Just because I’ve returned to San Francisco doesn’t mean I’m divorced from France, it’s more a trial separation. A conversation with the Walkers trying to answer the question “what is a novel?” brought up a number of issues about how we fictionalize our lives. Selective memory enables us to rewrite the past and, in the present, we choose what to see and retain, especially when we travel, much as we choose what to include in the frame when we make a photo. So we’re always making stories and a novel is just one way of telling stories, something humans have been doing for a very long time.
J’adore la France, but it’s not easy to explain: I’ll always be a foreigner there and the French do not welcome strangers easily, yet I’m pretty comfortable and could probably live there, although not in a small rural village. I’m too much a city kid.
There’s still lots of Maury in my life: making prints for Tom and Susan, writing about Marcel and Carrie for Helen Tate’s company:
Finding Cuvee Constance in K&L:
followed by a short Facebook conversation with Jean-Roger and Marie.
And there’s fiction too, but that’s not ready for prime time.
San Francisco is home and I’m happy to be here – although I might reconsider if the Giants don’t start playing better – but I miss the friends I made there and I’ll go back.
In the interest of fair play for California wine I stopped off at Tank 18, an urban winery and a new venue for Ann Walker Catering. It’s a nice industrial space South of Market with about six wines purchased and bottled under their own label.
Mary Ann did some business, Larry and I tasted and then I played with the iPhone’s panorama software and discussed mounting an exhibition here.
The boys are touring again and for those of you who can’t remember if you were there, here they are about 40 years ago.
Click on a thumbnail for a larger view.
Easter Sunday to be a bit more descriptive, and I set off on a walk to the Presidio to see Andy Goldsworthy’s sculpture: Wood Line. The last time I came here was the day before I left for France, not knowing for sure if I’d ever be back, so this piece resonates with me more than most.
Today I was glad to be living here, appreciating a city that could create the beauty of the Presidio out of a former military base, and at peace with the changes in my life.
Wood Line is one of two Goldsworthy pieces in the Presidio and the one I find more effective and evocative. Like much of his work, Wood Line speaks to the intersection of human and nature in defining this space through the placement of eucalyptus logs in a sinuous pattern through a gap in the forest created when the eucalyptus planted by the army overwhelmed the native cypress trees.
He’s created a memory path, a long and winding road that also acknowledges the future in the changes that will inevitably follow. The line has a clear beginning and end, but the sculpture is more about time than form. Nature will determine the ending.
I came home to an email telling me of the death of Richard Schwartz, my oldest friend. We met in high school and while we would sometimes go years without speaking, we were always friends. Richie was a New Yorker, one of those people who couldn’t possibly live anywhere else. He was born on the Lower East Side, but spent most of his life in Queens and that was where he belonged. Richie and his wife, Heidi, travelled extensively, but Queens was home. It was where I always pictured him and the only place I ever saw him. He was formed by New York and part of what makes New York what it is.
Yet, unlike his city, Richie’s life was quiet: husband, social worker, traveler, and collector of what is undoubtedly the world’s greatest collection of Don Quixote tchotchkes. He was a private person, devoted to his wife, and not much of a communicator to the rest of us. He knew my family much better than I ever knew his. When he spoke about himself, unfinished sentences left just enough ambiguity to make me believe I wasn’t getting the full story. Our friendship may have been incomplete, but never ambiguous. He was my friend and I will miss him.
My friend Tom has a new heart. Modern medicine may have its failings but this is a scientific triumph and a joy to his family and friends. The transplant was less than a month ago and Tom is out and about with more energy than he’s had in years. We spent two hours in Ikea the other day, something most healthy people can’t tolerate, and now he’s planning on going back to work as soon as possible. Of course, there’s a long way to go and some setbacks are expected but his progress is a source of wonder to us all. It’s also a tribute to an unfailing optimistic attitude; Tom’s friend, Jay, calls him “one of those glass half-full guys” and there’s no doubt this attitude is powerful medicine. He’s also a guy who’s always worked harder than most and when told that the better condition he was in going into the surgery, the better he’d be coming out, he pushed himself to remain active despite the terrible weakness of a failing heart.
Out of the hospital, Tom is still in need of constant care, partly to restrain him from doing too much, partly to help deal with the unpleasant side effects of the mountain of medications he must take to ward off infection and rejection. So his family and friends signed up for monitoring duty and I got Tuesdays.
This is not hard work. Yesterday we walked two blocks to a market for a few groceries, then Tom took a nap while I trolled online for furniture for my new apartment, Jay joined us and we went around the corner for a great burger lunch. After a short review of my furniture needs, Tom went to make some phone calls and answer some email while I went back online. We went for a walk, then read a while until some friends arrived and we ordered some great Mexican food for dinner.
It’s all too easy to lose perspective, to focus on the past, to be consumed by the negative, but it’s just not possible when you’re hanging out with a guy who just received a whole new life and is intent on making the most of it.
In yet another example of my spectacular gift for good timing, I’ve returned to San Francisco at the peak of an apartment shortage: highest average rents ever and fierce competition for what’s available. Rental ads list proximity to Google and Apple shuttles and warn you to come armed with all three credit scores, bank statements, pay stubs rental history, references and the name of the surgeon who will remove your right arm for use as a security deposit.
This is truly a nightmare. Think for a moment about 300 square foot studios in dodgy neighborhoods for $2000 per month. There, you didn’t need to think for very long, did you? But if you’re looking to live here, you have to consider it.
I went to look at a place the other day that was a steal at $1900. I’ve seen prison cells that were larger. What was called the bedroom was a windowless cube that could accommodate a queen-size bed, but absolutely nothing else, so I’d have to crawl into the room from the bottom of the bed because there was no space on the sides. Then, I’d need to fit living room, office, dining room and clothes storage into the other room, which didn’t leave any space for me. And I put in an application and didn’t get the place.
Then we have the guy who wanted to break his lease but didn’t want to tell his landlord yet because he might change his mind, so he puts an ad in Craig’s list offering to rent an apartment that he had no right to rent and wastes half a precious day of searching.
Scams are plentiful and sometimes clever: there are many excuses for not being available to actually let you see the apartment before forking over the “holding deposit.” Some are unavoidably detained on business in Zurich, others have been called to do the Lord’s work in Alabama, in some cases the photos shown are not of the actual unit available, and then there’s Stacy for whom I always seem to be second choice: “The good news is that the rental is still available! We had a tentative agreement from the first person we showed it to, but now it seems that they changed their mind, so we need to lease it as soon as possible. You were the second one to email me about it, so its only fair to give you the first shot.” And to rise to the top of Stacy’s list all I need do is click on the mystery link below.
The search goes on but there are few open houses today because the local boys are in the Super Bowl. I can use a breather.
I’m packing up and heading back to San Francisco; 18 months in a village of 900 people is a long time for a city kid. It’s been a good and productive time. The photo book is now in shape and being considered for publication. The all-text version is progressing and I plan to get out of town before the fictional version appears. So I’ve returned to being a photographer and also begun to discover a voice as a writer. And in a more serious vein, I’ve also become an expert pizzaiolo and make a pretty good bagel as well.
I thought for a while that I would move to Perpignan but the more I thought, the more I realized I really wanted to go back home. That’s what happens here in the winter, you spend a lot of time indoors, in your own head. Actually, it’s amazingly warm here at the moment. I just came from coffee in the garden of some friends, opened the windows and even sat on the terrace for a while. It’s a shock after last year’s very cold winter. Now that I have all the windows covered with Saran Wrap, it’s 72o and sunny.
I’ve been spending a lot of time on Craig’s list lately looking for apartments and it’s like a drug. I see photos that look great and think I could be happy there, and then I feel happy, for a few minutes. As my new friend Claire said, it’s like online dating. Of course as an experienced Photoshop user, I’m very wary of the validity of the photos, although it’s much more likely that they’re photos of another apartment rather than retouched photos of the actual place. But not only are the fees through the roof, there’s enormous competition for what is available, all those facebookers, tweeters and googleites need to live somewhere and they clearly prefer the city to the valley.
Going home is a good thing, so is starting a new chapter. Going back to a familiar and comfortable place feels right, just as leaving it was right at the time, but changing circumstances and a different attitude will bring new challenges. And that’s also a good thing. One of the down sides of a small rural village is that for most people roles are defined by tradition: many of those playing bingo at the seniors club are no older than me, but their roles seem to have been pre-determined; they appear to be following a script. This is what you do when you reach a certain age. Not true for everyone, but the narrow offerings of a small village do limit options and imagination. As I write this, the 5:30 loudspeaker announcement from the Mairie is indeed about tomorrow’s “séance de loto.”
I can, of course, come back here and I will. I still have my share of the house and I have made friends that I’d like to keep. But for now, while the blog will continue, I think I’ll put my bingo career on hold.
OK, so you probably didn’t know that the Center of the World is in Perpignan, Neither did anyone else until some bright young bureaucrat uncovered a quote from Salvador Dali declaring exactly that. Now Dali was known to be a bit self-absorbed and so what was actually a station to change trains on his way from his home in Figueres, Spain to Paris, became for him the center of the world, maybe only when he was there, but, nevertheless, his words have been adopted by the city of Perpignan and a simple station has achieved this monumental status.
But really the best thing about the center of the world is that it has parking and is only a block away from a restaurant I think is one of the best in the world, Garriane.
Lunch today was a sauté of mushrooms flavored with cinnamon, a beautifully pink magret de canard with roasted vegetables, a small salad, a bottle of wine and a coffee, all of which amounted to about €35. Maybe Dali was on to something.
Coming back from Perpignan, you can see the Pic de Bugarach in the distance and realize that Maury is about halfway between the center and the end of the world. I reported earlier that the mayor of Bugarach had called off the end trying to get rid of the t-shirt vendors. It didn’t work; the crazies kept coming, believing that the spaceship garaged within the mountain would carry them to safety (exact destination unknown.)
The BBC reports a French parliamentary committee has expressed genuine concern about suicide cults and Jean-Pierre Delord, the mayor of Bugarach says groups of strangers dressed in white are scaring the residents. No one has yet been able to explain why anyone would travel to the only place on earth that will survive a holocaust in order to commit suicide.
The French, of course, will not pass up an opportunity to profit: locals are offering spare rooms at Ritz-Carlton prices and selling souvenir rocks and clumps of dirt. Jean Pla, the ever-optimistic wine entrepreneur is selling his “End of the World” cuvee, while bottling the next vintage: “Survival Cuvee.” The village of Maury has rechristened its annual Marché de Noel, to be known this year as the Marché des Survivants.
As for me, I’m booking a table at Garriane for lunch on the 21st. Celebration or farewell, either way I know I’ll eat well.
I just looked at my Facebook page and found that I was born, went to college, and then the next thing that happened to me was in 2009. Now I understand this is only Facebook’s version of history but it bothered me enough to get me to sit down and write, which is how I try to work out things that are bothering me. And I am indeed bothered by the idea that our current obsession with the personal and the immediate will cause us to lose sight of others and of the past. It seems to be a natural extension of the democratization of criticism, which has made peer reviews far more powerful than those of professional critics, but has also enabled an overpowering solipsism that makes everyone the center of his own universe. If you are your world, you have no need of the knowledge that came before. I’m a bit uncomfortable with that.
I’ve been noodling around with Instagram lately and reading about the power of social media for photographers and I get much of it. I know it’s a new world out there and if I were pursuing a career in photography I would be taking advantage of all these tools. It’s different now than it was for me. Now you don’t build a portfolio piece by piece and haul it around to magazine editors and agency art directors; now you populate your various feeds, build your online audience and parlay that into assignments for which you might even be paid. Some of that really appeals to me.
When I was a young photographer, I would get physically ill (slight exaggeration) at the sight of the Time-Life Building, but would force myself to go there twice a year to visit picture editors and solicit assignments. I had moderate success, but there’s no doubt that my discomfort didn’t encourage people to want to work with me. I got work because I was well trained, skillful and respected the craft. Here’s a tip of the hat to Greg Peterson, who taught me almost everything I know about the craft of photography.
Digital has, of course, made the craft less important, which will no doubt appeal to the arbiters of art, but it’s also bringing the standards of commercial photography much closer to art photography, which has never been concerned with craft.
So now we get kids with iPhones covering large corporate events, posting the images to their Instagram and Twitter feeds and not really expecting to be paid. It’s a great deal for the sponsoring and distribution corporations who don’t have to pay for content, but here’s the kicker, it works because that’s where their target audience is.
In the old model, corporations and their agencies would hire photographers to create pictures promoting their products and services, and then buy space in the media to distribute the images. This would not only allow the commercial photographers to make a living, it would enable the media outlets to hire professional photojournalists to tell the world’s stories. This chain is breaking; it’s not totally gone but we’re headed that way. I remember when stock photo agencies started to introduce royalty-free images; the argument in opposition was that it would turn photographs into a commodity. That certainly proved to be true, but now we’re going beyond that and getting close to a world where all photography is free and, after that, other forms of content.
I understand the argument for free dissemination of information; I just don’t understand how the content creators will be able to put food on the table.
Time for lunch.
Everyone likes Thanksgiving – especially turkey farmers – and what’s not to like. Food, friends, family, all get together without religion or the need for presents: everyone’s welcome. It’s basically a harvest festival, usually said to have been held first in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts when Pilgrim immigrants and Native Americans sat down to celebrate a good harvest after a very difficult first year. This led to a long, peaceful co-existence, which, if true, is probably the only example of a genuinely cooperative and peaceful relationship between natives and colonists.
The church soon became involved and preachers and politicians issued sermons and proclamations thanking God for his gifts. Today, of course, the church has been displaced by the television and the holy game of football dominates the day.
There are many harvest celebrations in France but Thanksgiving traditions are unknown, so when Carrie Sumner and I planned our dinner, we were unable to find a whole turkey and settled on pintade, a scrawny looking bird not much bigger than a chicken, but with darker, more flavorful meat. I brined one bird and cooked it on our faux Weber before finishing it in the oven. Carrie cooked the second one and noticing the lack of fat, stuffed the space between skin and meat with duck fat, brilliant. Both turned out well, add the onions agrodolce (no cippollini available), Brussels sprouts, dressing, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie and pinots from Australia, Oregon and France and we had ourselves a real Thanksgiving and an international one at that with Marcel, who is Swiss, Bartek is Polish and Muriel is French. We even had a Skype visit from Carrie’s parents in Oregon.
There are, of course, numerous Thanksgiving traditions: the president pardons a turkey, Macy’s has a parade, the NFL plays football, and families, most of whom no longer resemble a Norman Rockwell painting, create their own traditions. Over-eating and falling asleep in front of the TV are staples and in many homes, everyone says what he is thankful for. Vegetarians may replace the bird with a nut loaf or similar and many in Northern California will eschew turkey and celebrate the opening of crab season. The Friday after has become the monster-shopping day, but my friends will instead head up the California coast for an oyster picnic.
But Carrie’s family has the weirdest tradition of all: they watch the movie White Christmas, which is strange, but they also sing along with the music. Now, they explain watching the movie because they see Thanksgiving as beginning the Christmas holiday season, but nothing can explain the sing-along. This is a kind of Crosby/Clooney Karaoke that goes on for two hours until all the old soldiers come marching in, very strange. In a way, it harkens back to the Rockwell era and gathering around the piano in the parlor. In another way, it makes you think that maybe football isn’t such a bad idea after all.