Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Avila Beach Brunch on Wheels

We spent Presidents' Day Weekend on the Central California Coast as guests of my gracious sister Susan who lives with her family on a hilltop in Arroyo Grande.

Sue and her twin sister Hilary have been whirlwinds of energy since birth, so when visiting it is best to go with the flow.

On Sunday that involved hiking the two-mile Bob Jones Trail next to a creek that stretches from San Luis Obispo to the village of Avila Beach.

Though there are a few luxury vacation developments and a few McMansions scattered here and there, the area has resisted overdevelopment...

...and one of my favorite sights along the trail are a series of steel pilings for a planned vacation resort in 2006 that was never built...

...leaving what looks like a collaborative art installation between Richard Serra and Andy Goldsworthy.

Near the end of the trail you encounter the Avila Beach Golf Resort...

...home to an amazing assortment of ocean and freshwater birds...

...beautiful trees...

...and a concert series on a large lawn fronting the Pacific Ocean that runs through most of the summer and fall.

On Sunday, the event was Brunch on Wheels, featuring a dozen food trucks, a trio of bars, and a live band with a huge local following who quadrupled the usual attendance for the monthly event. My poor sisters worked the entire day within barely controlled chaos while I lounged around drinking, eating and people watching. Life is not fair.

Friday, February 16, 2018

La Notte di UCSF

My spouse went to Boston University in the early 1970s, majoring in film and math, and the professor who made the greatest impression on him was William Arrowsmith, a passionate Michelangelo Antonioni enthusiast. I'd always avoided the early 1960s alienated modern rich people Italian art films La Notte and L'Eclisse because the deeply influential New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael was derisive towards both. Watching La Notte for the first time last week (along with a spouse who couldn't remember a single frame from his youth), I became a late-to-the-party worshiper because it is so arty and fabulous, with Marcello Mastroianni, Jeanne Moreau, and Monica Vitti at their youthful peaks.

On a walk last weekend through the weirdly alienated, under-construction, Mission Bay neighborhood, the two of us immediately said, "This looks like La Notte."

"Go pretend you're Monica Vitti or Jeanne Moreau and look alienated," I told Tony, though in truth he looks more like Marcello.

The new neighborhood seems to be a mixture of urban bedroom community for Silicon Valley...

...and headquarters for the sprawling medical behemoth that is UCSF...

...complete with research institutes founded by dead billionaires...

...and new buildings named after living billionaires like venture capitalist Ron Conway, who wants us all to vote for London Breed for San Francisco Mayor this November.

The newly built Midcentury Modern medical buildings look straight out of La Notte...

...and so do the shiny new hospitals warding off death.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

SF Beer Week with The Birds

After a long walk through the Dogpatch neighborhood near Potrero Hill, visiting one hipster brewery after another without actually drinking anything, we returned along the industrial waterfront and rested against this amusingly damaged signage.

Underneath the Bay Bridge, there was a sign outside a burger joint advertising "German Lager $3.50" so we ended up celebrating SF Beer Week inexpensively, outdoors on a pier.

One of the incidental pleasures of the afternoon was watching the fearless antics of various birds...

...who used the fencing as their own jungle gym.

We were joined by the smart, interesting character above and his wife Marisa who live nearby and have adopted the patio as their local pub.

It was an altogether delightful, tipsy afternoon, and even the critters seemed to be channeling Valentine's energy.

Monday, February 12, 2018

SF Giants Fanfest

On the last Saturday of the February 2018 California heat wave, we took another walk along the San Francisco waterfront, starting off at AT&T Park for Giants FanFest, a pre-season marketing effort by the local National League baseball team. The public was allowed onto the playing field and if you stood in extremely long lines, you could visit a team dugout...

...take a selfie on the pitcher's mound...

...or get autographs from outfielder Hunter Pence who was signing swag for kids under 16.

Some people provided their own fun like the gay CHEER SF group...

...and the joker above who posed himself for friends' cameras sliding into second base.

Certain signage in the stands advertised the fact that for $4,450 you can buy a season seat (81 games) in right field lower level AND have a personal meeting with catcher Buster Posey.

Hey, it's a bargain at twice the price, especially with Buster thrown into the deal.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Isserlis with the PBO

This weekend the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, conducted by Music Director Nicholas McGegan above, has been playing a "Harmonic Convergence" program around the Bay Area that focused mostly on Mozart and Haydn. Last week I heard the New Century Orchestra play Mozart's Symphony #29 which he composed at age 18 and on Friday at Herbst Theatre it was the Symphony #17 which Wolfgang wrote at age 16. Though they were both charming, they were also inconsequential, which started a guessing game in my brain. Which symphony did Mozart break through with an adult masterpiece? Maybe the #31 "Paris" which he wrote when he was 22, but everyone has their preferences.

This was followed by a piece of real consequence, Haydn's Cello Concerto #2 in D Major, played by the British cellist Steven Isserlis above in an enormously appealing performance. This was the third time I have seen Isserlis perform with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, in 2012 playing Schumann and in 2014 CPE Bach & Boccherini. He was great on both of those occasions but the Haydn on Saturday was my favorite performance so far, partly because the music was so familiar and yet it sounded new and freshly improvised.

He made lots of funny, expressive faces while playing, so I tended to concentrate on his fingers and the amazing sounds he was pulling out of his cello. I didn't stay for the second half of the program because anything afterwards was bound to be a disappointment, and in fact that is what my host Stephen Smoliar confirmed in his account at The Rehearsal Studio.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Escape from Mission Bay

The aforementioned Mission Bay pedestrians were discovered a block away on Fourth Street at Spark, a food truck park.

The site is more charming than its sibling, the SoMa StrEat Food Park on 11th Street which is surrounded by overhead freeways, and Spark looks to have become a de facto community center for the new neighborhood.

It was an interesting mixture of people stopping for lunch and groups of friends getting together for an afternoon beer garden with food.

They even have "The Field" which you can reserve, and last Saturday it was occupied by the surreal sight of a Bubble Soccer game.

We walked back through the neighborhood and it felt more like David Cronenberg's Scanners than ever.

It's nice to see the waterfront being returned to its residents, finally, after decades as an industrial port.

I remember the final decade of the thriving Port of San Francisco, the 1960s, and watched as everything went to the Port of Oakland in the 1970s when new container shipping facilities were built connecting to railways in the East Bay.

For decades, San Francisco politicians stuck in the recent past made it clear that the only possible use for the waterfront had to be commercial port related even though that ship had sailed long ago.

One of the great silver linings of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was seeing the San Francisco waterfront for the first time without a doubledecker freeway. 28 years later and the city is still only beginning to figure out how to use the discarded railyards and parking lots and piers of former decades, while various citizens try to defend the waterfront from real estate investors who care more about profit than public space.

We arrived back at the Giants baseball stadium, a nice mixture of entertainment, profit and public space, just as the afternoon Escape from AT&T Park session was to begin.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Escape to Mission Bay

On another hot winter day, we walked from the Ferry Building along the Embarcadero to the Giants baseball stadium last Saturday.

At McCovey Cove behind the ballpark, we ran into people who had just experienced "Escape From AT&T Park 2018," presented by a Japanese company that specializes in thematic, puzzle-based escape rooms. I asked one woman if she had successfully escaped and she said, "No, I felt like I was stuck in the seventh rung of hell for an hour. I like escape rooms, but it didn't mix well with baseball." A colleague at work who attended an evening session of the same event disagreed. "It really helped to know something about baseball in solving the clues, and my group was part of the one-third who succeeded and made it to the bleachers where we watched all the clueless ones stuck on the field."

We continued walking up Third Street where the newly created Mission Bay neighborhood is rapidly rising around UCSF hospital and research buildings.

It is too bad that so many of the new buildings are brutally ugly from the outside...

...as is the new SF Police Department headquarters looming like a black heart.

Some of the new housing seems inviting...

...but it looks more like a suburban office park in a David Cronenberg film than a vibrant cityscape.

The strangest detail was the almost complete lack of pedestrians on the wide sidewalks. We finally saw some a block away on Fourth Street, and yelled, "Real people. Let's go over there."

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Hometown Tourists in Sausalito

At the beginning of our California winter heat wave last Sunday, Tony and I jumped on a Sausalito ferry with this seagull...

...and pretended to be Euro tourists...

...like Javier above, a Spanish bar manager at The Golden Lion Pub in London's Soho.

Tony was even captured in a pose-in-front-of-the-Golden-Gate-Bridge shot.

Once in Sausalito, we took a long hike northwards along fancy marinas...

...and not-so-fancy houseboat communities...

...that are one of the few remainders of the town's arty, bohemian past...

...and home to many beautiful sea critters.

After a delicious outdoor breakfast at Fred's Coffee Shop, we took the return ferry where I posed for the obligatory framed by the Golden Gate Bridge shot.

The ferryboat slowed down and cruised closely by Alcatraz Island, possibly because it was a weekend ride filled with tourists rather than weekday commuters.

Alcatraz is one tourist attraction I will never visit, although plenty of friends are enthralled with the experience. Prisons, even historic and empty ones, palpably radiate with the misery of unhappy ghosts to me, so it's best to stay away.