July 2019

Flower Piano at Night

Since 2015, the San Francisco Botanical Garden has been hosting a July event called Flower Piano at which a dozen pianos provided by Sunset Piano are placed at various points throughout the garden, open all day long for anyone who wishes to play. But don’t worry, it’s not just kids playing “Chopsticks” since real pianists have been invited, sometimes pressured, by the garden to put in shifts playing a piano. The garden is lovely anytime, but for this event it’s been groomed like a show dog.

This is a hard act to follow, but starting last year they’ve added three nighttime performances featuring competent pianists.

Still remembering how thrilled I was with Night Bloom last December, I was ecstatic to learn that Lightswitch, the astonishing folks who had lit up the Conservatory of Flowers, would be lighting Flower Piano at Night and that I could get tickets at half price since I’m a card-carrying Garden member. The only question was How Many, and I settled on three.

I invited Richard and Flynn, who were the perfect couple because Richard works as a lighting designer for Holzmueller, a San Francisco production and lighting company, and Flynn knew two of the pianists performing that night. Couldn’t get a better fit.

I rode the Segway there and sure was thankful that I’d thrown a nylon windbreaker into my pack because I was well chilled by the time I arrived. Well, see, I wasn’t about to stop on the way long enough to dig the jacket out and put it on.

Members were admitted early, but the gates to the garden opened for everyone else promptly at 8:00 while there was still quite a lot of twilight left, which made it easier to get your bearings. What also made it easier is that Richard and Flynn are young, so I could turn all navigation over to them.

The evening was magical as we wandered through the garden on pathways bordered with little lights from one gorgeously illuminated piano to another. It was an evening full of music and camaraderie, with food trucks and hot and cold beverages. I just love the communality of large public gatherings like this where everyone is gathered for some son et lumière.

I searched for reviews of the event to get an estimate of the number of attendees, but nowhere did I find one. Not that it would be easy for an attendee. I’m hoping to get some information on ticket sales, but for now I’ll just say that there were hundreds of non-members lined up waiting for the gates to open when I arrived at 7:45.

Meanwhile, since I forgot my camera, here’s a pic of one of the pianos by Funcheap. Love that Tillandsia usneoides framing the pianist.

Photo by Funcheap

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The Clock Ticks

So yes, once I unwrapped the clock [See previous post] and discovered two things broken that I couldn’t fix myself, I needed a clock repairman.

Easy. A quick search revealed four clock repair shops in San Francisco, so I took the clock to the closest. The guy was agreeable and forthcoming, giving me the bad news that it would cost hundreds of dollars to fix the clock, more than it was worth. Sigh. I’d feared as much.

But then, moping around I looked again and noticed that one of the hits was to The German Clockmaker and thought, oh why not give him a call since it’s a German clock. His name is John Kessel, and he’s a native of Stuttgart who was more or less apprenticed to a clock repairman when he was eleven years old. Clock repair became a lifelong fascination as well as an alternate occupation. He lives in Monterey but comes to the city every week to pick up and return clocks; and, when he dropped by to look at the clock, turned out to be a delightful conversationalist.

After his examination of the clock, he broke the news. Fixing it would not be cheap, but he’d give me his best price. And yes, it was expensive, but considering that I have a history with that clock going back to 1966 and that it had been in the possession of at least three, perhaps four other members of my family before I got it back, it was somehow easy to agree to spend more than it was worth to get it back in running order.

He brought it back in a few days, squeaky clean inside and out and ticking away like a charm. My only problem with it was that I had some trouble getting the chimes to synchronize with the hands. I did this easily when I bought the clock and when I set it up at my mother’s house; however, the gears in my head don’t mesh as well as they used to, and it’s now much harder to figure things out.

Sure is nice, though, to have it chime the hour as well as offering a clock face on which to see the time in my living room when the PC is off. Sometimes analog is just fine.

Meanwhile, at other times the analog is just a husk.

Fire call box
Fire Call Box, Defunct

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The Clock

It all started in 1955 when I was fourteen, visited my aunt and uncle in Pittsburgh, and was fascinated by their collection of old clocks.

Only eleven years later, I was stationed outside Heidelberg and ran across a storefront selling old clocks. I stepped in and saw that almost all the clocks were of the same type (two-foot high pendulum clocks) and were astonishingly cheap. I’m now guessing because no contemporary German would have wanted one of these fussy pre-war clocks, somebody bought a bunch of ’em up for next to nothing in order to sell them to American troops. It could not have cost more than $20 and might have been as little as DM20, so I bought it with the idea that I’d give it to my aunt and uncle to add to their collection.

I set it up in my room and quickly became accustomed to its chiming the hour and uttering a single chime on the half hour. I thought about shipping it to my aunt and uncle, but then decided that since Pittsburgh was pretty much on my way home from my impending discharge in New Jersey, I’d just take the clock with me and present it to them.

When the packers arrived to box all my stuff up and ship it back to Odessa, Texas, I realized that, oh hell, the clock would not fit into my biggest suitcase, so I couldn’t take it to Pittsburgh and it went to Texas along with the other stuff. And thank goodness it did because when I got to Pittsburgh and took another look at my aunt and uncle’s clocks, it was clear that they were fine antiques whereas mine was obviously manufactured for the masses. Thank God I hadn’t mentioned that I’d bought a clock for ’em.

So the clock ended up at my mother’s house, where it lived on the wall in her family room until, not that I noticed, it didn’t. And when Becky and I were cleaning the house out as Mother died, I didn’t remember the clock to miss it, having given it no thought since the early seventies.

Flash forward forty-something years until last month when I got an email from my aunt’s granddaughter saying that when her mother, my favorite first cousin, had died, there had been a clock among her effects that, upon examination, had tucked inside it a hand-written note from me to my mother explaining how to operate it.

Apparently at some point decades ago my mother had given the clock to my cousin although it might have gone first to my aunt before my cousin got it.And now, my first cousin once removed was kindly saying that she thought this artifact ought to be in my possession again. Look, for years I’ve been in lightening ship mode, getting rid of things I don’t need, but somehow, the reappearance of this clock made me want it. Too much of my history is tied up in that clock for me to pass up her offer. So I said Yes. She handed it over to UPS for packing, and in due time an enormous package was delivered to me. My goodness, the packers had mummified the clock in yards of bubble wrap so that a clock with the height, width, and depth of 26″ x 13″ x 5″ fit snugly inside a box that was 36″ x 15″ x 15″. Great job, there.But when I got the clock unwrapped, I was shocked to see that the clock mechanism was lying on the floor of the case. It had apparently come loose in transit from its mounting bracket on the back wall of the case. I examined it closely and saw that one side of the verge that fits astride the pendulum to govern the advance had at some time broken off, but it was nowhere to be found inside the case. I also saw that the pendulum suspension spring had snapped in two, with the loose piece rattling around inside the case.

I thought about just sticking the clock up on my wall as a decoration about which I could tell the above story; but no, I wanted the thing to work. I might have been able to solder a little flat piece of copper to match the missing part of the fork, but there was no way I could deal with the pendulum spring. Time to bite the bullet for professional repairs.

Meanwhile, since this tale – unlike the clock – is running on, I’ll pause here for a photo and take up the story of the clock next week.

My Old CLock

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A Foody Fourth

Like many Americans, I had a fabulous 4th of July. My legion of adoring fans had wanted me to order a full military parade in which thousands of troops, hundreds of wheeled military vehicles, and dozens of tanks would make an amphibious landing at the bay end of Cesar Chavez Street (renamed from “Army Street” after the labor agitator and Comsymp).

While a simulated air battle between the Blue Angels and the Red Devils roared overhead with fireworks taking the place of real antiaircraft cannons, the ground element would march, roll, and clank up Army Street and then bear left up Mission Street past my reviewing stand atop the Beige House where I reside. Hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of my subjects would line Army and Mission Streets while selected invitees would gather on bleachers in the Safeway parking lot across the street.

But wait. That’s what my fans wanted. What actually happened was that I got an Invitation I Couldn’t Refuse to my friend Stephen’s party in his garden on 16th Street after I’d volunteered to cook Chile Verde for the folks here in Coleridge Park. Also, Stephen expressed the hope that I would again bring the Rocket, Blackberry and Gorgonzola salad with a walnut oil and blackberry vinegar vinaigrette since it had gone over so well in the past.

Fortunately, the Coleridge Park event started at noon and seniors arrive punctually whereas Stephen’s party was listed to start at 1:00 but hardly anybody would consider arriving there before 2:00. Off the hook once again because I could open the party at Coleridge Park and then slip away after an hour and a half and still be one of the earlier arrivals at Stephen’s.

I wanted to make Chile Verde to use up the frozen half of a large pork loin that had been sitting in my freezer for months while I delayed roasting it to a safe pink as the entree for a dinner. And yes, I didn’t start cooking yesterday and knew it might turn out dry if I used it in a Chile Verde, but I figured I could just cook it a lot longer. I did, and what happened is that the chunks of pork were tender, but dammit all they were still somewhat dry. Luckily, it had been some time since most of the people there had had Chile Verde, and they did seem to like this one.

I was happier with the huge salad I took to Stephen’s party. In the first place I found some good wall rocket (called “wild arugula” by the vendor) at the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market and toned it down a bit with unexceptionable baby rocket (called “Baby Arugula” in the store) from of all places, Safeway. So much for the greens. For the cheese I used a pound of Point Reyes Original Blue which, even though it’s not from France or Italy or England is still a quite excellent blue cheese, and it’s local! Instead of blackberries, I took advantage of the tayberry season running a bit late this year and used them. For the vinaigrette, I used half walnut oil and half my blackberry vinegar left from last year. Went over well, but next time I’ll go back to 100% regular rocket because the wall rocket is a bit too pungent for many people.

The final good news is that I’m able to store big jars of berry seeds/pulp steeping in vinegar downstairs in the communal refrigerator (which gets little use and is normally empty), so for the first time ever, I’ll be able to make vinegar from the seeds leftover from every single batch of jelly.

Meanwhile, I took about a hundred photos at Stephen’s party, as is my wont, but as usual I left the chip with Stephen so that he could grab the ones he wanted. That way he doesn’t have to interrupt his hostly duties by taking photos. So instead of a party photo, here’s another in my Garage Doors series, the Love Shack. Oh, and the Love Shack is a cannabis store next door to the garages:

The Love Shack

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