San Francisco, like any old city, is full of unexplained remnants from its past. It's an odd town, always has been. Since childhood, I often have seen or remember seeing odd things in various places around town. More usually than not, I never knew what the hell they were doing there or where they came from. But since finding some great San Francisco history resources online, I've been looking up the ones that catch my fancy and finding out about them.
Recently, I traipsed over to City Hall with Laszlo and Kali, making them come with me to go take some photos of what I would only refer to as the Big Giant Head. Now, there have been a few big giant heads in San Francisco history -- the Doggie Diner head perhaps being the most famous.
I was referring, however, to the head from the statue of the Goddess of Progress. This statue once adorned the top of the old City Hall, which was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake. (You can see where the statue once perched in these photos from the SF Public Library's Historical Photograph Collection: photos of the old City Hall before the quake and one of the ruins after.)
I first learned about this statue (and its peculiar history) some months back in this amusing article from the Museum of San Francisco's online site (a wonderful and entertaining resource, by the way).
Since the article mentioned the head is currently on display in City Hall, I decided I should meander over there one day myself (as I happen to live quite near it) and look at the thing myself. So, one day a couple of weeks ago, I managed to get Laszlo and Kali to come along with me for the walk. It's there all right. And it's a big giant ugly head. My pix:
Laszlo's arm, the Big Giant Head, and Kali:
The last entry (on the Goddess of Progress's head) is actually the debut entry in a new category I just created for this blog -- the category called "San Francisco," which is meant to include various stuff about the city and random trivia bits, like the one I just did on the "Big Giant Head."
I am by nature a pack rat (literally and mentally) -- an archivist, if you will. It is my passion and hobby rather than my profession, so I am, I guess, more accurately a trivia collector. But I've got some damn good trivia stored in my head (and other tangible places) and a plethora of subjects that I particularly enjoy gathering info on. As this is my hobby, more or less, I am lackadaiscal about how I hunt and gather the information usually. I am capable of being more focused about it and I am sometimes, especially when I am working on a writing project where I have a reason to actively do research (I think perhaps part of the reason I am a writer is merely that it provides my packrat archivist/research personality a viable outlet). But usually I just collect trivia and research things chaotically. Reflexively even. For no good reason other than that is what I do.
So, since gathering random information is such a reflex with me, I happen to have a large storehouse of trivia about San Francisco stored in my head, as I live here, as I was born here, and have lived here for the majority of my life. I did, alas, end up spending my adolescence in the suburbs down the peninsula and there was that unfortunate time in 1984 (where I minorly went insane apparently) and got talked into moving into an apartment in Berkeley -- fortunately, this aberration was temporary and I regained my senses and fled back to SF about eight months later. But other than those absences, I have lived in San Francisco. It is my home. I am, I know, irrevocably rooted here.
I love this city. I don't always love what people in it are doing in it or to it nor the palm trees on Market Street nor much of the politics nor how people represent it sometimes. I think the city is often misunderstood. Not only by outsiders, but sometimes by those who live here, too. I know why the city tends to be misunderstood, though. Because I am aware of its surface persona, too -- how it is spoken of and viewed in the media, how it is represented and portrayed by the San Francisco Chronicle (and many of its other little newspapers), and how its image is slanted and its reality sometimes steered by its own plethora of activists and media whores with their varied agendas. Oh, yeah, and in more recent years, by the tyranny of the very very politically correct contigent -- who interestingly enough, seem to usually never actually be San Francisco natives themselves, but disgruntled transplants from elsewhere. And they're loud and vocal, frequently missing the real point or the big picture, and usually intractable. And although they're fond of usually telling (or petitioning for legislation to tell) everyone else how to behave here and have perhaps imprinted a bit of their legacy on this city for the moment, I contend they are completely and intrinsically un-San Franciscan.
I trust the city to shrug off their influence eventually. The city tolerates everything, even the intolerant and well-meaning*, for a while and then it shudders in little tremors and big quakes and rearranges the landscape. Metaphorically and literally. I am not sure it does it simply when it has had enough or more because it thrives best when being chaotic, arbitrary, or reckless. (Or whether I am guilty of "metropolis-morphizing" here or something ... heh.) But I know it's done this for as long as it's been here.
And I love it for that.
So, it is because I love this city that I'm going to use all that packed-away trivia (and continue to hunt down and gather more), my own experiences and memories, observations and anecdotal tales, and I'm going to tell you a bit about San Francisco. The one I know. With a good helping of any odd trivia I dig up and fancy mentioning.
*My mother (who was incidentally not a religious woman in the least) used to drive me insane by often quoting that old homily at me: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." Usually to counter me saying "But I meant to ...." when I'd screwed something up inadvertently. No doubt why I despised the phrase when growing up. But, ya know, I think I've come to appreciate that it has a certain point .....
After I observed at a party that all the males there knew well how to dissect and discuss the minutiae of Star Trek, Batman, and anime, I couldn't help but mutter an aside to Kali as a particularly lively exchange about Batman movies raged on: "You know, I've heard this exact conversation before. Entirely different sets of people, too. Over and over for years."
Kali, deadpan: "It's the price we must pay for not having men who talk about football."
Today is the 10th anniversary of my friend Norman's death.
Yesterday, I went to visit his niche at the Columbarium. (See this archived entry from 2002 for a little more about Norman's niche in the Columbarium -- incidentally, the Bastille Day flag mentioned in that entry is still there, I'm pleased to report).
As I felt I should mark the occasion with some sort of 10th anniversary offering, I left him a pink elephant swizzle stick in his flower vase. Why that? Just seemed appropriate somehow. Pink elephants (and just generally swizzle sticks for that matter) seemed appropriate somehow for someone whose ashes are residing in a martini shaker. Oh, and there's that whole bit about how elephants never forget, ya know, which seemed highly apropos for the occasion. As well as at least a half-dozen other favorable metaphorical allusions involving elephants I probably could cough up, if pressed, but I won't.
To be honest, the reason I chose it is that it was the thing I found lying around in the junk in my room yesterday morning that happened to jump out at me and say "This. This one is it." Yeah, flowers are a more traditional offering for such circumstances, I guess, but I usually tend to proffer ephemeral flotsam rather than ephemeral flora when I go about paying homage or respect. An urban vs. bucolic response, I guess? Kinda like that line in a Frank O'Hara poem that goes "I can't even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there's a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life." (from "Meditations in an Emergency" -- which can be found online here.)
So. That's what I took to Norman's niche with a little message tied around the stem of the stick as well. Yes, I realize passing notes to the dead tends to be ineffectual (on all sorts of levels) and admitting to it will simply cause others to think I'm daft (if they didn't already). Those in the more scientifically-logical belief camp would think I'm daft because the dead, once dead, are incapable of reading (amongst other things) and those who are more spiritually or cosmically-inclined might be likely to point out that disincorporated loved ones wouldn't need the formality of a physical note as a method of communication.
Which do I believe? Neither. Both. My actual beliefs tend to be far more convoluted than even -- well -- my prose sometimes. Thus, I will refrain today from inflicting them (the beliefs, at any rate) on you. Although I'll show you a copy of the note, just because:
I know my mention of this anniversary is likely to startle those old friends of mine and Norman's who do drop in to glance at this blog from time to time ("It's been ten years?? Already?? No way!" I can hear them now.) And it is to them that I write the following: now that I've probably induced a little melancholy pang in your heart by mentioning the occasion and you're thinking of Norman, why don't you hit the little comment link below this entry and leave a little note telling a favorite memory or anecdote of yours about Norman? You know as well as I do that Norman always liked to be talked about and yearned to become a mythic figure of some sort. So ... c'mon, indulge -- indulge yourself, indulge me, and indulge Norman.
Stumbled upon this lovely web site called Literary Locales. It's a collection of more than a thousand picture links of places mentioned in famous literature or that are associated or notable in various authors' lives.
Speaking of authors, shall segue into a little calendar trivia now and mention that today is the birthday of Frank O'Hara (1926-1966).
George Sand (1804-1876) has her birthday coming up this Tuesday (July 1st). Wrote up a short piece on George Sand a couple of years ago that's tucked away on my defunct Dead Authors section.
The Dead Authors section was one of those weird ideas I got one day some years ago that sounded like it'd be an absorbing side project to tinker on but I realized that the idea I had would really be far too unwieldy and time-consuming to undertake if I wanted to try to do it right. So I decided to scrap it as a project to attempt, as I had (and still have) quite enough half-finished project experiments already, indeed. Left the pieces I initially wrote up, though, for what they're worth and just because they contained a few possibly noteworthy tidbits that might be of use to someone sometime.
One of those pieces was this page that goes a little bit into George Sand and has an interesting graphic of an old fan of hers that had been painted by Charpentier, illustrating Sand's "salon."
Always meant to do a little piece on Frank O'Hara for that Dead Authors section, too, but never got around to it.
And I can tell you exactly why. Because I just now did what I always did when I attempted to write my mini-profiles and pieces. Would go look up a little bit on an author to get a quote right, a factoid confirmed and instead end up on a mini-celebratory rereading of the author's work. Sometimes, for DAYS. Heh.
Yup. And this is what just happened penning this. I thought to go find a simple little quote from one of Frank O'Hara's poems to maybe end this entry with. Now, an hour and some minutes later, >after collapsing happily into Frank O'Hara's poetry, rereading and rereading many of my favorites of his -- I have a lot of favorites with him --I emerge reluctantly to just finish off this entry so I can go reread him some more ....
So. No quick quote will suffice because I want to quote all of his lines. I have been a fervent admirer of O'Hara ever since a friend pressed a book of his poetry into my hands about twenty years ago and said "Read this. He's great." And I did. And he was.
So, I guess I'll just close out this somewhat disjointed entry by doing like that old friend did. Please allow me to press into the (virtual) hands of those unfamiliar with this poet a link or two and say: "Go read him. He's great."
A Frank O'Hara site (where you can find some links to some of his poems online; same one I recently mentioned, incidentally, when I quoted an O'Hara poem.)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in 1712 on this day.
I made a quickie animated tribute (sorta) in honor of the occasion this morning and posted it online.
However, if you are unacquainted with my Polar Opposites farce animation, I must offer a little disclaimer that this "birthday card" isn't really to Rousseau as Rousseau but to satire penguin Rousseau character in the animation I'm doing.
And yet even more of a disclaimer -- as admittedly, Polar Opposites is pretty difficult to be well-acquainted with even if you've seen it. It's rather one of my more off-the-deep-end projects and not for those easily irritated at semi-pointless silly things.
Actually, should take this opportunity to mention that I'm currently working on the animation series and should have some more pieces of it online in the near future. (Puffins and penguins and philosophes! Oh, my!)
So, for the sake of a little amusement (or possibly bemusement), I present the Flash animation I did up this morning: