Thursday, April 21, 2011

Where I Am Headed Today

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spherical Abberation

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Haruki "Cupcake" Murakami - Noble Beast

I've spent thousands (okay, probably more like tens of thousands) of dollars at Dog Eared Books ( over the many years but never knew about their mascot. I wish I had met him.

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Monday, April 18, 2011



MAGPIE TALE: Fear of Gypsies

Another entry in the Magpie Tails

My father was never one to dispense advice or voice prejudice, but he frequently warned me about gypsies. He had few fears but chief among them were rattle snacks, tainted buttermilk and gypsies.

Mother, who could find reason to have empathy for even the most contentious individual, would point out that gypsies were the only Aryan victims of the Holocaust. A people without an official country and little political motivation.

Father also had a phobia about eating eggs, especially eggs that were not cooked well through to the yolk. A runny yolk was one of his greatest fears. "Eggs are one of the favorite ruses of the gypsies."

That statement was never expounded on, and it always mystified me. Years late while on holiday walking through a fashionable neighborhood of Milan, an egg mysterious fell from above and splattered all over my expensive leather jacket. While I looked above at the myriad of closed windows trying to find its source, a pleasant bypasser came to my aid and began to pat away the mess on my jacket with a large handkerchief he produced from his vest pocket. "Ah, how horrible. How could anyone do that to you? Oh, look there is some here on the back of your trousers. He produced another handkerchief and continued his helpful patting. Just as I was about to thank him, he excused himself saying he had to rush to his work since he was late. Freed of the egg yolk stain I decided to reach for my wallet where I had stored a small pocket map only to find...both were gone.

Distraught at my hotel where I related the story, the sympathetic night concierge sighed and said, "Ah, the work of gypsies. They work in pairs. They even steal the eggs from unsuspecting vendors. Sadly, Milan is full of them now. I'm surprised, you don't have the look of the typical victim."

My father was long gone by the time of this incident, and I never got the chance to ask him if he had a similar incident in his travels before he married my mother. I will never know, that Rosetta Stone to his psyche buried with him years ago.


Just Breathe

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Why Do the Wrong People Travel?

What do Lars von Trier, Franz Kafka and Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer have in common? All three are Europeans who created works with a strongly slanted view of the United States without ever visiting here.

There are von Trier's didactic takes on America in the films Dancer in the Dark and Dogville. Kafka's surreal Amerika has been a favorite of mine since childhood.

Only this week have I discovered Mrs. Mortimer, an "Evangelical author of educational books for children". And, boy, did Mrs. Mortimer have her opinions. Though she rarely left her home, she wrote extensively through a very opinionated lens about the many countries of the world that are compiled in the book The Clumsiest People in the World: Mrs. Mortimer's Bad-Tempered Guide to the Victorian World.

Here's what she has to say about the U.S.:

"America is never spoken of in the Bible. One only savages lived in America; now there are very few savages, and a great many civilized people. Yet there is room for a great many more --for there are fewer people in America, in proportion to its size, than in any other quarter of the globe..."

And her views on China
"China is a heathen country; yet it is not a savage country, for the people are quiet, and orderly and industrious."

On Rome:
"Rome is the capital of Italy and once it was the capital of the world. It was a wicked city then, full of idols and cruelty -- and it is a wicked city now. Here the Pope lives. He is the chief of the priests of the Catholic religion."

Racism and bigotry are never a laughing matter, but Mrs. Mortimer's amazingly misinformed words are hard not to read without being just a little bit amused. It is a bit frightening that this woman was respected and well read in her day, and it probably speaks volumes about attitudes that were handed down from the Victorian era to the present.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

American Commons

On Tuesday, I had the chance to hear photographer Robert Dawson speak at the San Francisco Public Library where his exhibit Public Library: An American Commons is on display through June 12. Representing 17 years of work that is still in progress it is epic, touching and enlightening.

Dawson, a native Californian who has also written and documented extensively on the topic of water in the West, is clearly much more than a photographer. His library project takes the perspective of an anthropologist, social commentary, architectural appreciation, literary critique and poet. While he documents temples of reading with grand structures in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle, Portland and other urban hubs, the most fascinating are tiny libraries in remote towns. In many places they are the only source of the written word or internet access. One in the desert, no larger than a garden shed, serves as both a library and post office. He also has a fascinating series of images of post-Katrina New Orleans libraries, victims of that tragedy we don't hear much about.

Though not in the exhibit, he shared new images of the tool library in Berkeley.

Anyone in San Francisco should take time to see the exhibit or catch one of Dawson's talks listed in the link above. He plans to eventually publish a book but will likely spend another 17 years on that. His next goal is to visit the middle part of the country, especially those areas that are strongly anti-government to see what attitudes are about public supported libraries there.

The dichotomy he emphasized in his talk is that not since the Great Depression has use of libraries been so high and funding so threatened. For some, the library is a lifeline to seek employment online or find warmth in the winter. With that comes much more and a reminder that this is a true American Commons.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

African Palm Swift


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Who's the Boss?

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Upland Sandpiper


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

From the Literary Giants Series

Reynaldo Hahn is hosted for tea by Marcel Proust in his cork walled parlor.

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Barn Swallow


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Western Tanager


Monday, April 11, 2011

MAGPIE TALE: Family Portrait in Alcohol

(Another adventure in the land of Magpie Tales.)

'Wine has always flowed in our family, splashing the banks of our bloodline as it rushes to the the family tree and soaks its roots before drowning its branches, retreating to leave an eternal crimson shroud.

Where did it all begin? Likely long before any of our ancestors crossed the Atlantic to Canada and then descended ever further down the Mississippi and then out to the west, scattering in random streams from Vancouver to San Diego, like the errant remnants of a spilled glass of merlot. Our now revered ancestors always had a bottle of cheap burgundy as they strolled the back alleys of Vienna picking rags or sneaking through through the loose board of a fence to steal a pair of chickens for Christmas dinner.

The New World brought only a slightly scrubbed new start. Stories of Great Great Uncle Winchell and his over-sized coats to hide his eternally present bottle.
His cousin Harriett thought she broke the chain by switching champagne and later pink and blue cocktails that her dog Jasper was always quite happy to lick away so she could delude herself into believing that any evidence of her debauchery had been erased.
Grandpa Orleans continued that tradition by never acknowledging that his problem ever existed, forever scolding his fellow plumbers guild of the evils of booze. "Don't throw your earnings down the drain, boys." They found him face down in one of his latest porcelain installations on his 37th birthday, lifeless from an alcoholic stroke and leaving nine hungry mouths to feed.


Swainson's Thrush


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Wisdom

"He who seeks beauty shall find it"

- Bill Cunningham

"But the building's identity resided in its ornament."

- Louis Henri Sullivan

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Loggerhead Shrike


Saturday, April 09, 2011

Si, se puede. Highlights from Cesar Chavez Day

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Factory Direct Wigs in the Mission

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Mr. and Mrs. Frank Kern. And Bobbie.

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Friday, April 08, 2011

Dropping Judgment, the Search for the Perfect Green, and Adrift in the Universe

Do you check your Myers-Briggs or ennegram type regularly? I forget where I am on the latter, but I consistently come out either INTJ or ENTJ. I've always been told that I am over the top on intuitiveness. The highest possible ranking.In the days before I had to say goodbye to Bow, my level of judging (the signature J of INTJ and ENTJ) was over the top. Since she departed, it seems to have dropped almost completely. I find a tolerance for the most tedious of personalities that usually grate on me. I also seem to have a heightened awareness of the color green. In the wake of the winter rains, all plant life is either blooming or emerald green.
I've always been fond of this building at 20th and Valencia, but it seemed to be even closer to the perfect shade of green tonight.
It and many other green things seemed to be calling out to me this morning.
The afternoon I saw the life leave Bow's body, I felt I saw my own life leaving with her. I say that not in some mournful, tragic or even regretful way. My life as defined during my two and half years with her seemed to be departing with her as well as everything that had come up to that point in my life. With Bow gone, I knew that I could not return to who I was before she entered my life.
When the life exited her body, I did not feel a need to linger. I knew that she was walking out of the vet's office with me. Like all basenjis, Bow always wanted to be clean and odorless, and it seemed so appropriate that her remains be cremated.
In a few days her ashes will return. I keep saying that in this interim, I have trusted her to be watched over by the Universe until her sacred remains return. I feel that I am out there in the Universe right now. I have felt grief, but more I have felt that I am in transition, waiting for her sacred ashes to return and to be in their eternal resting place.
When I got in tonight, I got a message from one of Bow's first foster moms who said that she had been verbally and physically abused for years before she came into rescue. I knew she had a difficult life before she came to me, but I never knew this. The fact that she was always such a loving, trusting, obedient girl when she was me was a reminder that we may put too much stock in the impact of the past. She was able to let it go and be a very different creature with me. I am thinking about that tonight as I feel that I am trusting the Universe to watch over her and me until we are reunited. We had a past together, and I feel that she will be there in some way in the future.

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Thursday, April 07, 2011


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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

One Week

This afternoon, at 4:45, marks the one week point when I said goodbye to Bow in this world. It hurts a tiny bit less each day. I am continuing all of my rituals and plan to walk up to the spot where we parted a week ago this afternoon.

Last night I attended a pet loss support group. Some people have been going for two years or more. Others felt grief so tremendous they could not speak. For once I was able to hear other people's life stories and their pets' without judgment. There was an element of my grief in each of them and an element of the love and joy as well.

Having made it a week, I don't plan to continue my daily posts about this loss nor to close the chapter on life with Bow. She will continue to make an appearance here, but not with such immediate, raw grief. I don't want "closure" but only to honor the grief and move forward with her where she needs to be in my heart, knowing I am forever changed by her. She was one of the greatest teachers ever to enter my life.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Healing Routines

One of the great things about having a dog in your life is that you have a series of familiar routines that shape your life and give it order.

Since the morning after Bow died, I have continued to go on our morning and evening walks, keeping our usual two mile walk each time with her collar in my pocket. The familiar routine, movement and being outside are helpful. How long will I do it? Forever perhaps, and when new dogs enter my life we may keep the same route knowing that she is watching over us.

This week I have started another routine. During our time together, I took hundreds of digital photos but only got around to printing a couple dozen of them. Trying to now print all of them is overwhelming, so I have started by having ten printed at random each day. I pick them up when I go to get coffee, and instead of having a pastry for a couple of dollars I have ten new prints of Bow. Some of them I don't even remember taking, and several of them show a side of her I don't remember seeing.

As the breadth of her life comes into focus in the larger scope, how thrilling that she can continue to bring joy and surprise me.

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Monday, April 04, 2011

MAGPIE TALE: Tears and Smoke

A return to the Magpie Tales after a couple weeks' absence
Why'd you stick your eyes in my smoke if you knew it might make them burn?
I've no pity for your pain and need to smolder and smudge my own aches away.
Let your tears flow as they must and let my little clouds rise on its own.And to think you came from the land of smudge pots and citrus.
Smokey winter nights on the edge of the desert and a banana tree
in the basement hidden like a refugee or pock-marked lover.
You came from that land of questionable icons, each with a Salem or Marlboro
lit and shrouding their calls for flag waving and stoicism.
The passion of the pastels has come with the season.
Some embryo shell dipped and shellacked to be hidden and found,
a sullen reward for a chase whose purpose remains elusive.

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