Tom’s Garden

Growing by the Bay

Month: December 2006

Conrad H. Roth’s SF Photo Essays

Conrad Roth has posted, in two parts, his impressions of the city. Although he calls his posts “photo essays,” there is also plenty of text.

Update: Roth has posted a follow-up on Berkeley

Don’t follow leaders, and watch your parking meters

If you’re driving in San Francisco be aware that the city issues some two million parking tickets a year, contributing something like $85 million to the municipal coffers.

When I was editor-in-chief of Mercury House in its Sansome Street location I had on my wall a prayer to Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, the patron saint of parking spaces. (Others have been nominated for this honor, including Saint Jude, Saint Antoine, Saint Therese, and, of course, Saint Rita, but since Mother Cabrini lived out her days in New York City I think she is probably best qualified).

Traffic is the curse of the Bay Area, since the peninsula on which the city sits is small in size and most of the region’s traffic must be funneled over a handful of lanes on a few bridges. (Why will the new Bay Bridge have no more lanes than the old one?)

But parking is nearly as bad a problem. As a result, many people have given up attempting compliance and instead simply rack up hundred of dollars in parking tickets, which they put off paying as long as possible. But now the city is fighting back with cameras, mounted atop unmarked cars, that scan license plates — at a rate of about 250 plates per hour — to find vehicles that have accrued five or more tickets. Once the offending vehicles are located they are quickly fitted with boots that render them undrivable.

***

link: I-80 in East Bay is nation’s 2nd-worst commute
link: chaos and the everyday traffic jam

Pisco

Frisco Pisco

Frisco Pisco (image via Food 52.

Frisco Pisco (image via Food 52.

I once lived for a time in Guapalo, Ecuador, and later traveled around Peru. So I know from pisco. Pisco is a brandy-like drink that Peru claims as its own. Unfortunately for Peru, however, Chile currently produces and exports more pisco than Peru does. (Peruvians scoff at the Chilean product.)

This has led to considerable hard feelings between the nations, but that’s not the story. The story is–and this I didn’t know–that the drink has a strong San Francisco connection. According to this story in the San Francisco Chronicle,

This style of brandy was once the toast of San Francisco, and Pisco Punch, a drink that was created by bartender Duncan Nichol at the Bank Exchange, a bar that used to stand on Montgomery Street, is said to have been the most popular drink in the city in the 1870s. Unfortunately, Nichol took his recipe to the grave.

The Pisco Sour, perhaps the best-known pisco-based drink in America, is said to have been created in 1915 by Victor Morris, a native of Berkeley who owned the Morris Bar in Lima, Peru, and this cocktail, a simple mix of pisco, lime juice, egg white and simple syrup, has made a big comeback in recent years. The secret to a good Pisco Sour is the angostura bitters that are dashed on top of the drink as an aromatic garnish.

Who knew?

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Theater tickets

union square, december 2006
Union Square, Dec. 2006

TIX Bay Area is a good place to buy theater tickets (half price on the day of the show). You can order tickets on-line, or walk up to the box office on Union Square.

Asian Art Museum

I’ve completed a draft of a basic information page on the Asian Art Museum.

I’ll move on now to other San Francisco musuems.

And, of course, the usual Frisco miscellany.

Chicago-style Pizza

Robin Slomkowski blogs about Chicago-style pizzas in San Francisco:

I actually got to have good Chicago Style Pizza in SF at Little Star. I tend to categorize Chicago style Pizza’s into Giordano’s (my favorite), Edwardo’s, Gino’s, and “Modern Chicago Uno’s” (Uno’s is generally credited as the creator of Chicago style pizza, but the chains stores out of Chicago don’t serve the same product, nor does Uno’s in Chicago compared to what it ued to make). Little Star is a pretty good take on Edwardo’s style.

I’m filing this away for future research.

The best deep-dish pizza in the wider San Francisco Bay Area is undoubtedly Zachary’s in Berkeley and Oakland (and now San Ramon, but I haven’t tried that one.

Vesuvio among World’s Best Bars

according to the London Guardian. It ranks Vesuvio number three among the world’s ten best bars. According to the Guardian, the bar “retains its bohemian vibe.”

Next door to City Lights bookstore, Vesuvio boasts Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac, and other beat luminaries among its clientele. (But then, what SF bar dating from that era doesn’t?) It hosts readings and art displays in nearby Jack Kerouac Alley. These days it boasts “Eco-Friendly beer, wine and coctails.”

Vesuvio, 255 Columbus Avenue (at Jack Kerouac Alley), San Francisco

Pink Floyd: Darkness over Frisco

Don’t Call It Frisco

pink floyd frisco

There’s a laundromat in the city’s Hayes Valley called the Don’t Call It Frisco Laundromat. The name quotes an admonition you will hear often from a certain generation of locals, who will tell you the word grates like chalk on a blackboard. The taboo started, or at least took hold, in 1953 with the publication of San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen’s first book, entitled, well, Don’t Call it Frisco. Caen is much beloved but the truth is he was a bit of an elitist; he had a dogmatic and imperious streak. (I know — back in the day I sometimes had lunch with his power claque.)

“Not Frisco but San Francisco,” Caen prescribed. “Caress each Spanish syllable, salute our Italian Saint. Don’t say Frisco and don’t say San-Fran-Cis-Co. That’s the way Easterners, like Larry King pronounce it. It’s more like SanfrnSISco.” (No one pointed out that the command to caress each syllable and to elide them was contradictory.)

And a generation of independent and free-spirited San Franciscans meekly complied with the columnist’s mandate. Perhaps they were motivated by the suspicion that their city might not in fact be in the same league with New York City after all, so they sought to sweep their underclass underpinnings under the rug, to turn their back on their rough-and-tumble past.

But there’s a long tradition of calling the city Frisco. (The term frisco, meaning a port where ships could be repaired, goes back to Middle English.) Immigrants during the Gold Rush sang:

I soon shall be in Frisco and there I’ll look around,
When I find the gold lumps there I’ll pick them off the ground.
Oh, California, that’s the life for me . . .

Even in Caen’s day Otis Redding sang that he was leaving his home in Georgia and heading for the Frisco Bay. The Youngbloods sang:

I used to love to watch her dance
That Grizzly Bear
I guess she’s gone to Frisco-o-o
To dance it there

james cagney in the frisco kidThe poet Kenneth Rexroth, another contemporary of Caen’s, called the city Frisco, and the beat poet Bob Kaufman wrote a series of “Frisco” poems. Sal Paradise, Jack Kerouac’s alter ego in On the Road, says he is heading for “Frisco.”

Today a lot of people are looser and less uptight that about the city’s handle than was once the case. There’s a tattoo parlor in the Mission district called Frisco Tattoo. A CD of local bands is called Frisco Styles. The Notorious B.I.G. rapped that he was “Sippin’ Crist-o with some freaks from Frisco.” Columnist Stephanie Salter uses the term Frisco regularly. A Barry Bonds fan t-shirt is emblazoned with the slogan Frisco Grooves.

The local hiphop movement called Yay Area hyphy uses Frisco as a “term of endearment.” For example, Frontline’s Now You Know contains these lyrics:

Wah wha wha wha, thats Oakland
Yee yee yee yee, thats Richmond
Hey, hey, thats Frisco
And if you aint from the bay now yo ass know

Letting go of silly, tight-assed prescriptions like Caen’s is a sign that the city is coming into its own, confident enough in itsself not to have to monitor how people refer to it. Those who disapprove of Frisco are trying to own the city,” says screenwriter Theo McKinney. “People should be able to call the city what they wish.”

Do I call it Frisco? Well, no, not really, except sometimes in fun. Which I hope is the spirit of this site.

So don’t call it Frisco. Or do call it Frisco (but be prepared for some rolled eyes). Or, as some folks do, you could just call it “the ‘Sco.” That way you’re covered — you’re cool.

The choice is yours.

Dissing Asia

south court, asian art museum

I have in front of me some travel guides to San Francisco. I’m curious to see how they cover the city’s museums, and specifically the Asian Art Museum (hereafter AAM), because I will be putting up a page on the Asian (as it’s commonly known) soon. The results are interesting. Here’s a selection:

  • Fodor’s barely covers any of the museums (it gives about a third of a page to the AAM and about the same to SFMOMA). But it tags SFMOMA “Fodor’s Choice.”
  • The Rough Guide gives the AAM about a quarter page while devoting a little under two pages to SFMOMA, including a full-page picture. It lists SFMOMA #1 on its “25 things not to miss.”
  • The DK Guide gives the AAM about a third of a page. It gives SFMOMA four full pages, or about 12 times as much space.

Is the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art twelve times better than the Asian Art Museum? If you travel to San Francisco 13 times, should you visit the Asian once and SFMOMA all the rest? Comparisons, so they say, are odious, and I don’t want to run one institution up by putting another down. SFMOMA’s collection has improved a lot over the past couple of decades, and with its spacious newish building in an attractive location it is likely to continue to improve, despite recent management problems. As a Bay Area resident I would love to see the museum become a truly great one.

But it’s the Asian Art Museum that has the best art collection in town. The core of the collection was donated to the city by Avery Brundage (a Chicago industrialist and head of the International Olympics Committee). Brundage put the collection together when not many people were collecting Asian Art, and before many art trade restrictions were put in place. He benefited from his international connections (for example, because he was instrumental in having the 1964 Olympics hosted in Japan — that country’s first big international event since World War II, and the first time the Olympics had been hosted in Asia — he was allowed to acquire some national treasures that would otherwise have been impossible to obtain). Today a collection comparable to Brundage’s could not be assembled at any cost.

The Asian has also been persistent in expanding its collection, recently acquiring significant gifts of Indian prints, Sikh art, Japanese bamboo baskets, Chinese calligraphies and paintings, and Southeast Asian art, to name a few; the Brundage collection now constitutes about half of the museum’s total holdings. The collection is San Francisco’s second most valuable asset after its real estate. The museum is one of the largest outside of Asia devoted to Asian art. It is housed in a historic building in Civic Center that was redesigned by Gae Aulenti (whose other projects include the Musee d’Orsay in Paris) and restored and expanded at a cost of about 170 million dollars.

Why do the guidebooks give short shrift to what is clearly one of the region’s most significant cultural institutions? Let’s not attribute it to plain prejudice. Instead, let’s say they perceive the museum as a “niche” institution. We might examine that. Asia is the largest region in the world, home to three-fifth’s of the world’s population. It embraces cultures as diverse as South Asia, West Asia, Southeast Asia, the Himalayas, China, Korea, and Japan. The museum’s holdings span six millennia of history. (They include the world’s oldest dated Chinese Buddha.) What’s more, under the museum’s current director, Emily Sano, the AAM has been engaged in a strong program of presenting modern and contemporary art by Asian artists.

So which museum is a niche institution?

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