A group of those who got together last week for Christmas dinner reconvened this afternoon at the De Young Museum. Six employed adults all with the simultaneous luxury of free time in the middle of a week-day to view the Yves Saint Laurent posthumous tribute show.
On the down side, about six thousand others had come to San Francisco via bridges and tunnels to do the same exact thing with THEIR idle Tuesday, so the galleries were mobbed. The French clothes remained cool and fragile on their dimly lighted platforms above the heaving, sweating masses.
The talk afterward in the museum cafe revolved around New Year's Eve plans for tomorrow night. Most people at the table seemed to be leaning toward the Make-Out Room in the Mission.
The Make-Out Room
Then some four of us (the most nearly related by blood and/or marriage) drove to the East Bay for dinner, and detoured briefly onto 4th Street in Berkeley to take note of the stylish illuminations there.
After that, it was a hearty, candle-lit dinner, including sauteed garbanzo beans pretending to be croutons with startling success.
My daughter told the story of shaping and glazing and firing this industrial-strength pottery candle-holder when she was in the fifth grade. There is a sea of ancient wax in the bottom of it now.
And there were still a few Christmas cookies left over for dessert.
After-Christmas playground scene at Dolores Park, and somebody's present got stuck (at upper left) high up in one of the magnolias. Compared to other parts of the world covered in snow, San Francisco does not look cold. But it feels cold.
Elisabeth of Bavaria, Empress of Austria posing in Vienna in the 1860s. A simple, sober day-dress. This lady was the mother of Crown Prince Rudolph who committed suicide in 1889 with his mistress at Mayerling. Elisabeth herself died ten years later, in 1898. She was assassinated by a young anarchist using a sharpened file. "I wanted to kill a royal," said Luigi Lucheni. "It did not matter which one."
Esta Noche is a venerable San Francisco institution, the only Latino gay bar in the city. On 16th between Mission and Valencia. When I first moved to the Castro in the late 1990s my Puerto Rican roommate warned me never to go to this bar. He said it was low-life, full of hookers and dangers. Of course that is where I immediately went. I haven't been inside it now for years but walk past the bar itself almost every day and am haunted by remembered entanglements ignited at Esta Noche & sustained against all reason by something specifically pertaining to Esta Noche. But it wasn't exploitation, or I don't think so, it was more like loyalty. High hopes for romantic epiphany descending into stubborn loyalty.
Holding firmly to my resolution of yesterday, I decide to load the Diana (my happy-making Christmas present) with its first roll of film. The well-illustrated instruction booklet tells me how.
LOADING THE FILM Remove the Rear Door. Insert the fresh film roll into the left side. Thread the film across to the right side Take-up Spool. With the Rear Door still off, turn the Advance Wheel counterclockwise and ensure that the film is transporting and threading smoothly by turning two or three complete revolutions. Replace the Rear Door. Turn the Rear Door Switch to "Lock" and look through small red window on the Film Format Switch. 120 film has its shot numbers printed on the back, so you can use this window to count your exposures.
Here is exactly where I run into trouble. Nothing is visible through the small red window. I cautiously turn the Advance Wheel forward, increment by increment, and can feel the film advancing inside the camera, but nothing nothing nothing is to be seen in the small red window. After prodding and fiddling and holding the small red window under various lights, I decide the only way to find out what is going on is to take the Rear Door off the camera, even though I know this will expose and ruin the entire roll of film.
With the Rear Door off, I can see that I have advanced the film all the way to exposure number 4 and that the number 4 is positioned where it should be visible through the small red window. I put the Rear Door back on. No number 4 is visible through the small red window. I take another roll of unopened film out of the three-pack box of Lomography Brand Black and White 100-Speed 120-Size Film. Only then do I notice there is a lot of tiny text printed on the inside of the film box. I rip open the film box so I can read what is printed inside it. And this is how the message begins:
USING LOMOGRAPHY B&W FILM Diana loves lomography B&W film but due to the film's black backpaper it is not always easy to see what exposure number you are up to. When they say "not always easy to see" they mean "impossible to see." Saying that it is "not always easy to see" the exposure number on their film through the small red window is like saying it is "not always easy to see" a coffin that is buried under six feet of soil.
The tiny printing on the inside of the film box goes on to provide a whole new (alternative) set of instructions.
1. Load your Lomography B&W film 2. Pay attention to the position of Mr. Lomography's nose on the Advance Knob 3. From this point turn the Advance Knob anti-clockwise 9 times. You will now be ready to shoot your first image. For the 2nd shot think of your Advance Knob as a clock 4. After each exposure look at the position of Mr. Lomography's nose. Wind Mr. Lomography's nose backwards 14 hours 5. For each additional shot, wind Mr. Lomography's nose backwards 14 hours
Sad to say, the Advance Knob on my brand-new Diana has no picture of Mr. Lomography on it. My Advance Knob (known as the Advance Wheel in the former set of instructions) has a flower on it, and the flower has no nose.
I phone my daughter, the Diana wizard. "Girl, does your Advance Knob have a picture of Mr. Lomography on it?"
"Yes, it does." "Mine has a flower."
"Really?" "And do you count from Mr. Lomography's nose and wind backwards 14 times for each new shot?" "WHAT??!!" "You don't?"
"I just look at the number through the little window."
"Wait, you can SEE the shot numbers through the small red window in the Rear Door?"
"Yes, of course." "But the Lomo film you gave me admits right inside its own box that you can't see the numbers. They are this faint white ink stenciled against flat black paper." "Well I always use that Ilford film that you gave me a ton of along with the camera. And the numbers are big and shiny. Black against white. I've never used the Lomo film, but I didn't get it together to order the camera online so I bought it at Urban Outfitters, and that was the only film they had." "Do you think I should draw a nose on my flower?" "I think you should go out and buy some Ilford film."
One top-quality present lurking under the tree for me this year was a white plastic Diana camera from my daughter and her husband. Not a huge surprise, however – considering how I keep praising the lomographic prints these young people keep creating with the turquoise plastic Diana camera I gave them in the spring. Back in October a twelve-foot long display of their grainy blurry endearing Diana photos got installed (where it remains to this day) on one of the empty walls here at Spencer Alley.
The gift-givers included a supply of 120 film, so literally nothing is stopping me from starting, except for hesitation over what to start with. Probably I have got too used to digital cameras where you often take hundreds of shots (at no cost) for the sake of the few that work. In the world of 120, with its large square prints, there are only twelve exposures on a roll. And the results for beginners are likely to be dicey.
Then this afternoon on Flickr, vaguely looking for inspiration, I stumbled upon a self-described "Lomo Homo" who takes pictures in New York of himself and friends and the subway and dance clubs, views across water or of anything that glows at night. Below is some of this admirable, confidence-inspiring work, and the photographer's name is Roozbeh Ashtyani.
The hostess, wearing her apron, takes a break to sit down and talk for a minute with guests at her San Francisco flat. Christmas dinner is going forward in the kitchen like an avalanche that will happen with or without human intervention.
The table waits in patient perfection.
The hard-working host in his own apron of serious stripes also manages some socializing in mid-stream.
There are good snacks along the way to keep up everyone's strength.
A friend is caught here in the very act of agreeing to carve the turkey. He is holding a clipping from Gourmet Magazine with instructions, but very wisely is not promising to follow them.
Two of the locally-obtained and frugal presents emerge from under the tree to join in the revelry.
Detail of a new rug that entered the environment to complement the new slipcover on the sofa (visible below and lavishly documented here).
But this quiet interlude is shattered by the sudden emergence of the Bird. Now, in public, for all to see, it is time to wield the thin sharp flexible knife endorsed by Gourmet Magazine.
The food is simple yet amazing, from the fresh-Lima-beans to the roasted-root-vegetables to the two-polentas-stuffing, to the apple-cranberry-sauce to the herbed-mashed-potatoes and gravy. Plus that turkey, of course, as if Houdini had carved it from beyond the grave.
The first course is a chestnut soup, an unlikely yet soothing soup.
There are two desserts. A dried-fruit, mince pie of rich aroma, and a red-velvet cake, insufficiently pictured here with its triumphant creator but with no hint of the tasty scarlet glory that will be revealed once she cuts it open.
Darkness falls early and a certain meditative torpor overcomes the party. Focus is softened.
There are sonic side-effects at this point that do not lend themselves to photographic preservation. A silver-plated martini-shaker lid turns itself into a flying saucer, and the carved wooden folklore-type cicada-noisemaker (it makes its home with the bar tools) gets co-opted by our turkey-carving comrade for the soundtrack. And then the Jon Carroll Christmas quiz of famous surpassing difficulty gets read out loud to the company. Most of the questions cannot be answered by anybody, which is a comfort of a sort. One question concerns the opera Madama Butterfly. Her lover Pinkerton is named after a famous American. What famous American? Now, I know (from 7,000 listenings to the Callas recording) that Butterfly refers to herself as "Madama F.B. Pinkerton" – but I cannot think of any famous American with initials F.B. Today I cheat, and discover on the web that Pinkerton's full name is Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, but that Butterfly reverses the initials to conform to the Japanese custom of putting the surname first. So that is an excellent example of why Jon Carroll's Christmas quiz is notoriously hard.