Art Spaces and City Parks

A view of the rear of three hangar buildings, looking out on the grassy Crissy Field and Angel Island in the bay at sunset (credit: The Presidio Trust)

This three minute video by the Presidio
Trust of San Francisco is a great homage to cities all across the United States. Here you see former industrialized places transformed into unconventional art spaces and parks. Gems from New York City, Chicago, North Adams (MA), and San Francisco are all showcased here. Every city in the world ought to have at least one space like this:



For Halloween I would be a horse’s head like the one in A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

Talking to Eric about Halloween celebrations outside of the United States — in Thailand — made me think of a very incensed Scottish friend who, for a while, lived in Jamaica. She was upset, very upset, because (a) my younger son was attending a Halloween party in Jamaica, Jamaica! and (b) the way she saw it, the Scottish had dibs on that holiday (via Guy Fawkes Day) and America had appropriated it. But my boy didn’t care. He just wanted to see what his American friends were up to at the American Embassy, and also at the Pegasus Hotel, in Kingston. Party plus candy? He could hardly wait to leave the house. Now’s not the time for photos and smiles, mom! (Picture taken mid-1990s.)


Heaven Loop

2 sunlit bridge
Whitehouse Bridge (over Whitehouse Creek). Light and bridge come together here to form a beautiful pattern.

Costonoa is a great place for hiking and camping. It is just down the coast from Pigeon Point and not too far from the Pie Ranch and Ano Nuevo State Park. I last hiked here during the first week of October and although it was over eighty degrees, I still needed a long-sleeved shirt. (This was only for the portion of the hike that was open to the coastal breezes.)

3 heaven loop
The trails here are well marked

I wonder which word once preceded the trail titled, “Heaven Loop”? What has been erased?

1 -cabin in the woods
Seen on my way into the woods, one of Costonoa Lodge’s cabins.
4 chairs looking out to sea
Empty chairs look out onto the Pacific and Highway One from Ohlone Ridge
5 darkened copse
A darkened copse, mid-hike. Lots of birdsong was to be heard here.

Regional/Historical Notes

Ohlone/Costonoa is a collective name for the First Peoples who once lived in Central California and along the Northern California coast. Many of their legends are centered around coyote, eagle and humming bird, all of which can be found in this part of California.

  • In the 1770s, there was an estimated 10,000-20,000 First Peoples in the region.
  • By 1800, they numbered only 3,000. The Spanish Missions and later, America’s Wild Wild West, took their toll on them.
  • Around the time of the Gold Rush, in 1849, it was estimated that there was only 850-1000 First Peoples here.
  • By 2000, they numbered about 1,500-2,000 people. The numbers are probably around the same today.

Here is a map of Costonoan languages and major villages. (The black dots and corresponding lines indicate current day place names.)

Map from: A Gathering of Voices: The Native Peoples From the Central California Coast

Absinthe, So Many Stories!

Absinthe (photographer unknown)

Tuesday Night in San Francisco

Went to an absinthe tasting in San Franciso on Tuesday night. I am still not sure if the drink is legal in the United States or if what exists now is liquor or liqueur. No slotted spoon, no sugar cube and no water dripping on the sugar and into the drink a’la Ernest Hemingway. And so, there was no true vision of the green that the drink is supposed to be. My artist’s eyes were looking forward to seeing that.

It is just as well that I had no expectation of taste. I was surprised by absinthe’s strong anise flavor. It tasted like licorice. I hate licorice. Still, I was game and had two of the three servings allotted for the evening. By the third drink, however, when the serving had been elevated to a 74 percent alcohol level, I had had enough. I know my limit and so I stopped after drink number two (which was about a 35 to 45 percent alcohol level). No walking around the Mission District or getting on the BART drunk for me.

Absinthe Drinker, by Viktor Oliva, c1901

The Many Stories of Absinthe

Absinthe is rife with history and includes stories of art, agriculture (a la the Great French Wine Blight), the economics of supply and demand, medicinal elixirs, the French military in North Africa, European imperialism, the Belle Epoque period (the French counterpart of America’s Gilded Age), industrialization and urban sprawl, the beginning of women’s liberation/feminism, French and New Orleans cafe society, Social Darwinism, and the Prohibition/Temperance Movement(s). Artists too, feature prominently in the drink’s history. Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Verlaine, Picasso and Hemingway were all aficionados of the green fairy. Poet Oscar Wilde is said to have been a heavy drinker of absinthe but there is no real proof of this. Perhaps the only statement about absinthe that seems directly attributable and related to him is one he made to author Arthur Machen:

“I could never quite accustom myself to absinthe, but it suits my style so well.”

Far from being a heavy absinthe drinker, it seems that Wilde didn’t quite like this drink. Maybe like me, the infusion of anise which produces a licorice-like flavor wasn’t quite to his liking.

Glass of Absinthe, Pablo Picasso,1914

What is That Thing?

As a teenager I saw this Picasso sculpture in either New York or Philadelphia and thought that the sugar cube was a dice with too many numbers on each side. That was before I started reading the labels on museum walls. (Now I read them sometimes but only after I’ve seen the works, digested them and made of them what I want to make of them). I still say this looks like a dice in a spoon and it’s not a particularly good sculpture either. Maybe the only thing it has going for it is that it was created in 1914, which is the beginning of World War One. So historically, it is significant: This is the end of the Belle Epoch period, Bohemian Paris and the avant garde lifestyle enjoyed by many, including Picasso.

Blame the Drink

Absinthe has a bad reputation and has been blamed for madness, debauchery and even murder. Among the artists who were heavy absinthe drinkers, some veered toward insanity. Van Gough, Hemingway, and Verlaine all came from families with histories of mental illness: Verlaine drank himself to death and the other two committed suicide. Absinthe, with its incredibly high levels of alcohol (74 percent!) plus mental illness, plus alcoholism, all make for a deadly combination. But is the drink to blame for murder, madness and mayhem? I would say not. The trouble with the artists mentioned in this article is that they didn’t know their limit. They were incessant drinkers and probably all alcoholics. To blame the drink for these ills is tantamount to blaming violent video games and movies for the prevalence of gun violence in our society today.

***** ***** *****

The Yellow House

You can watch a free downloadable movie (based on a book by the same name) about Van Gogh’s and Gaugin’s time together in the South of France. There is also a short animated introduction to the movie here:

Pigs, Fish, What’s the Difference? Ask the CIA

orange trigger fish
Juvenile orangeside triggerfish (credit:Keoki Stender)
File:Orangeside Triggerfish Diego.JPG
Adult male orangeside triggerfish (Photo:

Did you know that Bahia de Cochinos, translated from Spanish to English, does not really mean “Bay of Pigs?”

Although the Spanish word cochinos literally means pigs, in Cuban/Caribbean Spanish, it also refers to orangeside triggerfish. These fish inhabit the coral reefs of Bahia de Cochinos as well as other reefs in the Caribbean, including some in Baja Mexico. The CIA got it wrong: When they sponsored the 1961 invasion of Cuba via Bahia de Cochinos, they were sending their combatants not into the Bay of Pigs, but into the Bay of Orangeside Triggerfish. I wonder if any members of Brigade 2506 expected to find pigs in and around the bay as they launched their failed attack? That would have been hilarious. Imagine keeping your eyes peeled for pigs and wild boars when all along the pigs were swimming beneath your feet/boat. The CIA should have just called the place by its real name, Bahia de Cochinos; no translation necessary.

Mapa, Bahia de Cochinos (credit: Mas Historia blogspot)

No laughing matter this:

A group of captured U.S.-backed Cuban exiles, known as Brigade 2506, being lined up by Fidel Castro’s soldiers at the Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs), Cuba, following an unsuccessful invasion of the island, April 1961. (Credit: Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

City Scenes, San Francisco

This metal hitching post on Fresno Street is missing its horse (or bicycle).

hitching post

Around the corner, the Kerouac/Beat museum is wrapped in cardboard brown.

3 -looks like cardboard, righ

My favorite purchase from the museum is this postcard. If you haven’t visited The Beat Museum ….”

photo 2

The Coit Tower, though not very far away, can only be accessed via a very steep climb to Telegraph Hill. Here she is, looking down at the Embarcadero and this year’s Americas Cup Race. Her red and gold lace silhouette is quite becoming.


coit tower
View from inside Coit Tower
View from below Coit Tower (I think that’s Alcatraz Island in the distance)

Across town the following day:

photo 1 (1)
Living wall art on Mission Street
8 -view from yerba buena gardens
View from Yerba Buena Gardens
9 -view from de Young
A different view of the Bay, this time from the de Young Museum (Marin Headlands is in the distance)

Fidel Castro, Lost and Found

clark galloway interviewing Fidel Castro
Clark Hewitt Galloway interviewing Fidel Castro, 1959 in Havana. © Laura Galloway

A few years ago, a 1959 interview with Fidel Castro was unearthed from a shoe box. It had been sitting there for about fifty years before it was discovered by the interviewer’s granddaughter. Since then, the taped interview has been transcribed from its original Spanish to English and made available on the Internet. There you can listen to the young revolutionary as he responds to the interviewer who has come from America to determine if the young rebel is a Communist: He is not, at least not yet.

Listen to the recording and hear the young rebel, radical and idealist, Fidel Castro speak not of communism, but of the “ideology of the 26th of July Movement,” a movement meant to be “a path of national affirmation, human dignity, and democratic order.” Continue listening, perhaps even read the Movement’s manifesto, and you will be left wondering, “Did America and its Red Scare/Cold War campaign help push Castro and the Cuban revolution in the direction of communism?” It seems they did.

In the early stages of the Cuban Revolution – the interview took place a few weeks after the overthrow of dictator Fulgencio Batista – Castro has some very interesting things to say about his revolutionary movement, about communism and about the United States’ military occupation of Guantanamo Bay.  In response to the question about Guantanamo Bay, Castro’s objection has more to do with the American sailors stirring up trouble while out on the town in Guantanamo, than it has to do with the actual occupation of the base. The problems he describes continue in other parts of the world today as evidenced relatively recently in Okinawa, Japan.

How did a movement rooted in democratic ideals evolve into what is present day Cuba? Perhaps one has only to look at the current crisis in Egypt to begin understanding the complexities of political movements. In the case of Cuba, the shift from the ideology of the 26th of July Movement to communism is partly influenced by American interference or lack of support, or both. One of the many striking statements made by the young revolutionary during the interview is this: “If this Revolution falls, what we will have here in Cuba is a hell….Hell itself.”

If you know the history of Spanish colonialism in Cuba, followed as it was by the Spanish-American War, and leading up to America co-opting, perhaps even dominating the country, you will understand Castro’s declaration that Cuba will be a hell should the revolution fall. The real truth of the matter is that Cuba was already a hell. The majority of its citizens lived in abject poverty, ruled by the American supported dictator, Fulgencio Batista. This story is all too familiar to those of us from colonial and post-colonial spaces. It matters not which country dominates which: The result is usually , if not always, the same — most people who are subjects of colonial rulers live a kind of hell. Fidel Castro was well aware of this. Pity then, that he held power for so long. If only he had recognized, like Nelson Mandela did, that it is no good holding on to power indefinitely. Of course, in Cuba’s case, the fifty year American embargo against the country and its peoples helps not one bit. When does that end?

Soaking Up The Bay

The Bayview Trail at Coyote Hills

Oh the Bay, she is a wonder. See her from afar as you hike Coyote Hills and you will be treated to ribbons of pinks and greens mixed with whites, browns, blacks and reds. None of these colors are apparent when you stand next to her at ground level. I certainly saw no evidence of them when I  hiked along her shores at Eden Landing. Thanks to my time at Coyote Hills, some new colors are about to appear on my palette. Who knows how the piece that now sits on my easel will turn out!

along sf bay trail2
up close, by Eden Landing area

The San Francisco Bay Trail at Eden Landing 

When I’m at ground level with the deep, deep parts of the Bay (near the San Mateo Bridge and Eden Landing, for example), fear commingles with awe. This may be because of the sounds the Bay makes as it moves toward you and then backs away, sucking and gurgling, slapping and pulling. A few sharp slaps from the wind-whipped water were reminders of how small I am and how huge the Bay is. I felt this even more acutely as I walked across the long wooden bridge that is part of the trail at Eden Landing. At low tide the bridge crosses over shallow mudflats. At high tide, like the day I was there, the water surged beneath the bridge and slapped at the pilings. The bridge shook.

In Search of the Other End of the San Francisco Bay Trail

Perhaps I was by Alameda Creek or the Hayward Regional Shoreline. It could also be that I was near neither. Although my GPS indicated that I was ten or so miles away from the other end of the San Francisco Bay Trail (the section that starts at Eden Landing), I don’t know where I was. This part of town was very industralized. I could’ve been in Union City or in Hayward, or maybe even in Fremont. All three cities have highly industrialized spaces with sections running along the Bay. I get lost quite often but each wrong turn is an adventure.

I parked along a dead end street somewhere off Whipple Avenue and ducked through a locked gate to start my hike. I walked past garbage, old salt flats and marshland. At the beginning of the trail was a fenced in truck yard. Soon I was walking past marshland (to my left) and dried up salt flats (to my right). About a mile into the walk, I came across a concrete levee. Here, water flowed through a drainage pipe that ran under the embankment. This piped water ran into the marsh. In a pool of water sat piles of plastic and metal. Where was this garbage coming from? This was not good for the birds and other wildlife that live here. As the trail at levee’s end was blocked by a locked gate (to which was affixed a “No trespassing” sign), I headed back to the car.

Perhaps next month I’ll visit this area again. There was evidence of wildlife in the bird songs I heard and  in the scat of various small animals that I saw. I think too, that the residents of the nearby community walk their dogs on the trail and do not clean up after them. In the middle of this wasteland then, there was hope, sadness and possibilities. I counted at least six different bird songs along my walk and I found the feathers of three different kinds of birds. Their droppings lined the path, a definite sign of a robust population. Perhaps another tell-tale sign of a healthy bird population is the sign I saw on my way onto the trail, “Duck hunting permitted in season, by permission, California Department of Fish and Game.” Is this even necessary? Why not just let the ducks live?6

One June Day By the Bay

Bicycling by the Bay
Bicycling by the Bay (the Santa Cruz Mountains are in the distance)
along sf bay trail2
End of the road!
Who's going to tell the birds and other wildlife this water's unfit?
Who’s going to tell the birds and  the rest of the wildlife that this water’s unfit for contact?
An estuary of the estuary, the San Francisco Bay
Close up
Close up of house in marsh with salt pond (or flat) in background

All of these photos were taken along The Bay Trail, on the east side of the San Mateo Bridge. Tomorrow I will post more pictures and tell you about the marshes that were turned to salt ponds and are now returning to their  former state. Oh, the Bay, she is a changing, again.

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