Journal: 2014

Farmers Market Update

I had thought about doing a post on how Senator Feinstein, after many years of vigorously endorsing all that national security apparatus spying on her constituents, was consumed with outrage when she discovered that she, or at least her staff, was also being spied on.  But then i realized that this has been all over the national news for the past week and that while her hypocrisy speaks with adequate eloquence for itself, she is now our last best hope for reining in our nascent police state.  That is, unless she still thinks the rest of us should be continuously monitored.  If that’s the case, it’s too late for me, but the rest of you should go underground now.  Well, some of you, if you get my drift.  The rest … well, i cling to the hope that we can be in adjacent cages and console each other between interrogations.

So instead of all that boring political stuff, i’ll do another culinary column, this one celebrating my favorite farmers’ market, the Castro Farmers’ Market, which opened its 2014 season last Wednesday.  It was a festive occasion, and not just because the weather was shirt-sleevy gorgeous owing to a massive solar spill that has lasted all day long every day of the past week.

See, the vendors and their customers hadn’t seen each other since mid-December, so there was pent-up need, and much socializing occurred along with the buying and selling.

First stop, Shelly’s Eggs.  Shelly’s hens are pastured and run around loose all day long eating bugs and seeds.  Their eggs are also very fresh, and you can taste the difference.  Besides that, Shelly’s nice, laughs at my jokes, likes my jams and jellies, and insists on giving me discounts.   I mean, i’m trying to be a good customer and a contributor to her profitability, but i can eat only so many eggs.  If people were not so damn hard to photograph, i’d include a pic of her, but stay tuned.

Next, Serendipity Farms, where i picked up the most perfect wild arugula i’ve ever seen. It was only after i’d served it to my guests on Friday night that i discovered that we have a perfectly fine English name for it – “wall rocket”.  Sure do wish i’d known to call it that when i was buying it from the vendor, who has finally decided that i’m harmless and is now nice.  Guess who gets a jar of jam next time.

Serendipity Farms

The guy in the blue tent is looking at the wall rocket, but i suspect he bought potatoes instead.

Then to Nyia Yi Farms, where i picked up some perfect little sub-golf-ball-size Yukon Golds, plus a bunch of red radishes, and across the aisle to Home Maid for some of their breathtaking olive-fig-balsamic vinegar tapenade.  They also have good ravioli, but i’m so partial to that olive-fig stuff that the vendor waves it at me when he sees me coming.  Yep, he knows his customers, and as you can see, he knows his products, too.


Next stop, back across the aisle to Rodin Farms, where Marie, who is right up there with Shelly on my favorite vendor list, was proudly offering her new product, almond butter, which is quite tasty although i’m holding my breath in anticipation of her divine nectarines in another month or so.


Next, to my walnut guy at Alpine Blue Farms, who in the summer sells blueberries and blackberries and in the fall sells baby kiwi fruit the size of grapes and so young they haven’t grown their fur yet and can be eaten whole.  Yum.

Then to Prather Ranch for a package of their bratwurst, one of the very best in the city and sold by knowledgeable and downright nice vendors.

I’ll cover other vendors at this market in a later post, but for now i’ll close by mentioning that i was buying some of that stuff for the dinner i did on Friday night for visiting Canadians, not exactly a traditional meal, but i like new combinations.

To start, a salad of wall rocket and thinly sliced red radish dressed in a light vinaigrette.  And then a four pound chunk of ahi tuna that i plunged into a pot of boiling court bouillon for two minutes, pulled out, and plattered so that folks could cut off the size slice they wanted.  Only two minutes, you ask?  Yep.  That way the outside quarter inch is nicely cooked and any pathogens have been killed, while the inside is dead raw and still cold in the center.  The best of both worlds, cooked and raw at the same time, and besides, the squeamish can make sure they get an outside slice, leaving the good stuff for the rest of us.

For accompaniments:  first, a childhood favorite, new potatoes (i used the little Yukons) in a thick cream sauce.  Then braised fresh green garlic and corn bread.

I tire easily now, and i was too tired Thursday night to make a dessert, so i cheated and bought a pie from Mission Beach Cafe.  Good thing i love that place because i felt kinda jacked around Friday afternoon when they wouldn’t sell me a chocolate cream pie because they had only one owing to it being π day (3/14) and there having been a run.  And then i felt even more jacked around when i was serving the pie and discovered that they hadn’t packaged the pie i agreed on as a substitute.  But hey, i didn’t even open the box when i picked it up, so i can’t complain … well, any more.

And i’m thinking that maybe i ought to start doing the food posts using my new kitchen persona – “Sue Vead”.


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Dear Tovarich Putin


I write in love and sorrow.

You are, i’m sure, aware of the terrible press you are getting now in the Western media and worse yet, of the political sanctions being proposed by the Western powers, all over the handful of troops you sent into Crimea last week to help maintain order during the chaotic conditions in Ukraine caused by the recent coup that deposed their democratically elected president.

Oh, Vladimir Vladimirovitch, what were you thinking?  By that rash action you ignited an international firestorm of anti-soviet feeling and may very well have shot yourself in the foot from an economic standpoint, as i cannot think of a single economic benefit that might accrue to Russia from your action.

If you had just backed off, everything would have worked out your way.  I mean, you know better than i that Crimea has always been Russian (well, at least since the resolution of the Tatar Problem early in the previous century) and that until Khrushchev gave it to the Ukrainians in 1954, virtually nobody in Crimea even thought of wasting his time learning Ukrainian.

Even now, sixty years later, the vast majority of the Crimean population still considers itself Russian and speaks Russian, so there was absolutely no need to send a single Russian soldier in.  The Crimeans would have seized with great joy their first opportunity to vote on which country they wanted to be part of, and an overwhelming majority would have still voted to join Russia without what the western media is calling your “coercion”.

Furthermore, it will come as no surprise to many of us if at least three of the eastern Ukrainian oblasts now start agitating to leave Ukraine for Russia, but of course now that you’ve sent those few soldiers into Crimea, people all over the planet will start accusing you of fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine.  Oh please, you don’t need to foment unrest, the people in those oblasts are ethnically Russian, Russian speakers, and pro-Russian.  And they were overwhelmingly supporters of Yanukovich.  You don’t have to do anything to make them want to join you, especially considering that joining you will immediately improve their standard of living by getting them off the Good Ship Ukraine as it sinks into a maelstrom of debt.

Reflect, reflect, comrade.  Yes, you’re a KGB thug, but you don’t have to act like one.  It’s too late to undo the damage you caused by sending a handful of peacekeepers to Crimea, but don’t send any to eastern Ukraine.  Just look at the election results for the last presidential election for Ukraine.  Those folks are already in your camp and as soon as they get the chance, that part of Ukraine will quite naturally all by itself fall onto your plate like stack of Babushka’s blini.


Your friend,



Meanwhile, everywhere things fall apart:

Clarion Alley

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Fred Phelps

Well yes, the loathsome Westboro Baptist Church scumbag has gone to his eternal reward, the location of which most of us are pretty sure, and he would doubtless be pleased, publicity hound that he was, with all the media attention his death has got.

Hell, the fanfare started before he was even dead with all the coverage of his son’s post that he was near death, the coverage certainly dramatically increased by the juicy tidbits regarding his excommunication of at least two of his sons and his own subsequent excommunication.  Oh, and didn’t we love that, since it sparked speculation about the cause of his getting the boot.  Ummm, maybe a little dalliance with that lovely soprano in the choir, or much better yet, with that handsome, buffed field hand.  Yesssssssssss.

My favorite response to his death was the lighting that evening of the Empire State Building with rainbow colors for about five minutes around 9:00 PM.

My favorite verbal response was so widely promulgated that i’m not sure of the source, but it ran, “My mother said to say only nice things about the dead. He’s dead. How nice.”

Or speaking of nice, as Isabella Allende remarked upon the death of Roberto Bolaño, “Dying does not make you a nicer person.”

But actually, i mourn his death, not because i’m nobly turning the other cheek because i realized just a few years ago that if i didn’t start fighting back now, i’d go to my grave without ever standing up for myself.  No, i mourn Phelps’ death because i wish he were still alive.  Since his anti-gay ranting was so over-the-top that nobody with an IQ in double digits would buy into it, that evil fucker did more to advance the cause of gay tolerance than “Will and Grace”, albeit inadvertently.  And now he can’t do it anymore.

That’s why, if i uttered prayers, i’d start with heartfelt and deeply earnest ones for the health of Pat Robertson.  Now that Phelps is dead, Robertson is our primary remaining source of anti-gay bile so ludicrous that it cannot but turn folks away from hateful Christianity.

I looked through my recent photographs trying to find a good portrait of Phelps, but this was the best i could do:

Fred Phelps


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Failed, Failed Again

I’ve failed yet again.  Comrade Putin has completely ignored the sage advice i sent him in that letter a couple of posts ago.  Ignored, hell, he’s dug himself even deeper and has succeeded in isolating himself from just about every country on the planet by taking over Crimea the way he has.  And all of it so completely unnecessary when Crimea was just waiting for a chance to get out of Ukraine and back into Russia, as was illustrated by that 95% vote in favor of leaving Ukraine in the referendum called by the Crimean legislature.

And yes, even though that referendum clearly revealed the will of the people, and according to the EODE observer mission was conducted freely and fairly, it was illegitimate under both Ukrainian and UN rules.  Sovereign states do not graciously allow portions of themselves to secede with a simple vote, as witnessed by our Civil War.  No, it takes a revolution…or intervention by a foreign power as when we helped Kosovo throw off the Serbian yoke.

None of the stats i’ve mentioned before can more starkly illustrate the feelings in Crimea than what happened after Putin had accepted the surrender of the Ukrainian forces in Crimea and had offered them the choice between free passage back to the Ukraine for them and their families or the opportunity to remain in Crimea as Russian soldiers at the same rank.  I read in yesterday morning’s paper an article that included a photo of bunch of Ukrainian soldiers waving from their departing bus.  Buried deep in the middle of the article was one sentence mentioning in passing that two-thirds of the Ukrainian soldiers in Crimea had chosen to become Russian soldiers.  I can think of nothing that speaks more eloquently for the innate Russian identity of Crimea than this.

And nothing that more deeply underscores how badly Putin has handled the issue.

And here, a sign of our times, this one on 16th Street at the foot of Potrero Hill.

Handcrafted in LA


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Farmers’ Markets Revisited

Following through on my promise to provide more material about farmers’ markets, i’ll start with three of my favorite vendors at the Castro market.

First, another mention of Shelly’s eggs.  They really are dramatically more delicious than grocery store eggs, and i’ve never tasted an upscale egg that vied with them other than the few Nash brings to the Alemaney Farmers’ Market, and he’s usually sold out before 8:00 AM.  Oh, and finally Shelly let me take a pic of her… after i reminded her that she’s here to sell eggs, not be all made up for a special dinner, which is why she’s laughing.

Shelly's Farm Fresh Eggs

Oh, and what else do you do with eggs besides creaming them with asparagus?  Well, how ’bout a potato salad made with nearly as much boiled egg as potato?  Plus all the usual ingredients and lots of chopped red onion to give it more texture and taste.  Upping the egg ratio increases the protein, lowers the carbohydrate count, and pleases our doctors.

Next stop, East & West Afghan Gourmet Food.  They do a very good eggplant casserole that you can just stick in the microwave, and i like some of their sauces, but what keeps me going back is their spinach bolani.   Oh. my. goodness.  I’ve had spinach parathas  from a Sikh vendor at the Noe Valley Farmers’ Market that i just loved until i tasted these bolani, which are basically the same thing but with more spinach inside and even more delicious.  That said, the Sikh’s coriander sauce might be a tiny bit better.  On the other hand, he’s nowhere near as nice looking.

East West Afghan Gourmet Foods

I mentioned the nice young man at Alpine Blue Farm last time, but here’s a pic of him.  Oh, and he now has his blueberries.

Alpine Blue Farms

I’d said that i buy my asparagus from Cecchini at the Castro market, well i’m loyal to him, but i got this shot at the Noe Valley Farmers’ Market that i’ll use to show folks what California asparagus is looking like now.

California asparagus

Some wonderful things can be done with asparagus, but one favorite is to just blanch it for three minutes and serve it cold in a vinaigrette.  My other favorite is the Asparagus and Creamed Eggs from the old Joy of Cooking.

And now, some favorite vendors at the Noe Valley Farmers’ Market.

The fresh green garlic season is nearly over, but here’s what it looked like at the Herr’s stall.  No, ma’am, it’s the garlic.

Herr's fresh green garlic

And speaking of the Herrs, here’s their snow peas that i wrote about pickling.

Herr's snow peas

A new favorite at the Noe Valley market, Garden Variety Cheese.  Breathtakingly delicious raw sheep’s milk cheeses.  Expensive, but i’m worth it.

 Garden Variety Cheese

I’d mentioned becoming a fan of the sourdough loaf from Sour Flour.  Here’s what they look like all stacked up.

Sour Flour

Gosh, looking at all that good food made me hungry for politics, so i’ll close by mentioning that it doesn’t look like Big Sister Feinstein is going to see her hypocrisy in wanting to keep me under 24/7 surveillance while objecting to government spying on herself.  No, just the opposite.  The other day a few citizens had gathered in the street in front of her mansion to articulate their concerns, and when she peeked out from behind the curtains and saw a toy helicopter out there, she went ballistic and called in a drone strike.  Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and she was convinced that we don’t yet have the drone capability to take out little airborne targets without way too much collateral damage, at least in this country and most especially not in Pacific Heights.  Besides, the authorities reassured her that everyone out there had been thoroughly photographed from multiple angles and the photos filed, stamped “Keep Forever”.

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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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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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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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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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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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