Friday, June 26, 2020

Ponytails Unmasked!

An old friend in the 1990s once pronounced, "I don't trust women with ponytails."

It is an absurd declaration but one that came to mind while walking through the Marina District last Saturday afternoon.

The majority of people ignoring public mask advisories in the Civic Center neighborhood tend to be male, but the Marina District offers a glimpse of scofflaws from both genders.

In the case of one anomalous couple, it was the guy wearing the mask while the woman was not.

Most maskless couples, however, were engaging in the new ritual of ignoring their other half while looking at their mobile.

What was amusing was the outsized percentage of female scofflaws sporting ponytails while they checked their texts...

...or ate at tightly packed outdoor cafes...

...or walked their dogs...

...or jogged through crowds on the Marina Green.

In a pandemic where the numbers are rising, this kind of behavior is not sustainable, and is possibly murderous when walking around older people like the masked woman above.

In San Francisco, at least, we may have to amplify the public shaming because there really is no good excuse not to slip a mask off and on when walking in public.

As for maskless men riding bicycles on public sidewalks, I have become that old man on the lawn, except what I shout is, "Get off the fucking sidewalk! And put on a mask!"

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Tilden Park Stroll

Visiting a pair of old friends in the East Bay a couple of Sundays ago, I suggested a nature hike, "ideally with no dogs, bicyclists, or elevation change." (All photos by Austin Newsom and Jim Roach.)

They knew just the place, Tilden Park in the Berkeley Hills.

Like many other Shelter-in-Placers, sluggishness has become the new normal.

Navigating our new pandemic reality has conjured up all varieties of new etiquettes, and it was a joy to see most fellow hikers slipping on masks when they got too close to each other on a narrow pathway.

I had not been to Tilden Park since the 1980s when I occasionally golfed at their rough-and-ready municipal course in a gorgeous canyon, and had forgotten what a treasure the unmanicured park can be.

We are going to have to figure out how to be outdoors together in a safe way because we need nature and we need other people. Creating those new protocols is going to be fascinating, a mixture of science and creativity.

On the way home, we stumbled into the BLM protest on the Bay Bridge where 50 vehicles blocked westbound traffic, and inched across the span for three hours. Possibly because the near-solstice sunset kept us gloriously entertained, the stranded vehicular crowd stayed mellow during the inconvenience, and a few cars turned up the music and made it an excuse for a dance party.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Larkspur Landing Trail

Last weekend we drove to Larkspur Landing in Marin County to check out a beautiful, flat walking trail along Corte Madera creek.

My preferred route to the trailhead is via the Larkspur ferry from San Francisco, always a gorgeous, inspiring boat ride, but Golden Gate Ferry service has been terminated for weekend trips during the COVID shutdown. That is a shame because riding outdoors on a ferryboat seems reasonably safe, unlike Muni or Caltrain.

The trail starts at the Larkspur Landing Ferry Terminal and winds under a series of freeways, highways, and rail bridges.

It soon opens up to marshland, the trail winding through low-rise housing developments with Mount Tamalpais towering over them.

I discovered this trail accidentally a couple of decades ago with my late spouse, Tony Hurd, and hadn't returned in many years.

The trail was still charming, but with an unwelcome development in the form of too many bicyclists racing by at potentially lethal speeds.

Kids and family groups tooting along on bikes are fine, but the Tour de France wannabes can be terrifying as they whizz by you from behind.

So we turned back after a mile...

...and followed a socially distanced power walking trio who looked like Marin County Fitness personified.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Juneteenth 2020

San Francisco Black Lives Matter protests, marches, and rallies have been passing under my apartment at Franklin and McAllister for weeks.

Yesterday morning, Juneteenth was being celebrated, and a honking line of cars with signage on windshields and hoods drove by in a circling route through Civic Center.

In the afternoon, the sound of motorcycles filled the neighborhood.

Nine SFPD motorcycle cops were monitoring a student march up Franklin Street to the SF Unified School District building.

The huge DEFUND SFPD signage carried by marchers was pointedly provocative.

The SF Police Department has nobody to blame for the sentiment but themselves. The SFPOA (San Francisco Police Officers Association) is one of many police unions across the United States that vigorously defend murderous, racist, psychopathic members in their ranks while ensuring the brutal status quo remains the same.

There were loudspeakers on trucks that were part of the march and a teach-in happened on the street. If you would like to get educated yourself, click here for a good Juneteenth website charting the history of the celebration that began in Texas in the 19th century, sputtered out in the first half of the 20th century but revived in the second half.

After the consciousness raising session we have all been through over the last month, thanks to the videotaped murder of George Floyd and his brethren and the outrageously violent response by police to protests, it looks like Juneteenth could eventually become a national holiday. I only heard about it in the early 1990s while on a gay softball team coached by Phred, a black man from Texas who would host a fabulous BBQ party in his Haight-Ashbury backyard every year.

After about an hour, the loudspeakers played music and the event turned into an impromptu dance party. The superfluous, unloved motorcycle police shrugged their shoulders and drove off.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Oyster Point Bay Trail Walk

Getting exercise during the pandemic has been tricky. Walking around my Civic Center neighborhood is an exercise in dodging despair, madness and maskless characters. Meanwhile, city nature spots tend to be overrun with family groups, unleashed dogs, fitness nuts, and bicyclists creating their own right of way.

So we have started driving to the suburbs, looking for less popular spots to take a good walk.

The ongoing project that is the Bay Trail (click here) offers a lovely walking and sightseeing path around a cove on the San Mateo County side of San Francisco Bay.

The scenery is gorgeous but it is drying out fast.

The newly apocalyptic California fire season is upon us, another thing to be conscious of besides resisting a fascist takeover over of the U.S. government and trying to stay safe in a pandemic.

There are lots of places for picnics, either impromptu on a blanket bayside...

...or on picnic tables, some of which have grills nearby.

There were very few people and the vast majority of them were wearing masks when passing strangers and keeping their dogs leashed while they were at it.

The four-mile trail extends south from the Oyster Point Marina in South San Francisco to just north of the San Francisco Airport. Check it out now before this post ruins it.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

The Future Is Female and Streaming

Old First Concerts and Matthew Wolka, its Director, was hoping to open for socially distanced concerts at the Van Ness Avenue church this month, but have opted instead for live streaming on YouTube until the pandemic settles down, which it most assuredly has not. Click here to check out their schedule and get links for their live Friday night concerts.

Last Friday was the opener with pianist Sarah Cahill playing at a hastily conjured living room space with a strikingly beautiful rug in an Oakland home. Cahill's microphone didn't seem to work during her spoken introductions, but the sound coming from the piano was superb. The pieces were from Cahill's encyclopedic The Future Is Female concert tour which showcases works by women composers. With a couple of exceptions, I'd never heard of any of these composers, so it was a delight to hear such good music that has mostly rested in obscurity. So let's do an Internet Listicle of some of these composers.

Gabriela Ortiz
Born in 1964 in Mexico City to musician parents who toured with the legendary Los Folkloristas, Ortiz writes music high and low, from opera to film. Cahill played her Prelude and Etude No. 3 from 2011, complex music shot through with folkloric elements that is immediately engaging.

Margaret Bonds
Born in 1913 in Chicago, Margaret Bonds studied at "prejudiced" Northwestern University, and then headed for New York City where she became close friends with the poet Langston Hughes, among others. Cahill writes in her program notes: "Troubled Water, composed when Bonds was 54, is a rhapsodic adaptation of the Spiritual Wade in the Water. She seamlessly blends jazz harmonies and rhythms with more classical structures and techniques." Bonds died at age 59, shortly after Zubin Mehta and the LA Philharmonic premiered her Credo for chorus and orchestra in 1972.

Germaine Tailleferre
Born in 1893, Tailleferre studied at the Paris Conservatory from the age of 13 and was the only female member of "Les Six" which also included composers Louis Durey, Francis Poulenc, Darius Milhaud, Georges Auric, and Arthur Honegger. Cahill played Tailleferre's three-movement 1957 Partita, French neoclassicism at its most elegant. She had a full, thriving compositional career that included famous ballets for everyone from the Ballets Russes in the 1920s to the Royal Ballet of Copenhagen in the 1940s. She died in 1983 and the fact that I have never heard a note of her music before this feels shameful.

Elizabeth A. Baker
Based in St. Petersberg, Florida, the “New Renaissance Artist” specializes in music for toy piano and electronics, makes films, and writes. Cahill played the 2015 Four Planes, which was a chance-based composition involving the concept of time which didn't leave much of a musical impression on me, but that could have been my fault.

Betsy Jolas
Born in Paris in 1926, Betsy Jolas moved to New York at age 14 and returned to Paris after college, studying with Milhaud and Messiaen. She has composed a huge catalogue of works ranging from chamber music to choral music and opera. Cahill played a short, sweet dance deconstruction, Tango Si from 1984

Sofia Gubaidulina
Born in 1931, Gubaidulina is a giant among living composers. A Russian religious mystic who was mostly blacklisted in her own country for the weirdness of her music, she was discovered by the West when in her 50s after violinist Gidon Kremer played her violin concerto all around the world. She moved to a German village near Hamburg in 1992 and has been composing ever since for a worldwide audience. Cahill played her 1962 Chaconne, one of Gubaidulina's early major piano pieces influenced by J.S. Bach. I've heard it performed before by Sarah and it usually overwhelms everything else on a program. This streaming concert was no exception.

Lois V Vierk
Born in 1951 in Illinois, Vierk studied at Cal Arts, became involved with Japanese music in Los Angeles and Tokyo, and eventually became a New York composer. The pianist Aki Takahashi commissioned her to write a piano piece based on a Beatles tune, and she chose She Loves You. The 1991 Yeah Yeah Yeah was the result, and though perfectly pleasant, I was hoping for more yeah yeah yeah energy.

Grazyna Bacewicz
Born into a musical family in 1909 in Lodz, Poland, Bacewicz was a violinist and composer whose music sounds like an Andrzej Wajda film if you had synesthesia. I'd never heard of her before last year's Bard Music West festival last year at the Noe Valley Ministry where she was the Featured Composer, and now her music is a welcome addition to any program as far as I'm concerned. Cahill played an early, 1934 Scherzo.

Elena Kats-Chernin
Born in Uzbekistan, Kats-Cherning studied music in Moscow until moving to Sydney at age 14. She studied and worked in Germany for 13 years as a young adult, and finally settled back in Australia. She's written six operas and every other kind of music, and I know none of it. Cahill played the 1996 Peggy's Rag, Peggy being the early 20th century Australian composer Peggy Granville-Hicks, who somebody needs to make a movie about. In truth, any of these composers have had lives fascinating enough to fill an entertaining bio-series on Netflix, and thanks to YouTube their musical works can finally be showcased for anyone interested in exploring.
Thanks go to Sarah for introducing them in the best way possible, through their music.