Archive for October, 2009

While in Sausalito Sunday, I watched as a sailboat race and a blimp glided over San Francisco Bay on the afternoon breezes.


The lettering on the side of the blimp was difficult to read at a distance until I photographed the air ship, using a zoom lens. And even after studying the photograph, I wasn’t sure what was being promoted.

What was I to make of “ personal genetics”? Or the slogan on the blimp’s nose: “Join the Research Revolution”?


So I checked online. Turns out is selling $399 “at-home DNA tests.” You supposedly can learn about everything from your risks of inherited ailments to your maternal and paternal ancestry, along with where on the globe where your strain of DNA is usually found.

Back in 1903, the remains of a man who had died approximately 9,000 years ago were found in Gough’s Cave in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England. For much of the next 93 years, “Cheddar Man,” as the remains came to be known, resided quietly in London’s Natural History Museum.

In 1944, however, the significance of DNA came to be understood, and in 1996, a researcher from Oxford University used one of Cheddar Man’s molars to check the old guy’s DNA. The researcher then had the bright idea to take DNA samples from 20 residents in the village of Cheddar, which is not far from the cave.

Apparently some families in southwest England really stay put — not just for generations but for millennia. Two Cheddar schoolchildren had exact DNA matches with Cheddar Man, and a teacher had a close match.

While many traits may be inherited from our ancestors via DNA, others can be passed down in unexpected ways. Here’s an example of a domestic accident that has affected four generations of my extended family.

Mother & grandmother001_1_1

My mother Edith Mitchell, née Vokes, born in 1906, sits on the lap of her mother Harriet Vokes, née Wheeler, in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada.

Mom as a girl002_1When my grandmother was a girl in Canada back around 1880, she was slicing food in the kitchen one day when the knife slipped and cut deeply into a finger.

Bleeding profusely, she had to be rushed to a doctor.

The injury was sufficiently traumatic that when my mother (left) grew old enough to help in the kitchen, Grandmother repeatedly described the accident in warning my mother to be careful with kitchen knives.

I never met grandmother Vokes. She died in 1925, more than 18 years before I was born.

Mom with me c. 1945003_1 Mom emigrated to the United States in 1930, and my parents were living half a block from the Marina Green in San Francisco when I was born in 1943. As a result, many of my parents’ early photos of me were shot beside San Francisco Bay.

When I grew old enough to start helping Mom in the kitchen, she was so fixated on the danger of kitchen knives that she told me over and over how her own mother had injured herself by not cutting correctly.

The warning was drummed into my head to where even today at 65, whenever I slice food, I remember a finger’s getting cut — despite its happening 130 years ago in a foreign country to a person I never met.

100_2870_2_1_1When my stepdaughter Shaili Zappa, 16, was visiting from Guatemala last month, I told her this story and she was intrigued. (Photo of Shaili and me by Ana Gonzalez)

On Sunday, Shaili emailed me from Central America: “Every time I chop carrots, I remember the story!”

Think about it. A girl in Canada cut a finger with a kitchen knife during the 19th century, and although we are now in the 21st century, her direct and indirect descendants in the United States and Guatemala continue to wince. To my mind, that’s as remarkable as DNA.

More than 200 people showed up Sunday at Toby’s Feed Barn for a fundraising party to help pay the medical expenses of Linda Petersen, the injured ad manager of The West Marin Citizen.

Linda received numerous severe injuries when she fell asleep at the wheel in Inverness June 13 and struck a utility pole. Although she has Kaiser Permanente medical insurance through her work, Kaiser is refusing to cover all her hospitalization costs.


From left: Gwen van der Wal (Linda’s daughter-in-law), Linda, David van der Wal (Linda’s son), Alexis Zayas (companion of Saskia van der Wal), and Saskia (Linda’s daughter). David and Alexis manned the wine, beer and soda table.


Giovanni and June Di Morente brought most members of their popular El Radio Fantastique to the fundraiser.

100_3029It was a good weekend for Giovanni (at right) and June (above at microphone). Earlier in  the weekend, they’d dazzled audiences with El Radio Fantastique performances at the Dance Palace.

More than one person who heard them referred to the group as world class.


The Hog Island Howlers managed to navigate a perilous passage through sound equipment and a pumpkin-bound shoreline.

Osteria Stellina, the Station House Café, the Farmhouse Restaurant-Point Reyes Seashore Lodge, and Café Reyes  donated food and drinks. So did the Bovine Bakery, Brickmaiden Bread, the Marshall Storer/Tomales Bay Oyster Company, Chileno Valley Ranch, Marin Sun Farms, KT’s Kitchen, the Palace Market, the Mainstreet Moms, and the Tomales Delicatessen.

Susan Hayes Handwovens organized an impressive array of gifts for a raffle.


The audience for the music overflowed two sections of folding chairs and onto the Hay Barn’s stacks of bales.

Co-sponsors of the fundraiser include: Point Reyes Books, West Marin Senior Services, The West Marin Citizen, Toby’s Feed Barn, the Community Event Library, and individual friends of Linda.

100_3012Sam Sajjapan, who works at the Palace Market, played a Thai instrument called a kan. With him on a drum is Joy Webber.

100_2994_1Lawrence Loeffler of Santa Rosa stayed busy all afternoon barbecuing sausages from Marin Sun Farms and hamburgers from Chileno Valley Ranch. Both ranches produce organic meat.

100_3000Nick Giacomini (left) who performed with Matt Love revealed to the throng that Matt had just gotten engaged while in Hawaii.

Also providing notable performances were: Harmony Grisman and Joyce Kaufman, Todd Plummer and Friends, Peter Asmus and Space Debris.


Mainstreet Moms, a group of politically progressive women, baked numerous sweets. I personally kept going back for the shortbread with a chocolate topping.


Using “Anastacio’s Famous BBQ Oyster Sauce,” Anastacio Gonzalez barbecued 300 oysters, mostly donated by the Marshall Store/Tomales Bay Oyster Company. Here his daughter Paula Gonzalez (at right) jokes with ticket-taker John Tornes of Tomales (center).

Anastacio concocted the sauce 37 years ago and has used it to barbecue oysters in restaurants and at special events around the Tomales Bay area ever since. In July, he began selling bottles of the sauce.

The event raised more than $3,000, Linda told me today, approximately enough to pay the medical bills she has received.

As vital as the money is to Linda, the outpouring of friendship and community support was what was on her mind after the event ended. She and I agreed this experience again confirmed what a good community we have in West Marin.

Friends of Linda Petersen, the injured ad manager of The West Marin Citizen, will sponsor a major fundraiser from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18, to help pay her medical bills. It’s being billed as a “CommUNITY FUN-Raising Event.”


Linda suffered 11 broken ribs, a tear in her diaphragm, a collapsed lung, a broken neck, two fractured vertebrae, a broken wrist, a shattered femur, a fractured kneecap, and two broken ankles when she fell asleep at the wheel June 13 in Inverness and hit a utility pole. Her popular Havanese dog Sebastian died in the crash.

The event at Toby’s Feed Barn will include performances by: Peter Asmus and Space Debris, Hog Island Howlers, Matt Love and Friends, Todd Plummer and Friends, Johnny and June of El Radio Fantastique, Agnes Burkleo, and Joyce Kaufman with Harmony Grisman.

100_2628Linda spent three months in hospitals, more than half of that wearing a medical halo screwed into her skull to immobilize her head and neck. Although she has Kaiser Permanente medical insurance through her job, Kaiser is refusing to pay for all her time in a convalescent hospital.

Emceeing Sunday’s event will be radio personalities Amanda Eichstaedt and Charlie Morgan of KWMR.

The fundraiser for Linda, who calls herself “a foodie,” will appropriately bring joy to both gourmets and gourmands.

100_2608One gastronomical celebrity on hand will be Anastacio Gonzalez (right), who will barbecue oysters with his “Famous BBQ Oyster Sauce.” The sauce is now being bottled, with retail sales having begun last July. Tomales Bay Oyster Company/the Marshall Store is donating oysters for the fundraiser.

There will be fare from notable dining spots such as Osteria Stellina, the Station House Café, the Farmhouse Restaurant-Point Reyes Seashore Lodge, and Café Reyes. Other notables donating food will be: the Bovine Bakery, Brickmaiden Bread, Chileno Valley Ranch, Marin Sun Farms, KT’s Kitchen, the Palace Market, the Mainstreet Moms, and the Tomales Delicatessen.

Susan Hayes Handwovens is organizing a raffle.

Co-sponsors of the fundraiser include: Point Reyes Books, West Marin Senior Services, The West Marin Citizen, Toby’s Feed Barn, the Community Event Library, and individual friends of Linda.

It was one of those times I felt like the Country Mouse.

I’d been reading San Francisco Chronicle about the city police department’s wanting to clean up the Tenderloin. And I’ve been reading Chronicle columnist CW Nevius’ fulminations against drug use and sexual activity in the district.

mapdataBy the way, while most of us know where the Tenderloin is in San Francisco (see Google map at right), many people don’t know the origin of the name.

Other cities have also had “tenderloins” although New York supposedly had the first. The district had widespread graft and vice, so any corrupt cops who policed it could afford to eat well. At least that’s the etymology given by The American Heritage Dictionary.

Several major streets cross San Francisco’s Tenderloin, so I periodically drive through it. Saturday night, however, was the first time in years I’d traversed it on foot. Oddly enough, I was on my way to the Hilton Hotel which, as can be seen in the map above, sits squarely in the Tenderloin.

I was about to pick up a friend and drive him to Point Reyes Station for a visit. The friend, new-media consultant Dave LaFontaine of Los Angeles, had spent the previous three days conducting training sessions at an Online News Association convention in the hotel.

After parking my car on O’Farrell Street near Market, I’d begun walking back up O’Farrell when the odd mix of characters on the street started catching my eye. A large, somewhat-intimidating man called me over, but I kept walking and quickly crossed the street.

Up ahead of me I saw a small crowd milling around Johnny Foley’s Irish House, a fashionable bar. They’d apparently gone outside to smoke. As I got closer, I noticed another group sitting on the sidewalk next to them. These folks weren’t dressed like the more-stylish bar patrons, but they too were mostly smoking, and some were jovially drinking from bottles.

Just beyond these convivial groups, however, three cleancut men dressed all in black were wrestling on the sidewalk, with two of them trying to hold down the third. Having also been reading about bystanders getting caught in gang violence, I didn’t stop to watch.

By the time I’d reached the corner, however, the man who’d been on the ground caught up, brushing himself off. Almost immediately, the other two men rushed up, and the first ran out into traffic but was caught and dragged back to the sidewalk. At this point I heard someone say, “He stole a purse.”

“No I didn’t,” the man insisted.

A block and a half further and I was at the Hilton. A policeman was standing out front, so I told him what I’d witnessed. “I guess we’d better go down there,” he said, and I went inside the hotel.

The lobby was crowded with cheery people in their late teens and early 20s. It turned out they were USC football fans staying en masse at the Hilton, and they were celebrating because USC had beaten Cal 30-3 that afternoon.

Security guards were stationed here and there, but everyone in the lobby was behaving peaceably. The only thing out of the ordinary was the apparel of a few female fans. See-through and super-short skirts revealed that thong underwear is in vogue these days at USC.

When Dave and I met up, we laughed at the fashions of “kids today” and started walking back to the car.


Half a block from the scene of the scuffle, we passed the alleged thief sitting on the ground (left) in handcuffs. Half a dozen cops surrounded him while more stood around nearby. Dave shot this photo with his mobile phone, and we continued on.

Several well-dressed celebrants we passed on the sidewalk were noticeably hollow eyed, prompting Dave to mention that when he’d gone into a hotel restroom, he’d come upon a young man who appeared to be snorting a line of cocaine off a sink.

We eventually reached my car, which in my Point Reyes Station fashion I hadn’t bothered to lock. Notwithstanding several scary-looking folks wandering the street no one had touched it.

The Chronicle has written quite a bit about drug dealing sullying the streets of the Tenderloin. Its columnist Nevius has railed against a Tenderloin liquor store’s supposedly being a magnet for street crime and against a sex club’s moving into the district. San Francisco’s tonier neighborhoods certainly wouldn’t put up with a sex club, Nevius wrote on Sept 12.

But would they put up with a Hilton? From all appearances, there was a fair amount of sex and drugs at the hotel last weekend, along with street crime near a fashionable bar less than two blocks away.

Am I criticizing the Hilton? No, it seems to be a well-run hotel that gets a variety of guests. Rather I’m saying that it’s easy to wax indignant about low-rent sexual activity in the Tenderloin and about the drugs of its hard-luck street people, but there’ll never be an editorial campaign against USC fans exposing their G-strings in the lobby of a Hilton Hotel or snorting cocaine in a Hilton restroom.

Feeling discombobulated by urban perversity, this country mouse skedaddled back to familiar old Point Reyes Station.