Swan’s

It had been 10 years since I last visited Swan Oyster Depot, which is about 10 years too long. The day after the memorable Lindsey Buckingham concert, I made my way to this culinary Mecca, prepared for the inevitable line and the inevitable wait.

On my walk down Polk Street, I noticed that Polkers, Le Petit Robert, the French lingerie store, and the Big Apple grocery store were all gone. Russian Hill Books, the Jug Shop, and Molte Cose survive, though they moved down the street. Thankfully, Victor’s Pizza and Bob’s Doughnuts remain open and in situ.

I noticed that many restaurants now have a sort of lean-to arrangement in front of their establishments, three-sided and open to the sidewalk, with roofs, housing tables and chairs and taking up scarce and valuable parking spaces on the street. Even when I lived there, long ago, it was difficult-to-impossible to find street parking in my neighborhood, even with a permit, which is why I ended up selling my beautiful 1966 Mustang convertible, Josephine.

Swan’s also has one of these serving sheds, but it was unpopular. Everyone, after the long wait in line, wants to have the full experience of being wedged into one of the few seats at the counter, where the brothers and cousins perform their ballet of serving and preparing the freshest seafood in town without missing a beat (or bumping into each other):

They now have classic rock playing outside to amuse the waiting customers, a new addition for me. They still serve wine or beer to those who wait, and they still only take cash.

I finally got my coveted seat, and learned that they had not gotten any crab that day. Perhaps just as well, given the price:

I settled on shrimp cocktail instead:

and settled in on my stool to enjoy the shrimp, the fresh, crusty sourdough bread, and watching the family effortlessly slice smoked salmon and bread and open oysters. Conversations swirled around me, people walked past on the street, and I was filled with memories. The City may change around them, but Swan’s remains the same, timeless.

A YEAR AGO Getting brighter hair and a brighter outlook.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Celebrating Jessica’s birthday. Cannot believe she is 19 now, in 2022. How did this happen?

TEN YEARS AGO: Jessica had a great 9th birthday.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Some puppy cuteness for you!

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Thoughts on the anniversary of the Great Quake.

Show

I decanted the car contents into the motel room, and then ordered my very first Uber to take me to the Palace of Fine Arts Theater. Uber is magic. It showed up in about two minutes, swept me to my destination, and went away. It’s the next best thing to having a chauffeur at my beck and call. What’s not to love?

The theater looked beautiful in the evening light:

The line was long, and although vaccines were supposedly required, no one checked vaccine cards. They did, however, use one of those airport style wands on everyone and looked in everyone’s handbags, so go figure. I found it a little unnerving to be in the crowd, and claustrophobic to be in the middle of the theater, though the seats were great and so was the view of the star, Lindsey Buckingham:

He is a local (or at least local-ish, hailing from nearby Palo Alto, home of Stanford University), so it was a hometown crowd welcoming him home with great enthusiasm. The evening felt very intimate, since his band was so small and part of the show was just Lindsey and his guitar. He is so charming and unaffected, and his voice has not diminished at all over the years. I was happy that he played some songs from his new album, which I have been listening to and enjoying recently. It was a really special evening.

A YEAR AGO: Some animal updates.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Spring was pretty wintery.

TEN YEARS AGO: A busy day in the City.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: What I missed.

City

I headed to San Francisco for the first time in a decade.

It was a beautiful drive through wine country. It’s beautiful any time of year, but it was lovely to see the little lambs frolicking in the green fields, the vines leafing out, and the drifts of wildflowers everywhere.

I was lucky with traffic, and it wasn’t long until the dreaming spires of San Francisco appeared:

Onto the Bridge:

And past the City and County of San Francisco sign:

I don’t know why, but I have always loved that sign. When I lived there, it always made me happy to see it.

I do not like the new and unimproved tunnel entrance to San Francisco:

It’s ugly, and it cuts off the view. Fortunately, it’s relatively short, so it wasn’t long until I emerged into the traffic on Lombard Street, heading for my usual modest motel, just around the corner from my fabulously expensive former abode. I was taken aback by the new building that had replaced the vacant lot on Van Ness and Union, and also by the red bus lane now running down the middle of Van Ness.

A lot can happen in a decade.

A YEAR AGO: A mystery. This Miss Marple was on the case.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A delightful family dinner.

TEN YEARS AGO: Setting off for San Francisco. Little did I knwo it would be another 10 years before I returned!

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: My beautiful Rita. I still miss her.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Sometimes my job included a trip to Symphony Hall.

Canelés

I love canelés de Bordeaux. When I lived in San Francisco, I used to buy them at the French bakery on Polk Street, a charming place with little green metal tables on the sidewalk under a striped awning and delicious delicacies inside. Of course, this delightful place is long gone, along with the French lingerie shop, Polk-Vallejo Market, and the combination shoe repair and tailoring establishment run by an elderly Italian couple who used to have lunch together at a table on the sidewalk every day, complete with a glass of wine and their dog napping peacefully at their feet. They are part of the San Francisco I loved, now lost to time and encroaching soullessness. I feel lucky that I lived in the City when the neighborhoods had distinct characters and it wasn’t all rich people and Starbucks.

Here in distant Hooterville, the closest place to get a canelé fix is at Franny’s Cup & Saucer, an hour’s drive from Chez Suzy, and they don’t always have them. I did pick some up on my way to Bodega Bay recently, and as I enjoyed its distinctive crust and creamy interior, I began to wonder if I could make them myself.

Locating a recipe on the ever-helpful interwebs, it didn’t look very difficult, though special equipment was required, including the pan and food-grade beeswax, which is apparently essential for getting the dark, crispy outer shell. Once I obtained these items, I ventured on my first batch ever of canelés.

I used my prettiest kitchen equipment to inspire me:

The trophy measuring cups were actually useful as well as pretty, especially since I used the smallest one to pour the batter into the molds. Before long, the house was filled with the distinctive scent of canelés. As I took them out of the oven, I thought, “They look pretty convincing”:

The recipe said to unmold them while they were hot to keep the crust crisp. If you leave them in the molds while they cool, they will sort of steam and become soft. They unmolded easily:

When I was ready to test one, I was pleased to see that the inside was appropriately custardy, while the outside was crispy and caramelized:

The hardest part was dealing with the beeswax and butter mixture, which is used to brush the molds before pouring in the batter. You have to do it quickly, before it hardens, and then cleaning the pan you melted it in, the pastry brush, and eventually, the pan you baked the canelés in is not easy. Getting buttery wax off dishes is challenging. But it was all worth it.

A YEAR AGO: Things were rocking and rolling in the family garden.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Another look at the local message boards.

TEN YEARS AGO: My attempts at gardening.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: It’s here. The official Month of Death.

Unimproved

It’s hard not to retain a certain amount of interest in the past, though sometimes it’s better not to look back, since you might not like what you see. A case in point is my old apartment in San Francisco, which is now unrecognizable.

For starters, someone decided that it would be a great idea to turn the kitchen into a bedroom, making it the first room you see as you enter. The new bedroom presumably uses the small, shallow former pantry space as a closet and has a door and window overlooking the back stairs, allowing its occupant to hear and see their fellow residents throwing their trash down the chute, not to mention the 5 am pick up by the enormous and enormously loud garbage truck.

The hand-made Italian tiles are gone, along with the charming ironing board cupboard in the wall where I stored spices, and, worst of all, the magnificent vintage Wedgewood stove and the quarter-sawn white oak countertops my brother made by hand. Here’s how it used to look:

Here’s how it looks now:

The same geniuses decided to put a generic new kitchen in the former dining room, sacrificing both space and style. It looks like every kitchen everywhere:

They also decided that painting long, windowless walls dark and depressing colors was a great idea:

whereas I painted it them a light color to reflect back the light from the bay windows at the end of the room.

I notice they kept the recessed lighting I put in, though. And they kept the most of the fixtures I put in the bathroom, including the vintage crystal doorknobs, though they painted the walls black and the antique, cast iron clawfoot tub that I had to charm workmen to drag up two flights of stairs black. Because why not make a room whose only natural light comes from an airshaft as dark and dismal as possible?

Here’s how it looked before:

And how it looks now:

It appears that they also closed off the door which led to the walk in closet in the bedroom, which was a wonderful convenience. It was very nice to be able to walk straight from the bathroom into the closet to dress, and vice versa.

I’m sure that adding the so-called bedroom added to the considerable value. Even though there is an apartment above and one below, so you get noise from both, and no parking space*, it is on the market for $1.25 million. We paid $190,000.

To me, what they did to my formerly charming former abode is symptomatic of what is wrong with San Francisco now. They made the place as generic as possible and added an additional “bedroom” to jack up the price and to appeal to the soulless wealthy who now inhabit this once-wonderful city. The beauty and charm of my apartment have vanished along with the charm and character of the city. Now it’s nothing but rich people and expensive stores that could be (and are) found in any city anywhere, instead of each neighborhood having its own special character and delights.

When I lived there, John’s barber brought his dog to work in the shop he owned with his father. The people who owned the grocery store where we shopped would ask you to watch the cash while they cut a watermelon in two for you in the back, and would joke with John about buying sandwiches while I was in England visiting Dad (“Bachin’ it again, eh?”) with a wink and a smile. An older Italian couple owned two neighboring businesses. He repaired shoes and she was a tailor. At lunch time, they would pull two chairs and a little table out to the sidewalk and have lunch together, greeting passersby as they ate. They are long gone, replaced by Starbucks and things of that nature. At least I still have the memories. And I won’t look back anymore.

*The difficulty in parking in that neighborhood, even 20 years ago and even with a permit, is why I ended up selling my beautiful, silver-blue Mustang, Josephine. I’m sure the parking situation has not improved.

A YEAR AGO: I hit a dog with the car. Fortunately, he is as good as new and I am meeting his owners for lunch in a couple of weeks.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Beautiful Day of the Dead art and other fun things.

Farewell Monterey

beach1
The dreaming spires of Monterey

I’m coming to you from San Francisco, where the foghorns are singing their sad song and the wild parrots are crying out harshly as their green and red wings clatter overhead. And there will be Lemongrass (delivered) for dinner!

Before I left the balmy shores of Monterey, I stopped by Del Monte Beach. I was charmed by the dunes dotted with wildflowers:

dunes

and the fact that there was actual sand. I’m used to the rocky shores of Mendocino and San Francisco, so it was delightful to walk along the shore with my feet sinking deep into the soft sand:

shore

Murres and oystercatchers rode the waves, and they were joined by a fellow surfer:

surfer

As I drove away from the beach, I noticed several people either changing into or out of their wetsuits, so it must be a popular surfing location.

My route to San Francisco took me through farmland, dotted with what my friend Janice calls “contented California cows”, but also thick groves of spiky artichokes. I stopped at a farmstand, where they were working the fields right behind. I loved the cut outs by the highway:

farmstand

I came away with some early strawberries and of course artichokes.

Traffic was kinder to me leaving Monterey than it was getting there, and tomorrow I will head home after running some important culinary errands: Swan Oyster Depot, Bob’s Doughnuts, and Victor’s Pizza, not necessarily in that order.

Two Strikes

I’m watching the beautiful, light rain fall on San Francisco. The door to my modest motel room is open, since it’s not cold, just rainy, and I’m waiting for my boss/partner/friend to pick me up so we can go to lunch together and talk about our future, if any.

So far, my day has not been very productive. My plan was to go downtown and run a couple of errands, but I had forgotten how long it takes to do this by public transit. As I waited for the bus, I began to remember why I nearly always walked to work and back home when I lived here.

The bus made its way through the neighborhood I lived in when I first moved here so long ago: past the church where I twice voted for Bill Clinton with a song in my heart, through Chinatown, with its exotic fruit and vegetable stalls, and finally to the financial district, where I used to work.

I was hoping to get my eyes tested, but there were no appointments available, and I had another appointment at 1:00, so I couldn’t wait. The eye doctor I have seen back in the Big Town charges twice as much for an exam, and I have to have a new prescription before I can buy inexpensive glasses online like Erica does. My existing glasses have somewhat scratched lenses, which doesn’t help my spectacularly poor eyesight.

The appointment was with the very nice woman who bought my beautiful, two carat, century old diamond ring a few years ago. This time, I brought a pair of diamond earrings and a diamond necklace for her consideration. She was as gracious as ever, but apparently these pieces are too modern for their store, so she referred me to someone else, but I will probably not have time to get there before I head home again.

If there’s anything worse than selling your jewelry, it must be making up your mind to sell it and then having it rejected. I made my way to the bus stop in the rain, and as luck would have it, the bus was just pulling up, and my transfer was still good, so at least one thing went my way today.

A YEAR AGO:

A late season BBQ.

Halloween, Here & There


Showered with Confetti and Love

The Giants celebrated their epic World Series win with a parade down Market Street – San Francisco’s Main Street – to City Hall, where Marilyn Monroe married native son and baseball legend Joe DiMaggio 60 years ago. They were showered with showers, but also a hail of confetti and love. No stranger to triumphal processions through the City streets after two earlier World Series wins, manager Bruce Bochy said that he had never heard anything like the thunderous applause and screams that met the returning heroes, especially Madison Bumgarner, who was deafened with howls of “MVP” everywhere he went, perched on the back of a flatbed truck:

An observer described the pandemonium as “something between pagan idolatry and Beatlemania”.

I hope we get to do it all over again next year.

Meanwhile, back in Hoooterville, I woke up to a welcome inch and a half of rain in the gauge and a slightly less welcome forecast of heavy rain accessorized with possible thunderstorms and hail – definitely not ideal trick or treating weather. However, the forecasters were wrong, as so often happens, and there was really no need for me to haul along my winter coat and two umbrellas as well as wearing my rain boots.

This year, instead of going the Village as usual, we met Erica and Jessica at Jessica’s friend’s house. It was more of an estate to my mind than a house, since it included sweeping vineyards and several outbuildings. There was a cauldron of tea and a buffet of Halloween food:

Here’s a close-up:

Both Erica and Jessica had made their own costumes, though Erica did add the zipper to Jessica’s dress. They were Undead Alice in Wonderland and the Red Queen:

Here’s a close-up of Jessica’s apron. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but she embroidered “We’re all mad here” and made the teeth all texture-y:

Erica made her entire costume other than the boots, including the horns, yarn wig, corset, velvet cape, etc. You can see these girls share genes and attitude!

Erica also brought kitty ears for me to wear:

We had the following text exchange:

Erica: Cat ears are black with pink inside and some sparkle. 🙂

Me: How Suzy is that?!

Erica: That’s what Jessica said!

Me: Sparkly minds think alike.

A YEAR AGO:

Happy Halloween!

Triumph


The San Francisco Giants Win!

The Giants won their third World Series title in five years on Wednesday night. Above, you see Buster Posey, the team’s valiant catcher, my favorite Giant, and owner of the best name in baseball, hugging pitcher Madison Bumgarner, the stoic country boy who is now a hero and a legend.

With all the stress in my life lately, it’s been hard to watch the World Series. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but the anxiety is tough in my weakened condition. The Bumgarnerless night before the Giants’ victory, they were smoked 10-0 by Kansas City in Game 6, and I had to stop watching after about the third inning because I just could’t take it anymore.

Last night, the Giants scored two runs, were tied by Kansas City, and then Joe Panik (the second best name in baseball) made a crucial double play. Pablo Sandoval, the beloved big bear known as The Panda, made what would become the game’s winning run with a mighty swing:

Despite his size, The Panda can run as well as he can hit, and as if that weren’t enough, he also caught the last out which won the Giants the Series. He lay for a second on the grass, where he had dived to make the catch, before being swarmed by his teammates who lifted him up and carried him into the joyous knot of players surrounding Bumgarner, the calm, unruffled, 25 year old hero of the Series.

Bumgarner pitched this epic Game 7 just two days after pitching a shutout game. His father was asked if he thought his son could pitch again so soon, and he replied, “I didn’t know if he had enough left tonight. But I did know that boy would try to steal a steak off the devil’s plate.”

And he did.

Here’s to the Giants dynasty, their fans, and the beautiful city they call home. And next season!

A YEAR AGO:

Seasonally Affected

Home Again


Sleeping Clyde

It was a good trip to the City. The drive home…not so much.

Along about Novato, the traffic slowed to an ooze, sometimes giving up on oozing to just sit there in the baking heat. I had the Blue Jays game on the stereo through my iPhone and the air conditioning blasting. It seems that Novato is the new Santa Rosa, where the traffic used to grind to a halt before they widened the highway there.

Later, I passed a CHP car with lights flashing, and a lot of broken glass by the side of the road, but otherwise no sign of a car accident. There were lighted signs on the highway telling me to conserve water* (though how, exactly, I was supposed to do this while in the car, I don’t know), but nothing warning me of delays of more than hour or incredibly slow traffic.

I finally got home close to 6:30, and Megan came by to pick up her pizza and help me unload the car, not necessarily in that order. She was amused when I told her that the counter guy at Victor’s – who is now used to my extreme take-out ways – told me that people from LA take Victor’s pizza home with them, too. So maybe I’m not that extreme after all.

The kitties were definitely happy to see me, and I was happy to see them. Also making me happy were: eating pizza while watching the final season of The Killing; sleeping in my own bed with the clean, country air pouring in the balcony door; kitties sleeping with me; waking up to the birds singing and a sunny Saturday.

It’s good to be home.

*There were billboards in San Francisco suggesting that we stop washing our cars to conserve water, so I drove my dusty, dirty car with pride on the hilly streets.

Counter and Culture

Once the annoyances of work were out of the way, I checked the clock and thought that the line at Swan Oyster Depot might be of sufficient brevity to work with the brevity of my patience. The line was relatively short, but seemed to take a long time. At last, I was rewarded with a stool near the end of the counter:

I ordered crab cocktail, and while I waited for it to arrive with darkly crusty sourdough bread, I watched the ballet behind the counter. One guy was slicing smoked salmon paper-thin, while another cut up a few loaves of that delicious bread and a third performed the esoteric ritual of preparing fresh sea urchin to serve. It’s always busy at Swan’s, but somehow, once you grab that coveted stool and sit down, all the cares of the world disappear and you just feel happy and peaceful. And then there’s the food.

Next to me was a woman with a gumball sized diamond on her wedding finger (and a surprisingly nondescript husband/jewelry donor beside her). The ring almost defied even my jewelry appraising abilities, but I’m guessing ten carats and at least $100,000. Diamond told me it was her first time there, so I asked if she had cash (Swan’s doesn’t take plastic). This momentarily flustered her until she learned that Donor (unsurprisingly) had some. I made some suggestions, which were seconded by the gents behind he counter, and when the bread came, she exclaimed, “I never eat bread, but this is phenomenal!” Everything was “phenomenal”. I’m glad Diamond and Donor were happy, and when I left, I wished them a happy visit. She beamed and patted my shoulder. There I was, rubbing elbows (and shoulders) with the One Percent!

I kept with my modern theme of this visit by heading to the Contemporary Jewish Museum to enjoy their exhibit Designing Home: Jews and Mid Century Modern:

I loved this “Marshmallow” couch by Anni Albers, made in 1956:

I’m pretty sure I could write the great American novel if I only had this desk and chair, designed by Muriel Coleman in 1960, to write at:

I’m not normally a fan of wallpaper, but this “Aviary” paper designed by New Yorker cartoonist Saul Steinberg is so charming that I’d give it a try:

Another very gifted Saul was Mr. Bass, who designed these record covers for Columbia in the 1940s and ’50s:

When he wasn’t doing that, he was designing the striking opening credits for little flicks like “The Seven Year Itch”, “Vertigo”, and “West Side Story”. And when he wasn’t doing that, he ws designing iconic logos for United Airlines, Kleenex, UPS and countless others. You can see more of his remarkable work here.

Moderne

I woke up before the alarm went off, even though it was dark. I was a little confused when I first woke up (Where am I? Why did I have to get up again? Why are my dreams so weird? Where’s the coffee?), and disappointed to find a cat-free bed. I miss them already. After one day. This may officially make me a crazy cat lady.

I had coffee in bed while I woke up slowly. Somehow, even when I bring the little French press and my own coffee, I still make crappy in room coffee. It would be worth having a maid just to have some else make (good) coffee for me.

Once I was faux grown up-ized and ready to face the world, I called my friends at City Wide Dispatch and clacked out to the street in my heels. I hardly had time to notice the fog before the taxi arrived, sweeping me to my first meeting of the day. It went well, and I caught up on some industry gossip too, before heading to the second meeting, across the palmy expanse of Union Square:

That’s the lovely and historic St. Francis hotel peeking through the fronds, where the Fatty Arbuckle scandal started and they still have an employee who washes all the change in the hotel so as not to soil the gloves (or the sensibilities) of guests.

After work was done for the day, I made my way to the de Young Museum, which is, at least for blogging purposes, beginning to take over from the Legion of Honor as my favorite San Francisco museums. I seem to be warming up to its copper clad, monolithic charms, perhaps because of all the copper improvements in my own modest salle de bains. Here’s a shot of one of the many interior gardens:

I find that they refresh the spirit as well as the eye, and play to the organic quality of the building.

I was there to enjoy the Modernism exhibit on loan from the National Gallery:

My father used to say that if he had to choose one art museum to visit for the rest of his life, it would be the National Gallery in Washington, DC, and this exhibit confirmed his view, though he probably would not have enjoyed the artwork. He was delighted when all “the rubbish” was moved from the original Tate, home of the immortal JMW Turner and wonderful Restaurant, to the Tate Modern, while yet appreciating the architecture of the Modern.

I was stunned by the beauty of this Frank Stella, “Flin Flon IV”, from 1969:

In the same room was this strong, dancing “First Theme”, from 1964:

I was delighted to see two boxes by the quirky and inimitable Joseph Cornell, “Sand Fountain”:

and “Les Constellations Voisines du Pole”

I was moved by a series called “The Stations of the Cross” by an artist called Barnett Newman. He was inspired to create a series of paintings while recovering from a heart attack in 1958. The series grew into the stations of the cross, and Newman commented that it may seem strange for a Jew to make art based on this story, but he said that his inspiration was really Christ’s cri de coeur “Why have you forsaken me?”, which Newman looked at as an eternal, unanswerable question more than a religious theme. Here’s a picture I sneaked of the first few paintings in their minimal majesty:

The paintings were sited in quiet, peaceful room of their own, going around the room and ending with a fifteenth painting which was titled simply, “Be”.

Museum Musings


View from the museum: palm tree and Sutro Tower

After the conference yesterday, Wednesday and I headed out to the De Young Museum. It was her first visit, and I figured it was high time that young lady got some culture under her formerly shiny hood*.

The big draw this time, like Hockney last time, was the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit, focusing on her paintings made at Lake George in New York, the state of my long-ago birth. I liked some of them, but they were not really my thing. I was interested to note that the crowd consisted almost entirely of women of a certain age and upwards – I believe the artist is considered something of a feminist icon. I appreciate that she was taking something dainty and feminine (gardens, flowers, leaves) and making it epic and arresting.

I preferred the exhibits of abstract art and the creation of the Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate’s older and less glamorous sibling. Peter Stackpole, a 21 year old San Francisco native, started documenting the bridge building in 1935. His photos of the dramatic shapes, dangerous building process, and the men who made this amazing structure are fascinating and moving. I love the abstraction and strength of this one:

This photo shows men being sent home early after a fatality at the building site:

You can see the grief behind the stoic faces of these hard-working men who have just lost one of their own. 8,300 men worked on the bridge, and 28 of them died on the job. The bridge opened on November 12, 1936, and more than 150,000 cars crossed the bridge in its first 36 hours.

Peter Stackpole’s work earned him a one man show at San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art in 1936, its inaugural year, and also a place on Life magazine’s founding staff of photographers.

Across the hall from the bridge exhibit was one of abstract art. I was a bad citizen and sneaked some photos on my phone while the guards were distracted by gossip and last night’s basketball scores.

This suite of square abstractions is by Frederick Hammersley, from the late 1940s:

I love the precision and beauty of the lines.

Morris Louis painted this one, called Number 11:

The colors are so dynamic and give it such movement. The artist was a pioneer in this type of painting, starting in the 1950s.

The most moving piece was this one, called Anti-Mass, made in 2005 by Cornelia Parker, who I was suprised to learn is an English artist:

The piece is made from pieces of an African-American church in Kentucky, which had been destroyed by arsonists. It seems to float, yet has a powerful physical and emotional impact on the viewer.

On my way out of the museum, this glass vase by Dan Chihuly caught my eye:

It’s beautiful in and of itself, but its placement beside one of the many windows showcasing the interior gardens and copper clad walls of the museum was particularly striking. Here’s another of those windows:

As for today: it’s time to pack up and head back to Hooterville, where Megan is no doubt rejoicing at being relieved of kitty duty.

*She has the dusty country look now. When I checked in at the motel, the clerk thought she was grey instead of black. Wish I had time to visit the car salon. Maybe next time.

Conferring

I’m coming to you from the modest motel that is my home away from home in San Francisco, just three blocks away from my former, immodest home*. I still feel comfortable in my old ‘hood. I have the door open, to admit sunshine and breezes, and the Detroit-Boston playoffs game on. The heart I left in San Francisco is currently being broken by the 2-0 lead held by Boston.

Today was Day One of the conference. I suited up in faux adult togs, added some accessories and heels, and called my friends at City Wide Dispatch. I have known and loved them since I was a San Franciscan. They are a network of independent cabs – their dispatch radios out your location, and the nearest cab comes to your rescue. Often they call you to tell you that your knight in metered armor is drawing nigh.

At the conference hotel, the doorman opened the taxi door and helped me alight, as well as opening the door for me. I love, love, love doormen. Also taxis.

Inside, it soon became apparent that the conference was prom queen popular. After being equipped with my label and welcome packet, I repaired to the meeting room only to be greeted by a sea of faces and no obviously empty chairs. I felt like I was late for class. One of the conference usherettes (it seems to be staffed entirely by young lovelies with enviable manicures) found a seat for me, and while I was getting settled, someone whispered “Hey, Susan!”

I turned to my left, and there was none other than my host at the fabulous birthday ballgame. How’s that for a small world? At the break, we caught up on each other’s news while enjoying fresh fruit and the view from the deck of the hotel:

That’s the Museum of Modern Art on the left – closed for renovations – and the Yerba Buena Center for the arts right in front. Yerba Buena was the original name of San Francisco, which was founded in 1776 – the year America became a country – at what is now the Presidio. While no longer a military base, it remains the place I learned how to drive.

When the conference was over, the doorman ensconced me in a cab, which dropped me off a few blocks from the modest motel, giving me the opportunity to stop in at the cheap and cheerful nail salon, enjoying the orchids, fountains, and soaking my nails in warm water with fresh mint leaves. The owner recently acquired a young Siberian Husky named Kodiak, who accompanies her to work every day and supervises:

You have to love a salon with a resident dog. And coral nails to go with your Hello Kitty pen:

That should make tomorrow’s session a little more fun!

*Current estimated value: $1.2 million. Or more than a million more than I paid for it.

New Year


Clyde helps me to unpack

I’m back in Hooterville. I came home on New Year’s Eve, and for the first time I can remember in my many years of driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, traffic was completely backed up on the northbound (leaving San Francisco) side. Later, I saw three CHP cars, but no accident or stopped car or other reason for the slowness.

As I edged past the now empty toll booths, I thought about the time I didn’t have the two dollars for the toll, and had to pull into the office’s parking lot in my Mustang convertible and write a check. Good thing I had my checkbook with me – I never carry it now. And I remembered when there were actual people in the booths collecting our tolls (now $6), and the time I was totally delighted by the woman blasting music in her booth, dancing and singing along.

Once over the Bridge, traffic speeded up and Wednesday and I had no more delays. I stopped in Philo and picked up fresh crab – it’s Dungeness crab season – bread, and salad for dinner. The sun was just dipping into the Pacific as I reached Hooterville. I think I passed Megan on the Ridge, on her way to the drunk tank and maggot emporium that is the ER on New Year’s Eve.

I unpacked the car, though not the suitcase, and settled down with champagne and crab to watch “Downton Abbey” and say farewell to the old year. The new year began with coffee and the Winter Classic, which I love. It’s so fun to see hockey played outside, and the goalies even wore pads that looked like the old school ones (undoubtedly they were grateful that the similarity stopped there, since they used to be made out of leather, soaked up all the water from the ice, and were unspeakably heavy). Also it’s much easier to enjoy the romance of the falling snow from the comfort of your sunny California living room, rather than being one of the 105,000 fans in the single digit cold (not including wind chill) or one of the players on the often shoveled ice.

Still, it was a wonderful event and I am pleased to report that the Toronto Maple Leafs won over the Detroit Red Wings in a shoot out, giving them two much needed points. A good way to start the year.

2013

I’m ending the year the same way I started it – in my beloved San Francisco. This was a banner year for trips to the City: 9, an all-time high since moving to Hooterville four years ago. There was a lot more travel this year, some less fun (Atlanta) than others (LA).

This was a year full of endings and beginnings. I finally got divorced after almost a decade of being separated. While it was good to get the formalities out of the way after a long separation, it was still sad to put “The End” on our story. I am grateful that John and I are still friends and have many happy memories of our many years together. I did not manage to stay out of court, though on an unrelated matter. Summertime subpoenas have to stop! New year’s resolution: a subpoena- and court-free year.

The loss of our beloved Schatzi cast a shadow over the latter part of the year, a loss that resonates through every day, though I am thankful she was in our lives as long as she was. She was an unforgettable gift.

A new dog found her way into our lives (temporarily) at the Christmas season, when we were least looking for one, in the form of Stella the foster dog. There is no better way to honor our Schatzi than by rescuing another dog.

I said goodbye to my battered old car Miss Scarlett and said hello to a newer, fancier one, which took some getting used to.

I started my moments. This was inspired by a friend who writes down something funny or beautiful or delightful that happens to her each day on a slip of paper and then puts it in a jar. At the end of the year she reads all the slips of paper and remembers all the great things that happened.

This was fun to do for a year and a good exercise in much needed-discipline. It really made me appreciate the small moments every day: cuddling with the cats; the sun setting over the Pacific; a spider web jeweled with dew.

Favorite books of the year: Ann Leary’s The Good House, a great portrait of small town life; and the utterly poetic Ordinary Grace. I also read two outstanding books about Detroit, a place near and dear to my heart – Detroit: An American Autopsy and Detroit City Is the Place to Be. The charasmatic Charlie LeDuff, the author of “Autopsy”, also showed the equally charasmatic Anthony Bourdain around Detroit on an episode of “Parts Unknown”, which is well worth watching.

I only read 83 books this year, a significant drop from last year’s 103, a continuing decline which I attribute to the more work, less fun aspect of the new (though not improved) economy.

Rainfall for the season: 5.14 inches. Last year at this time: 24.20. The drought is getting alarming. January and February of 2013 were the driest in recorded history in California. People in the Village are having water delivered!

No power outages so far this season. None! There were 6 at this time last year.

Here’s what happened to our heroine this year:

January:

Started the year off right by heading to San Francisco. Got a new look for my old car and a new iPhone (which has yet to ruin and/or take over my life, possibly due to the lack of cell service here). Wednesday was also Weirdsday. However, Friday was Funday. Yet another trip to San Francisco, this time for (mostly) professional reasons. Royal Treasures of the Louvre at the Legion of Honor. An epic day to get my photo taken for my work website. Spoiler alert: I hated the finished product, although my hair looked awesome.

February:

The cats react to a visiting chicken. An update on Archi, The World’s Cutest Puppy. Beautiful woodworking. Scout’s vet adventure. My intrepid brother takes a Polar Plunge.

March:

Schatzi gets a check-up. Little did we know it would be her last one and that we only had five months left with our beloved girl. Divorce and taxes. Why not? Dad’s birthday. First day of spring. Working on the endless divorce paperwork. A lovely trip to the South Coast.

April:

A late season storm. Haiku. Jessica turns ten! In San Francisco. Breakfast at Swan Oyster Depot. There isn’t a better start to the day. My welcome home included a screen door on the sleeping loft balcony, which has made life about 1,000% better. Thank you, Rob! Jessica’s birthday BBQ. More divorce paperwork, with moral support from my sister. An evening at the theatah.

My blog also turned twelve on April 20, though I failed to note the fact. Sorry, little blog!

May:

Amazing woodworking show. A walk with Star and drinks with Monica in Little River. Birth of an orchard. An early birthday celebration for Megan. A delightful dinner with delightful friends. The end (almost) of the decayed old hot tub. Needless to say, the motor is still there. Megan’s actual birthday, complete with a hand-made picnic table and a daring cliff rescue, both courtesy of our intrepid brother.

June:

Birthday baseball in beautiful San Francisco. Impressionists on the Water at the Legion of Honor. Back home for my birthday BBQ. Monica’s birthday party.

July:

A cavalcade of health problems: Megan’s flu; Jessica’s broken leg; Clyde’s mystery illness. Everyone on the mend. Thinking about summers past. The truth about Schatzi. Wedding plans and peaches.

August:

A lovely stroll with Star and my sister. A frantic Friday. Clyde meets the mysterious Slobber Monster. Megan takes care of the patient. The devastating loss of our much loved Schatzi. A day at the beach with Star. The twelfth anniversary of our adored father’s sudden death. I will never stop missing him until I catch up with him. How to make a really expensive peach pie. A beautiful, joyous wedding. A surprise in the mail – and at the door.

September:

Celebrating our incredible brother’s birthday. A long drive to Reno. Enjoying the spa. Back home in the fresh air! Megan’s last gift to her beloved girl. The County fair. The wonder of a south coast safari. A look around a delightfully eccentric local town.

October:

Last minute car repair before heading to San Francisco. My divorce becomes final as I drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. A soirée in the Village. Audrey does not enjoy her visit to the vet. A local landmark reopens. An epic journey to Los Angeles. The delights of Santa Monica. The glamor of Hollywood. A fascinating tour of downtown LA. A virtual walk with Megan and Star at Big River.

November:

A happy Halloween. A quick trip to Atlanta. The delights of Hockney and Bulgari at the De Young – not to mention the view from the top. A late season barbecue with family and friends. The beginning of the end of Miss Scarlett. Thanksgiving preparations.

December:

Thanksgiving recap. A conference starring my boss. So proud! A long and busy day. The end of the road for Miss Scarlett. ~sob~ Of frozen pipes and Christmas trees. Puppies! And meeting Stella. A surprise dinner and a play for our nephew, Jarrett. A brand new (well, to me) car! Working hard – or hardly working? A merry Christmas.

Thanks for coming along with me on another year of adventures, great and small. I wish you all a joyful and healthy new year!

Busyness

It’s 6:15 am, and it’s 44 degrees F/6 degrees C inside my house. Winter’s here!

Here’s yesterday’s schedule:

5:30 am
Get up and make coffee. Glad that I brought coffee and small French press with me to avoid the equally horrifying possibilities of in room coffee or having to go and get coffee in the dark before having coffee.

6:00 am
Conference call dealing with minor work emergency. Hope it’s minor, anyway, since the SEC is involved and also the word “violation”, which is even more horrifying than in room coffee.

7:00 am
Put hair and face together. Prepare to impersonate responsible adult.

7:30 am
Get taxi and go to hotel for Day Two of conference, where I have been charged with tracking down a couple of strangers and charming them.

While looking for a cab, my brother calls and we have a discussion about the Car Situation. Still have to finish dealing with that.

10:00 am
Leave conference for another meeting, right near my old office. As I walk along the familiar streets, I pass Lotta’s Fountain, where survivors (as of this date, there are only two left) of the ’06 quake assemble at 5:12 a.m. every April 18:

I still feel like San Francisco broke up with me, but the pain has faded to a bittersweet ache with time. A little less stab in the heart, a little more punch in the gut. I guess I’m really lucky that I lived there so long that its streets are still so familiar to me.

12:00 pm
Get a cab back to the modest motel, finish packing, load up car. Whirlwind trip to Victor’s for pizza; careful topping up of The Monster’s gas tank; Trader Joe for necessities like coffee.

1:11 pm

On the way to the Golden Gate Bridge.

3:00 pm

Stop in Cloverdale to finally eat something and get out of The Monster.

3:45 pm

Stop at Yorkville Cellars to bring them promised jobette materials. Resist this delightful suggestion:

and admire the sweeping vista over the sleeping vineyard:

Notice a last bunch of grapes which missed the harvest:

4:00 pm

One last stop at Gowan’s, for fresh walnuts and apple cider.

5:00 pm

Arrive home. Unpack with Leafs game on and kitties getting underfoot. Will they ever understand that this makes the feeding process slower instead of faster? The magic 8 ball says NO.

It’s way past drink o’clock.

As for today, I just have to get up in the dark, wait until it’s light enough to let the cats out, get ready to work, drive The Monster back to the car rental desk, walk to work, and then, you know, work all day. Is it really only Wednesday?

Beautiful

Apparently, I am more exciting than a beautiful Fall day. The sky is a cloudless blue, the doors are open, and the cats…are all sitting with me instead of playing outside. Such is my considerable personal magnetism. Or maybe I have just been away too much recently.

Before I left San Francisco on my way home from my whirlwind trip, I made time for some fun. I stopped by Swan Oyster Depot and was pleasantly surprised to be the third person through the door. It was the first time in the ~mumble~ years I have been going there that I didn’t have to line up.

I perched on a stool and watched the ballet behind the counter: fresh oysters being plated on a bed of crushed ice; a smoked salmon being filleted; a delivery of the specially baked sourdough bread from Boudin’s. I ordered a half cracked crab, but the guy who served me (in the photo above) pointed out that I could order crab cocktail and not have to do the work. Good point! So I did. It was delicious and my hands remained (relatively) clean. I enjoyed the sunshine, Sinatra on the radio, and memories of my father, who loved Swan’s, along with the crab.

After the usual errands, I headed to Golden Gate Park to enjoy the dual delights of Hockney:

and Bulgari*:

at the De Young Museum.

My favorite part of the Hockney exhibit – which was on two floors – was his exploration/documentation of the seasons changing in his native Yorkshire. In this painting, you can practically feel high summer:

There are few places as beautiful as England on a summer day.

Another part of the exhibit had film of the actual locations in the paintings in all four seasons projected onto multiple screens so you could compare the paintings to them.

I also loved watching the iPad paintings take place as I watched, and the glass case of sketch books. I feel closer to the artist seeing the drawings sometimes than the finished work. It’s like you can see his vision and inspiration taking place and feel part of it.

The high point of the Bulgari exhibit was definitely Elizabeth Taylor’s stunning emerald and diamond set, along with two “tremblant” brooches, one of which she is wearing in the photo above. These are sprays of flowers designed to move with the wearer. And no-one could wear jewelry like the legendary Elizabeth Taylor.

I took the time to go to the top of the museum’s tower for the first time. There is a stunning view of the city from there:

It was fun to walk around and enjoy the panoramas and the beautiful day.

It was time to head home. It was a good trip.

*The poster quotes Richard Burton: “The only word Elizabeth knows in Italian is Bulgari.”

Welcome Home


Halloween San Francisco Style

I’m back home with the kitties and it’s a beautiful day. It’s warm enough to have the fans on – summer’s last hurrah. I can tell the cats missed me. They came in on their own yesterday evening and took turns sitting on my lap. As I write, they are all nearby.

Yesterday, I packed up the car, had breakfast at Polker’s, and checked out of my home away from home. I headed to Victor’s to pick up the traditional pizza, and discovered that I didn’t have my debit/credit card.

Uh oh.

I retraced my steps to Polker’s, and as I walked through the door, the waitress came up with my card. “I know why you’re here!” she said cheerfully.

I was much more cheerful as I went to Trader Joe, got gas for the car, and headed toward the iconic Bridge in the brilliant sunshine. Even though I really just worked on this brief trip, it was a good one. I listened to the baseball playoffs on my iPhone until cell service gave out, picked up some fresh cider at Gowan’s, and arrived home to be greeted by Clyde.

While I was enjoying my extreme takeout pizza, there was a knock at the door. It was Mark’s wife with a bag full of kale grown by a friend of hers. Welcome home!

Unexpected


Just Being

I woke up to a beautiful morning in San Francisco. Not a cloud or wisp of fog in the clear blue sky, and the wild parrots wished me good morning in their inimitable, raucous voices as they soared into the sunlight.

A taxi ride took me through my old neighborhood, where I noted what had changed and what hadn’t, and ended up at a building right next door to the one I used to work in for so many years. My boss/partner and I were there to meet with a money manager we are considering hiring. The meeting went really well, and after business was concluded, our host showed us some of the art collection his company owns.

To my delight and surprise, the paintings currently on display in their gallery were by the great Gil Elvgren. I have never seen originals of his works, and they are stunning. Also much bigger than I thought. I asked, “Are these…original Elvgrens?” He said yes, and I think he was entertained by how impressed I was.

When our meetings were over, Boss and I had lunch and caught up with each other. It was really great spending some time with him, and we got a lot done.

On my way back to the modest motel, the struggling little urban garden above caught my eye. It was a day of unexpected beauty in unexpected places.