November 2012

A Greenwich Steps Adventure

Here’s a little tale out of my misspent youth.  In 1980 i met Armistead Maupin at a party in the Castro, and we hit it off so well that he invited me over to his apartment on Telegraph Hill the following afternoon, where we consummated our friendship.  Afterwards, he took me out to the Greenwich Steps to visit the hermit.

Yes, in those days San Francisco had a resident hermit who’d built himself a little shack in the overgrowth off the Greenwich Steps, where he’d lived for several years.  More recently, he’d achieved some notoriety over his stalling tactics to keep the developer of the Levi Strauss complex from evicting him and razing his shack, ostensibly so the cliff above the proposed complex could be stabilized, but mainly because they didn’t want squatters on their land above the upscale development.  He’d managed to get some support for his cause from folks like Armi, and he knew he needed to stay on their good side.  So when Armi bushwhacked his way over close to the shack and shouted to ask whether he’d be willing to meet a friend, he agreed.  I tramped on over and, playing the gracious host, he invited us in for tea.

It was a miserable hovel, more of a lean to than a real shack, but it kept the rain off, and had a little camp stove for cooking.  On the other hand, there were clearly no bathing facilities, as he was filthy, and i didn’t even want to think about toilet issues.  The whole thing was only about 5’x8′, so we sat on the edge of his stinking pallet and chatted while waiting for an encrusted pan of water to boil.  When it was boiling, he picked three cups off the ground, and then, in a spasm of fastidiousness, inspected them.  They failed.

But he was ready for this contingency and, grabbing a rag black with dirt off the edge of the stove, vigorously wiped out all three cups. Then tossing in the tea bags with a grimy paw, he poured the water with a flourish and handed us our cups, the perfect host.

I could not bring myself to look into my cup and, to take the first sip, summoned a level of courage i didn’t know i had.

The rest of it went down easier.

And as you know, i lived.  Hell, to my astonishment i didn’t even get sick.

clean upMeanwhile, speaking of public hygiene issues

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Reine Claude

Email from readers always makes my heart leap with joy, but i got one a couple of days ago that was also an educational experience. See, i like to label myself a foodie and secretly think of myself as rather knowledgeable. But this guy asked if i knew a San Francisco source for Reine Claude jam, which sent me frantically googling because i’d never heard of Reine Claude.

Turns out Reine Claude is the French name for Greengage plums and at least i knew what those were since a vendor at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ market had some of them in 2004 and i made a jam of them that was so good that i lay in wait for them and made jams again in 2005 and 2006. Then i got so senile that i didn’t see them in 2007 and they fell off the edge of my memory.

Now i’m so interested that i’m gonna hunt for them next summer so i can make more of that jam. The problem, though, as the vendor explained, is that almost nobody grows them anymore because the trees are unreliable producers and routinely go on strike every couple of years or so – not behavior that endears them to farmers who grow them for a living.

So the first part of the hunt is tracking down that vendor. Stay tuned.

Stop DrivingMeanwhile, here’s some exhortational sidewalk graffiti on 3rd Street in Santa Rosa

And here’s a nifty graffiti site that i blundered onto while trying to figure out which letters are doubled in “graffiti”.

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Stop Me

My best friend Louis got an especially witty letter published in this morning’s San Francisco Chronicle about California’s new emissions cap-and-trade system:

Business warns of business
Business groups are arguing that a cap-and-trade system will jack up gasoline and electricity prices because businesses will find a way to game the system like Enron did.

Ahhh, yes: Stop me before I kill again.

Read more:

Meanwhile, on Thanksgiving morning my friend Gloria took me and a friend’s dog for a walk east along Santa Rosa Creek all the way to downtown. I cheated and rode my Segway.



Surely you didn’t expect a nature shot? Well, OK



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Cloud Atlas

Yesterday i rode downtown for the 11:00 AM showing of Cloud Atlas, the movie made from David Mitchell’s magnificent eponymous novel.  As it started running, i was entranced by how perfectly the directors (Tom Tykwer and Lana and Andy Wachowski) were depicting the visual aspect of the novel.  Mitchell broke the novel into six story lines, presenting the stories in chronological sequence, as i described in my paragraph on this novel in my 2012 Reading section.  The directors broke these story lines into several sections each and interwove them, and i suspect that this made the movie more difficult to follow than the novel even though their intent was to show more closely how the stories were interrelated.   The directors also added material not in the novel, and i saw almost none of that to be an improvement, most especially the tear-jerker ending.  The movie is certainly worth seeing, but think you’d have to be a lot smarter than i am to follow it if you were not familiar with the novel.

In any case, read the novel.

Yucca filiferaHere’s a tree yucca (perhaps Yucca filifera) blooming on Noe Street.  A cursory search failed to turn up the species with much confidence.

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Feijoa Festival

Oh, we’re having an absolute feijoa festival here in San Francisco, admittedly one of our lower key festivals since it seems to consist mainly of me plus one vendor each at some of our farmers’ markets.  Well, and a handful of folks i’ve trained to like the chutney i make from feijoas.

Of course the first thing about feijoas is how to pronounce them.  I’m a firm believer that the way most things are pronounced in their home regions is the correct pronunciation.  It absolutely gives me the creeps to hear New Englanders say pea’ can for the popular pie nut when they mean puh cahn’.  I mean, at least they could get the accent on the right syllable!

Several years ago my friend Charlotte was visiting San Francisco and was taken aback when i pronounced the fruit mango as mahngo because what she’d heard all her life was maengo, rhyming with tango.  Well yes, in suburban Colorado that’s the correct pronunciation simply because the vast majority of suburban Coloradoans say it that way even though in western India where God invented the fruit it’s pronounced mahngah.  And when the Portuguese took it back to Europe they changed the spelling and pronunciation to mahngo, and the rest of western Europe, including England, copied that pronunciation.

All the mangoes sold in the United States are grown in places where they’re called mahngos, and the majority of those sold in San Francisco are sold in Mexican markets, where i buy mine and where they’re pronounced mahngo.  I’m not sure that a majority of San Franciscans say mahngo, but certainly huge numbers do.  So i’ll stick with mahngo here.

But what about feijoas?  Well, the little things come from Brazil, as does their name, so at home they’re fay jows (with the j as in French “Jean” and the ow up in your nose).  Alas, the Spanish influence here is too strong, so almost everyone says fay ho ahs as if it were Spanish.  Almost nobody anymore calls ’em “pineapple guavas” since they don’t taste anything at all like a pineapple and only moderately resemble guavas.

On the other hand, they sure do make good chutney.

Market St. palmAnd it’s not just the feijoas that are fruiting. Here’s one of our palms on Market Street, but i don’t think the fruit is edible, in spite of its beauty.

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