Archive for August, 2014

It all began in a dream one night earlier this month and ended in another dream during the wee hours this morning. Between the dreams were events of enough moment to command Lynn’s and my full attention.

Here’s how it started. My friend Janine Warner, who in the early 1990s reported for The Point Reyes Light, recently returned from a week of coaching journalists in Chile. Among the subjects she taught was how to use small drones to photograph news scenes. When she and her husband, Dave LaFontaine, called from Los Angeles, Lynn and I wanted to hear all about her classes.

However, conversations between old friends tend to wander onto numerous topics, and somewhere along the way, Dave brought up the topic of urban rats. As it happened, in 1983 during my two-year sojourn reporting for the old, Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner, one news story I covered was the replacing of the sewer under Hyde Street on Russian Hill. As I told Dave, the old sewer had been so antiquated that it was made of bricks, not pipes, and rats regularly got into it through chinks between bricks in order to eat fat in the sewage. A bit to my frustration, however, I had a momentary mental block and could not come up with the name of the hill, only of the street.

Later that night, I was asleep in bed when Lynn asked me to roll over because I was snoring. I muttered something that Lynn didn’t understand, and she asked me, “What?” After being asked two or three more times while still only half awake, I said, “Russian Hill.”

“What about Russian Hill?” Lynn asked. “That’s where all the drones and small explosives are,” I replied. “Okay,” answered Lynn, “but please roll over. You’re snoring.” I mumbled, “I will have to do that,” but I was still mostly asleep and just sank lower into the pillow. Lynn got out of bed and went into the living room to sleep for awhile on the couch.

When we later got up, Lynn was curious as hell about Russian Hill, the drones, and small explosives. The first two were obvious, I said. Russian Hill was the name I hadn’t been able to remember while on the phone the night before when we were also talking about drones. As for the small explosives, the FBI on June 2 had made a much-publicized arrest of a well-established political consultant, Ryan Kelley Chamberlain, after a bag of components for homemade bombs was found in his Russian Hill apartment.

The associations the mind makes while dreaming can be amazing.

Calzone Restaurant on Columbus Boulevard in San Francisco’s North Beach, an historically Italian neighborhood and birthplace of the city’s Beat Generation.

And now for something completely different, as they used to say on Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The youngest of three stepdaughters from my fourth marriage, Shaili Zappa, last week flew out from Minneapolis where she is starting her senior year at the University of Minnesota. Lynn and I see her only every year or two, so when she visits, we like to take her to places that are also out of the ordinary for us.

Shaili (left) with Lynn at one of Calzone’s sidewalk tables where we stopped after picking her up at the airport.

My favorite San Francisco restaurant is Calzone’s, two and a half blocks north of Broadway. Not only does it serve excellent Italian fare, its sidewalk tables are great for people watching, which can be fascinating in North Beach. It’s open till 1 a.m. every day, and thanks to heat lamps, one can sit outside at midnight and not get cold.

Beach Blanket Babylon is the longest-running musical review in theater history with more than 15,000 performances in 40 years.

We headed back to North Beach Wednesday evening to take in Beach Blanket Babylon at Club Fugazi on Green Street. I’d been to the theater twice before, and each tongue-in-cheek performance was vastly different from the other but equally wonderful.

A parody of Miley Cyprus twerking and Robin Thicke singing.

To quote publicity for the current show: “Beach Blanket Babylon follows Snow White as she takes a fast-paced journey around the world in search of her ‘Prince Charming.’

“Along the way she encounters a star-studded, ever-changing lineup of hilarious pop-culture characters including President Barack & Michelle Obama, Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, Prince William, Kate Middleton and their baby Prince George, Beyoncé and Jay Z, Paula Deen, Katy Perry, Governor Jerry Brown, Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj, Hillary and Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Nancy Pelosi, Michael Jackson, Adele, Lady Gaga and the San Francisco Giants.”

We spent an hour and a half laughing and clapping. Shaili, who had never seen a musical review before, was at least as enchanted as Lynn and I were.

For more than 50 years, the No Name Bar in Sausalito has provided another home for the Beat Generation, and on Friday night we took Shaili there. In the rear is a covered garden where customers go to smoke and drink while socializing.

Drummer Michael Aragon has performed blues and modern jazz every Friday night at the No Name for 31 years. The Michael Aragon Quartet consists of Aragon on drums, Rob Roth on sax, Pierre Archain on base, and KC Filson on keyboard. _________________________________________________________________

Much of Michael Aragon’s jazz reminds me of the late John Coltrane’s. It tends to be free-flowing and spirited but never chaotic.

I’ve followed his work for years, and I’m playing his CD Horizon Line while I write this.

From left: Lynn Axelrod, Shaili Zappa, Dave Mitchell, and Michael Argon at the No Name Bar. ______________________________________________________________

Then came the South Napa Earthquake. Shaili flew back to Minneapolis Saturday evening, and Lynn went to bed around midnight to catch up on her sleep after several late nights. I’m more of a night owl, and at 3:20 a.m. I was still sitting at my computer reading an al Jazeera article when the house began to shake.

Oh, we’re just having an earthquake, I thought. When the quake continued and got stronger, however, I began to wonder if the roof would collapse. As soon as the shaking stopped, I hurried downstairs to check on Lynn.

The shaking had awakened her — sort of. Patting the bed next to her she asked, “Where’s mom?” I was confused. “Where’s our mother?” she demanded. “There’s no mom here,” I answered. “You’re still dreaming.”

Frustrated, Lynn got out of bed to look for her mother and make sure the earthquake hadn’t done her any harm.

Still half asleep, she walked across the room and stepped into the hall where she finally woke up.

Lynn’s mother, Miriam Axelrod (at left), died in 1998.

At first I didn’t fully understand what had happened although Lynn began to laugh about her dream.

As it turned out, she had recognized me but in her mind had blended me with her brother whom she hasn’t seen in years.

Once again I say: the associations the mind makes while dreaming can be amazing.

As for the quake itself, the US Geological Survey website, which Lynn immediately checked, listed it as magnitude 6.1. Hardest hit was the Napa area 35 miles away where more than 200 people were injured, three of them critically including a 13-year-old boy hit by bricks from a collapsing chimney. Fifteen buildings in downtown Napa received major damage, and numerous others in Napa and Vallejo had moderate damage.

In addition, four mobilehomes were destroyed by fire and at least two others damaged, presumably because the quake broke gas lines. The quake also brought down powerlines in Contra Costa County, blacking out 69,000 homes and businesses. Some wineries in Napa and Sonoma counties received extensive damage and lost large amounts of wine in barrels, vats and bottles.

Between two memorable dreams there intervened great food, great theater, great jazz, and great damage. It’s been an interesting fortnight.

This week’s posting looks at some of the signs of life I’ve photographed over the years. Why signs? My premise is that what gets displayed in public is a good indication of the social-cultural concerns of a certain time and place.

Left Bank, Paris, 1985

The now-defunct newspaper France Soir once had one of the largest circulations in Europe, approximately 1.5 million. Parisians are known for their sophistication, so the gaudiness of the newspaper’s self-promotion seemed a bit gauche: “the BIG BINGO! with France Soir, 250,000,000 to Win.”

Paris, 1985

This scene also stuck me as a bit incongruous. A houseworker wearily lugs home food for dinner while a semi-topless girl on a billboard behind her flirtatiously laughs, “My shirt for a beer.”

A city cemetery in northeastern Iowa, 1969

A sudden, unexplained shudder or shivering, according to some superstition, can be caused by someone walking over your future grave. Nonetheless, I figured it was highly unlikely my ghost-like shadow was giving some far-off person a creepy feeling so I took my time to compose an image.

San Salvador, 1982

With FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) guerrillas mounting an insurrection, armed soldiers and bodyguards were seen throughout El Salvador’s capital during the weeks before the 1982 general election. The political billboard these men are passing says: “All for the Homeland, Defending Justice, Together the People and the Armed Forces.”

Note the Lions Club sign at the right.

San Agustín, El Salvador, 1982.

Control over San Agustín in eastern El Salvador went back and forth between the government and leftist guerrillas for months. On this wall pockmarked with bullet holes, guerrilla graffiti warned, “Death to the Ears,” the ears being townspeople who were government informants.

San Salvador, 1982

Coming upon a patrol of Salvadoran soldiers in pursuit of a guerrilla sniper outside a Coca-Cola bottling plant, I couldn’t help but remember the 1971 Coca-Cola commercial: “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.” Fat chance.

Alas, even though the insurrection has ended, El Salvador is still wracked with criminal violence.

San Salvador, 1982

This election center had been under fire from guerrillas earlier in the day, and the office was under heavily armed protection. With a national election only weeks away, the official slogan was: “Your vote: the solution.”

The election resulted in a rightwing demagogue, Roberto D’Aubuisson of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA party), becoming head of the Constituent Assembly (the national legislature). More significantly, days of political negotiations ultimately led to a moderate, US-educated economist, Alvaro Magaña, becoming head of state.

As time has passed, the former guerrillas of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front have gained legitimacy as a political party, and on March 12, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, FMLN’s candidate, won the presidential election in a runoff.

Before I sign off, I should note there are many collections of public-sign photography — each different because of time and place and because of each photographer’s unique framing of the world he sees. If you get a chance, pick up a copy of Neon Nevada by newsman Peter Laufer and his wife Sheila Swan Laufer. It’s fascinating in style and concept (and available online).

“What sort of day was it?” the late CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite used to ask at the end of each installment of You Are There, a reenactment-of-history series that aired from 1953 to 1957. Then answering his own question, Cronkite would add, “A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times… and you were there.”

And I was there, but rather than try to reenact events, I’ll just show you the pictures. Yesterday at the foot of Tomales Bay, the neighboring small towns of Inverness and Point Reyes Station were filled with events that alter and illuminate our times in West Marin.

The biggest event Saturday, the Inverness Fair, as always offered a mix of music, fundraising for local civic groups, people selling arts and crafts, and good food.

The fair is held each year along Inverness Way between the firehouse and the library. On Saturday, Latinas sold Mexican food beside the firehouse to raise money for Tomales Bay Waterdogs, which teaches children living around the bay the crucial skill of swimming.

The women’s aprons all said, “Thank You, Maidee Moore.” Maidee, who founded the Waterdogs almost 45 years ago, died last month at the age of 101.

A display that attracted crowds throughout the fair was this Planned Feralhood cage where young people played with kittens that were up for adoption. Kathy Runnion of Inverness Park, who heads the program, was able to find new homes for five of the nine available.

Because the kittens are in the midst of spay, neuter, and vaccination routines, the new owners could not take their cats immediately home from the fair. The delay will at least give them a few days to prepare for the kittens.

Inverness Garden Club again this year sold plants to raise funds for its civic programs. The club maintains plantings on the median of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard through downtown, at Inverness’ aptly named Plant Park, at the Gables (which houses the Jack Mason Museum and Inverness Library), at the Point Reyes Station Post Office, and at the Point Reyes Station Library.

The KWMR radio van, which also provides communications for the West Marin Disaster Council, was on hand to raise funds for the community-radio station and recruit volunteers for the Disaster Council. Here Point Reyes Station Disaster Council coordinator Lynn Axelrod talks about communications with Richard Dillman as he sits inside the van.

Dillman is the communications engineer for the Disaster Council and the “transmitter wrangler” for KWMR. He spent 30 years as a special-services officer for Greenpeace, and in 2011, the environmental group donated the van to the nonprofit radio station.

Inverness Yacht Club Youth Sailing program sold grilled hotdogs as a fundraiser for its classes that have taught many young people how to sail. As a former sailboat owner, I didn’t want to be tacky, so I bought a hotdog. Yummy.

Outside the Inverness Library, used books were sold as a benefit for the library system. By the end of the fair, the sellers were offering: “All the books you can put in a shopping bag — $5!”

Tables displaying a variety of arts and crafts for sale attracted fairgoers arriving and leaving on Inverness Way.

Meanwhile in Point Reyes Station, Gallery Route One is in the midst of its annual fundraising “Box Show.”

The show is both an exhibit and a silent auction, featuring three-dimensional works that at least in part take their shape from a box. This box created by Jane Santucci is called Sail A-Weigh.

I’m Feeling Beachy is the title of the box at left, which was created by artist Geraldine Lia Braaten. The box at right, Searching for Water, is the work of artist Ellen Gray.  ______________________________________________________________________

An eerie Society’s Child box by Sandra Audfang.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meanwhile, five blocks away at the other end of Point Reyes Station yesterday….

Gathered below Ralph Stein’s painting Negative Spin.

Friends, relatives, and admirers of artist Ralph Stein of Point Reyes Station gathered at the Dance Palace Community Center for a memorial showing of his paintings. Stein, who was born in Milwaukee in 1928, died Feb. 24 in Sausalito surrounded by his family. An intermittent resident of Sausalito, Stein had moved to Point Reyes Station in 2012. _____________________________________________________________

Stein (right), an abstract expressionist like Jackson Pollock, had studied art in New York City.

While hanging around with other “Bohemians,” as they were called, he got to know such art-world luminaries as Pollock, William de Kooning, and Robert Motherwell.

He became a personal friend of poet Grace Paley. ___________________________________________________________________

During a reception for the memorial exhibit, Bruce Fox performed surprisingly melodic music on this steel drum from Switzerland. The UFO-shaped instrument is called a hang (pronounced hawn). By tapping on different parts of the hang, Fox was able create an impressive range of resonant notes.

Stein’s determination to become an abstract expressionist painter intensified after he suffered a stroke in 1962, which affected his language center. As a painter, he would not need to use words, he told himself. Fortunately, he was able over time to regain his ability to speak normally.

The artist’s paintings will remain on display in the lobby of the Dance Palace until Sept. 14.

The next time you hear some haughty person refer to the uneducated masses as “the hoi polloi,” you can take secret pleasure in knowing the person is revealing his own lack of education. Hoi polloi, which comes from Greek, means “the many,” so “the hoi polloi” is literally “the the many.” Thought you’d want to know.

When former Point Reyes Station computer techie Keith Mathews (right) in 2007 moved to Augusta, Georgia, where his son lives, he gave away some of his possessions. I was lucky enough to receive his venerable copy of the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins.

I’m fascinated with etymology (the study of how specific words evolved), and because I don’t know many people who have copies of William and Mary Morris’ reference book, I’m devoting this posting to some fascinating tidbits from it. For example:

When you hear someone exclaim, “Holy Toledo,” he’s not referring to Ohio but to Toledo, Spain, which became a center of Christian culture after the Moors were driven out in 1085.

I had always assumed that when a person referred to “the honcho” or “head honcho” (meaning big shot or boss), he was using a word derived from some European language. But I was wrong. According to the Morris Dictionary, “honcho” actually comes from the Japanese word hancho meaning “squad commander.” American servicemen picked it up during the occupation of Japan following World War II.

More puzzling yet is the Japanese word banzai. “The war cry ‘Banzai‘ meant, ‘May you live 10,000 years,'” the Morris Dictionary notes, adding, “The Japanese, with a logic incomprehensible to Western minds, used to shout it when launching a suicide attack.”

My parents (at right in 1945) occasionally referred to stylishly dressed women as “fashion plates,” but even though my father was in the printing business, I doubt he knew where the phrase comes from.

I just learned myself. To quote the Morris Dictionary, “The original ‘fashion plates’ were the printing plates from which illustrations were printed in early magazines of fashions.

“Then came the expression, to describe someone who dressed in the latest mode, ‘She’s an animated fashion plate.’ The final step, to the point where the person herself was described as a ‘fashion plate,’ is obvious.”

Apropos the albino robin photo that neighbor Jay Haas contributed to last week’s posting, here are some connections I never would have imagined without the dictionary. “The robin, the traditional harbinger of spring, bears little resemblance to a German soldier — but the word has much to do with soldiers.

“It is derived from the Old High German heriberga, which meant ‘shelter for soldiers.’ Originally, a harbinger was one who went ahead of any army or a royal party to arrange for lodgings and other accommodations.

“Since then it has come to mean anyone who goes ahead to announce the coming of others — or a person or thing which hints of coming events. That’s how the robin got into the act.”

To “smell a rat” is to suspect something devious is going on. But what does the phrase literally mean? It turns out to be an allusion “to a cat’s ability to smell a rat it cannot see,” according to Morris. Makes sense.

We’ll end with the expression “knock off work,” which I’m about to do. According to the Morris Dictionary, the phrase originated back when galleys were rowed by slaves. “To keep oarsmen rowing in unison, a man beat time rhythmically on a block of wood,” the dictionary explains. “When it was time to rest or change shifts, he would give a special knock on the block, signifying that they could ‘knock off work.'”

Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins is still available online and probably in some bookstores. Any writer with the ambition of rising above the level of Wikipedia ought to have his own copy.