Archive for December, 2014

As storms raged Dec. 11, the Los Angeles Times reported, “Ano Nuevo State Park near Santa Cruz, where elephant seals are the main attraction in fall and winter, also closed Thursday.” New Anus State Park? Yet that’s what the Sacramento Bee also called it.

“Año Nuevo,” the actual spelling of the park’s name, is obviously Spanish. The tilde over the “n” changes it into a separate letter in the Spanish alphabet, an “ñ” (pronounced enye). The distinction is important. Año means year in Spanish while ano means anus.

With the Spanish-speaking population of California steadily growing, you’d think the state’s newspapers would all add Spanish accent marks to their printing fonts. Most computers already include them. All the same, some bilingual readers of The Times and The Bee must have found reports of an “Ano Nuevo” closure rather amusing.

At least that’s how several Point Reyes Light readers reacted when a Spanish-language column we ran back in 1985 intended to say a certain girl had six years, which is how age is expressed in Spanish. The tilde, however, was left off “años,” and my resulting embarrassment no doubt explains why this issue is still on my mind almost 30 years later.

Christmas Day at Mitchell cabin. From upper left to upper right: this reporter,  four horses, three deer. (Photo by Kathy Runnion)

But then a lot in the news surprises me these days. Take this report which ran in the London Daily Mail and other newspapers: “Rory Curtis, 25, suffered a serious brain injury after a car crash in 2012. He woke from a six-day coma and started speaking in fluent French.

“[The] former footballer was also convinced he was actor Matthew McConaughey. He broke his pelvis, but made a full recovery with an experimental drug. Mr. Curtis is still able to speak perfect French two years after the crash.” The man told the press he hadn’t studied French since grammar school and before the accident had only a “basic grasp” of it.

Another unexpected turn from the realm of newspapers and language: Last summer at an International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors conference, I met Charlie Gay, retired editor and publisher of the Shelton-Mason County (Washington) Journal. He’s a sharp newspaperman, and when a group of journalists were asked by email a week ago, “What are your resolutions for the New Year?” Charlie — using the language of photo resolution — replied: “My only resolution is 2048 pixels by 1536 pixels.”

The close of Christmas Day in Mitchell cabin with presents opened, dinner over, our guest departed, and the fire burning low. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

In conclusion, remember your fundamental, so to speak, Spanish when you send Happy New Year! messages to your Latino friends and relatives. Include the tilde in ¡Feliz Año Nuevo! You certainly don’t want to wish everybody a “Happy New Anus!” There’s no telling what the reactions would be.

Yuletides are often full of surprises, and this year’s has been no exception.

Santa Claus once touted Lucky Strike cigarettes as “a gift that brings pleasure to every home.” But that was 60 years ago.

In recent times, that pleasure has been the target of fatwas in many parts of the US and in those parts of Iraq controlled by Isis.

After seizing control of Kirkuk in June, Isis threatened to whip anybody selling cigarettes.

But surprise! By September the jihadists were forced to drop their ban on cigarettes.

It turned out that some heavy-smoking Iraqis could endure Isis’ cruelty but not its ban on smoking, and the jihadists needed their support.

Lynn and I had just gotten out of bed Monday morning when the phone rang and Lynn picked it up. Surprise, the caller was a news reporter who said there was a rumor going around that I had died. Lynn was shocked: “What are you talking about!”

Yes, I turned 71 last month, but as Mark Twain said, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Nonetheless, I will state for the record, as Twain did, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” (In Twain’s case, the rumor began with a cousin being severely sick in London for two or three weeks.)

Cartons of cigarettes were popular Christmas presents in the 1950s. “I’m sending Chesterfields to all my friends,” president-to-be Ronald Reagan proclaimed.

At the time, he was starring in the 1951 movie “Hong Kong.”

That movie is not to be confused with the 1933 movie “King Kong.” Whether or not Reagan tried out for the title role in that earlier film, he didn’t get it.

President Reagan’s fans called him “the great communicator.” I was never sure why. “I am not worried about the deficit,” President Reagan once said. “It is big enough to take care of itself.”

When actor Ed Asner criticized Reagan’s foreign policy, the actor-turned-president shot back: “What does an actor know about politics?”

At times the late president simply seemed to not realize what he was saying: “We are trying to get unemployment to go up, and I think we’re going to succeed.”

President George W. Bush was likewise known for such verbal missteps: “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”

If we’re going to have convoluted syntax emanating from the White House, the person we need to lead us would be a wise-cracking, Groucho Marx type. At least he could lift our spirits with such wisdom as: “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

Or: “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I don’t know.”

Or: “Anyone who says he can see through women is missing a lot.”

I’ll sign off by sharing with you my favorite Yuletide song, The White Snows of Winter. It’s based on Brahms 1st Symphony and sung by….  Surprise!….  The Kingston Trio.

With a series of deluges falling on the coast Monday and Tuesday, total rainfall for November topped 16 inches, according to Marin Municipal Water District readings at its reservoirs.

Nicasio Reservoir is full, and Seeger Dam is overflowing into its spillway. I shot this photo at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

All fall, the caked-mud bottom of Nicasio Reservoir could be seen in many places, making it a symbol of the drought around here. By late Monday, however, the reservoir had begun to overflow.

In West Marin where we don’t depend on Central Valley aquifers or the snowpack in the Sierra  for water, the drought is over. As long as there’s rain falling on your head, you can water your lawn without feeling guilty. Just don’t try it in other parts of the state where, according to NASA, the drought may last a couple more years.

Those of us who have worked at newspapers know that sooner or later we’ll be responsible for glitches that will both embarrass us and make us chuckle. The bad part is that newspaper glitches are seen by thousands of people.

The funniest miscue I’ve recently seen was a Dec. 5 headline in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat’s online edition: “Highway 101 crash causes miles-long backup through Santa.” Thank goodness for St. Nick’s intestinal fortitude. Christmas is almost upon us.

Some miscues aren’t merely funny, and these often require a correction. However, the correction itself can be pretty amusing. Here’s a marathon correction from the Nov. 14 Napa Valley Register. It’s a good paper, which may explain the thoroughness of the correction:

“An article in the Holiday 2014 edition of Inside Napa Valley magazine, about St. Helena art gallery owner Christopher Hill, included in the Nov. 13 edition, contained a number of errors.

“Christopher Hill never lived in Germany. He was born in Berkeley and raised in Danville.

“Hill prefers the term ‘art gallery’ rather than ‘art studio.’

“When talking about part-time residents of St. Helena, Hill never said, ‘I’d like to see these people have more of a business interest in the town.’

“Hill said his interest on St. Helena is community-wide, not just personal.

“His daughter is not an accomplished equestrian, rather she is an avid one. She is not currently working on a recycling program at school; and both Hill and her daughter speak in German to each other all the time, not just when they are at home. [“her”?]

“‘The Crushers’ is a St. Helena men’s softball team, which Hill sponsors and manages. ‘The Shockers’ is a Napa Junior Girls softball team, which he also sponsors.

“The Chamber of Commerce did not name Hill the Opinionator,’ and Hill never said, ‘I suppose I am.’

“Hill said, ‘There is no reason why we can’t keep our treasures,’ not ‘traditions.’

“Hill proposed a parcel tax to raise revenue, not a real estate transfer tax.

“Although he was once involved in a Yountville gallery, he does not maintain studio space in Yountville.

“It was ‘industry colleagues’ not his friends who ‘gave Hill ‘six months at best’ before his first art gallery would fail. He did not say, ‘And then they added that the tourists just won’t come to an upstairs location.’

“His mantra about surviving and expanding his business during the tough times related to 2002, not 2008.

“Hill began his art career in 1995 at age 24, not 27, in San Jose, not Graz, Austria.

“He never said, ‘We offer much more than vineyard scenes. And we’re very informal — no suits or ties.’

“Finally, The Christopher Hill Gallery features artists from North America, Spain, Austria, and Germany, not just California, Austria and Germany.”

I read this correction at the time the Napa Valley Register published, it and the Romenesko media blog has since reported that when Mr. Hill called the paper about the inaccurate information in the original article, he was told a freelancer had screwed up.

No discussion of newspaper miscues would be complete without acknowledging the important role played by typographical errors. I recall that when I was editor of The Point Reyes Light, one of the oddest corrections I ever wrote concerned a typo:

“Correction — Because of an extraordinarily involved typographical error, an account in last week’s paper of the ‘Miracle of the Virgin of Guadalupe’ became even more amazing. An English-language caption to a photo was supposed to have read: ‘According to legend, the Virgin Mary appeared outside Mexico City to an Indian named Juan Diego, leaving her image on his cloak.’ Instead the caption read: ‘leading her in on his clock.’ An accompanying Spanish-language version of the caption was correct.” — Dec. 27, 1985

Despite a drizzle that at times became a downpour, crowds turned out Friday evening in Point Reyes Station to celebrate the Yuletide.

It was a town-wide celebration: a Path of Lights on the main street, a Holiday Crafts Fair in the Dance Palace, a party with live music at Point Reyes Surf Shop, and a Christmas party including Santa Claus and carolers in Toby’s Feed Barn.

West Marin Senior Services sponsored a Lights of Life tree-lighting ceremony to honor loved ones who have  passed away. The pine, which grows in the median between the Wells Fargo Bank and the Palace Market parking lots, each year takes on added significance as the town Christmas tree.

The Path of Lights is symbolized by a line of luminaria along the main street, and the luminaria unfortunately suffered from the wet weather. Luminaria, of course, are small lanterns consisting of candles standing in sand inside a paper bag. It took only a couple of downpours for the splash to extinguish several lights.

The crowd outside Wells Fargo Bank.

Strumming her guitar, Harmony Grisman again this year led a crowd in singing songs of the Yuletide.

The 44th annual Holiday Crafts Fair in the Dance Palace.

The obvious skill in the work of clay artist Molly Prier of Inverness inspired praise from fair-goers.

Dusty Rose Designs brightened a corner of the Dance Palace with tie-dye-style clothing.

Eden Clearbrook from the Garden of Eden sold herbal elixirs.

Ana Maria Ramirez (center) and Lourdes Romo sold handmade clothing and accessories.

The annual Christmas party in Toby’s Feed Barn.

Santa Claus spent the evening posing with families who wanted their kids photographed with him. Meanwhile, the line of parents and their children waiting to be photographed at times reached 15 to 20 feet long.

West Marin singer, composer, musician Tim Weed here performs ‘Oh Holy Night’ for the crowd in Toby’s. Earlier in the evening, the Common Voice Choir led caroling in Toby’s.

Part of what made the evening so enjoyable was its being so homespun: the crafts, the music, and the food. When I saw a young mother with a baby on her lap sitting on a bale of hay in the Feed Barn, my first thought was, “Away in a manger….”

As a result of a brief marriage to a Guatemalan in 2003, I have three stepdaughters, and because their birth father is a US citizen, they have dual US-Guatemalan citizenship.

I met their mother in 1982 while I was reporting for the old, Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner during a 2.5-year sabbatical from editing The Point Reyes Light. The Examiner had sent me to Central America to cover uprisings in Guatemala and El Salvador, and in Guatemala she was my part-time translator.

As I write, my middle stepdaughter Kristeli Zappa was supposed to be flying back to New York City after visiting for a week; however, United Airlines is now reporting online that the flight is being delayed for maintenance. Kristeli is in her senior year at New York University, and, boy, has she led an interesting life for someone in only her mid-20s.

Growing up she attended schools in: Guatemala; France; and the United States, including time at Tomales and San Marin high schools and a year of grade school in Minnesota. She worked for a spell in Barcelona and spent her first year and a half of college at a university in Taiwan. While there, she rowed on one of the school’s dragon boat teams.

Kristeli (center), Lynn and I last Wednesday enjoyed a late-evening dinner outdoors under heat lamps at Calzone’s Italian bistro in North Beach. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

Kristeli and her younger sister Shaili resemble each other so closely that several times during her visit I called her by her sister’s name. So it was probably fitting that we took Kristeli on several of the same outings we took Shaili on when she visited in August: watching Beach Blanket Babylon, dropping by Calzone’s for dinner while in North Beach, listening to jazz at the No Name bar in Sausalito, and having dinner with Anastacio and Sue Gonzalez in Point Reyes Station.

When Shaili was here three months ago, the Gonzalezes went with us to Café Reyes for pizza. This time Anastacio cooked us a yellowfin tuna he had caught in the Sea of Cortez and brought back on ice. It was the best fish I’ve eaten in years.

The Community Thanksgiving Dinner at the Dance Palace in Point Reyes Station filled the main hall and adjoining former church Thursday afternoon. The event drew so many people they ate all the pumpkin pie. That hadn’t happened in years, if ever, one of the regular volunteers told us. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

The turkey dinner is always free although donations are welcome, and it’s always well prepared. There is even a vegetarian plate for non-turkey eaters. For many of us diners, however, the best part of the dinner is the opportunity it provides to catch up with old acquaintances we seldom see. That’s one way we keep our sense of community alive.

A week of rainy days interspersed with sunny ones has been helping the grass turn green in the horse pasture next to Mitchell cabin. The stockpond is far from overflowing, but the water level is rising. [Update: At the end of 4 inches of rain Tuesday night-Wednesday morning, Dec. 2 & 3, the pond was overflowing.]

Even dramatically low Nicasio Reservoir, which belongs to Marin Municipal Water District, appears to be slowly recovering from the drought. The rest of the district’s reservoirs were already in pretty good shape. If all MMWD reservoirs are counted together — Alpine, Bon Tempe, Kent, Lagunitas, Nicasio, Phoenix, and Soulajule —  “current storage is 94.42 percent of average storage for this date,” the district reported on Nov. 23.

When Lynn and I went to the No Name bar in Sausalito to hear jazz, as we often do on Friday nights, we, of course, took along Kristeli. What was unusual about the evening was that drummer Michael Aragon, whose quartet has played at the No Name virtually every Friday night for 31 years, wasn’t on hand.

Instead we heard Sausalito bluesman Eugene Huggins’ band which plays at the No Name regularly but not on Fridays. Besides wailing on a variety of harmonicas, Huggins sang an engaging selection of blues and blues-rock. Although Huggins is well regarded, none of us had heard him before, and we were all impressed.

And then it was time for Kristeli to fly home. Lynn and I drove her to the Larkspur ferry terminal, so friends of hers in San Francisco could pick her up at the Ferry Building, show her around, and ultimately drive her to the airport.

For me her visit had been quite an experience. Kristeli had lived in Mitchell cabin for only a few months during my brief marriage to her mother 11 years ago, and I hadn’t seen her since although we periodically correspond by email. Yet by the end of her visit, Lynn and I were genuinely sad to see her go. I don’t know if Lynn and I, Kristeli and her sisters, together fit the formal definition of an “extended family,” but it sure feels like one.