Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sunday Walking

With a friend I set off on a cold foggy San Francisco Sunday afternoon to walk up Market Street and then climb several small winding streets up over the crest of Eureka Valley, to emerge at the top of steep Buena Vista Park, a wilderness that looms above the Haight.

Buena Vista Park from the back has kind of a grubby nondescript entrance, but then shortly afterward we stumbled into this sudden woodland and one of us said, "Where are the Hobbits?"

Later, on my own, over on California Street, I saw this spontaneous composition. It is a city of visual riches wherever you go, and that is a fact.

Foxgloves & Fog

Yesterday afternoon after finishing a few errands on Upper Fillmore I walked over to Alta Plaza Park, where foxgloves were trying to act buoyant in the heavy fog that prevailed.

This patch of flowers was surrounded by a living fence of grape vines, trained low.

An avenue of elderly cypresses (above) lines the northern side of the park, along Jackson Street. The southern side (below) is dotted with cherries in their dark summer foliage.

Looking down onto Clay Street and across the foggy city toward the southwest. The true San Francisco summer weather has arrived.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Upper Fillmore

Rode the 24 over as far as Jackson & Fillmore to buy some lip balm at Kiehl's. Wandered north a couple of blocks on foot to look down at the fog over San Francisco Bay. Sidewalks here are steep enough to be constructed as stair steps.

At the intersection of Fillmore & Broadway a car had recently crashed into and killed a tree, in spite of the welded cage of armor around its trunk. Note headlight left behind on the ground near the orange cone.

By and large it is a neighborhood of large and healthy trees. Silent spacious houses. Tight-trimmed privet.

No shortage of urns either.

On Fillmore between Jackson and Washington there is a tiny shop called Mureta Antiques. One window (below) is packed solid with vintage cups and saucers.

The fog casts a dim uniform light on all this fragility.


A brand-new gay rights campaign is launching itself in California, as anybody could have predicted it would. To me this resembles a theater of masochism. A constitutional amendment passed after a long, highly publicized campaign and an election with exceptionally high voter turnout, subsequently ratified by the state Supreme Court, is not going to be repealed electorally in my lifetime. That's a pipe dream of populists who cannot tolerate the fact that the majority of my fellow citizens genuinely wish to deny me and people like me the same rights everybody else can take for granted. And it wasn't just Orange County and the boondocks. In a city as progressive as San Francisco SEVENTY PERCENT of African Americans voted against civil rights for gays. That unpalatable fact may change in the future, but it won't change in the near future.

Friday, May 29, 2009


A glimpse of my office wall at the library. Some people complain about fabric walls, as insufficient to their dignity, but I myself like the fluid compositions fabric walls encourage.


An Italian textbook of mathematics published in 1523. The dedication and notes are in Latin, the text in Italian. Most European books at the time were published entirely in Latin for an audience of nobles and churchmen. This early example of Italian vernacular printing would most likely have been marketed to traders and merchants with less elaborate educations.

The woodcut initial depicts a monk holding a compass in his left hand and a copy of the same book we are looking at in his right hand.

The author was indeed a monk, one Luca Pacioli (ca. 1445-1517). This edition was published posthumously. Many books of this period have the author and/or title inked in large letters onto the edges of the text block. Books were expensive and libraries were small. Individual volumes were most often stored flat on their sides rather than standing up with the spines facing out in the way we are used to. The information we expect to see on the spine was in past times supplied by hand along the fore-edge.

The present leather binding is much younger than the book itself. The text-block has probably used up three or four different bindings in the course of its life so far. Incredibly, some thoughtful soul in the 1960s or 70s decided to use a then-fashionable technology which involved letters or numbers being hand-punched onto plastic tape with an adhesive back. The plastic date of 1523 was affixed to the spine. At the library where I work we will send the book out to a conservator and have this idiotic intrusion safely removed. At the same time the leather can be reconditioned. It is at present dry and crumbly from neglect but will respond well to emollients.

Text-page margins are exceptionally wide and are used throughout for figures and illustrations.

Above is a perfect example of my favorite kind of discovery when working with rare old books. It is a torn scrap of manuscript from the same period as the publication, left in place for the past 500 years (almost) to mark this particular passage. I did not touch or disturb it.

The sections above contain story-problems (like the ones I remember from grammar school) about bags of grain and the volume of barrels. Presumably the simple, specific illustrations would help convince browsers that the purchase of the book might solve practical problems.

At the end we go back to Latin for the purpose of praising God for permitting us to live long enough with sufficient strength to get this project finished. In 1523.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


The palm tree exposes
a large number
of loose, carved spines

out of pleasure?


To start over
in the carved moment
is to take cover.

A solid short woman
in a pink wool suit

proceeds –
anxiously? doggedly?


up a sidewalk
laid down for her.

(We don't believe it.)

There are two kinds
of choices,

pirate sources say:

and desperate.

Rae Armantrout contributed this poem to the June 2009 issue of Poetry. The illustrations between sections are my own impudence, inspired by the olden-days tradition of "extra-illustrated" books, where a collector would work with a binder to interpose engravings or drawings and bind them into an already-published text. In Rae Armantrout's poem as published in Poetry there are asterisks where I have placed pictures.