Tag Archives: san francisco

bridges, bay and brooklyn

This past week, the Bay Bridge finally reopened after a piece of metal came away from a section of the bridge that had been repaired Labor Day weekend.

The Bay Bridge when I choose to think about – and I try not to as often as possible – is scary. Personally, I think falling metal is the least of what’s worrisome. The bridge is so long, it takes what feels like an eternity to cross. Not a good feeling in earthquake country.

I think bridges in general are an amazng engineering feat. Suspension bridges in particular seem to be the most incredible – a roadway deck held up by steel cable attached to two long cables that are essentially being pulled by anchors on either end of the bridge. That’s the concept. I’m shocked more suspension bridges don’t collapse like the one in the video above – the Tacoma Narrows Bridge which was clearly not designed right. (Understatement.)


Photo by Simone Roda

As scary as I find bridges, I also am fascinated by them. When I taught second grade in New York, I used to take my kids on a trip by foot across the Brooklyn Bridge. The walkway is wide and gracious and wooden, and floats above the traffic. We would stop at the halfway point, break out crayons and paper, and draw what we saw – the East River and the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges, pretty in their own right; lower Manhattan with its impossibly tall skyscrapers, beautiful Brooklyn Heights and its promenade.

As a foolish painter plunges his eye,
sharp and loving, into a museum madonna
so I, from the near skies bestrewn with stars,
gaze at New York through the Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge, Vladimir Mayakovsky

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hardly strictly

Went to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass this weekend, a free three-day music festival in Golden Gate Park for those of you unfamiliar with the event.

sunset on Lyle and the Banjo Stage

sunset on Lyle and the Banjo Stage

There’s a lot I could write about – Lyle Lovett was amazing, singing his old stuff from Pontiac with the Large Band backing; Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris and Old Crow Medicine Show brought down the figurative house with their rendition of the Band’s “The Weight”; the crowds were peaceful and happy and spontaneous music broke out all around as I walked through the park between stages.

All true.

But instead, I’m going to say that being at Hardly Strictly was both amazingly fun and weirdly deja-vu-ish. It was as though I had returned to my alma mater, Wesleyan, and it was 1984 Spring Fling all over again.

There were the barefoot hippie kids looking shabby chic. There were the drunken no-neck boys. (Why would they want to be at Wesleyan of all places?) There, in front of the stage, were the kids with no rhythm dancing to Gillian Welch’s folk ballads.

I half expected a hackey sack tournament to break out.

Hardly Strictly is a quintessentially SF experience. Clearly, Wesleyan prepared me well to live in the Bay Area.

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4th of july

My friends Anat and Rob were in town from LA this weekend. Anat loves fireworks and insisted on seeing the show over the bay. Rob was once traumatized by burning ash dropped from mismanaged fireworks. A 4th of July tossup, which Anat won. Joining us was one of Anat’s friends from Israel, Nava, whom I’d just met and who was in the country for the first time.

We trudged down to Fisherman’s Wharf along with three zillion other people. Nava had lots of questions about the fireworks tradition, the age of the country, San Francisco. People here, she remarked, seemed so at ease and non-self-conscious. Very un-Israeli, apparently. (And un-East Coast, I told her.)4thofjuly

By the time the fireworks began, I was feeling cold and claustrophobic and wondering not about our nation’s birth but whether I’d ever find an apartment. And then, finally, greens and reds and whites began bursting in short trails. There were loud booms and small white dust explosions that looked like comet tails. Colorful tendrils that appeared to come right at us. Multiple bursts of first white and then red, straight lines and then swirly pinwheels.

I remembered watching fireworks back east. As a kid, setting off roman candles in the P.S. 20 playground. Buying packages of firecrackers in Chinatown, a dragon emblazoned on the label affixed to the red paper sheath. The firecrackers themselves always multicolored, which made them seem harmless, like too-thick birthday candles. Arguing over the strength of an M-80 – a quarter stick of dynamite or a third of a stick? (Probably neither.) Later, when I was older, with my mother and brother and niece, leaning on the hood of my car in a UMass parking lot on a hot, muggy night. Or watching off a pier in Provincetown as the sky exploded over the Atlantic.

I recall most vividly, though, the bicentennial celebration in New York City. Multi-masted schooners sailing around Manhattan and a fireworks display that was awe-inspiring. I had just started high school that year, in Manhattan, and was loving the excitement of the city. I knew on some level it was a dangerous place – crime was on the rise as the city’s population dwindled, bled out to the suburbs. But it was MY dangerous place, which made it not-dangerous in my teen logic. Rather than be frightened by New York, I relished it – the gritty grimy hard-ass and unbowed city that seemed so primed for the anarchy of the nascent punk rock movement,

The bicentennial was the year of the 44-caliber killer, when couples no longer risked sitting and kissing in their cars for fear of meeting up with the Son of Sam. It was also a year when the city was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy – just months earlier the Daily News had run its famous headline about the federal government’s decision not to bail us out: Ford to City: Drop Dead. The murder rate in 1976: 1,622. (In 2008: 496.)

All that crime and chaos was forgotten, though, for a moment at least, in the smoky afterglow of that summer’s 4th of July fireworks show.

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glen park

You know a neighborhood in SF has arrived when it has its own association newspaper. In the case of Glen Park, it’s the GPN (Glen Park News). The latest issue has as its above-the-fold headline: “Scofflaw Scavengers Spark Debate.” About the habits of professional recyclers who pick out cans and bottles for the refund money which, apparently, is illegal.

Kind of lame as an urban issue, granted. But I love this anachronistic little newspaper, and I love the neighborhood.

I’m moving from Glen Park this week, my home on and off for the last year and a half, which is leading me to wax poetic about the place.

My litmus test for a neighborhood is how far you have to walk to get a bagel and a newspaper. Not far, as it turns out, if you’re close to g-park center.

Check out La Corneta for the best burritos in the city, Glen Park Station (an old-time divey neighborhood bar) for the atmosphere and great happy hour prices, and Gialina’s for thin-crust brick-oven pizza and friendly servers. In fact, you’ll undoubtedly have to wait for a table at Gialina’s, so you might as well head over to Glen Park Station for pre-dinner cocktails. Plus, the neighborhood has its own little library – how cool is that – and a great used bookstore, Bird and Beckett.

There is definitely a small-town, even a village feel, to the place, despite close proximity to both BART and the highway. It seems insulated, in a good way, possibly because the center sits in a little valley and to get anywhere you have to go up and over hills.

The neighborhood is named after Glen Park Canyon, a yawning 122-acre split of the land that descends from nearby Twin Peaks and where you’ll often find dogs and their humans, or a softball game at the fields by the rec center. I’ve taken walks in Glen Park Canyon, and run along its edges on O’Shaughnessy. It’s an amazing ravine within the city limits, with trails both on the canyon floor and under the homes perched on concrete pilings along its rim.

Glen Park Canyon, ca. 1909

Glen Park Canyon, ca. 1909

I’ll sign off with a few pics of Glen Park through time courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library.

fighting the proposed highway ca. 1958

fighting the proposed highway ca. 1958

Bosworth, looking down Diamond toward Chenery, ca. 1948

Bosworth, looking down Diamond toward Chenery, ca. 1948

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dancing ganesha

At the top of the escalators in the Asian Art Museum is a statue titled Dancing Ganesha. And, at the feet of this elephant-headed Remover of Obstacles is a small slot where you can pay tribute.ganesha

Pauline, who led the tour of would-be museum volunteers (of which I was one), explained that many people turned to Ganesha at those moments in their lives when big changes are on the horizon – new job, starting a family, moving. Wouldn’t you know it? I’m mired in one of those moments. Looking for a new place to live, remaking myself after the end of a relationship, becoming an Asian Art Museum volunteer. I’ll have to spend more time with this stunning, whimsical little Ganesha …

The tour of volunteers took us into staff-only areas like the inside of the coat check room (not so interesting) and through the collection (very, very interesting). I was particularly moved by the Korean celadon pieces – pale green lidded ewers.

Some other artifacts to mention: a beautiful example of Zen brushwork, part of the “Lords of Samurai” special exhibit – a large charcoal-colored O painted onto a scroll. The O, a docent told us, is a key symbol of enlightenment in Zen Buddhism as it represents both everything and nothing. A stunning raku bowl fired by the man who invented the process that is named after him. A room with statues of Buddha representing different visual interpretations of this central deity by various Asian cultures.

Over the years, I’ve tried to reconnect with my Korean-ness – taking language lessons, for instance. But I’ve never been too successful. I’m hoping that being at this museum, steeped in history and culture, will give me more chances to examine and understand that part of me. Maybe now with Ganesha’s help it will be more possible.

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Spent the day yesterday at the Bay Area Drupal (BAD) Camp learning some basics about Drupal, the open-source content management system.drupal.org

As someone new to trying to develop websites in Drupal, the intro workshop I attended was both amazingly informative and overwhelming.

Apart from the explanations of nodes, modules, blocks, views and panels (whew), what I enjoyed most about the day was the communitarian impulse of the people involved in organizing the event. Kieran Lal, who is billed as Acquia‘s Drupal Adventure Guide, the first speaker during the session I attended, was both open and welcoming to us newbies and talked about his desire to make Drupal more widely available as a low-cost publishing option. Not just for the people in the room and their communities, but also for newspapers and magazines, which are being shuttered left and right in this era of cost-cutting.

Loved this. As an ex-journalist, I’m torn about the financial difficulties newspapers face. Selfishly, I don’t want my dead-tree Sunday New York Times to go away. And yet history tells me that journalism is a creature of evolution and will always exist in some form or another. It’s just the medium that has changed, from town crier to printing press to now blogs and Drupal.

Oh, and I’ve got a website idea … let’s see if I learned enough at badcamp to launch.

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Narrowly escaped serving on a jury for a 24-day trial. With my freedom, I decided to walk from Civic Center back home to Glen Park. A sunny day in SF, documented.





Twin Peaks in the distance



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