Sunday, December 11, 2011

SANTArchy in North Beach

North Beach was crawling with Santas yesterday, and most were both naughty and nice.
There was cross-dressing Santa, drunk Santa, sexy Santa, go-go Santa, and assorted reindeer and elves...

They roamed the streets in groups and walked from pub to pub, where they were received with applause and laughter.

Then they converged on Washington Square Park at 3 o'clock, where the press said everyone was going to get naked to break a record for the Guinness Book of World Records.

But only one Santa was intrepid enough to take his clothes off in the middle of a mob. He ran around the perimeter, trying to drum up enthusiasm.

But that Santa, anyway, didn't get his wish.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Deserted City

No one was out on the streets last night when we walked to Fort Mason to see Annapurna at the Magic Theatre. That was okay with me.

It was an easy walk downhill on Columbus to Aquatic Park, where the water in the cove was moving around more than usual after the rain. We even heard a very small wave or two crash on the beach.

We walked around the cove to the base of the hill that separates Aquatic Park from Fort Mason, where I tried to capture a picture of Ace, but my iphone wasn't really up to the task. I think this blurry photo looks romantic, but he's actually telling me to hurry up and stop taking pictures.

From the crest of the hill, we could see down into the parking lot at Fort Mason, where Off the Grid takes place every Friday night--a few dozen food trucks in a circle, a live band, and a lot of people milling around and sampling the wares. We took the shortcut down the dark, steep stairs.

It was hard choosing what to eat, because there were so many good smells emanating from so many food trucks with fanciful names like Chairman Bao and Curry Up Now. We ended up having a kind of corn pancake sandwich stuffed with plaintains, black beans, skirt steak, and cheese--delicious.

The band had a charming singer who sounded a little like Maria Muldaur. We stood and listened while we ate our food. Then we went to the play, which turned out to be fantastic.

Annapurna tells the story of a poet who is dying of lung cancer when his ex-wife whom he hasn't seen for 20 years shows up. It has a fantastic set, a great script, wonderful acting, and even some nudity. What more could you ask for? The play made me laugh out loud several times, and also made me cry. I give it five stars. It plays through Dec. 4. See it if you can.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Day of the Dead in San Francisco

Last night we went to San Francisco's Day of the Dead festivities sponsored by the Marigold Project.
Death at Garfield Park

The event wasn't a drunken debauch, and included many children, like the two little girls we saw when we got off the bus at 24th and Mission.
These girls wear formal dresses, put paper flowers in their hair, and carry candles: traditional Dias de los Muertos garb

We stopped at a Mexican bakery to buy some pan de muertos, or bread of the dead, which is shaped like human bodies. They also sold sugar skulls.
Celebrants buying pan de muertos at a Mexican bakery

Then we made our way to Garfield Park on the corner of 25th and Harrison, where all kinds of people had set up altars to honor their dead loved ones. Most were elaborate.
Photographs and flowers festoon a huge tree trunk

Musicians perform beside a complex altar

Others were humble.
A simple alter set up around the base of a lamppost includes food, marigolds, and candles

Some altars invited passersby to write a note to a dead relative. So I wrote a greeting to my mother June, my father Kenneth, and my father-in-law Phil, and dropped it in a tall glass. Then we lit candles and joined the procession dancing down 24th Street.

My friend Evy said this is one of the only events in San Francisco that hasn't been taken over by commercial interests. It is all home grown, and everyone is welcome to participate. I was struck by the wedding gowns women wear, and the pervasive Death faces. It's exciting to see people engage in a romantic relationship with Death, instead of running from it.
Death looks right at me

Here's a video that gives you a feel for the procession. The first part shows some kind of Death insect. Note the two skeletons kissing in the foreground. After that, it's all about the drums.

When we reached Mission Street, Evy suggested seeing the altars created by professional artists at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, but I didn't want to pay $5 for the reception they were hosting that night. Looking over their web site now, though, I regret it not going in. Next year, I want to sign up for the workshops on altar creation and making paper marigolds. The exhibits will be on display until November 19 at 2868 Mission Street.

After the parade officially ended, some bands broke off and continued dancing in the streets. Here's a rogue band of revelers passing in front of the bus we took home.

And here's Death as a woman, reminding you to honor and remember your dead relatives and friends.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Another Beautiful Day in Paradise

View from the municipal pier that encircles Aquatic Park

In the morning I rode my bike down to Hyde Street Pier where I had volunteered to take tickets for We Players' performance of The Odyssey on a ship (which, btw, is fantastic). I wore my bathing suit under my clothes, hoping I'd be able to repeat my performance of last week, when I got into the Bay for the first time.

When my work was done, Ace joined me on his bike and the two of us went over to the Dolphin Club, which has showers, a sauna, a little beach of its own, and is open to the public for a $6.50 fee every other day. (The South End Club, next door, is open to the public on alternate days.)

This time, I brought an insulated swimming cap like I'd seen others wearing. I also brought underwear, so I could take my suit off after the swim and not have to bike home in sopping wet clothes. I not only got into the water, I swam out to the flag and back, which is a half mile. It was pretty hard for me, but also felt REALLY good to be in the water.

I also brought a little glass bottle with me, and filled it with Bay water to bring home and put on an altar I have set up in my hallway. When I opened my eyes while swimming, the water looked greenish and had particles of silt or sand in it, as I would expect. But the water I took near the shore is perfectly transparent. I am amazed at how clear our beautiful Bay water is.

Back at home, Ace sent me out to the store for some dinner fixings. It didn't take long to figure out that Halloween comes early to North Beach.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Only the Brave Swim in SF Bay

It was a gorgeous--and hot--day in San Francisco, as this man with a giant cupcake would attest.
Jack Cesareo brought his giant cupcake all the way from New York to San Francisco in one month. You can read about his journey here.

So I told Ace that I wanted to try to realize my four-month-old ambition of swimming in the Bay. Our plan was to ride our bikes to Sports Basement, where I would rent a wetsuit. Then we would ride back to Aquatic Park, where I would try my hardest to get into the freezing cold water. If I didn't succeed, well, at least we could take the wetsuit back.

On the way to the store, though, we noticed that the door to the Dolphin Club was open. I'd been thinking about joining this swimming and rowing club, which has been around since 1877, as a motivation to get me into the water. Once inside, I poked around the old three-level clubhouse, and noticed that many people were swimming, but no one was wearing a wetsuit.
View from the top level of the Dolphin Club

So I thought, what the hell... I walked down to their little beach and took my clothes off.
Step one of swimming in the Bay: take off your clothes. It's best if you have a bathing suit on underneath.

Then, inch by inch, I eased myself into the water, until...voila!
My first swim in the Bay. No, I'm not screaming. That's a big (foolish?) grin.

After I got out of the water, I put my clothes back on, which meant I immediately became soaking wet. That didn't dampen my spirits, though. A long-time Dolphin Club member I met today said once she got in the Bay, that was it, she was hooked. I think I know what she means...
Swimming in the beautiful San Francisco Bay made me happy

The Bay waters are calm inside the protective circle of Aquatic Park

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Ferlinghetti Reads a Poem

LitQuake's big LitCrawl event is tonight, and I'm stuck going to a school benefit for work. :(

This is what they call a #firstworldproblem on Twitter. I love that phrase, because it acknowledges that we who have choices have no serious complaints.

The LitCrawl will take over multiple venues in the Mission District. Each hour, participants have 10 or so free events to choose from. Just looking over the schedule makes me feel excited. The school benefit will... Well, you don't really want to know.

LitQuake nearly passed me by entirely this year, due to conflicts my schedule (#firstworldproblem). I did manage to pop in to City Lights Books one night, though, and hear the legendary Lawrence Ferlinghetti read a poem. I barely managed to squeeze into a spot on the floor, and the camera angle isn't good, but you can hear his voice clearly. Consider it cinema verite.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti reads a poem at City Lights

Many people recited poetry and literature, including poet Michael McClure, and various translators of foreign works. Most praised New Directions publishing, which was the first house to publish Ferlinghetti, for bringing important authors to the attention of this country. I thought the best poem read that night was Lament of the Frontier Guard, a moving anti-war poem by Ezra Pound, another author nurtured by New Directions. After the readings were over, I went across the street to have a drink with Ace at Spec's.

City Lights as seen from the patio in front of Spec's

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Italians Take Over North Beach

I heard that there would be a parade in North Beach on the holiday formerly known as Columbus Day, but I had no idea it would totally take over the neighborhood and be so much fun. When we walked out of our flat Sunday morning, we found Stockton and Columbus streets lined with tables where people were sitting and eating antipasto and waiting for the parade. Bacchus--the Roman God of Wine--was standing near one of them. He was planning to give wine to all the paraders as they passed. He must have had a lot of it.

Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, getting ready for the Columbus Day parade

Washington Square was full of Ferraris on display. And on Filbert Street, across from Saints Peter and Paul church, an Italian accordion band was playing. Check out the groovy outfits on the musicians.

We hopped on our bikes and road down to the wharf to see the staging area. All kinds of groups were practicing their acts. One that looked fun was the Los Tranchos Woods Community Marching Band. Later, I saw them perform in the parade.

Hundreds of sailors and marines were in town for Fleet Week, and also marched in the parade. They were a big hit with the ladies, as you can tell by the women who run out to pose with the sailors as they pass.

The scene was very casual, with people weaving through the paraders, like these restaurant workers trying to get some food to a table across the street.
Waitresses dash through the parade with a rolling cart of food

One highlight for me was seeing several of my students from the San Mateo High School Marching Band and Color Guard. I followed them around for awhile, trying to get a good video clip. "Ms. Fergusson!" one cried. "Did you come all the way up to San Francisco to see us?"

"No," I laughed. "I live a block away." :)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

It's Fleet Week in San Francisco

Everybody's favorite part of Fleet Week in San Francisco is when the Blue Angels perform. Here's a short but sweet clip of them flying over Aquatic Park on Saturday.

Fleet Week means lots of young, fit men walking around North Beach and the Embarcadero in uniform, like these sailors aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard aircraft carrier which is open for public viewing.
The hanger deck of the USS Bonhomme Richard aircraft carrier

Ace and I walked from North Beach to pier 30-32 Saturday morning to take a tour of the ship, which is docked south of the Bay Bridge. We got there around 8:30 a.m. There was already a long line.
People waiting to get aboard the ship. Those are aircraft on the deck in the distance.

The landing deck of the USS Bonhomme Richard, with helicopters at the far end and the Bay Bridge in the distance

The helicopters on board looked pretty old to me. And Ace said this Osprey model (half plane, half helicopter) had been decommissioned more than once because of its tendency to crash. But sailors on board told us it's back in the fleet.
The Osprey is known for spontaneously crashing

This artwork on a ship wall helped me tone down the awe and wonder.
A grim reminder of what the ship is for

Later we biked out to Aquatic Park to watch the air show. Here are the Canadian Snowbirds performing.
The Canadian Snowbirds flying in formation

There will be another air show on Sunday, along with tours of the Bonhomme at pier 30 and other ships at piers 27 and 35, a parade down Columbus Avenue (which I'm pretty sure San Mateo High School's band will be marching in), and a band concert in North Beach's Washington Square. Fleet Week continues on Monday. Here's the list of events.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Occupy Wall Street starts small in San Francisco

I was coming home from the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival last weekend when my attention was grabbed by this small band of protestors walking down Market Street and shouting "Occupy Wall Street."

"Occupy Wall Street" protestors in San Francisco.

I learned later that "Occupy Wall Street" is a national grassroots movement that was kickstarted by this tumblr post We are the 99 Percent where people tell their stories of economic hardship.

The "99 percent" is a reference to a statistic that says that 1% of the country owns 40% of the wealth. The Occupy Wall Street group objects to that, and to unchecked corporate influence on our government which continues to tip the scales towards the super rich by passing laws to: bail out banks with taxpayer money, allow credit card companies to charge exorbitant rates, deny bankruptcy relief on student loans, etc. etc.

The San Francisco group grew to as many as 800 by Wednesday, according to this article in the SF Chronicle. But Thursday morning, officers dismantled a makeshift camp of 200 outside the Federal Reserve Bank on Market Street.

I'm not sure what the group is asking for, specifically, but I went to these sites to learn more. Here's the official Occupy Wall Street site, with pictures of a big protest in Liberty Square in NYC.

Here's the official Occupy SF site.

Here's a Facebook link which purports to list the group's "Declaration of Occupation of New York City."

Here's a column about the movement by the New York Times' Paul Krugman, a HuffPo analysis of the group by John Wellington Ennis, and a Mother Jones story by Andy Kroll about the big unions joining in.

Interesting things are happening in our country.

I thought this poster said it all:

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Hardly Strictly North Beach

One thing I like about living in North Beach is I can get anywhere in San Francisco pretty easily from here, as long as I'm not driving a car. Buses pass by Washington Square every five minutes--the 30-Stockton, the 45-Union, the 8x-Bayshore Express--and if we walk down to Broadway or beyond that to Market, we can hop on virtually every bus in town.

That means when my friend calls to say her son is playing cello in a Russian band at an art show opening in the Mission district, we can spontaneously decide to go. Ace and I walked down to Broadway and caught the 12-Folsom to see this fun performance at the Bethany Senior Center on Capp Street after work Friday night.

Leo's Russian band playing at the Bethany Senior Center.

Then today, we walked down to Market and caught the 5-Fulton to meet friends at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park. This was my first time. On the bus over, which was crammed with people on their way to the free festival, I learned that one mega-rich man pays for the whole thing--Warren Hellman. Here's a clip of his band: the Wronglers. As you can see, in the morning there was room to move around.

The Wronglers playing on Rooster Stage, one of six set up in Golden Gate Park for Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.

But by the time Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson started playing in the afternoon on Star Stage, the crowd was packed in tight.

Merle Haggard on the Star Stage in the afternoon. Someone compliments my hat part way through this clip. :)

Much as I liked the music, I bailed out early to escape the crowd. I got off the bus on Market Street just in time to see this small group shouting "Occupy Wall Street" march past.

A small band of "Occupy Wall Street" protestors marches down Market Street.

Back in North Beach, the hustle bustle of my new neighborhood seemed peaceful and calm in comparison to the festival.

Buskers playing in the neighborhood.

And back in the flat, I was glad to take my shoes off and put my feet up. It was a good day.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Is This the Way to Muir Woods?

The plan was to bike from our flat in North Beach to Muir Woods. Never mind that a younger and fitter couple titled their blog about that particular ride "To Hell and Back." We're experienced bikers. We've biked over the Golden Gate Bridge a dozen times. We even biked all the way down the coast to San Luis Obispo this summer. So we suited up and started off.

The first stop, though, was a little sooner than we expected. It was COLD outside, foggy and damp, and as we headed towards Fisherman's Wharf (about 10 blocks from our house), the siren song of the Buena Vista--the cafe that claims to have invented the Irish Coffee--called to me. "I bet you know what I'm thinking," I said to Ace as we pedaled past. He did.

These weren't all for me.

After a pit stop, we headed down to Aquatic Park to take a look at the swimmers. "One of these days," I keep telling myself, "I'm going to get into that water, too." But not today.

Swimmers on the steps of Aquatic Park beneath Ghiradelli Square

After climbing the hill that overlooks Fort Mason, we coasted down to Marina Green. We had to stop there to take a picture in front of the St. Francis Yacht Club, because that's where we embarked 28 years ago today to get married on a boat on the Bay.

Twenty-eight years later, a little the worse for wear, in front of St. Francis Yacht Club.

After that it was smooth cycling until the steep approach to the Golden Gate Bridge, where Ace suddenly broke a spoke. His back wheel wobbled so badly we had to turn around and head back. He was able to ride his crippled bike most of the way, but on one downhill slope, we thought we'd better walk.

Above the Broadway tunnel. That's the Bay Bridge in the distance.

It's a good thing we live where we do, because there's a bicycle shop right across the street--Cykel. Ace knew he could drop off his wheel for rebuilding, and carry his bike's carcass home. Before we got there, though, we stumbled across a blues band playing on Polk Street. So instead of hiking through the redwoods on our anniversary, I ended up dancing in the streets.

Worked for me! :)

Home sweet home.