Monthly Archives: April 2012

The San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge at “Fogrise,” 3 September 2007

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Good Afternoon:

I was wondering if my photo collection included any decent shots of a real, genuine, true San Francisco sunrise, a sunrise so real, genuine and true that it is not even a sunrise; “fogrise” seems so much more appropriate. Found this:

San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge at "Fogrise," 3 September 2007
Picture taken with a Nikon D40 DSLR, cropped and converted to B&W in iPhoto

Now that is more like it. I’m not saying the picture is great, but this is a real, genuine and true San Francisco fogrise: none of this conventionally pretty clear blue sky and brilliant color, but a picture as grey as the scenery, with the Golden Gate Bridge partially concealed by our legendary fog. Don’t the jogger and the birds look like they’re freezing? Now I feel that I have really, genuinely and truly represented my city.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Photographer As Crocodile

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Good Morning:

Once it has grown to adult length, let’s say 15 feet, once it has grown to adult weight, let’s say 500 pounds, and once it has found prime riverfront property to call its home, life must be pretty good for a Nile Crocodile. No one will come around trying to collect rent, the views are excellent, and it gets to enjoy unlimited free tanning sessions. Oh, and food? It has to come to you, either to drink the river’s priceless water or to ford the shallow parts as part of its migration. In other words, a Nile Crocodile spends its life relaxing, watching the world go by, and sometimes ambushing it.

In other words, the Nile Crocodile acts like a photographer.

One of the things I’ve learned in studying the works of Henri Cartier-Bresson, an artist I never understood until I tried to copy him, is that there is art in not seeking it. In my February post, “A Second-Rate (Third-Rate?) Homage to Henri Cartier-Bresson” I confessed that I couldn’t appreciate his greatness until after I tried to photograph as he did. One of the best lessons I learned was that you don’t have to go rushing around looking for pretty pictures. You can find the right spot, the right setting, and wait for the picture to come to you. I refer to masterpieces such as “Hyeres, France,” 1932, where C-B simply found a great staircase and then waiting for something interesting to happen. Or even better, “Behind Saint-Lazare Station, Paris, France,” 1932, where the viewer has to work a bit before realizing that Henri captured an almost impossible shot.

Which brings me to San Francisco’s Orpheum Theater and its plain, barren, Hyde Street side. The Market Street entrance is all glitzy, fancy, ornamental and all the rest of that stuff, but the Hyde Street side is almost completely blank, except for one roll-up automobile exit and something that might be a air-conditioning unit over head. Totally devoid of interest except when the sun is overhead at the right time and at the right angle. I discovered this during a trip to the Wednesday farmers market at the Civic Center, which is behind the Orpheum. The circumstances were right, so I (the “Nile Crocodile,” if you will) found a post across the street (the “river,” if you will) and waited for the world to go by. The “Wildebeest,” if you will. Traffic was a problem, and even when it wasn’t, the people on the other side of the street did not conveniently arrange themselves in artistic poses (C-B must have suffered much despair in the darkroom). But of the dozens of quick snapshots, a few managed to stand out, especially this one:

Elderly Woman Leaving Farmers Market, Hyde Street Near Grove & Market, 10 June 2007

Still not at C-B’s level, but an above-average shot. I can’t avoid wondering how many thousands of masterworks Henri would have produced if he had worked in the digital age.

Vonn Scott Bair

I Do Not Understand Reality, Literary Cheese Edition, 26 April 2012

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Good Evening:

Amongst my current collection of seven cheeses in my refrigerator (I kinda sorta like the stuff), I realized that one is an Irish Cheddar named Oscar Wilde, whilst another is a Dutch Gouda named Zola. I do not understand reality. Why name cheeses after writers? Especially those writers? For one things, Wilde was more interested in fermented beverages than in bacteria-infested milk products.

Naturally, I had to wonder; what other writer or songwriter-inspired cheeses might be possible?

The Balzac: this was easy; a rich, full-bodied, complex and earthy Brie.
The Shakespeare: Stilton, with the rind washed in ale or porter.
The Steinbeck: Monterey Jack filled with chopped jalapeños.
The Beckett: rather dry and austere, flavourless and hard.
The Jerry Garcia: a San Francisco version of Boursin, in this case a cream cheese with a special blend of herbs.
The Faulkner, Hemingway and/or Fitzgerald: Cheese?! Are you kidding? Pass me the bottle!

Savouring a Homemade Rosemary-Garlic Oscar Wilde Cheddar Cheese Sauce over a Baked Potato, I Remain,
Yours Truly,
Vonn Scott Bair

Sunday Afternoon Photography at City Hall during Earth Day, 22 April 2012

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Good Evening:

As much as I support the goals of Earth Day, too many of the events/gatherings/public meetings I’ve attended have left me dissatisfied. The speakers are earnest, the people handing out leaflets are earnest, and the leaflets themselves are earnest.  Frankly, most of the Earth Day events I’ve attended have been rather dull and not likely to make the world a better place. Or at least, that describes the normal Earth Day events I’ve attended.

San Francisco does not do good normal.

San Francisco does not do normal good.

And San Francisco does not do normal well.

This was my favorite costume of the entire event. San Franciscans and their love of costumes is a Sociology Ph. D. thesis that has yet to be written. Since so many of us come from elsewhere in order to become ourselves, it does seem curious that the first thing we do once we become ourselves is to disguise ourselves as something else. Unfortunately, I lost sight of the African-American woman in a panda costume with a pin that read, “Free Hugs!” She looked very cool. Maybe I’ll find her at the next big event. I wonder if it means anything that the huge number of costumed San Franciscans and the huge number of San Franciscan photographers taking their pictures tended not to pay attention to the earnest speakers on the main stage.

I couldn’t stay long, unfortunately; I had to visit the Civic Center farmers market for my fruits and vegetables, go home to do the laundry and clean the kitchen–the sort of activities that make the life of the creative artist so different. But while awaiting the 6-Parnassus at 8th & Market. I saw an EMT team arrive in time to save the life of an elderly homeless man who seemed to have had a heart attack or stroke. The sunlight and shadows made photography difficult, but the team did their job with consummate professionalism, and they deserve at least this commemoration of their work:

Vonn Scott Bair

Saturday Morning Photography at Crissy Field, 21 April 2012

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Good Evening:

San Francisco can be so capricious to the amateur photographer.

I cannot estimate how much willpower it required for me to drag my aging carcass out of bed before 6:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, shower quickly, shove breakfast into my bike messenger bag, take the 43-Masonic down to the Presidio, and finally walk another mile with my camera gear to Crissy Field. I take special pride in the Presidio in general, and Crissy in particular, because I played a minor, minor, minor role in its reclamation and restoration, having temped for two months at International Technology, one of the environmental engineering companies that restored the habitat. Those guys were good: if you planted a multivitamin with zinc anywhere in the Presidio, their equipment would detect it. Then they would have to remove it because technically, in that context a multivitamin with zinc is a pollutant.

I wanted to take some good sunrise photographs of the Golden Gate Bridge. If possible, I would take a picture every 15 seconds until I had a few hundred shots and make a time-lapse movie out of them. For a spectacular example of one such project, search for “The Mountain El Tiede” at YouTube or visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rk6_hdRtJOE. Alas, the city was not cooperating, as the day broke clear, brilliantly blue, and completely fogless. All San Franciscans know that such “pretty as a picture” postcard sunrises are a bit disappointing; watching the fog slowly lift is one of our great pleasures. Here is the best of a pretty sorry lot.

Meh. Whatever.

Naturally, Monday’s sunrise will be exactly what I need, but I’ll be at work. Sigh. But I did find some moments of interest. Here is a straight-down shot from a foot bridge of the mudflats at low tide.

Even mud can look good in the proper light. I also had fun watching this snowy egret catching breakfast. Snowy egrets have a hunting technique which looks funny unless you’re their prey; they shuffle one foot in the mud underwater until they stir up some food and then pluck it out of the water with a quick plunge of their beaks.

Finally, the bridge did redeem itself by the time I had wandered east into the Marina District. I suspect that most parents will agree with the notion that one of the great pleasures of raising children lies in the opportunities to amaze them.

Dad will probably remember this moment with happiness for decades to come.

Wishing You Had an Enjoyable Weekend, I Remain,

Yours Truly,

Vonn Scott Bair

I Do Not Understand Reality, Special Stinky Edition!

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Good Evening:

I get it. Yes, it is important to smell good. This constitutes an act of public service, an act dedicated to the public good (and if you don’t believe me, just board the L-Taraval at 5:15 p.m. on a Friday). But a perfume designed to mimic the smell of unboxing a MacBook Pro?! That’s absolutely bizarre. I do not understand reality at all.

The perfume should mimic the smell of unboxing an iPad. Obviously.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–I’m not making this up: http://www.tuaw.com/2012/04/20/no-comment-macbook-perfume-project-smells-like-new-unboxing/

I Do Not Understand Reality, Special Flavoured Vodka Edition, The Sequel

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Good Evening:

I can’t believe I need a second I Do Not Understand Reality, Special Flavoured Vodka Edition. First it was marshmallow flavoured vodka, except it was not just any marshmallow flavoured vodka, it was fluffed! Now it’s this:

http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/04/06/lunch-in-a-bottle-introducing-pbj-vodka/

Peanut Butter and Jelly flavoured vodka. Egads. Fortunately, you can wash it down with this:

http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/04/28/delicious-or-disasterous-a-taste-of-the-cupcake-flavored-vodka/

Yes–cupcake flavoured vodka. I do not understand reality. Somebody get me a beer.

Vonn Scott Bair

Monty Python’s Spamalot; or, Boolean Logic at the Theater

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Good Morning:

IF you’ve gone to a night at the theater;

AND you hear one patron say to another, “Can you please remove your horns? They’re blocking my view of the stage;”

AND the conductor shoots one of the trumpet players twice during the opening number (and the musician finishes the show);

AND the audience starts singing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” before the cast does;

THEN you are probably watching Monty Python’s Spamalot, a musical “lovingly ripped off from the classic film comedy” (hey, that’s the website calling it a ripoff, not me). Eric Idle is mostly responsible for the stage version of the movie lovingly ripped off from Arthurian legend, but during the second act the musical veers off from a straightforward retelling of Monty Python and the Holy Grail into something just as funny and perhaps better.

Since Monty Python’s Flying Circus made its name by parodying the very medium in which it existed (television), and broke the fourth wall with gleeful frequency, and since the movies made their names by parodying the very medium in they exist (film), and broke the fourth wall with gleeful frequency, Idle has chosen to parody the very medium in which Spamalot exists (theater), and breaks the fourth wall with gleeful frequency: the female lead gets to sing a big show-stopping second act song about how she doesn’t get to sing a big show-stopping second act song; there’s a song that goes like this entitled “The Song That Goes Like This;” and the music composed for the show is deliberately overblown, mawkish, and tasteless (and therefore well-composed, genuine and tasteful, as only a Python can do). The cast of the San Francisco show is very good, but I have a sneaking feeling that Spamalot would succeed with a weak cast precisely because of the weak cast. If the show ever wanders into your town, you should see it, even if (perhaps especially if) it’s produced by the local high school’s drama club.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Churro Cart, 27 May 2007

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Good Evening:

Spotted on 20th near Mission Street.

Nikon CoolPix 4300, Landscape Mode

Vonn Scott Bair

Insult of the Day, Special M-Ocean View Edition, 10 April 2012

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Good Afternoon:

He was a homeless African-American with grey in his untrimmed sideburns and grey in his untrimmed beard, and a permanent stoop in his posture. He wore an old Army surplus jacket, and his worldly belongings consisted of his sleeping bag and whatever he could stuff into his pockets, his backpack, and his military green canvas duffel bag. Truth be told, he hadn’t bathed in a while, and the SF Muni M-Ocean View that I took underground from Market & Castro to Market & Van Ness was crowded.

She was about 30 years old and 30 years younger than him, Caucasian, charcoal business suit (skirt and jacket), each strand of honey blonde hair not so much combed or brushed as disciplined and precisely aligned within the confines of a pony tail. As the M pulled into the Van Ness, and before it came to a stop, she started to push her way through the crowd to the center double door, declaiming, “Excuse me! Excuse me! I must get off at this stop! Please, get out of my way!”

The homeless man was in her way, and because of his baggage, he not only took up a lot of room, he couldn’t maneuver at all within the confines of the crowded streetcar. Naturally, he was in her way.

“Excuse me! Can you please get out of my way?! I must get off now! Excuse me, please!”

“It cool, Miss, it cool, I’m gettin’ off here, too; this is the cool stop. All the cool people get off the Muni at this stop.”

“What?!”

“Well, it was cool ’til YOU came along.”

The streetcar stopped, the doors opened, and he disembarked. She almost missed her stop as she was too stunned to move for a few seconds; in fact, she needed to be told to get out of the way by other people trying to leave.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–I love my hometown, but San Franciscans, frankly, including me, can lapse into snotty and arrogant behavior; it would not surprise me if that homeless man had used that exact same insult on other occasions.

Got Orange?

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Good Evening:

Thus begins the time of year when San Francisco’s favorite colors turn from Red and Gold to Orange and Black:

Sometimes I need to be reminded that what’s normal by San Francisco standards is San Francisco by normal standards. But still–Go, Giants!

Vonn Scott Bair

The Fine Art of Dog Ear Scratching

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Good Morning:

Everyone who takes the bus in San Francisco knows (wink, wink) that every dog that boards a bus in San Francisco with its pet human is a “service dog” (wink, wink), meaning that it’s quite legal for the dog to board the bus (wink, wink). One such dog, along with her pet human, took a seat next to me the other day. The medium-sized black mixed breed was in a good mood, since her faithful human servant had just fed her some bacon (it’s nice to know that humans get some things right). The dog checked me out, being the closest human to her own, and I absentmindedly began to scratch her right ear.

The young woman said, “Ooh, it’s a good day for her. First, she gets bacon, now she gets her ear scratched.”

It was also a good day for me, of course; I got to scratch a dog’s ear. After a moment I stopped and began to look for my stop. The dog leaned her left shoulder against my right leg and stuck her head between my shins. Evidently, I am a very good dog ear scratcher and she decided that I should continue to practice the fine art of dog ear scratching in order to maintain the high level of quality I bring to the fine art of dog ear scratching. So I did, until I had to disembark and walk the rest of the way to the meeting of one of my writers’ groups.

I sat to the left of the regulars of this group, a 50-ish Latina with a few physical disabilities that I won’t describe to protect her privacy. She also has a service dog, but this Collie-German Shepherd mix is such an extremely official service dog that she wears her own bright orange acrylic vest indicating that she is the real thing. I absentmindedly began to scratch her right ear, too. But then, gosh darn it, someone said something worth recording, so I stopped scratching the dog’s ear and wrote down a few notes. The dog leaned her left shoulder against my right leg and stuck her head between my shins. Evidently, I am a very good dog ear scratcher and she decided that I should continue to practice the fine art of dog ear scratching in order to maintain the high level of quality I bring to the fine art of dog ear scratching (you might have noticed that I’m also very good at copy-and-paste). I had to keep scratching that dog’s ear until the meeting ended.

And thus it is proven: the reward for doing good is the opportunity to do more good. Unless it’s scratching a dog’s ear. Then the reward for doing good is the encouragement that you continue to do more good. Nay, it is the polite insistence that you continue to do more good. Yet nay again, it is the polite yet determined insistence that you continue to do more good. Nay…

Vonn Scott Bair

The Connection

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Good Evening:

As they walked out of the wine store together I pegged them as a financially secure, upper-middle class couple, each about 60 years old, both about five foot eight, the woman’s hair a distinguished well-coiffed grey, the gentleman’s hair salt and pepper, grey at the temples. They organized their packages, she lightly eased her right hand around his left elbow, and they walked down Fillmore Street, either to their home or to their next chore.

Doesn’t sound like much, does it?

Nor was I impressed at the time, riding in the back of the 22-Fillmore to my beloved Haight, but the more I thought upon this little scene, the more interesting it became. You see, neither of them was looking at the other before or during the moment of connection. She was checking her cell phone for messages, and looking away from him. He was organizing their bags of purchases so that he could carry them with his right hand, and looking away from her. She paid no attention to him, he paid no attention to her. Each seemed oblivious to the other’s location or even existence. And yet she knew exactly where he and his left elbow would be, and he knew exactly she and her right hand would be, and when I wrote that her right hand lightly eased around his left elbow, I mean to emphasize easy and ease. As if they have practiced that simple connection for most of their lives–except of course that they have practiced that simple connection for most of their lives.

And that’s my current definition of a good, solid relationship.

Vonn Scott Bair