April 2014


Just a thought regarding today’s news of the current Pope canonizing two former Popes.  This is rather like the chairman of a corporate board of directors giving a couple of former CEO’s huge retroactive bonuses.

Went digging around in recent photos in search of something hideous but settled on some shots of a Leucospermum on 21st Street.






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Those Parisians

The other day i said something to a friend about my penchant for poetic waxing, and he rejoined, “Dude, when do you start?”  OK, here’s a try.

A good friend has been museuming in Paris and has written about his adventures in dealing with the Parisians, which prompts me to tell my favorite Paris tales.

In the mid-sixties i was stationed in the Army in Germany and was fortunate to be sent on TDY to France on several occasions, a couple of them to Paris.  I just loved France because at that point my French was moderately capable so i could get along just fine.

Still, there were some encounters, the most traumatic of which being my stalling a US Military sedan (an enormous, olive-drab 1963 Plymouth) in the Place de la Concorde during the morning rush hour….blocking two lanes.  Horns were honked, curses were hurled, but after five long minutes i finally got the damn thing restarted and slunk off back to Germany.  Somehow it did not seem entirely a coincidence that De Gaulle withdrew France from NATO a year or so later and thus solved the problem of all those US Military vehicles blocking traffic.

A more amusing incident occurred when i was off duty in Paris and was headed into the Louvre when a man accosted me, flung open his overcoat to reveal rows of photos, and said, “Feelthy peectures?”  I burst into laughter at the stereotype.  He was not amused.

The most entertaining incident (and one that got the universal reaction from Frenchmen to whom i told it later, “That’s just like the Parisians”) occurred another time when i was off duty in Paris and had stopped at a sidewalk vendor for a delicious Croque Monsieur.  As i consumed it, a man approached the stamp vending machine next to my bench, inserted his coins, and then proceeded to howl in rage and hammer at the machine.  He eventually huffed off without stamps.

Shortly thereafter, a well dressed woman approached the machine and dug into her purse. I warned her, “Madame! Le machine ne marche pas.”

Without missing a beat, she turned to me as said,  “La machine”….and then, “Merci beaucoup, monsieur.”  Ahhh, yes, first correct the grammar and then say thanks.

And i still loved Paris, and i’ll never be able to forget that a machine is feminine in France.

Since it’s springtime and i don’t have a photo of the marronniers on the Champs-Élysées, here’s a photo of the spectacular inflorescence on a little agave at the Ruth Bancroft Garden.  I never cease to marvel at the variety of agave inflorescences.

Agave inflorescence at the Ruth Bancroft Gardens

And a closeup

Agave inflorescence at the Ruth Bancroft Gardens

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I recall the old Jewish joke about the two women who met for lunch. The first says, “Oy, vey!”

The second sighs, “Oy, vey!”

The first responds, “OK, enough about the children.”

Ummm, yes. In my youth i felt sorry for myself over not being able to have kids to love. Then, as i grew older, i came to understand that they’re definitely a mixed blessing. Even if they don’t get into some kind of trouble, they’re at best a constant source of worry.

A foreign friend’s grandson, who i always thought of as a good kid since i’d seen him taking care of his little sister in a kind and loving way, has in recent years become an increasing source of worry for his grandmother. When he was in his early teens she worried that he was so astonishingly handsome that the girls would throw themselves at him and thus spoil him, turning him into a man who would treat women badly.

And then his grades began to go down until she feared he’d not be able to get into an academic high school that would lead to a professional career.

Now it’s worse, as he’s been suspended from school for smoking hash, which he’d apparently been doing for some time, witness the grades. Oy, vey!

On a lighter note, i have some American friends who’d been getting a little worried that their son, who’d turned sixteen and seemed perfectly alright in every other way and was an enthusiastic participant in school athletics, but had evidenced absolutely zero interest in girls. Not, of course, that they wouldn’t love him just as much in any case, but still….

And then, a couple of months ago the son announced, out of the blue, that he now had a girlfriend. What! Apparently his first date turned into Something Serious.  Zero to sixty in one second? And yes, it’s serious, as my friend looked at the kid’s cell phone usage and saw that in the space of an evening, he’d sent over 300 text messages to his girlfriend.

The complication is that while they now don’t have to worry that he’s gay, the news did put a bit of a crimp in my friend’s plan to join his wife in a month-long visit overseas.

I suggested to him that, well, the boy was a good kid who could basically take care of himself, and the girlfriend could just drop by in the afternoons after school and cook for him and do his laundry, etc.

“Yeah, etc,” he said, now having something else entirely to worry about.

And speaking of sap rising in the spring, here’s an Echinopsis somethingii at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek.




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The Drawbridges of San Francisco

I’ve been putting this off for years, but here it finally is:  a guide to all the bascule bridges (drawbridges) of San Francisco, every last one of ’em, so it’s unabridged.  And OK, this is not Amsterdam, so there are only four.  But still….



Our youngest bridge  is the Illinois Street Bridge over the Islais Creek Channel, completed in 2006 and primarily serving to provide a railroad/heavy truck route to Piers 90-96.  To get to this one just head east on Cesar Chavez, which in our hearts is really still Army Street even though they renamed it twenty-something years ago and we do love Cesar.

Keep going until you are way the hell over near our east coast,  cross Third Street, turn right at the next corner, and you’re on Illinois Street.  The bridge is two blocks ahead of you.  Just before you get onto the bridge, you can go right  into a little parking lot and then, if you’re on your Segway, bump carefully along a vertiginous and highly irregular little dirt trail to the channel edge and then, with even more care owing to the dropoff into the drink, follow the narrow path along the brink three-quarters the way to Third Street, where you can look back and get this photo of the bridge, somewhat outshone by that spectacular artwork on the side of an abandoned grain silo (titled “Bay Rise” and by Laura Haddad and Tom Drugan).

Illinois Street drawbridge

Here it is shot from the Levon Hagop Nishkian Bridge.


Well no, the bridge doesn’t look like much since there’s no great tower of counterweights for drama.  Still, it boasts bike/pedestrian lanes and two 11 ft wide traffic lanes with a shared centerline railroad track. The bridge has an 85 ft long movable span (properly called a bascule and popularly called a leaf) that provides a 65 foot wide navigable channel for boat traffic. Bascule bridges typically use a counterweight to help lift the leaf, but this bridge uses a lift assembly operated by hydraulic cylinders that provide 600 tons of pulling force to raise the leaf 84 degrees.  With 600 tons of pull, you don’t need no steenkeng counterweight.

The trunnion on which it pivots is at the base of the black vertical structure.  I’d love to see this thing in operation, but one clue that the bridge opens very rarely is that they demand 72 hours notice if you want it opened.  Hmmmm, to get some photos i may have to rent a boat with a tall mast…or better yet, get the maintenance schedule from the kindly Port Authority and lie in wait for the opening.  Stay tuned…but don’t hold your breath.  Click here for a superb animation of the construction of the bridge, provided by Creegan and D’Angelo, the engineers who built it.  Here’s a shot of what you can see of the mechanism, which is damn little.  What i need is my own personal drone that will lift me twenty feet into the air so i can get better pics of this sort of thing.  Hmmm, if i did that i could just ditch the Segway and use the drone as a handicap transportation device.  Naw, i’d probably get shot down…by one side or the other.

Illinois Street Bridge mechanism

Here are some interesting construction photos taken by a team of UC Berkeley engineering students.


Second, the Third Street Bridge over the Islais Creek Channel.  Dating from 1945, it’s a double leaf bascule bridge  just a block west of the Illinois Street Bridge and has an interesting Deco tender tower (as opposed to the innocuous little tin shack at the Illinois Street Bridge) and Deco covers over the rack mechanisms that extend ten feet above the bridge deck at both ends.    Its proper name is the Levon Hagop Nishkian Bridge, which gets a little complicated since the bridge was designed and built by Leon Hagop Nishkian and i’d assumed “Levon” was a typo until further research revealed that his father’s name was Levon.  The son, Leon, was a major figure in early twentieth-century engineering in the Bay Area, and is perhaps best known as the engineer behind the Castro Theater.  But i digress.

Here it is, shot from the Illinois Street Bridge.

Levon Hagop Nishkian Bridge

Here’s a view from the south end showing one of the rack covers.  The Segway is in there for scale.

3rd Street Bridge over Islais Creek Channel

 A closeup of the tender tower from the north bank pathway.

Levon Hagop Nishkian Bridge tender tower

And finally, from the west.

Levon Hagop Nishkian Bridge



First, the 1932 Pratt through truss variant single-leaf Strauss trunnion bascule bridge on Third Street, gasp, now known more simply as the Lefty O’Doul Bridge.  Well, yes, the engineer was Joseph Strauss, better known for the far lovelier Golden Gate Bridge although we now know that he got way too much credit for that one since he did not do the design for the bridge that was built and his proposed design was described by a contemporary critic as looking like “an upside-down rat trap”.

My Dutch friend Rina is from Amsterdam, where there are literally hundreds of handsome drawbridges in various styles going back centuries.  She’s fluent in English, but she was grasping around desperately trying to find a word to describe the Lefty O’Doul bridge until i finally had pity on her and suggested, “ugly?” and she giggled.   Ummm, maybe a rightside-up rat trap.  Ain’t nobody never called this thing beautiful, but oh my goodness, what magnificent brute force!

Furthermore, as best i can determine, the original design of this bridge has not been tampered with, so what you see is totally real – a fine drawbridge in the same perfect working order as when it was built.  When i was digging for data, i found this discussion of the bridge.  Damn shame i could find nothing near as good on the other three.

Here it is from the west.

Lefty O'Doul Bridge

A shot into its mouth.

Lefty O'Doul Bridge

From the east.

Lefty O'Doul Bridge

 Another from the east.

 Lefty O'Doul Bridge


And the obligatory shot of the counterweights.

Lefty O'Doul Bridge


And finally, our oldest bridge, the 1916 Warren truss bascule bridge on Fourth Street, also by Joseph Strauss and known as the Peter R. Maloney Bridge.  It enjoys what has got to be the largest counterweight on the planet (48 x 22 x 12 feet), so my first pic of this one is from the butt end.

Peter R. Maloney bridge

The counterweight from high in the UCSF building, where i breached security and got a photograph from a window.

Peter R. Maloney bridge

Once you start savoring that counterweight, though, you learn that it’s a fiberglass fake meticulously designed at a cost of $400,ooo to imitate the look of the original.  Well, see, since the bridge is a historic landmark, when it was rebuilt it had to look exactly like the original, but since strengthening the span significantly increased its weight, the cheapest engineering solution was to use a new hidden counterweight below the bridge while replacing the original counterweight with a fake.

That $400,000 was only a pittance because by the time the rebuild was complete in 2007, it had taken twice the money and thrice the time originally set.  Click here for the full story.  It’s worse than you imagined, but yes, i still love the bridge.

Here it is from the east.

Peter R. Maloney bridge

A shot into its mouth.

Peter R. Maloney bridge

And a shot of the works.

Peter R. Maloney bridge


Look, i love bridges, and i especially love drawbridges, but i can’t help noticing that the two over Islais Creek do not seem to meet any current need since there is no longer anything on the creek channel west of the bridges for vessels to serve other than a pitiful little new landing too small for anything but pedestrians that i cannot imagine any sailboat actually using since, except for a pocket-size plaza, there’s no place to go once you climb the bank from the landing.  In the entire inner channel there are no houseboats, no businesses with docks, no nothing.  Here’s what’s left of the north pier.


Islais Creek Channel pier

The south pier is in worse shape.

Islais Creek Channel pier

And yes, the two drawbridges over Mission Creek are clearly necessary because without them the sailboats moored at the houseboats in the interior part of the creek would not be able to enter and depart.  The problem, alas, is that the city spent nearly $40 million on the 2007 restoration of the Maloney Bridge to serve the boats belonging to the inhabitants of twenty houseboats.  Some folks might argue that we could come out way ahead by giving ’em a few million bucks apiece to berth their sailboats and their houseboats elsewhere rather than maintaining two drawbridges to serve them.   As it is, the owners of those houseboats are getting a sweet deal at city expense.  And that said, i do like the idea of having some resident houseboats.  Adds color.

Perhaps the bottom line is that all four drawbridges serve splendidly as civic art, and i think that should be publicly funded, like “Ship Shape Shifting Time” by Nobuho Nagasawa on the Islais Creek Promenade just west of the Levon Hagop Nishkian Bridge.

Ship Shape Shifting Time by Nobuho Nagasawa

I welcome comments on this post and especially hope that readers who spot an error will call it to my attention so i can correct it.  I’ve noticed in my superficial research on these bridges that there sure is a lot of contradictory information about them on the Internet, and i’m not qualified to judge who’s right.  And finally, i’ll have a followup post if i can ever get photos of the bridges with their leaves raised.


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Food Recommendations

I’ve previously alluded to my efforts to stay on a diet.  Great pig that i am, there have at least been some benefits, the greatest of which being my internist looking up from reading about my blood sugar level on my lab reports and smiling.  Oh, do i ever bask in that warm radiance.  And well, there have been minor side effects, too, although i’m not sure they’re benefits – like being able to look down and without even craning my neck, see my obsolete genitalia.

So the diet’s been working, and it’s clearly time for some food recommendations.

My love affair with the Herrs at the Noe Valley Farmers’ Market continues since they offer something incredibly tasty throughout much of the year and the fresh green garlic has been replaced by green peas sold both within the shell and without.  And yes, despite my general preference for unprocessed food, i find the shelled peas a vast improvement in convenience, indistinguishable in taste, and don’t tell the Herrs but no more expensive.

Another food recommendation, and one which i’ve not touted for some time, is Rainbow Grocery which, in spite of its name, is not a gay grocery store but rather a worker-owned cooperative that is what the old “health food stores” were trying unsuccessfully to be.  In addition to a great variety of organic fruit and vegetables at Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market prices, they have a wide selection fresh dairy products; the largest variety of cheeses in town; a mind-boggling array of vitamins, minerals, and nutritional supplements; healthy cosmetics and soaps; a modest selection of kitchen tools; dozens of organic or fair traded chocolate bars; and a wide variety of bulk foods, many of which are of very high quality at unbeatable prices.

So visit their bulk foods area if you want good food with minimal packaging (if you don’t have your own, simple bags are provided for the dry stuff but bring your own containers for the liquids).  Things i buy regularly are the herbs and spices, agave nectar, peanut butter, roasted sesame oil, polenta, whole yellow cornmeal, and various wheat flours.  I’ve just discovered their salted-and-roasted-in-the-shell peanuts, which are the best i’ve found since those glorious ones sold decades ago by Freed, Teller, & Freed in their store on Polk Street, freshly roasted and still warm for your munching pleasure as you walked.

And speaking of warm, here’s downright hot, the oven at Copper Top Ovens, a mobile vendor of wood-fired pizzas, Wednesdays at the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market.  That’s my prosciutto and spinach half pizza being slid in there.  At 750 F, it’s done in three minutes.  And delicious.

pizza at Copper Top Ovens

Since we’re at the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market, i’ll put in a plug for Gary Alfieri.  He has superb nut candies which i recommend your not tasting or you’ll be hooked and then your doctor will say you can’t eat them.  But he also has the best almond butter around and even though he’d discontinued the 8 oz jars, which i loved because i could put my jellies in the empties, i grat my teeth the other day and bought a 16 oz. jar.  And then another worker came over from the other end of the stall and told me that he’d made a dozen jars of the 8 oz. and had them at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market for me.  Yow!  Our mothers told us not to complain, but as Adair Lara observed, how can anyone know there’s something wrong if you don’t complain?  So my incessant mentions of my great love for the 8 oz. jars had born fruit….or at least almond butter.  This, folks, is yet another reason to cultivate twenty-year relationships with your vendors.

And finally, another plug for Company, my favorite restaurant.  Until you try this place, dining in any other restaurant should be eschewed.


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Food, Glorious Food

Not really time for another food post, but i’m working simultaneously on two longer, more serious posts and want to toss something out online tonight since it’s been a week and i don’t want you pigeons to stop pecking.

I’ve been in a pickling frenzy recently, starting with the snow peas from Herr’s Family Farm that i mentioned a couple weeks ago.  By the way, from their name you might get the idea that the Herr family are some Germans who relocated to California a generation ago.  You’d be half right as they moved here from overseas, but they’re not German.  It was after a different war, it’s pronounced as if it were spelled ‘hurr’, and they don’t look the least bit German because they’re Hmong.

The pickled snow peas went over very well, so i tried a batch of their sugar snaps, which also got a good reception.  And last Saturday when i was at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market i swung by Iacopi’s stall and looked at his Brussels Sprouts.  Just gorgeous.  The size of small eggs and hard as rocks.  Not a loose leaf on ’em.  And yeah, they were priced accordingly but i couldn’t resist.  Got ’em home and they were too beautiful to eat so i pickled ’em.  They were so perfect that most of them needed hardly any prepping.  Iacopi’s sprouts are consistently fine, but i’ve never seen a better looking batch.

What i should have done is dumped them out of the bag and photographed them in a pile on the table, but i don’t think fast enough to do stuff like that anymore.  Here’s what they look like pickled.

pickled Brussels sprouts


The other great food news is that my friend Roy had in his basement five file boxes full of jars with resealable lids, most of which were the pint and smaller size that i use.  My friend Stephen is helping Roy lighten ship and brought the boxes over to me.  It felt like Christmas.  And thanks to Roy and Stephen, i won’t have to buy jars until midsummer, which is better news than it sounds like because little 8 oz. canning jars are now selling for a buck and a quarter each…at the cheapest place in town.

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