09 December 2015


Recently I walked down Castro, from 17th Street to 18th and a little beyond. People had chalked hundreds of names, in many hues and designs, along the sidewalks, as remembrances of loved ones dead of AIDS. A poignant and original memorial. Today's rain washed most of them away --- a reminder, if I may risk sentimentality, of how fleeting life and memory really are.


A T-shirt bore a slogan which read, "Support your local medical examiner --- die strangely!"


Recently, I overheard on a bus one young woman explaining to another that she is learning Mandarin because her boyfriend insults her in Japanese and affects not to understand her replies in Spanish. The logic eludes me.


I went to the Legion of Honor recently, to see the Berthouville Treasure, which is stunning in its magnificence. I found the votive pieces poignant; some were household objects not originally made for temple use, with dedications to Mercury inscribed on them. Did the owner of nine of them, the most splendid, Quintus Domitius Tutus, who was devoted to the god, inscribe them himself? (Unlikely; a craftsman would have done the work.) One would like to know the background to the vows he was fulfilling.


A message in a fortune cookie assures me that I will "soon achieve perfection!"

29 October 2015


Outside a shop on Upper Market, a sign reads, "May your scary internet self-diagnosis be waaaaaay off!"

Haydn & Malipiero

Another evening at the Conservatory, this time to hear Haydn's String Quartet 53, GF Malipiero's String Quartet 1, and a trio of M Duruflé, opus 3, each played by a different ensemble. If the players in the Haydn were out of their teens, I would be surprised, but they played splendidly. The Thalea Quartet played the Malipiero, a fascinating piece based on two contrasting forms of Italian poetry, one apparently a rustic form, and the other more sophisticated. The rural character of the first came through strongly. It put me in mind of the Menuettto movement in the Haydn, which sounded rather like a country dance. I recalled something that one of my college teachers had said: "Never forget that Haydn was basically a Croatian peasant!" --- this to encourage a student quartet to play Haydn with more 'country' and less mannered elegance. The Malipiero had lots of 'country', and elegance too. I studied him in school, but heard very little of his music. This long piece was a real joy to hear. The Duruflé trio, for flute, viola, and piano, was a joy also, and too short! All in all, a very engaging evening.

La musique moderne

A few days ago, I took myself to the Conservatory to hear the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players perform works by composers whom I did not know: David Lang ('death speaks'), Lee Hyla ('We speak Etruscan') and Gerard Grisey ('Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil'). There was an improvisation as well, before the Grisey work. The Lang pieces were lullaby-like and static, a mix of piano, electric guitar, violin, soprano, and bass drum.. An agreeable sound, settings of poems about death, as were the Grisey pieces. The ensemble wasn't quite in synch, and the soprano had the odd task of striking the drum behind her, while she sang. But the overall effect was not uninteresting. The Hyla piece comprised bass clarinet and baritone sax, an ungainly pair. But the piece was structured, coherent, and well played. The improvisation included a megaphone and an English horn. They began in the back of the hall and progressed slowly to the stage. The sounds were rather like recordings of the solar wind, and radio transmissions of stars and galaxies and gas giant planets. By the end of it, the megaphonist looked like he was about to suffer a stroke. A young woman told him, during the interval, that his performance was "strangely beautiful!" The Grisey pieces were typically would-be modernist: episodic, fragmentary, non-developmental, full of tone colors made up of lots of percussion, brass and reeds, including things like muted tubas, and one each of the string instruments. And a harp. The soprano frequently held a tuning fork to her ear. Lots of changes of time signature and dynamics. The work struck me as a collection of quasi-modernist clichés and retro "avant-garde" gestures. A challenging evening.

At the box office, I inquired whether there were tickets "at old peoples' prices!" "No," replied the young man. "We assume that with age come wisdom and wealth!" "I have news for you!" I said.

Beside me in the hall were an old man and his "lovely Irish bride of fifty-seven years," as he put it. During the improvisation, he pronounced it "a disgrace," and stumbled out of the hall, taking his lovely bride with him.


A lady on the 5 Fulton bus was reading Machiavelli's 'Prince.' "I only read it on the bus," she said. "At home, I'm reading 'The Agony and the Ecstasy!'"


It was a sunny, hot day a few weeks ago. I encountered my surfer neighbor at the street door; he had just returned from Ocean Beach. He was half out of his wetsuit and was organizing his things. "I had way too much fun out there today!" he said. "How awful for you!" I replied, with a smile. "Yeah," he said, "I almost feel guilty!"


The evening of the equinox I was present at a guitar performance by a young friend, to mark his 33rd year. It was an interesting and impressive presentation, of works by composers I knew (Takemitsu, Castelnuovo Tedesco, Villa-Lobos) and by others I knew not (Milan, de Narvaez, Mudarra, Aguado, de la Maza). The program notes reveal the performer's sharp mind, and a humorous one, as in this about Villa-Lobos, "who revered himself as the Brazilian Bach!" A rare birthday celebration in my experience, where the celebrated one gifted his friends.


A month ago I took myself to the Legion of Honor Museum. I had intended merely to look through the permanent galleries and their familiar pieces, but I stumbled upon a Members Preview of a new exhibition, that of the notable watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet. I spent a few hours in this fascinating collection. The intricacy of the pieces, their beauty and elegance, are worth more than a single visit. It was interesting to see just how many different layouts a watch can have, and to realize that what look like 20th and 21st century developments were actually invented in the 18th and 19th centuries. The watches (and clocks) were costly too; the original buyers of these pieces, kings and generals and nobles and other elite persons, paid thousands of francs for a custom-made timepiece.


Recently, I took myself to the Conservatory of Music, to hear a program titled "The Soul-Searching Mozart," which featured two G-minor works: the Viola Quintet K516, and Symphony 40. The third movement was the best of the Quintet. A student friend remarked that the movement inspired a work of Beethoven, but, alas, I forget which. And the tempo of the last movement of the symphony was very brisk, more so than I've heard before. The orchestra carried it off.... G-minor was apparently Mozart's choice for conveying tragedy and emotional distress; whatever the case, Mozart was far from overwhelmed by distress, and joy, delight even, were never far away. This was an interesting program, a nice inclusion in the Conservatory's "Classical Kick-Off Weekend ." I went from this performance, to another recital hall, for a program titled "Embellished Mozart": some arias with fortepiano or guitar, an item by J C Bach, and an overture arranged for two guitars. A pleasant hour.

10 September 2015


This afternoon, as I was walking along Balboa toward Ocean Beach (on my way to Safeway on La Playa), my surfer neighbor approached, barefoot, in a wetsuit, and carrying his board. "Surf's up?" I queried, as we passed. "Big time!" he replied.

04 September 2015

A good life

Recently, I boarded a crowded 33 bus at 18th and Castro. I remarked to the young man who gave me his seat that "I'm always surprised when a young person offers me a seat. I routinely forget that I'm old!" "Well, you were walking slowly," he said. "I guess that's what old guys do!" I replied. We continued with a pleasant conversation about his childhood in Orange County and his career as a musician and artist and cyclist and coder and so on. I wished him a good life.

20 August 2015


"Oh xxxx!!" proclaimed a very loud voice, as I passed through my building lobby. I turned toward the speaker, who explained sheepishly that he had left an item on the fourth floor, and needed to retrieve it. "I use that word myself from time to time," I said; "Enjoy!"

13 July 2015


Lunch at The Cove. "How are you?" queried the waitress. "So far, so good!" I replied --- my usual answer to this question. "A good answer," said the waitress: "not projecting into the future, accepting the past, and grounded in the present!"

11 July 2015


It was a sunny, balmy day in The City. At the front door of my building, I encountered a neighbor, with his board, returning from an afternoon of surfing at Ocean Beach. "It's a piece of heaven out there!" he said; "I recommend it!"

A Sign

A sign, perched on the dashboard of a car parked next to the French-American school, reads "No whining!"

01 June 2015


At the 5 Fulton bus stop at McAllister and Van Ness tonight, two young men were chatting about philosophy. One young fellow wore a toque and flannel shirt, the other was adorned in very long dreadlocks and a guitar. They traded remarks about Kant and Hume and Wittgenstein et al.. "Why," I interjected, "is there something and not nothing?" "Why," Toque replied, "should there be nothing and not something?"

16 May 2015

The Golden Years

Tonight on a crowded 5 Fulton bus, a lady complained that "65 year olds and up are living longer, so they're taking up all the space on the buses!" "We'll be gone," I replied, "soon enough!"

Mozart, Beethoven, and Beethoven

I found myself at the Conservatory again recently to hear two more quartets (Mozart's 'Dissonance' and Beethoven's Opus 18 #4), and Beethoven's 'Archduke' piano trio, Opus 97. I confess that, to my 21st century ears, the intro to the first movement of the Mozart was hard to hear as shocking dissonance or atonality (the way it was apparently heard in the 18th century, according to one of the players, who introduced the piece). But the Mozart was good preparation for the Opus 18 quartet, about which the first violin said, "Beethoven is in the wrong clothes in this piece --- he's in Mozart's clothes, and he's trying to get out!" And Beethoven got all the way out in the trio, of course. Since the pianist was playing a modern concert grand, I thought that the lid should have been down --- the piano overwhelmed the strings from time to time, which a fortepiano would not have done. But I was swept along in any case, by this wonderful piece.

Bartok, Britten, and Schubert

Recently I took myself to the Conservatory to hear string quartets by Bartok (#3), Britten (#2), and Schubert (Death and the Maiden). The Bartok was a tricky little number, contrapuntal and fragmentary. An acquaintance remarked that Britten included every technical possibility he could think of. The piece was endlessly interesting and unpredictable. I was awed by the violist in the Britten, who was clearly in love with the music, and his instrument; he was totally unselfconscious in his identification with what he was doing. I recalled someone I knew years ago in New York, a viola player, who, it was alleged (I never heard her do this myself), at concerts would shout "Forte! Forte! Forte viola!!" At the same time, the cellist in the Britten played with cool detachment, almost bemused, except in a solo passage, when her expression became one of open-faced wonder. The players carried off the Schubert with verve and conviction. All in all, a demanding and engaging evening.

24 April 2015


Early yesterday evening a very green airship sailed over The City, bearing an advertisement for Hendrick's Gin and a huge pair of eyes which reminded me of a whale. But according to various websites, I'm meant to think of a cucumber. It is said that cucumber goes well with gin.

Momi Toby's

Sandwich and iced tea at Momi Toby's Revolution Café Art Bar, on Laguna at Linden Lane. This byway of Hayes Valley is as yet unwrecked by demographic change and the devastations of the condo craze. And the art, Michael Goldman's 'San Francisco Urban Pictograms' is fun.


As an old lady boarded a bus, the driver, who evidently knew her, queried, "And how are you today?" "Just fine," said the old lady; "it's another day in paradise!"

L'Elisir d'Amore

A few nights ago, I took myself to the Conservatory, for a performance of Donizetti's 'L'Elisir d'Amore.' Although the Concert Hall wasn't designed with opera in mind, the staging worked well, complete with a narrow runway along the front and one side of the orchestra pit. In several scenes, singers entered and exited along the runway. Since I was in the third row, singers were often only a few feet away; it was instructive to see how hard the singers were working, and to hear how powerful their voices really were. The costumes were 'American Great Plains' circa 1940; I was reminded of the musical 'Oklahoma.' The running translation was unobtrusively projected onto the silhouette of a barn, at the left rear of the stage. The most impressive singer, of an impressive cast, was the tenor, Mario Rojas. He will have a great career.

04 April 2015


A few nights ago, as I boarded a 5 Fulton bus, the driver said, "The front seats are for seniors. Please give up your seats for seniors!" A lady promptly departed the seat closest to the front door, a seat which I occupied. A moment later, the driver called to the lady who had vacated the seat, and rewarded her with a lollipop! Throughout the run, the driver advised each passenger to "watch your step" when alighting.

29 March 2015


This afternoon, in Aardvark Books, I encountered a book which, according to the book plate, had belonged to a friend, now moved away. I was pleased with this discovery, and bought the book. From time to time, I come across books that I have owned and sold. I like to think that coincidences are signs that The Universe Is Unfolding As It Should!

Some years ago, when I was "between jobs" as the saying has it, I sold books to Aardvark, among which was one I had bought in Iceland in 1971. I never meant to sell it, since it is one of the few mementos I have of that journey. When I realized, the next day, what I had done, I returned to the shop as soon as I could, and bought it back. I still have it.

07 March 2015


A notice outside a local shop reads, "Whatever comes to mind!"


Recently I found myself at the Conservatory, listening to Craig Sheppard play Shostakovich's '24 Preludes and Fugues' Opus 87. I didn't know this work. I've heard his symphonies and string quartets and have seen the opera 'Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk', but haven't heard much else. So Opus 87 was a revelation. The variety of moods and styles was astonishing. Within a few bars the mood could change from lyrical charm to anger to humor and more. A fugue could open as a simple exercise in two-part counterpoint and suddenly explode into several voices and as complex a structure as one could follow. The work takes more than two hours to perform. There was one interval, during which about half the audience deserted the hall. Crass, I thought. Some students brought scores, which they followed assiduously. I spoke with one young man who knew the work; he contrasted it with Hindemith's 'Ludus Tonalis'. Said the performer after long applause and a standing ovation, "This is great stuff, isn't it?"

02 March 2015


During my walk through the neighborhood this afternoon, I observed a new Volkswagen Beetle, bright yellow, adorned with large rubber "eyelashes" above the headlights. I remember Beetles of the 60s and 70s, decorated with flowers and peace signs and whatnot. What is it about the Beetle that invites these additions?

19 February 2015


I took myself and a friend to hear Corey Jamason at the Conservatory play the Goldberg Variations. The harpsichord was a 20th-century instrument, modeled on one of the 17th-century. The evening began with a short suite by J C de Chambonnières, after which the performer left the stage, and returned a moment later in his shirtsleeves, jacketless. This surprised the audience, who responded with good-natured laughter. He explained, somewhat shyly, that since he had to cross arms occasionally to play two keyboards, the jacket would restrict his movement, and his cuffs would snag on keys. So, no jacket. The audience listened with rapt attention throughout, to a very interesting and enjoyable performance. Corey performed the repeats in perhaps 6 of the pieces, so the entire performance took about an hour

11 February 2015

Period Piece

After a pleasant afternoon with a friend, viewing the Keith Haring exhibition at the deYoung Museum, I took myself to the Conservatory of Music, to hear some Beethoven cello sonatas (from Opus 5 and Opus 102) on period instruments. The performance was surprising, interesting, very passionate, energetic --- there were a few moments when I feared that the cellist would fall off his chair! He and the pianist were thoroughly engaged; this was no dry academic exercise in historical reconstruction, but a very expressive and intelligent performance. The cello dated from 1710, the fortepiano from a hundred years later. The cellist admitted that the bow was from the mid-19th century, but averred that its innovations had already been introduced by Beethoven's time. The scores, however, were very 21st century: small digital screens operated by a pedal, by the cellist, and by touch, by the pianist. All in all, a very involving and exciting event, that I felt privileged to hear and see. The encore (after a standing ovation) was a set of variations by Beethoven on themes from Mozart's 'Magic Flute.' A good time was had by all.

04 February 2015


I remember a time, long ago in Iceland, when I happened to be relaxing in a garden behind the parliament building. A very drunk official, possibly a politician, sat down beside me, and spoke to me for some time in Icelandic, a language with which I have only a slight acquaintance. But I caught the drift of his remarks: the abuses which Icelanders were experiencing at the hands of foreign countries, fishing illegally in Icelandic waters. Our very one-sided "conversation" went on for some time; somehow, we understood each other.


Recently, as I was walking along Market Street downtown, I was accosted by a young woman determined to supply me with a cosmetic cream, a promotional item for a nearby shop. "Why not?" she demanded, when I declined the item. "Because," I said, "I'm beautiful already!" A few yards further along, a young man canvassing for an environmental cause queried, "Are you friendly?" "Not right now," I replied.

24 January 2015


A few nights ago, I spent an agreeable early evening at Azucar Lounge, at 9th and Folsom in The City. The Day of the Dead décor makes for a unique ambience, and the drinks and snacks menus are interesting. The bar stools are very uncomfortable --- "leftovers from the Spanish Inquisition," someone said. The rest of the lounge more than makes up for them.

19 January 2015


This evening in The Castro, I observed a young man on a unicycle, pedaling confidently along the new wide sidewalks. I was reminded of an afternoon in Toronto, long ago in my taxi-driving days, when I watched from my cab a young fellow on a unicycle, pedaling up a hill while cradling another unicycle in his arms.


A beautifully restored 1968 Chevrolet Malibu is for sale in my neighborhood. Only $25000!!!