It was once a grimly celebrated fact that Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary was "inescapable." The swim across the frigid, choppy, mean mile and a half of San Francisco Bay was for decades thought to be impossible. Factor in the difficulty of reaching water only after breaking out of the heavily fortified prison and avoiding death by guard, and the thought of getting out alive is still sensational enough to be box-office gold. Since the 1930s, Hollywood has loved to tell stories set on the sad but beautiful island, from 1939's Those High Grey Walls to Clint Eastwood's star turn in 1979's Escape From Alcatraz to the more recent Connery/Cage vehicle The Rock.
"Alcatraz: Escape From Reality!" is a new tour celebrating this filmic fascination. Go on a trek to see hidden tunnels, movie posters, and a video installation investigating which parts the movies get right and which are just industry BS.
Now, of course, two 10-year-olds have made the infamous swim, and the island is today dedicated to curious international visitors on the one hand and Hopi cultural preservationists on the other -- progress all around. But this tour is still aptly named: Make your break at 11 a.m. both days from Pier 41 (Blue & Gold Fleet), Embarcadero & Grant, S.F. Admission is $14.25-23.50; call 561-3000 or visit www.parksconservancy.org. -- Hiya Swanhuyser
Earth Art Mind the blooms
Orchids are so naturally intricate that they almost look like abstract paintings -- which makes it all the more disturbing when you can't keep one alive at home. But now you have a chance to bask in the beauty of these finicky flowers without a thought as to whether they're going to make it another week in your kitchen. For the next four months, the city's premier horticultural museum hosts "The Modern Art of Orchids," a new "abstract" flower exhibit that includes hundreds of blooms. The artful arrangement opens at 9 a.m. on Friday (and continues through Feb. 26, 2006) in Golden Gate Park's Conservatory of Flowers, 100 JFK (at Conservatory), S.F. Admission is free-$5; call 666-7001 or visit www.conservatoryofflowers.org. -- Karen Macklin