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My heart in San Francisco


Recession-proof Union Square is finally looking a little frayed around the edges. On this visit we saw a number of closed storefronts where there had been businesses before. We also saw scrappy young galleries closer in to the center of things, which says to me that rents are down.

It was spring in Union Square. Can anyone tell me what kind of tree this is?

But the place is still glorious–and green. Even the hotel is green, with recycling bins and reduced linens laundering. Big deal, you may say, but on a recent trip to New York, we stayed in a hotel room with only trash cans.

Reserved for charging an electric vehicle

In a parking lot next to Crissy Field in the Marina district, we found a parking spot reserved for charging electric cars–the hookup is free.  And the field, wearing its green credentials on its sleeve, also erected five (bird-safe, of course) wind turbines, part of a renewable energy program.

Wind turbines at Crissy Field, part of an alternative energy project.

Crissy Field itself, which was the first aerial defense station on the Pacific Coast, approved in 1921, and previously had been a site of the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition, was undergoing restoration to some of its pre-air-strip littoral glory.

Great blue heron on Crissy Field

We measured the restoration success not so much by the parade of yuppie runners who zoomed by us every few minutes, but rather by the great blue heron hanging out on the grass, just a few yards from where we stood.

Emanuel, who knows a whole lot about San Francisco.

Meanwhile, we learned from our friend Emanuel who is also a City Guide guide, that a former military buildings had been converted into a climbing gym. Sooo San Francisco.

I see we have a thing or two to learn about safari tours!

On our walk, right near the Golden Gate Bridge, we saw this safari tour vehicle for the urban explorer. I thought perhaps artblog should borrow it for when we run a really big art safari.

At night we wandered into a plaza at 555 Mission Street, an example of the kind of privately owned public space that a city ordinance now requires of new downtown buildings.. We were delighted by some flood-lit sculptures by Ugo Rondinone and by Jonathan Borofsky.

One of three very individual Moonrise sculptures by Ugo Rondinone

The Rondinone heads are evocative storybook monsters, each one an individual, and each a mix of scary and sweet vulnerability.

Jonathan Borofsky, Human Structures, 36-foot tall tower, galvanized and painted steel, in the same plaza as the Rondinone

The Borofsky piece’s charm is the scale, each toy-like figure about 6 feet tall. But the Minimalist approach is chilly, the figures’ hard edges and uniformity belying the colors and toy references. Borofsky’s people are perfect fits for the towering office cubicles next to the plaza, whereas Borofsky’s message is the exact opposite of Rondinone’s.

But all in all, the sculptures and the plaza delighted us.

The ostensible reason for this trip was to celebrate Passover at Minna and Ben’s. But really that was just an excuse to visit them. I was the sous chef. I chopped, diced and peeled and occasionally stuck my two cents in on cook times. Here’s what I helped slice and dice: carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips, celeriac and dried apricots, for a carrot/sweet potato/turnip tsimmes from Steve Poses’ At Home cookbook). Then I peeled and cut carrots again, celery and onions for the chicken soup. Do I get credit for slicing and slicing and slicing Ben’s brisket (also Steve Poses’ recipe)? Mostly I hovered, I guess, and tried to give only solicited advice). Ben needs special credit for cooking while he was sick as a dog. He also made the gefilte fish. If you’ve ever made gefilte fish, need I say more. What a guy!

The food was great. Three cheers for Ezra and Noah, who loved my friend Debbie Zuchman’s haggadah!

Vincenzo Anastasia, one of the young people whom Minna taught, had this poem of his selected for a billboard.

Minna, who is big into performance, sometimes has the kids she works with in WritersCorps, perform their poetry or memoir writing. Here’s a poem by one of her students, on a San Francisco bus shelter billboard. He was one of three young poets chosen.

One of the performances we went to–several people telling stories about pranks–was organized by one of the Burning Man organizers. Another performance, by a college-mate of Minna’s, deserved an academy ward for impersonation of the people she literally became in front of our eyes.

The double-well bowl. Photo from

Thanks to that performance, at San Francisco State, we were in the Sunset, near a restaurant Minna had her eye on–Hot Pot Garden. This was unlike any Chinese restaurant I had ever visited. The food was served fondue style, with us dipping the raw meats and vegetables of our choice into two different hot broths of our choice, served in a two-well large metal bowl set over a hot ring on the table. Best Chinese meal ever!

Also big on telling stories, Minna had us participate in Story Corps, a Smithsonian Museum oral history project. Minna asked questions and we just blabbed for posterity. Well, although both of us can sometimes tell a story, I think we felt a little shy being officially recorded for forever.

Minna and Ben rowing while we lolled in the stern.

I suppose best was a day when we just hung out. Here are Minna and Ben. We played Cleopatra on her barge as they manned the oars on a pond in Golden Gate Park. We watched as one goose bit off the tail feathers of another as they both took off above the water.

Birds, turtles, people

We admired the turtles and the birds. We also looked at the buffalos in the park.

And I fell in love with some tangled tree trunks.

Michael Von Meyer’s carved octopus newell post and sea life balustrades reminded me of the tangled tree trunks

Afterward, we went to the Beach Chalet, a restaurant overlooking the Pacific, where we saw some marvelous WPA art by artists Michael Von Meyer and Lucien Labault.

Michael Von Meyer, detail of his carved balustrade


On the walls was a beautiful mural by the French-born Labault, who also did some WPA murals at Coit Tower.

Lucien Labault, detail from his San Francisco Scenes mural

Our last night in town, we went to a movie–Footnote–on the unlikely subject of language deconstruction in academia, where a father-son rivalry plays out. How the filmmaker communicated this scholarly approach to language without boring us to tears still has me puzzling in wonderment. Three stars out of four from me for a not perfect film with much to recommend it.

All in all, though, we were delighted–with our family and the city, its performers, its art. This time I felt sadder than usual to say goodbye.