Wednesday, December 12, 2012

San Francisco Social Diary

Even on an overcast day, the Golden Gate Bridge is glorious.
by Jeanne Lawrence

This is my latest column about fall happenings in San Francisco before I left for Shanghai. Look for articles about my adventures in China coming up!


SAN FRANCISCO—The city was buzzing the first weekend of October as over a million revelers arrived for the America’s Cup World Series regatta.

Several other high-profile events were happening that weekend: Fleet Week featuring an air show from the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels; the 12th Annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park; a 49ers game and the Giants’ second playoff; the Castro Street Fair; and an Italian Heritage Parade in North Beach. Wow!
The America’s Cup World Series took place in San Francisco during the first week of October.
This is what I love about city living: There are always a multitude of cultural events from which to pick and choose. Folks fretted about potential traffic jams, but they didn’t happen.

Since I was already in town for a wedding, I had the opportunity to ride on the Louis Vuitton boat organized by Christine Belanger, Director of the Louis Vuitton Cup and the co-organizer with Emma Blackman of all the events for next year’s America’s Cup.
In the distance is Alcatraz, the once-notorious prison that is now a tourist site.
Many of the millions of visitors in San Francisco this week headed to the Bay for the regatta.
The St. Francis Yacht Club has some of the best Bay views.

Inaugurated in 1983, the winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup goes on to sail as the “challenger” of the defending champion in the America’s Cup races. Louis Vuitton will again sponsor the Challenger Series for the 34th Cup from July 4 to September 1, 2013.

From September 7 to 22, 2013 in the America’s Cup Finals, reigning champion Oracle Team USA will defend its title on the San Francisco Bay before an anticipated 3 million spectators.

Yes, that’s the very same Oracle as the computer technology company co-founded by multi-billionaire Larry Ellison. Representing the Golden Gate Yacht Club, his Oracle team won the America’s Cup race in 2010 and the right to display the cup at its club.
The America’s Cup Organizing Committee has brilliantly organized venues for viewing the America’s Cup races.
The America’s Cup World Series trophy is on display at Club 45, a VIP venue. The Louis Vuitton Cup is also on display.
Snacks and drinks are available for Club 45 invited guests.
Club 45 also boasts a deck with an ideal view of the races.
Defending America’s Cup champion Larry Ellison renovated the Golden Gate Yacht Club for the races.

Racing today is very different from when I attended my first America’s Cup in Perth, Australia in 1983. That year, Australian businessman Alan Bond and the Royal Perth Yacht Club won the Louis Vuitton Challenger Series with Australia II, with its controversial winged keel. They subsequently won the America’s Cup over American defender Dennis Conner’s Liberty.

It was the first time in 132 years that another nation had won the America’s Cup over the New York Yacht Club. That heralded a new era of increased international participation and new technological advances in yacht design, starting with hulls made of fiberglass instead of wood or aluminum.
The daily list of the racing teams.
A 1988 competition between a New Zealand syndicate and defending American champion Dennis Connor introduced the first double-hull boat. Today’s competitors no longer pilot yachts but instead use wing-sailed catamarans. The competition now seems less about sailing skill and more about designing the lightest, fastest boat.

Since Larry Ellison’s America’s Cup win, he’s done much to try to popularize the races. The hope is that bringing it to television will grow a substantial fan base and guarantee the future of this classic race.

Ellison hired Stan Honey to develop LiveLine, digitally projected course infographics similar to the NFL’s virtual first-down line and Major League Baseball’s strike zone tracking, to help home viewers understand and follow the racing action.
LiveLine, the digital projection of the course, allows the viewers to see the progress of the races.

I was one of only a small group of guests riding the VIP Louis Vuitton boat for the two rounds held on the bay. And what an experience it was!

The skipper let us know when the races were to begin, showed us the route, and explained what was going on to those of us who weren’t knowledgeable fans.

We were riding the turning mark boat—a racing boat that has replaced buoys as a turning mark. As the others raced around us, we had an incredibly close view of the crews’ teamwork and quick moves. The crewmen must be incredibly fit, as the sport requires grueling physical activity.
We guests boarded the Louis Vuitton boat to head out to the Bay to watch the races.
Riding in the thick of the race was exhilarating. It was thrilling to watch the million-dollar state-of-the-art catamarans narrowly miss each other as they zipped around the bay.

The speed and close calls bring new excitement to this 161-year-old sport. Competitors travel up to 35 miles per hour in a tight course, and there’s even an occasional man overboard.
Seth Semilof of Haute Living Magazine with Jeanne Lawrence.
In fact, only two days after my ride, the Oracle Spithill crew capsized during a race—but ended up winning the match final with the same boat later that day!

Sadly, on a practice run in October the team lost a second boat—an $8 million, 72-foot lightweight catamaran designed to “fly on water” at double the wind speed—when it flipped over and was swept four miles out to sea during the biggest tide of the year in the San Francisco Bay. Luckily, none of the crew was hurt.
Seth Semilof and Olivia Decker.
In the LV turning mark boat, we had an intimate view of the catamarans and the sailors.
Director of the Louis Vuitton Cup Christine Belanger and Jeanne Lawrence enjoyed every moment.
Larry Ellison’s Oracle team catamaran.
Larry Ellison watched the races with friends from his private yacht.
You couldn’t miss the Prada boat, sporting the bold colors of the Italian flag.
The graceful catamarans are beautiful to behold.
The physical demands of sailing require crewmen to be very fit.
It was exciting to be so close to the action.
If a boat takes a turn too fast, it can flip onto its side or nosedive into the water.
The San Francisco skyline makes a spectacular backdrop for the race.
Louis Vuitton organizers Christine Belanger and Emma Blackman with a handsome America’s Cup sailor.

As it was also Fleet Week, while on board the turning b oat we got a great view of the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angel squadron flying its F/A-18 Hornets. Each year, the pilots show off their flying skills with an acrobatic show before an estimated 11 million spectators.

The Blue Angels rehearsed for hours in preparation for their Saturday and Sunday performances, flying in tight formations to the delight of many (and, due to the noise, the annoyance of a few).
We watched the Navy’s Blue Angel squadron practice.
The US Marine Corps giant C-130 Hercules, nicknamed “Fat Albert,” is used for logistics missions and carrying personnel.

Hoping to generate more excitement for international racing, two more World Series rounds of competition are planned next year: one in Venice in April, one in Naples in May, a possible stop in New York on the Hudson, and then the Louis Vuitton Cup in the summer and the America’s Cup finals in September, both in San Francisco.

If you’re a novice like me, start reading up now so you’ll understand what’s happening at the next America’s Cups races. Since the race will be televised next year, you won’t have to journey to San Francisco to enjoy the action.
Another beautiful day on the San Francisco Bay.
SAN FRANCISCOFrom ship to shore, come explore.

If in town, I always attend the annual Preview Party for the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show (SFFAS), which takes place in October. It’s considered the most elegant and glitzy citywide party and it draws a mix of all ages and social sets.

Held in the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason Center, a former army base, the SFFAS is the longest-running international antiques show on the West Coast—akin to the East Coast’s New York fall International Fine Art & Antique Dealers Show and the Winter Antique Show at the Park Avenue Armory, all of which are fully charitable events.
Linda Cannon and Françoise Skurman in front of sponsor Fisker Automotive’s luxury hybrid car, the Fisker Karma.

This year’s theme was “Sea Worthy: The Best of Nautical Art and Antiques,” inspired by the America’s Cup races that will take place on the San Francisco Bay in summer 2013. Kudos to strategic and creative consultant Lisa Podos, architect Andrew Skurman, and curators Holland Lynch and Maria Santangelo for this clever tribute.

By bringing the America’s Cup into the show, the SFFAS attracted a whole new crew of attendees. An information blast had been sent to America’s Cup sailors and followers, bringing in a new group of people who have an interest in sailing. Lisa called the nautical objects on display “mantiques” and “toys for boys.”

More than sixty dealers from the US and Europe showed a range of styles and periods, but the central focus was on nautical objects: magnificently detailed model ships, evocative shipwreck mementos, and competitive sailing trophies that included the America’s Cup, plus seafaring tools spanning from ancient Roman anchors to modern naval binoculars.

One of the show’s selling points is that the objects are vetted in cooperation with the Antiques Dealers Association of California to ensure the highest quality merchandise. So you can trust what you buy—a very important assurance when you’re spending serious sums of money.

As is often the case with antiques and arts shows around the world, the Preview Party Gala Benefit tickets were offered at different price points and admission times. Tickets ranged from $5,000 per couple for entry at 4 p.m. to $250 per person for admittance at 7 p.m., after the early reception but in time for the party.
Chairs Michele Goss and Adrianna Pope Sullivan, and Honorary Chairs Jonny and Malia Moseley.
At the reception, I bumped into interior designer Paul Vincent Wiseman, who has been coming to the SFFAS for 25 years. He called the show “one of the best parties in town,” adding, “Everyone shows up—even those who don’t like antiques. It’s a big social event—and good for charity.”

The night before the opening is reserved for decorators. If they see something a client might like, they’ll snap a photo to show the client. If they get the go-ahead to make a purchase, the designers arrive to seal the deal as soon as the doors open. Since it’s a first-come, first served system, those designers must purchase the highest price tickets to ensure they’re first in the door.

Paul recalled with amusement that one year, seven of his clients found pieces they wanted. As soon as the doors opened, seven of his assistant designers raced to the booths to claim the prizes for them.
Linda Cannon, Jeanne Lawrence, and Wendy Moonan and Adam Karp of SFFAS sponsor 1stDibs.

As we first entered the party, we were dazzled by Creative Director Andrew Skurman’s stunning design of three pairs of twenty-foot high waves. Andrew told me he was inspired by the iconic waves of Edo-period Japanese woodblock painter Hokusai. The faux painting, by Willem Racké, linked the waves to the show’s thematic image, an evocative painting by 20th-century British maritime painter Montague Dawson.

Michele Goss, longtime SFFAS chairwoman, this year co-chaired with Adrianna Pope Sullivan, and Jonny and Malia Moseley were Honorary Chairs. Michele was pleased that this year’s show included a crop of new dealers like Nicholas Brawer Gallery of New York, along with returning exhibitors such as Mallett Antiques of London and New York and Obsolete Inc. of Venice, CA.
Michelle Curtis Harris, Antonia and Michael Cohen, and Wheeler Griffith.
Of her favorite pieces, she exclaimed, “The armada of ships [by artist Ron Pipin] is quite extraordinary. And I love the binoculars—the better to watch the America’s Cup.” She also thanked BNY Mellon Wealth Management and Graff Diamonds for being SFFAS Premier Sponsors.

I also ran into New Yorkers Wendy Moonan and Adam Karp, writer and Chief Marketing Officer, respectively, for SFFAS sponsor, the online luxury goods marketplace founded by real estate dealer Michael Bruno.
Jenna Hunt, Kendall Wilkinson, and Shirley Robinson, the chairs of emerging collectors program The Collective. Merla Zellerbach and Helen Hilton Raiser.
Lisa Podos and Amy Millman.
Actress Diane Keaton toured the show and autographed her new book. Here, she’s flanked by interior designer Ken Fulk (left) and Ray Azoulay of Obsolete Inc. Dede Wilsey and Trevor Traina.
Kathryn Lasater, Alison Pincus, Dr. Carolyn Chang, Allison Speer, and Carol Bonnie.
Robert Atkinson and Lonna Wais. Jeanne Lawrence and interior designer Douglas Durkin.
Lisa Podos and Kendall Wilkinson. America’s Cup Organizing Committee member Lucy Jewett and Committee Chair Mark Buell.  
Todd Klein, Victoire Brown, and Jay Jeffers.
Model Nicole Grinsell with fashion designer Karen Caldwell, designer of the gown. Ashley Ying was among the stunning models in Karen Caldwell gowns, showing off jewelry from sponsor Graff Diamonds while posing underneath the waves designed by Andrew Skurman.

Oracle Team USA is the American sailing team that is the current America’s Cup champion. As such, it has custody of the trophy until the 2013 race in San Francisco. 

The America’s Cup trophy (closely guarded, of course).

It was extra special that we got to see the extravagant silver piece up close—though flanked by two guards and representatives of the America’s Cup Organizing Committee.

Bonham Butterfield auction house CEO and yachtsperson Laura King Pfaff convinced Tom Ehman, Vice Commodore and spokesperson of the Golden Gate Yacht Club, to share it with tonight’s attendees. “What better place than this opening night to display the America’s Cup?” she said. “It’s the most popular opening in town, we have a huge space to show it in, and we get a great cross-section of people.”

America’s Cup Organizing Committee Chairman Mark Buell and Committee member Lucy Jewett stood by the trophy greeting sponsors. Lucy has been a major supporter of the America’s Cup since the ’70s, and has been called the “Heart and Soul of America’s Cup.”

Mark enthusiastically told me that the committee has raised over $30 million to bring the Cup to San Francisco without using any taxpayers’ money.
Samantha Duvall and Darren Bechtel. Brenda Mickel and Ned Mobley.
Rich Hanif, Elba McIntosh, and Mira Veda.
Paul Weaver sat in the antique Roman breccia throne chair exhibited at Therien, which he once owned upon inheriting it from the late designer Michael Taylor. Theresa Post and son Malcolm Post.
Carl and Yurie Pascarella with John and Lisa Grotts.
Some of the attendees joined in on the nautical theme too. Paul Weaver sat in the antique Roman breccia throne chair exhibited at Therien, which he once owned upon inheriting it from the late designer Michael Taylor.
Nancy Russell, Linda Cannon, and Carolyn Chandler.

Another draw at the event is the lavish buffet traditionally catered by Dan McCall and featuring his signature baby racks of lamb (everyone’s favorite!). The crowd would probably revolt if these were ever taken off the menu.

Chilled Korbel Champagne and Blue Angel Vodka flowed all night, accompanied by mounds of caviar, a seafood bar, hot entrees, crudités, and a heavenly dessert table. The food alone is worth the ticket price!
Partygoers enjoyed gulfshrimp, pacific oysters on the half shell, hand-carved roast sirloin of beef, cornucopias of crudités, ricotta-filled agnolloti with lobster sauce—and an open bar.

Tonight the antiques show wasn’t the only game in town. While we sipped our Champagne, we could hear planes overhead. In an event-filled night, the San Francisco Giants were playing Game 1 of the World Serious, at which flyovers are a tradition, at the same time as the Gala.

Luckily, sports fans didn’t have to choose between events: The SFFAS set up a screen near the buffet where partygoers could sit and take in the game while dining on hot dogs topped with caviar.
Supporter Jim Ludwig said he’d turned down a Giants ticket since it was just the first game of the Series with seven to go. “It’s the last one that counts anyway!” he said.

As I left, long-time attendee Linda Cannon told me, “I got my caviar quota for the year, filled a to-go bag at the candy bar, and had dreams of those baby lamb chops and mini ice cream cones. Best of all, the Giants won—all in all a great Fall Antiques Show!”
The Fairmont Hotel lit up in the Giants’ colors of orange and black on the night of a big Giants party.

SAN FRANCISCO—On an early October day with temperatures in the 80s, I walked down to the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (AAMSF). Everyone would move here if the weather were always like this—which with global warming may eventually be the case.

AAMSF’s current exhibition, “Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy,” uses a contemporary perspective to explore an important collection of rare Chinese masterworks.
The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. “Out of Character” runs until January 13, 2013.

This is the first major exhibition of Chinese calligraphy in the US since 1999. Bay Area entrepreneur Jerry Yang (co-founder of Yahoo!) loaned 40 calligraphic masterpieces from his private collection, some dating back to the 14th century.

Yang was required to study calligraphy as a schoolchild in Taiwan and resumed the practice as an adult. With the help of several prominent scholars, he has assembled a well-respected collection and is generously sharing them with the public.

The exhibit is sponsored by Hong Kong’s Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation, and foundation CEO Ted Lipman flew in for the opening. The foundation is committed to promoting Chinese culture and Buddhist philosophy around the world.
Mike Knight, Jerry Yang, Bing Xu, Ted Lipman, Jay Xu, and Joseph Chang.
AAMSF Director Jay Xu. Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo!, loaned works from his private collection, 15 of which have never before been on public view.

Admired as the premier form of visual art in China, calligraphy is often mystifying to those who don’t read and write it.

In his introduction to the exhibit, Shanghai-born Museum Director Jay Xu explained that in Chinese culture, a person’s strength of character was judged by their mastery of the written characters.

For more than 2,000 years in China, the scholarly and educated classes have considered calligraphy the ultimate art form. People spent lifetimes studying and refining the art. Over time, a complex set of rules has developed guiding every aspect of the art.
The reference to “decoding” explains the show’s intention to be accessible to all—novice or expert, initiated or not.
Looking at the beautiful calligraphy makes me self-conscious when I look at my own handwriting. I wonder if the younger generation—many of whom print exclusively and never learned cursive writing—feels the same.

Though I’ve been living in China off and on for the last few years and calligraphy interests me, I haven’t found the time to study it. I regard it as an art form and wish I knew more of the meaning and symbolism.

What I find very appealing about this show is the notion of “decoding”—an attempt to make this art form accessible to everyone.

Expertly curated by Senior Curator of Chinese art Michael Knight and Senior Research Fellow Joseph Chang, the exhibit is organized in three sections structured to facilitate a learning experience.
One of the most important works on view is Zhao Mengfu’s 13th-century “The Sutra on the Lotus of the Sublime Dharma,” created in small standard script (xiaokaishu) with more than 10,000 characters.

The first section of the exhibit is an introduction to Chinese calligraphy for those who are unfamiliar with it. Along with the basic tools of brush, ink, and paper, it displays 25 calligraphies that illustrate the role of each aspect, such as format, script, style, content, context, and techniques.

The exhibit makes everything easy to understand.


Experts from China and the West assisted the curators in selecting the works to display based on their historical importance and visual impact.

I was fascinated by some of the larger works, such a hand scroll that is about 33 feet long and an 85-page album.
Poems on Plum Blossoms by Shitao (1642-1707).
Autumn Stirrings in Eight Verses by Wang Duo (1592-1652).
Poetic Lines by Zhang Ruitu (1570-1641). Completed on a River Sojourn by Wang Duo.
Senior Curator of Chinese Art Michael Knight leads a tour of the exhibition.
Wen Peng’s “Thousand Character Essay” is an album of 85 double leaves.

Since one of the museum’s goals is to make Chinese art relevant today, curator Knight hung abstract expressionist paintings by Brice Marden, Franz Kline, and Mark Tobey from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s collection alongside the calligraphy. He wanted to point out the similarities of form between the contemporary artists’ gestural paintings and Chinese calligraphic strokes.
Written over the Plains by Mark Tobey.
Lehigh V Span by Franz Kline.
Etchings to Rexroth by Brice Marden.
The museum also commissioned a video animation by Chinese-born international artist Xu Bing, whose work often addresses the power of the language.

I plan to return for a second visit, taking a more scholarly approach to get a better understanding of Chinese calligraphy. This wonderful exhibit has deepened my appreciation of the ancient art and will surely do the same for countless other visitors.
A frame from Xu Bing’s “Character of Characters” animated film.
Xu Bing and a team of 13 spent a month of ten-hour days, representing thousands of man-hours, hand-drawing the thousands of sketches used in creating the 20-minute animated film.
The film was a big draw among museum visitors.
Xu Bing at work.
Jerry Yang and Xu Bing.

SONOMA—Up north in the California wine country in early fall, the Joan & Sanford I. Weill Hall at Sonoma State University’s Donald & Maureen Green Music Center opened its doors. Six hundred guests attended a fabulous gala and performance by internationally acclaimed Chinese pianist Lang Lang.

Begun in the 1990s by Sonoma State University President Ruben Armiñana, his wife Marne Olson, and local philanthropists Donald and Maureen Green, the Green Music Center was a long time in the making. Thanks to a generous $12 million from the Weills, the dream of an on-campus recital hall has now been realized.
Joan & Sanford I. Weill Hall at Sonoma State University.
The philanthropic couple, of Manhattan and Greenwich, arrived in Sonoma County when they bought Gary and O.J. Shansby’s hilltop estate two years ago.

Long involved with the world of music on the East Coast—Sanford “Sandy” Weill was Chairman of the Board of New York’s Carnegie Hall—the Weills have now made their mark in California too.

Joan Weill co-chaired the Bank of America-sponsored Grand Opening Weekend with Marne Olson.
Weill Hall’s interior of handcrafted European steamed beech walls and seats remains acoustically neutral whether the seats are occupied or empty.
The night began with a Champagne reception, followed by Lang Lang’s two-hour concert of Mozart and Chopin, capped off with a spectacular fireworks display.

Attendees were then treated to a lavish dinner from celebrity chef Michael Chiarello, paired with wines donated by local producers Agustin and Valeria Huneeus, Anne Moses and James Hall, Morgan Twain-Peterson, and the Sterling Family Vineyards, served inside a tent beautifully decorated by floral designer Thierry Chantrel.

The three-story, 1,400-seat Weill Hall is modeled after Ozawa Hall at the Tanglewood Music Center in the Berkshires, Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home. The rear wall opens up to allow up to another 3,000 audience members to enjoy performances from outdoor tables or while picnicking on the lawn.
Philanthropist Donald and Maureen Green were the visionaries behind the Green Music Center on the campus of Sonoma State University in California’s wine country. Norma and Corrick Brown.
Charles Treister, Ruben Armiñana, Marne Olson, and Alan Joslin.
Jake and Barbara Mackenzie. California Governor Jerry Brown with his wife, Anne Gust.
 Patrons Joan and Sandy Weill with Paul Pelosi and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. Mike and Leslie Conway.
Tom and JaMel Perkins with Mitsuyo and Andrew McDermott.
Stephanie Pugash, Judy Vadasz, and Sarah Anderson. Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem, who underwrote the vocal series.
Chinese concert pianist Lang Lang performed at the inaugural concert.
The fireworks were so loud that several alarmed neighbors called 911!
Lang Lang and Ziulan Zhon.
Gala dinner underwriter Alexsis de Raadt St. James, with Nancy Cline and Olivia de Raadt St. James.
Inaugural Season Lead Underwriter Ed Stolman, with Barbro Osher and Robert Cole.
Luigi Vigna, Marne Olson, and Larry Gould.
Photos by Jeanne Lawrence and Drew Altizer.

*Urbanite Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in San Francisco, Shanghai, and New York, and wherever else she finds a good story.