The Bay Area Ridge Trail winds through the southern part of the Presidio, a national park within the boundaries of San Francisco. This part is referred to as the Southern Wilds because it is forested, while other parts of the park are landscaped for other uses.
This walk in the Presidio is a small part of the overall Bay Area Ridge Trail. When completed it will allow adventurous hikers to circle the Bay Area using over 400 miles of trails, mostly on ridges that afford a view.
The fourth Nicole Tang Noonan mystery, tentatively entitled Dark Video, opens with a scene on the section of the trail pictured here. Nicole follows a section of the trail for pedestrians only into a densely wooded section where something unpleasant happens.
I am currently writing Dark Video and hope to publish it this summer.
Pop. 1280 occupies a special place in Jim Thompson's catalog of novels. Like The Killer Inside Me, it is about a sheriff in a small town in Texas who convinces everyone he is a fool while cleverly manipulating criminals and upstanding citizens alike to keep the peace and make life as easy and enjoyable for himself as he can.
The two books are so similar it is tempting to think that when Thompson wrote Pop. 1280 in 1964, he was trying to repeat the success he had with The Killer Inside Me in 1952. Whether or not that was his motive, he accomplished much more. Pop. 1280 is a better novel.
Lou Ford, the sheriff in "Killer" is a psychopath. He is consistently cruel and profoundly unfeeling toward his fellow human beings. Many have remarked that Thompson's portrayal of this type of criminal is unequaled, perhaps because the story is narrated by him in the first person.
Nick Corey, the sheriff in Pop. 1280 is more complex. While capable of being cruel and manipulative, he has genuine feelings for the three women he visits for sex. He has a sense of justice and will do what he must to set things right in his town, even if that means breaking some rules. And he feels guilty when circumstances force him to hurt an innocent person.
Perhaps Thompson was able to treat this subject with greater nuance because by 1964, he was a more experienced writer and as a more mature man
These buildings were originally a station of the U. S. Life-Saving Service. In 1890, they overlooked one of the world's busiest ports. When a ship was disabled or wrecked in the swift currents of San Francisco Bay, lifeboats were launched from the building with the watchtower. A dozen shipwrecks still lie beneath the waters around the Presidio.
In 1915, the Life-Saving Service merged with the Revenue Cutter Service to become the U. S. Coast Guard. Today these buildings are home to the visitor center for the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
For me they are a reminder of how beautiful buildings are when their design is dictated by their purpose and when they employ passive lighting and ventilation systems (windows).
As for the palm trees, remember: there are no native trees in San Francisco.
Readers of the Nicole Tang Noonan mysteries know that at the end of the third book, Dark Picasso, Nicole decides to apply for a research leave that would release her from teaching for one semester and allow her to conduct research.
I have now written several chapters of the fourth Nicole Tang Noonan mystery. Nicole was granted research leave for fall semester and has returned to her home in San Francisco so she can work at the Oakland Museum of California, just across the Bay.
Early in the book, Nicole meets her life-long friend, Irene Gonzalo, for coffee at this intersection. Ninth Avenue and Irving Street is in the Inner Sunset District of San Francisco, just a few blocks from her parents' home.
Enjoyable as it has been to imagine Nicole's campus and surroundings in southeastern Ohio, I'm getting a whole new kick out of setting scenes around the city where I live. As Elmore Leonard once said, "I write about Detroit because I live in Detroit. If I lived in Buffalo, I'd write about Buffalo."
We went to see the film based on Thomas Harris's The Silence of the Lambs when it played in theaters in 1991. It featured wonderful performances by Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, and the rest, and it's terrific film-making all around. At the time, everybody was taking about it.
I never read the book because the subject didn't interest me. I've never had a reason to think about serial killers with bizarre fetishes and I hope I never do. Everyday life serves up so many interesting examples of evil-doing that I don't see the point of seeking out the most bizarre examples instances of humanity's failures.
I'm reading the book now because I've recently read two books on writing that recommend it. The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird and Story Grid by Shawn Coyne both speak of it as a nearly perfect example of a hero-solves-a-big-problem type of story.
I'm enjoying it. It exemplifies Bird's point that readers pick up a book because it promises a good story, but they keep reading because it develops rich characters. Harris keeps us waiting for the next revelation of Clarice's personality as much as for the next break in the case.
Just for fun, we streamed the movie last weekend. It holds up very well, and it stays very close to the book.
We watched The Highwaymen and enjoyed it. Then I read the mainstream reviews. The professional reviewers seem preoccupied with how it compares to Bonnie and Clyde (1967), the enduring classic starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway by Arthur Penn.
The Highwaymen is a different movie for a different time, as is Gun Crazy (1950), which also dramatizes the real-life crime spree of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. It's different because it tells the story from the point-of-view of law enforcement, but also because of what it says about America.
This film makes clear that in the 1930s people were desperate for work and desperate to put food on the table. Since hard work and playing by the rules wasn't working, the people loved the idea of breaking all the rules and taking whatever they needed and wanted. Bonnie and Clyde became their heroes.
This film makes equally clear that Bonnie and Clyde robbed and killed poor people as well as rich people. They had to be stopped, and conventional law enforcement couldn't do the job. So the governor of Texas, Ma Ferguson (Kathy Bates), hired a couple of former Texas Rangers to work without official authorization.
Thus, this movie is about outlaws chasing outlaws at a time when the people had lost faith in the law. There is no romance about the real-life law men played by Woody Harrelson and Kevin Costner. They're smart and they're tough, but they are thugs hired by the state to kill. They know that's what they are. That's made clear in a speech by Harrelson late in the film.
There are neither heroes nor anti-heroes in this film. There is instead a description of America falling apart as it did in the 1930s. There is also a reminder that, bad as income inequality is today, we have seen nothing approaching the Great Depression in my lifetime.
This row of wood-frame houses bisects a block in the Western Addition of San Francisco. They cannot be reached by car. The paved walk that runs in front of them is designated as Cottage Row by street signs at either end. If you lived in one of them, your mailing address would be, for instance, 3 Cottage Row.
These houses and the Victorian-style houses on the adjacent streets were built as rental properties in the 1880s. Now they are individually owned. Recent listings show them as having either 1000 or 1500 square feet of living space, depending apparently on whether the basement is finished. Prices are approaching $2 million.
One compensation for paying that much for a house with no parking space is the green space that runs along the other side of the paved walk. It is a mini-park, maintained by the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department.
There are pedestrian-only "streets" (often called lanes) here and there throughout the city. Some are on steep hillsides such as the eastern face of Telegraph Hill. Some, like Cottage Row, are on flat ground. Most are remnants of a time when people mostly got where they were going by walking.
Peter Lovesey has had a long-running success with his series about Superintendent Peter Diamond, set in the historic city of Bath. Throughout his career, he has had shorter series based around other characters, and he has written ten stand-alone novels.
One of those stand-alones, The Reaper, belongs to that peculiar genre in which the hero is the villain. Of course we're appalled at his crimes, yet we empathize because, as Matt Bird says in The Secrets of Story, he is making decisions and attempting difficult things.
The Soho Press paperback describes The Reaper as "A dark delicious tale of a handsome and popular village cleric who has no conscience." Publishers Weekly calls it "An extremely clever, exquisitely written story of a murderous rector who manages to earn a great deal of our sympathy while dramatically whittling down his flock."
Published in 2000, The Reaper, recalls mid-century classics such as Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley and Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me. It might also be compared to James M. Cain's benchmarks of the 1930s, The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity. And we must not forget Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl (2012), which brought this kind of story into the present.
What sets The Reaper apart from the others is its tone. The others are infused with dread, but Lovesey's book is "a bit of a romp," as the Brits might say. It's as if he said, "If we're going to be inside the mind of a psychopath for an entire novel, we may as well have some fun."
The Reaper is an exception to Lovesey's usual novels in which the police do their job and justice prevails. The same might be said of Agatha Christie's Endless Night (1968). Long live the exceptions!
On a recent trip to Scottsdale, Arizona, we came upon this OLEV sculpture. Little is known about the artist, Inda Mira. The name is thought to be a pseudonym.
There is no consensus among critics about the meaning of these parodies of Robert Indiana's famous LOVE sculptures. Few have even speculated about Mira's decision to reverse the L and the E.
Mira made many three dimensional OLEVs, but no two-dimensional copes survive. While Indiana's LOVE image was popular in prints and even appeared on a US postage stamp, OLEV survives only in sculptural form.
Perhaps because of Mira's refusal to market the image as prints, t-shirts, coffee mugs, and other merchandise, OLEV has never taken its place alongside LOVE as an icon of Pop Art.
Happy April Fool's Day!
"The Star Girl" (aka "Star Maiden") was sculpted by A. Stirling Calder for the Panama Pacific International Exposition, a world's fair held in San Francisco in 1915. Ninety-five plaster replicas of it decorated one of the pavilions. This bronze copy was made recently for a bank building in San Francisco.
Audrey Munson was Calder's model for "The Star Girl." She also modeled for other figures at the Exposition by Calder and several other artists. She appeared in so many sculptures, paintings, mosaics, coins and other media that she became famous as "The Exposition Girl." She was twenty-four years old.
Before and after the Exposition, Munson modeled for many nude and semi-nude figures that appear on federal and state buildings, museums, cemeteries, memorials---anywhere architects place allegorical figures such as Peace, Abundance, Sorrow, Justice, etc. She was the model for Liberty on the half-dollar coin issued by the US Mint in 1916.
Beginning in 1915, she appeared in four silent films, playing the role of an artist's model. She was the first woman to appear nude in an American film.
Her brilliant career was brought to an end in 1919 by Dr. Walter Wilkins who murdered his wife because, he said, he was in love with Munson. At that time, Munson lived with her mother in a boarding house in Manhattan owned by Wilkins. Although Munson strongly denied any relationship with the doctor, she could get no modeling work after this.
She tried to continue her film career and to capitalize on her fame in various publicity stunts, but ended up supported by her mother. In 1922 she attempted suicide. In 1931 a court ordered her committed to a psychiatric facility where she lived the rest of her life. She died in 1996 at the age of 104..
Her image can still be seen on buildings and monuments throughout the United States.
This plaza is at 555 Market Street, San Francisco. It's outside a couple of skyscrapers that started out as headquarters for oil companies, and now rent out to all kinds of companies.
Stare at the center line and then sweep your eyes side to side. You may notice the paving looks like it's starting to fold up like the bellows of an accordion, or like a folding screen.
In reality it's perfectly flat. All the black pieces are the same size and shape, and so are all the white pieces. You can stand at the end of any row and see the same illusion.
The only reference to a similar visual illusion I could find is the "Missing Corner Cube." It is supposed to have three possible interpretations, but I could see only two.
Until the twentieth century, the western half of San Francisco remained sand dunes. Then it was covered with attached houses and apartment buildings. It is divided into two districts: the Richmond, north of Golden Gate Park; and the Sunset, south of the park.
Since these districts cover such a vast area, San Franciscans refer to the side closer to the center of the city as the Inner Richmond and the Inner Sunset, and to the side closer to the ocean as the Outer Richmond and the Outer Sunset.
Because both districts were built up at the same time, they look very similar. Most people, looking at a picture like this, couldn't tell you whether it is in the Richmond or the Sunset. This street happens to be in the Inner Sunset district.
Readers of the Nicole Tang Noonan mysteries know this is where Nicole grew up. If she were a real person, her family would live on a street like this, though I imagine they live in a house that has just one floor of living space above the street level rather than two, as these do.
Nicole talks about walking from home to visit the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. It is an easy walk from houses like these on the blocks along the south side of the park.
The tall buildings in the upper-right corner of the picture are on Russian Hill, more than a mile east of where I was standing in Cow Hollow. Yet they seem to rise up and loom over the houses close to me.
Because it's built on hills, San Francisco is full of view like this. About four years ago, standing in about the same spot, I looked north and saw an ocean liner on the Bay seeming to loom over the houses down the hill from me.
Trying to understand what makes view like this so uncanny, I found an article on the psychology of perception. It seems we have several ways of understanding the sizes of objects.
For instance, if I'm standing close to a house, it fills most of my visual field, so it looks big. If I stand far from it, it fill less of my visual field so it looks smaller, but I know the house is the same size as it was, so I correct for that mentally.
But when I know a distant object (tall building) is bigger than closer objects (houses), and closer objects are going down hill, and distant objects are going uphill, I have a lot more mental correcting to do. So, I guess, that makes the view more fun to look at.
Fortunately we do all this without having to think about it.
Back in 1995, the reviews for To Die For were full of phrases like "black comedy," "sharp satire," and "witty parody." I was spellbound by this movie, but I didn't find much to laugh about.
The plot is lifted from James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice. A woman is frustrated by her boring or boorish husband so she seduces some fool and persuades him to kill the husband.
But, in the screenplay by Buck Henry, based on a story by Joyce Maynard, there is a variation. The wife isn't bored as in Cain's iconic novel; she is ambitious. She wants to be a television personality, and she's willing to start her career by doing the weather on a local cable channel.
When the film was released, critics focused on the satire of America's obsession with celebrity, and there is some of that. But, in my humble opinion, they overlooked the film's chilling rendition of the archetypal noir plot.
For one thing, the fool is a teenager played by Joaquin Phoenix with heartbreaking vulnerability. And two other teenagers, brilliantly played by Casey Affleck and Alison Folland also fall under the wife's spell. That makes the noir a bit darker.
But most of all there is Nicole Kidman's performance. She compels belief as her character progresses from cute "little lady," to driven career woman, to ruthless exploiter, to deluded psychopath. This role should be studied and taught as an example of finding the arc of a character.
To be fair, back in 1995, critics recognized the high quality of the acting and writing, and of the direction by Gus Van Sant. Perhaps they came away laughing, because a woman with career ambitions was not taken so seriously then. After #MeToo, we're not laughing any more.
If you don't look too hard at this building, you might think it is one of those left behind in the Presidio by the U. S. Army. But in fact it is part of the Letterman Digital Arts Center, completed in 2005.
This complex of buildings is home to Lucasfilm Ltd. though you would never know it unless you wander into the lobby full of Star Wars memorabilia or notice the bronze statue of Yoda tucked away under an arbor.
The name of the complex is taken from the building it replaced, the Letterman Army Hospital. Both with its name and its architecture this creative powerhouse flies under the radar on the former army base turned national park.
Readers of the Nicole Tang Noonan mysteries will recall that in Dark Exhibit Nicole calls her childhood friend, Irene Gonzalo, and finds out that an acquaintance from her college days now works for Industrial Light and Magic in the Presidio. This would be his workplace.