Friday, December 16, 2011

The Solstice Zone

The Flaneur looks back at the year of 2011 through the crystalline lens of December, starry oddities are detected.

Here it was December the first as I made my way to the outlet on San Pablo avenue for medical marijuana. I walk the back streets South of Dwight wending my way through the morning calm. I have to play hopscotch with street-repair crews through this area lately--no telling what infernal machine will be employed in spoiling my meditation if I allow myself to blunder onto the wrong block.
I dig little make-believe sidewalks as I approach the denouement of a ball field. In a moment's respite from all the enclosed streets the great sweeping clouds of a wide open sky. I close in on my objective--an always-bustling enterprise with it's own patrol here it was open on St Stephen's day. It's a Googie-style drive-in building with mirror windows that slope upward and outward surrounded by a serious javelin fence.
I have brought with me a letter from my recommending doctor in order to gain entrance. I don't spend the additional fee for the fast pass "patient ID card" although they do come in handy if one is ever persecuted by police. The cost of a letter has come down for me appreciably. After four or five years with a high-profile doctor, an early crusader, I now go to the cheapest offer in the newspaper. This is after all a racket to enrich opportunists who operate between the rights of man and the sacred plant, but a venal capitalist society must be negotiated after all ideologies are said and done.
Inside you provide your driver's license and they check you out again on their screen. Then you're free to move about. You pass a counter selling small cannabis plants. They are all so adorable I want to adopt one and take it home. But as with all pets, it's a lot of responsibility, adjustment, landlords, etc. This counter also sells the various accoutrements that facilitate cannabis use--the pipes, the papers, the vaporizer bags and the like. It is situated in the rotunda room where one is invited to sit at a window-side counter or at one of a few tables and consume one's new-bought herb. Complimentary coffee is supplied, water, and the little ovens that vaporize the herbal matter are available along the counter.
The innermost sanctum is the herb counter. Music plays and the custom is brisk. Generally I make my selections from the All Star group whose potency, flavor and charm is a fairly safe bet. A card allows one to accumulate kick-back points--slow as they may come, they can add up. Next it's out to the rotunda where I meticulously prepare my smoke. I bring small Fiskers scissors and chop the solid bud over a small tray adorned with Italianate designs relating to the renown Club brand cigarette papers. They feature Le Professeur a Victorian gentleman smoking at a cafe table while reading a copy of Revue Scientifique. This variety of cigarette paper which I prefer has no glue but adheres to itself quite admirably. I add a rolled up inch of card stock as a recess and carefully assemble my airplane, tucking, tamping, and trimming until it is as good as I can make it.
I usually have a coffee and a water at hand as I take my two or three expert inhalations. I hold the smoke for ten to fifteen seconds before exhaling in a series of four puff-outs interrupted by brief hold-ins. This works wonderfully and I gaze out at waving trees and passing clouds in a deep state of peace.
The oddity this day was that the only other patrons of this usually busy and somewhat young scene are senior citizens. I especially enjoy one elderly lady perched on her walker-seater deal and puffing a long luxurious spliff. Social Security payments came today.

Meanwhile Occupy Berkeley vacated the pocket site on bank of amerika plaza. Before that happened a wider occupation had sprung up in Provo park (aka Civic Center park). In October it began with a few tents quixotic in their idealism, lit-up at night. Food service followed as did more and more tents. By early December the entire park was filled with tents and their itinerant population. Political statement seemed to fade out--the only ostensible sign spelled 'occupy' incorrectly. It seemed little more than a homeless encampment with hard-luck characters forming a village with its own rough customs. The drinking fountain became funky with dish-washing and the central feeding station began to resemble a civil war bivouac with grouchy exhausted people feeding in ankle-deep mud.
Then as suddenly and as naturally as it had grown it was gone. The lawn of the park had been taken an enormous beating--tents had blocked sunlight and formed puddles, multitudes tramping the wet earth in between wigwams had finally put paid to the project. The city put up a temporary orange plastic fence and dozens of workers began rebuilding the turf. Disgruntled die-hards huddled near the high school watching for a day.
As I passed by yesterday I talked to one of the workers-- an easy-going cat with his dreadlocks tucked into a hat. "It wasn't political anymore it was just homeless people," he said. Yeah, if they want to be radical they should go camp out across the street on the policeman's front lawn , I replied.

As I walked past a house on Allston recently, a couple were out front loading things into a car and bickering over insignificant details. I'd noticed the place before: it stood out with its various items of Judaica and posters for the Jewish film fest. It was in fact Jewish trade-show items that they were loading-out. Then, startlingly, the tenor of their argument escalated by a leap. The man could only make a inchoate shouting sound, like an old dog that had barked too long-- it was hard to understand what he was saying. The woman had it all over him. She could scream in a intelligible manor--rather like opera-singing only hella harsh-sounding. They continued as I turned onto Roosevelt and were audible for quite a distance. A guy working in his garage came out to see what mayhem could be causing this disturbance. It's a married couple, I told him, in that house on the corner. He seemed to get it but he kept looking down the street with concern. It did sound borderline homicidal.
She was like George's mother on Seinfeld. Times ten.

I found myself invited to an unusual outing. Events started to domino on December 3 when I invited a friend to a authentic baroque performance of Handel's Messiah by the estimable Philharmonia Baroque . I was an old afficionado having attended a number of performances by them between 2000 and 2004 when I was working in the classical CD biz and their label supplied me with season tickets. I learned early on that my acquaintances were generally blase about accompanying me to concerts they found rather sleep-inducing. Selling or even giving away an extra ticket the night of the show was a very long-shot with the well-heeled, silver-haired crowd that turned-out.
Oddly, I had won the tickets by phoning-in to a jazz program on KPFA. I was glad my friend was jazzed to go with me and delighted to discover the seats were up front. Distance from the stage mattered tremendously for this performance which was completely without microphones. They are better suited by their standard Berkeley venue the much smaller First Congregational church than by this gig at cavernous Zellerbach auditorium.
Disregarding the fact that I regard Handel's Messiah, with its lamentations--"He was rejected, He was despised," as an Easter Oratorio not the Christmas standard it has become, the concert was enthralling. It was great to see elven director Nicholas McGegan again and I found the countertenor Daniel Taylor particularly moving. In the men's room on the way out, a sour old professor type in a tweed jacket was repeating his view that it was "a nice polite version" but not what the Messiah should be. I heard him say it again to his wife by the drinking fountain as if his critique was so important that it needed a town-crier.

In reciprocation my friend invited me to a gala Christmas concert complete with a meal and Yuletide gift to boot. It was on December 1oth we met with another friend bright and early at Ashby BART station to begin our expedition.
At a church center in Oakland we made rendezvous with a vintage deco bus that would transport us to the Neighborhood Church in Castro Valley. Lovely wan sunlight on the wintry hills flanked our passage East. The "neighborhood" aspect of our destination was somewhat lost on me as we arrived at a hilltop complex quite remote from any of the surrounding homes. A non- denominational catch-all it is comprised of at least three large buildings distinguished by its erection of three gigantic white crosses grouped together in a tight circle. The girder-like crosses looked like something that survived the collapse of the World Trade towers.
After a detour in the parking lot to peep some sheep in their open trailer who were awaiting their stage cue for the manger scene, we entered the complex. A very square meal followed, actually a robust and enjoyable turkey dinner, copious servings and leftovers packaged up for those interested in some. Decadent cheesecake and mocha mousse pie followed on before some semi-absurd prayer. The guy leading it seemed mainly intent on making announcements to the assembly--"and we'll use the left exit as we leave, Lord."
Yet everyone was kind and considerate as we were ushered into a large auditorium for the spectacular Christmas show. Happy to be a little stoned as the elaborate lighting and changing stage sets, costumes and singers, sustained a winter wonderland of the mind. I loved an effect achieved by hanging lights over us that continued into the stage's firmament of stars. The large orchestra seemed to style itself on the Tonight show band, plenty of swing and lots of punch. The highlight was , yes, the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah. With a Buddy Rich-wannabe on drums, it went "King of Kings, boom bam boom, and Lord of Lords, batta bip bang boom." The old sourpuss from the Zellerbach show would have loved it.

At my own chapel during Christmas week, nine Dominicans in white cassocks with red stoles stood before a small sea of red poinsettia for the Transubstantion. After receiving the sacraments of bread and wine, I felt a strong current of renewal as I walked out and began my long way home in the early darkness of the Solstice-time.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Darkening Days

On the eve of the erased hour, the Flaneur looks back on a week of celebration and transition.

The last delightful days of October fell like dominoes as All Hallow's came and went. It was chemise weather with large butterflies and huge garden spiders, thrumming humming birds and desultory crows. Eager beavers saw their premature jack-o-lanterns melt on sunny front steps. Earthquakes epicentered a few miles away, started October 20th the eve of yet another last day of earth, end of times--forget-it-get-ready-for-work-tomorrow apocalypse.

Occupy Oakland has been in the world news after the bumbling mayor turned loose the ferocity of riot cops on a peacefully-resisting group of demonstrators. A young man a veteran of Iraq debacle had his skull fractured by a canister of tear gas fired at him by one of these degenerate thugs in uniform. When friends came to his aid another cop lobbed a flash grenade into their huddle. The police state whip comes down. But hey they caught the guy planning to fly a model airplane into the pentagon, and the used-car seller who may have plotted with Iran to assassinate the beloved Saudi envoy, didn't they? Homeland security. Time to start another war.
Of course, Oakland's heavy hand came back to slap the mayor in her pie-face. The movement rallied regained the campsite and by November second realized a general strike in Oakland that culminated in the shut-down of the second busiest port on the west coast. Time to rock the boat on a system in which authority figures routinely acquit horrifying widespread police abuse of citizenry. God help the poor immigrant in this vicious climate.

The fall of the holidays at the beginning of the week occasioned a felicitous dissipation of adult mayhem by monday, October 31st. The urge for decoration seemed rather subdued this year. I perceived more of an old-fashioned children's holiday foremost on my rounds. I would see kids coming from school in outlandish costumes in broad daylight, from grammar to high school ages. On Roosevelt I walked past a mad kids party on Saturday. The front of the house was all lit-up and had every inch decorated with masks vampire portraiture skulls witches pumpkins and spooky evocations of every kind. This area was entirely deserted while unseen behind a tall fence the party sounded intensely in gear. Laughing talking trumpets blowing the elf-folk of Samhain were having the crack. I caught the vibe while not seeing a single one.

I flew some ghost effigies under the eaves outside my window and strew a few hoary talismans around the pad. Walking about my neighborhood I was struck by the dedication evidenced by kids who want to add their own drawings and assemblage to already profuse home decoration. They are abetted and thrilled by the commitment of the life-long lovers of Hallowe'en--such as a house on Jefferson with a large articulated marionette of a bat that stirs in slow motion hanging in the front porch.
Early in the evening of all Hallowed as I was returning home, I passed by an industrious fellow designing his own haunted realm. He had installed three seven foot shrouded figures around his gate and was hanging huge green teardrop-shaped skulls on either side of his front door.
I told him it was already too spooky for me.

After dinner I looked out from my own haunted aerie as the street came alive for the trick-or-treating. The young father across the street dressed as a pirate was lining his driveway with illuminariums (bags with candles) and nicely turned-out jack-o-lanterns. His barefoot scooter-riding son joined him and he was also dressed as a clean little pirate. The slightly older daughter came-out after they'd gone inside. She had apparently tired of waiting for the other kids to show up and presented herself in a black fringed flapper outfit and began to shimmy. I was her only audience just then and yet she danced well--I was honored and quite cheered.
Then as groups of fanciful little ones and their guardians began to appear for door-to-door visiting, I decided I would adorn myself with a concomitant spirit of fun.
Black trousers and boots, a white wing collar shirt with a flowing black cravat, my Baudelaire greatcoat from Paris, and beret comprised my ensemble. I burned the cork from a wine-bottle to sketch a wide handled mustache, beetle brow, and a false widow's peak to my blacked-up and slicked-back hair. The general effect was sort of Snidely Whiplash via Edgar Allen Poe.

Off parading a bit I stopped for a wee smoke on the corner. Little kids came whipping around and rather than be frightened they wished me hello. A cheerful exchange of "Happy Hallowe'en" ensued with the passing crew. I added large round black glasses when extra disguise was advantageous--as when I greeted neighbors who failed at first to reconnoiter who it was.
Around to the extravagantly transformed house I had seen going up. Completed now and seen at night, it was like a theme park attraction--the green skulls hung like shrunken heads on the vertiginous porch. I hung back on the sidewalk and watched parents dispatch their kids up the stairs. There a formally attired fellow, face painted black and white, wearing long Egyptian-style bird wings on his arms, would emerge to dispense the bon-bons. A macabre candelabra six-feet tall stood in occultation of the view from the sidewalk as I joined in with parents peering to see what transpired. A young black mother carried her son maybe three-years old up the stairs as he pleaded, "no I don't mommy I don't want to go" the whole way up and back down. Everyone laughed despite his entirely justifiable trepidation.
So I circled around back by Parker street past a house where I knew they specialized in tableaux vivants--characters in costume who remain motionless until someone enters the grounds. Funny how effectively uncanny even something so obvious and stagey can work. Teenaged girls ventured in in order to act more frightened than they should really be and provide a contact frisson for their more cautious companions. They all scream and laugh. I'm a contact buzz junkie now it seems.

So weary from a rather enormous day I headed back, my brief Hallowe'en parade already ending. But I stand in the window with my ghosts and my own candle-lit illuminarium. Several times kids notice me and do double-takes or, like little Rowan from next door, just gaze with wonder at me. Some say wow. I have become an impromtu tableau vivant. Family groups trick-or-treating are in a hysteria of delight, like stoned teen-agers. One lady points me out to her brood repeating incredulously, "It's a real person... it's a real person." Well yeah, lady, I try.

All Saints and all Soul's the last of a run of seasonally warm days. This year the litany of my deceased relatives and friends, what I conceive of as the communion of the saints, includes my friend a poet named Mary. Her death was not unexpected she was in her nineties. We had corresponded within the last year but hadn't seen each other for a number of years, but I thought of her often. I just noticed in a recently-published bay area literary history (one that highlights the author and his equally obscure cronies), the literary milestone of her final book "Pious Poems," a book I edited and published ten years ago. He were good friends and occasional companions at her place or after Mass.
She died this past September. It was a difficult time for me but I made it to her requiem Mass if not to her vigil or wake at the church the night before. That day had begun at the early hour of five and had spent its first half at a hospital where my tooth was extracted. I was still wiped-out the day of her funeral but I abstained from the tylenol with codeine to try to be in a more prayerful state--a mistake perhaps.
I made the scene with an alert from my friend Bruce. He offered to pick me up whereupon we proceed to Alameda to get two ladies he knows before returning to St Albert's in Rockridge by noon. He showed up with barely enough time to accomplish this generous and fairly outlandish task under the best traffic circumstances. We have our best time on the way out-- the time-warp tunnel from Oakland to Alameda. It's a Navy town with a 20th-century throw-back twilight-zone quality.
So it's a bit hectic on the home-stretch. We roll up at the prick of noon who apparently works for a funeral home and is put upon that we've stopped right in front of the main gate to the chapel as if to park. This is where the hearse will resorb the casket in like an hour, so he's a little nervous.
We get inside at the last minute and I try to reach the restroom after landing myself a spot. On the way I pause at Mary's coffin which is occupying the center aisle. I subtly hold a small leather pouch holding rosary beads that my Mother gave me to Mary's casket. Let it absorb all the holiness and the prayer between us and maintain that bond. But have to turn back from the water closet as bells rings and through that same passage comes a very formal procession of priest and servers.
Arriving late we found the programs all taken and at this point I am to realize that this is to be a Mass in Latin. Two Dominicans stand at the rear of the chapel and chant the entire mass while the priest faces the tabernacle the entire time. I remember some of the responses from my childhood latin masses but mainly it's their show anyway with a great deal of ancient singing and chant. The priest gets to speak mainly during the homily and it's of course in the vernacular of the English language. He met Mary in the 1960s and had various charming anecdotes from the period made all the remarkable by the observation that on most days at that time Mary would attend Mass at St Domenic's in San Francisco in the morning and at St Albert's in the evening. All it takes to be a saint is the desire to be a saint.
Then reaching back again to the 1960s we have an old-fashioned sacrament of Communion that involved the mortification of kneeling on the cold marble of the altar step and withheld the ordinary swig of wine for the host alone. Funny how you miss even so wee a bit of alcohol.
The pall bearers paced outside as the quite lengthy service wound down. After the casket was wheeled out in a procession sanctified by incense and holy water, we all made ready for the long ride to Benicia for the interment.
Mary once described me as a martyr and so I felt in the hot afternoon cemetery, much more arid and hot than the coast. The site was within a section reserved for members of the Dominican lay order. After more formal prayer led by the priests we each took a small shovel full of dirt to fill in her grave.
I spoke to the Dominican in charge of the cemetery and he led me over to see the grave of the celebrated poet William Everson. He and Mary had been married and it was she who converted him to Catholicism. After their marriage he had taken vows and his first literary acclaim was as Brother Antoninus.
Afterward we drove to a little Inn where we had been after the death of another saintly friend from St Albert's last year. The wine helped me maintain in the face of my post-operative exhaustion. Driving out there under the big skies over hurtling highways is a challenge in and of itself to me these days when I aspire to be as simple and elemental as an old Indian. Or to be as patient intelligent and aware in a simple humble life as my departed friend Mary.
These were my thoughts this year on All Soul's Day of someone I recently lost.

On November 3rd rain came followed by cooler weather. A large tendentious parliament of crows floated between elevated islands formed by the tallest trees. Wooly clouds sailed beneath the illuminating moon.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Occupied Berkeley

The Flaneur can't help but take some delight in the increasing street demonstrations against the Plutocratic Police State of America.

"Some people just like to protest" said the billionaire mayor. Historically many in Berkeley do like to protest. Naturally, a suitable site amid the banks downtown has been seized as Occupy Berkeley in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street and similar protests in cities everywhere.
Berkeley always seems occupied these days. Whenever a demonstration of any size of any legal sort takes place on campus or the surrounding streets, they fly helicopters over the town. This goes on sometimes for hours. Not only does it bear down punitively on the protest in question it sends an oppressive signal out to the population at large. Add to this frequent visits by news copters and you have a lot of unnecessary and nerve-wracking noise.

When I learned the location of Occupy Berkeley one day last week, I walked over to check it out. With a little sneaky feeling I stopped at an ATM belonging to a fellow crook bank which is located across the street from the bank of amerika where the local occupation was at. The corner of the block is the fortress-like BoA building, designed no doubt while it was under regular attack in the late sixties. Out of the very corner of its concrete slab is carved a semi-circle of benches which is handy to two bus stops. Too gloomy at night for many people, it's a temporary refuge for the lost.

But it was now a liberated zone with tables and signs, some food and supplies around back, and rain tarps suspended over it all, more festive than bleak. I greeted the familiar Berkeley ward captain of the streets Ghostchaser who was holding the fort. In fact few others were present on a lovely October day. She told me the recent history of the movement. I surmised that any of the real hell-raisers would go to San Francisco or Oakland where someone told me the adrenaline is high. Protest in the city of Berkeley is so anticipated and so tolerated that Occupy Berkeley is no challenge.
Ghostchaser wears a rhinestone cap over her long white braided-hair and has cute bunny teeth. She has a good sense of humor when you can hold her attention, but is more content to give you simultaneous multiple personal accounts in detail which fortunately are often funny. She has the floor now with her all-night tales of installing the village.
I've noticed another occupant stationed in the street-most seat. Ghostcatcher soon brings her up only to complain that she keeps asking her to bring her food. And yes, as if out of film made by John Waters starring Eddie Murphy, it's an enormous fat black lady who radiates helpless need and profuse gratitude as people do indeed bring her food. She is like the poster child for the danger of dependancy and, while she is certainly a victim of the society that Occupy aims to protest, she puts a unrepresentative face on it.
(And in that spot she remains while the nice weather holds up. When I visited on Monday she had a transistor radio cranked to distortion playing AM radio. For several minutes a hyped-up voice, spieling, "MacDonalds and Coke what a combination," rang out across the plaza. It seemed to defeat the purpose of a protest against corporate power.)
A few street fellows come and go. A tall black man in dashiki-wear plays a strange flute. Passersby tend to either ignore or sympathize with the scene, no unwelcoming looks. Quite a few stop to read to talk to anyone available, to put some money in the jar; others donate food.

Saturday was of course world Occupy Wall Street day and was a big day at the Berkeley microcosm. I set out with leisure and stopped for a while in civic center park where flags flew wildly over the fountain area. A Latin band in crisp shirts provided dance music for enthusiasts and first-timers. The farmer's market quite filled center street offering the cornucopia of autumn to the shiny shoppers.
There certainly were snacks as well at the Occupy site. Ghostcatcher and another lady with long platinum hair were coordinating a larger group of protestors and interested pedestrian traffic. Observing the available materials, I made a sign using a slogan I'd seen on-line adding a little tweak of my own. In careful poster lettering it read:
(The sign was moved to a prominent spot and remains there after a week. People take photos of it. The line has also turned up in a Doonesbury cartoon.)

As I finished with it and attached it to a humble position on the all-but-buried map-kiosk, the main body of the protestors were heading back down toward the park. They were bound for the old city hall to hold a general assembly. I went along part way and was going to remain in the park until I saw the little clutches of bike cops. I decided to increase the numbers showing up just to annoy cops, or whoever it may annoy.
I'm not annoyed myself, but tiring quickly of a new phenomenon. Before leaving the main location people had been addressing the crowd using what I read was called "the human microphone." Popular at Occupy Wall Street where loud-speakers are banned, a person speaks a line and stops while everyone who heard him repeats the line so everyone else will hear it. It's very spirit-of-the-beehive and a no doubt a useful tool, but it got a bit twee when the general assembly commenced and a speaker began using a microphone and loud-speaker. They all fell into the same call-response pattern repeating what he said even though everyone could easily hear it. It begins to feel a little group-mind creepy at that point.
It was time for me to shuffle anyway so I did. Leaving by the southern walkway I quickly observed that another gaggle of bike cops was having a pow-wow at the end of it. Would I defer to them and scramble across a bumpy lawn to exit or would I walk on forcing them to move for me?
Anarchist or not I expect courtesy from cops.

Tonight after dinner I walked around the neighborhood as the crepuscular light deepened into darkness. I kept an eye for homes decorated for Hallowe'en and saw a few. They mostly bore the gleeful signs of children--a handmade colorful sign reading, "Beware of graveyard!" for example.
As I returned home I observed odd bright lights stationary in the southern sky. They were not UFOs though, but helicopters hovering over Oakland where the whip has come down.

(draft--more to follow)

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Scarecrow

The scarecrow emerges tatterdemalion from dreams
Mommet in Somerset and Berkshire's hodmedod
He's known as tattie bogal in the Isle of Skye
Scotland's old man of the rocks--bodach rocqais

Kuebiko protrudes from the oldest book in Japan
Knows everything about the world yet cannot walk
Wurzel Gummidge adorned with black plumage
Casts a long shadow with a panache of chard

Feathertop of old Salem whom the witch cast into life
Days grew short when he saw in his soul a sinister intent
The bogeyman from the top of the clock, the dawn of time
The moggy, the rook-scarer, the guy, the Bogle himself

In Highsmith a man hid his neighbor's corpse in a scarecrow
It stood up until trick-or-treaters came to burn him down
The inanimate made uncanny by an all-seeing eye
All the crows know where you go and tell the Bogle so

In Dymchurch on Romney Marsh the Flaycrow rides
Backwards through the high street his blindfold steed
Couples disappear into hay bales behind the barn dance
Scarecrows stuck between the bonfire and a powdery moon

Jack-o-lanterns float slow down the creek, candlelight nightclub
Little jittery bats follow tight on the black water
Skeletal wreaths suspended 'mid trees, the spiders' wet webs
Some wind stirs the cornfield a burlap head nods and knows all

10 October 2011

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Le Flaneur Noir

The Flaneur appreciated this excerpt from "Pseudonymously Yours,"a consideration of the Irish writer John Banville writing as Benjamin Black. It was written by Johanna Kavenna and published in a July 2011 issue of the New Yorker.

Banville's exploratory monologues owe much to the modernist idea of the disaffiliated flaneur, Poe's "man of the crowd," who creeps through the teeming city, or through dreamscapes of his own mind, trying to "understand and appreciate everything that happens," as Baudelaire put it. The "mainspring of his genius is his curiosity," Baudelaire added, and this description could also describe the average noir detective. Indeed, the meandering flaneur and the solitary noir detective have so much in common that they could even be dark brothers. [They] creep through their own lives, and the lives of other people, amassing fragments, shards of experience, trying to understand something--anything--of death, disappearance, the past, or why we live and perish, or the bizarreness of what we call ordinary life. They share a refusal of the world of "other people," a sense that exclusion is the only option. To be an insider is to be an enemy or a fool.

le Flaneur noir

Monday, September 12, 2011


Early in August the Flaneur made the scene at Berkeley Art Museum to dig the freshly-installed Merzbau replica.

It was a club house for reading and performance created by collage-artist extraordinaire Kurt Schwitters. The occasion for this reconstruction from photographs is a Schwitters retrospective show. Although associated with the Dada movement he was more or less kindred and concurrent. He made association with Dada Zurich only after not doing so with Dada Berlin. His work is constructivist, cubist, and it fits into a broader avant garde as much as it does with the raw provocation of Dada.

Yet if Dada can be considered as design or style--the disordering of the typographical senses is there, the endless chance juxtapositions available to an artist's eye in mass produced printed matter. Assaults on figurative elements, leading to the illustrated dreams of Surrealism, are very rarely present in the works by Schwitters on display. One in which a traditional religious image is lost in his patchwork collage is as close as it gets and you must look hard to notice it as possibly somewhat scandalous or transgressive.
But so gorgeous are his collage tapestries -- tickets tearings and scraps all over-colored by pigment mixed with glue that dried to appear so timelessly old yet with a frisson of the new--simultaneity intact. His weaves of rich old papers are virtuosic works of pure color and pattern as profound as a great Persian rug.

The Merzbau united Schwitters life and art in a living space. Despite whatever inhibitions of movement in space it creates, like a cave, a tepee, a lean-to, the cathedral ceiling effect is in play. The lights change every few minutes inside and outside the chamber. Outside the windows an artificial verisimilitude prevails. Inside it's slow to recognize familiar enough objects in the Doctor Caligari-like expressionistic architecture --only it's white and chapel-like instead of a noir underworld nightmare. It would make a fine bedroom for a child. Did I dream that there was a transporting soundscape going on as well? Was there a glacier scouring a moraine of the mind? I can vouchsafe that it is a nice place to be inside a wee bit stoned.

Kurt Schwitters created the original Merzbau on property owned by his parents. Fleeing the fascists he relocated to Norway and attempted to replicate a merzbau there. He later dwelled in a rustic version while living in the rough. A smattering of remnants exist from these latter structures and only photo-documentation exists of the original work.

After a few digital image-capture sound effects had emanated from the Merzbau while I was the only occupant, a demure museum guide came in to tell me that sort of thing was not in fact encouraged.

Here's the Merzbau as seen from outside and above (at right).

Before I left I was gauche enough to take another photo of this Tibetan Buddha who forgave me.

P.S. If you are on facebook you can see more photographs of the BAM  Merzbau here:


Wednesday, September 7, 2011


The Flaneur considers one of the the central tenants of American society that are "off the table"and may never even be discussed by elected officials. We must never expect fair taxes on the rich, meaningful reduction in military spending, regulation of firearms, or any real remedy to the relentless destruction and death caused by automobiles.

In Berkeley, there is no more appalling manifestation of hypocrisy than the pompous pronouncements by municipal or university officials regarding "getting people out of their cars." It is always obvious that they mean getting rid of the other cars not their own. They long for an end to excessive traffic, the competition for roadways and parking spots that other people represent. They never intend to suggest that they themselves would forego driving. They are after all the elite conducting important business. In short, what they are thinking is "If only we could get people out of their cars, we'd have the roads to ourselves."

Add to this the fierce depredations continually mounting against those of us unfortunate or principled enough to be pedestrians. In recent years the city of Berkeley has lowered fines for riding bikes on sidewalks. The excuse was that police were never writing tickets because they did not want to impose such a penalty on poor bike-riders. Now even with the lower fine they still don't. These bike-riders too often are people wearing helmets as they endanger those walking without helmets by zipping past them from behind, callously gambling that this person won't turn into their path. They routinely rob you of your right of way by driving at you on the sidewalk. They are moving at a rapid clip on a steel frame while wearing a helmet. When they get where they are going they almost always block pedestrian traffic by locking their vehicles to racks thoughtlessly installed right in everyone's way. Or if racks are not handy they lock their bikes to benches preventing their intended use, or to wheelchair ramps, handrails or any other fixture. Let those not as nimble as themselves "go around." Frequently you see bike users parading the fact that they are not using cars at that moment as evidence of their nobility. They are largely also not using the street as the law mandates vehicles must.

But we know the cops don't care about bikes. It is also glaringly apparent that they don't much care about pedestrian endangerment by automobile either. Once every few years they make a show of pulling over drivers who don't stop for people in crosswalks but this is just for show. Day-in and day-out cars drive into crowded crosswalks right under the noses of the cops and the cops ignore it. A great deal of housing has been built downtown and the denizens whip around the blocks like maniacs unimpeded by law enforcement, scattering like pigeons the people who have just waited to cross. You wait for cars and the traffic signal then you wait again for cars who roll at you to menace you out of your right-of-way. A right-of -way only granted at most intersections if you press a button to request permission to continue down the street.

Cars park on sidewalks, crash onto sidewalks from driveways, drive up on sidewalks all with an impunity born of scant protest or consequences. Many other encroachments are commonplace often on the busiest sidewalks. Some hustlers with more nerve than brains set up a huge obstacle course right on the access to the central Berkeley BART station, peddling shoddy earrings and other junk jewelry. They create a choke point on the sidewalk in front of Tully's coffee, one made worse by the mob of often rowdy street people who congregate there and panhandle. Next to them is a florist stand who puts his plastic urns twenty feet out into the apron of the busiest spot in town. Sidewalk cafe tables are equally bold in their privatization of public space--"Thank you for letting me traverse your restaurants, all you surly hash-slingers on Center street."

Now if we could only get people out of their cars.

Last week I had a brutal reminder of the mindless aggression that automobile users represent. I was walking North on Adeline between Alcatraz and Ashby. A middle-aged black man had ventured into the traffic lanes in an attempt to halt traffic. I looked where he was and there was a small dog flopping around like a fish out of water as he attempted to find his legs again after having been struck by a car. The guy a little worse-for-wear perhaps, poor perhaps, was having a difficult time getting the incessant flow of cars to stop and was nearly being hit himself. After reconnoitering the situation I joined him in the roadway then returned to the sidewalk to get a wooden palette to use as a stretcher to move the dog to the grassy median strip.
The dog had a tire mark on his hide quarters and blood and saliva was issuing from his mouth. Just the sweetest little lap dog with a furry face, he seemed somewhat relieved by our attentions. I placed my hand on his back and intoned "poor little guy" in a deep and calming voice. A young couple had showed up and attempted to give him water.
A Berkeley meter maid was also present but did absolutely nothing to help. Even when we moved him onto the palette to carry him she made no attempt to hold the traffic at bay despite her uniform-- the black guy and I had to do it. As I lifted him I dropped my shoulder bag in the street and after setting him down I turned to see the traffic driving over it. I had to fearlessly halt them again to retrieve it --luckily it hadn't been hit and my phone and reading glasses were still intact.

Another girl started calling animal hospitals and before long a cop arrived. He said the usual animal rescue was occupied and was not coming. A dog & cat hospital was reached and they agreed to take him. So we determined that the cop would carry him to his car and drop him off there. I crossed the street with a uniformed policeman holding a wounded dog and it was just hellish trying to get the cars to stop to let us cross. One Chinese lady scowled an angry look at us and would not stop, playing chicken with us until I had to yell at her to stop and stay stopped.

But after all she had the green light, why should she have to stop? Get out of her way! The traffic mandate is the law of the land!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Fourth of July

Independence Day inspires the Flaneur to board subterranean trains to ride out to the San Francisco Zoo then to hike ocean beach back to the N-Judah line and ride downtown by nightfall to see the pyrotechnics from a pier

I have never entered the Zoo again after a couple of visits thirty years ago. I love animals too much to enjoy seeing them in captivity. I do however walk by the entrance area for random sightings from the Serengeti.

The entrance to the seashore where animals do range freely. Unfortunately many of them are dogs.

Not as cold as it looks but a certain heartiness does one well.

A wind-sheltered spot where I reclined a while and had my lunch.

A traveler's repast consists of raw cauliflower, carrot, olives, wild california sardines, whole wheat bagel with neufchatel, hard-boiled organic egg, ryvita crax, dried fruit and chocolate.

An impromtu throne where I bided quite a while as the sun at last burned through the clouds.

A ritual pit alongside.

Into the mystic.

Sunlight on turbulent waters.

The marbleized waves.

As nights falls...

Twilight on the Bay

Moon over San Francisco

People light up in anticipation.

Then the incarnadine fireworks of the fourth of July

Coit Tower presides over parallel festivities

Double image capture.

San Francisco on July fourth.

4 July 2011

The Story Behind the Fourth of July

Despite my mile long walk to BART and my beach hike of several miles more with side trips climbing in the dunes, I was slightly weary but not worn-out. The long train ride on the N-Judah was restful and once I disembarked downtown I immediately ducked into a coffee shop and tucked into a coffee laced with enhanced brandy. The brandy was enhanced by being ported in a jar that had held an eighth of an ounce of very robust cannabis. The potent resin had coated the inside of the jar then had been dissolved in the brandy.
I stayed there an hour or so as the place got crowded with people recharging in anticipation of the fireworks display fast approaching. Then as the twilight thickened I ventured out to Market street, the main drag.
Though no traffic occupied the block I was on I could see cars waiting at a light. Sensing I had the time I leapt into the street to dash across while I had the chance. But they build the curbs quite high along there as a disincentive for people to jaywalk as I was attempting to do. As I landed my right leg got wobbly and I knew I was probably going down. In an act of sheer will I pumped my legs like the roadrunner to try to maintain an upright posture and at the very least not to hit the pavement head-first.
I was unable to avoid the fall entirely and down I went. Shaken I looked up from the surface to see if the cars were approaching with the lethal mindlessness of a cattle stampede. Stunned but determined to survive, I managed to get up and make it across. Slightly embarrassed, I made a hands up gesture of what-can-you-do? A young man loitering nearby watched it happen intently and impassively. No one made the slightest movement toward offering help. What can you do?
Stunned I continued south of Market passing two patrolling cops on an otherwise deserted sidewalk as I flexed my hand. Perhaps my face showed the pain I was in. I was still wearing my black beret and sunglasses--a look that occasionally inspires dogs to bark at me and their spitting-image owners to suggest, "must be the hat." In this case it may have inspired one of these canine cops to attempt to rattle me by turning abruptly to glare at me a second at the moment we passed each other. It takes real courage to walk down the street under the cover of authority, armed and accompanied by another armed goon, to show you are not intimidated by a possible terrorist in a French hat.
Well, fuck all cops forever and ever. I waited until they were around the corner and publicly urinated (behind a wall actually). My middle finger showed a weird swelling on the lobe at the tip and certainly hurt but I could still bend the joints and there was not spot that caused excruciating pain so I figured I would carry on.
My favorite pier had lowered it's gate so I followed along and settled on the pier behind the Ferry building. A small crowd milled around there while a disco upstairs provided the bass heavy soundtrack and an eerie purple glow. A slender moon hung over the Pyramid building and an exquisite crepuscule spread over the Bay.
I chatted with a gal my age and them with two younger girls I helped claim a spot on the railing. Overall I felt better than one would expect someone with a sprained finger to feel--the brandy and cannabis helped.
Then just as darkness prevailed, the show began. There are two launch sites both considerably down the waterfront from my position. I shifted to a better angle only to find myself behind very tall blonde nordic young men with no space between them. So I hopped up on a bench usually populated by alcoholic street denizens and this night was no exception. In front of me was a short hispanic guy and underfoot was his nervous chiuaua.
As things went on in the usual manner a small contretemps began brewing between the short fellow standing directly in front of me and one of the aryan supermen next to him. Short guy was making a video of it and apparently the young man bumped him once or twice. Short guy warned him not to bump him in a rather threatening manner. The young man laughed at him. In truth he and his friends could launch the little guy about ten feet away from the edge of the pier without a lot of effort. Short guys wino buddies would be of little to no help to him. But then he may have had a machete stashed nearby as well.
Before things could escalate I reached over with my priestly hand of kindness to touch each man's arm and say. "peace, peace, please fellows." It diffused the stand-off. I helped the little guy save face despite his short-fused machismo. He decided I was his friend and went into a nearby shopping carriage and got me a can of beer which I accepted. The cold can brought some relief to my inflamed finger.
The pyrotechnical exhibition was rather brief and soon people were moving everywhere in all directions. I caught a fast train to Berkeley and walked on home. The emergency room could wait until the morning.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Day of Two Bridges

On the cusp of the Summer Solstice the Flaneur journeys out to see the ocean breakers and then comes back to the Bay.

The Geary bus all the way from downtown came to an unfamiliar end of the line. I found myself walking down Seal Rocks lane.

The remains of Sutro baths once a Victorian pavilion arching over heated sea water pools.

Seal Rocks just beyond the location of the old Cliff House here at the very Western coast of the continent.

The Pacific with the dim headlands of Marin.

The glittering sea and the wind-swept trees of land's end.

Cargo ships and sailboats pass by and do not collide.

Away from the beaten by-ways, this weathered log affords me a chaise on which to recline and smoke a bit. I dream of a far-off land, the here and now.

The rocks at land's end.

Standing in the surf for eons perhaps underwater again someday.

The Golden Gate bridge comes into view.

The Golden Gate before the bridge.

Rock sculpture

Up the silent hillside trail

A cliff-side hideaway, visited over thirty years.

A traveler's repast consists of carrot, organic hard-boiled egg, whole wheat bagel with neufchatel & a packet of hot sauce, dried fruit & chocolate.

With companions or in solitude, ever a place of peaceful enjoyment.

A last grand view of the bridge.

Up past the august Museum of the Legion of Honor

Closed for deep thought. Some of us are doers.

Equestrian statues ride off over the hills.

At this hour in six months time the lion will stare out into darkest night.

Evening thoughts like lengthening shadows. A golf course built on old burial grounds.

Must return to the urban center

To the palaver downtown.

For an evening pilsner out on a pedestrian pier.

The nimbus of time

The Bay Bridge towers nearby

A vast expanse

Yerba Buena island anchors the bridge facing East.

Tile boat and golden gate.

A vintage streetcar faces East, as does my BART train, back home under the Bay to Berkeley.

18 June 2011