April 2012

Back to Point Bonita

I couldn’t stand it. There were so many beautiful things to photograph at Point Bonita and few of my pics turned out decent last time, so i had to go back.

Here’s a shot of the bridge. When i mentioned before that it was a virtually exact duplicate of its predecessor, i didn’t know that a motivation for this besides aesthetics was that it obviated the necessity of an Environmental Impact Report. Well, yes, even us far left San Francisco liberals understand that sometimes it’s better to just tiptoe through the loopholes.

View to the north off the bridge


Housing for a park ranger and family. When they tell the kids to go out and play, they add, “Stay in the yard.”


And finally, some flora. This stuff would send a bryologist into backflips. Ummm, naw, they’d probably say it was common as dirt, but i sure was impressed. It’s on the cliff face immediately to the right of the entrance to the tunnel as you’re headed to the lighthouse.


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How Do We Love Thee

It’s a gorgeous Earth Day in our beloved San Francisco, complete with cerulean sky and in this morning’s Chronicle an article about the conversion of a defunct church into a private middle school, whose head observed, “It’s great for San Francisco to have independent schools that can take beautiful buildings like this and convert them to an important use.”

We here at Matte Gray – from the general camp, pioners and all, up to Matte Himself – concur.

And when i lifted my eyes to the heavens, i saw this

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Another Language Moment

I experienced many language moments in Germany, but i’ll limit myself to two favorites.  The first happened just a couple of weeks after my arrival in Frankfurt in August 1964.  I’d started learning some German on the boat over and immediately enrolled in beginning classes when i arrived, so i was eager to start using my newfound language capabilities.  It was a gorgeous day, hot and sunny, and i’d gone for a walk in the Palmengarten, which backed up against the IG Farben building where i worked.

After a full circuit of the garden, i was a bit sweaty and spotted a park bench on which two German women were sitting, clearly a middle-aged mother and her daughter of approximately my age.  Using my newly acquired understanding of social mores as well as language, i inquired, “Haben Sie Platz frei?  And when they said yes, i joined them.

And then to be pleasant, i leaned forward with a smile on my face and with my politest intonation asked, “Sind Sie heiß?”  The mother recoiled in shock and horror and leaped to her feet.  The daughter burst into laughter, grabbed her mother’s arm before she could run, and jabbered something rapidly.

Then she explained to me in perfect English that in German one must ask whether someone else feels hot or it will mean that i am asking whether she is sexually aroused.   In the politest possible manner.

Meanwhile, here in San Francisco, the birds and the bees are pollinating away with wild abandon.


And here’s the money shot


The other memorable language moment occurred near the end of my stay in Germany when one of the sergeants in my unit mentioned that his girlfriend’s father had told him he approved of the relationship because the sergeant was Irish, and when he told the father that actually his ancestors were all from England, the father insisted that it was the same thing.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the father, not knowing the English word “Aryan”, was saying “Arisch”. Too many implications.

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Side Effects

I’ve long advised friends that every medication has side effects, so ideally you can avoid the meds by making dietary or lifestyle modifications.

Of course, some side effects are worse than others, and i’ve whined about how the first generation protease inhibitors scrambled my brain while they were saving my life. And we all know people who’ve gone through chemo or radiation therapy.

That said, some meds have side effects so subtle or innocuous that they aren’t noticeable, like the Gabapentin that somehow keeps my brain from detecting the pain signals from my degenerated discs and yet does not leave me buzzed like the narcotics we tried nor stoned all the time like the medical marijuana.

And then there’s the third category. Bupropion was initially developed as an antidepressant, but after it went on the market, patients began complaining to their doctors that the damn stuff made them not want their cigarettes as much. Yep. So now it’s primarily prescribed as a smoking cessation aid.

But the weirdest side effect i’ve ever experienced came to light last week when i was at my retinologist’s office for a field test and the tester remarked on my lovely eyelashes, which seemed rather strange so i just let it pass. Besides, my attention was distracted by her strapping me into the machine.

But then a few minutes later Cat, the retinologist’s main assistant, also said something about my eyelashes, and since i knew her and was comfortable with her, i asked what in the world she was talking about.

She laughed, “You hadn’t noticed?”

I let her finish the glaucoma test before i leaped out of the chair to a mirror. And yes, thanks to the Travatan Z that i’ve been squirting into my left eye, the lashes there are distinctly longer, thicker, darker, more closely spaced, and definitely lovelier that those of the right eye. No longer interested in my appearance, i hadn’t noticed, but hell, i look like Alex in the movie of A Clockwork Orange. Well, except that he wore the false eyelashes on his right eye.

And yes, i was not the first to experience this bizarre side effect, and Big Pharm has leaped into the breach with a multitude of related drugs that focus not on the boring reduction of interocular pressure but rather on the exciting new eyelashes.

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The Golden Fire Hydrant

Not every city has a golden fire hydrant, but we do. It’s at 20th and Dolores, and at 5:30 in the morning every April the 18th, it gets a fresh coat of paint and usually, flowers. See, much of San Francisco was destroyed by fire after the great earthquake at 5:12 AM on 18 April 1906 because the water mains were broken in many places, and there was no water to fight the spreading fires.

As the fire advanced to the south, it was discovered that the hydrant at 20th and Dolores still had pressure, and word was sent to the closest fire crew. Alas, by that time the crew was pretty much exhausted, and more importantly, so were the horses that pulled the heavy pumper, and they could not get the wagon up the steep hill.

Flash forward to the Marina district fire after the 1989 earthquake, where the local main was broken, so before the fire department was able to lay piping in the street to bring in water from the closest working main, hundreds of citizens had spontaneously gathered kitchen pails and formed a bucket brigade from the bay, several blocks away. Not that they were actually able to put out the fire, but it was just glorious that they saw the problem and acted collectively to attack it.

In 1906, hundreds of citizens saw the horses unable to budge the pumper, and they swarmed over it and by hand pushed and pulled it up to the working hydrant so that its water could tip the balance and halt the fire.

Aren’t those occasions wonderful when everyone pitches in to the best of his ability for the collective good. Alas, nowadays, if a bunch of Americans were in a lifeboat with a storm approaching, the strongest would argue that it would be unfair to ask them to pull harder on the oars than the weakest could.

Here’s one version of the hydrant story.

So now, fresh paint and flowers are provided every year by the San Francisco History Association. It’s the least we can do.

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Point Bonita Lighthouse

I’d been planning to get out to the Point Bonita Lighthouse for years, but since it can be reached only Saturday-Monday and nobody in his right mind would fight the weekend crowds, you have to go on Monday. But since the access route to it is closed except 12:30-3:30 and of course you want to go on a sunny day, that narrows your chances. After all, it’s a lighthouse, but it’s also a foghorn house…for a reason.

And then, in January of 2010 those scaredy-cat engineers took a close look at the 1954 suspension bridge leading to the lighthouse, gasped, and summarily closed it to traffic, leaving me with the distinct impression that i’d never get to visit it. But no, a few days ago our SF Chronicle published an article announcing the completion and opening last Saturday of the new bridge, a nearly exact copy of the original.

So with bated breath i arose this morning and looked for the sun. Voilà.

An hour before opening time i threw the Segway in the back of the Prius and set out, which of course got me to the site 45 minutes early, but hey, folks who go to this thing are always fun to chat up, and i got into a wonderful conversation with an eighty-year-old Frenchman who was visiting with his wife and had been to the lighthouse decades earlier when he had lived in San Francisco.

To get to the lighthouse you have to walk (or Segway with a handicap permit) along a trail about a half mile and then through a tunnel. In this pic you can see to the left of the tunnel entrance the trace remaining of the original trail around the side of the hill. They dug the tunnel because the part in shadow immediately to the left of the entrance is a sheer cliff and the trail there persisted in falling into the bay.

Point Bonita

Only when you exit the tunnel can you get a good look at the lighthouse and the suspension bridge leading to it.

Point Bonita Lighthouse

The ridge beneath the bridge is knife thin, so you can look almost straight down off either side to the rocks at water’s edge. And no, i didn’t take the Segway onto the bridge because it’s narrow enough that i felt antisocial, and besides, it’s short and almost flat. Also, the bridge bounces and trembles in the wind, to help you appreciate the delicacy of its design.

Point Bonita bridge

Alas, the stairs leading to the lens are not open to tourists, so you have to admire it from outside.

Point Bonita Lighthouse

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A pearl dropped into my trough when i moved to my current home nineteen years ago, and it’s been rattling around unnoticed since then.  But yesterday Tiffany was lying in wait at the Noe Valley Farmer’s Market, telling passers by about Noe Valley Chamber Music. I was free and i particularly like chamber music, so i went to the concert today.

It was an educational experience, starting when i arrived at the venue, a little Episcopal church called Holy Innocents at 455 Fair Oaks.  I’ve lived within three miles of this church for 37 years but since Fair Oaks goes from nowhere to nowhere, had never seen the church.  I’d certainly remember if i had, as it has a fascinating front door treatment that fairly screams “Maybeck!” but is by a mentor of Maybeck’s named Ernest Coxhead.  It’s the oldest Episcopal church building in San Francisco, dates from 1890, and has some interesting shingling.

Ernest Coxhead

Nowadays it’s an uneasy feeling to enter a Christian house of worship, but i remind myself that the main body of the Episcopal Church, the leader in Christian tolerance, has been supportive of gays since the 1990’s and that this particular congregation has been gay friendly since, as they announce on their website, way back in 2003 (i’ll add that this was clearly after five years of being worn down by Will and Grace).  So you have to love ’em for nearly nine whole years of kindness since then, and besides, they permit use of their building for musical events, which i also applaud.

The concert was excellent.  Telemann’s Canonic Sonatas, Op. 5 for viola and clarinet; Hindemith’s Sonata for Viola, Op. 31;  Stockhausen’s Im Freundschaft for Solo Clarinet (1977); Intermission; and Mozart’s Trio K. 498 (Kegelstatt) for piano, clarinet, and viola.  Stockhausen is over my head, but the performer (Carey Bell, Principal Clarinet of the SF Symphony) provided an introductory explanation and played with such brio that for the first time in my life i got real close to actually liking Stockhausen.

But i just loved the Mozart trio.  However, i chatted with two people after the performance and shocked the first when i mentioned that although i was familiar with the Mozart trio, i had never heard it performed live.  His jaw dropped in disbelief.  When i mentioned to the second that i enjoyed the violist, something in the way i said it revealed that i was at the time unaware that she was Assistant Principal Violist at the SF Symphony, which cost me any points i might have accrued so i slunk away before more people could plumb the depths of my ignorance.

When i go to these performances in the next season, i plan to just applaud and smile pleasantly.

Oh, and i took a detour by the new children’s playground at Dolores Park on the way to the concert.  Kids of all sizes lined up to try the new 40 foot slide.

Dolores Park Playground

And for good reason

Dolores slide

This playground is a marvel, just one spectacular feature after another, not to mention a lot of attention to safety and comfort.  All the colored play surfaces like the gray around the slide above, are some kind of artificial, non-slip rubber on top of a layer of springy foam, which makes it a lot harder to get all skinned up and break things.  I’d have killed to get to play on some of the equipment here when i was young.

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Your intrepid photographer spotted this new design shop on Market Street across from the gym although i’ve been afraid to walk over there to look more closely.

Garamond wept.

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My Freshly Tested Brain

This morning i rode over to the Brain and Spinal Injury Center at SF General and played lab rat with Sherry, the nice young woman i’ve been seeing every few months ever since i woke up on a gurney in the ER January before last and she convinced me that the look at my brain they’d taken the liberty of taking while i was conveniently unconscious had revealed that i was an excellent candidate for a study they were doing on people who’d had their bells rung.

They keep coming up with fascinating mazes for me to run, so i keep going back. Besides, i can make her laugh just by telling the truth, like this morning when she was going through the preliminary questions just to make sure i was still somewhat sane and asked my age, and i responded, “chronologically, developmentally, or emotionally?”

And then the real tests began, all designed to confuse me, which was getting easier and easier even before i got dropped on my head. But it wasn’t just the standard remembering words and seeing patterns stuff that i’ve come to enjoy.

Oh no, this time they threw in this diabolical manual dexterity text that involved picking up teeny little pegs and plugging them into holes that they didn’t really want to go into. Grrrrrrr. Clearly i was having too much fun with the other stuff.

They’re really nice people and let me wheel the Segway in and plug it in for charging during the testing, which is a good thing because i would not have made it home otherwise. The best part of the visit, though, is that they’ve redecorated with a 3×4′ video screen displaying some spectacular graphics that fit their mission.

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False Alarm

Monday morning first thing i went out to drive the Prius down to Luscious Garage (check out her blog on the site. It just gets better and better) to determine why i had to come limping home Saturday night at 10 MPH up Noe Street after a way more exciting than usual trip over Altamont Pass, through Oakland, and over the Bay Bridge.

So i turned the car on and once again looked at all the displayed warning icons, but when i put it in gear and set out i immediately noticed that it seemed to be driving normally after its 36 hour rest. Checked the displays and sure enough, the motor was functioning again, and even as i looked it recharged the second bar of the battery indicator. By the time i got to the garage, the battery was two-thirds charged.

They kept it for two days and could not duplicate my problem, but i promised them i had not hallucinated that trip up Altamont Pass at 30 MPH on the shoulder, etc. So we’re just going to observe the patient while i continue to drive, especially since Carolyn speculated that simply turning the power off and back on again may have been what cleared the problem.

I’m almost excited over anticipation of a recurrence.

Almost. Although ideally if it occurs again it won’t be during the trip to Canada i’m thinking about this summer.

And why is it that “a trip to Canada” sounds so vastly more exotic than “a trip to Vancouver”?

Speaking of false alarms, this afternoon i couldn’t decide whether i had in my hand the keys for my old, defunct Segway or the new one i got last Saturday, so i touched them to the old Segway and the damn thing sprang to life!

What???? i squealed and jumped on it and rode down to Walgreens. You can imagine my disappointment when i came out of Walgreens and it wouldn’t start, especially since i’d forgot to bring my locking cable and worse yet, looked over to the right to see the 24 pulling out of its stop so there wouldn’t be another one for thirty minutes.

So i pushed the Segway a quarter up the first little block and fell exhausted. Tried the key about twenty times to no avail, pushed it another five meters and collapsed again, tried the key again a few times, and the damn thing started again. Got me almost home before it died again, but i’m thinking i may be able to use the old NiMH batteries on it since they’re better than the Lithium ones on the new Segway. That way i can postpone figuring out the hazmat shipping to get the lithium ones rebuilt.

All watched over by machines of loving grace.

And damn. I thought i was being clever with that allusion to a Brautigan poem out of the sixties. Then i checked to make sure i got it right and discovered that the line had been grabbed in the eighties for a rock band and last year for a BBC documentary.

arty GLBT centerMeanwhile, here’s an arty shot of the GLBT Center on Market

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