Friday, April 30, 2010

Green Penguins

Image source is here.

Tree Fern & Tree

In a front yard on Shrader near Haight Street a tree fern is growing up inside a blossoming fruit tree. Another bright cold windy spring day in San Francisco today. I practically climbed inside the tree to take these pictures, and even then all the elements kept bobbling about as gusts would hit them.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Somebody got out a red Sharpie and enhanced the legibility of some of the buzzer numbers for the apartments at Spencer Alley. Apartment number one on the ground floor and apartment number six on the top floor did not get enhanced. Too bad for apartment number one, but not too bad for apartment number six, which possesses its own separate buzzer, as seen below. Number six is the one where I live, but the special button was installed by a previous tenant, and I take no credit for its suave singularity.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Searching for Felt

On Saturday I went to Mendel's on Haight Street, pursuing the next stage of construction on the baby dwelling (last seen here) that is steadily coming together in an honored but small portion of my daughter and son-in-law's downtown San Francisco apartment. I was looking for charcoal-gray felt for the front opening of the dwelling. We thought of a neutral, solid-color felt because we wanted something that would not fight with the three vibrant patterns that are already incorporated. And felt might also go some ways toward soundproofing the space, which is buffered by walls and bookcases on its other three sides. We also pictured half-circle appliques in shiny fake yellow leather as handles to pull the felt drapes open and shut. But Mendel's only had silver-gray felt, no charcoal-gray. And no fake leather. But what they DID have in the proper shiny yellow was oilcloth. So I bought a piece of that and got advice from the salesboy on how to warm it with a blowdryer in order to make it take the shape I want. At home I hung up the oilcloth so the folds would fall out of it and so that I could email its photo to the expectant couple.

Seeing the pictures, they approved of the oilcloth but agreed that the silver-gray would not work. Today I had a chance to shop some more, and my first stop was Cliff's in the Castro. There were some quite attractive colors of felt at Cliff's, but no suitable gray.

So then I hiked over to Mission Street where I knew of a discount fabric store down below street level where the merchandise is marked 50% off every single day of the year.

But there was no felt even close to the right color in the Mission Street store, either. Discouraged but not defeated I got on BART and went downtown to the grand empress of all San Francisco fabric stores, the famous Britex.

And at Britex, yes! Substantial weight and rich texture and a good medium gray with some subtle variegation, 72 inches wide at a reasonable price. Benignly reminiscent of 1950s wool flannel suiting, but there wasn't a great deal of fabric on the bolt. My original intention had been simply to photograph my finds, and then get approval from the other fabricators of this project before making a purchase. But a desire to grab up what was available along with a conviction that this was exactly what we had been picturing all along induced me to go ahead and tell the patient Britex veteran to cut me three yards, please. If my daughter and son-in-law turn out not to like it, I will find something else to do with it.

At Britex I also found this weighted cord. I intend to sew it into a small hem at the bottom of the felt panels to encourage them to hang straight.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


My current reading on MUNI (as I ride back and forth to and from the San Francisco library where I work) is Ransom, David Malouf's miraculously successful retelling of the Priam/Achilles episode from The Iliad. Simone Weil zeroed in on this same episode more than half a century ago in the best commentary on Homer that I have come across in a long reading life. Her essay is called The Iliad, or, The Poem of Force, and she talks mostly about the significance of Priam feeling driven to beg for the body of his son Hector from the semi-divine hero Achilles, Hector's killer. Weil saw Priam from the outside, as a human archetype responding to the grief that violence engenders in all places at all times. Malouf sets himself the task of seeing Priam from the inside by re-imagining a doomed king who may or may not have actually existed several thousand years ago.

The image above is an opening from the American edition of Malouf's short novel. The "Note on the Type" at the back of the book tells us that "the text of this book was set in Sabon, a typeface designed by Jan Tschichold (1902-1974), the well-known German typographer. Based loosely on the original designs by Claude Garamond (c. 1480-1561), Sabon is unique in that it was explicitly designed for hotmetal composition on both the Monotype and Linotype machines as well as for filmsetting. Designed in 1966 in Frankfurt, Sabon was named for the famous Lyons punch cutter Jacques Sabon, who is thought to have brought some of Garamond's matrices to Frankfurt."

Tschichold being a great favorite of mine from way back, this conjunction of a great story and a great typeface caused me to look up a bit more about Sabon. The page immediately below is from Christopher Burke's Active Literature : Jan Tschichold and the New Typography (London : Hyphen Press, 2007). It reproduces one of Tschichold's preliminary drawings from 1960 showing serifed, italic and sanserif versions of Sabon.

The 1965 drawing below – right on the verge of the actual production of Sabon – is reproduced from Ruari McLean's Jan Tschichold : Typographer (Boston : David R. Godine, 1975).

Elongated center-justified five-line dedication (below, all caps) is from Jan Tschichold, Designer : The Penguin Years by Richard B. Doubleday (London : Lund Humphries, 2006). Sabon arrived too late to be part of the story told in this book. Tschichold left Penguin in 1949 more than ten years before he began to conceive Sabon. That fact, it seems to me, makes the gesture all the more graceful (on the part of the author and/or designer and/or publisher), setting the text in Tschichold's most beautiful typeface even though it postdates the Penguin years.

Finally, above, the cover of an essay collection published in 1991, also set in Sabon. The group of German printers who commissioned the typeface requested that it be "easy and pleasant to read and suitable for all printing purposes."

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Gardened all day Sunday in the East Bay. Shopped in sunshine at Berkeley Hort (above) for plants and supplies, the foremost find being the beautiful peony bush below.

Last year's lavender is suddenly thick with new growth, above. Below, the strong clear sunlight illuminates the moldy old garage.

These yellow things came back -- to everyone's surprise -- after dying back almost to nothing over the winter.

The calla lilies remain enfeebled, with small leaves and few flowers, in the aftermath of their unearthing and breaking up and replanting back in January. But even in their present sad state they strike sleek poses. And their ultimate recovery is not in doubt.

My daughter's roses are about to pop. They are beside themselves with eagerness.