Monday, December 31, 2012

French Inscriptions Part Three - Celebrities

As I mentioned before, the French keep track of some old events in some detail. This inscription is next to a well in the medieval city of Chinon. (Please Click.)

"On March 6, 1429 Joan of Arc, in order to get down from a horse, put her foot on the edge of a communal well, sheltered by an awning, situated here on Grand Carroi. Reconstruction (of the well presumably) was done with care by the Society of Friends of old Chinon." Francophones are invited to correct my translation.

Below is a duplicate of the flame of the Statue of Liberty, which, famously, the French gave us.

It has an inscription on it mentioning those points but what's more interesting is the picture of Lady Diana in a plastic heart-shaped frame below the inscription. The flame is in Paris, on the Right Bank, near Le Pont de l'Alma which means it's also near the underpass where Princess Diana was killed. It's become the site of an unofficial memorial to the dead royal.

We've gone from official inscriptions to fan messages to a departed idol and now we go to commercial endorsements.

"L'As du Fallafel means "The Ace of Falafel". It's supposed to be the best falafel in Paris. Madame Le Chef and I have tasted it and it's pretty damned good. It's run by Israelis and is located on the Rue des Rosiers which is the main street of the ancient Jewish quarter of Paris. Apparently Lenny Kravitz thinks the falafel is good too.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Three Alarm Fire in the Mission

The bureau once again became a fire spotting post yesterday morning (12/29/12). It took 100 firefighters half an hour to get this fire under control. The bureau chief heard sirens coming from all over the city. Sadly, three buildings were burned and over three dozen people were displaced, although no one was hurt. You can see one of the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge beyond the fire. (Please click.)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

French Inscriptions Part 2

In the last few years, the French have started putting up inscriptions commemorating historical events even when they reflect badly on the French government. Madame Le Chef took this photo of a plaque mounted on a school building in the 18th Arrondissement in Paris.

It says, "To the memory of students of this school, deported from 1942 to 1944 because they were born Jews, innocent victims of Nazi barbarity and of the government of Vichy. They were exterminated in the Death Camps. More then 700 of these children lived in the 18th." Partially blocked by the flowers it also says, "Never forget them."

The final battle for control of the Paris Commune of 1871 was fought in Père Lachaise cemetery between the army of the French government, then located in Versailles, and the supporters of the Commune who held Paris. When the last 147 Communards were captured they were summarily executed by the government troops. Across the city thousands more people were executed by the troops during "bloody week".

This plaque in Père Lachaise, undoubtedly put up by Leftists, marks the site where the remains of the 147 were reburied in 1897 after being moved for the construction of reservoirs. Fédérés was another name for the Communards.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

French Inscriptions

During our trips to France we have recorded various building inscriptions. The French are good at keeping track of the births and deaths and doings of notable people. For you film fans here's Méliès birthplace near the Place de la République in Paris. The inscription says he was born in the building on December 8, 1861 and describes him as a creator of cinematic spectacles, a prestidigitator and the inventor of numerous illusions.

Any philosophy groupies out there? Here's Michel Foucault's birthplace in the city of Poitiers. It says it's "The birth house" of Foucault and describes him as a historian, philosopher and professor at the College of France.

This inscription commemorates Henri Becquerel's discovery of radiation in a laboratory in this building near the Jardin des Plantes. It would be even cooler if the words glowed.

Marshal up you aesthetes and decadents. This inscription marks the "house" (actually a hotel) where Oscar Wilde died. It's on the Left Bank in Paris. The hotel has been fixed up but at the time Wilde stayed there, it was a sad and dirty place. Wilde is described as a poet and dramaturge, born in Dublin, died in Paris.

The French keep track of some pretty old stuff. This sign in the Collegiate Church in the village of Candes-Saint-Martin in the Loire Valley indicates the place where St. Martin died in 397 CE. It says it is a place of contemplation and prayer.


Today's weather is generating rainbows. This one was from around 9:30 AM. (Please click)

And this was an hour and a half later.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Shortest Day of the Year Part 2

At 5:23 PM on 12/14/12 the rest of the city is in shadow but it's still golden in the Golden Gate. (Please click)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Shortest Day of the Year

It's thirteen days from today. I took this picture at 5:28 PM PST.

Monday, December 3, 2012


Although Steven Spielberg is a remarkably successful director who has made some good movies, he's kept from the ranks of the great directors by his tendencies towards over-the-top sentimentality and too-on-the-nose didacticism. Spielberg's "Lincoln" starts with a scene of African American Union soldiers and White Confederate soldiers in fierce hand to hand combat with bayonets and rifle butts, in the darkness and the mud. This is followed by a scene where one of the Union soldiers from that battle describes the reason for the particular savagery of that fight to President Lincoln. This is wonderful stuff until the soldier is interrupted by a second African American soldier who has apparently been sent straight from the Department of Historical Explication. He points out that while the slaves of the rebellious states have been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, African Americans do not have the full rights of citizens. Then two White Union soldiers wander up to tell the president that they were so moved by his Gettysburg Address that they enlisted. Then they recite some of the address. Wow, both of Spielberg's worst habits in one scene.

Finally this scene is over and the movie can get going. Turns out "Lincoln" is a fascinating film about Abraham Lincoln's struggle to get the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery, passed before the end of the Civil War. As all the critics have mentioned, Daniel Day-Lewis is amazing as Lincoln and the film is full of good acting. Tony Kushner's script makes the political and diplomatic intrigue suspenseful and very interesting. Turns out that even back in 1865 the House of Representatives was a cesspool of obstructionism. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même choise.

"Lincoln" is a very good film and I recommend it.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Back East

The bureau chief was briefly in Richmond VA for Thanksgiving. On the way there I caught this sunset from the air.

The first frost had not yet occurred and there were plenty of colored leaves. This was shot through glass on a grey day.

The sun finally came out. This is Hollywood Cemetery.

The James river from the cemetery.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Rosy Fingered Dawn

I didn't see any fingers but dawn was quite rosy yesterday.

This is a minute later.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Art Online

As I have mentioned before, my sister, Mary Holland, is an artist in Richmond VA. She now has a website. I highly recommend that you check it out.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Celeste and Jesse Forever

This is a funny, smart and very good romantic comedy with an element of melancholy that is rare in this genre (at least in the USA). It wasn't a success at the box office but a lot of critics liked it. The bureau chief was not familiar with Rashida Jones but she does a wonderful job as Celeste and also co-wrote the script with Will McCormack who plays the very amusing drug dealing friend. Andy Samberg of "Dick in a Box" fame plays Jesse. He is very good playing against his usual snarky type. It's the story of a couple who are best friends since high school, got married and are now getting divorced although they keep not finalizing it. There are a few things in the movie that don't work but by and large director Lee Tolland Kreiger did a very good job. I don't think it's still in the theaters but will surely hit Netflix soon.

Listening Post

The bureau can function as a fire spotting station but last night it was a listening post. The bureau chief and Madame Le Chef were eating dinner and checking the computer for the score in the 4th game of the World Series when we heard the city give an enormous roar. The computer had not updated yet but we knew the Giants had just won the Series. We went out on the back deck. The city was covered with a medium fog but people were screaming and setting off fireworks into it. There was joy in Mudville.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Odd Objects from the Archive

I haven't seen any films that I want to talk about so I've dusted off some photos from 2003. The bureau chef has been informed that this is called an anvil cloud and not a mushroom cloud.

A closer view.

The Bay Area has a strong tradition of car art. This is one of the most Baroque examples I've come across.

A detail.

Until we visited Santa Monica in 2003, I did not know there was a tradition of churches and other organizations putting up religious displays along the beach at Christmas time. The use of store mannequins and chicken wire to keep out the bums, is a nice touch.

An angel in an internment camp.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Tomato Question Illuminated

Eventually someone was going to examine the question of why so many tomatoes are so tasteless and awful and how that came about. Well, as Walt Kelly said, "We have met the enemy and he is us".

It turns out that that in their urge to make tomatoes a uniform shape and a uniform red, and therefore more shippable and more salable, tomato growers bred out what made them sweet and delicious. We still have the previous tomatoes and we call them heirlooms. Here is an example of a particularly tasty one.

At the bureau we have spent the later summer and early fall rigorously testing the deliciousness of these odd shaped objects by cutting them up and applying salt, pepper, chopped shallots and olive oil.

We are happy to report that they are very delicious.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Western Sunsets

Back in the 20th Century, before computers took over the film industry, we used to edit feature films on 35mm film. It wasn't virtual, it was real. You could hold the film in your hands, cut it with a splicer, assemble it on reels and wind it through a mechanical synchronizer on your table. We did have editing machines but a lot of the work was manual. The sound was on 35mm magnetic film and had to be kept in sync with the picture to the sprocket. There were multiple reels of sound and the sound was not alway continuous on a given reel. Since magnetic film was expensive, the gaps in the reels were filled with rejected or worn out release prints.

You would see other feature films passing through your synchronizer as you ran through the reel. Sometimes images would pop out at you and, if you weren't in the crisis mode, you would stop and look at the shot. If it was really interesting you could cut it out and replace it with a piece of uninteresting fill of the same length.

An old friend of mine got his start in the British film industry and he made a collection of sunsets from Westerns. They were spectacular and he just assumed that they had been optically enhanced. Then he moved to San Francisco and learned that they hadn't been enhanced at all.

The sunset from August 17th of this year.

A minute later.

One more minute

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Gram Parsons

Any Gram Parsons fans out there? He singlehandedly invented Country Rock, for good or ill. In his case it was mostly good. He wrote some great songs. The story of his life is quite interesting in its own right. He was a rich boy from the South. His father was a WWII flying ace named Coon Dog Connor and his mother was a Snively, a family of Citrus millionaires. His parents were both alcoholics. This is all in a very good BBC documentary from 2004 called "Fallen Angel: Gram Parsons". You can watch the complete film at this link.

Gram Parsons was kicked out of Harvard after one semester. He had a huge influence on the Byrds' album "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" and was a member of that band until he was fired for refusing to go on a tour to South Africa. He co-founded The Flying Burrito Brothers but was eventually fired for being completely unreliable. His unreliability was directly related to his enormous enthusiasm for every possible type of intoxicant. He had an intense bromance with Keith Richards. He had a possible romance with Emmylou Harris, but certainly had a great musical partnership with her which produced some of his best music. He overdosed on morphine and alcohol in1973 at the age of 26. After his death, his manager Phil Kaufman (not the director), and another friend, stole Parsons' body from the LA airport and drove it to Joshua Tree where the they did a bad job of cremating it. This last episode was recreated in a feature film with Johnny Knoxville playing Phil Kaufman. I think I'll pass on that.

Gram Parsons' Southern upbringing and love of Country music, mixed with his lifestyle, led to some excellent psychedelic-apocalyptic lyrics. This is from "Sin City":

"On the thirty-first floor
Your gold plated door
Won't keep out the Lord's burning rain."

How appropriate for our times.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Further Oddities

There is now an electric bicycle shop on our hill. Apparently one of the reasons they moved to our neighborhood is to demonstrate how good electric bikes are for going up hills. In front of the store they have installed a "solar pump" which is powered by the solar panels above it. I have yet to see anyone actually charging their iPhone or electric bike but it's an interesting idea.

Another view.

So we have the cheerful, future oriented electric bike store and then six blocks down the street we have this.

Another view.

It's like a physical manifestation of a very dark frame of mind. The posters for The Children's Creativity Museum, on the pole in front, seem wonderfully ironic. The most disturbing architectural element of the building is this.

It appears to be a stuccoed over window. It seems to have been checked out from the Department of Easy Metaphors. I don't think I want to see the interior of the house.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Oddities of Bernal Heights

The bureau is located on a street so steep that there is no street cleaning. The force of gravity moves any trash, leaves etc. down the hill. Since there is no street cleaning, there are no parking restrictions, which is an obvious plus. The down side is that the cars park perpendicular to the curb and if you don't take care when you open the driver's door, the same force of gravity will snatch it from your hand and smash it into the passenger's door of the next car downhill. Cars that habitually park on our street tend to have battered passenger sides. Somebody recently parked an apparently greatly cherished Ford Falcon on the street and went to this amusing but inelegant extreme to protect it..

A few years ago, a large crane was needed to get some I beams  into a backyard across the street. This was what they had to do.

The crane's owner/operator showed remarkable sangfroid but admitted he had made many trips to the bathroom. Remarkably, this frightening jury-rig worked.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Young Girls of Rochefort

Jacques Demy's 1967 musical, "The Young Girls of Rochefort", is a delight. Demy's previous musical film, "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg", from 1963, is actually an operatic melodrama with all the dialogue sung to musical accompaniment. "Rochefort" is a classic musical comedy with dialogue, singing and dancing. The cast of "Cherbourg" were chosen for their acting ability (and, in Catherine Deneuve's case, beauty). They weren't singers, but they sang on set and then their voices were completely replaced in post production by those of professional singers.

There are even more levels of artifice in "Rochefort". Deneuve and her sister Françoise Dorléac (the titular demoiselles) dance but the rest of the dancers are Americans, imported from Broadway and Hollywood. These include George Chakiris and, wait for it, Gene Kelly! The latter was in his middle 50s at this time but he could still bust some moves. The Americans' dialogue and singing were both replaced, although a few Gene Kelly lines in French seem to be his. The French actors just had their singing replaced.

The plot is completely goofy in a good way. Lovers are united and reunited. Like "Cherbourg", this film was shot on location in an Atlantic port town. The real locations make a great backdrop for the elaborate song and dance numbers and the wonderful 60s (pre-hippy) fashions. If 2012 is bumming you out, Travel back to 1967.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Le Havre

Aki Kaurismäki's "Le Havre" (2011) is a wonderful little film. It has a Finnish director, French actors and location and a wisp of Frank Capra's ghost hovering over it. Of course this being the 21st Century, it's not truly Capra-esque, but does have a miracle at the end of it.

A young African boy (Blondin Miguel) is the only member of his family of illegal immigrants not to be caught and interned by the French Immigration Police. The evocatively named Marcel Marx (André Wilm), an aged Bohemian and radical is struggling to support himself and his wife (Kati Outinen) on what he makes shining shoes. Nonetheless he gives the boy shelter. Eventually, neighbors and friends help Marcel and the boy. Even the police are not all bad.

The director and the actors all do a great job. I highly recommend it.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Mission in August

There will be more film reviews soon but in the meantime, here are some recent murals in the ever changing Mission.


The audience.

Big cat.

Strange fellow.

Space girl.