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Just for Fun

Ever wonder where Quentin Tarantino gets his ideas from? Take a look at Everything is a Remix--Kill Bill. It is an amazing piece of work, and while I respect the person who assembled it--wow, it must have taken a LOT of work...

I am well and truly back at HumorLabs (take out a paid subscription today); the topic is:

Worst Piece of Advice From a Doctor...
1> "Eat more and exercise less; I could use the business."

This is my 17th number one in 18 years of contributing to the list--which means, on average I hit the top once every year.  But of course, from 2003-2014 I didn't participate at all, so actually my average is more like two or three times a year. Maybe if I keep at it I can be inducted into the hall of fame sometime.

The Top 11 Reasons to Visit the Abercrombie & Fitch Emergency Room
6> No one over 30 allowed in, resulting in much shorter lines at the admissions desk.

And, if you've ever wondered about the Bay Bridge lights, check out this preview, then watch 
the story of the Bay Bridge lights coming to KQED 9 6pm Sunday in "Impossible Light"

Amazing week

The last week has been among the most amazing of my life. It could, I suppose, all be chalked up to the runup to my birthday, which was Wednesday. Because I am retired, I felt able this year, for the first time, to attend multiple events in the California Independent Film Festival, including the opening night. I review several of the films (briefly!) below. I enjoyed that. Sunday night, I was taken to dinner by my wife, with my daughters and nephew in attendance. The food was almost as good as the company. After dinner, V and I went into SF to stay at the Sheraton Fisherman's Wharf, so we could get an early start on a long-held hope of mine: to tour the Privately Owned Public Spaces of San Francisco.  Then we went to the lovely Vogue Theater to see The Last Weekend. I got two birthday cards with felt on them. It is very difficult for me to imagine how I could have asked for more.

Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS) In San Francisco

My family constantly asks, "Is this what you are going to do with your retirement?" Well, this is what I may do with my retirement, some of the time. There are a number of hikes and sights I have thrown in a drawer, meaning to get around to them "someday." Well, someday is now.

On Dec. 4, 2012, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote an article pointing out that many of the owners of Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS) did not go out of their way to let people know of their existence. Some signs were at ankle-level, in small type, or printed in a light color. The city has since begun to standardize the signage. In the meantime, SPUR, a San Francisco urban renewal group, has published a guide to POPS. I printed out the guide and kept it in a drawer, periodically mentioning my desire to see at least some of these sites. Many of them are inside office buildings, and cannot be seen at night nor on weekends, which is when we are usually in the city. As a birthday present, my wife V took Monday off, and we went hiking around downtown SF.

POPS result when a developer wants more floor space or more floors in a building than are allowed by the building code. They can "buy" the space from the city by providing amenities for public use, one of which is a public space, maintained in perpetuity by the building owner. It is this private maintenance that makes POPS different from public parks.

So, here is what the new signage looks like:


The SPUR map shows 55 POPS, but many of them are "snippets," and amount to a few tables and plants. We went to eight of the sites rated "excellent," or that seemed interesting to us.

Redwood Park b etween Transamerica Pyramid and 505 Sansome

Perhaps, like me, you have driven by the Transamerica Pyramid and wondered about the small park at the foot of the tower. This week was the first time in 37 years of on-and-off residence in San Francisco or Orinda that I have set foot here. It was set up in 1972, when the tower was completed, so isn't officially a POPS, but it is, by far, the most beautiful of the ones we saw. It is a grove of redwoods in the middle of the city. The trees, amazingly, create a cool and quiet respite from the city (SF was an unnaturally warm -- 80 -- on the day we toured). It contains walls you can sit on, a fountain and artwork. The 505 Sansome POPS is in the lobby of the building, with tables and chairs, separated from the redwood grove by a large glass wall; on a cold or rainy day, it would be the perfect place to sit and gaze at the redwood grove.

Redwood 1

The fountain and the redwoods


The artwork

Redwood 3

The fountain

A brief digression

We stopped for lunch at Mangia Tutti at 635 Clay Street. Lucky for us, they serve lunch until 3, because it was past 2 when we got there. The food was great, the service was first-rate and the prices seemed reasonable for San Francisco. Also, the bread and dipping sauces were heavenly.


343 Sansome

Not far away is a POPS you wouldn't know existed if you didn't have a map--it's a sun terrace on the 15th floor! Tables, chairs, benches, olive trees and benches, with a piece of artwork in the middle. Both sun and shade were available during our visit. It was quiet, delightful, and had a terrific view.

343 sansome

The view from 343 Sansome

343 sansome 2

A great view of the Transamerica Pyramid (and me)

343 sansome 5

Art in the middle of the sun deck

150 California

The SPUR brochure suggests stopping at the front desk and telling the attendant where you are going. This is a good idea, as otherwise, you may take the wrong bank of elevators and not be able to find the fifth floor sun terrace. Tables and chairs, sun and shade, and a lovely view of the city.

Time for my Booneville Dog story. In 1978, I was riding my bike through the semi-rural western reaches of Portland, Oregon, following the instructions of a book about metro area bike rides. The book warned of a dog in a neighborhood known as Booneville (not the one near Corvallis you find in Google). We stopped to buy a soda (no bottled water back then!) and met the store owner--and his dog. The dog was not as advertised, and the owner had no idea that hundreds of bike riders had heard of his dog because of the guide book. The same goes for the attendant at 150 California. We stopped at the front desk and told him he was in the guidebook!

150 california 5

The view from 150 California

101 California

This office building is mostly known around these parts as the site of an awful gun incident on July 1, 1993. Turns out its front plaza is a beautiful POPS with a pretty fountain, and its lobby is an award-winning garden. Lots of places to sit, but quite shady--which is OK if it is 80 out, but it isn't 80 out very often in SF. Handy place to go if you are taking out of towners on the California Street cable car; lots of nearby food service.

101 california

The 101 California fountain

One Bush

One Bush is the oldest POPS listed by SPUR. This was the first high-rise building in SF after World War II, and the public space has been around since 1959. I have walked or driven past it hundreds of times without realizing it was there. It is below ground and has walls along the Market Street side that make it difficult to see (which, given the nature of some of the denizens of Market, makes sense). SPUR describes it as an "urban garden" for "visual enjoyment only," with no benches or food service, resulting in a rating of "fair." Still worth a look, even if just for the shock value for San Franciscans who didn't know it was there.

One bush

The One Bush fountain

100 First Street

This 1988 entry is another example of "hidden in plain sight." It was paid for by 100 First Street, but is entered via a non-descript staircase from Mission Street which does almost nothing to hint at the sun terrace above. I particularly enjoyed this POPS, despite the fact that the fountain is turned off and the tables and chairs are attached to the ground and thus immobile. I would rank it second, after the Redwood Park at the Transamerica Pyramid. There is a deli at the foot of the stairs.

100 first

The non-descript stairs leading to the sun terrace. The setback from Mission makes it a quiet place.

100 first (2)

One of several settings of benches and tables

100 first 3 (2)

The fountain would have been prettier with water in it.

560 Mission Street

Lots of places to sit and two nearby delis make this a likely stop for lunch. A tall kinetic sculpture in a shallow pool is beautiful, and contains steps that allow you towalk out and get a closer lookat the art. There is also bamboo along the walls. Quite lovely.

This is V's second favorite. She said, "It is minimalistic and very Zen and calming. At first, I thought it would be perfect if it were above Mission, but now I know it is the perfect counterpoint to Mission.

560 mission

The sculpture in the fountain, and the steps

555 Mission Street

Directly across the street from 560 Mission is 555 Mission, a much more open, light and airy POPS, if you're into that sort of thing. It features playful sculptures and a small grove of ginko trees in the back. The crane from big building project in the back adds another dimension; maybe they should keep it there.

555 mission

Other POPS

There are 47 other POPS in the SPUR brochure, and no doubt more on the way with all the new development south of Market Street. They are sometimes lovely hidden gems in the world's favorite city, hidden on upper floors or in plain sight. Plus, I like to think that we should all make use of them as often as possible, so that the public gets its money's worth from the amenity provided to us in exchange for the developer making a whole lot of extra money.





Film Festival Highlights

I went to several events at the California Independent Film Festival, which mostly lives at the nearby Rheem and Orinda theaters (although it also puts in an appearance at the Castro theater in SF as well).

Opening night featured a tasty buffet, and two films. The first was a short called Jerome's Bouquet, which was clever and funny with a twist ending.

The feature on opening night was An Evergreen Christmas, coming out on DVD on Nov. 4, and, I assume, also headed for some theatrical release. My prediction: it could supplant 1983's A Christmas Story as the modern Christmas movie to beat. Great acting, many moving moments, and a happy ending.

Another full-length film I saw was the documentary Citizen Hearst, available on iTunes. It is 90 minutes of hagiography of Hearst himself (who disappears one-third of the way in), his newspapers (a little), his architecture (a little--NY HQ and San Simeon) and his fashion and lifestyle magazines (a  lot). Not exactly investigative journalism, but fun and interesting if you care about the Hearst legacy.

Starring Adam West is a full-length documentary available on Amazon Instant Video. If you, like me, loved him as Batman, you must see this film. He had a career before Batman, and has had one since. The latter half of the film revolves around efforts to get him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  It is made to seem harder than it should have been. Not that I am doing a spoiler on whether he gets one or not...

Cas and Dylan stars Richard Dreyfuss and Tatiana "Orphan Black" Maslany on a trans-Canadian buddy movie run. Very enjoyable. It won best picture at the festival, as well as best actor and actress for the leads. It has been out no  DVD since August 12; I suggest you rent it. As of today, you can't buy it because it is out of stock (probably from the film festival).

Vingers is a slightly creepy movie about a male teacher fantasizing about his female students, then actually making a move while drunk and chaperoning a party.

Voluntario is a Spanish short in which a young slacker's parents figure out something he can do with his life. Nice twist.

Red Dot is about a woman who does something stupid (accidentally exposing herself to a 16-year-old girl) that gets her designated as a sex offender, requiring her to go to all the neighbors and inform them she is in the neighborhood.

Future Self should win an Oscar. It is a touching, well-acted, well-written, moving, clever short subject about a young man who meets his future self. Or does he? There is virtually no science-fiction element in it, at least until right near the end.

The Greggs is extremely weird.

Failure Groupies is hard to describe, so I'll quote IMDB: "A comedy following a group of suburban post-9/11 tweens who fail a group project and set up a spy mission to get their temperamental teacher fired." Amazingly, it does not fall into any of the cliches which it could have fallen into, and has a lovely twist ending to boot.

Chevalier Restaurant

A fine and fun four-star meal at this French restaurant in Lafayette, CA. Outside seating is lovely on a hot night like last Sunday, although the inside appears to be quite pretty as well. French Nouvelle cuisine, excellently prepared. Terrific service, and the owner has a French accent, which is always re-assuring. Highly recommended.

Sheraton Fisherman's Wharf

This tourist hostelry was recenently remodeled; the rooms now look like the rooms in one of those fancy Manhattan micro-hotels, only, of course, bigger. White walls, modern furniture. I hate hotels with individual air conditioning units in the rooms, because they are so noisy; break down and buy AC for the building, big spenders. There is some motor that sounds like an idling truck that starts up at 6am and makes sleep difficult. But before then, the room was dark enough and quiet enough. Continental breakfast, which to me is no breakfast at all.

The Last Weekend

The Vogue, a single-screen neighborhood theater in Pacific Heights saved by a non-profit foundation, is a swell place to see a movie.  Monday, after our POPS tour, we went there to see The Last Weekend, a Patrician Clarkson vehicle directed and written by Tom Dolby, about the culture of wealthy San Franciscans with houses at Lake Tahoe. A few things happen, but mostly it is a slice of life, set on the Labor Day Weekend, the last weekend of summer (although the title has a double meaning). It is a pleasant way to while away 90 minutes, with characters you come to know, in a mildly interesting situation. It is in very limited release, but see it if you get a chance, especially if you care about San Francisco and are interested in the lives of wealthy San Franciscans.

Two Days Late, But Not A Dollar Short

Regular readers will realize that I normally post on Monday, and not Wednesday. But the hard work of retirement isn't leaving me as much time for writing as I expected. Or maybe it is just that I haven't been able to prioritize properly yet. It appears I am writing about every two weeks now, rather than the weekly frequency I kept up for almost 15 years.

I simply wish to record the fact that, at V's instigation, we had a lovely Sunday the day before Labor Day. The weather was lovely. We took BART to Powell Street, then went to the top of the SF Centre for lunch at Straits, a darn fine eatery located there with Asian Fusion food. Then over to Civic Center station. I thought Muni would be faster for this short haul than BART; I was wrong. From the station a brisk three blocks to one of SF's great remaining Art House cinemas, the Opera Plaza. Apparently, after 35 years of exposure to me, V is starting to pick up some of my preferences, like seeing two movies in a day. Back to back we saw an old French film, Summer's Tale, and a modern Italian one, Five-Star Life. Both were very pleasant and provided fodder for discussion on the BART ride home.

The next weekend, we had two couples over for dinner, along with out daughter R. I hate to overuse the word lovely, but that's just what it was. Everyone was interested in what everyone else had to say (three of the women were psychotherapists, so that probably helped the dynamic), and an evening of good takeout food and lively conversation followed. We had drinks on the back patio, which V has worked very hard to spiff up, followed by dinner in the nook. We didn't cook ourselves, or roll out the dining room table because V wanted to keep the evening informal. Seven at the round table is a squeeze, but we made it.  Then some rose and lavender tea in front of the gas fireplace. Heaven. Is this how I'm going to spend my retirement? I don't know, but I hope so.

Movies: The Trip to Italy, A Summer's Tale, Five-Star Life, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Three foreign films and an American box-office loser. It has been an interesting few weeks at the movie theater.

The Trip to Italy is the followup to the Steve Coogan/Rob Brydon film The Trip, a re-cut BBC TV series. Coogan and Brydon are big stars in Britain, not so much here, although Coogan is slightly better known. They are both hysterically funny in a British deadpan way and both do stunning impressions, especially of Michael Caine. Frankly, this film would be worth watching for the hotels and meals in Italy, even if you hated the stars. I want a tour of the places they went!

A Summer's Tale sprang from the mind of Eric Roehmer, a French director best know in the U.S. for Claire's Knee. It follows his usual pattern: well-educated middle classs young people, talking more than acting. One of those foreign films where "nothing happens," but still quite a bit of fun. It is 20 years old; God knows why it was in a theater. You can rent it if you like subtitled, intellectual French films. We do.

Five-Star Life is the picaresque tale of a woman who reviews five-star hotels for a living. It's Italian, but the hotels are all over the world. Good but not great. About what you'd expect; this woman's job has taken over her life. Amazing shots of amazing places to stay.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a sequel, remarkable for its weird mostly black-and white photography and its buckets of blood. If you can't treat over-the-top violence as a form of entertainment, don't even walk by a theater showing this film. I thought it was interesting for what it was, and I was swept up in the graphics. Not so much the plot, and the fact that the film was at least a half hour too long irritated me. Alas, since it flopped at the box office, there probably won't be another one. No spoilers, but I think you'll find the ending satisfying.