Last weekend we went to our favorite place for breakfast. When I was done eating, I looked across the street and noticed the morning light was beautiful on the buildings and the tree.
I started snapping, noticed people were walking by, and managed to catch the woman in the baseball cap in front of the red doorway.
When I got this picture up on my computer screen, I noticed there was a second woman just stepping out of the shadows on the right. She wears a headscarf and carries a yoga mat.
Baseball Cap is wearing yoga pants, so maybe she is walking to a class at the place Headscarf has just left. But Baseball Cap doesn't have a yoga mat. Maybe she's going to another kind of exercise class.
Of course, Headscarf could be carrying that yoga mat as a distraction. She might have been hiding in that dark doorway, waiting for Baseball Cap to walk by, intent on attacking her.
If so, she has a problem. Again, when I got the photo up on my computer, I noticed Baseball Cap is not alone. Look just behind her front foot and you'll see another foot. Someone is walking next to her.
Did Baseball Cap get word that headscarf was laying for her and bring backup?
As Yogi Berra once said, "You can observe a lot just by watching."
Argonaut's website says it offers "fine and rare books in most fields." That is a fine business to be in, and a rare one. It's been around since 1941 and is now operated by the son of the founder, Robert Haines, jr.
The shop gets some tourist trade because it appears in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, or, rather, the original Argonaut did. It was six blocks away on Kearny street. And, in fact, they didn't film the scene with Jimmy Stewart in the store. Rather, they recreated the inside of the store on a soundstage in Hollywood. Still . . .
Haines still does a thriving business, as you can read about in this recent interview. It seems that in the era of ebooks, fine and rare books are valued more than ever. Haines tells a great story about the store's more recent brush with fame. It seems Danielle Steele, a San Francisco resident, dropped by one day.
True confession: I've never seen the inside of this store. Most of my books are paperbacks, nothing fine or rare about them, except the stories and thoughts inside. However, I have an idea for getting someone a gift so I just might walk through that door in the next couple of weeks.
I saw this stairway and liked it so much I had to take its picture.
It's in the Metreon, a building in downtown San Francisco where Ann and I had gone to see a movie. The wall of green outside the windows is the edge of Yerba Buena Gardens, a lovely place to linger if you're ever in town.
It reminds me of the one in the Museum of the African Diaspora, which (come to think of it) is only one block away.
Stairways like this are not hard to like especially for a guy who prefers to take the stairs and counts himself lucky in being able to do so.
But for me, they are more than just pretty. They are somehow theatrical. When walking on them, I see people outside the building and they can see me. I feel exposed, but somehow aloof at the same time.
Such a stairway might serve well for an important scene in a story. A pursuer (sleuth or assassin) might spot the pursued. The pursued might feel safe from the pursuer, but only if he can get to a higher floor and hide.
Hmm . . .
This view of the Golden Gate was taken from the entrance to the Palace of the Legion of Honor, an art museum in San Francisco's Lincoln Park. We are looking into San Francisco Bay with the Pacific Ocean at our backs. Worth noting: if you sail under the Golden Gate Bridge, you've already sailed past about half the city.
This narrow opening to the bay was called the Golden Gate long before the bridge was built in the 1930's. One might assume it was given that name because thousands of ships rushed through it during the Gold Rush, which started in 1849. But in fact this strait was given that name by John C. Fremont in 1846. He saw it as a "golden gate" to trade with Asia.
These waters outside the Golden Gate are known as the graveyard of ships. At low tide pointed rocks look like rows of teeth on either side. At high tide, they lie hidden beneath the surface, waiting to rip open any vessel that strays outside the central channel.
Because of this danger, bay pilots take control of any ship entering or leaving the bay. They must learn the topography of the strait and and study the currents driven by the tides. But their knowledge is not enough to ensure safe passage even when aided by GPS.
Sometims at night, as we lie in our beds, we hear the fog horns like a chorus of tubas warning the pilots to beware the graveyard of ships.
San Francisco is a good city for bookstores. There's the legendary independent store, City Lights, in North Beach. There are other much-loved indies such as Green Apple Books and Browser Books. There are a couple of local chains: Books, Inc., and Book Passage. There is the venerable source of fine books, Argonaut Books.
And then there is G. F. Wilkinson Books in the financial district. This picture shows the entire store. It occupies three retail display windows, which, I assume, are available because the fast-food place that occupies the ground floor of the building didn't need them.
About a year ago, Rick Wilkinson (seen above) decided to retire and it looked like the store would close. But some of his customers formed a collective and took over the store to keep it open. A similar thing happened to Borderlands recently.
And it's not just bookstores going non-profit. Sam's Grill, which had been slinging the hash at Bush and Belden Streets for 147 years closed briefly and was reopened by customers who bought it and started running it.
Apparently we're entering an age when only tech and financials can make a profit. But people gotta eat, and people gotta read.
Several times I saw this bicycle parked in front of the place where we go for breakfast once a week. The painting depicts the Palace of Fine Arts, which is near the cafe.
One day I struck up a conversation with a guy wearing bicycle clothes, and he admitted to being the artist, John Paul Marcelo. We had a nice chat about his work. I especially admired the way he captures the effect of fog to make peripheral elements of the picture recede from the main element.
I didn't ask any of the obvious questions, because they seemed to answer themselves.
Why does he ride around with the painting strapped to back of his bike?
It's the only way to carry it when travelling by bicycle.
Why doesn't he cover the painting to protect it?
This way he advertises his work.
What if it rains?
Then he wouldn't be painting outdoors.
What if it gets scratched?
He can repair it.
The only question I can't answer is: Why don't we see more of this?
San Francisco's Museum of the African Diaspora does many things right. It's within walking distance of several other small museums and one big one (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). It's programming is varied and innovative. The staff is friendly and helpful.
It's architect also got several things right. The front of the building is a three-story window. It showcases stairways that take the visitor to all three levels. I love stairways flooded with daylight, and, if they have a view, so much the better.
The view from this stairway features a visual stairway of buildings across the street, two-story, four-story, six-story, skyscraper. I love the idea of a museum that puts a frame around a piece of the city, allowing me to see it as a work of art.
It helps to know that the lovely, two-story, red-brick building is the home of the California Historical Society, which includes exhibition spaces for history and the arts. Their programming is also excellent.
The Presidio is not a collecting museum, but it mounts remarkable temporary exhibits. Its current exhibit, "Exclusion," has had a higher attendance than any in its history.
The title refers to the internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during the Second World War. On July 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed executive order 9066, which authorized the creation of military exclusion zones "from which any and all persons can be excluded "for protection against espionage . . . and sabotage."
On the strength of this, and without due process of law, Lt. Gen. John DeWitt issued orders forcibly removing and incarcerating 108,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were U. S. citizens.
In the 1980s, under the Reagan administration, the federal government reviewed this history and unequivocally stated that, "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership" had motivated the incarceration, not "military necessity."
The Presidio in San Francisco was the army base where DeWitt was stationed. The desk on display (behind the red sign in the photo) is the one on which he signed these orders.
A lot of folks think Dashiell Hammett had the Hunter-Dulin Building in mind as the location of Sam Spade's office. The owners of the building lay claim to this distinction with a display by one of the entrances that says, "Traced to historic 111 Sutter Street by following directions and clues woven through his novel . . . Sam Spade remains in residence at his 'office at Sutter and Montgomery.'"
It's possible. Construction on the building began in 1925 and was completed in 1927. Hammett's novel, The Maltese Falcon, was published in 1930.
To be sure, I would want to look for the "directions and clues" in the novel, and I would like to find out what buildings occupied the other three corners at Sutter and Montgomery in the late-1920s. I'm not sure when I'll get around to those tasks.
Meanwhile, I keep in mind an observation by my friend, Gloria Lenhardt. The lobby of the building is luxuriously appointed with several kinds of marble and brass elevator doors. Did Spade and Archer attract high-end clients whose fees would pay rent in a posh new building? That seems doubtful, but maybe Hammett was trying to reflect some glamor on his private eye.
I was having coffee in the Potrero Hill neighborhood one day when I looked across the street and saw Golden Gun Investigations above Bloom's Saloon. My first thought was that someone had put those words and that phone number on the window as a spoof of San Francisco's private eye culture.
After all, private investigators usually don't advertise themselves as guns for hire. Also naming anything "Golden" is an obvious choice in a city created by the Gold Rush and defined by the Golden Gate.
But apparently there really was a Golden Gate Investigations. A little Googling revealed its address was more recently in another neighborhood. A little more Googling revealed that they are now out of business.
That means the owners of the building decided to leave the name on the window anyway. For that we thank them. The inscription adds character, though the neighborhood is not short on that commodity.
I like to think the new tenant occasionally wears a trench coat and a fedora and stops downstairs for a shot and a beer on a foggy night.
But not really. The shiny brass plaque by the entrance reads, "This house, built in 1881, was once occupied by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle." San Francisco Plaques seems to have the definitive explanation. It cites Doyle's memoir, which describes the author's trip to this address in 1923 while he was staying at the Clift Hotel downtown. He visited the office of a doctor who shared his interest in spiritualism. Thus he "occupied" perhaps a room or two of the house for a few hours.
They also note that "a publicist who once owned the house is responsible for placing the plaque." This is a classic publicity stunt: implying more than it claims and staying just this side of an outright lie. I don't know why this owner wanted to publicize his house, unless it was to boost its value on the real estate market.
Clearly the publicist knew that people are fascinated by places where authors lived. I confess that during all the years I lived in Philadelphia, I never made it to the house where Edgar Allen Poe lived for a while, even though the National Park Service does its usual superb job of making it available. However on a trip to London, I did go to Maresfield Gardens to visit the house to which Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna fled from the Nazis during World War II. It was fascinating to see all his personal items scattered around his study and, of course, the original psychiatrist's couch.
When I walk downtown to the Mechanics Institute Library I go right by this apartment building. The brass plaque by the entrance tells the passerby that Dashiell Hammett lived here from 1926 to 1929 during which time he wrote Red October, The Dain Curse, and The Maltese Falcon.
It also says he occupied the apartment on the top floor at the northwest corner of the building. That would be the corner you are looking at in this photo. So you can see the windows he looked out of while trying to think of which word to use in whatever sentence he was writing at the moment.
I've inhaled my share of private-eye novels, and I'm aware that Hammett pretty well defined the American version of that genre. But I haven't read everything he wrote, so I hardly qualify as a fan. Believe me, there are folks in town who can recite the years in which the various editions of his novels were published.
But one of my all-time favorite novels was written by Hammett: The Thin Man. I'll admit I was introduced to it by the marvelous film version starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. The novel is much darker than the film. I imagine it ranks pretty low with hard-core Hammett fans because it's about an amateur sleuth, but that's why I like it.
So, yes, I think it's cool to walk on the sidewalk where Hammett came and went everyday for a few years, during which, I imagine, he thought of himself as a guy trying to tell a story someone would want to read. Maybe that gives us something in common.
And, by the way, if you come to town, I'll tell you where you can see his typewriter on display.
I've been hanging out at the Presidio. It's a former army base turned national park. It offers quite a lot in its 1500 acres: history, ecology, recreation, concerts and lectures, and art exhibits. It's always busy with people from San Francisco, the Bay Area, the United States, and all over the world---LOTS of international visitors.
And it's all free of charge. You don't even pay for it with your tax dollars. The Presidio is the only part of the U. S. Park Service that pays for itself. All the buildings left behind by the army have been rented as homes, restaurants, museums, and workplaces. For instance, the Lucas family of companies is now located there (including Industrial Light and Magic). Actually not all the buildings have been repurposed. The bowling alley is still a bowling alley.
The building in the photo is the visitor center. Formerly it was the brig. It still has bars on the windows. Behind it is a view of San Francisco Bay. What looks like a mountain in the background is Angel Island.
Drop by whenever you're in town. Go for a hike, have lunch, visit a museum, and/or kick back in one of those red lounge chairs on the lawn of the Main Post.
. . . a poem lovely as a tree." Certainly not as lovely as this one. I have walked by it a hundred times, and have stood in its shade, but I had never noticed its marvelous shape and scale until I sat having lunch across the street and saw it framed in this archway. From this angle I saw how wide its reach is compared to its slender trunk, and how thick its crown. I defy anyone to compare the engineering of the skyscrapers that surround it with the efficiency of its design.
Joyce Kilmer ends his deceptively simple poem on an admirable note of modesty: "Poems are made by fools like me,/But only God can make a tree." True enough, but I suspect we fools had something to do with choosing this species for this unnatural setting and nurturing it. We have our moments of wisdom.
I have some history with this little guitar. Back in 2010, my friend Liz sent me a link with a message: "Have you seen this cool old guitar on eBay?" I wrote back, "Yeah, I just bought it."
It wasn't in great shape when it arrived:
Along with the back coming off and the finish damaged, there were pieces rattling around inside it and other parts were missing.
With the help of the legendary Frank Ford and the fine folks at his repair forum I learned that this instrument was made in the 1920's, and that this meant it was put together with hide glue and finished with shellac. Hide glue holds wood together very well and releases with heat and moisture. So, it was easy to take it apart and glue it back together:
Shellac protects wood really well and dissolves in alcohol, so it is easy to repair a shellac finish by wiping some new shellac over it:
So, after some glue, some shellac, and replacing a few missing parts, I had a nice playable guitar -- so nice that my friend Liz offered to buy it from me, and I sold it to her. She has enjoyed it and been a faithful custodian for the past five years.
Lately, she has become a fan of the ukulele and pony banjo, which made me suspect that this old guitar was not getting much playing time. So, I offered to buy it back from her. This week, we sealed the deal when I handed her a check and we sat down and played and sang "Milwaukee Blues" and "Blue Mountain Lake," she with her little, nylon-string banjo, and I with my guitar.