Our Sunday: A Photo Essay

Today we took Robin to see the Golden Gate Express Garden Railway exhibit at the Conservatory of Flowers. He loooooved it. He stared at the train, entranced, for about twenty minutes.

If I weren’t so lazy, I’d crop this photo so that lady’s elbow isn’t crowding in at the corner. Anyway, it was a pretty cool display, although both Sam and I admitted that we’d expected more trains. They only had a couple of layouts, and the main one only had one train and one cable car. But Robin didn’t care, and I was extremely charmed with the whimsy that had gone into the models. Look:

They made Alamo Square out of cereal boxes! And the Transamerica Pyramid out of floppy disks and keyboards!

They made the Ferry Building out of wine corks, a cheese grater, and forks. The “Port of San Francisco” sign was spelled out with Scrabble letters. (You can also see the cable car, at the top of the hill.)

Robin continued to watch the trains go around while I browsed the gift shop. I picked him up a t-shirt:

As soon as I showed him the shirt, he crowed and clutched it to his chest, so that was a win. I also bought a little brown bag containing the seeds for a Hummingbird Flower Garden (that is, a garden of flowers designed to attract hummingbirds), which may come in handy if, you know, I ever have space for a garden. (For Mom: the flowers are rocket larkspur, perennial lupine, arroyo lupine, gayfeather—which I think is the best name ever—four-o-clocks, Rocky Mountain penstemon, scarlet sage, gilia, annual red phlox, Sweet William pinks, spurred snapdragon, lemon mint, giant columbine, eastern columbine, tussock bellflower, wild petunia, and foxglove.)

Then I spent a long time staring at this tote:

It’s really arresting and vivid, and it made me grin. I thought it was pretty cool, but I doubted that it was really me: I thought it would be great for someone with a more punk-rock edge, someone who wears a lot of black and ripped fishnet stockings.

Plus, I don’t need a tote bag. I already have a really cute tote bag that I got on Etsy. I like it so much I’ve bought three of them so far. (The first one got holes frayed into the bottom when I hung it off Robin’s stroller and it dragged on the ground; and the second one I lost.) Look, here is the pre-existing tote:

Cute, right? Super cute. I do not need a new tote.

I had this conversation out loud with the gal working the register in the gift shop. “I’ve decided against the tote,” I told her.

“Have you seen the back?” she said.

I had not. I turned it over.

Oh. migod. The venus flytrap bag has a fly on the back! I immediately plunked down my twenty-four bucks for the tote. They’re made by a local artist, it’s for a good cause, yadda yadda. I think that little fly is great. I may have to start wearing more ripped fishnets.

Then I went back out to collect Sam and Robin. I wanted to go see the rest of the conservatory, especially the aquatic gardens, which I remembered as being awesome.

This is when Sam and I discovered our tactical mistake. We’d come straight to the train exhibit, since that was what we were most interested in seeing. But having realized that there were choo-choos here, Robin had no interest in leaving to see the rest of the exhibits. He screamed bloody murder as we dragged him away from the trains.

We carried him, kicking and screaming, through the rainforest room, through the orchid room, and into the aquatic gardens, where we thought the fishies might distract him. And they did—for about thirty seconds. When he stopped crying we set him down, and as soon as his feet touched the ground he made a u-turn and bolted back toward the trains.

So we had to leave. We let Robin scream out his protests beneath an uncaring sky. And then we bought him a hot pretzel and took him to one of the many playgrounds that dot Golden Gate Park. He fed most of his pretzel to the squirrels, and I should have gotten pictures of that, but I didn’t.

After Robin had gotten to run around and play, we headed to the Japanese Tea Garden to sit down for a bit. They serve four different kinds of tea (we got jasmine) and various snacks (we got rice crackers and mochi cakes). This is where you drink your tea:

Then we walked around and I took a ton of pictures. Most of these are just scenery:

You can’t make out the inscription on this plaque unless you look at the large version, but it reads:

To honor Makoto Hagiwara and his family, who nurtured and shaped this garden from 1895 to 1942.

What it doesn’t say is this: Makoto Hagiwara masterminded the conception and design of the Japanese Tea Garden. He was responsible for importing many of the plants and sculptures from Japan, and he and his family lived there in a 17-room house, serving tea to the garden’s visitors. It was there that, according to his descendants, he introduced the fortune cookie to the U.S. (It’s commonly held that the fortune cookie was invented here in California, but there’s plausible reason to think it actually has roots in Japan. The only fact about which everyone seems to agree is that fortune cookies definitely didn’t come from China.)

Makoto Hagiwara died in 1925, but his family continued to live there and maintain the garden. Then, in 1942—after almost fifty years of service to the city—the Hagiwara family were evicted and forced into an internment camp. Their family home was razed. They never returned to the garden, and without them it fell into ruin for a decade. Eventually, of course, it was restored and reopened, and now only this little plaque hints at the tragic, shameful history that shadows the Tea Garden.

I wouldn’t have known the story at all, except that Sam told me, when I was looking at the inscription on the stone. He learned it from a class he took from City College, on the history of San Francisco, when he first moved here. I asked him what textbook held the history of the Hagiwara family, and he said none—the teacher had passed out a photocopied packet that told the story. It’s sort of amazing to me that this particular piece of history is so tenuously remembered; Wikipedia doesn’t breathe a hint of it in their brief biography of Makoto Hagiwara, and the first page of Google results for his name seem mostly concerned with the fortune cookie business. To their credit, the San Francisco Parks Trust has a page that tells the story, but it takes some digging to find it.

Anyway, that’s all the pictures I took today. After the Tea Garden, we went home, and I posted everything to my blog. I could take a picture of myself sitting here blogging, but that would be entirely too recursive.

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