Sunday, August 31, 2008

Mission Walls

Bright weather, not too warm, a good day to roam the alleys off Mission, where the walls are always new.

End of August

This Constructivist-inspired mural-poster with its anti-American political message quickly attracted defacement and ended up being much more quickly painted over than any of its neighbors along the walls of Clarion Alley in the Mission.

More Stick-on Numbers

There are no words sufficient for the beauty of these works.

Stick-on letters can sometimes (as immediately above) excite a response almost equal to stick-on numerals.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


Tilework under the front portico at a public school on Church Street in San Francisco. It appears to be a sort of fantasy of the seraglio, and the curious thing is that this was chosen as the appropriate style 70 or 80 years ago to adorn the surroundings of American adolescents. Perhaps the builders were imitating the movie palaces of the day.

The maintenance person who came along after all this fancy-work was done and crafted the utilitarian stenciled-wood ENTRANCE sign added a satisfying variation in texture.

Mystic Haircutting

Twice a month I walk over to Mystic Haircutting at the foot of Haight Street. Saturday morning is the best time for a haircut, it seems to me, because there seems to be all the time in the world. I am usually early for haircut appointments, because I am usually early for every kind of appointment. Today I asked the barber if I could take a few snapshots while he finished up with the guy ahead of me.

This is a fortunate barbershop, rich in decor.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Small Visuals

A paper hanger jumping in where a furniture store closed. Valencia on a hot afternoon in the Mission.

Glowing blue presence behind curly bars before dawn on Guerrero.

Bust of noble Roman, heavily barricaded.

Radically trimmed ficus presiding on another hot afternoon over tourists who are packing their trunk in a rush because their rental car is illegally parked in a crosswalk at the corner of 17th and Dolores.

Elms outside Rossi Pool, on Arguello.

Blossoming tree at sunrise outside the lighted gym at Mission High.

Bubble gum set against circus peanut. With two greens mediating.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Deserted Movie Theaters

My friend who just turned 50 grew up near Mission Street and when he was a little boy in the 1960s this was an immigrant, working-class San Francisco neighborhood. Newly arrived Filipino families like his own, said my friend, would never dream of going to a downtown movie theater. Mission Street was their downtown, with half a dozen busy, lighted-up movie theaters. My friend first saw Ben-Hur on the wide screen at the New Mission Theater, one of the pivotal experiences of his entire life, he swears. He saw Valley of the Dolls at age 10 with two other children from the neighborhood. For a depraved movie like that, even in wicked 1967, they were supposed to be accompanied by an adult, but nobody questioned them.

My friend particularly liked the hot dogs at this tiny movie theater, which was called the Crown back in the sixties. He remembers when it transformed itself into Cine Latino and started showing Spanish-language movies. That strategy possibly delayed the end for a while, but not for long. To this day all up and down Mission Street there are mom-and-pop businesses and stores in great numbers providing all kinds of services and amusements, but the movie houses shut up shop decades ago, and linger now only as an interesting collection of wrecks.

Devil's Footprints

The first John Burnside novel to be published in the U.S. is called The Devil's Footprints. Every now and then Burnside will have a poem printed in the TLS, and I very often admire those short rueful poems, so I pursued this novel, which it turns out is up for a couple of different British literary prizes, and surely, yes, it is crisply written, and often (to me) even funny. In the scene below, a 35-year-old man fails to communicate with a 14-year-old girl.

I was trying to ignore the TV; I don't much like television, unless there's a movie on. I like movies. Old Hollywood, French films, films by Kurosawa and Kieslowski. Franju. Wajda. Godard. Hazel's tastes were somewhat different – or maybe she didn't have any particular tastes, maybe she was just happy to watch whatever came on. For a while, she sat smirking and giggling at some sitcom that I'd never even heard of; then she spent half an hour surfing all four of the available channels, flicking to and fro between some kind of drama and a documentary about sharks, till she eventually settled on an American-made hospital series. I kept trying to engage her, to distract her from the melodrama, but she had gone into a trance, only half aware that I was in the room at all, her eyes fixed on the screen. In between the operations and the love scenes, she watched the commercials.

"God," I said, finally. "Do you always watch television like this?"

She nodded. "Absolutely," she said.

I glanced at the screen. A man in green scrubs was arguing with a woman in a white coat. They both seemed overly clean and far too well groomed to be emergency room workers. "So what's the attraction?" I asked.


"I said: What's the attraction? Don't you know what's going to happen in the end? More or less?"

She nodded again. "Absolutely," she said.

"Well," I said. "If you'll just turn if off for a moment, we can talk about what we need to do "

"Shhh!" She looked at me. "Sorry," she said quickly. "But this is a good bit."

I looked back at the screen. It was the same two people, arguing. "How do you know?" I asked.

 A standard story of male angst and isolation. Yet the jacket blurb from the Guardian gets at the playfulness and charm that make this sad book diverting  "The Devil's Footprints is a classic tale with an old-fashioned, gripping plot. But it is also helplessly good at the things Burnside loves best: geography, the neighbours, the way people's lives go, and the way people's other, secret lives turn out."

The marshland, the birds, the weather. This low coastal Scottish landscape is made to speak for characters who don't have much to say for themselves.