Literary Movers and Shakers (and Litquake-ers)

9 10 2009

It’s that time of year again, and I (tear) am missing it. Litquake, the world’s best literary festival and big sister to LitCrawl NYC, begins tonight. And promises to be the best one yet. it had better be. It’s celebrating its 10th birthday. I’m especially sad to be missing Sarah Vowell, the North Beach Literary Tour and, of course, the Kerouac event, but as always the entire schedule looks phenomenal. Guess I’ll be spending the week doing a little extra reading…





California Academy of Sciences – Finally!

1 08 2009

Last weekend while at home I finally made it to the California Academy of Sciences. I’ve been wanting to visit since it reopened last year, after nearly 10 years and $500 million of renovations.

It was worth the wait. The new building is pretty spectacular, complete with a living roof that not only collects rainwater to prevent polluting runoff, but reduces energy needs, provides a habitat for local flora and fauna and is pretty darn lovely to behold on top of it all.

We visited Madagascar, Borneo and Costa Rica in four stories, compliments of the museum’s tropical rain forest, which is teeming with vibrant butterflies, but, lucky for me, the birds tend to remain well hidden. The penguins never fail to please (don’t believe me? watch them), and the planetarium was pretty fantastic, though I think the highlight may well have been the albino alligator that graces the swamp part of the aquarium.

I visited this place as a child, but I have to say the awe I feel as an adult far exceeds any I could have felt then. As an adult, I fully appreciate the scope of the place, and all the effort that went into making it what it is today. It’s been a key feature of Golden Gate Park, and now its sustainable design ensures that it will continue to be so for a very long time. And that makes this girl very, very happy.





Literary Mayhem

12 05 2009

So it turns out working a “real job” means much less time for things like blogging (not that I’m complaining). However, most of my free time lately has been devoted to yet another labor of love. The second Lit Crawl NYC is taking place this weekend and it’s going to be leaner, meaner and a whole lot of fun. We have real programs this time around (I just sent them off to be printed) and real sponsors  and Jack and Jane, the brilliant masterminds behind Litquake, will both be participating.

Plus, people are talking. Just yesterday, we were in The New Yorker. Go us!

I’d go on gushing, but, alas, I don’t quite have the time. Check out more at litquake.org/ny and if you’re anywhere near Manhattan on Saturday, May 16, you’d be missing out if you didn’t make your way down to the East Village to crawl a bit.





71 Miles to Almost Anything

4 03 2009
From the roof of my former SF apartment

From the roof of my former SF apartment

I feel as though I’ve been touting the virtues of California a lot recently. In the past few weeks I’ve found myself in several conversations, both with fellow Californians who know what I’m talking about and with New Yorkers (or other East Coasters) who wonder if I’ll ever go back. It’s amusing really: the Californians pretty much always say they’ll return, especially this time of year.

The East Coasters will often ask why I left, but generally conclude that they could not live in California, mostly given the earthquakes. This is an amusing fear to me: I’d much prefer the threat of an earthquake (the last major quake in the San Francisco Bay Area was 1989) than the actuality of hurricanes, tornadoes or whatever other national disasters occur just about annually in other parts of the country.

But that is not the point. Whenever Easterners ask me what’s so great about California, my answer is simple: everything. We have great weather (most of the time) and in most places in the state you’re not far from whatever it is you might seek: mountains, ocean, desert, sea elephants, wine… California, and San Francisco in specific, pretty much has it all.

Which is why it was so thrilling to find this e-zine the other day: 71Miles is a website covering weekend destinations within a four-hour radius of San Francisco. Within those guides is something for everyone. Head out to the coast, up to the mountains, into the wine country, or simply stay put. From San Francisco, four hours gets you (almost) to Santa Barbara, also known as paradise, to Yosemite, one of the natural treasures of the United States, and just about anywhere else you might want to go.

It’s basically a blog, but it’s amusing, well-written, and there is a lot of good content on it. Best part? The writer/editor, John A. Vlahides happens to be a New York transplant to San Francisco. Go figure.





Warning: Highly Addictive

16 02 2009

During a recent catch-up brunch with Tiffany, she reported back, that her California trip was fantastic (no surprise) and, much to my delight (and envy), that the visit to Ano Nuevo State Beach was the major highlight. As I mentioned back when she was planning this trip, the elephant seals at Ano Nuevo, just outside San Francisco, have long been an obsession of mine, though I’ve yet to make it to see them myself.

Tiff’s visit, during which she saw a very long fight between two males and a live birth (according to her naturalist guide, a very rare sighting) only made me more angry that I never went while living there, though my mother has since informed me that we did in fact visit the beach once, but that, alas, there was only one seal there when we did. The fact that I have no recollection of this is shocking, given my current obsession with them and the fact that I generally remember almost everything. Anyhow, my dear mother has brought the elephant seals to me, or, rather, the California park system (and a very generous donor) have.

I recently received in the mail this clipping from our local newspaper, sent by my mother and announcing that the seals are now eligible to become worldwide stars (or simply the subjects of mass voyeurism). Regardless, Ano Nuevo has installed a high definition webcam, the first of its kind in any California State Park and worth a whopping $20,000. The camera covers the entire nine acre island and allows nature lovers all over the world to witness the fighting, mating and general life practices of the fascinating elephant seals. I’ve finally seen my first (in memory) elephant seal, and have left the player up on my desktop. Not only are the nature sounds sort of soothing, but a quick visit to the beach is a great escape from a cold New York work day. As I type this post, all is bathed in a rosy glow as the sun rises in California. Check it out for yourself, but be warned: you won’t be able to pull yourself away. I myself and waiting to catch that elusive live birth…





Park-ing

9 01 2009

There is something about having a major, beautiful park that makes a city fantastic. If Central Park is the epitome of this, Golden Gate Park is a close second (though I think perhaps it is on par, and getting better all the time).

Some things to do in Golden Gate Park:

  1. Stop and smell the roses (or other flower of your choice): The stunning glass-domed building, just as amazing as when it first opened in 1979, is just the beginning. Inside the Conservatory of Flowers are nearly 2,000 species of plants, each more amazing and beautiful than the next.
  2. Take Tea: The Japanese Tea Garden is one of the most-visited sights in San Francisco, and for good reason. It is a tranquil oasis within the city, for relaxation, meditation, or just a nice long stroll. All the rest is so amazing, you just have to see for yourself.
  3. Look at Art: After tea in the garden stop in the nearby de Young Fine Arts Museum. In its new modern (and eco-friendly) building since 2005, the museum still houses elements of the original 1921 museum, including the Pool of Enchantment, sphinx sculptures, and the initial palm trees,  ferns, redwood. Plus, of course, a whole lot of beautiful art.
  4. Commune with Nature: Though I’ve not yet been the newly re-opened California Academy of Sciences is a recent obsession. Here a four-story rain forest, an aquarium, a planetarium, and a natural history museum all reside under one living roof. That’s right, the entire building is sustainable, from its radiant sub-floor heating to the tippy-top of its (literally) green roof, created of native vegetation that will capture rainwater and serve as a habitat for wildlife. Incredible just doesn’t seem enough here.
  5. Eat. After all that exploring, head to the historic Beach Chalet, which combines yummy food with lovely views, both inside, where WPA frescoes capture a 1930s San Francisco, and outside, where the Pacific waves crash against Ocean Beach.




Yes, I’m Bi-Coastal

7 01 2009

I interrupt this “I Heart SF” week with a bit of New York love, or, rather, I remark on a fabulous proof that my two favorite American cities are inextricably linked, making each even more lovable. and so…

New York

I must report that this Friday evening Bohemia is back in all its glory with a celebration of, Herbert Huncke, who inspired the word “beat” of the Beat Generation and then inspired Beat greats from Kerouac to Ginsberg to Burroughs. January 9, 2009 would be Huncke’s 94th birthday, and in order to celebrate his friends, fans, and fellow writers will be gathering at Bowery Electric for a tribute to Huncke and his own lyrical and poignant writing. Show starts at 8pm but doors open at 7:30pm. It promises to be a fantastic and enlightening event.

San Francisco

It’s a New York event, yes, but the heart of the beats truly lies in San Francisco. Though Huncke and his friends all met in New York City, it was San Francisco where most of their mayhem took place, and it is still San Francisco that is a tribute to the Beats and their fabulous legacy. And so, in keeping with the week’s theme, some of the best places to keep a San Francisco Beat (pardon the pun).

  1. City Lights Booksellers. 261 Columbus Ave. It doesn’t get much more Beat than this. Not only is the store, which takes up a block of Columbus Avenue, one of the few independent bookstores left (thanks Barnes), it is truly a “Literary Landmark,” both for the alternative culture it sanctions and for its 50-plus year history of commitment to progressive ideas. It was the nation’s first all-paperback bookstore, and its three floors house a vast selection of books, including many “harder-to-find” titles as well as a poetry room. Oh, then there was this little poem called Howl, and the man who caused quite a stir by publishing it.
  2. The Beat Museum. 540 Broadway. It’s just across form City Lights and features everything from Beat letters to Kerouac bobbleheads.
  3. Vesuvio. 255 Columbus Ave. It’s in Kerouac Alley. What more needs to be said?




Winter at the (North) Beach

6 01 2009

As a continuation of my “I heart SF” week, I present: Beach Blanket Babylon. Though it’s not the first thing that generally comes to mind when one thinks San Francisco, this hilarious song-and-dance with the giant hats has become something of a San Francisco staple, and it should be. It’s been running for 34 years; it’s the longest running musical revue. Ever. Not to mention that the zaniness, the theatricality, and, most importantly, the political plays make it everything we’ve come to know and love (and expect from) San Francisco.

The show began in 1974, a brainchild of Steve Silver and was so popular that it now has a permanent home at North Beach’s Club Fugazi, a tiny nightclub where there are no bad seats.  The story itself is silly to say the least, but it’s filled with upbeat songs, side-splitting jokes (that change based on the current events), and fabulous singing from the likes of BBB star Val Diamond who, celebrating her 30th anniversary with the show this year, has become something of a San Francisco institution in her own right. But man, those hats.

The show runs Wed and Thurs at 8 pm, Fri and Sat at 6:30 pm and 9 pm, and Sun at 2 pm and 5 pm. Ticket prices range from $25 to $78.

If you’re making a night out of it, try Steps of Rome for fantastic Italian (where the eye candy is as yummy as the food) or  L ‘Osteria del forno, a tiny North Beach hideaway with some of the best food in the city. For a nightcap, try Figaro, where dessert is a must or the historic Tosca, a favorite watering hole since the 1920s, complete with red vinyl booths, the famous antique jukebox and seven strong classic cocktails, including the Tosca signature: rich cappuccino flavored with Ghiradelli chocolate and spiked with brandy. You don’t get much more San Francisco than that.





New Year (Vicarious) Trip

5 01 2009

One year ago today I was frantically racing around New York buying important things (like shoes I would wear once and bandaids that would mend my feet from the damage caused by said shoes), saying countless telephone goodbyes and, giant Squirrel on my back, boarding a plane for the long journey to Buenos Aires, full of excitement and nervous jitters.  This year I am parked at a coffee shop near Union Square typing away and dreaming of the Argentine summer. Sigh.

Since I’ve used up money and work days on holiday travel and have no trip in sight of my own, I’ve decided to focus my wanderlust on Tiffany and her trip to California. Yesterday during brunch I frantically scribbled down thoughts of things she must do, and today I have even more to add. So, I hereby dub this week “California Week” and will offer up Tiffany’s trip (or my vision of her trip) as the one I will be dreaming of while I stay here in frigid New York.

Today’s highlight stays true to the New Year Trip theme: Ano Nuevo State Beach. I must say that when Tiff’s boyfriend Mark told me they’d be seeing the elephant seals I turned a little green. I’ve wanted to visit for years and never got around to it (though my mother informed me today that we went when I was small but saw no seals).

This rocky point, named Punta Ano Nuevo because it was first sighted by Spanish explorers on New Year’s Day 1603, is best known as the site of the largest mainland breeding ground (in the world) for the massive and amazing northern elephant seal. Though I have yet to see them for myself, this I know: that elephant seals are enormous (males stretch from 14 to 16 feet long and weigh up to 2 1/2 tons), mean (males fight to determine the alpha male, who will do most of the breeding), and were hunted for their oil and nearly wiped out until protected in 1922. And, of course, that they head to Ano Nuevo, just south of San Francisco, to mate.

Things to know for planning a visit

To protect the seals and minimize disturbance to their routine, visitation is regulated year-round, and regulations vary based on the seasons. During breeding season (December 15-March 31) visits are limited to naturalist guided walks that must be booked in advance. From April to August, visitors may head out on self-guided hikes after obtaining a Visitor’s Permit. For full visiting details, hours, fees, etc, here.

To further enhance the experience, stay at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel. Not only is it a certified green business, its cozy, affordable, and, well, a lighthouse, one of America’s tallest lighthouses at that. Oh, and did I mention the oceanside hot tub that is perfect for pelican and whale watching? Maybe I’ll be finding a way to get another vacay in after all…





Queens Towers (by special request)

18 10 2008

I was recently chided for having written about two of my nieces and not their sister, my darling Olivia.

And so, without further ado, a post especially for Olivia, in two parts.

I may be belaboring the point but I love being an aunt for the simple joys of passing on knowledge, joy, enthusiasm, and for cultivating those female bonds which I think are so special. At home in California this summer I had several opportunities for just these things, some already noted and others soon to be forthcoming. The added bonus of all this, I found, is that I get to learn in the process as well. And thus, part 1…

We have a tradition when my brother Gregg brings his girls from Colorado to California for visits. We head to Oakland’s Jack London Square and take the East Bay Ferry into the city. From there the routine is pretty generic and pretty touristy, usually consisting, in random variations, of lunch at Johnny Rockets, playing and shopping on Pier 39, and a long time marveling at the famous sea lions who lounge there. Then we make the long walk along the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building, where the rest of us wander the markets waiting for my brother to spend an inordinate amount of time purchasing wine before we catch the ferry back to Oakland. It’s always a great day and the kids look forward to it every visit.

This summer, however, we switched it up, especially for Miss Olivia. Last year, on the walk to the Ferry Building, I pointed out Coit Tower to the darling and she has been obsessed ever since, determined that we must visit the “Queen Tower” and also the “other Queen Tower,” which happens to be San Francisco’s other most distinctive building, the Transamerica. So this year, we diverted from the usual plan and took Olivia to the Queen Tower, no small feat given that I have not lived in the city for more than two years now and have become a little rusty on my geography, not to mention there’s that massive hill to climb (we cabbed it).

Once up there, however, it was well worth the trek. For my mother, who had visited often with her own mother (my Gaga), it brought happy memories of growing up in San Francisco. For Olivia, who for a year had been talking about the Queen Tower, it was a thrill, nearly equaled but not overshadowed by the joy of seeing “Alcatrax.”

The Princess in front of the Queen Tower

The Princess in front of the Queen Tower

And for me, who managed to grow up in the Bay Area, live in San Francisco for two years, and only see one of its most iconic landmarks for the first time on a visit from New York, it was a reminder of what we take for granted when we have easy access to some of life’s most amazing places, and a reminder that you don’t have to travel to travel. Often the best things to see are in our own backyards. Or at the very least just a ferry ride away.

Coit Tower, which can be seen from most places in downtown San Francisco, looms over the city from its perch on Telegraph Hill in North Beach. It was erected in 1933, and was commissioned to honor San Francisco’s firefighters by Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a wealthy eccentric San Franciscan who often rode along with the firemen, despite this being considered unladylike behavior. For more information, click here.