sort of like writing fuel but less healthy.