Sunday, May 28, 2017

Saturday at the exhibit.

At my docent gig today a woman stated repeatedly to no one in particular that we were all standing in 'God's garden'. It was also a place, I noticed, where one of her offspring felt entitled to pull a flower off of a bush in the hopes of enticing a butterfly to come near her. On top of that, said offspring left her detritus all over a bench for the duration, thus blocking it from being used by other visitors. I'd like to that think that God, were s/he to exist, would have frowned on her behavior.

One young visitor was so excited to be at the exhibit that he kept zipping around from one area to the next, pointing and exclaiming things as he went. His father, who mostly very quietly stood by (I suspect he was tuckered out), told me that his son's preschool teacher had recently taught the class about the life cycle of butterflies (and, probably, moths). The boy was all of 3 years of age, but knew enough to tell me very briefly about cocoons and that butterflies obtained their nourishment from flowers. He was such an engaging little kid who kept leading me by the hand to both show me things he'd discovered and ask me about things that made him curious. In my five months of being a docent, he's been the only child to take me by the hand & lead me around. It was sweet.

Noshing Monarch

Non-native bottle brush at the exhibit.

The plants at the exhibit are rotated out frequently in order to keep the butterflies flush with nectar. This week I came in and saw that the gardeners had installed a bottle brush. It hadn't occurred to me that butterflies would dig this plant. I'm not even sure how the butterfly's proboscis could access nectar. To my eye, there's no sort of blossom opening, is there? I guess it's in the green bit from where the 'bristles' extend. Well, anyway, the Monarchs were into it, but I don't have photographic evidence to back up this assertion.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


During a recent docent shift at the Conservatory, I almost clouseau'd a woman in the belly to prevent her from crushing a Spicebush Swallowtail to death. My arm moved just in front of her mid-section as she bent forward to, hand outstretched, touch a Julia resting on a leaf. Her right foot moved toward the Swallowtail, but the, sort of, karate-chop motion I made at her torso forced the woman to pull her foot back. 'Right by your foot is the lovely Spicebush...'

I apologised for nearly gutting her with my arm, but she ignored me and moved off in search of more butterflies to touch/crush. It's usually kids who run around trying to grab at the butterflies, but, sadly, this wasn't my first brush with adults behaving badly. There must be something that switches off in the brain of certain people when they are near beautiful butterflies. I make a point of mentioning to the visitors how delicate the butterflies are and how prolonged contact with our skin adversely affects their ability to detect nectar. (The long and short of it is that the oils in our skin block the taste sensors located in their feet.) Even after being given this information, some folk still seem to feel compelled to touch them/try to pick up butterflies. Alas.

When one enters the butterfly exhibit, I also make mention of the fact that one needs to look down when moving through the enclosure as more than a few butterflies are normally perched along the ground. They don't wear bells around their necks, so it's up to us to look out for them. Some folk become overly cautious, stepping gingerly around the exhibit. Others...well.... During a shift, I normally have to scrape at least two butterflies off the ground and dispose of them in the nearby shrubbery.

The outstanding Question Mark smartly resting above the ground.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Summer of Love fifty years on

The de Young Museum marks the 50th anniversary with a retrospective open through the summer months, naturally.

My parents married in 1968, so I hadn't yet been a thought in anyone's mind until a few years after the hippies descended on the Haight. Both working class kids who needed to support themselves and didn't seem too into 'tuning in and dropping out', neither of my parents participated in any of the counter-cultural events happening under their noses here in San Francisco some 50 years ago.

The retrospective, though engaging, was mostly focused on the art and fashion of the time. I guess that's no great surprise as the de Young is an art institution, that, in recent years, has showcased the fashion design of some of the biggest names in the business. I had hoped for a bit more information on the political and social ideas that came out of San Francisco at that time as well. The last bit of the exhibit before one was funneled into the Summer of Love Gift Shop, dealt a bit with the Black Panther movement, the anti-draft movement, the advent of the pill, and, interestingly, Watergate.

Here are some of the 'groovy' fashions on display--

Quite possibly my favorite piece

Joan Baez and her sisters for the anti-draft movement

Vietnam vet art

Hallelujah, indeed!
Simulated psychedelic space replete with bean bags and trippy music

Bottom left, corner of a poster featuring Pink Floyd

Lenny Bruce, among the music

Crochet art (bed spread) by Birgitta Bjerke

For those of you who were around back in '67 I ask: What were you doing during the Summer of Love?

For those of you weren't: Were your parents hippies?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


I went to a screening of the docu-film Neuland the other evening at the Goethe Institute. In 2013, Neuland opened in Basel, and, although I was still living in Zurich at the time, I didn't manage to see it. The film highlights the lives of a handful of younger refugees living in Basel-Stadt & Basel-Land who are attending a two-year training course as part of their language and cultural integration into Swiss life. Without this schooling, I dare say these young people would be lost. The film deals with the refugees' anxieties around finding employment, understanding Swiss German (the courses are conducted in Swiss German-inflected standard German), and, of course, understanding the Swiss mentality.

Some students fared better than others, in terms of integration, and that seemed to be down to a combination of personal drive, the ability to learn German fairly quickly, and by their not being too hampered by current circumstances. One of the school's instructors was also featured prominently in the film. He seemed such a caring sort, but he was also 'no bullshit'. At one point, he told a student (who'd been cutting class to work any menial job he could find) that in order for him to continue on with his schooling, he needed to sign a contract stating that he'd both be in class Monday through Friday & also not be late for said class. No exceptions. What he did at the weekend was, of course, up to him. The student owed a huge debt to his smugglers who were now seeking repayment, and, were they not to receive it within the specified time frame, were threatening to take away his family's land back in Afghanistan as punishment. The pressure this young man must have felt---I just can't imagine. The teacher told another student, a bright & lovely girl who had dreamt of becoming a teacher in her native Croatia, that her German was simply not good enough for the teacher training track. He encouraged her to find work as a carer instead. She did & she excelled in the position.

The end of the film also marked the end of school for this particular group of students. And, as is the Swiss way, graduation was celebrated with a lively lunch at a restaurant. There were many hugs, many tears & many expressions of both congratulations & gratitude.

The film is well worth a watch. Check it out, if you're inclined.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Walk to work.

SF has a massive homelessness problem. I don't have stats, but it seems that in my time spent abroad from 2010 to 2015, ever more 'tent zones' have sprung up dotting bits of the Mission District and beyond.

There's one short block off of Market St. heading toward Mission St. that I have been walking down en route to one of my volunteer gigs since November of last year. It's since become a 'sleeping rough' corridor.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Sunday outing.

The hubs and I took a wander around town today with only one goal in mind. We were to find both a bike shop and a coffee shop that offered a good selection of product. After coming up short in North Beach--the only bike shops we could find were bike rental joints catering to tourists--we hiked up and over the hill en route to Polk St. Along the way, we bumped into Lombard St. (the windy bit), took a couple of fun snaps & kept moving. 

You can't mistake Lombard St. due to its unusual curves, but, really, you can't mistake it due to its unfortunate never-ending stream of motorists driving slowly down its hairpin turns. I would think the homeowners there would wish to band together to make this street off-limits to through traffic. Why this hasn't happened yet is beyond me. Don't the millionaires who live on this part of Lombard hate the throngs of cars constantly filtering past as they attempt to come and go in their fancy European SUVs? -never mind the ceaseless foot traffic. They paid how many millions of dollars to live on a permanently congested street? I just can't imagine...

Overall, it was a lovely day to be out and about. We found both tasty coffee at a hip joint and a bike shop with good chain lube. The temperature heated up to a toasty 75F around mid-day. For the hubs, who was wearing jeans, it became a bit unbearable toward the end of our jaunt. Upon our return home, he promptly took a nap on the sofa.

View from Lombard St., Transamerica building off in the distance.

View of Alcatraz, en route to Polk St.

Second-hand, tres expensive.

Stumbled onto Claremont St. which begins at the curvy bit of Lombard St. and ends as you see above. 

Same second-hand shop on Polk St. selling bottle/can openers for 8 bucks. Um, no thanks.

Brunch queue. Basik must be the shizz.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Coffee date.

The local historian aiding me with uncovering some nearly forgotten family information is actually friends with the woman, K., now living in the house that my great grandfather built just after the turn of the last century. The historian put us in touch a few weeks ago. Since then, she and I have been emailing a bit. She's shared some interesting information regarding what's gone on with the house since my family sold it in the 60s. Hippies in the 70s, she said, had bought the place & lived in it communally. At some point in the mid-70s, there had been a house fire that somewhat damaged the parquet flooring great grandpa Axel had laid down way back when.

Given that I was born after my great grandparents died, I don't have any first-hand information to share with the K. I do, however, have at least one old photo showing the facade of the house replete with a few generations of the family sitting cosily on the porch. Additionally, I have scads of pictures of the great grandparents, their siblings & offspring & those whom they married. I brought a few of those pictures over to my coffee date with her this afternoon. I learned a bit about her in the process. Interestingly, she is also an immigrant from Sweden just as my great grandparents were. Go figure?

The porch looks much the same is it did in the 40s when the picture below was taken. K. told me that Axel had lifted the house in order to accommodate & build garages for the two flats above. Until seeing the house, I hadn't really realised that the house was purpose built as a duplex. This new-found realisation explains why my Uncle had asked me which part of the house K. lived in. I said to him, 'The whole thing?' That was not true. K. has tenants below in the flat where my grandparents & the kids lived. I don't recall Dad ever telling me this, but I'm thankful I still have my Uncle to tell me things regarding his/their early life.

I put my Uncle, who lived in the downstairs flat with his brother (my Dad), another brother & their parents from '40 to '45, in contact with K., and, so far, it's been a profitable exchange. His memory has been jogged by her mentioning things about the house & giving name to the mostly forgotten Swedish dishes my Uncle's grandma used to prepare.

A shot of Crocker-Amazon/Excelsior, where my grandparents moved to after moving from Bernal Heights.

Swedes in Rockford, IL

K. was able to translate the postcard. Still not sure who the writer was as it was signed 'me'.

Swedes (and their spouses) on the porch

The great grandparents married in SF, early 1900s

I'll be scanning some of the above family photos for K's records. I'm glad to have made the connection with her.

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