I had meant to post something on Saint Patrick’s Day – for certain NOT corned beef and cabbage, but maybe something about Irish soda bread. But we were traveling back from San Francisco, and then my friend and fellow blogger, Jim Hastings, the Gringo Gourmet, wrote about his mother’s recipe for soda bread. I still haven’t given up on a southwestern version of soda bread, but I’ve been so busy since we got home that I haven’t had time to cook, and anyway I am once again on a diet. Susan assures me that the reason I can’t lose any weight is that I wind up eating whatever it is that I’ve cooked for my blog postings.
So, needing something to write about, I thought of our trip the other day to Alcatraz. I couldn’t think of any prison food to go with the text, especially anything that would interest folks who like to read about food. That’s the reason that this is just a travelogue.
If you have never been to Alcatraz during a visit to San Francisco, it is something that you should do. Be advised that same-day tickets are usually impossible to get, so you should make reservations ahead. The ferry leaves Pier 33 about every half hour during the day, and takes about 15 minutes. You should plan at least 2 hours on “the Rock” before you catch the return boat. You may also be able to plan your trip around a meal at the nearby Fog City Diner.
A special feature right now through part of April is an exhibit of the work of Ai Wei Wei, the dissident Chinese artist who has spent much of his life in a Chinese prisons. It seems appropriate that Alcatraz is the site of the exhibit.
A centerpiece of the exhibition is a massive Chinese dragon that stretches surely over a hundred feet in one of the main exhibit halls – part of the old Laundry Building. Another of the key displays includes portraits of political prisoners from throughout the world. The portraits are arranged across the floor reminiscent of the AIDS quilt. The most amazing thing about the portraits is that they are all made of Legos carefully pieced together but with remarkable detail.
Alcatraz is pretty much a ruin. It was a military prison for many decades before it became the federal high-security prison. Then it was abandoned on March 21, 1963. 1963. It was briefly occupied in 1964 by a small group of Sioux Indians. Then, from 1969 to 1971 it was occupied by a group known as Indians of All Tribes. Subsequently it has just sat, crumbling into ruins. Now the place is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and many of the buildings are being restored. Still, the ruins are very interesting and also very photogenic. One could easily spend many hours with a camera.
At the very top of the hill sits the main cell block. The cells remain intact, and there are a few furnished to show the not-so-luxurious accommodations. One stop on the tour is the dining hall along with the accompanying kitchen. The breakfast menu for the closing day is still posted on the wall. It includes choice of cereal, juice, coffee, fruit, eggs, and breakfast meat. Sounds ok, but my guess is that it was slung out of the kitchen where outlines of the terrifying knives used by the cooks still cover the walls.
It is not for nothing that Alcatraz is nicknamed “the Rock”. That’s all that it was until soil was brought in to make it a more pleasant place to live for the families of the guards and other prison employees. Now there are lots of flowers around the grounds, but they are all invasive species, and there are no native plants.