27 November 2013

November 22, 2013. JFK.

I was 17 when JFK was murdered. At first I didn't believe the news, since I imagined that such a thing would not be possible. But the agitation of my fellow high-schoolers and our teachers soon convinced me. For the past week or so, there have been many programs on radio and television about JFK's life and death, about his killer, and about the physics of the event itself. All this has brought the period back to me. At the time, I was impressed by the drama of the succession, the grandeur of great events in high places. The human dimension of it, its meaning for his family and others, reached me only later. Ever since, I've had a strong sense of the unpredictability of life, of what the old Prayer Book calls "the changes and chances of this fleeting world."

15 November 2013

November 15, 2013. Zorn/Matisse/Makovsky

This afternoon I took myself to the Legion of Honor, to look at the Anders Zorn exhibition, and a much smaller display of works by Matisse. The Zorn pieces are technically very impressive and interesting. There are many of them, watercolors, etchings, and oils, and a few small bronzes. The paintings are conservative in technique and subject matter: rich Americans and such, and a dollop of Swedish and other lower class types, and waterscapes and so on. Zorn clearly intended to make money, and he did. Pots of it, which he and his wife used to create a museum of his works and Swedish folk art. The pieces showing promise of becoming real art, since they weren't made to flatter rich patrons, are the small bronzes. Some of the paintings looked familiar to me; I must have seen them in Stockholm. The Matisse paintings are joyful, colorful, playful even, unselfconscious products of a free, creative mind, unbeholden to social ambition. A huge relief after the too-perfect Zorn pieces. I will see them again. And, as I always do when I visit the Legion, I went to one of the permanent galleries, to look at Konstantin Makovsky's 'The Russian Bride's Attire,' a piece from 1887. This massive work is a riot of interest, to me at least. Although it portrays well-to-do women (Romanov royalty of the 1600s) preparing for a wedding, it has none of the slickness of society portraiture. It has cultural depth, charm, and dignity. There is action in the picture: a mother combing her daughter's hair, a woman shooing the bridegroom away from the doorway, young women singing, and so on. The work is rich in historical detail, in the clothing, furnishings, headdresses, and more. A joy to behold.

09 November 2013

Novermber 7, 2013. 67.

67 years old today. A prime number. A friend gave me the somewhat disconcerting news that this number is known as an "unhappy prime!" Recreational mathematicians will know what this means.

October 31, 2013. All Hallows.

The Eve of All Hallows, When Spirits Walk the Earth. On the 31 bus in the early evening, a small boy humorously but resolutely would not let his mother anywhere near the bagful of candy he was hauling. He would not be parted from his loot. His charm won the day, or, at least, the occasion.

October 31, 2013. Cyberia.

A Word to the Wise. After I left the de Young Museum this afternoon, I noticed a passing car bearing the license plate CYBERIA. I promised myself to think of it every time I turn on my laptop.

October 31, 2013. David Hockney.

A Day in The Life, or, Vita Brevis, Ars Longa. I took myself this afternoon to the De Young, to look at the Hockney exhibition. This stunning show is worth several visits. The number and variety of pieces are beyond what I expected, most of them contributed by the artist himself. The most recent piece in the show is no more than a month old! I came out of the exhibition feeling invigorated and cheerful, thanks I'm sure to the energy and vision of the artist. In the museum shop, a nice Russian lady said to me, "Excuse me, sir. What kind of artist is David Hockney? Modernist? Surrealist?" "David Hockney is David Hockney," I replied; "I don't think that we can place him in any school!" The Russian lady appeared to be satisfied with my response.

October 30, 2013. Lady Washington.

Of sailing ships and sealing wax. This afternoon I took myself to Pier 40, to look at the Lady Washington, berthed there. Her sister ship, the Hawaiian Chieftain, was out on the Bay, I believe. Four young sailors, in their 18th-century clothes, were aloft on the Lady Washington, furling sails and tightening ropes and whatnot. A few years ago, I met one of the crew of this vessel, a young man with a bright red Mohawk haircut and an eagerness to visit the "cool" Mission district. God bless the young people who sail in these ships.

October 29, 2013. ARC GLoria.

  I took myself down to Pier 17, to look at the Colombian training ship ARC Gloria. Its beauty and simplicity are a joy to behold.

October 25, 2013. Evictions.

In Leah Garchik's column in today's Chronicle, appears the following quote in her 'Public Eavesdropping' feature: "There are two ways you can live in San Francisco. You can be very rich or have nothing at all. I choose to have nothing at all." I live close to the 'nothing at all' side of this demographic spread. Soaring rents and increasing numbers of evictions have ordinary folk looking nervously over their shoulders. My building and neighborhood appear not to be attractive to hipsters and overpaid techies, so far.

October 17, 2013. Dialog.

Him: "Handel's 'Israel in Egypt': okay, is it just me, or is this piece really, really radical, out on a limb?" 
Me: "Lemme see.... 'radical' means 'pertaining to the root,' so 'root' is to 'limb' as 'Handel' is to 'way out there!' "

October 17, 2013. Honest Food.

Some days ago, I was walking near Land's End, on my way to meet a friend, with whom I later walked along the coastal trail. I was approached by two tourists, a couple from Australia, who asked advice on a good place to eat. Since we were near the Seal Rock Inn, I pointed in its direction, and said, "You'll get a decent meal there. I've eaten there many times. You won't find it in the Michelin Guide, but you'll be satisfied." "Honest food?" the husband asked. "Yes, honest food!" I replied.

October 11, 2013. Road trip.

A few days ago, I noticed, in a parking lot at Stonestown, a VW bus, probably from the 60s or 70s. It looked like it was well taken care of. Painted red, white, and blue, it was adorned with peace signs, little flags, a smiley face or two, and so on. I saw it again this afternoon, on Geary Boulevard. The sight cheered me, and reminded me of the summer of 1968, when I and four friends travelled in a VW bus down the west coast, from Vancouver to Los Angeles, and on across the United States, to Detroit, where the three of us who remained, returned to Canada. We dropped one person off in Hamilton, and went on to Montreal, where I got off. The owner, the last person in the VW, drove on. The trip included one very wet night along the Oregon coast, when the five of us crammed into the van and tried to sleep, unsuccessfully. There was a breakdown early one morning on a very lonely highway in Arizona, a layover of several days in Seligman AZ, while we waited for parts to come from Phoenix, and a 54-hour non-stop dash across the country, to get the van's owner as close as possible to Yale U, where he had to register for a PhD program in a few days. He made it. I've never had a road trip like it since, although I had a driving adventure in Sweden a few years ago, which featured a blow-out, a brake failure, and other excitements. But that is another story.

September 23, 2013. Caltrain.

A week or two ago, at Palo Alto Caltrain station, as I was purchasing a ticket, a young girl at the machine next to me said, "Can I have a quarter?" "Well," I said, "why not?" as I handed her a coin. After she completed her purchase, she turned to me with nickels in her hand and said, "Want the change?" "Sure," I said, "why not?"

September 22, 2013. Proslogion.

At Aardvark Books the other day I came across M J Chatsworth's translation and edition of Anselm's 'Proslogion,' with Latin and English text, and commentary by the translator. All this for $5. How can I go wrong?  "Sed heu me miserum,... quid incepi, quid effeci? Quo tendebam, quo deveni? Ad quid aspirabam, in quibus suspiro?" I know the feeling, believe me I do.

September 12, 2013. The Creamery.

At The Creamery in Palo Alto, an old-style soda fountain and coffee shop, the three counter staff wore T-shirts emblazoned with encouragements. The first proclaimed: Fuhgetaboutit. The second announced: It's going to be all right. The third said: It really does matter. Thus fortified, and having refueled on iced tea and apple pie, I walked a few doors up the street, to Bell's Books, where I bought Teilhard de Chardin's 'The Future of Man.' $7.50. I read Teilhard in my student days, and always wanted to study him more deeply. His understanding of evolution in theological terms (and of theology in evolutionary terms) appeals to me, and convinces me that the reductionist scientistic delusion (the notion that science "explains" everything) of our time is not the last word in our understanding of the universe.

September 6, 29013. The Widow Norton

This morning I attended the funeral of Jose Sarria, "the Widow Norton," at Grace Cathedral. The church was full. I have never before seen so much black lace, black tulle, black satin and silk, black taffeta, and so many elaborately veiled mourners, in one place. And there were more diadems, tiaras, yards of necklaces, ribbons, chains of office, pendants, brooches, and more, than anyone will ever see at a royal funeral, anywhere. A man in the pew in front of me said, "I would love to have the rhinestone concession!" But, over-the-top as the outfits and accoutrements were, the event was dignified, sober, respectful, and laced with humor in several eulogies, all in all a splendid tribute to the creative and courageous life of Jose Julio Sarria. RIP.

August 31, 213. Passion.

On the 5 Fulton bus, a young man and woman at the back of the bus, were entwined in a passionate embrace. "Excuse me, young lady," said the driver, somewhat loudly. This remark easily got her attention, since, unusually for a Saturday night, the bus was more than half empty. "Young lady," he said; "you told me that he was your uncle!" "Yeah!" she replied. "That," said the driver, "was not an uncle kiss!"

August 30, 2013. Reality.

The older I get, the more astonished I am, that so many people prefer delusion to reality. I don't know what the cure is. Reality certainly isn't.

August 24, 2013. Argument.

After breakfast with a friend, I said, "We agree about practically everything. We're going to have to fight about something one of these days!" "I don't like the color of your hat!" he said. "Tough!" I replied.

August 20, 2013. O Tempora! O Mores!

O tempora! O mores! On Caltrain this afternoon, a charming young man began a conversation by remarking on the unusual humidity. The young man works for a new startup, which he is eager to leave. "It's hard to sell a product that doesn't exist!" he said.

August 19, 2013. Chess.

A Theme in The Life. A few weeks ago, I bought a chess set, in a standard modern style. The pieces are magnetic, and adhere nicely to the board, which folds into a handsome box to carry them. I played chess, badly, when I was young, and gave it up in my university days. I resolved that one day I would turn my attention to it again. That day has arrived. At Aardvark, I bought a splendid book, dating from 1935, on the game. I love the old notation. Modern chess notation is unreadable, and reminds me of the metalogic matrices I studied in school. This afternoon, at the Mechanics' Institute Library, I watched awhile a young man play chess online. And of course, there's the chess club, on the 5th floor, which I will visit one day. Outside, as I passed through the Crocker Galleria, I came upon a very large chess set, in which the kings and queens were between 3 and 4 feet tall. A group of young people were playing. One sporting young fellow was standing on the white queen's square, evidently replacing her. They were a few moves into the opening.

August 13, 2013. Conservatives.

For years I have known that the world that "conservatives" describe is not there. It does not exist. I simply don't recognize the world that they live in. I'm not an imperceptive person. Surely there is something, somewhere. But there isn't.

August 13, 2013. Puzzles.

A Moment in The Life: At the Caltrain station this morning, the newsvendor sold me the Chronicle (only $.50; the usual price elsewhere is $1.00) and said, "I'll give you the [free] Examiner, so you can do the puzzles." "Puzzles?" I queried; "I'm not that clever!" "Guess!" he replied.

August 11, 2013. Pay phones.

I read in the Chronicle the other day that there are 200 pay phones in San Francisco. 200! Where, I don't know. I've seen only a few. But there are people who don't have mobile phones.

August 11, 2013. Yukon territory. 1960s.

I worked in the Yukon Territory, in my student days, as a geologist's assistant with a mining company looking for molybdenum and copper. Worked there two summers, out in the bush, in various places along the Yukon River and elsewhere, in tents in the forests, doing magnetometer surveys up and down mountainsides, collecting soil and rock samples along creeks, mapping magnetic anomalies, flying in helicopters from camp to camp, etc etc.. I spent very little time in towns. I was briefly in Whitehorse and Dawson and other places. My team got lost along some mountain ridge, trying to find our way to a road back to the mine where we were headquartered (I'm the hero of that story......I'll tell you about it sometime). Long , long time before GPS. We used paper maps, geological surveys, compasses almost useless thanks to the deflections of the magnetic field, and so on. A great adventure, really. In my day, Dawson was small, decaying, with one or two small hotels, neither of which would be out of place in the Tenderloin today. There were some tourists and trekkers, but not many. I remember a tiny cinema (a quonset hut, perhaps?). Mostly I recall ruined buildings, empty lots, a population too poor to live anywhere else, gravel roads, and so on. Generally, the ambience was one of a ruined past, and hopeless present.

August 10, 2013. Glock.

This afternoon, a uniformed security guard boarded the 31 bus. He was carrying a gun (a Glock) in a holster. "That's a serious weapon you have," I said, as I was leaving the bus. "I use it only when I have to," he said with a smile. "Good to know!" I replied.

August 3, 2013. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (see 'drab,' 'nondescript' below). From Caffe Zephyr this afternoon, I saw, and heard, two lion dancers, with accompanying drummers and fireworks, spread their good luck and drive away demons, up and down the block between 37th and 38th. A short time later, a young man in a wetsuit, carrying a surfboard, rolled by on a skateboard, on his way to Ocean Beach. A man and his daughter walked by, carrying a bow and a quiver of arrows, brilliantly fletched. Summer in The City.

July 31, 2013. A Day in the Life.

A Day In The Llfe, or, What Comes Around Goes Around. After exiting the Muni Underground at Montgomery Street, I came across a dime on the sidewalk. I picked up the coin and pocketed it. I proceeded on my way to the bank, and made a few other stops. On my way back down Montgomery, I observed an older gent, briskly walking north, dressed as Emperor Norton, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. The uniform and beard were accurate, resembling photos of the Emperor. This older gent is Norton II, I presume. Cheered by the realization that What Is Old Is New Again, I went on to Stonestown, to shop at Trader Joe's. After I had finished shopping, and was waiting for a bus (the 18) I was approached by two teen boys, one of whom asked me for a dime. After a brief admonition on the perils of begging on the streets, I gave him the dime I had found. He handed it off to his friend. They went happily on their way. No doubt The Universe Is Unfolding As It Should.

July 24, 2013. Confection.

A Day in the Life. Tuesday afternoon, I was offered a bag of chocolate-covered bacon, obtained from a county fair nearby. This confection was new to me. Delicious. There were several other items, like deep-fried chocolate bars, but I forbore.

July 10, 2013. A Sign of the Times

A Sign of the Times, in the restroom of The Social Study, on Geary at Fillmore: Employees must recite the alphabet backwards before returning to work.

July 1, 2013. Yankees Fan.

I have lived to see, proudly seated in the back seat of a Mercedes Benz convertible, a dog, wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap. He's a Yankees fan.

June 11, 2013. Motorman.

A streetcar motorman this afternoon announced the '2nd & King/AT&T Park' stop as "the House that Barry Built!"

June 8, 2013. Studio Apartment

I live in a small studio apartment. I like to think that I know what and where everything is. But I frequently come across objects which prompt me to ask, "Where did this come from? And when?"

June 7, 2013. Cafe Zephyr.

Zephyr changed hands June 1. The surfboard and the teapots disappeared, along with a large collection of posters and framed photos and prints that were on offer. The disintegrating wicker chairs, which I remember from the first time I visited the cafe, in 1992, vanished. This afternoon, a workman was tearing up the equally ancient carpet. Meanwhile, the new owners continue to serve lattes and regular coffees, and the posted menus are intact, so far.

MAy 26, 2103. Bliss.

Lunch at a restaurant in Hayes Valley. My tea bag read, "Smooth green tea leaves harmoniously blend with sweet tropical fruits of pineapple and guava. Fragrant and uplifting, this bouquet will transport you to tropical bliss." ....I'm waiting..

May 22, 2013. Cafe.

Life in The City. My local cafe is offering a surfboard for sale. $50. Plus assorted Chinese teapots, $18 each.

May 20, 2013. Haunted.

On the 31 bus this afternoon, I overhead a young man, on his mobile phone, explain to his father just why, and how, his place of employment (a large, hip retail store) is haunted. Poltergeists, evidently. The building was a hospital in a former existence.

May 9, 2013. Fortune Cookie.

Tonight's fortune cookie, from Mandarin Villa at Oak and Franklin, reads: You will soon receive an unusual gift, freely given. Accept!

May 3, 2013. Elephant Bells.

I have elephant bells. I have to ring them every morning at 8:30, to make sure that an elephant won't appear at my front door. It's worked well, so far.