Friday, February 25, 2011

At San Francisco's Edge

The weather forecast is for snow in San Francisco this weekend.  Decades pass between snowfalls here, particularly ones where the flakes don't melt as soon as they hit the ground.  This may be our year for not being able to avoid snow no matter where we are.

Meanwhile, it's sunny and clear between rainy spells. 

A couple of weeks ago we drove along the edge of the city, following the coastline on the north, under the Golden Gate Bridge, and stopping at Baker Beach, just west of the bridge.  This urban beach can be crowded in the summer but was virtually empty in February except for the occasional fishermen, walkers, or crows.

I wonder if they actually caught anything.

This view of the city is looking east from the Legion of Honor Museum in Lincoln Park near Land's End, the farthest northwest point of San Francisco.  The terracotta-colored dome is Temple Emanuel.  The hills in the distance are Berkeley and Oakland, separated from the city by the Bay.

I've written before about the Museum of the Legion of Honor and how it was copied from the one in Paris.  It's a lovely building in a spectacular location and does have a French feeling to it.  The inscription across the entrance doesn't hurt.

It even has its own little glass pyramid in the courtyard, much smaller than the one in the courtyard of the Louvre, but  I suspect that's where the idea came from.

There are several monuments around the museum; this one I had never noticed before.  Frances E. Willard was a president of the National Council of Women as well as of the National Women's Temperance Union and an organizer of the Prohibition Party.  As a feminist and a lover of a good martini, I'm one tempted human who is mixed in my admiration for her.

The George Segal sculpture of a lone survivor standing by a barbed wire fence in front of a pile of bodies is the San Francisco Holocaust Memorial.  On the wall next to it is a list of names of concentration camps and killing centers in France, Holland, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine in which families of San Franciscans perished.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Revolution at the Nail Salon

We've all watched breathlessly the incredible story of relatively non-violent revolution in Egypt.  From our American point of view it was thrilling to see young people finding a new way to begin the voyage down the road to democracy.  After the Tunisian overthrow of their dictator it was clear that other countries in the Middle East would be looking at these successes and hoping the wave would continue to build.  I didn't realize quite how far that hope might spread.

On the day that Mubarak conceded defeat I had a manicure appointment in Berkeley.  As I sat down facing Thuy, the Vietnamese manicurist, we exchanged a few words about the weather before she asked me if I had been following what was happening in Egypt.  Her eyes were shining.

She told me she was incredibly excited to see the possibility of a revolution in a country thought to be an unchangeable autocracy.  She was living vicariously, she made clear, because she didn't believe such a thing could happen in "my country Vietnam."  Explaining that since the Internet in Vietnam was tightly controlled and computer access less available, she thought social media wouldn't be as strong a weapon as it appeared to have been in Egypt.  The police control, she said, would tamp down any movement toward freedom.  She used the word freedom repeatedly.  And in spite of her pessimism about the possibility of change in Vietnam, she was thrilled at the idea of freedom coming as a result of the actions of a people anywhere.

So Eastern Europe in the 1990s, North Africa in 2011... Southeast Asia in...?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Catching Up

I have been thinking of getting a new camera and borrowed a friend's for a week to try it out.  When I went to download the photos just now I discovered that my computer refuses to recognize them without additional software that I don't have. new photos for you.  I'll try to get the software soon.

I've been taking a lot of them because we've been doing a lot.  Realizing that our Paris life has been slowing down a bit as we become more "resident" and less "visitor", we thought we'd try to speed up our Berkeley life by reversing the equation, i.e. becoming a bit more "visitor" while we're here.

And so we saw a great dance piece called Eonnagata at the excellent Cal Performances, made by a company called Ex Machina and including director (and for this piece also dancer) Robert Lepage, ex-Paris Opera Ballet and Sadler's Wells dancer Sylvie Guillem, and choreographer/dancer Russell Maliphant.
[photo credit: Erich Labbe]

Based on the life of an 18th century French transvestite diplomat, spy, and soldier, known as the Chevalier d'Eon, it was an extraordinary melange of Japanese theater, dance, prose, music and acting, with costumes by the late Alexander McQueen, and we saw it at its US premiere performance.  Super!

One beautiful sunny afternoon we drove out to the Legion of Honor Museum (I wanted to show you the views of the Golden Gate on the ride out there, but that camera problem...oh well). The featured exhibition was a collection of clothing reproducing in three dimensions the clothes worn by historical characters in paintings, such as Eleonora de Toledo, the wife of Cosimo de' Medici as painted by Bronzino.  It's a stunning portrait we happened to see last year in Paris at the Trésors de Medicis exhibition at the Musée Maillol.  

The clothes were all made from paper painted, sewn, folded and constructed by Isabelle de Borchgrave, a Belgian artist.  I would have enjoyed the exhibit much more however if the dresses had been juxtaposed with more pictures of the original inspirations for her work.  I don't think there were more than three or four of those and the impact of the exhibit was lessened by their absence.

Gene and I are both taking classes, he one on architectural theory and I a class called "Proust and his World", which keeps me at least partly in Paris, if the Paris of the late 19th and early 20th century.

We're also trying to keep using our painstakingly acquired French in classes or in conversation.  With any luck we won't forget it all before our return.

We've got theater tickets for two different performances in San Francisco in the next two weeks, and plan at least a couple more museum visits.  Being a "visitor" can be hard work, but we're having a great time working at it. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Seasonal Surprises

I can't get over how nature has managed to provide us with spring in the middle of winter but I'm not complaining, no not at all.  I'm marveling at the bright pink plum blossoms on the street trees in my neighborhood, and on the stunningly blue skies swept clean every once in a while by winds strong enough to knock over the patio umbrella standing on the deck.

The view from my front windows often includes spiraling turkey vultures, wings spread wide, searching for the movement of small animals in the canyon across the street.

The Monterey Market remains an incredible source of fresh fruits, vegetables and bulk foods, along with nearly everything else one could want in the way of edibles.  Anything they're missing is probably available across the street at the Monterey Fish Market, the meat market, or the cheese and tea store.  These places could hold their own with many Parisian purveyors.

Recently we drove past one of the remaining old movie "palaces", the fabulous Grand Lake Theater, and spotted this lovely sight.  The streetlight farthest from the wall is visibly stronger than its mate and thus casts a shadow of the weaker one onto the wall, 15 feet high.  Getting the shot before the traffic moved on was a challenge, one of the drawbacks to being in a car most of the time.

On the first Friday night of every month the nascent Oakland art scene holds an open house/street party called Art Murmur in downtown Oakland and we dropped over to 23rd Street the other evening to see it.  Stands were set up in the street selling anything from homemade clothes, to postcards, to food.  Crowds wandered between galleries and music played.  Old movies were projected onto an adjacent building wall. It's a scene.

A very good dinner at Flora, a restored Art Deco flower shop decorated with original blue and silver tile work, followed, beginning with a cocktail called Carter Beats the Devil; how can you not order that?

Across the street was the recently renovated Fox Oakland, another former movie palace now used for live shows that attract the crowds.  For someone who worked in a virtually dead Oakland for many years, this new vibrant city is a revelation.  There is definitely a there there.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Exercising my Right (and Left and Middle)

Thanks for saying so, guy, but if only I were.  I've hit the dreaded lazy place.  I've mentioned before, probably multiple times, that I hate to exercise and that one of the many wonderful things about living in Paris is the amount of walking that I am forced to do and actually enjoy doing and that keeps me in reasonably good shape without extra effort.

Not so in Berkeley.  Living on a hill gives me the excuse I need to avoid walking the less-than-a-mile to the nearest shopping street because walking back up with bags would be no fun at all.  Having a big comfortable house means I spend more time hanging around in it.  Suffice it to say that I've been sitting around on my fesses instead of out doing this (OK, maybe without the masks, but it is flu season):

Or walking around looking at the beautiful blossoming plum trees all over the neighborhood.

Or borrowing a very nice dog and walking her:

Or spending more time playing with the cutest little guy in the world:

This morning the jeans felt tight.  Somethings gotta give, and I don't want it to be the button at the waist.  Workouts start today.