Enjoying Our Downtown

Two factors have put downtown San Jose high on our favored fun destination list this summer. Peter has an office right in the center of it, so we can drop in any time and even leave a few things behind. And we can walk to our light rail station and have fun taking a train ride there, without having to burn any increasingly-precious gasoline.

The day after Neil graduated from elementary school (and before Charybdis and Scylla started its summer session the following Monday), we headed out for one of our “Day in San Jose” adventures. As it was, we couldn’t fit in all we wanted to see.

First, we joined Peter at the farmer’s market on San Pedro Street. It’s a great farmer’s market, with a little bit for everyone, from foodie to gourmand to gourmet to urban shopper. There were booths with crafted jewelery, unique cheeses, local honeys, gourmet salts, heirloom vegetables, pastries, ethnic luncheon food, and fancy chocolates. I bought some broccoli, garlic, and strawberries. Later for lunch, I bought some samosas, since the only samosas I’d ever had were cold, gross ones in London. I had high hopes for San Jose samosas, but even heated up, they were still gross.

Discovery Park had an interactive sculpture in place, but only for a temporary time, and I really wanted to see it. From afar, it looks like a monkey carousel:

When you get up close, you could see that it was surrounded by decorative drums. To get the monkeys moving, you had to drum on the drums for several minutes, as you see Kelly doing here:

The monkeys would start circling above. At night time, you could see the strobe effect that made it look like they were leaping, but during the day time, you could get the same effect by pulling down and placing one of the monkey masks against your face. Here’s a monkey mask, not on my face:

I thought the sculpture was cool and inventive, but Neil was thoroughly creeped out by it. He thought it was like some sort of evil cultish ritual. So at his insistence, we stopped our drumming and went to the Children’s Discovery Museum.

Neil, bless him, is still imaginative enough to enjoy it, and of course, Kelly can’t get enough of it. The new temporary exhibit there was an Alice in Wonderland exhibition, and Neil delighted in playing through the Alice in Wonderland room and its doors:

and playing with the odd golf games. Kelly, meanwhile, was fully entertained just hosting a tea party with a toy tea and pies set. We finally broke away, only to find that the museum had also installed a new ball machine, which Neil took care to study and master:

We try to see a variety of museums when we spend a day downtown, so I reluctantly pulled the children away for lunch. Afterwards, we went to The Tech and found out that museum admission also includes an IMAX movie these days. Well, it was a real treat to be able to see an IMAX movie, so we watched The Alps about one man’s daring climb up the steepest face of the Eiger Mountain. After that, we barely had some time to explore the museum, before I took the children over to the downtown library, where there was a special father’s day craft and play hour in the childrens’ section.

The activity turned out to be less structured than I thought it would be: basically a few games were out for children to play, and Kelly colored in a father’s day picture with the available crayons. But it was still fun. One of the librarians noticed Neil’s interest in science and showed him the library’s science experiments section, just for kids like him. Kelly played with the letters, and I selected some books for the next weeks’ lessons. I happened to overhear some mothers speaking what sounded like French: this is, it was French, and then it would turn into something that was not French and was incomprehensible. I finally got up the courage to ask them if they were speaking French, and if so, what form of French it was. It turned out they were from Senegal, and they were speaking mostly French with some Senegalese (they called it “tribal”) phrases mixed in. Like most Anglophohes, I’d assumed the default African language was English, so it was nice to learn something new about Africa, namely that French is spoken in Senegal.

Evening was coming on by now, so we had to head home, but we felt we’d missed out on so much that we returned the following Tuesday after lessons so Neil could have more time at the Tech. This time, Peter joined Neil to see Pulse: A Stomp Odyssey in the IMAX theatre, and Kelly and I went to the Childrens’ Discovery Museum, where Kelly was fascinated by the circles section:

And the Tuesday after that, I was feeling museum deprived, so I used my nifty San Jose Art Museum membership to see the Quilt Museum, which I’d never seen. It went way beyond quilts, to my delight. It did have a selection of particularly interesting quilts, by a local quilter, who’d turned each square into a limerick or a mini-poem, and had them themed, to say, American presidents, or hats. I had thought their Beyond Knitting exhibit was about making 3D shapes with knitting, but it was more like the Art Wear exhibit I’d loved at the Legion of Honor a few years back. In brief, artists had knitted a variety of materials (yes, yarn, but also metal and plastic) into creative expressions that included stuff like a knitted Capitol building, an oil slick bird, and full body costumes. A third room had costumes from a Javanese performance piece. Last of all, there was a small display of anemones, all knitted. The museum is small, but it’s in a neat corner of downtown, surrounded by theatres, clubs and other fun things, so I think (especially thanks to my all-museum-access type membership) we’ll be back.

There’s still a lot to do and see downtown, and I look forward to more of our adventures.

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