Roughing It

ON SAN FRANCISCO CLIMATE:
San Francisco, a truly fascinating city to live in, is stately and handsome at a fair distance, but close at hand one notes that the architecture is mostly old-fashioned, many streets are made up of decaying, smoke-grimed, wooden houses, and the barren sand-hills toward the outskirts obtrude themselves too prominently. Even the kindly climate is sometimes pleasanter when read about than personally experienced, for a lovely, cloudless sky wears out its welcome by and by, and then when the longed for rain does come it stays. Even the playful earthquake is better contemplated at a dis —
However there are varying opinions about that.
The climate of San Francisco is mild and singularly equable. The thermometer stands at about seventy degrees the year round. It hardly changes at all. You sleep under one or two light blankets Summer and Winter, and never use a mosquito bar. Nobody ever wears Summer clothing. You wear black broadcloth — if you have it — in August and January, just the same. It is no colder, and no warmer, in the one month than the other. You do not use overcoats and you do not use fans. It is as pleasant a climate as could well be contrived, take it all around, and is doubtless the most unvarying in the whole world. The wind blows there a good deal in the summer months, but then you can go over to Oakland, if you choose — three or four miles away — it does not blow there. It has only snowed twice in San Francisco in nineteen years, and then it only remained on the ground long enough to astonish the children, and set them to wondering what the feathery stuff was.
During eight months of the year, straight along, the skies are bright and cloudless, and never a drop of rain falls. But when the other four months come along, you will need to go and steal an umbrella. Because you will require it. Not just one day, but one hundred and twenty days in hardly varying succession. When you want to go visiting, or attend church, or the theatre, you never look up at the clouds to see whether it is likely to rain or not — you look at the almanac. If it is Winter, it will rain — and if it is Summer, it won’t rain, and you cannot help it. You never need a lightning-rod, because it never thunders and it never lightens. And after you have listened for six or eight weeks, every night, to the dismal monotony of those quiet rains, you will wish in your heart the thunder would leap and crash and roar along those drowsy skies once, and make everything alive — you will wish the prisoned lightnings would cleave the dull firmament asunder and light it with a blinding glare for one little instant. You would give anything to hear the old familiar thunder again and see the lightning strike somebody. And along in the Summer, when you have suffered about four months of lustrous, pitiless sunshine, you are ready to go down on your knees and plead for rain — hail — snow-thunder and lightning — anything to break the monotony — you will take an earthquake, if you cannot do any better. And the chances are that you’ll get it, too.
San Francisco is built on sand hills, but they are prolific sand hills. They yield a generous vegetation. All the rare flowers which people in “the States” rear with such patient care in parlor flower-pots and green-houses, flourish luxuriantly in the open air there all the year round. Calla lilies, all sorts of genaniums, passion flowers, moss roses — I do not know the names of a tenth part of them. I only know that while New Yorkers are burdened with banks and drifts of snow, Californians are burdened with banks and drifts of flowers, if they only keep their hands off and let them grow. And I have heard that they have also that rarest and most curious of all the flowers, the beautiful Espiritu Santo, as the Spaniards call it — or flower of the Holy Spirit — though I thought it grew only in Central America — down on the Isthmus. In its cup is the daintiest little fac-simile of a dove, as pure as snow. The Spaniards have a superstitious reverence for it. The blossom has been conveyed to the States, submerged in ether; and the bulb has been taken thither also, but every attempt to make it bloom after it arrived, has failed.
I have elsewhere spoken of the endless Winter of Mono, California, and but this moment of the eternal Spring of San Francisco. Now if we travel a hundred miles in a straight line, we come to the eternal Summer of Sacramento. One never sees Summer-clothing or mosquitoes in San Francisco — but they can be found in Sacramento. Not always and unvaryingly, but about one hundred and forty-three months out of twelve years, perhaps. Flowers bloom there, always, the reader can easily believe — people suffer and sweat, and swear, morning, noon and night, and wear out their stanchest energies fanning themselves. It gets hot there, but if you go down to Fort Yuma you will find it hotter. Fort Yuma is probably the hottest place on earth. The thermometer stays at one hundred and twenty in the shade there all the time — except when it varies and goes higher. It is a U.S. military post, and its occupants get so used to the terrific heat that they suffer without it. There is a tradition (attributed to John Phenix*) that a very, very wicked soldier died there, once, and of course, went straight to the hottest corner of perdition, — and the next day he telegraphed back for his blankets. There is no doubt about the truth of this statement — there can be no doubt about it. I have seen the place where that soldier used to board. In Sacramento it is fiery Summer always, and you can gather roses, and eat strawberries and ice-cream, and wear white linen clothes, and pant and perspire, at eight or nine o’clock in the morning, and then take the cars, and at noon put on your furs and your skates, and go skimming over frozen Donner Lake, seven thousand feet above the valley, among snow banks fifteen feet deep, and in the shadow of grand mountain peaks that lift their frosty crags ten thousand feet above the level of the sea.
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ON MORMONS:
ALL men have heard of the Mormon Bible, but few except the “elect” have seen it, or, at least, taken the trouble to read it. I brought away a copy from Salt Lake. The book is a curiosity to me, it is such a pretentious affair, and yet so “slow,” so sleepy; such an insipid mess of inspiration. It is chloroform in print. If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle — keeping awake while he did it was, at any rate. If he, according to tradition, merely translated it from certain ancient and mysteriously-engraved plates of copper, which he declares he found under a stone, in an out-of-the-way locality, the work of translating was equally a miracle, for the same reason.
The book seems to be merely a prosy detail of imaginary history, with the Old Testament for a model; followed by a tedious plagiarism of the New Testament. The author labored to give his words and phrases the quaint, old-fashioned sound and structure of our King James’s translation of the Scriptures; and the result is a mongrel — half modern glibness, and half ancient simplicity and gravity. The latter is awkward and constrained; the former natural, but grotesque by the contrast. Whenever he found his speech growing too modern — which was about every sentence or two — he ladled in a few such Scriptural phrases as “exceeding sore,” “and it came to pass,” etc., and made things satisfactory again. “And it came to pass” was his pet. If he had left that out, his Bible would have been only a pamphlet.

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The Art of Travel

A refreshing look at travelling, comparing expectations to reality, travel aided by literature and art. The last chapter (most fresh to my mind) dealt in realizing the beauty around your everyday life, insisting that you need not travel far (merely outside your front door) to be entertained by new thoughts and things you’d not noticed out of habit.
De Botton travels to Barbados, Amsterdam, Egypt (via Flaubert’s writings and life), Sinai desert, the English countryside, Madrid, Provence, and his neighborhood block. He interspersed several relevant pictures and paintings between pages of words.
The best travel book I’ve yet read.

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Journals

Oh, Courtney. Why do you release your husband’s very private journals to the public for a buck? I unabashedly devoured these unique journals, presented in Kurt’s own handwriting complete with doodles and cartoons. The journal pages were color photocopied into the pages of this book. The first page was a simple plea from Kurt ” Don’t read my diary when I’m gone” “Ok, I’m going to work now, when you wake up this morning, please read my diary. Look through my things, and figure me out.”

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Maiden Voyage

This is one that the weathered gent in Baja recommended, after brainwashing me into thinking I needed to join the seafaring life.
Tania sailed in a 26′ sailboat around the globe in 2.5 years, with the longest non-stop stretch being the trip across the Atlantic back to New York (48 days). Along the way she makes friends who impart sailing wisdom and advice, which was necessary for Tania, who had never sailed a boat alone. The trip was a challenge from her father, who bought her the boat in lieu of college tuition, and as she set sail at age 18 to cross the globe. The intended goal was to become the youngest woman to circumnavigate the globe alone. This record eluded her, as she gave a friend a ride for 80 miles through the South Pacific, discounting the thousands of miles spent alone on the seas. Her constant companions were her cats, and a Swiss chap she met along the way, who sailed along with her to Malta. Tania’s plan was to write articles along the way to help pay for her travels. Judging from the book, not many articles were written, as every time she put pen to paper, she had writers’ block. After many dispiriting emergencies, her father would fly to her aid (in Sri Lanka, and Gibraltar) with new equipment, including new sails, radar, solar panels, electrical equipment.
The writing itself was average; Tania cannot simply say “cloudy skies”, but instead “skies heavy with cloud,” and other such distasteful murmurings. I believe her writing style was influenced by her choice of reading material; she preferred spy stories and romance novels to the weightier classics her mother recommended. The injection of Tania’s life story among the details of the sailing adventure became a bit nauseating. I lost interest in how her parent’s divorce created havoc for her adolescence, and snored through stories of her life as a NYC street punk.
Overall, the story itself floated clear of the burden of Tania’s immature writing. Very entertaining reading for the armchair traveller.

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Roughing It

Discusses the stagecoach trip from Missouri to Nevada; lingers in Mormon country for awhile, attacks the text of the Book of Mormon for being hogwash (ripping off the Old testament but adding in modern elements, such as during the Ark rip-off, they had a compass…). Silver mining in Nevada, and living it up in San Francisco; sailing to Hawaii. Contrary to the misattributed quote that “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” Mark Twain actually noted that the weather in SF is 70 degrees year round. (see the reprints page)

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Top Picks of 2002

1. The Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher
2. Being Dead by Jim Crace
3. A House for Mr. Biswas by VS Naipaul
4. Desperate Characters by Paula Fox
5. You Can’t Win by Jack Black
6. Vanity Fair by William Thackeray
7. Into a Desert Place by Graham MacKintosh
8. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
9. The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil
10. The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan
11. The Prime of Miss Jean Brody by Muriel Spark

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David Mamet’s American Buffalo

Smack dab in the middle of the ‘Loin is the Geary Theater. This gem is an old triple decker theater built in 1910 that seats 250-ish people. Tuesday, after a somewhat disappointing dinner at The Slanted Door, we drew ourselves up into our most cultured posture and headed for the Theatre.
With our $10 2nd balcony tickets in hand, we arrived early and toured the lower level. We walked up to the stage and wondered at the abundance of “atmosphere.” American Buffalo is set in a Chicago junk shop, and this stage was crammed with every imaginable item, from bicycle tires to racks of retro-clothing, from banjoes and drum sets to silver do-dads. The furnishings included a well-worn couch, a card table, and a office desk with swivel chair. The most impressive part was the lighting effect- the windows and door allowed in this “natural” sunlight that had me fooled at 8pm at night.
We climbed up to the 2nd balcony and settled in. The lights dimmed, and the magic of acting overtook us. I haven’t been to many plays with professional actors, but every time I’m amazed by the performance. Ok I admit it, I’ve only seen this play and Art, which are incredible plays in and of themselves. But the acting was impassioned, the set design phenomenal, and the audience appreciative. Every detail was worked out with precision. Whenever the door would open, you could hear snippets of Latino ghetto-blasted music. Every so often the place would shake with the passing of the El. When Don was on the phone, you could hear someone on the other line, or the busy signal, or when the phone was knocked off the hook, the incessant beeping. [Speaking of beeping, a much needed reminder to turn off cell phones and pagers boomed out before the show began.]
Matt swore that Teach sounded just like Joe Mantegna, but I didn’t really see it. Teach’s voice boomed, Bobby squealed, and Don sighed. Perhaps this trio will lift me out of my non-theater life by virtue of their virtuosoness. Ah, shut it.

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Books I wanna Read

The wall / Marlen Haushofer
The Lover/Marguerite Duras (french)
Violette Leduc
Basketball Diaries/Jim carroll
A Time to be Born/Dawn Powell
Can you forgive her/Anthony Trollope
personal history/katherine graham
Secret Power by Marie Corelli pub 1921
Greener than you think by Ward Moore, 1947
Working by Studs Terkel
The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved (and the well beloved) by Thomas Hardy
USA by John Dos Passos

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How to Be Alone: essays

Franzen begins to grate on me after awhile. I enjoyed the essay Lost in the Mail about the Chicago post office and its seriously problems (mountains of undelivered mail from years ago to present day, stashed bundles hidden in carriers’ apartments, fires lit with undelivered mail).
Most of the other essays were at least skimmable. I glazed over a couple of times and just had to give up outright on some essays.

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The Man Without Qualities

It was an intelligent country, it housed cultivated people who, like cultivated people all over the globe, ran around in an unsettled state of mind amid a tremendous whirl of noise, speed, innovation, conflict, and whatever goes to make up the optical-acoustical landscape of our lives; like everybody else, they read and heard every day dozens of news items that made their hair stand on end, and were willing to work themselves up over them, even to intervene, but they never got around to it because a few minutes afterward the stimulus had already been displaced in their minds by more recent ones; like everyone else, they felt surrounded by murder, killings, passion, self-sacrifice, and greatness, all somehow going on within the Gordian knot that was forming around them, but they could never break through to these adventures because they were trapped in an office or somewhere, at work, and by evening, when they were free, their unresolved tensions exploded into forms of relaxation that failed to relax them.
******
“Why,” Ulrich thought suddenly, “didn’t I become a pilgrim?” A pure, uncontingent way of life, as piercingly fresh as ozone, presented itself to his senses; whoever cannot say “Yes” to life should at least utter the “No” of the saint. And yet it was simply impossible to consider this seriously. Nor could he see himself becoming an adventurer, though it might feel rather like an everlasting honeymoon, and appealed to his limbs and his temperament. He had not been able to become a poet or one of those disillusioned souls who believe only in money and power, although he had the makings of either. He forgot his age, he imagined he was twenty, but even so, something inside him was just as certain that he could become none of those things; every possibility beckoned him, but something stronger kept him from yielding to the attraction. Why was he living in this dim and undecided fashion? Obviously, he said to himself, what was keeping him spellbound in this aloof and nameless way of life was nothing other than the compulsion to that loosening and binding of the world that is known by a word we do not care to encounter by itself: spirit, or mind. Without knowing why, Ulrich suddenly felt sad, and thought: “I simply don’t love myself.” Within the frozen, petrified body of the city he felt his heart beating in its innermost depths. There was something in him that had never wanted to remain anywhere, had groped its way along the walls of the world, thinking: There are still millions of other walls; it was this slowly cooling, absurd drop “I” that refused to give up its fire, its tiny glowing core.

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Electric Circus

Still I have heard nothing about this album in the mainstream press. Am I looking in the wrong places? Am I just not looking? Hip-hop rock and roll, keyboards everywhere, and a live band. Common, sporting an afro and beard, gets all Hendrix on us, lacing heavy electric guitar, soulful vocals, and live drums into a swatch of hip-hop culture.
Looking at this, Common’s now seems to have switched to the “culture” side of the “divide.” Thank you, Google: Davey D thinks this is nonsense.

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The Perfect Dinner?

baby lettuce with winter fruit and parmesan
tarro and porcini soup
whole thai snapper with white wine, parsley, lemon, anchovies
butternut squash with ……
bottle of 2000 …….rizzou
ah hirsch 16 year old bourbon
homemade cookies (ginerbread, peanut butter, sugar, chocolate/macademia, oatmeal raisin, …)
courtesy Rose Pistola, the day of LZ’s 28th year.