Thursday, April 30, 2009


The complete three-act Balanchine Jewels (first performed in 1967) is currently in performance at San Francisco Ballet

I. Emeralds (epitome of French ballet)
II. Rubies (epitome of American ballet)
III. Diamonds (epitome of Russian ballet)

Months ago as soon as the program was announced I snatched up three tickets for this Friday night, with the plan of taking along my daughter and son-in-law (whose lives, in my view, can never be properly fulfilled until they have witnessed this masterpiece). And those two young people are very good about indulging my retrograde tastes. We will have dinner first at Hayes Street Grill, a good retrograde restaurant.

The current online cast list tells me Yuan Yuan Tan will dance the finale, Diamonds, partnered by Davit Karapetyan. Both are personal favorites, though they seldom dance together. When Patrick heard of this pairing he said, "Your dream couple."

Wooden Phones

Hand-carved, hand-painted wooden cell phones for sale in the gift shop at Pemba Airport, Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, as photographed here. Just yesterday I was reading in A New Green History of the World by Clive Ponting that millions of outdated computers, phones and other gizmos of the rich world are loaded onto container ships and sent to various parts of the poor world where local governments allow them to be dumped, for a small fee, with full knowledge that some of the materials on the insides are toxic and will remain toxic for centuries. So there are plenty of non-functioning electronic marvels for artisans to copy in countries like Mozambique where the average citizen has not even a remote hope of owning the real thing.

At the beginning of 2009 when my existing cell phone contract expired I said the hell with it and have since been living without one. After four months I have not started to miss it yet.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Folk Typography

I chanced upon the photo-group Folk Typography. It clearly has been edited with uncommon rigor. These are a few of my favorites.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Breathless is 50

Jean-Luc Godard (dark glasses, immediately above) in 1959 directing Breathless, his first film and the earliest commercial feature made with a hand-held camera. Truffault wrote the screenplay.

Aleda Shirley's poem posted here a couple of days ago got me thinking about French post-war films and what they have meant to my generation of Americans.

Millions of words have been written about Breathless. This afternoon I even stumbled across an elaborate analysis of the horizontal versus vertical stripes in the clothing of Seberg and Belmondo above. After fifty years people still loathe the film, people still adore the film. Its vitality is assured.

It seemed wonderful but dated in the early 1970s when I first saw it as a college student. Today it seems wonderful and not dated.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Tools of the Trade

This upholstery shop at Market near Gough always has great odd virtuoso pieces in the window, evidence of the deftness of the workers within. Today was the first time I noticed a mural (signed P. Kimack) on the side wall of the store. Painterly details below (with surrealistic painted shadows).

Parking Lot Words

For the moment these words inhabit an unattended and largely empty parking lot on Market Street near Gough in San Francisco. Soon they will be gone, of course. I cannot translate them. I cannot even spell them. Or not with any certainty. But I will be sad all the same when they are rollered over.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Vandalism Update

I learned something today on lower Haight from this posted-up notice on the outside of one of the humble commercial/residential buildings that line that street, dating back to the decade after the '06 Earthquake. The notice informs the property owner that it is illegal to allow graffiti to remain on a building. If the owner does not efface the graffiti, then a fine can be imposed.

Honestly, does not this seem like intrusive legislation? The City is now saying I can't have my house decorated as I see fit? Is San Francisco a gated community with certified bland-aesthetic standards?

Or put another way, here am I, the victim of felony-vandalism (as the City terms it) and if I don't eliminate the evidence of the crime that was committed against me, then I (the victim) am subject to fine.

Blue Over Orange

Back in September I quoted a poem here by Aleda Shirley called Green Oldsmobile. That poem came to my notice in a special section of Poetry Magazine devoted to poets who had died in 2008.

I discovered that the San Francisco library where I work did not have Shirley's final book of poetry called Dark Familiar (Sarabande Books, 2006) so I ordered it. The pace of the book-dsitribution world seems to be slowing down as the electronic info-world speeds up, so it did not surprise me that the paper copy of Dark Familiar only arrived this past week, seven months after the order was placed.

Several poems in the book have the same titles as Mark Rothko's paintings, or at least they sound the same:

Brown, Black on Maroon
Three Blacks on Dark Blue
Purple, White and Red

My favorite in the collection is called Blue Over Orange and is set in the autumn, so quoting it now in the spring seems like a proper tribute to the time when I learned about this poet, after she had already died.

October's first cold day & when I get in the car
my breath forms a brief chrysanthemum
on the inside of the windshield & I'm aware,

suddenly, of all the yellow leaking from the world,
the lost green veins of the leaves. On my list
of errands the last stop is the video store where

the movies I watched in college are now classified
as Cult Favorites or Classics & the beautiful boy
who works the counter rolls his eyes when I take out

the Truffaut for the dozenth time. Not again, he says.
He's nice to everyone, but he sees me, if he sees me at all,
as an adult woman in a dark coat, with an expensive bag.

We touch only when we exchange money. The lobby
of a narrow French apartment, an allee of poplars:
those are scenes from a movie, not my life. I'm unlikely

to rent the movies that excite him: Japanese animation,
a documentary on mountain climbing, seventies concert films
from before he was born. Hours later, at home

with my glass of bourbon, he's with me still, & I think,
out of nowhere I tell myself, about how when I was thirteen
& we lived overseas I saw middle-aged NCOs

with beer guts & sunburned scalps walking the streets
of San Angeles City, holding the hands of girls
not much older than I was, girls paid to be adoring,

who covered their mouths when they giggled
& wore strange yellow nylons the color of no human skin.
When we'd walk down those streets, my friends & I,

our raffia bags stuffed with devalued pesos,
Filipino boys would sit on their haunches & make
wet clucking sounds at us. Back then I imagined the misery

of the teenaged prostitutes, though not in any detail,
& the men's daughters stateside, reading
Tiger Beat in their rooms, trying on Yardley lipstick.

Later I thought about the wives, left behind
at Lackland or Minot or Clovis, the scent
of coffee, Salems, Emeraude, & something that may

or may not have been history pushing them to the sides
of their own lives; now I think of the men
how little of life turns out to be a choice, after all,

& the way those choices we do make
can transform beauty into pathos or desire
into commerce. We are, all of us, almost alike.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Queen of the Night

Diana Damrau has invented a new Queen of the Night, urgently dramatic – in an urgently punitive way. The image above makes me suspect a conscious evocation of the stylized, cross-eyed frenzy portrayed in Utamaro prints of Kabuki actors. A clip of the famous pyrotechnic aria is available here and well worth a watch. The DVD is available here.

City Saturday

After my Saturday morning haircut I caught one of the vintage San Francisco street cars on Market near the bottom of Haight in bright chilly weather. This particular car originated in Italy and still carried its original number plate affixed to that adorable two-tone wood paneling.

And just as that dignified enamel number plate suggested a world where traditional crafts remained alive, so the peeling plastic sticker on the window suggested our more recent world where flimsiness prevails.

Macy's was advertising big sales when I entered the store. Even so, the clerks clearly outnumbered the customers. I replenished my stock of Clinique, that old-fashioned skin care line to which I remain loyal even though its shelf space in department stores continues to shrink. (Ah, yes. Twenty years ago there were large purpose-built Clinique counters staffed by two or three earnest "counselors" costumed in lab coats. But no more.)

Took a coffee break in Union Square where I stood for a while admiring the carved Roman capitals (dated 1901) on the plinth of the central monument. Also wondered fruitlessly about the story behind that rectangular patch in a slightly different stone intruding on the right-hand side of the inscription. Seemed to me that the lettering on the patch matched reasonably well in form but had been cut visibly deeper, revealing itself in that detail as a later imitation by a different hand for those bits of the lost original lettering. Just like Macy's, Union Square seemed subdued and depopulated. But then a crowd of demonstrators charged up from Powell Street waving placards like this one.

They were handing out four-page fliers printed on heavy, gloss-finish paper stock, and it was the feel of that paper that set me immediately to wondering who these people were? There was clearly a good deal of money and planning behind this "demonstration" – but whose? The spectators, including me, were well outnumbered by the placard-wavers who were mostly neatly-groomed white males in their thirties and forties, very far from my mental image of the typical San Francisco street agitator. Mormons on the loose?

The flier did not identify a sponsoring organization. Three out of its four pages were devoted to a long dialogue, the purported transcript of a phone call between one Dan Benham and a Mr. Ron Supinski of the Public Information Department of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank. Dan Benham prefaced the transcript with a note that "this is an abbreviated account of that conversation (dated 2002)"

Gee, I thought. A Platonic Dialogue! And just as Socrates always got the better of his interlocutors, so Dan Benham invariably confounded Mr. Ron Supinski (seven years ago, on the telephone). Mr. Ron Supinski ended up all but confessing that the Federal Reserve System is in reality a Deliberate Fraudulent Gigantic Scam that has gleefully been actively fleecing the American public for the past 96 years.

After the three pages of question and answer, there was a a short discussion on the last page about Why it matters and What we can do about it. The answer turned out to be extremely simple. All financial problems will solve themselves as soon we restore a reliable system of money based on gold and silver, as required by the Constitution.

Gee, I thought. The Gold Standard! I used to hear good ole boys taking this line back in the 1950s in Nowheresville Illinois where I grew up. Today events came full circle and I encountered the grandsons of those good ole boys marching through Union Square.

Back at home I still had no idea who or what had organized this odd little event that I happened to witness so I checked out the flier's #1 Web Resource: There I found all kinds of things, including many radiant paintings of Jesus Christ and The Holy Bible and The Stars & Stripes. But the bulk of the site, it turned out, was devoted to the thought and writings of Ron Paul, who ran for the Republican nomination for President in 2008 as a candidate way to the right of Bush himself, and is headed for another try in 2012 on a platform of isolationism and privatization. Along with the Fed, he wants to end Social Security. But that might not play so well on placards. At least not in San Francisco.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Lost Art

The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts maintains a photo and clippings file containing close to a million items that were used to study art in the early part of the 20th century. The Clark has recently digitized a sad selection of these images because they are the only surviving evidence that these paintings ever existed. The originals have all been lost, destroyed in Europe during World War II.

Gustav Klimt
Die Freundinnen

Pompeo Batoni
Saint John the Baptist
ca. 1742

Saint Matthew and the Angel
ca. 1602

Gustave Courbet
The Stone-Breakers

Karl Joseph Begas
The Opera Singer Wilhelmine Schroeder-Devrient

Luca Signorelli
School of Pan
ca. 1470

Pompeo Batoni
Saint Mary Magdalene
ca. 1742

Pier Maria Pennacchi
Dead Christ Supported by Two Angels
ca. 1500

Puvis de Chavannes
Fisherman's Family

Domenico Beccafumi
Martyrdom of Saint Lucy
ca. 1520

Sebastiano del Piombo
Judith and Holofernes
ca. 1525

Luca Giordano
Judgment of Paris
ca. 1665

Caspar David Friedrich
Northern Lights
ca. 1830

Nicolas Poussin
Martyrdom of Saint Erasmus
ca. 1630