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Posts Tagged ‘Eureka Valley’

Neighborhood hangout

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on February 13, 2016

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In New York City, its a bodega on every corner. In LA, its corner liquor stores. Here in San Francisco, its the corner grocery store which, unfortunately, is being threatened by rampant gentrification.

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We live in an already upscale part of the City, between Noe and Eureka Valleys. Two blocks down from our house, an old funky grocery store (no fresh fruits or vegetables, just canned or packaged food items, often with expired dates, plus the usual alcohol) gave up the ghost several years ago. This allowed four local entrepreneurs to take over the empty space and do a soft-story earthquake retrofit in addition to overall improvements.

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The resulting business is part coffee shop/ice cream bar/prepared food store/event and class location/commercial popup/neighborhood hangout. And its been successful from the start. They’ve scheduled a class on the “Art & Science of Saving Bees, Birds & Trees,” and host boutique flower arranging by the FloraCultural Society on weekends.

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Ryan and Laurel can often be found preparing gourmet coffees and teas or serving Laurel’s sweet and savory pastries. And people do what they usually do in San Francisco coffee shops, set up their laptops for long sessions of work and play online. Neighbor’s Corner is bright and airy, with a modern bathroom to boot.

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The previous store owner left quite mysteriously and was unable to pass on the location’s liquor licenses to the new owners. Now the new owners are working through the lengthy city permit process to allow for regular coffee shop occupancy and patronage during business hours. Given the enthusiastic response from the residents, Neighbor’s Corner looks like it’s here to stay.

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Posted in Eureka Valley, gentrification, life, Noe Valley, Paris of the West, San Francisco, San Francisco neighborhoods | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Parrots coming home to roost

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on May 20, 2014

The parrots of San Francisco have gained world fame. I covered them in an earlier blog posting here. The picture posted there was garnered from the internet whereas the ones posted here I took with my Canon PowerShot.
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Colonies of “wild” parrots have come into being in cities wherever tame birds were released by accident or design by their former owners and given the chance to breed. LA and Brooklyn also have “wild” parrots, and I use the term “wild” advisedly because they cannot yet exist outside their respective urban environments. Parrots are native to tropical countries and climates where they fly far and wide. Here, in the US and more temperate climes, they seem confined to their particular cities where they are much more reliant on their dense human populations for their survival.
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A friend in NYC once told me a story about the Brooklyn parrots. As tropical animals, the Brooklyn parrots were not at all accustomed to NYC winters, and had developed a type of colony nest with scores of parrots taking roost in structures of twigs, leaves, branches, urban detritus, etc, all built around the tops of telephone poles. Only problem was that the nesting parrots also had the habit of gnawing on the wires and the transformer boxes, inevitably frying a parrot or two, causing the colony nest to catch fire, and burning down a telephone pole with drastic results for the neighborhood and the power grid.
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These parrots flew up as I was exiting my car with my carrying bag. Their distinctive squawks immediately alerted me to their presence in the trees of a corner house, so I pulled the PowerShot from my bag and grabbed these pictures. The parrots obliged by staying put for the photo session.

Posted in life, New York City, parrots, San Francisco | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Refining and refiguring

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on January 14, 2014

The biggest addition to this blog has been uploading my own photos, shot using a Canon PowerShot ELPH 130 IS. I just realized that I’ve been uploading massive sized jpegs in the process, when all I needed were small photo files. That means going from 2-6 megs to a few hundred k each. I’m not sure whether I’m retroactively downsizing the images to date, but from now on, the image sizes on this blog should be more manageable.
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This will be a photographic tour spanning the past few weeks, starting with the above images from nearby Kite Hill. Kite Hill is a bit of open space/parkland in the heart of Eureka Valley near where I live, and is a favorite spot for people walking their dogs.
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The equestrian rooftop sculpture and the autumn foliage are two scenes to be had when walking from my immediate neighborhood down to the Castro. On this day, my wife and I were on our way downtown to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
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We’ve been enjoying photographic excursions in which we each take our cameras and snap pictures along the way. The Mondrian is actually a YBCA building. I’ve been hoping to encourage my wife, an excellent photographer, to revitalize her interest in photography by engaging in these jaunts around the city.
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These two pictures are from another excursion through Hayes Valley, between lunch at Bar Jules and a late afternoon concert at the San Francisco Jazz Center. I believe the image “FEEL” is of the interior of a shop called Cisco Home.
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Finally, we come to my “my office away from the office,” these last four photos of my novel rewrite setup at the Glenn Park Library. This seems to be a more than usual “child friendly” library, although all SF public libraries have plenty of resources for kids. Glenn Park Library has second story windows providing views overlooking the neighborhood’s busy commercial street. This day’s novel rewrite wraps up about twenty-five pages in anticipation of meeting with the folks in Cary Tennis’s Finishing School.

Posted in Eureka Valley, Glenn Park Library, Hayes Valley, Kite Hill, life, public libraries, The Castro, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

My office away from the office

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on December 5, 2013

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I’ve always been a fan of public libraries, as I’ve noted in a previous post. There’s a story that Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 at the UCLA Powell Library, where he pumped dimes into the rental typewriter until he finished the novel. One dime for a half hour of time, costing him nine dollars and change to complete the book. “Libraries raised me,” he [Bradbury] said in a 2009 interview while trying to raise money for a library in Ventura County. “I don’t believe in colleges and universities.… When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.” An appreciation of Bradbury’s love for the LA Public Library system can be found here. And above is the entrance to the Eureka Valley Public Library, which I consider one of my offices away from my home office.

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The Eureka Valley library is light, airy, and well-maintained. There are plenty of free public access computers, as well as the usual sections for magazines and newspapers, video rentals, childrens area, and even the occasional old-fashioned book. There are also public rest rooms, photography related to the branch’s LGBT focus on the wall, and rotating information/art installations of note.

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I use one of the many tables with available outlets to set up my office “on the run” as it were. Here’s my 2011 13-inch MacBook Air, outfitted with a custom Kensington locking stand and cable lock. With my Scrivener software (open to the first “page” of my current novel-in-rewrite entitled “1% Free”) I’m all set. Everything goes back into the bag slung over the chair when I’m done. You’ll notice the copy of San Francisco library locations and hours, as well as a free book I got from the branch, research for my regular monthly MRR columns. Public libraries are truly a gift to the people, not to mention aspiring writers. I can’t repeat enough how much I love them.

Posted in Eureka Valley, LGBT, life, public libraries, San Francisco, The Castro | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

San Francisco, Paris of the West, part 4

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on October 23, 2013

Consider this an extension to part 3 of this series.

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Before I get to the subject matter proper, let me note something right off the bat about my comparisons between San Francisco and Paris. San Francisco is exactly 231.89 square miles and approximately 825,863 in population as of 2012. Paris is 40.7 square miles, with approximately 2,234,000 people as of 2013. The density of Paris is 54,899/square mile, as compared to 17,620/square mile for San Francisco. Both urban experiences are very different from one to another. Ambling about San Francisco neighborhoods with one, two, at most three story houses which, if Victorian and no matter how quaint, are rarely older than the beginning of the 20th century or mid-19th century earliest, is quite different from strolling comparable Parisian neighborhoods of consistently four, five or six story tall apartment blocks, ranging from the 1600s to the 1800s in age. It’s often said that both San Francisco and Paris are walking cities. Yet the sense to walking each is quite distinct.

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Now, The Castro. There’s no precise geographic definition of “The Castro” as such, given that the concentration of gay people around Castro Street from 19th Street to Market is the focus of a much larger gay community that extends up to Eureka Street, over to at 22nd Street, and down Market Street past Dolores to straddle Church Street. Some contend that the community goes past Guerrero Street into parts of the Mission, over to Noe Valley and Corona Heights, up to Twin Peaks, and across to the Haight-Ashbury, with incursions into the Duboce Triangle and Dolores Heights. With the rather nebulous geography to this designation, I’ll roughly spiral out from its iconic center, The Castro Theatre at 429 Castro Street. The Theatre has been in the neighborhood for over a century, with a Spanish Colonial Baroque façade and massive neon sign, and a luxurious and ornate single screen interior with subtly convex and concave art deco walls and ceiling, plus the dark, capacious balcony. The “Mighty Wurlitzer” pipe organ rises from the orchestra pit and is played before films and events, as well as nightly just for fun. The Castro Theatre is host to various special events; singalongs, film festivals (most notably, Frameline and the Jewish Film Festival), actor and author speaking engagements and the like. In contrast to Paris, San Francisco is gradually losing its cinema culture. The Castro Theatre is helping to hold the line against this loss.

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Cliff’s Variety Store is right down the street, and has been there for 75 years. This is more than a hardware store. If you can’t find it at Cliff’s, good chance it doesn’t exist. In the Boy Scouts, Tenderfoots were sent out to other campfires to find “left-handed smoke turners,” as a prank. Good chance Cliff’s has those, too. There is nothing like Cliff’s, not even in Paris. This matrix along Castro Street from Market Street to 19th Street, and from Diamond Street to Noe Street, contains at least a dozen full-on bars, making these eight plus blocks one of the most intense party scenes in San Francisco. Which makes the existence of the Hartford Street Zen Center (57 Hartford St) all that more remarkable. Sister center to the San Francisco Zen Center, imagine attending the Friday night Hartford Street Zen Meditation & Recovery Meeting, based on Buddhist and AA principles, in the heart of the Castro, among throngs of alcohol-crazed revelers. A truly extraordinary experience. I mean, drinking is everywhere in Paris. People drink mostly wine and mostly with meals, and less often other types of alcohol at bars. Zen centers and AA groups can also be found in Paris, of course. But there is a frenzy to American alcohol use, and abuse, that is hard to find anywhere in French culture.

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Food is a big part of French culture, and its large on Castro Street as well. I’ll briefly mention my favorite places, the ones I frequent often. Frapez Spa (4092 18th St) is a fruit and vegetable smoothie bar that I hit three times a week, right after gym, for a healthy and filling 20 oz drink. The Anchor Oyster Bar (579 Castro St) has been in the neighborhood for 35+ years, offering fresh oysters, fish, crabs, shrimp, etc. The New England clam chowder and the chappino are particularly good. Buffalo Whole Food & Grain Co (598 Castro St) is a great little organic foods grocery with fresh vegetables inside, fresh fruit outside, and also a wall of supplements. Finally, there’s Spike’s Coffee and Teas (4117 19th St) where I regularly get my green tea. I can set up my laptop and work away (no wifi!) or read the NYT or just people watch. Plus, I have a card where I can pay in advance.

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What’s great about living in a neighborhood in San Francisco or Paris is that you’re in a village where you can meet most of your needs within easy walking distance. Case in point, Pioneer Renewer (4501 18th St), an old school shoe repair shop where I’ve had a half dozen of my shoes stretched to fit. The place is great, from the goofy decorations to the gruff old cobbler who takes care of my shoes. Then there’s Books & Bookshelves (99 Sanchez St) where you can find unfinished wood furniture and shelves of poetry books, perhaps the widest collection of poetry up to and including City Lights in North Beach!

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A couple additions to my “village” are the Immune Enhancement Project (3450 16th St) and Ike’s Place (3489 16th St). The former offers therapeutic massage and acupuncture (both of which I’ve extensively used) and the latter has a monster menu of over 50 sandwiches (many of which I’ve sampled), plus 4 additional locations. The therapies at IEP are common fare in Europe, whereas Ike’s cuisine is quite unique, as attested to by the lines around the block at lunch.

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Church Street is another main commercial drag in the Castro area. Aardvark Books (227 Church St) reminds me of the San Francisco Book Company in the 6th Arrondissement, a store crammed floor to ceiling with used books from cheap paperbacks to collectors editions. There’s also graphic novels, comics, magazines and new books. Like a lot of used bookstores in SF, this place is hanging on by a thread.

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We’re back on the food tip now, with references to Paris. Chow (215 Church St) is a decent enough local restaurant, unremarkable by San Francisco standards, let alone Parisian. It’s part of a San Francisco micro-chain. Thorough Bread and Pastry (248 Church St) rivals a good Paris patisserie/boulangerie, with its selection of sweet and savory baked goods, artisan breads and sandwiches. This place has tables but somewhat limited hours. Further up the street, there’s the completely unique Chile Pies (314 Church St), a sweet and savory pie shop that offers sit down and take out meals based on, what else, pie. There’s ice cream as well. It’s an offshoot of Green Chile Kitchen, so look for the big neon “PIE” sign. Further along still, there’s Samovar Tea Lounge (498 Sanchez Street). Lots of folks on the Eurasian continent love their tea, and as a consequence, make a ceremony out of drinking tea. The Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Russians, British, and lastly, the French, are all keen for tea and ritual tea drinking. I found Parisian thé shops and cafes, while certainly more interesting than their British counterparts, just as limited, with a preference for perfumed teas. Samovar is no great shakes regarding the food it serves, which is small portioned and expensive. What is marvelous here are the teas. A half dozen each of green teas, white teas, black teas, oolongs, pu-ehr teas on a changing menu. Excellent.

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Our final destination is Mission Dolores Park. Unlike the managed and controlled French and British gardens/parks, in which man’s mastery over nature is evident, American gardens and parks are studies in “nature,” with a pretense to “wildness.” Grass is omnipresent, and meant to be walked on, sat on, picnicked on, etc. There are official tennis courts, a basketball court, a soccer area, and an extensive modern playground for the kiddies. There’s also an old clubhouse with restrooms. The unofficial areas of the park include gay beach (for sun bathing), hipster hill (millions of dead hipsters, please!), dog hill (watch out for dog shit), etc. The park’s microclimate is usually sunny and warm, perfect for the regular SF Mime Troupe performances by day, the Symphony performances, and the big screen Opera rebroadcasts in the evening. This is a magnificent resource for not just the neighborhood, but the entire city of San Francisco.

Posted in Aardvark Books, Anchor Oyster Bar, Bay Area, Books & Bookshelves, Buffalo Whole Food & Grain, Castro Street, Castro Theatre, Chile Pies, Chow Restaurant, City of Light, Cliff's Variety Store, Eureka Valley, Frameline, France, Frapez Spa, gay, Hartford Street Zen Center, Ike's Place, Immune Enhancement Project, independent bookstores, Jewish Film Festival, LGBT, life, Mission Dolores Park, Paris, Paris of the West, Parisian cafes, Pioneer Renewer, Samovar Tea Lounge, San Francisco, San Francisco Book Company, San Francisco Mime Troupe, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Zen Center, series, Spike's Coffee and Teas, The Castro, Thorough Bread and Pastry | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

San Francisco, Paris of the West, part 2

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on October 14, 2013

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In an alternate evolutionary scenario, the asteroid that slammed into the Earth some 66 million years ago to create the Chicxulub crater, enshroud the planet in a decades long “nuclear winter,” cause the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs, and bring about the rise of the mammals never happened. The large dinosaurs grew bigger, more competitive and fewer, leading to the virtual extinction of all their smaller cousins and competing mammals. Then, in a further evolutionary twist, a handful of ultra-dinosaurs developed and all but wiped out the large dinosaurs, leaving only a scattering of small dinosaurs and mammals to survive across a gutted planet.

The somewhat flawed analogy here is to bookstores.

When I was growing up, and aside from paperback book racks in every drugstore and mom-and-pop bookshops, small, medium and large bookstores abounded. Then came the book chains—the Pickwicks, Crown, B Daltons, Borders, and Barnes & Nobles. Following Marx’s inescapable logic of capitalist competition, the bookstore chains grew and competed and killed each other off, until only two monopolies remained; Borders and Barnes & Nobles. In the process, virtually all the smaller bookstores disappeared or were done in. When I last visited NYC, Barnes & Noble was on every other block, and bookstores like Forbidden Planet had been unceremoniously killed off. Then, Amazon, the mega-monopoly, arose. Borders bit the dust, and sickly Barnes & Nobles is holding on by a thread. In the cracks left by this “free market” debacle, there are still small bookstores left, but they are non-existent in some places, and few and far between in other locations.

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So now we’re in the present, both here in San Francisco and in Paris. Paris first. As I posted below, there are three well-known English-language bookstores in Paris, and the San Francisco Book Company has kindly provided this link to a list of some 240 plus bookstores in the 6th Arrondissemont alone. In Paris, France, where the bourgeoisie rose to power and ushered in modern capitalism, chain bookstores are held at bay and independent bookshops of all sizes and shapes are alive and well.

Not so in San Francisco. Borders is gone, and Barnes & Noble has been reduced to four stores scattered in Bay Area cities immediately surrounding San Francisco. In the process of the demise of these two monopolies, a number of other local independent bookstores went belly up; Stacy’s, Clean Well Lighted, Cody’s… Amidst the carnage however, small indie bookstores have survived and some still thrive in the Bay Area. In my three neighborhoods, three bookstores of note pursue differing strategies for survival.

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In the Haight, and aside from the very limited, anarchist specific Bound Together Books, there’s Booksmith. Booksmith is a full-service, full-hour, full-inventory destination bookshop that is a wonder to browse. It’s a stand alone bookstore with book events, author signings, literature readings, etc.

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Phoenix Books in Noe Valley is part of a small, local, one-owner chain of used bookstores that also sells new books. This indie chain includes Alley Cat Books, Badger Books, and Dog-Eared Books. Phoenix survived the death of Cover-to-Cover and the Mystery Bookstore in Noe Valley and was recently sold to a local buyer to keep the rest of the chain solvent. Unfortunately, Zoltar, the gypsy fortune teller, will not be staying.

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Finally, there’s Books, Inc in the Castro/Eureka Valley neighborhood; gay-oriented, but still very much a full-service bookstore that weathered the death of A Different Light bookstore. Books Inc is an example of a mini-chain that is bigger than just San Francisco. Bay Area wide, Books Inc is a regional success story, with stores at SFO, the Ferry Building and surrounding cities, that hasn’t gotten too big for its britches. It also has book events, author readings and signings, and the like.

Books Inc is part of IndieBound, a consortium of independent bookstores which uses Kobo, the ebook reader as an alternative to Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook. I own a Kobo, and I’m proud to support local, independent bookstores.

Posted in Barnes & Noble, Bay Area, Books Inc, Booksmith, Borders Books, Bound Together Books, Chicxulub and dinosaur extinction, City of Light, Eureka Valley, Haight-Ashbury, independent bookstores, IndieBound, Kobo, life, Noe Valley, Paris, Paris of the West, Phoenix Books, San Francisco, San Francisco Book Company, series | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »