The Legion of Honor Museum

We take a morning bart trip with the plugged in switched on commuters of the East Bay.

We surface into the high, wide and sunlit Market Street. We miss what turns out to be the 38L bus going the wrong way. This is pointed out by a friendly native. I reorient my mental map by the position of the Embarcadero and Twin Peaks.


The long bus ride costs us 75c each. We get a great view of the city from Geary Boulevard as we pass through many different neighbourhoods.


The conversations on the bus are carried on largely in Spanish and Chinese apart from that between two weatherbeaten guys with pony tails. It’s more of a monologue really. One guy ranting and swearing about their treatment by some federal authority. The other guy with a walking frame sits grim-faced through the tirade. Two disgruntled vets by the sound of it. Probably with good reason.


We get out at 33rd Avenue and take the number 6 bus up to Richmond. This area, around Lincoln Park, is really beautiful with its parklands, big Mediterranean pines and breathtaking views of downtown San Francisco and the Marin headlands, all under a flawless blue sky.

The space in front of the museum has a big, simple circular fountain. There is a large sculpture in metal which looks like a spare part for the Golden Gate Bridge the original of which peeps through the pines to the side. The sculpture is surrounded by elegant plants including agapanthus which we regard as the floral symbol of the city.


The museum building is impressive. It is in some sort of white stone which gleams in the strong sunlight while its backlit shadows glow soft orange. What looks like a version of the Arc de Triomphe acts as an entry. This leads into a courtyard with Rodin’s thinker thinking thoughtfully in the middle of it.


Rodin features strongly on the interior too. The one story building has a series of high ceilinged galleries. One of these is dedicated to the sculptor’s vigorous and rather bad-tempered essays in stone and bronze.

We get a concessionary entry price for having squandered 75c on bus fares, part of the city’s enlightened approach, encouraging the use of public transport. Inside everything is light and airy. Cool in all senses of the word.

It’s well past coffee time and we head down to the basement cafe, another lovely space looking out onto a courtyard with elegant trees and bougainvillea. We go out and sit with two rather weak coffees and a plum tart whose staggering cost has wiped out any financial benefit accrued from our Muni concession. Light eyed and light fingered starlings accost us along with more discretely mendicant blackbirds.


After coffee our first call is into a small side gallery displaying artist’s books by Matisse. Volumes of poetry illustrated in his inimitable style. Well quite easily imitable in fact, but of course Henri had the panache and acumen to do it first. It has to be said the result is very stylish. Along with open pages in glass cases the display has an iPad set up on which you can access the full works. Good idea.

The galleries follow the historical development of European art from medieval icons to the end of the nineteenth century. All the work is impeccably presented in the fine exhibition spaces.


There is also an exhibition titled ‘Masters of Fire’ showing artefacts from a single site in Israel from around 6000 years ago. It gives a fascinating glimpse into a very alien culture. The survival of woven material and sandals from this time is quite astonishing.

In the basement are housed more antiquities from Assyria, Egypt and Greece. Once again, most are in an incredible state of preservation including delicate and beautifully coloured glass bottles over 2000 years old. Once again they are superbly presented.


After an absorbing walk through the galleries we return to the cafe for a fairly expensive but good quality veggie burger lunch and further coffee. The avian beggars attend as before along with a guest appearance from a hummingbird who inspects the incandescent purple blooms of the bougainvillea.

Then back to the gallery for a further dose of culture and to take a lot of photos some of which I’ll post separately to give you an idea of the variety and quality of the work.

We finally succumb to museum fatigue and emerge into the brilliant afternoon sun to take in the magnificent peninsular panorama once again.


We pause at the holocaust memorial, stark and grim in contrast to the idyllic surroundings. We make our way down through the majestic pines of Lincoln Highway to the ultra-affluent streets of the Sea Cliff district and the Camino del Mar.


Eventually we make our way back up to California Street and catch the number 1 bus back to Montgomery Street as advised by the invaluable google maps on my phone. The snapshot views of the streets glimpsed at regular intervals as we go along are among the bonbons of this visually mesmerising city.


As we approach the downtown area a lady stops the bus and manoeuvres two huge suitcases in fluorescent green onto the vehicle. One has a protruding spar of some kind. These are followed by two more of smaller capacity. This takes quite a while.

The driver is a robust black lady like so many on the Muni. Far from displaying any irritation at this inconvenience she extends the platform to facilitate the loading operation.

As soon as we set off again the woman engages in a furious argument with someone who may not be imaginary but is certainly not physically present. There is a sense of the other passengers in their turn detaching themselves from this awkward manifestation of a darker urban reality. A few stops further and the disturbed traveller disembarks with her cumbersome world.


We get out in the middle of the twilit and slightly intimidating glass and concrete canyon which is the business district of the city. Workers are still making their way home. The streets are peopled with pedestrians optically glued to their phones and physically wired to their tablets.


On the bus we were amused by the automated warning mantra ‘Arrive safely, eyes up, phones down!’ To paraphrase Ms. Austen, It is an admonition Universally ignored on the streets of the Western metropolis.

On Market Street a huge gang of runners pass us bobbing and weaving through the crowds on the pavement. They are soon followed by another big group of street athletes, this one carrying its own musical encouragement.

As ever there are a large number of homeless guys on the pavement. One is stretched on his back, hands behind his head, feet up on one of the characteristic kiosks which punctuate the street.

We go into the bart station. We sit on a marble seat among the weary commuters. The train to Pittsburg-Bay Point is crowded. We stand hanging on the straps past Embarcadero and through the tunnel to Oakland. It is evening. The coastal hills are silhouetted and pinpointed with lights as we pass through Orinda to Lafayette.

We walk through the slightly autumnal evening to the whole food place. We pick up some fish, bread and salad and head for home.

We feel well cultured and satisfyingly physically tired by our day out to the remarkable City by the Bay.



This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.