Wednesday, September 16, 2009

SF: On Big Cat Feet

I don't have a hundred words for San Francisco fog--but maybe a dozen. There's the Morning Fog--a high tent of gray that can break to blue. We awaken to white on white, but there's a hint of light in the east and a prevailing optimism that the ceiling will lift by noon.

The Fog of Haves and Have-Nots. This fog is thickest near the ocean (49th avenue) and extends over our house at 21st. Look toward downtown, however, and weep. The dome of City Hall is gleaming in reflected sunlight. We can easily see where the fog line ends. Our friends on 12th avenue (The Haves) celebrate sun from morning till night, but the gray stuff hovers over us all day like a migraine headache.

The most dense, most depressing fog arrives in July and August. This is the Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Fog and it can last weeks. The SAD Fog reminds me of November in Kentucky--days and days of relentless gray. In San Francisco it's triggered by the inland heat. As long as it's 100 in Stockton, this coastal fog will have us by the throat.

When the fog moves in to stay I tell myself--stop whining. Be rational. We wanted to live in The Avenues because this neighborhood hugs the park and extends to the glorious ocean. We can walk (a long walk) to the beach on a Saturday morning, run Cleo in the sand, have a cup of chai at Java Beach, and trudge back through the park...all without getting the car out of the garage. Still...the SAD fog can get really old.

Some fogs are wonderful, such as the Daytime Drama Fog. This random and unexpected fog whisks into the neighborhood on really big cat feet, and floats down alleys and around houses like dense cigar smoke. One minute we can see Balboa Avenue and the next minute it's gone, visibility is near zero, car headlights are on, and even houses across the street have vanished under the white snuggy. This fog cranks up the adrenaline and gives me the same feeling I have when a heavy snowfall moves in to Kentucky. It's a wonder to behold.

When we stand at our front door, 33 steps above the street, we can usually see Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands in the distance. But sometimes the bridge and bay alone are buried in fog. Look toward Golden Gate and it's not there--all you see is a wide white brush-stroke along the horizon.

This might called the Bridge-Swallowing Fog. These days are fun, too, because they bring the foghorns out. Their leisurely two-note call (a perfect fifth) provides a haunting and beautiful musical score through the day.

Often the Bridge-Swallowing Fog and accompanying foghorns stretch into the evening and turn into the Lullaby Fog. On these nights--which can occur all year round in San Francisco--just open the windows, cover up, close your eyes and listen. The fog keeps the street noise at bay, and the fog horns sing all thoughts into oblivion.
drawing: "Summer is Foghorn Season"
watercolor and 005 micron pen on paper

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Kentucky: Doves

The mourning doves
trail me
from San Francisco
and haunt
with woodwind notes.

I've lived long
been moved, met
known sorrow, lost,
been taught, atoned. So

lose me, find me
follow me across
wide pools
plains and ranges,

calling: loss is gain,
truth fluid
that which sears,
which burns to keen
will lift to float
and cool you at the end.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

SF: L' Opera a la Claudia

Forget the Bolshoi. For us the ultimate Russian experience is opera-– thanks to Claudia.

She’s eighty-ish, the picture of refinement. We met Claudia and her husband John during our first month in San Francisco. Ira was walking on 21st with Cleo and a Russian-accented voice shouted from across the street, “A whippet!"

Within minutes Ira and Cleo had been snagged and pulled up the stairs of the Markevich’s two-story stucco for a discussion of dog breeds, a viewing of John’s wood sculpture, and a taste of Claudia’s torte. So began our friendship and our introduction to L'Opera a la Claudia.

At $80 a ticket, the SF Opera is too pricey for us attend with any regularity. But free performances do come around and we’ve rapidly learned the truth: Claudia must go. In the four years we’ve known them we’ve shuttled her to opera in the park, chauffeured her to Daily City for opera at the cinema, and have spent whole afternoons at John and Claudia’s house with dog, a bottle of white wine, and--opera on the stereo.

The Markevich’s respective pasts could shape a fine libretto. Claudia‘s father was a scholar–-a German linguist--sent to a POW camp in Siberia after World War I. After his release (traveling through China) he met and married Claudia’s mother, a Russian living in China. So Claudia grew up in Asia and as a young adult met John Markevich, another Russian wending his way through China. Their cultural diversity is apparent in any gathering: Claudia understands Chinese, speaks fluent Russian with John, her immediate family and their Russian Orthodox friends, German with her cousins, and English with us. But her favorite language is music.

So today–-free opera in Golden Gate Park–-Claudia is on needles and pins. She has requested we pick her up a full hour before the performance so we can sit with other Russian friends. As she’d predicted, the park is packed. We find the group, claim seats in the white-chair section reserved for senior citizens, and wait for music director Nicola Luisotti to raise his baton. Picnickers crowd around us, and blankets stretch all the way to the hills.

The food is delicious and bountiful, very Russian and very red: cold cuts on crusty rolls, pickled herring with beets, and red potato salad. I contribute stuffed figs and deviled eggs. I miss having green stuff, but they don't.

We eat and share our wine under a white paper sky and silver disk sun. We hum Donizetti's arias, and smile as we recognize O mio bambino caro from Puccini. The notes are like the birds that float and dart overhead, soaring and then vanishing. Claudia is beaming and tapping time. Ira and I turn to each other and just mouthe, “Click” –- or, “wish we could photograph this.”