Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Shame in the Castro

So the grey-complected bureaucrats, shivering in their dank shuttered offices in self-righteous fear of the lusty and boisterous city they haunt, have managed to do what homophobes and the cops of earlier eras never could ... they killed Halloween in the Castro. Shame on them. Shame especially on Supervisor Bevan Dufty, a gay man, who does the work of the homophobes.

As I write only a few blocks from the darkened streets of the historical core of the gay revolution, they have closed public transit and strong-armed merchants and bar-owners into closing early. They have barricaded the sidewalks so revelers cannot take the streets. They have banned parking not to make room for merriment or celebration, but to make room for their own police-state tactics. They did this in the name of "safety" because of a few fringe bad episodes in an otherwise exuberant celebration of hundreds of thousands of people.

It is not coincidental that this occurs a few day safter the New York Times features a story that does not lament the decline of gay neighborhoods ... are they passé, it asks. It's ostensibly about social change, but actually about obscene real estate prices. I believe that the moral force behind killing Halloween here is a combination of grumpy old gay property owners who begrudge to current youth the fun they had in their own youths, along with the new smiling straight property owners who pat themselves ceaselessly on the back for finding a neighborhood where they can be cool. Neither group wants our history except, perhaps, in a tasteful library display.

We need our history because it is a visceral reminder of the fact that we have had to fight with our bodies and our lives for the freedom we have. We conducted that fight in living memory. Stonewall happened when I was 16. When I was 10 in 1963, on the day of Halloween, the reactionary San Francisco city authorities revoked the license of the epochal Black Cat, a well-known gay hangout. The "nelly queens" celebrated one last time that Halloween, drinking non-alcoholic beverages, and the place closed forever.

Halloween in the Castro, 1997

Gay people celebrate Halloween, the great gay holiday, because it is a festival of difference ... it is visceral play of the dialectic between appearance and reality. Look at it ... night plus costumes plus play plus blasphemy ... what is not gay about that? Many groups may claim Halloween, and so be it, but Halloween is ours. It is celebration of transgression, and our lives through no fault of our own have been transgressive since the dawn of christianity. The bastards cannot take it from us ... but the bureaucrats did. They stripped it from our heartland. How heartless.

Halloween in the Castro, 2006

Guys spend all year creating magnificent costumes. This has been a decades long focal point of creativity and expressiveness that allows our deeply creative community to strut its stuff, to show the world that we may be out there, but being out there is a great way to live. But such considerations of expression and creation are too much for the tiny minded civic school-marms. A pox on you, Dufty. Shame on you

Before gay liberation, the drag queens of Toronto used to march back and forth between the Parkside Bar and St. Charles Tavern on Yonge Street to the jeers and pelting of a mob ... the pelting lasted until 1980, but the Halloween party goes on. I am reliably informed that similar parades of drag queens occurred in many cities but I do not have a reference at this point. But we had the guts to do it, and we had the guts to suffer the taunts and the attacks until we could mount a movement to secure our liberty.

Halloween in the 70s and 80s in the Castro often featured violence much worse than the couple of incidents that form the "casus belli" against gay Halloween for our grey bureaucrats. CUAV, Community United Against Violence, was founded in 1979 to fight back against gay bashing, and it actively patrolled the neighborhood. The police in those days were of precious little help. As the celebration grew and grew, the police came to play a better role. Now they have been enlisted to kill the fun.

This city likes to pretend that it is the "city that knows how." No way, now. This is a city that cannot run a transit system, that cannot pave its streets, that cannot clean up its garbage, that cannot help its homeless, that cannot provide affordable housing, that can no longer serve the artists and misfits and refugees who make it what it is. Tourists come to San Francisco because it is different. But it is less and less different every passing hour as we are invaded by smug suburbanites and SUVs and nervous lookie-loos with no more creativity than the blister packs of the consumerism that is their only joy.

Now the city meekly claims it cannot manage a large, popular, recurring event. New Orleans can manage Mardi Gras, but San Francisco can't handle Halloween. New York can manage Halloween in the Village not to mention Times Square on New Year's Eve, but San Francisco can't bring itself to do the same. The city that mourns its lost bids for the Olympics whines and snivels that it can't handle happy people in costumes on the streets. For crying out loud, Pamplona can handle mad bulls rushing through the streets clogged with human beings, but San Francisco, o poor San Francisco, can't manage a street fair. Shame on the bureaucrats. Shame especially on Dufty, who would know better if he had an ounce of sense of who we really are or where we came from or what we have done. It is especially disheartening that Mayor Newsom, who has fought the good fight for gay marriage, does not understand what a kick in the nuts this is. Think big, Gavin. Don't be a grey-complected bureaucrat like teeny weeny Dufty whose political career is over and who will go nowhere. We need the bold, not the meek, in office.

In the background, I have just watched a 1997 History Channel documentary narrated by Harry Smith, called A Haunted History of Halloween, that doesn't bother to mention gay people at all, even as they show pictures of the celebration in Greenwich Village. Our history is perpetually silenced. It is one of the chief methods of eliminating us. When the City of San Francisco silences our annual celebration of ourselves, it is complicit in that strategy. Closing the Castro Halloween Celebration is homophobic, and it is a stain on the careers of those politicians who established the policy, and on the city where we have fought for our liberation for a century. Shame on San Francisco. Shame.

More ranting on this subject here!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

World Series: Another Fox Sham

Here we are in the 8th inning of a what looks like a four-game sweep of the christian Rockies by the ill-shaven Red Sox. And what is the worst baseball announcer in the world, Joe Buck, talking about? Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees! The man is congenitally incapable of excitement. He NEVER calls a pitch. He barely pays attention to the game. He has openly stated that he prefers football. He's so bad that he makes Tim McCarver look good ... and that is a stretch. What a sham! Fox calls baseball the way it calls politics ... strictly thinking of themselves and their own prejudices, and screw everybody else.

They have a delay on the video so that you can't "simulcast" the incomparable Jon Miller who's on the radio. We're stuck with Buck ... how nauseating.

I thought that the Commissioner ... the most spineless boss in sports ... stated that there should be no major non-World Series news during the Series. Do you suppose he would have the cojones to fine Rodriguez, or his agent the reptilian Scott Boras, or, gawd forbid, Fox Sports?

At least the Rockies are losing, and we won't have to listen to a bunch of Christ-in-baseball talk for the next four months.

(Is this a good time to mention that A-rod stole my name which I have borne since 1953, and that I want the Giants to sign him ... or would that goad the Commish into fining me?)

Blogging Vancouver: Vacation's Over

Counting down the hours to returning to work ... always a bit of a nightmare. At least I return to a madhouse of activity ... a huge deliverable with a hard deadline of Tuesday at 5.

A few miscellaneous notes:

During my stay, there was a nasty drug-related mass murder in Surrey, just outside Vancouver and easily a universe away. Two of the six were innocent bystanders. I was a little surprised not to see this all over the U.S. papers... Canadians like to laugh that the only Canadian news that drifts below the border is a good mass murder, and this one was ugly. For me, it points up another problem with the insane American war on drugs whereby lax enforcement of easy-going pot on one side of a border creates an osmotic nightmare that fuels gang crime. This is the same situation that has essentailly destabilized every country bordering the Caribbean. The madness of the American hang-'em-high attitude hurts universally.

I reverted to reading the paper newspaper, The Globe and Mail. It's actually getting better, frankly. Canada is a shocking wasteland where newspapers are concerned. The Ottawa Citizen should be a national bellwether, but is little more than a small collection of other people's articles with the odd local feature. And many of the newspapers appear to be linked to some web thang called ... which means you appear to have to pay to read almost anything. Ridiculous. Shooting themselve sin the foot. I thought I might subscribe to the online Globe now that the NY Times is finally free ... but they want $14.95 per month just to be able to read their columnists. They must think they are very special. Frobisher, by the way, recommends Walrus Magazine, and I think I will subscribe ... although they, like the New York Review of Books, appear not to have an electronic only subscription. I don't want paper. Why do I have to get paper.

Another journalistic note: Vancouver's Xtra! West, a local gay paper, had an article by Gerald Hannon about Roy McMurtry. Gerald Hannon was one of the main impresario's of the epochal Canadain 70s gay newspaper, the Body Politic, and Roy McMurtry was the Tory provincial attorney general who brought obscenity charges against Hannon and Ken Poppert and Ed Jackson, all from the Body Politic. It was a major turning point in the gay liberation movement in Canada. They beat the charges twice, but even then MCMurtry was prepared to appeal the aquittal (double jeopardy being less of a concern, as it were, at that point in Canada ... I am not sure if the subsequent constitution banned it). There is a timeline at the bottom of Hannon article.

Well, it turns out that McMurtry eventaully became a member of the Ontario Court of Appeal and was responsible for the ruling that led to legal gay marriage across Canada. Very strange turn of events ... one does, however, have to account for and accept evolution. Fascinating article ... well worth reading.

Thinking about Xtra! West makes me think about Davie Street. It is definitely still old Vancouver with barely any aspect of spaceship Vancouver touching it. It still feels very much like it did when I first arrived. My first apartment was a cheap place (I think I remember $60 a month) on Thurlow at Davie. I tried to get a job at a very cool cafe on Davie, but they turned me down because they said that they didn't like gay waiters because too many of their friends hung around. I was a gay libber, but I didn't want a hassle in my new life on the coast, so I shut up about it, and felt guilty for years. Never went into the place a second time. It's long gone. I used to show up every Sunday at an eatery called Bino's ... I think the allotted time was 11 a.m. ... and anyone who wanted to show up was welcome and we'd eat blueberry pancakes. If no one showed up, I'd read.

This time, I had a coffee at a Starbuck's, and on another occasion at a Canadian knock-off coffee place called Blenz Coffee. But the highlight of hanging on Davie Street was a light breakfast at Hamburger Mary's at Davie and Bute. I say highlight because I love greasy spoon breakfasts ... my favorite type of meal-out. I was reading a book about Kublai Khan, having finished with Genghis Khan a few days back, and the drag queenish woman/man who served me let me hang and read and suck down too much coffee as it drizzled outside. That is a part of me that has not changed in three decades ... I still love a greasy-spoon breakfast. That may be genetic ... my sainted father, whose mobility is not considerably circumscribed by a stroke, loved to get up before everyone, find a greasy-spoon breaskfast, and then head home before anyone else had stirred from slumber. Like father, like son.

So I leave my vacation with that memory ... wet, black coffee, ham and eggs, Kublai Khan.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Blogging Vancouver: Heading Home

Funny thing ... so melancholy this morning as I saddled up and wandered over to Sophie's Cosmic Cafe for a last massive breakfast. I forgot to order the happy eggs ... free range. Melancholy as Frobisher and I drove by a circuitous route through the luminescent autumnal colors to the airport. Then the business-like part of getting through customs, stripping down for the ludicrous security initiation, and murderously banging out the rest of an old post and all of a new one in an open Starbucks in Vancouver's spectacular airport.

But now that I am on board, the nostalgia dissipates, the memories go back to the shelf, ready-to-hand but not active. I look forward to being home, to getting on with it.

Vancouver, alas, was probably a bad choice as a first trip to blog. I am too attched to the stirrings of my youth spent here, now there as we fly away ... not so much youth, really, as formative young adulthood. So these posts have been excessively sentimental. Still, travel should always shake you up, make you different than when you left. Travel, especially for those of us for whom travel must by necessity be a strong drink sipped only occasionally.

I think that this was only my sixth trip to Vancouver ... perhaps seventh ... in the nearly 27 years since I foresook it for San Francisco. But now I know that eventually I could happily come back if it came to that, that there is a sufficient underlayer of the old Vancouver for me in an old age that I crave but seek to delay as long as possible. What would happen if something suddenly opened up such that I could move back sooner than retirement? That would be a dilemma now, unlike at any time before now. When I first moved to the States, I had a recurring nightmare that I had returned to Canada, and I was trapped and could not get back to San Francisco. I no longer have that dream; I am secure in my new home, and the old one no longers threatens.

I should end this little huzzah by embracing again my home of three decades, lest it think me unworthy of continuing occupation. Here's to San Francisco, the Vancouver of California.

Blogging Vancouver: Lunch by the Gandydancer

Wednesday started rainy, but accuweather promised it would clear by noon, so I put on my nice pants rather than my jeans and risked becoming a sponge. It worked out well. And it is nicer to look nice when meeting IB, the fabulous 87-year-old mother of my first lover, the sainted Gary Gaetano, and his now 32-year-old daughter, DB. Not that I ever really dress "nice" just "nicer" ... and the effort must substitute for success.

So in keeping with the persistently nostalgic undertone of this trip, I took the bus to Davie Street, had a light breakfast as Hamburger Mary's and a coffee in some coffee shop across the street at Bute and Davie, and then wandered down Davie Street and back up through the West End looking at various buildings in which, shall we say, I untidied the sheets back in the good ole 70s. I contrived to arrive at IB's at the dot of 12:30, and in that I was successful.

DB, whom I have only met once or twice as an adult, and briefly at that, mostly lives in my memory as a child who was tossed around a little more than is advisable for children, the result of a short marriage among two fine people vastly too young to have made a child. But she weathered the storm and has evidently turned into a fine, beautifful, composed, and intelligent young woman. She just became a nurse and plans to head into pschiatric care ... a grwoth industry, as I noted to her chuckle. IB is obviously proud of her, and the two displayed a mutual affection that warmed me. Gary and I broke up in 1985, but we remained friends. His terrible unfair death in 1993 brought me back in touch with IB and now DB ... and I feel loyal to them like family.

IB in the course of her many travels and postings amassed an amazingly and markedly eclectic collection of objects that she displays with curatorial prowess. I could spend a few days alone in her apartment just marvelling at the objects. But none of the collection can match her wit and charm. When I first met her, she was a little more formidable and fear-inspiring. There was no particular joy at that point in sweet handsome Gary presenting "da Baptist", as he called me, as the follow-on to DB's mother. We were wary of each other in the first several meetings ... but people grow, and she did and I did, and now we memorialize only the familial warmth of the past, and nothing more.

We headed out to lunch looking for any place down Hamilton Street. We found a Thai place that turned out to be directly across the street from the old Gandydancer (click here for another take). That was a nostalgic moment for certain because I spent countless hours dancing in the Gandy ... weeknights, weekends, work or not the next day, and most especially after the innumerable gay liberation meetings and demos. (As I sit here in the airpot, I realize that I photographed the wrong location, 1226, when in fact it is 1222 which is s still a bar, and in which I could have ordered a Horse's Neck, one or RL's favorite rye creations. Missed my shot, so I guess I will just have to come back sooner than I might have thought. BTW, the Extra piece says it was a preppie crowd, but that is feel-good-about-yoursefl-after-the-fact-gay-male-homophobia ... the Gandy was all of us. I do not have a preppy bone in my body, nor my friends, and we flocked there. I hate the re-writing of 70s gay male history to conform to the any notion that diminshes the fact that it was gay men who made gay liberation. We did it, and we should be credited ... gets my dander up!)

Lunch was nice but really filling, and IB and DB took home enough Pad Thai for two or three meals each. The conversation focused on the past and trying to put dates and places and events together. But the flavor of the event had become the Gandydancer for me. Gary and I went there together and we went separately. On a given night, in those days before the uninterrupted contact of cell-phone-itis, Gary and I often figured the other was there, and we'd just bump into ech other, dance and drink, and then back across the West End to our famous digs.

Gotta catch my flight. Here's to IB and DB, and to Gary, and to the Gandydancer. And to Vancouver, a fabulous city, still what it was and now moreover something more.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Blogging Vancouver: Art School Cool, or the Vicarious School of Art

I am a little behind ... the consequence of staying with friends who entertain and talk instead of leaving the lonely traveler to his musings. All for the better, of course. Frobisher and I just returned from a couple of plates of raw fish. As is often the case, we enjoyed the more standard, less cool place than the chi-chi place we dined at the first night I was here. There are three sushi places in a row on Yew Street at Cornwall, right across the street from Kits Beach which is one of the finest uban beaches I have ever encountered.

The main event today was lunch with Gary's mother, IB, and his daughter, DB. I am going to write about that later, but it was a fine affair. Rather longer than I expected, so I had to skip the Vancouver Art Gallery and the current Georgia O'Keefe show ... but the fine company made up for that.

I want to talk about Art School cool. AW showed me around the Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design where he is a fourth year student in the Industrial Design program. AW has that sort of crossdisciplinary plastic talent that awes those of us who have trouble with re-uniting a shirt with its lost button. Everything he touches turns into design. I cannot say why he chose to go to school, but I can say that it has had the effect of organizing and coralling his talent. No doubt it has grown as well.

That is what school should do, and especially art school. I was impressed by the physical plant because it appeared to emphasize collaboration and exchange. Emily Carr in on Granville Island (which is not discernably an island) under the scary and starkly pre-postmodern Granville Bridge. (I walked over the bridge today on the way home from lunch with Gary's folks, and my tendency to a little acrophobia certainly asserted itself, especially when I took a few pix at the apex. The hutling traffic no more than 3 or 4 feet away did not help any fleeting feelings of security.) They have recently completed a new building largely dedicated to Communication Design and Industrial Design. AW complains that the Communication Design people get pots of money while Industrial Design lags ... if MRU is any guide, the key to money is rich alums, and Industrial Design should produce a few of those.

It is a postpostmodern structure of concrete and steel and glass, but there is a lot of natural light. It was sunny the day I was there, but no doubt on the more numerous gloomy days, the light and the concrete merge to produce a visceral spaceship Vancouver. Little art things all over the palce of course, but I was chary of photograhing people's work in progress. I stole a couple of shots, and took photos when AW directed me.

O, to have been an art student ... notwithstanding my complete lack of talent. It got me thinking, then, and later, and especially on Wednesday as I was tooling around the West End in the diminishing drizzle, that creating is about making objects. Writing only makes an object when someone else can look at it. There is more writing going on now, I would assert, than at any time in human history. So making writing into an object is cheper and more vain, in both senses, than every before. I have felt for a while that I have to make some larger writing object ... that is why I started writing this blog, to get in practice as it were. I've written one book ... the hallowed dissertation ... but it is essentially a private book, and it would take little effort to start floggin it ... not to underestimate the slim likelihood that it would ever see print.

So wandering around Emily Carr with AW made me think about making another bigger writing object. I have an idea for it, and I will track it here.

Back to the tour. We wandered through the painting studio where people seemed aloof and didn't look at us ... AW told me that he never goes there, and would have been uneasy doing so today had he not had a visitor to show around. Is this the ystique of painters, do they seek to keep their corner isolated for the purpose of burrowing into their work? AW pointed out a graffitto, and I shot it at his instruction. I missed the perfect framing because I was nervous that the little stud painter around the corner would see me and shoot me a withering eye.

As we left the new building, we stopped by the library that had a bunch of discards for sale at fifty cents each ... cool ... I got three books for less than a twoney, if I am using and spelling the colloquialism correctly.

The other building, the main and original building from when the former Vancouver School of Art moved here in the late 70s, felt more like a school ... lockers, a cafeteria, people bustling about. AW gave me a long tour of the ceramics department where he hopes to spend two years in post-graduate study. They are a much friednlier lot in there, and the vistas of the old building were grittier and more inviting, if just as concrete steel glass. We ended up in a brief tour of the gallery which I promised to re-visit after lunch ... but that was not to be as we headed off cmapus and out to West Broadway to a Singpaore Noodle House hole-in-the-wall which provided a great mid-afternoon Malay treat.

I took a bunch of photos of Granville Island, and I will try to mount a post about them at some point. I want to leave this one about Art School ... maybe the best deal would be just to pretend in the evening that I am an Art School students, and make silly stuff and wonder what imaginary classmates will think of it. At this point in life, that is the most efficacious way to imbibe the joy of creating without pressure ... call it the Vicarious School of Art.

Photos by Arod.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Blogging Vancouver: Dining at Vij's

I am feeble of body by way of fine food and ample drink and another day of walking and seeing and taking it all in. The fine food was courtesy of Vij's Restaurant on 11th by Granville and which the New York Times calls "easily among the finest Indian restaurants in the world". Notwithstanding my slender credentials as an epicure, I can certainly agree. I particularly enjoyed the jackfruit in black cardamon and cumin masala. Two and a half hours of gustatory sensation. We dined with Frosbisher and AW's friend Tim who works for Google ... fine conversation to no particular end, and a grreat Australian Syrah at a staggering price that was, in the practiced words of the sommelier, big but not flabby, complex and jammy. I enjoyed his word burst as much as the wine. If you are in Vancouver and have a little cash to burn, do not miss this place.

Blogging Vancovuer: Loop redux

Pender Street

As I write this, I am sitting in a cafe at Yew and 4th that used to be a convenience store in the 70s. I came here a lot in the middle of the night to grab something to eat on a break from my piecework job off the alley behind here where I wound jute off big bundles into 8 ounce skeins for dieing ... I kid you not ... I am a former jute winder. One time, sometime around 2 or 3 in the morning, the door to my little concrete box flew open ... I had the radio blaring ... and in marched a bunch of large Vancouver cops with straining dogs on their leads ... they were inches away in a split second. The convenience store where I now sit had been robbed; they heard the music and charged in. I convinced them quickly enough. I suppose that my hair and clothes being coated with jute dust had the effect of bolstering my story. Every time I come to Vancouver, I walk past that warehouse on the alley, and this time I took a photo.

Back to yesterday grand loop. I should add about skid row that it is not one jot less filthy now than it was then. There was then and there is now a place called Pigeon Park ... the photo above is of the only mural there that has, in my 'umble view, any redeeming value. I took the photo, and a technical panorama as quickly as I could lest the denizens set upon me and relieve me of my expensive electronics.

When I wander about, I try to look to the degree possible as an unappealing target. Middle-aged white guys often disappear from view, and I rely on that. I don't over-dress ... I am incapable of that, at any rate ... and I try to fix a low-bore scowl on my face that is, by parts, angry, pissy, frustrated, purposive, uninterested. It's a look that one should cultivate to throw observers off from the fact that I am trying to observe carefully everything around me. I look fore and aft, up and down, side to side, and then back again. Somehow, you have to act awake and pretend to be asleep if vaguely threatening and certainly not possessed of anything worth the risk of stealing. It helps in environs such as the unrequited skid row of Vancouver. I have manged to wander around the not-quite-but-nearly-worst parts of cities my entire life with precious few untoward incidents.

But this painting on the wall points our another fact of Vancouver life that is, perhaps, a little counter-intuitive. There is so much less street art here than in San Francisco, and what there is tends to be goofy or government sponsored. I think street art by its nature is entrepreneurial, or at least transgressive. As such, a good effusion of street art requires a population of pissed off artists who don't care what you think. Such an attitude here would tend to be a pose rather than a fact, and the result is less and not so good. Vancouver must settle for other charms.

So after Chinatown, which I briefly described yesterday, I headed to the SkyTrain ... let's go to Simon Fraser University on Burnaby Mountain. There was no SkyTrain when I lived here, and a trip to SFU was a sequence of interminable bus rides. Gary, my lover of the time, was a student there and spent a lot of his life going to and fro. But SkyTrain now seems a great service ... fast and efficient. If you live within walking distance of it, there is no reason you could not work at SFU. It is also a service that is decidedly part of East Vancouver. The western enclaves are well-to-do, insular, cool, even smug. East Vancouver is the local expression of the roiling reality of Canadian life of the masses today ... multiethnic, working class, fevered, but still involved step-by-step with government and being governed.

Simon Fraser itself is another Arthur Erickson creation, one that set everyone to talking, as I remember, in the 60s when it was built. It feels like a concrete and structural steel retake on Italian fascist architecture, but its setting in the mists and rain and brush of the top of a flat mountain softens the only apparent ideology. But inside, it has begun to feel a lot like a community college ... the architecture is too thematic for a great university, too integrated. I wnated out, but when I went out, I tended to be shunted aside. Once you are out of the main embracing core, there does not seem to be a way back in. To torture a metaphor I have used too much on this trip, you are either in the spaceship or you are in outer space.

One other curiosity ... the library had several large rooms of public access computers that were full of students ... does no one have a laptop here? Canada seems to ahve less of a commitment to University-level education ... and a larger commitment to trade education ... than the U.S. does, but that is an impression. I'd love to see a study. In the present context, these computer banks make me wonder whether the average Canadian student is less likely to have a computer than in the U.S. On the other hand, perhaps seeing the privileged students of MRU (where I work) blinds me to a larger reality south of the border. I wandered around, checked out the bookstore, had a coffee, waited in a line to take the second bus back to the SkyTrain where ...

New Westminster

... I took the wrong train on what is a large loop. So, without warning, there I was in New Westminster where I have not set foot in three decades. I got out, walked around real quick, and got back on. New West seems to have changed least of all. It is famously the home of B.C.'s oldest penitentiary, and it a working class town that rises quickly out of the Fraser River. It is old and dumpy. The great tidal wave of urban development that transformed Vancouver never made it here.

New Westminster

Photos by Arod.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Blogging Vancouver: A Long Loop

In Gastown.

So this was the route today ... and having listed the facts, I will try to write less sequentially and more experientially ... from Sophie's for breakfast on 4th Avenue to Seymour and Hastings downtown, walk through Gastown, skirting skid row, all the way up and back in Chinatown, then down Pender to the Skytrain which I took to Simon Fraser University, after which I returned via a brief stop in New Westminster, got off the the train at Broadway and Commercial, took the bus until I got sick of it and then walked back to Kits via Broadway and then 4th. If you know Vancouver, you will realize that this is quite a haul, a giant loop.

Frobisher said at dinner tonight ... which we had in a Chinese noodle shop on Broadway near Ash where the noodles are handmade as you watch ... that Vancouver was re-invented as a city pretty much overnight sometime in 1983 ... I paraphrase. This relates to what I have called the old Vancouver and the new, spaceship Vancouver. Most of where I went today was viscerally like it was when I lived here in the 70s, albeit surrounded by the looming towers of spaceship Vancouver. (I am not against spaceship Vancouver ... I think it would be hard to find a city that has done the spaceship trip as successfully as Vancouver ... but it not what a nostalgic returnee focuses on.) Gastown is like it used to be ... always dressing for dinner, never quite making it to the table. The Europe Hotel still seems to be a down and out place ... it is an Ironstone-type building at the head of Gastown. In ca 1975, my friend Robin took the topd (sixth) floor room at the prow of the building, and he painted it and made it elegant notwithstanding that he had to carry the new paint in over the recumbent bodies of various passed out drunks.

The steam clock still steams, and the statue of Gassy Jack still presides. The Mews are under construction again, and there is no shortage of predictable Canada souvenirs or vastly overpriced native crafts ... I suppose the artists don't think that they are overpriced, but they'd sell 5 times as many if they halved the cost. I don't even go in to those places at this point because there is nothing but shopper sadness. I prefer to look at the good stuff in museums where it is not for sale.

The boundary between Gastown and skid row is as fine as ever. Ghoulish street people travel by twos and threes ... vaguely threatening. Lots and lots of native people, and lots of native references in signage and institutions. I know of no enclave of successful native people, but which I mean that the successful are dispersed while the unsuccessful are concentrated. It seems very sad. Vancouver's skid row has long been a trope in Canadian life, and the trope still matches the reality. Remember, this is the place where the pig farmer preyed upon and murdered dozens of prostitutes for years and nobody wanted to notice ... serial killing seems so bloody American.

Chinatown by my inexpert observation seems less integrated into the supervening locality than its match in San Francisco. I hear virtually no English spoken by apparently Chinese people as I wandered about. I also noted my almost total invisibility ... it is a mark of the non-acculturated Chinese immigrants that they can completely ignore anyone non-Chinese ... my friend and host AW, of Chinese background, affirms my observation. I remember shopping in Chinatown in the 70s ... it seems so unchanged.

I spent a few moments and a double espresso in what used to be the Vancouver Vocational Institute, now Vancouver Community College ... I hold a certificate in Graphic Arts from there. The interior is unrecognizable. I thought of my dear Dodge who is out of town ... we spent two fun filled years in the basement of this place learning the printing trade. Dodge ... I dont even think they have a printing program any more. We should mount an outraged alum protest ... Bring back the dying trades NOW!

And then a half an hour in MacLeod's Books, one of my favorite bookstores then, and now again now.

MacLeod's Books

I gotta bag it ... just exhausted ... have a lunch at noon at the Emily Carr School of Fine Arts, so I think I have a little time in the morning to finish this.

Photos by Arod.

Blogging Vancouver: Quick Hits

This place on Hastings Street near Main was in operation and patronized by the self-consciously cool, myself among them, when I lived here in the 70s

Just some impressions before I get to the day's business of rambling about my wanderings. Impressions derive from what walks in front of your eyes, and they are not the same as studies. I make no claim other than this is what walked in front of my eyes.

There are a lot of sushi shops in this town ... take out, quick and dirty, moderately priced, and sooper-dooper expensive. Everywhere you turn, from the comfortable West End to rough and tumble Chinatown to the vast multiethnic reaches of Burnaby and New Westminster. Sushi everywhere. And hardly any nail shops.

The ethnic mix is very evident, especially for someone who last lived here in the 70s. Lots of East Asians and South Asians, but rather few Mexicans in evidence. Virtually no blacks, and lots of Indians, or First Nations as Canada prefers. I heard Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, what I presume was Hindi. I did hear Spanish once, and it was Mexican, not European.

But one distinct impression was that there were lots of young white working class guys ... boots and outdoor work clothes caked with mud and the like. Where I live in California, I do not see this very often. Construction sites are predominantly Latino, and you virtually never seen young white guys. When they built the new over-sized house next to where I live in San Francisco, there were two young Irish foremen, any number of Asian contractors, and all the unskilled labor was Latino. One particularly stunning example of young white male working class beauty was splayed out on the SkyTrain, shirt unbuttoned alarmingly low revealing a chiselled clipped-hairy chest, listening to noise-cancelling Sony headphones and taking a cell call. He got out at New Westminster, and so did I, though not, I promise, to follow him.

On another matter, Canadians avoid eye contact. I know that, but it always strikes me when I return.

Lastly, all the parking garages appear to have an unnatural concern with thieves ... warning signs everywhere. I quite like the one above.

In Gastown

Photos by Arod.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Blogging Vancouver: Wreck Beach, the Rain, the Horizon

Some weeks ago, I decided to spend this Sunday in a long ramble from Jerrico Beach through Spanish Banks and then to Acadia Beach whence I would climb up to encounter the Arthur Erickson creation that is the Museum of Anthropology (MOA). I also planned on there being a steady cold drizzle. Nothing disappointed. What a sublime afternoon.

As most anyone knows, nostalgia is like virginity ... much better once one is only remembering. When I was a mere youth in my early 20s, cycling and wandering about in the rain here had meaning and depth that I can only taste on the wind. Today I focused on that visceral remembering, that hint of the virginal, the smirk and warmth of being where you have been even if you are not there now.

The trek grows steadily less civilized. It starts in the staid and self-satisfied urbanite enclaves of Point Grey, passing that most staid of all institutions that can waggle its nose at Pacific air, the Vancouver Yacht Club. I felt the faceless disdain as I walked by, and I remembered how that undermined me when I was young.

Lots of dogs, and dog people. Canadians do not acknowledge you as you pass. I know this, but it always comes as a surprise. I am a hello person; it makes me feel good. I say hello on a wet windy beach to other of the rain-soaked. We share something, a common joy in the uncommon enjoment of being wet and cold. But it is rare to get their eyes, so there are few hellos.

Jerrico Beach is civilized. Then, Spanish Banks has been tamed, but it is further and wilder. The latter part of it has been let go to the dogs, even down to the beach itself. There are lots of signs, but even so, I felt free, as if Loki and I could put down roots in a place like this.

At each moment, though, I am free to turn to the right and gaze on the grey horizon. (Thanks for the inspiration for this photo to Hiroshi Sugimoto, ... since I saw his work, I shall always shoot wet gray horizons.) Rain in my face, slowly dampening through, my hair drenched, but my feet dry and warm. Stare at the horizon and think of how many drops of rain between me and there. Remember I am here, and I will not be here when I think of it again, as I have not been here all these years as I have remembered being here.

Spanish Banks gives way to Acadia Beach as the road climbs up and out of access. I do not remember this stretch of beach being called Acadia Beach. We called everything past Spanish Banks by the name of Wreck Beach, and we tended to access it by cycling to the top, which is UBC, and then climbing down what I now know to be Trail 6. But more than once, I walked the length of Wreck Beach from where Spanish Banks cedes, where it turns from kept and sandy to unkept and rocky, from where stumps are cleared to where the beach becomes by turns passable and impassable. Now I am no longer in Vancouver ... I am on the west coast of British Columbia.

I picked my way slowly, and marveled. I could not help but feel at home, that this is where I am from, even if I only endured the drizzle of Vancouver for six years, while I have luxuriated in the fog of San Francisco for half my life, for almost 27 years. I labored not to think about work, but thought about the past and the future, and tried to bend my mind just to being here.

Sometimes the light waves of a drizzly day crescendo, and as they retreat, the rocks rattle and crackle like a calypso band. Sometimes there are forest paths that skirt the rocky shore and the sound is muffled and squishy. Sometimes there are waterfalls, and I crane to listen and comprehend the babble.

It does not matter how wet I am, and I am wet, very wet. When I find the path of 390 steps, Trail 4, that leads to the MOA, I am not disappointed because I understand that remembering implies the knowledge of the fleeting. No point in remembering that which does not disappear.

Photos by Arod.

Blogging Vancouver: Nighttime Tomfoolery

Let's do this in reverse.

So, after the interminable trailers and loud commercials, we settled in to watch Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Given the reviews, I was not expecting much. The visuals were, by halves, great ... that is to say, when the movie was not mucking around in the uninteresting details of Bess, the lady in waiting, there were some nice scenes. Pity that they were historically so feeble. As Frobisher pointed out, she did not live a church. I do not believe that she ever dressed up like Joan of Arc in armor on a horse and gave a speech to the troops waiting to be slaughtered by the Spanish. Mary's execution, so dramatic in the film, was actually botched and they hacked her head of with multiple blows. And the notion that Walter Raleigh single-handedly fired a ship and then jumped into the English Channel presumably to swim back to shore safely is laughable. And whether old Queen Bess was an emtionl wreck or not is not nearly as interesting as how she managed to rule for so long and with such success.

So historical inaccuracy is only part of what drives me nuts. I think history is drama enough, and mucking up with tawdry love affairs and feelings of betrayal just makes it so ... so cheap. Now why would anyone want to make a film cheap? The answer is in the hideous experience of going to a multiplex.

Now they have multiplexes all over the place, and I did not need to come to Vancouver to endure one. But dear Frobisher and AW, my hosts, are more socialized than I am, and they not only knew about the movie's location, but also how to get there, and what to do when we got there. I'll skip the parking garage nightmare on Burrard Street. But how can I skip the pigsty aesthetics of the multiplex ... garbage everywhere, cheap architecture gussied up to pretend to more than it is, broken toilets, sullen unkempt staff. And rackety customers. Cranky!

But that is par for the course. What really boiled me was the endless trailers. We got there early on the theory that the show would be sold out. So we saw every bleeding one of the things, as well as ads for toothpaste and monster trucks, exhortations not to pirate movies and to throw your garbage out. By the advertised start time, we'd had our fill ... but, noooooo ... 15 more minutes of this endless captive torture. No wonder I avoid movie theaters like the plague. Yes, very cranky.

I suppose part of the crankiness was in response to a rather bad Greek meal at one Simpatico's on 4th Avenue that advertises itself as purveyors of cuisine in the Greco-Roman tradition ... just what would that be, now? I suppose it means carelessly prepared Greek food and substandard pizza on the same menu. I can only guess about the pizza, but my souvlaki was fast-food good, AW declined to eat his calamari dinner, and Frobisher choked his way through a couple of vinegary appetizers. The not-very-Greek waitress didn't like us ... we were obviously not going to drop a bunch of money and get drunk and leave a big tip. At least she moved us through the experience at a fast rate.

Greek food comes in two types, with no room in between ... good and bad. The good is prepared with care with good ingredients ... funny, that ... and the bad is based on the assumption that if you paint the palce blue and say "retsina" once in a while, people will eat anything. The worst restaurant meal of my life was in a Greek place in Amsterdam. Last night, the good Greek place had a line out the door. So we ended up Simpatico. Worse than we bargained for.

But other than all that, it was a fine evening ... good company with no end of the ribald sarcasm for which we hold ourselves famous ... we did shut up for the movie, though, but that is only because we are Canadian-polite

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Blogging Vancouver: Nostalgia in the Drizzle

The Warren G. Harding Memorial in Stanley Park

Headed out early in a steady cold drizzle ... just what I bargained for. I had breakfast at a fabulous breakfasterie on 4th Avenue, Sophie's Cosmic Café. Oodles of Canadian politesse accompanied by a menu that pointedly states that they do not take special requests ... the diner should constrain himself to choose from the ample menu provided. Regardless, I asked for a side of Chorizo and got it with a ready "of course." This was the one place on 4th Avenue that I could identify as reminiscent of Kitsilano's old function as the heartland of Canadian hippiedom late into the 70s. When I arrived in Vancouver in 1974, GATE (the Gay Alliance Toward Equality) was having its meetings at the Mental People's Association on Yew near 4th in Kits. My first boyfriend at the time, the "fan lady as Maurice called him, and Jamie Hart as I called him, lived in Kitsilano with a bunch of straight guys. Jamie was still pretending, not to very good effect, that he was straight. Once he came out, he drove the straight guys out. Jamie ended up on Toronto as a film costumer, but he too is gone.

The Burrard Street Bridge from English Bay Beach

After breakfast, back into the drizzle for a long ramble across the Burrard Bridge, along English Bay, down Denman Street, then into Stanley Park via Nelson Street, and around Stanley Park which I will describe below, before emerging on the north side, wandering through Coal Harbor, and then meandering back to Davie Street via Granville, and then home. On my feet for eight and a half hours, so one tuckered out ole fag here. Still, gotta get this written because Frobisher, his lover AW, and I are heading out for Greek food and an English movie shortly.

For me, a returnee after three decades living abroad, there are two Vancouvers now. There is the one that is still vaguely recognizable and there is a giant gleaming spaceship that has landed in the middle of the old town and, despite its evident dynamism, is utterly alien. I'll try to write more on how I see the new Vancouver on another occasion, but today is for the nostaliga.

English Bay Beach from the Burrard Street Bridge

Walking along English Bay on the south side of the West End is old Vancouver, essentially the same, a little cleaned up, a few more signs with annoying instructions. There are a lot of signs indicating that the maximum fine for not doing with your dog as the sign says is $2000. No one seemed to be paying a lot of attention. Lots of rainwear clad walkers, mostly middle aged. Not as many dogs as you might expect, and most of those were labs and a few huskies. People playing some sort of souped up soccer. The sound of tiny waves washing ashore. Birds crying and swooping. Very clean. I walked very slowly right along the shore, climbing gingerly over the boulders as necessary. It is not that I cannot readily vault over boulders, but I am much more loathe to risk the pain of a slip than I might have been 27 years ago when I lived here.

[sidebar ... I have a charming neighbor's cat interfering with my typing here at Frobisher's kitchen table. I am allergic to cats, but still love them, and I enjoy having a little bit of rare feline company. She likes to rub her gums on the edge of my laptop and parade across the keyboard.]

So the walk along English Bay was as leisurely and pleasurable as it has ever been. I had a little business to do on Denman Street, which is just like it always was only more so .... little shops, Greek restaurants ranging from take out to sit down, coffe here, there, and everywhere, little shops selling frivolities and paper products and obscure fashions. Lots of rainbow flags.

And Stanley Park was almost just like old times. Except that it has suffered a terrible calamity and lost hundreds of trees. I still know the park like the back of my hand and only got turned around once today, while looking for the Warren Harding memorial which I will describe below. But I only saw a few spots where the trees had evidently been felled by the windstorm that did all the damage, although I did not venture to Third Beach which bore the brunt of the storm.

I saw a Great Blue heron just standing there. And a bunch of raccoons. And a swan up close and as personal as one wants to get with swans. And then I headed over the Pedestrian/Equestrian bridge, over which I must have cycled a thousand times in the rain, on my way to Beaver Lake where Gary's ashes were distributed. It is a sad fact in the life of many of us who lost hordes of friends to the plague that we participated in all manner of illegal ashes-scatterings. For me, there were two in Stanley Park. For a long while, Beaver Lake was choked with some sort of invasive weed, but it was realtively clear and beautiful in the rain today. I hung out a long while, as the drizzle intensified. Sad, of course, but at peace and trying to focus on thinking about Gary and what we made together in Vancouver.

Beaver Lake

I guess it is a bit indulgent to be nostalgic on a vacation when one should be charging the mind. So I thought I would get all the moping out of the way on the first day, and the drizzle certainly helped. After I left Beaver Lake, I managed by following my nose to find a little hidden nook in the trees where I often used to go to be alone, sometimes by myself and sometimes with someone else. I first encountered my friend Tom Buhr at that spot, and I sat there for a while and thought of him.

Then I meandered along the seawall, through the now evidently defunct zoo, and after a few false starts found myself at the weird memorial to Warren G. Harding who died in San Francisco shortly after visiting Vancouver. There was some suggestion that he died of food poisoning from a meal here, but we hardly want to credit that. Some think his wife murdered him. It is irrelevant to me because his demise produced this fabulous monument with its great bronze eagles that one can caress. My friend Robin Simpson loved them, and before his death had a miniature bronze likeness cast for donation to the American Uniform Association (AUA) to which both he and I belonged ... the AUA is now defunct, and I wonder what happened to that statue ... I ache to own it. Robin contrived, successfully, to have his friends bury his ashes at the Warren Harding memorial, and I visited him there again today. (Click here for a little background on the sculptor and history of this weird lacuna.)

The Banffshire, hardly visible, is nestled at the bottom, between the two towers on the right

And after that, I left the park to look for the Banffshire where Robin, and Gary and I, and Dodge, and sundry others, had apartments. Leaving the park on the north side is where the old Vancouver ends and the spaceship Vancouver starts. When I lived here, Coal Harbor was dingy and rundown and a working place with fishing vessels and tugs and pontoon planes. I remember once my Aunt Brenda visited with mother, and I knew a fisherman at that point who offered to show them around his boat. Brenda, who loves shoes, had on a pair of truly impractical "pumps" (or some such thing ... I don't know shoes), nd that fisherman was so happy to have to assist her up the gangplank. No one in fancy shoes needs help in Coal Harbor any more. The fishing vessels are still here, but surrounded by massive yachts and, on land, a forest of exquisite high rises, nearly all with green tinted glass, that obviously command obscene prices for what is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular urban vistas on the planet. Snuggled in the middle of all that is the Banffshire, slowly disappearing, probably almost never in direct sun. Nostalgia indeed.

The rest of the walk was wending my way back through the West End looking for a flash card reader (I found it) and reasonably priced wine (I found wine, but the prices are ludicrous). When we get back from dinner and the movie, I will try to write about Davie Street, but for now, there it is ... a warming walk through the past and the drizzle. Love this city.

Photos by Arod.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Blogging Vancouver

Ah, at long last, I have a vacation. Last full week off was in January in the bitter cold climes of Eastern Ontario. My job provides me with 20 days of vacation a year, plus four other personal days, so that is plenty good. But actually taking vacation is necessary for it to be enjoyed.

So here I sit in my old friend "Frobisher's" kitchen in Kitsilano. Hitherto, I have identified Frobisher as IM, but he ... by his own admission "sarcastically" ... invites me to call him Frobisher. I think it sound a little like an eager wet black Lab, but he thinks it sounds like an intrepid explorer hacking his way cross-country in the far ago past, looking to discover some great river to the Pacific.

Frobisher demands that I note that we had real genuine bagels ... made the old fashioned way by boiling and baking in a stone oven here at Siegel's Bagels ... with Winnipeg cream cheese and lox, and a homemade soy cappuccino. That, along with the welcome drizzle, was quite a hello.

I am looking forward to blogging a trip. (My friend LB at his Downstairs at NoeHill blog has written fascinating travelogues about his trips to Amsterdam, and I think you would be repaid with a fascinating read for a visit.) In the past, I have written to myself about various trips, but there is no publication pressure, and these little logs tended to be incomplete and fragmented. Blogging, like photography, makes you observe in a different way. That is to say writing for an audience ... no matter how opaque to the writer and accidental by way of the medium and tiny by comparison to the vastness of humanity ... enforces a different set of strictures than writing for yourself. Art, or craft, or just trying, starts with the strictures.

Blogging also means that I will have to try to do more than just wander about and mull over matters of the world.

Two notes: the International part of Vancouver airport is alone worth the trip. Amazing public architecture. I will try to get to the airport early on the way out next Thursday to do it more photographic justice. And the book that I am reading on this vacation is Jack Weatherford's Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. If I manage to finish that, I will take up with Joy Carroll's Wolfe and Montcalm: Their Lives, Their Times, and the Fate of a Continent.

With the regard to the first book, this is what it is like being one pedant in a 33-year friendship with another pedant. I said "Genghis" with a hard "G". Much conversation and one rather ancient dictionary later, Frobisher had established that it is "Jenghiz" with a "J". Now I will never know which way to go, so I think I will call him Mr. Khan, in the style of the New York Times.

Photo by Arod.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Stillborn God

I promised a while back to lay down Stephen O'Shea's exciting recounting of muslim/christian relations around the Mediterranean from the 7th through the 16th centuries to dive into Mark Lilla's recent The Stillborn God. During my "hiatus", I did just that ... well, at least half ways. (Click here for all my posts which have discussed this book.)

Half ways because I just had to give it up on page 124 of 309 pages of labored prose. I can say this for the book ... its turgidity is more annoying than its turbity ... by which I mean that it is more bloated than muddy, but not by much. This is the classic case of a modern book that any competent editor could readily reduce to a two-part New Yorker essay. Lilla indulges far too much meandering reminding his readers of introductory college humanities stuff that, he assumes, we have forgotten somewhere between spouse number two and SUV number three. But a tiresome review of the commonplaces of intellectual history is the least of the problems.

I suppose some sense of the impulse to completion will force me back to this annoying prose. But this is what stopped me in my tracks ... the Vicar is Rousseau's apologist for a de-theologized, or natural, religion in the famous parable in his Emile:

The Vicar's faith is not the Christian faith. But neither is it opposed to Christianity. That was what was so revolutionary ...

Revolutionary, indeed. Rousseau was exiled for this piece of writing, but I would assert that it was not because it was revolutionary but rather because it was an argument in the character of its times that threatened the perquisites of the cynical theologues who had the power to exile him. But in the grander scheme of things, this is precisely the apology for religion that allows the desperate to cling to it even in the face of "death of god." This was not atheism, but a pseudo-theism that allowed atheists to pretend to believe in god.

Early on in this blog, in the context of the good lord taking poor ole Jerry Falwell to his reward, I argued that there are three types of the religious: the earnest, the desperate, and the cynical. The Vicar's argument is the classic statement of how the desperate should interpret religion, how they too can join in.

Lilla's point in the long run is that secularists have to understand the mindset of the religious, and this is without doubt completely and totally obvious. But it hardly justifies forcing good secularists to plunk down $26 and hours of their free time to read through a turgid reiteration of "natural religion" arguments whose validity expired with the power of the Church to burn us alive, or leastwise chase us from our homes and livelihoods.

The straw man nature of Lilla's argument rears up even in the introduction ... the man seems to love cheap rhetorical tricks such as broadly obvious lines disguised as insight:

Fragility is a disturbing prospect. We see this in our children, who love fairy tales where occult forces threatening their worlds are exposed and mastered.

Good lord, children, fairy tales. But then he slides, as if the critical reader is blind to the obvious conflation, to describing "modernization, democratization, the 'disenchantment of the world,' 'history as the story of liberty'" as the fairy tales of our times. This is a set-up, a con job. Once you adopt this self-righteous dismissal of the themes of modern western civilization as mere fairy tales, there is not point in reading the rest of the book ... just skip to the mushy conclusion.

I guess this is as far as I can get tonight on this piece ... tired and back-sore. I am always annoyed by liberals ... secularists, if you will ... who feel compelled to interpret the idiocy of religion in a warm, fuzzy light. Religion was once ineluctable, unavoidable. It is now a curse. We need to find a way to obviate it, not to re-invest in it.

Call things by their real names.

I'll try to get back to hashing this book up on another, hopefully more lucid, occasion.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Can't sleep. Woke up bolt awake at 4:30 and eventually gave up trying.

Weird that I wrote the 100-post post and then somehow did not write for 10 days. Don't really know why. Let's call it a hiatus.

I had periodontic surgery on Thursday ... the first stage of three implants to replace molars (3, 13, and 30, just to be transparent) that abandoned me over the years. My friend IM says that we are privileged to live in a period in between the invention of modern dentistry and the complete collapse of the ecosystem. True. That said, I've been vaguely nauseous ever since. I think it might be the potent antibiotic they gave me ... Clindamycin ... gawd nose. I took a Vicodin the first night after the surgery and had violent dreams all night, tossing and turning. I think Vicodin is not for me. My mouth still hurts a little too, notwithstanding all the Ibuprofen. But, still, I am ecstatic to be down this road ... three more months and there will be crowns on the posts, and I will have only the allotted seven holes in my head.

Meanwhile, my alma mater, Cal, blew a shot at being the number one college football team in the last play of the game when the first-time starting quarterback ran instead of passing, and the clock expired. No miracle tying last play field goal. No number one. Why?

Why, indeed. Why do I watch sports when it has this ability to drag you through a ringer as soon as you care. And I don't even care about football. Watched most of an old-fashioned shootout Saturday night between San Jose State and the impossibly hunky Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan. He was once a bad boy ... got drunk and invaded some girl's dorm room. In some quarters that means he can never be forgiven ... forgiving is so yesterday in American society, both right and left. I didn't care who won, so the game was fun. Watching Cal lose was agonizing. Maybe that's why I can't sleep ... and, if so, that is twisted, man.

"MRU", where I work, managed to pull defeat out of the jaws of victory, although I did not watch the game. This, the week after they knocked off number one themselves. I suppose that tells any alert reader exactly what MRU is.

I'm leaving for Vancouver on Friday for 6 days ... looking forward to my first shot at blogging travel. That should make up for today's little woes, notwithstanding that my great old friend Dodge will be out of town when I am there. O, woe, the travails we have to put up with in this era between dentistry and disaster.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


This is post 100! Writing this blog has been a deeper and more expansive experience than I could have imagined ... just as fulfilling, frankly, but more challenging than what I thought it would be. I promised myself only two limits regarding content when I started ... nothing that would lose me a job that I wanted and nothing that my mother would call disgusting ... and I think I have stayed within those bounds. But actually writing the thing raises an array of shifting micro-limits that I have to consider one by one as they arise. That turns out to be one of those expansive experiences.

As I re-read posts, I am probably a little too often cranky by say a third. I keep thinking that I should have more puppy-dog posts ... writing in the line of, "Jeez, aren't puppies cute." But cute as puppies may be, extolling their cuteness is boring for me and likely my reader. That raises another issue ... I promised myself that I would write this for myself. If others read it, that is great. But if I write with a dominant view to attracting others, then I lose myself and the challenges that make this sort of activity rewarding.

But a dichotomy like that ... writing for yourself versus for a putative audience ... is really a bit of a fraud, especially for someone who styles himself a lit-crit, if not perhaps brassy enough to call himself a literary critic. There is always an imagined audience ... I would assert that there is an imagined audience for a day dreamer snoozing in the sun imagining life on Mars in some fantastic future. I have been just such a day dreamer, and I have more than once interrupted my musings to imagine what kind of audience I have secretly constructed.

So too with a blog. I use a tool called Site Meter which gives me some data on how people get to my site. By far and away the one search term that outnumbers all other is the poor sod who was stoned to death by the bloodthirsty mullahs of Iran ... I'm not going to name him, because I want people who google his name to find my pointed comments. I had one today from Oman. No comments, though.

In fact, not very many bloody comments at all. A number of friends email me or discuss posts in person. I kind of expected enraged religionists to periodically condemn me to hell ... but, o well. Beware what you ask for. We know how bloodthirsty the believers can get.

I went to a forum today at MRU ... remember that MRU is Major Research University, which stands in for the major research university at which I toil. The head of the libraries talked about new endeavors in the digital humanities. He's quite a speaker ... a little rotund, white hair, a bow tie, and a tweed jacket ... but dropping technoid terminology with the same aplomb as only a decade ago a like man would have dropped some then-zinger-now-turgid terminology such as "crosscultural" or "polysemic" or "semiotician" or "seme." The curious thing about the power of technology is that it is re-privileging those who stand for content. I think that there are two new exploding forms of content on the web. This blog is part of a redefinition of what is current, and the exploding digital humanities cyberinfrastructure is part of the redefintion of how you research things, how you look things up. The danger is that the "australopithecines" of the ilk of Comcast and Microsoft and what-not, fearing the explosion of real content, manage to substitute empty piffle that makes them money ... yes, that battle seems lost. But every blog and every digitized book is a spit in the eye to those folks.

Getting a little lost here ... pause while I go search for some photos.

Back now. Another great treat in writing the blog has been to parade out a bunch of the kooky photographs that I like to take. I take dozens, even hundreds of photos every day, and I have slowly become accustomed to killing the ones that do not work. The photo above is from a mystery book store near UCSF, and the one at the top of this post is from one of the new French public toilets that provide relief and, by report, a comfortable place for junkies to shoot up. Ah, the joys of a liberal city. But the guy pictured seems one of the better sort of new San Franciscan, notwithstanding the goody-two-shoes entreaty to volunteer.

Whoops, getting cranky. And that is how I will end this little self-congratulation. I always regret the overly cranky posts ... not so much because I do or do not agree with them, as because throwing a public hissy fit is so uncouth. I feel bad about dumping yesterday on fat midwestern tourists ...I should be happy that I live in a city that tourists feel they should feel. I like the tourists ... I like them because they leave a lot of money here, because they tend to stay in their designated districts, what I call spaceship tourism, and because just often enough they provide a little non-local eye candy. Now as to the 'burbanite real estate monsters ... we'd be better off without them, but who am I to say? Who indeed.

So 100 posts ... I'll try to be less cranky and focus more on content. Try, try, try.

Photos by Arod.

Monday, October 01, 2007


One-game playoff between the Rockies and the Padres for a spot in the playoffs. I can't stand the Rockies ... partly because they have risen above their lot in life as permanent basement dwellers in a year when the sainted Giants are, well, basement dwellers .... and partly because they are the one team in baseball that has more or less openly embraced the notion of sports as Christianity in action ... I kid you not. I like the Padres because I spent two short vacations in San Diego and had a fine time. I'd hate both of 'em if the Giants were in contention.

Anyway, just back from dinner in the other room, tied 6-6 in the bottom of the 11th. Baseball, sweet baseball.

I contrived yesterday to get home from a day of running around reading in odd places and doing the week's designated shopping in time to catch the closeout from Kruk and Kuip, the Giants' great announcers. Horrible season notwithstanding the Bonds drama. I'll probably remember it more for watching the sublime sunset of Omar Vizquel and the sweet sunrise of young Tim Lincecum. The joy of baseball is not only in the winning, because winning for any given team, in an ultimate sense, is very rare. I know that Yankees' fans believe that they are entitled to it, and that is what gives everyone else such gurgling pleasure when the Yankees fail. I can only hope that their skulking into the playoffs by the wild card route is a prelude to a collapse that will make them once again beat their breasts and prance around like captive and gelded lions.

But notwithstanding the joys of watching the game, a year of a storied team stinking it up as the Giants have done is just about enough. I have written in support of Bonds, but here is an article that takes a darker view. Sorry to be a wimp, but I agree with it even without retracting my own sunnier pose here or here or here or here. I want a team next year that runs and plays with emotion. This can be a tired town, effervescent only insofar as it bubbles over in sloppy praise for itself. I think that Giants management has tended to make teams that play to that dynamic. Let's go the other way. Let's pretend we are youthful as we were in the several storied epics of San Francisco history ... the 49ers, the post-war era, the beat, the hippies, the gay revolution. Nothing going on here now but high-fructose-corn-syrup-slurping midwesterners in Chinese-made clothing crowding around Fisherman's Wharf imagining that they are bathing in a history that is, in point of fact, alien to everything they have been led to believe that they ought to believe in. Nothing going on here except self-absorbed should-be 'burbanites spending vast wads of filthy lucre that they do not really own on real estate that will shortly bankrupt them ... and ruining a great city in the process.

Let's at least have a baseball team. Let's at least have a baseball team that is better than those prayerful teetotalling poseurs from Denver. Lets's at least have a baseball team that does better than the Dodgers.