Monday, April 30, 2018

Conquest



Historical bas-reliefs in downtown San Francisco:









A brief history of colonial California, perhaps seen in a different light by modern eyes. I neglected to note where these are, assuming that a quick Google search would turn them up; not everything is indexed there… yet.

See all the FITK San Francisco posts here.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 0 




Friday, April 27, 2018

Ain’t Got No Home



This is a post of pictures not taken.

The homeless population in San Francisco is large, maybe not the largest in the US, but probably the most visible. In the mornings most of the run-down commercial districts have numerous bodies in sleeping bags in corners or alleys, often in the middle of the sidewalk. Some appear asleep, some are restlessly thrashing. Their possessions may be in carts or bags and consist of clothes, blankets and other small things needed for their existence.

I couldn’t bring myself to photograph any of these unfortunates, but I did take a picture of some homeless books:


The Tenderloin District, San Francisco

They had been set out intended for sale (I think) but there was no one minding them at the time. Some had prices, some were damaged; a diverse collection of scrounged titles.

Even books can have hard times.



See all the FITK San Francisco posts here.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 3 




Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Signing On

I recently attended a double art lecture: my old pal Nicole Houff (Worlds Greatest Barbie™ Photographer) and J. Wren Supak, abstract expressionist and “cultural exchange educator.” Both presenters were excellent, their talks were augmented by a tag-team of signers that gave the event an added dimension:







Later on I "spoke" with a deaf artist through the interpreters, giving the event yet another, personal dimension.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 3 




Monday, April 23, 2018

On the Town



The snow is almost all gone and the first nice weekend brought out tons of people, myself included. I had just gotten a new telephoto lens, so I took it out for a spin:









By Professor Batty


Comments: 0 




Friday, April 20, 2018

Fade to Black



For a part-time college job, it seemed to be ideal.

Monitoring web-cams for a security firm, 96 screens, 10pm until 2am. Mostly stairwells and hallways, but a fair percentage were domestic: elderly living alone, sleeping children, pets and other mundane situations. It wasn’t as hard as you might imagine, most of the cameras had little or no action and if there was any, a light would flash beneath the appropriate screen—usually it was nothing. If it was needed, you could dispatch help: the company’s security patrol, EMTs or even the police. I had been on the job for a couple of months; outside of not having a social life, it was going well. I felt that my lack of social contacts was, at the time, a plus. Coming off a failed relationship, I needed some time to redefine myself.

At any given moment there were several monitors that were black or nearly so. Sometimes there wasn’t enough light for a feed, or perhaps something was blocking the camera. These “dark screens” would be flagged for attention for the day shift. IT would check to make sure the feeds weren’t dead. One night, one of those black screens suddenly came to life in a bloom of light that quickly diminished after the camera’s autogain kicked in. The monitor showed a spartan studio apartment with a bookcase, table, chair, and sofa. A shadow nervously flitted over the table, the choppy video stream giving everything a surreal look, a real-life David Lynch movie. After hours of monitoring nothing on the other screens this new development captured my undivided attention. A couple of minutes later a young woman flashed into view. She sat down at the table and proceeded to brush her hair. Her face was, for the most part, hidden; a bit of her nose would flash from time to time. She had towel draped over her shoulders, her straight black hair was long; she must have just washed it. The brushing (at one frame per second) was hypnotic. After several minutes of this, she left the scene momentarily and then returned with a hair dryer. Many more minutes of drying and brushing ensued until she put the dryer and brush down and then walked over to the couch, pausing with her back in front of the camera. Stretching, she walked back out of view.

She must have turned off the room lights for the screen has gone black. After a couple of seconds the auto-gain circuits of the camera kicked in again and a faint outline of the room’s contents appeared, nearly buried by the color noise. An ambiguous shape was on the sofa, it was hard to judge whether it was the woman or just some pillows. A few minutes later the camera feed went to black. Sitting in front of the now lifeless screen, I thought about what I had just witnessed.

I had seen my old lover do the same routine dozens, no, hundreds of times. Seeing it performed again, by an anonymous stranger, I was struck with the realization that there was a void in my life. Not just my lack of social contact, but also the more sublime loss of not sharing a physical presence with another person. The world I had constructed for myself at that time was like that bank of monitors; orderly but empty, with only occasional glimpses of life, glimpses that would quickly fade to black.

I gave my notice the next day.



Friday Fiction

By Professor Batty


Comments: 3 




Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Stealth in the Stacks



City Lights is a bookstore in San Francisco. Founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin in 1953, it remains a center for poetry and a diverse literary culture. The books of Icelandic Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness fit right in with the other leftist-taoist titles:



Since I started the Laxness in Translation website, I’ve been doing guerilla advertising for it in the form of cards inserted into his titles at various bookstores:



So what better place to culturally infiltrate than City Lights? I haven’t gotten any response yet, but that’s alright, it isn’t a competition.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 5 




Monday, April 16, 2018

Snow Day


Flippist World Headquarters, April 14, 2018

I try not to talk about the weather here on FITK, but this is ridiculous. Last weekend an inch of sleet was followed by a foot of snow (with more on the way). In other words, a perfect excuse to curl up with a Nordic thriller. Fortunately, this spring storm did not deter my faithful postman who delivered, through a raging snowstorm, the Icelandic mystery novel, Why Did You Lie?, by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir.

As far as I know, this is her newest book in the US market, there are other, newer, ones but in UK only release. Yrsa keeps getting better in both her series novels and her stand-alones. This is one of the latter group, a story with three overlapping and parallel time-lines: a trio of maintenance workers and a photographer are helicoptered to a remote lighthouse on a tiny crag on the Icelandic coast, a grieving policewoman is assigned to a make-work job in the department’s archive, and a couple and their son return from a trip to Florida to their house that had been occupied by an American couple in a house-swap arrangement.

From the beginning, nothing is quite “right”, yet for a long time there is no hard evidence that any crimes have been committed. Like her previous novels, Yrsa likes to stretch out the exposition. She has a good eye for the mundane, giving commonplace items a sinister significance. This trick is used in the service of a fairly complex plot that left me guessing until the final “wow” of a denouement. The Icelandic setting is more pronounced here than in some of her other work and the psychology of the characters is definitely filtered through a Icelandic sensibility.  Victoria Cribb’s translation is first-rate. I read a preview copy intended for a UK audience and while it was a bit “English” in its idioms, they weren’t enough to detract from the over-all reading experience.

Highest recommendation.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 1 




Friday, April 13, 2018

Travelogues of Hell



In keeping with my San Francisco-themed reading and at the suggestion of a trusted blog-pal, I dove into the horror/humor oeuvre of Christopher Moore (not to be confused with Christopher G. Moore.) Mr. Moore’s snarky/sexy/silly stories of the undead and their acquaintances are found in five books: a trilogy of Vampire novels (Bloodsucking Fiends, You Suck, Bite Me) and a pair of “underworld of the dead” tomes (A Dirty Job and Secondhand Souls). All of the books are set in modern San Francisco. The characters and story lines flow between them, it would be possible to make a mammoth mash-up of all of them.

        

The vampire “love stories”, as they are called, center on Jody, a recently “turned” vampire and her minion/lover Tommy, as they try to adjust to life in a city where their bizarre appearance and behavior goes almost unnoticed among its other strange inhabitants. I didn’t read the first book but I found the latter two quite amusing in a very dark way. Bite Me features “Abby Normal”, a 16 year-old vampire “wannabee” whose diary entries elevate the madness to another level.

               

The two “Death Merchant” books feature various “soul collectors” who are entrusted with the task of transferring the souls of recently departed to vessels and then to other people. I think. Much in the same ”vein” as the others, but these two also have a more serious side that touches upon families, dying and grieving.

All the books have a liberal seasoning of observations of life in San Francisco, the relationships between the sexes, and modern life in general. The supporting characters (some of whom are truly bizarre) are well developed and establish a continuity between the two series.

For humor, I liked Bite Me the best. For substance, I found Secondhand Souls to be the most satisfying. I read them out of order but found that it didn’t matter too much. Moore has written several other books, mostly literary parodies.


Click here for other San Francisco stories.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 2 




Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Apple Store



The Apple Store on Post Street (across from Union Square) is a Mecca for moderns. It is full of true believers shoppers (as well as armed guards) who seek fulfillment from their digital devices. I’m not knocking Apple (I’m a user of their products as well) but the store’s location, as well as its window wall (with 45 foot high doors!), on the most high-rent district of San Francisco is a statement in its own right.

See and be seen, let hubris apply to somebody else.


Google Street View



See all the FITK San Francisco posts here.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 0 




Monday, April 09, 2018

Joy on Powell



We were walking up Powell, again. We were going to Bush, the street our hotel was on, for the third time that day, a real workout. It could have been worse, we could have been staying a couple of blocks higher at one of the really ritzy hotels on California Street. We would probably have taken a cab, thereby missing the street scene.



A respectable middle-aged couple of Asian heritage were approaching. They were impeccably dressed. They were laughing. Really laughing. While the man was trying to manage his grin, the woman had surrendered to her mirth. As they neared us the funky odor of concentrated THC, a scent we had been noticing more and more on our walks, saturated the air. When they passed the woman, still laughing, covered her open mouth with her hands.

Japanese tourists on an herbal vacation, I thought, although I might have been wrong.


See all the FITK San Francisco posts here.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 2 




Friday, April 06, 2018

Mysterious San Francisco



Never one for moderation, my recent trip there triggered a reading binge of San Francisco-based mysteries. I knew that San Francisco is a literary Mecca, but I was unaware of the hundreds (thousands?) of modern mystery novels set there. The variety of its human experience, coupled with its unique architecture and geography in a relatively small area, has inspired creative people for years in both the popular and fine arts. Here is a short “culinary” tour of SF mystery novels I’ve “devoured” recently:

Bill Pronzini’s “nameless detective” series is a modern update to the pulp fiction potboilers of the forties and fifties. His Femme is terse, fast-moving, and short. Not great literature by any means, but effective. The SF locations are handled well and the plots are basic: no muss, no fuss. Burger and fries.


Kelli Stanley’s City of Sharks is a homage to the forties, set on the eve of World War II. Miranda Corbie is a foul-mouthed female private eye with a two-pack a day habit. When a noted publisher is killed a missing manuscript about goings-on at Alcatraz, “the city of sharks,” sets into motion a dizzying merry-go-round of names and places. Several scenes take place at Playland, where even the animatronic “Laffing Sal” is given a vivid cameo.

This all sounds great, but Kelli’s leaden prose and her fixation on cigarettes (“sticks”) quickly becomes tiresome, as does her constant name-dropping and product placement mentions. I think this book may not have even been edited—at times it reads like fan-fiction. Meat and potatoes, heavy on the salt.


The next author, Brian Freeman, is thoroughly modern:



These have what I like to call “smart phone plots”, novels that couldn’t exist without Steve Jobs’ blessing/curse of the modern world. Both concern serial killers, both books have lone wolf homicide detective Frost Easton with a personal interest in the case. One problem that is endemic with this genre is that the villain is always possessed with superhuman, almost god-like powers, straining the reader’s belief. These are well-written but gruesome, The Voice Inside goes over-the-top, bordering on snuff-porn at times.
UPDATE: His latest (2019) book in the series, The Crooked Street, is a better entry, with a more logical plot and a doozy of an ending. Gourmet salads with an emphasis on bitter greens.

The Last Ferry Home by Kent Harrington, was a big let down for me. It started out well, Michael O’Higgins is a SFPD homicide detective just returning to duty after a medical leave due to his wife dying in a boating accident some months earlier. O’Higgins also suffers from PTSD from time spent in the military in Iraq. A double murder of two Indian nationals throws him back into the thick of things, probably too quickly, it is obvious that he still has some major issues that impede his investigations. Another complication is that he had met the prime suspect, a beautiful Indian woman, on the ferry a week earlier where they were attracted to each other. This novel is well-written but about halfway though the tone shifts and becomes sleazy, the detective’s horny behavior destroys the mood of the story. Towards the end everything became quite chaotic, leaving this reader with indigestion.

Jonathan Moore’s first San Francisco book, The Dark Room, is set in the present and concerns Gavin Cain, a SFPD homicide detective who becomes involved with a blackmail/murder plot involving the mayor as well as events that transpired several years earlier. The two plots converge, leading to an uninspired finish. Moore’s second SF novel, The Night Market, is a near-future dystopia. Inspector Ross Carver is literally taken on a wild ride through a decaying San Francisco that is even more class-polarized than the present. Moore’s writing can be quite complex. A reader’s reaction to it will depend on how much baloney they can stomach:



Someone Always Knows, by Marcia Muller, is one of a long series of Sharon McCone mysteries, a franchise that may have run its course a while ago. Sharon and her husband run a detective agency that is threatened when a dodgy ex-partner turns up with unspecified threats. At the same time she is asked to investigate the ownership status of a crumbling Victorian mansion and, of course, there has to be a relationship between the two events.

The San Francisco locales are handled well, but this is uninspired formula writing, a predictable plot and drab characters. The Weaver has read many of these in the past, evidently they were better then. This is the literary equivalent of eating in a good restaurant on a bad night, tasty and you won’t starve, but there are much better “dining” options.


Saving the best for last, Cynthia Robinson’s The Barbary Dogs is whimsical, clever and a literate delight. Max Bravo is a bisexual half-Gypsy opera singer with a spectral grandmother who drops in from time to time to offer him her advice from beyond the grave. Max is surprised when an old friend jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge and he is stuck with the job of settling his affairs. A great supporting cast of characters help/hinder Max on this task which quickly gets out of control, ensnaring him in a century-old mystery when he would prefer frittering his life away eating and drinking and periodically performing in second-rate opera troupes. He keeps trying to avoid this unwanted “quest” but finally submits to fate in a bang-up finish. This is a very funny book, written with a college-level vocabulary. The title is metaphorical, although Max does have a dog. The first book in the series, The Dog Park Club, is just as delicious. A perfect dessert!



See all the FITK San Francisco posts here.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 4 




Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Italian Shoes

A novel by
Henning Mankell
Translated by Laurie Thompson
Vintage Books, 2010

A perfect antidote to all the sleazy mysteries I’ve been reading lately. I’ll cover those in my next post.

This book is not a mystery but rather a somber and reflective book about a man who had been isolated all his life, and how he comes to grips with changes that affect his hermit-like existence on a remote Swedish island. The language is elegant, poetic at times. Mankell’s story centers on Frederick, a failed doctor, as he contemplates his life and limited future. One thing that bugged me a little was that Frederick dwells on his aging—and he is younger than I am! I guess I’ll just have to get used to that bitter truth in the books I read from now on. I enjoyed it, in a melancholy sort of way. 

The book has a very Ingmar Bergman-esque feel, it was optioned for a film that would have starred Judy Dench and Anthony Hopkins but has yet to start production.

By Professor Batty


Comments: 1 




Monday, April 02, 2018

what3words

What three what?

what3words is a system for naming or finding a location somewhere on the planet earth. In the more than three words of what3words home page:

what3words is a really simple way to talk about location. We have divided the world into a grid of 3m x 3m squares and assigned each one a unique 3 word address. It means anyone can accurately find any location and share it more quickly, easily and with less ambiguity than any other system.

When I was younger, living in a sketchy part of Minneapolis, I had the occasion to summon the gendarmes as the business across the street was being broken into. This was before the 911 service had been set up. Minneapolis at the time had a fair amount of odd little dead-ends and the dispatcher had never heard of the street I was referring to. If this system had been available then, maybe they could have responded? Probably not, that failure to respond was more than a mapping issue.

what3words has some potential as a parlor game. I found it amusing that the phrase “yarn.pushed.trying” brought up the very part of our living room where the Weaver knits while watching TV. “home.page.professor” lands one in Brazil. “starts.halt.blog” is where I once saw a play in Reykjavík.

As one scrolls through the place-names, a strange type of poetry makes itself manifest:

voices stored confirms

things supposed followers

surface visitors brothers

fame wiped speaker

inviting atoms rollers


I’ll leave the topic with this ambiguous entry: fades coarser riddle…

By Professor Batty


Comments: 0