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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The print or the prostitute?

  The strangest title on a print in the SFMoMA show Brought to Light: Photography and the Invisible, 1840-1900 (

"Spark Made on the Surface of the Body of a Prostitute - Well Washed."

I wish I knew what the work's creator, Mr. (?) Narwkiewitsch-Jodko, intended with that particular added detail.


posted by Arlene (Beth)8:14 PM

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Things you don't currently eat for breakfast, but which sound crazy-good

  I get praise for the smell of my breakfasts in the break room at work.

Sure, most mornings I just eat apple-flavored instant oatmeal, because I'm not at home to get all fancy and cook my oatmeal with sliced pears, cranberry raisins, soy milk and up to six spices. (Ah, home.) But lately I've been eating curried yams or Mediterranean lasagna, which attracts a bit more attention.

But if I were leading the life of leisure that I so desperately crave yet cannot achieve, I might well be spending some of my mornings in the Haight at Massawa. According to Massawa's breakfast menu (, which I studied the last time I was there, they offer several traditional east African breakfast options. All of which sound a lot better than instant oatmeal:

-fretata (clearly influenced by Italy's long term stay in the Ethiopian region): eggs, bell pepper, tomato, onion, olive oil
-fata: tomato sauce, garlic, onion, spices, French bread with a yogurt side
-shehan fool: fava, onion, tomato, olive oil, spices, feta or yogurt
-ampetito: onion lettuce tomato potato olive oil & vinegar on a bun
-khecha fetter: wheat cereal with butter.

I am craving shehan fool. NOW.

Yes, I will go. Yes, I will report. But for now, just thinking about it is satisfying.

(P.S. Who am I kidding? If I had a life of leisure, I'd surely spend most mornings in my darkroom, or prowling the town for new scenes to photograph...)


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Monday, January 12, 2009


  I love San Franciscans.

I *loved* it when the City was refurbishing some of the piers along the Embarcadero, and had a huge sign that said "an historic renovation," and someone, some wonderful person, found an enormous black marker and crossed out the n in an, since it violates American usage rules.

I loved riding on the streetcar recently, and hearing a girl explain to her girlfriend that she couldn't go out with some guy, because he didn't know the difference between a metaphor and a simile.

(Her own clarification to her girlfriend as to what the difference is, and why this is important in dating, I missed, but it couldn't have topped her original statement.)

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Totoro is my friend, too!

  Up until February 8th, you can visit The Cartoon Art Museum ( here in the fabulous City of San Francisco to see the really fun, excellent show known as The Totoro Forest Project (

It is a full gallery of gorgeous art inspired by Hayao Miyazaki's Tonari No Totoro, the charming and lovely animated film about two little girls moving to the country and finding new wonders in the forest surrounding them. The art was assembled and auctioned off at Pixar to benefit Totoro No Furusato National Fund, a Japanese forest protection group.

Totoro has many talented friends. The entire show was extremely enjoyable, but some of my favorite pieces included Steve Pilcher's Intruder, in which tiny leaf creatures on a sun-dappled forest floor examine a strange, foreign object, and Luis Grane's They Are Waiting, in which fantastic beings lurk underground, attached to the long, thin roots of a lone, urban tree.

The show is utterly charming, and not just for those of us who are secretly animists who spend our time worshipping forest spirits in all of their guises.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:32 PM


  After the show, I flagged down a cab, explained that I live off Ocean, out near City College, and that it was fine with me if he wanted to take the freeway. We zoomed off.

The southeast Asian cabbie looked at me speculatively in the rear view mirror for a moment.

"Maybe you speak an Asian language? Vietnamese?" [pause] "Or Thai?"

It had been at least a month since anyone had told me that I sounded foreign, or as if my accent is influenced by a language other than English. I can sometimes go for up to four months at a time before this happens.

It is always people from abroad, but not always people who took up English as a second or later language. One of my (many?) ex's Northern Irish relatives was most direct: "You don't sound like an American." (That was pre Bush-II, I should mention, and perhaps less perjorative then.)

I've been asked by Germans if I used to speak German; Africans if I originally spoke French or an African language; Thais if I (secretly?) used to speak Thai... My denials are often met with disbelief.

I liked the east African security guard's explanation best. He said that everyone who learns English where it isn't commonly spoken has a certain approach to it, which is common across other non-native speakers, and is something that other non-native speakers can recognize. He said I have that approach, and that it is instantly noticeable.

My cabbie didn't buy my explanation that I had recently visited Japan, and he might be detecting that. He looked at me like I was hiding something. So I saved my breath about how I was born and raised in the City, and that my parents are both American-born. I don't think he would have believed me.


posted by Arlene (Beth)7:52 PM

Random Google Trivia

  There are currently 457 Google results for "hot elf action."

Don't ask.


posted by Arlene (Beth)7:49 PM

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Infect Me Not! *Song Competition*

  Perhaps you, like me, are loving the advertisements up, telling you to stay home when you're sick. I especially like the bus shelter poster that reads, "Considerate Co-worker or Office Outcast?" (, in PDF format). The polka-dot graphic is SO CUTE! (It looks kind of like you, Scaryann!)

The problem of sick people coming to work and getting others sick is called "presenteeism," which can be worse than absenteeism. Though it's compounded by lame employers who don't grant enough time off. I'm just sayin'.

What? I do have hobbies, actually.

Anyway, what made me laugh maniacally in front of my computer here at home was the fact that the Infect Me Not Campaign has... SONGS! YES! They had a song contest! And got entries! And picked winners, and did the sort of things you do in contests, even though they are a health department! I swear, I'm not making this up. See: Song Competition - Communicable Disease Control and Prevention, San Francisco Department of Public Health (

[Sound of Arlene listening to the songs]
[*hysterical laughter*]

I love the Internet!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)5:35 PM

Last Stop This Town

  Anecdote: Every rail line in Japan seems to have its own theme song. You'll pull into a station, and an electronic tune will burst out of the speakers: when the song ends, you'd better be on your train, because the doors will close.

The songs are catchy. They can stick in your head for HOURS. A lot like the crosswalk song in front of Kyoto station, which I recorded and will share with you at some other time.

Anyway, the Tokaido Line has a very catch song. A catchy... familiar song. I thought it was familiar because of my previous visit. But it is also familiar because you can hear it in the Eel's Last Stop This Town ( S made the connection right away. (Note: intentional joke.)


posted by Arlene (Beth)5:02 PM

Saturday, January 03, 2009

November 2008 Japan Photos Posted So Far

  I know that my iPhone photoblog at has been inadequate to feed the relentless demand for my vacation photos, even though I posted about 150 of them over the course of late November and early December. Also, to see the images in groups rather than in arbitrary sets of six, you have to view the November and December archives to see large groups of images at once. And that doesn't work for a lot of people.

I have been posting sets of images from my "real" digital camera in Facebook, which kindly permits non-Facebook users to view the albums without any silly login or personal information disclosure requirements, in a very user-friendly format.

So far, I have posted the following at Facebook:

-Kyoto Bikes, a photo essay on bike infrastructure and bicyclists

-Japan - First Night In Kyoto, scenes of spectacularly lit Kiyomizu Temple

-Japan - And Then It Rained Some More, various Kyoto scenes, emphasizing roof details and fall color

and, as of this evening,

-Japan - Kyoto between rainstorms, which also emphasizes roof details and fall color, but at different locations than the earlier sets.

I will likely post one more album of Kyoto images to Facebook (though I'm not sure what to do with all the plant studies I took in the Kyoto botanical garden, most of which involve plants which are not native to Japan), and perhaps an 'iPhone greatest hits' collection of favorite photos from my photoblog there.

I also have reports going about what I ate on the trip, highlights, cultural observations, and other details, which will reside on a page here at, where I will also consolidate the links. Though I hope you're not holding your breath: it could take a while to get them all set up to my satisfaction. Stay tuned.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:04 PM

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Cafés of Which I'm Fond

  interior of sugarlump cafe, San Francisco

There was a time when my circumstances forced me into a strange lifestyle: the lifestyle of both a full time law firm paralegal AND a full-time college student. During my weekdays, I would work 40 hours plus routine overtime on complex litigation cases; on alternating weekends, I would either be in classes from 8 to 5 or would be doing homework for those classes.

I had no leisure time. The closest thing I had to leisure was a mental trick I played upon myself, in which I believed that work was a rest from school, and that school was a rest from work.

Sometimes, on the bus to school or in a taxi heading home from a late night in the office, I would see people reading newspapers and drinking coffee, sitting in cafés as if in no hurry to be anywhere. I envied those people. Leisure was something so remote to my existence, that I began to fetishize the entire idea of sitting in cafés. It represented a lifestyle that I imagined I could never have.

I completed my bachelor's degree on weekends more than a decade ago now, and left law firm life (hopefully forever) in exchange for the complex life of an in-house jill-of-all-legally-related trades. But sitting in cafés still has a remarkable allure. The entire idea of being able to sit still... I barely even understand it!!

There are several places I like to go to sit, if only for a short time, and enjoy espresso drinks or sandwiches. I was reminded of this while cooling my heels at a cafe while waiting for a live music show to begin, after having been informed by the organizers that they were running at least an hour late. So, here is the list.
two lovely espresso drinks at Ritual

Ritual Coffee Roasters (, 1026 Valencia St (near 21st) in the Mission and within Flora Grubb Gardens at 1634 Jerrold Ave (near Phelps) in the Bayview. Ritual is my favorite local micro-roaster. I've gushed in these pages before about the smooth power of their brews, and how their masterful roasts bring out a subtle fruitiness in their espressos... They are just wonderful. The Valencia location is convenient AND has a lovely selection of baked goods, including vegan sherry cake. The Flora Grubb location allows you to sip your powerful beverages while surrounded by exotic plants and garden furniture.

Peet's Coffee ( and, various locations. Peet's is a local chain, and their soy lattes are consistently excellent. They have a powerful tea collection; make a delicious and deceptively powerful soy chai that can keep me up nights; their locations often play lovely classical music; and whenever the salespeople grind beans, you can get a contact high from just being in the same room. Peet's spoiled me, and so I cannot drink at Starbucks, where everthing tastes weak. 2 hours of free WiFi if you ask for it.
divine latte at Blue Bottle

Blue Bottle Coffee Company (, 66 Mint St. (at Jessie), Powell Station Area. This is another fabulous microroaster, one whose lines at the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market are alarmingly long. Again, there is a pleasant subtlety to the flavor of their espressos that is supremely satisfying. Everyone at their cafe is VERY ALERT: there is also the added bonus of looking at all of their cool labware while visiting. 'Good stuff.

Yes, I see a pattern... This is supposed to be about CAFÉS, and I'm writing about coffee suppliers instead. Sorry. Though these are all also good places to enjoy your excellent coffee.

Java Jitters / the Coffee Lab, 1125 Ocean Avenue (near Lee), generally near City College in my home neighborhood - the Ingleside. Yes, they serve Ritual Coffee, and they do a fabulous job of it, but that's not the only reason I go there. Though it's a good reason! They also make great sandwiches on very fresh bread. It is a pleasant place to hang out on a cold day with a steaming espresso drink and watch people walk past on Ocean.

King's Cafe, 1901 Ocean Ave (at Ashton - across from the Jules K Streetcar stop - my streetcar stop), also Ingleside. Mmmmm, white mochas! This is where I go when I get out of the gym and am ravenous for a bagel or veggie sandwich. It's a very casual place, reasonably quiet (though I'm not a fan of TV, and there is one near the register), and the sandwiches and coffee are pleasant. The pastry selection is quite limited, but I'm not much of a pastry enthusiast. Free WiFi.
interior view of Caffe Museo from the rear corner

Caffe Museo (, 151 Third Street in SFMoMA, South of Market. This is really more of a restaurant than a cafe, but the coffee drinks are satisfying - and the food is very, very good. I recommend the gnocchi especially. It is also glam. When I was on my sabbatical, I would sit there regularly with a retired girlfriend of mine, and marvel that I was ever a working stiff (and dread that I would ever be a working stiff again)... Ah, that was the life.

Simple Pleasures Cafe, 3434 Balboa Street (near 36th Avenue), Richmond District. I went there today! A friendly place with pastries, good coffee, tasty sandwiches, and cozy little tables. It's often quite full.

French toast at blue Danube Coffee House

Blue Danube Coffee House, 306 Clement Street (between 4th Ave & 5th Ave), Inner Richmond District. Coffee, Chai, waffles, wraps, sandwiches... It's a comfy place to hang out and eat.

strange fireplace at sugarlump cafe

sugarlump coffee lounge (, 2862 24th Street at Bryant in the Mission. This is where I went to cool my heels while waiting for a bunch of artists to get their show together. It is quiet, has free WiFi, and looks cool enough to be an upscale restaurant or wine bar - but it's better than that, because it's about coffee! (The photo at the top of this entry is also of sugarlump.) I plan to visit again and try out their lattes.


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:56 PM

Happy New Year!


Best Wishes to You And Those You Hold Dear for 2009!


posted by Arlene (Beth)12:12 AM

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