To spend an afternoon watching the Smuin Ballet company dance to the music of Dave Brubeck, Johnny Cash, and Carl Orff, is to see humanity perfected.
Watching these dancers do such difficult things so that we can feel joy and sadness and wonder makes me think maybe we're not such a bad species after all.
The Fall, 2019, show starts off with new work by Rex Wheeler set to Dave Brubeck's, "Take Five," "Blue Rondo a la Turk," and other classic recordings. These are fun, full of chuckles and surprises.
The show also includes James Kedelko's "The Man in Black," a suite of dances set to songs from Johnny Cash's last album, The Man Comes Around, (2002). Listening to Cash sing songs like "If You Could Read My Mind" and "Hurt" moves us into the realm of classical tragedy. They are that deep.
Kedelko's dances put three men and one woman into costumes fit for line dancing at a cowboy bar, right down to the boots. Those boot heels play percussion on some numbers. The blending of vernacular dance with the power of classical ballet matches the intensity of Cash's recordings.
The company keeps alive the legacy of its founder, Michael Smuin, with his dance to Carmina Burana, a choral work from 1936, based on a collection of poems from the middle ages. The dance is as startling as the music. I would have to see it again to comprehend its symbols, rhythms, and physical daring.
As usual at a Smuin dance series, never a dull moment.
We enjoy going to the neighborhood movie houses in San Francisco, though there are fewer each year. I've lost count of how many have closed since we moved here twelve years ago. I wrote about one, The Clay, last year. It's still up and running and is thriving on art films and midnight showings of The Room, The Rocky Horror Show, and Halloween.
We recently went to the Balboa to see The Rock, the 1996 action flick set in San Francisco. Among other things, the movie is a contest to see who can deliver the best tough-guy line. Competition was intense between Ed Harris, Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery , but, judging by audience reaction, Connery was the favorite.
However, the biggest cheer of the night was for the aerial shot of the bay blanketed by fog. Fog rules!
The retrospective showing was organized by two columnists for the San Francisco Chronicle, Heather Knight and Peter Hartlaub. They hosted a trivia quiz before the movie started and handed out prizes. Then a guy in full Scottish tartan marched down the aisle of the theater playing "Scotland, the Brave" on bagpipes.
"Well," I thought, "why not?" Later my dear one suggested to me that this may have been a subliminal effort by local Scots to boost Connery's profile with the audience . . . as if Sean Connery needs an boosting!
This pedestrian mall interrupts Buchanan Street in the neighborhood called Japantown. This is where immigrants from Japan settled in the early twentieth century, but back then these blocks where covered with typical San Francisco Victorian-style houses.
All those houses were bull-dozed as part of an urban renewal project in the 1960s. That was possible because the neighborhood had been ruined by the internment of citizens of Japanese ancestry after the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.
Today this development covers six square blocks and includes shopping malls, hotels, churches, and cultural institutions. The Buchanan-Street mall includes several sculptures by Ruth Asawa, a renowned artist who as a child was interned along with her family.
Although it was never again a Japanese neighborhood, Japantown became a living history museum for the Japanese community.
The store on the right is Soko Hardware. "Soko" was the immigrants' nickname for San Francisco.
In a neighborhood called Pacific Heights, Upper Fillmore, or Western Addition, depending on who you talk to, this hospital replaced two blocks of Victorian homes. It was designed in the Brutalist style, which is the architectural term for unbelievable masses of raw concrete.
It's not a hospital any more. Sutter Health/CPMC built an even bigger hospital eight blocks away. This building is now used for a variety of outpatient services: dialysis, cancer treatment, podiatry, etc.
One might wonder what is going on upstairs in all those old hospital rooms. A Google search of the address, 2333 Buchanan Street, yields this from AirBnB: "Rent Apartments in CPMC Lab from $20/night." Just for the record, that works out to $600 per month in a city where small studio apartments go for around $1,500 per month.
I wonder if the neighbors in their stately homes dream of getting rid of this monster. Could it even be done? How does one take down a building made of poured concrete? Dynamite?
While taking a walk in the Presidio the other day, I was treated to this spectacle. Looking through the trees along the path and over Presidio Parkway, I watched fog slide in from the straits, slip under the Golden Gate Bridge, and cover the north side of the bay. Eventually it covered the roadway of the bridge, leaving the towers visible.
Meanwhile the south side of the bay, where I was walking, stayed clear. In fact I spent the rest of the afternoon in the Presidio and enjoyed warm, sunny weather, while the bridge and the bay remained shrouded. Sometimes the fog does that: goes just so far and stops.
Fog's gotta do what fog's gotta do.
Most of us first learn about Alcatraz Island from movies such as Escape from Alcatraz with Clint Eastwood and The Rock with Nicholas Cage. Most of us think of it as a prison. But, as the National Park Service delights in telling visitors, it is also a sanctuary for endangered species of birds, a museum of military history, an ancestral site for the Ohlone people, and often recently, an art museum.
Thanks to the Presido Trust, we rode the ferry out to the island to see an exhibition called "Future IDs at Alcatraz." The work shown is the result of helping people in prison imagine replacing their prison ID with another ID card when they are released. The project challenged them to imagine a new identity and create a pictorial representation of it.
I'm no expert in this field, but intuitively it seems right to add this exercise in imagination to the job-training, counseling, and parole-supervision that help people re-join society.
Four years ago, we visited the island for another art exhibit "@Large". That one featured work by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who was then under arrest in his country. He sent instructions for the installation, without sending any art objects. There have been other exhibits on the island, but those featuring art that comes out of imprisonment have a special resonance.
By the way, I did not use any filters to create the photo, taken from the boat on the way to the island. There was some mist in the air that morning, and it created the impressionist style.
Sam's Grill has been around in one form or another since 1867. It's one of a handful of businesses remaining from the Gold Rush era. There's also Tadich's Grill, The Mechanics' Institute, and, of course, Levi Strauss.
A few years ago Sam's was set to close and a group of customers banded together to buy the business. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, they remain anonymous. Since then there have been management changes and even a lease to renegotiate, but Sam's endures.
Stories like this keep turning up. Borderlands Books on Valencia Street was set to close when customers and neighborhood folks showed up with cash and expertise to keep it open. At the time this was referred to as "the public radio model."
We may be witnessing a merger of the non-profit and the for-profit. Sometimes, it seems, we don't believe in survival of the fittest. Maybe we don't want to live in a world populated entirely by the fittest.
We celebrated the holiday by going to hear the Golden Gate Park Band play "Music Celebrating American Independence." This year that included "America Forever" by Malinda Zenor, "Lassus Trombone" by Henry Fillmore, "Armed Forces Medley" arr. by Roc McNaughton, and others.
Now in its 137 season, the band is sponsored by San Francisco's Recreation and Parks Department and is compromised of members of American Federation of Musicians Union Local #6. It plays free concerts on Sundays from May through September. To my ear they sound mighty fine.
It is such a pleasure to hear instruments play without amplification. The soft passages are perfectly clear; the loud passages are easy on the ears. The band shell lets them be heard perfectly throughout this section of the park.
I sat back and felt proud of my country.
Yerba Buena Gardens is one of the lovliest urban open spaces I've seen. It's winding paths invite a change of pace. It has a pleasant mix of wooded and open spaces. The outdoor stage frequently offers concerts and dance troops in the warmer months. The sound of its waterfall sculpture buffers the noise of the city.
On a recent visit I found it filled with people wearing ID badges, gathered in circles, studying workbooks, and talking earnestly to one another. I asked a couple of them what was going on and learned this was a leadership conference for "managers and up" of the corporation that runs Panda Express, the franchise restaurant.
The corporate presence in San Francisco seems to grow daily. On this day, it spilled into Yerba Buena Gardens and a place for rest became a place for work.
When the Smuin Contemporary Ballet does a program entitled, "The Best of Smuin," they refer to choreography by the founder of the company, Michael Smuin. Over several seasons, I've seen dances he choreographed to the music of classical composers beginning with Bach as well as dances to the music of the Beatles, Xavier Cougat, Leon Redbone, and hundreds more.
The spring 2019 program included a solo dance to the song, "Fever," by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell. In the 1950s, it became Peggy Lee's signature song. More recently Madonna and Beyonce have had success with it.
In Michael Smuin's choreography, the song, with its obsessive refrain, "You give me fever," becomes an encounter between a woman and a folding chair. This photo by Chris Hardy of company member Erica Felsch suggests the mood of the dance, but the variety of interactions must be seen to be believed.
In a previous post, I wrote about the graveyard of ships that lies outside the straits known as the Golden Gate, the only entrance to San Francisco Bay. Here is a photo of it, taken at relatively low tide (I did not consult tide tables. I just happened to be there.) You can see some of the off-shore rocks that become submerged at high tide.
According to the National Park Service, there have been "countless" shipwrecks in these straits since the Gold Rush of 1849 first brought ships to San Francisco Bay. Many natural features make this entrance perilous, including a channel hundreds of feet deep beneath the bridge. But one feature causes more wrecks than any other: fog.
Among the victims of fog was the the Ohioan, which ran aground in 1936 about where this picture was taken. It's cargo was salvaged for months, and it's skeleton lay exposed for two years. Parts of it can still be seen at low tide.
You can read about other infamous wrecks at the Park Service page linked above.
When the new building on the left was proposed, members of the church on the right fought against approval of its design because it would block sunlight from some of the clerestory windows that let light into its sanctuary.
As you can see, it does. Since the new building is on the south side of the church, the effect is greatest in the winter. You can also see the new building was modified to pull its top story back to let more light in through the windows of the cupola.
Some church members went so far as to say the sunlight was an essential element of their worship and that therefore blocking it compromised their freedom to worship as they pleased. The builders said if that were true the church's architect was wrong to put those windows so close to the property line.
Shade is often an issue for zoning and approval as the city becomes more crowded. It seems a shame for owners of an older building to be told they are losing daylight. But access to sunlight doesn't mean you have partial ownership of the land next door.
Approval of the new building may have gotten a boost from the character of the neighborhood. Across the street are tall industrial buildings housing the Anchor Steam Brewing Company,
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.
This picture is not crooked. The house is standing up straight. The street is steep. That's why the cars look funny. This is the northern part of Fillmore Street, descending into Cow Hollow on the way to the Marina District.
In a city built mostly on hills, parking gets interesting. In general, turn you wheels toward the curb when you parallel park. That means, turn them as if making a left turn if your car is pointed uphill; turn them as if making a right turn when your car is pointed downhill.
If you don't, the parking authority will write you a ticket. Putting the transmission in park and setting the emergency brake won't always keep a car from rolling down hill. If your wheels are turned to the curb, apparently the car will stop before it can get rolling. I've never tried it.
But on really steep streets like Fillmore, parallel parking with wheels turned to the curb won't do the job, so we park perpendicular to the curb. On the signs it actually says, "90-degree parking only."
This way you can be sure the car won't roll down the hill on its wheels, but if you open the passenger-side door suddenly, it feels as if the car is going to roll over on top of you.
I've written several times about The Presidio, a former army base turned into a National Park. I have featured the view of San Francisco Bay from the Main Post and The Walt Disney Family Museum.
I've been volunteering there to introduce people to the four sculptures in the park by Andy Goldsworthy. I've featured two of them here, Tree Fall and Earth Wall.
But I haven't written about the neighborhood along the southern border of the park, Presidio Heights. These hillside homes are highly desirable because they look over the treetops of the forest planted by the U. S. Army and have a view of San Francisco Bay.
But it's not all sweetness and light. You can't walk more than a block or two among the mansions without coming upon a scene like this. Indeed sometimes you'll find two houses in the same block with a tool shed and a dumpster parked in front.
You should not conclude from this that the neighborhood became run down and has to be rehabilitated. I doubt Presidio Heights has ever been anything but splendid.
No, the orgy of remodeling is driven by the boom times in the city's economy. People with big houses have big bucks to spend swapping out the oak flooring for cherry, adding a roof garden, and doubling the size of the kitchen.
No one seems to mind the cluttered streetscape. I wonder how they would react if someone parked an RV at the curb.