Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Duck World Premiere, June 7-28!

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Good Evening:

And good heavens…less than two weeks until my next world premiere, The Duck at the 14th annual Sheherezade festival of very short plays at the Exit Theatre in downtown San Francisco.

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My life has gotten rather a bit maddening this month of May. Between rehearsals and performances for Jinshin Jiko at the Fringe of Marin theater festival, plus meetings & correspondence for a film project in the first weekend of June (I’m the screenwriter), I haven’t had a chance to attend more than the first rehearsal of my own play The Duck (you can read the seven page script here and here).

Normally, I prefer to attend a few early rehearsals and a few late ones. The early ones so I can listen to my howlingly bad tone-deaf dialogue and fix the script, the later ones so I can marvel at how the cast and crew have salvaged the show. This time around, people keep saying the same two words, over and over. The second most common: “stunning.” The most common? “Beautiful.”

I feel most curious to see the first run-through of the entire show; apparently, I have something good.

Director Wesley Cayabyab selected an amazing cast that carries the play to whole new levels, and they have worked very hard on a challenging little play, even if only 7 pages long. Here are two of the actors, Rick Homan as an FBI agent, and Leontyne Mbele-Mbong in the lead role as the amnesiac Hope Judith Hauser.

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The third member, Cameron Galloway, is one of San Francisco’s best comedic actors, but as the other FBI agent, she is tackling one of her most serious roles.

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I keep hearing that The Duck looks really good at this stage, but knowing almost nothing of the rehearsal process, it feels like I have a surprise present awaiting me in June.

Anyway, Wily West is a terrific small theater company based in San Francisco, which has produced a number of Sheherezade short play festivals, an annual event of the Playwrights Center of San Francisco. If you need just one more reason to visit my home town next month, Sheherezade 14 might prove the perfect “just one more reason” you need.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Peculiar Perils of the Positive Workplace (Weekly Photo Challenge: Twist)

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Good Evening:

The negative workplace has received so much attention in so many media: books, books promoted on talk shows, movies based upon the books promoted on talk shows, novelizations based upon the movies based upon the books promoted in talk shows, not to mention comic strips like Dilbert, songs like “Take This Job and Shove it,” and movies like Office Space (when I first saw this flick, I thought it was a documentary about working in the private sector with real-life events recreated by actors).

But what about the positive workplace? In a peculiar twist, no one discusses the disadvantages of working in an environment where everyone gets along with everyone else, or even likes everyone else. It feels as if the positive workplace was Terra Incognita on 16th Century world maps where “there be monsters.” And there do be monsters. Here is a partial list of the monsters I have faced in the past few weeks in my positive workplace.

  • Bread laced with veins of dark chocolate;
  • Official Savannah Smiles Girl Scout Cookies;
  • Official Thin Mints Girl Scout Cookies;
  • Peach coffee cake;
  • Blueberry coffee cake;
  • Trader Joe’s Chocolate-Covered Orange Sticks;
  • Trader Joe’s Chocolate-Covered Raspberry Sticks;
  • Almond-Chocolate candies from the local farmers market;
  • Two huge boxes of bagels, bear claws, and other pastries;
  • and official San Francisco Giants PEZ Dispensers with candy.

Remember; that is a partial list.

A happy work environment is a fattening work environment.

One of my co-workers has chosen to do something about it, using one of San Francisco’s twistiest stairways.

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This co-worker, who sometimes brings in home-baked zucchini cake, has dedicated this year to getting himself back in shape, and he uses the 14 floors of San Francisco PUC Headquarters as part of his regimen. Twice daily, he will walk the stairs all the way to the top floor, walk the stairs all the way down to the first floor, and then walk back up to our floor. Any exercise instructor will tell you that resolutions to get healthy become much easier if you recruit friends, and since everyone likes everyone else in my department, he has lots of friends to recruit.

Therefore, at 10:00 and 2:30 he walks the aisles, calling out “Stairs?” to all and sundry, and anywhere from 5-20 people will answer the call and join him. If you walk very, very slowly, it takes only ten minutes; if you walk briskly as I do, between 7:15 and 7:30.

Co-Worker Finishing Her Morning Stair Exercise.

Co-Worker Finishing Her Morning Stair Exercise. Taken with an iPhone 4.

Evidently, stair walking seems to have the reputation of being one of the best exercises; I have heard others call this a “total body workout,” although I feel a tad skeptical–how does this work the arms and upper body?  I recently began to carry two-pound weights to work me uppers. Nonetheless, walking this many stairs once or twice a day is great on the legs, heart and lungs (and everyone knows that the first rule of Zombieland is “Cardio”).

Stair walking also does good things for your eyes; ten minutes away from the monitor always benefits them. This activity has also become one of the departments favorite social events, as we catch up on each other’s personal lives, make fun of the people who walk too slowly, make fun of the people who walk too quickly, and trade opinions on the latest plot twists in our favorite TV shows. At first, workers from other floors would stare at our curious caravans as if we were nuts; these days, we encounter/pass/run into/run over increasing numbers copying our regimen.

The Fifth Floor "Twist" from Below

The Fifth Floor “Twist” from Below

I have still haven’t decided which provides the greater challenge, and a physical therapist will have to answer this question: which is better for your health, one stair at a time, or two stairs? Personally, one-at-a-time works the middle and outside-middle of my thighs, about 6 inches below my hips, while two-at-a-time makes me breathe harder and puts a lot of stress on the muscles around my knees. So I use either one depending upon my mood.

The stairs themselves are not easy to climb. The number of stairs in each flight always varies, and we have the weird “twist” as well. At the fifth floor, the stairs stop twisting upward in a clockwise direction, twist inward, and then continue to twist upward in a counterclockwise direction. As you can see from the above picture, it feels kinda weird. Also, each step is a bit shallow, so that my heels never touch anything solid, and it becomes that much harder to generate lift.

Another View of the Fifth Floor "Twist"

Another View of the Fifth Floor “Twist”

So far, my co-worker has had great but financially punitive results; he has taken over four inches off his waist, but also had to replace his entire belt collection and buy a new set because the old ones didn’t fit anymore. For that matter, I need to add a pair of holes to mine.

But how did my co-worker talk all of his buddies into joining him in such strenuous exercise?

Simple. He added an incentive.

Anyone who accumulates at least 100 complete walks by August 31 gets a reward. He will cook dinner for you–and since he is literally an award-winning amateur chef, he will cook one heck of a fine meal. But what does he cook that made him literally an award-winning amateur chef?

Baby-Back Ribs.

So if anyone endures the peril of losing weight by August 31, he or she can put all of that weight back on in one sitting. See what I mean? Working with people you like, and who like you, has its disadvantages.

And in case you’re wondering…I sometimes bring in homemade cookies.

Beware.

Vonn Scott Bair

Jinshin Jiko at the Fringe of Marin Festival

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Good Evening:

I have a role in a terrific one-act play entitled Jinshin Jiko, a ghost story that will appear at this year’s Fringe of Marin theater festival. The play takes place in a Japanese subway, and the title roughly translates as “human accident,” a term used to for people who commit suicide by jumping in front of trains. We perform on May 24 and May 25 at 2:00, and May 30 and May 31 at 7:30. For more information and tickets, please visit the Fringe of Marin website.

During tonight’s tech rehearsal at the theater, I noticed an odd phenomenon of light when I looked up at the ceiling. First, take a look at the pictures below, all taken with my iPhone 4, all unedited. The question is simple: how many colors of paint do you see?

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The correct answer: a lot fewer than you think. Aside from a little brown wood trim on the edges of the first and last pictures, there’s only one color in all of these shots. It’s the off-white color you see in the left-hand side of the middle photograph. Yes, they all belong to my “Someone Notices the Contrast of White on White” series of pictures, but I have never seen such color changes resulting from shadow, the angles of light, and nearby lamps.

Anyway, I feel most fortunate to have become a part of Jinshin Jiko; we have a really good combination of script, director and cast. I hope you can attend. After all, how many good reasons to visit the San Francisco Bay Area are there?

Vonn Scott Bair

San Francisco’s Newest & Biggest Mural

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Good Evening:

This one could not have been easy. I don’t know if this is San Francisco’s largest mural, but during The Magic Hour, it looks rather fairly reasonably spectacular.

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I just wish the Moon would stop shrinking when I photograph it. You can find the mural in a desolate part of San Francisco’s East Coast near Illinois and Amador (actually, it’s quite lively during work days–people only become rare on the weekends) where sidewalks disappear and the streets look like they appeared in at least one Fast & Furious movie.

At least for a while.

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In truth, the land in this neighborhood is being recycled–big environmental cleanups everywhere, followed by thousands of units of new housing. If San Francisco is not change, then San Francisco is not at all, and this is needed change. However, I can’t help but think of the effort that went into this work of art. This might be San Francisco’s biggest and newest mural, but I can’t say that it will last forever.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Minimally Artistic Art of Instant Minimalist Art: Grey Series, Recent Pictures, 18 May 2014 (Weekly Photo Challenge: Work of Art)

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Good Evening:

Frequent visitors to The San Francisco Scene–Seen! have become familiar with this phenomenon but might still remain baffled: I really really really like studying the color grey. Grey might seem dull to most folks; perhaps that attracts my attention, seeking to find the sometimes interesting in the usually dull. I know a professional photographer who likes to say, “Do not photograph an interesting object; photograph what is interesting in the object.” I like his approach, which might explain why I sometimes find grey a work of art.

One positive aspect about the color is that shadows play well with it. Here is a shot of a boring wall near Van Ness and Market that only becomes interesting twice a year , and only for a few minutes.

Market Street, 26 April 2014, 4:16:38 p.m.

Market Street, 26 April 2014, 4:16:38 p.m.

You get these shadows only every six months.

I saw this diagonal shadow pattern on a bridge on Illinois Street near Amador, along San Francisco’s East Coast.

Illinois Street Near Amador, 10 May 2014, 7:31:17 p.m.

Illinois Street Near Amador, 10 May 2014, 7:31:17 p.m.

This time, a nice contrast of horizontal vs. diagonal.

Such extreme shadows along walls (I call it “light shaving the wall” because I don’t know the correct term) will throw rougher textures into their greatest contrast, as in this picture, also taken along Market Street on the same day as the first.

Market Street, 26 April 2014, 3:41:30 p.m.

Market Street, 26 April 2014, 3:41:30 p.m.

We have a building a few blocks down on Golden Gate Avenue whose eastern wall frankly has little visual appeal. Most of the time.

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And perhaps it still does, but I like it. Sometimes.

Across from PUC HQ on Redwood Alley you will find the backside of Superior Court, and between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m. every six months (notice a pattern?) the curious and useless ledges that stick out–actually, pigeons looking for love do find them useful–will cast extremely long shadows given that they only stick out about 6 inches from the wall.

Redwood Alley, 14 May 2014, 5:08:26 p.m.

Redwood Alley, 14 May 2014, 5:08:26 p.m.

I hope everyone had a good weekend and looks forward to a good week.

Vonn Scott Bair

Beauty Is in the Stomach of the Beholder (Weekly Photo Challenge: Work of Art)

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Good Evening:

It’s cracked.

It’s misshapen.

It’s lumpy.

It’s ugly.

It’s the first loaf of bread I’ve ever baked.

My First Loaf of Bread!

My First Loaf of Bread! (taken with my iPhone 4)

I think it’s a gorgeous work of art.

I used one of the most popular recipes in the history of the New York Times, Jim Lahey’s legendary no-knead bread of the Sullivan Street Bakery. I can vouch for the success of the recipe, especially if you have the patience to wait 18 hours for the yeastie boys to wake up and get hungry.

Actually, I should write that it was a gorgeous work of art. For proper aesthetic appraisal, approval and appreciation, in one sitting I deposited the entire loaf into the custody of that renowned art historian and critic known as my stomach. Blind to the visual defects but alert to the inner beauty of my sculpture, that august art critic rated my work 4.5 stars out of 5.

I’m pretty sure I can score that last half-star. Just need more practice.

Vonn Scott Bair

Work As Work of Art (Weekly Photo Challenge: Work of Art)

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Good Evening:

In a city as committed to public art as San Francisco as it is to business, sometimes the two combine. San Francisco Public Utilities Commission headquarters on Golden Gate Avenue (my workplace) represents one such example:

SFPUC HQ, 16 May 2014, 1:30 p.m.

SFPUC HQ, 16 May 2014, 1:30 p.m.

The long strip in front is “Firefly,” one of two environmental sculptures by Ned Kahn that you will find in the building. “Firefly” never looks the same twice, thanks to the small clear plastic squares vibrating in the wind. What follows consists of a shot taken at 1:30 today, followed by a second take from approximately the same spot at 5:10. The late afternoon winds introduce a green element into the shot.

"Firefly" 1:30 p.m., 16 May 2014

“Firefly” 1:30 p.m., 16 May 2014

"Firefly" 5:10 p.m., 16 May 2014

“Firefly” 5:10 p.m., 16 May 2014

The entrance hall features another Kahn work, “Rain Portal,” a sort of fountain (for lack of a better term) with a sort of frieze of squiggly clear plastic pipes, down which drips drops of recycled water. Here is an extreme closeup of one of the panels.

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And then there’s the “Escher stairway,” as I and only I call it. When the building opened, this became by far the most popular photographic subject of the people who worked there.

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The Escher happens to rise directly behind “Firefly,” which yields an interesting sort of “instant Cubist” view of Northern San Francisco.

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Methinks that “Work of Art” shall prove one of the most popular WP Photo Challenges ever. My city alone could yield a few dozen posts from yours truly alone.

Vonn Scott Bair

Haighting the Thursday, 15 May 2014

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Good Evening:

Had to run a few errands after work this afternoon, and when I run errands, my camera(s) run with me. My aim with The 30 Shot technique has sloooooowly improved ever since I started to experiment with taking candid street photography with my point-and-shoot, and I didn’t even crop some of these shots, let alone edit them (although I do feel the temptation to experiment in black-and-white or with filters).

It’s blurry and a little hard to tell from this angle, but the young lady with the cat’s ears and green ponytail also has a brown tail hanging down from her derriere.

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Good day for dog pictures.

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This guy, noting the color of my shirt, shouted at me, “Hey, Purple! Come dance with me! Hey, Purple! Come on, Purple!”

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In San Francisco, books without booze is like Barnum without Bailey.

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Hanging out in front of the local gourmet market.

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Tourists taking pictures of each other in front of The Red Victorian.

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And of course, the Upper Haight wouldn’t be the Upper Haight without buskers.

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Just another spring afternoon in the Haight to the people that live there.

But I can understand why people come from all over the world to have a look around

Vonn Scott Bair

Freewheeling Two-Wheeling in San Francisco (Weekly Photo Challenge: On the Move)

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Good Morning:

Has the rest of America’s major cities committed so strongly to two-wheeled transportation as San Francisco? Personally, I don’t know; over the past few years, acting and writing projects have kept me tethered to the Bay Area, so I have not had the chance to see for myself.

But San Francisco has invested heavily in making over itself into a green city, and two-wheeling has become a part of that. I look forward to seeing how/if this will continue and perhaps grow in both San Francisco in particular and America as a whole. Ten, twenty years from now, how might our cities appear? What might the car/bicycle ratio become?

I have my own very crazy idea for how we might make human-powered transportation more palatable & popular: the tricycle. An grown-up adult version, of course. The greater width of the tricycle vs. the bicycle will make it possible to add at least a little bit of storage, something the bicycle sorely lacks:

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I did say it was a crazy idea, didn’t I?

Those green squares (middle, right edge of picture) plus green stripes indicating bicycle-only lanes, appear everywhere in the city, and I hope they have proven helpful in making commuting safer. However, you don’t necessarily have to ride a bicycle to take advantage of them.

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While bicyclists enjoy (and deserve) new-found influence in setting City policy, I think some of them might be pushing things a bit far in terms of their road etiquette. While car-slapping has not yet become a favorite pasttime, I saw another example on Friday at the intersection of Grove and Polk. Only two bicyclists this time, navigating their green lane, which might explain why the driver of the white car didn’t see them before he attempted to turn right from Grove onto Polk, nearly hitting the first rider. He shouted, “Not cool, man!” and continued on his way, but the second biker added, “Yeah, man, totally not cool!” and slapped the car.

I still don’t approve of this; a driver doesn’t need a gun to act out road rage on a biker.

One more, then it’s off to the Civic Center Farmers Market for yours truly.

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Vonn Scott Bair

Welcome, Future Commuters of America! (Weekly Photo Challenge: On the Move)

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Good Morning:

Sometimes whilst practicing The 30 Shot for street photography, I will point the camera directly behind me and take pictures–having no idea what the camera might find. Another luxury of digital cameras; pixels cost a lot less than film, and no one has to see the 90-95% of the pictures that don’t work out.

But 5-10% of the time, the point-and-shoot finds something like this, a group of toddlers on the move getting their first taste of public transit:

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OK. This might have some potential, but it will require some work.

First, in the grand tradition of street photography, a black-and-white approach.

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All edits performed in iPhoto. I kept to the original proportions of the shot, which left a little much foreground, plus the subjects of the picture don’t really stand out as much as they should. So this time, and 8×10 crop, keep the color, and make a few adjustments to bring out more detail.

Welcome, Future Commuters of America!

Welcome, Future Commuters of America!

The red makes such a huge difference. My only regret (possibly fixable in Photoshop Elements) is that the face of the woman on the left is still a little too dark, although I do like how the woman on the right appears as the leader of this expedition/training session on how to ride public transit. Fairly satisfactory, pending future work.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Surreal Is That Which Lies At Your Feet. 7 May 2014 Edition.

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Good Evening:

That’s what I thought on Saturday morning when I stepped out of my Edwardian and saw this:

IMG_5998Yes: two cans of pet food and a pair of baby’s sneakers.

Visitors new to The San Francisco Scene–Seen! might not know that for years, I have sought the name of the first person to say, “The surreal is that which lies at your feet.” Still haven’t found the person, yet; in fact, when I google the term, my name comes up quite often! However, I refuse to claim credit for something I know someone else invented first.

After a bit of a dry spell, strange things have begun to appear at my feet again. Some affect the retro appearance, throwbacks to the chalk drawings of decades ago.

DSCN2191 IMG_5965Others retain San Francisco’s fondness for political commitment and editorial commentary.

The Human Centipede, Google-Style

The Human Centipede, Google-Style

The sidewalks of the Lower Haight have become the canvas of a talented artist or team of artists who make creative use of stencils. More pictures of his/her/their work to come, no doubt.

DSCN2153 DSCN2097The streets and sidewalks near construction sites will accumulate many spray-painted messages in code only the workers will understand (though surely most of them mean “Don’t drill or dig here!”). I like this one, seen on a new site at Polk and Hayes.

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Vonn Scott Bair

Murals Blooming (Weekly Photo Challenge: Spring!)

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Good Evening:

Spring means new murals in San Francisco, blooming everywhere. The middle of the 1100 block of Market Street has two construction sites protected by temporary plywood walls, which translated into mural-ese means close to 100 feet of blank canvas begging for a paint job. Here are three new complete ones, covering the plywood protecting a future office-school-theater of the American Conservatory Theater.

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On Sunday, three artists worked on new murals for the adjoining construction site. One was willing to take a break and answer a few questions about the short life span of San Francisco murals. He’s the gentleman in the picture below.

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Murals get replaced frequently; ’tis a rare mural that lasts more than one year, and many only last six months. This muralist works quite often with the two gentlemen who worked on either side of him, and here are their pieces, which replaced their own older work.

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I learned that there exist two primary reasons why murals get replaced so often. The first did not surprise me–graffiti. After a while, murals receive so much disrespectful mistreatment that it becomes simplest simply to paint over everything and create a new art work.

The second reason might surprise you–contracts.

Yes, contracts. Many murals last for only six or twelve months because the contract the muralist signs with the construction company (or whoever else hires them) stipulates that life span. Then the next artist comes in and paints over the old art with a mural lasting another six or twelve months, or perhaps the same artist creates a new one.

Since the artists not only photograph the finished murals, they also videotape the act of creation, they don’t mind the fact that their work doesn’t last. Their photographs and videos become more permanent versions of the original painting. This attitude of the artists toward their own art will a require a bit of adjustment in my own thinking. I have grown used to reading and viewing plays written 25 centuries ago, not to mention looking at sculptures of the same age. The notion that something like a painting designed/contracted for transience feels a bit odd right now.

Vonn Scott Bair

Boolean Logic @ the Farmers Market! (Weekly Photo Challenge: Spring!)

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Good Evening:

IF: You go to San Francisco’s Civic Center Farmer Market on a Sunday, AND…

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…Strawberries are looking better than usual, AND…

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…Blueberries are back in season, AND…

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…Raspberries are in season and the price has gone down to $3/basket, AND…

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…the Nectarines have just begun to appear, AND–best of all…

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…CHERRIES ARE BACK IN SEASON!!!…

THEN, it’s official…Spring has arrived in San Francisco.

The season will be short this year (the Great California Drought claims yet another agricultural victim), so I have to grab ’em whilst I can.

Vonn Scott Bair

Picture Puzzle, 4 May 2014!

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Good Morning:

This one might prove rather difficult! I haven’t published one of these in a while, so first a little background. San Francisco might have more murals per square mile than any other big city in the United States, perhaps more murals period. I like to use them as the inspiration for picture puzzles.

The idea is simple; first, check out the closeups of sections of the mural, a new one located on Erie Alley, one of the city’s major mural “museums.”

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Then check out this picture of the mural as a whole.

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Where in the mural can you locate the closeups?

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–If you like, you can easily find older posts like this by searching for “Puzzle,” or check out more sample blog posts here, here, here, and here.

Three Signs of Spring in San Francisco (Weekly Photo Challenge: Spring!)

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Good Evening:

San Francisco? Spring? Practically twins, especially on a day like 2 May 2014. You know that Spring has Sprung in San Francisco when you observe three phenomena in the same day.

1. Al Fresco Dining Becomes the Only Dining.

Eating Lunch Near the Food Trucks, Civic Center, San Francisco, 2 May 2014

Eating Lunch Near the Food Trucks, Civic Center, San Francisco, 2 May 2014

Cafe Near Dubose Park, San Francisco, 2 May 2014

Cafe Near Dubose Park, San Francisco, 2 May 2014

2. The Leaves in the Civic Center Unfurl.

The four rows of trees in the middle of the Civic Center receive a European style of trimming, involving severe pruning to force the trees into specific shapes. During the winter, the nubs at the ends of the branches look like big grey wooden fists, but when spring comes, the leaves unfurl, looking like green starburst fireworks.

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3. The Cherry Blossoms.

They don’t produce cherries (darn it!), but they do produce pink. They have probably hit their peak for the year, so if you can’t visit the city real soon, I hope these will suffice as compensation.

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And the Giants won another routinely excruciating 2-1 pitching duel tonight, this time over the Braves. Pity they have to play in Atlanta this weekend; the weather is perfect here. Have a great spring weekend, all.

Vonn Scott Bair