Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Going Postal

I'll make this quick. A few weeks ago I flew from San Francisco to Seattle, hopped a high speed passenger ferry to Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, Canada, and spent eight days exploring Vancouver Island with my sister Molly and our good family friend Mike. Much more on that most enjoyable, extraordinary and eye-opening adventure in a later Headlands Report post, I promise, but right now, for the time being, let me entertain you with a brief tale about what just showed up in the mail.

Mike and Molly are both incredibly dedicated and talented art teachers in Cleveland, Ohio. When I met them in Victoria they were in the midst of a two-and-a-half-month summer road trip that included a serene, five-day paddle down the Wild and Scenic Missouri River (twice, they loved it so much), four weeks camping in the Canadian Rocky Mountains Parks of Banff and Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho, and just over three weeks on Vancouver Island proper, which, I learned during my in-depth, pre-trip research, is the largest island on the west coast of North America. They're still out there as I write this, leaving smiles as well as exhaust in every town they visit, though by now should be pointed back in the general direction of Ohio.

As part of her summertime extravaganza Molly preregistered for a week-long continuing education ceramics course with a renowned Canadian artist at Pearson College in Metchosin, a small town about 40 minutes west of Victoria. I booked my travel dates to coincide with the end of her commitment at the college, thus my first three days were spent in the cozy little cottage she had booked for the week, and my first three nights were spent sleeping on a very comfortable living room day bed. Oh how I loved that little bed, and each night, after a full day of hiking and swimming and kayaking and the like, I slept like a rock.

This isn't as brief as I had hoped, but I'm getting there.

When Molly's class drew to a close we tidied up the cottage, locked the doors, waved bye-bye and set our sights on North Vancouver Island, a full half-day drive away. For the ensuing five nights we camped at two extraordinary waterside sites on the northeast coast (sites we hadn't booked in advance and just kinda lucked into): the first plopped right on Discovery Passage in the salmon-fishing-crazy town of Campbell River; the second, for four nights, smack dab on Broughton Strait north of Port McNeill. Beautiful, yes - watery and wild and wonderful and utterly beachside and somebody fucking pinch me I loved it so much - but my bed was no longer tucked beneath the roof of a cozy little cottage. My bed was a blue air mattress and sleeping bag (thank you, Mike) inside the back of Molly's Honda Element. Not so comfy. Don't get me wrong, it was perfectly fine - so worth it to wake up each morning exactly where we were, and plus they supplied it all for me - but I couldn't really stretch out, and I was cold during the night and stiff and creaky in the morning. But hell, at age 54 I'm usually a little stiff and creaky in the morning.

Which brings me finally to the meat of the matter, I hope; the point of this post, which is not about sleeping here or sleeping there, and not about sleeping on this or on that, but instead about sleeping alongside my fun-seeking, laughter-loving, slightly whacked-out sister and her whacked-out buddy Mike. Camping with them (loved it!) and, oh yeah, with the two healthy, pretty, smiling Earthlings pictured below.

As you can plainly see they are indeed a picture, cut from a sturdy cardboard box that contained, if you look again in the lower righthand corner, the aforementioned air mattress on which I slept. I'm not sure what inspires a human mind to one moment look at a marketing image on disposable packaging and the very next moment imagine a whole new "Wilson"-like character and scenario (you remember Tom Hanks' soccer ball friend in the movie Survivor, right?), but soon after camp happened the handsome couple magically appeared, propped up in-between the slats of our rickety picnic table like they were settling in for an evening around the campfire, ready for some soul-searching talk and eager to roast up some S'mores. Kinda twisted, eh? Of course I didn't notice them at first, didn't notice them until Mike said to me, "Peter, how rude…you're not going to ignore our new friends, are you?" Oh my god I cracked up that first time, and I broke into a smile every time I looked over and saw them sitting at the table (and yup they sat there until I left...probably after that, too).

I cracked up again the other day - chuckled and shook my head in amused and amazed wonder - cracked up when, just back from a two-day wine festival stay on the west Sonoma coast, I sifted through my mail and found a very personal, hand-drawn, one-of-a-kind postcard (see above) tucked in-between the usual flyers, offers and other junk. A postcard from Canada, from Vancouver Island, from Mike and Molly, that brought back a flood of already cherished memories; a postcard that, in its previous life as a box, had seen some serious miles on the open road, seen the Rocky Mountains and Salish Sea, seen some bears and eagles and orca; a postcard that, on the flip side, still depicts the happy, healthy, handsome faces of two imaginary campground friends relaxing on a blue blowup air mattress. Hell, let's call it what it is…an old piece of cardboard that wasn't discarded, that for some reason wasn't burned in a last and final campfire on the shore of beautiful Broughton Strait when a pair of wacky, talented artists packed up their gear and hit the road again. Did they prop up the handsome couple in the back seat of Molly's car, or perhaps rest their permanently smiling faces on the dashboard? Who knows, but that pair of artists obviously had another idea in mind, one that ultimately involved some pen and ink and paint and stamps and Canada Post.

Thank you, Molly and Mike…it's SO friggin' cute! The rest of you, if you haven't already had the pleasure, hightail it sooner than later to Vancouver Island. You won't be disappointed.

Peace out.
Peter J. Palmer
aka Siwidi (more on that later)

Monday, May 19, 2014

Dietary Concerns

"It's a bad day to be a krill."

Thus spoke Giancarlo, our naturalist onboard the Sanctuary, as he gazed down upon the surface of Monterey Bay from his perch atop the wheelhouse, as my fellow passengers and I watched a pair of 45-foot long adult humpback whales sink back into the briny depths, as thousands upon thousands of teeny-weenie marine crustaceans became lunch in one gargantuan gulp. Make that two gargantuan gulps.

Hello again, landlubbers. Meet krill.

I've only one picture to post - the above - and it's stolen from the National Geographic website, as is the text below. Hope they don't mind.

"The lowly krill averages only about two inches (five centimeters) in length, but it represents a giant-sized link in the global food chain. These small, shrimp-like crustaceans are essentially the fuel that runs the engine of the Earth’s marine ecosystems. Krill feed on phytoplankton, microscopic, single-celled plants that drift near the ocean’s surface and live off carbon dioxide and the sun’s rays. They in turn are the main staple in the diets of literally hundreds of different animals, from fish, to birds, to baleen whales."

Okay, back live.

In my quarter century - and counting - of avid Pacific Ocean whale watching I'd only ever seen krill as a Show and Tell curiosity, usually a few utterly dead individuals in a small glass jar on a boat out past the Farallon Islands, 26 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge. But a few weeks ago, on Wednesday April 30, 2014, to be exact, I saw krill by golly - a whole lotta lotta krill - on the surface of Monterey Bay. Buckets and buckets of live, active krill that tainted the water a brick-ish red color, that you could actually see in the sea (what those in the know call a "surface bloom"). Surrounding our boat the Sanctuary and swimming frantically, their little shrimp-like legs paddling overtime to navigate the ocean currents and collect tasty phytoplankton; even more importantly, perhaps, to escape the massive cetacean maw that might soon become their final destiny.

Because humpbacks were on the prowl. Hungry hungry humpbacks.

From the boat we could see a half dozen or so misty spouts in the distance, but we paid them little heed. Our eyes were instead trained on two hefty whales that were much closer; casually going about their leviathan lives, casually lunge-feeding on the blooms of krill as if we weren't even there. It was so cool. And rare, as krill usually spends the daylight hours submerged, which means most baleen whale feeding happens below the surface as well, unseen by humans, during dives that can last many, many minutes. I'd only even witnessed surface lunge-feeding once before, again out past the Farallon Islands, and I remember the spectacle to this day.

For an hour we watched one of the largest creatures in the ocean feast upon one of the smallest, gazed in awe as the two big humps (40 tons a piece?) performed a slo-mo aquatic ballet of startling precision and beauty; working in unison, using their exhaled bubbles to corral the krill into a tight knot on the surface, then lunge up at the mass from below, baleen-fringed mouths agape, for the kind of mouthful your mother always told you not to take. Over and over the pair kept at it - surfacing port side then starboard, a ways off the bow and then aft, their appearance always preceded by that strategic eruption of bubbles - intent only on Food Glorious Food! Even more memorably, a few times the whales popped up maybe 10 feet from the boat (surprise surprise!), so incredibly close we could see inside their mouths and watch individual krill, a whole lot of individual and panicked krill, do their acrobatic best to jump the hell out of harm's way and live another day.

By the way…humpback whales will gorge themselves on krill when it's around, sure, but they will hunt anchovies and other small fish as well. You know what pretty much eats krill and only krill? That would be the blue whale, which can reach lengths of 100 feet and weigh 120 tons, and is the largest animal to ever roam Planet Earth.  Crazy stuff, eh?

Point of this brief post is to bring to your attention the wee but mighty krill - Ocean Superstar Extraordinaire! - but also to let you know that it's once again going OFF in Monterey Bay (because of said krill), and if this year is anything like 2013 the aquatic shenanigans will continue straight thru October. I've been out on the water three times in the past couple months, and each trip has been so worth it. Worth the time to drive down and back from San Francisco (very pretty, both ways), the expense (cheap thrill, overall), the planning (usually last minute for me). So if you're into whales and other marine creatures get your ass to Monterey Bay and get out on the water with Sanctuary Cruises Whale Watching. Pronto! Tell 'em Pete sent you. me and let's drive down together. I can tell 'em in person. Plus, it'll give me the chance to remind Giancarlo that I still need to sample some freshly netted specimens, because, along with the memorable one-liner at the beginning of this post, I believe he also thus spoke: "Yup, krill is delicious."

Whale watching and a daily dose of heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids?
Sign me up!
Peter J. Palmer

Monday, May 12, 2014

Art & About

It sure as hell took me a while, but last Friday, thank goodness, I finally made it over to the M. H. de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park for Georgia O'Keeffe: Modern Nature and Lake George. Finally and just barely, as after a three month run the exhibit was scheduled to close two days later on Sunday evening. It also took a reunion with my longtime friend Pamela Thomas from Ohio; she happened to be visiting the Bay Area for the week and was staying over in Oakland. On the phone and via email, prior to her arrival, we avowed to get together while she was local but never really figured out the when and where that would be. Turned out to be the perfect rendezvous, a visit to the de Young, as Pam had never before been to the museum, even though she lived in Oak-town for a good spell around 10 years ago. That, and the fact that we first met as students at the University of Cincinnati - College of Design, Architecture and Art - way back in (gasp!) 1981. Holy shite that's a long time ago.

Following are some thoughts about the exhibit and the day.

Georgia O'Keeffe lived to a ripe and fabulous 98 years old (1887-1986). And thanks be to Allah for that(!), as her long life meant more paintings for us, for the world, for posterity.

The de Young exhibition displayed only the paintings she completed at Lake George - and of Lake George - in the Adirondack Mountains in New York State, before she moved west to New Mexico and began all those iconic dessert scenes. Been plenty of Georgia O'Keeffe retrospectives throughout her seven decade career, but this show, apparently, was the first time these early works (1918-1930) have been assembled and showcased solely on their own. Which seems odd, and long overdue, because these are the very images and visual themes that initially caught the attention of photographer Alfred Stieglitz (her benefactor, and later husband) and propelled her to stardom in the New York art world.

The show also explained that O'Keeffe was surprised (at times dismayed) by the critics who immediately labeled (and continue to find) her Lake George flower paintings as sexual in nature. The whole phallic stamen thing; the vagina seen in soft, curvaceous botanical innards: she never intended any of that.

Each room of the exhibition included examples of the subject matter that influenced O'Keeffe's painting: photography from the early 1900's, including some images by her husband Alfred Stieglitz (photographers were, at the time, working to be taken seriously as true artists); Japanese painting; fruits and vegetables from her garden; farmland architecture; magazine pictures of and articles on Lake George, which was fast becoming a summertime playground for New Yorkers. The rooms also displayed wall-sized quotes by the artist, like the following from an interview in 1927: "If only people were tress…I might like them better."

In all my visits to the de Young I'd never eaten at the museum café. Pam and I did just that, and I gotta say...the food and drink is pretty impressive! (I think Loretta Keller of CoCo500 oversees the menu and kitchen.) Tables inside to out, in the shade or sun; thirst-quenching iced tea and lemonade; commendable looking wine list, including some decent half bottles; tasty selection of fresh food to "grab and go" (prepared sandwiches, salads and desserts) or a more ambitious menu to order at the counter and have delivered to your table (more salads, flatbread, quiche, soups and stews). It was all delicious, what we sampled, and when I go again I will certainly figure in another visit to the café.

Absolutely lovely, the exhibit and the day! Great to spend time with Pam, to get my ass over to the museum again, to learn a bit more about the famed artist, specifically her younger years and the inspiration she found at Lake George, and to experience all those gorgeous paintings in person (a handful of which I found so compelling I had to double back and inspect a second time).

The collection of 55 paintings and drawings (plus a 10 minute documentary film presented in a side room), along with my subsequent research for this brief post, makes me really really really want to hop a plane to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where one can visit the actual Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, which supposedly houses the most extensive collection of her work on Planet Earth.

I could kick myself for not doing this kind of thing more often - taking advantage of the Bay Area art scene in all its many guises - because every time I do my world, and my soul, feels refreshed. Hmmm…shouldn't kick myself, be so negative. How's this instead: "That was awesome! I can't wait to go to the museum again!"

Much better.
Peter J. Palmer

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Reluctant Capital

Madrid has never been on my personal traveler wish list, people, which is odd because I have a really long list. Spain? Certainly. As in Andalucía, Barcelona, Galicia and Rioja? Yes, yes, yes and yes. But Madrid? Don't know why, but not so much.

Well I obviously need to rethink that whole list "thingy" - check for any other glaring omissions - because last December, 2013, my mother and I met some other family members for a chilly but sunny week in Madrid, and I simply loved it. Ate it up and drank it up. Walked it up and metro'd it up!

Thus I will now share a few simple reasons why a weeklong trip to the Spanish capital should be on your short list, if it already isn't. You can stay longer if you'd like, experience more of the country, of course, but you don't have to if time is an issue. I'm talking about getting your butt to Madrid, and Madrid alone, for a quick look-see. Jet over and jet back. Hell...a five day trip, a long weekend, including those two days of travel (two kinda' tedious days if you're starting from the west coast of America). Three full days on the ground; that's all you need if you can't spare more. Point is, you should go. Definitely, because it's worth it. Especially if you are into art and art history, and specifically especially into painting. Or into food and wine. Even better? All three: the art, the food and the wine.

Let's begin with the "Golden Triangle of Art" in central Madrid, a trio of museums that will leave you (left me, anyway) flabbergasted. Stunned. In a good way.

Museo Nacional del Prado. I had, of course, heard of the Prado and knew it was considered world class, but I had no idea it contained such a massive, monumental, must-see collection of painting masterworks, including room after room of towering El Greco (40+ paintings, alone worth the price of admission!), royal Velázquez (50 paintings), prolific and moody Goya (140 pieces, do not miss his "black paintings"), plus Murillo, Zurbarán, Ribera and so many more. And that's just the Spanish dudes! Go ahead...think of an artist from the 12th century thru the early 19th (British, Dutch, Flemish, French, German, Italian) and he/she is probably represented with an iconic work or two, in many cases more. The museum's painting collection is absolutely awesome, and I absolutely adored our morning and afternoon of discovery, including a surprise (just one of many) that literally stopped me in my tracks: The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch. Did I mentioned stunned. I'm telling you I would go back to the Prado tomorrow if I could.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. Jean Miró, Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso epitomize the über impressive cache of modern art in this über modern building a stones throw from the Prado. I'm not a huge fan of the architecture, but there is no doubting the artistic treasure within: upwards of 20,000 pieces in the collection, from the end of the 19th century thru the mid-1980's or so. I've always found pleasure in Miró, I had never before seen a Dali painting in person (amazing!), and several rooms overflow with Pablo Picasso sketches and paintings both iconic and obscure, including his 1937 room-sized über masterpiece Guernica. Wow! Once again, that's only the superstar Spanish artists. Think of a modern "-ist" or "-ism" and he/she/it is represented in spades.

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Okay, here's an idea: Have the good fortune to be born into a family that's made lots and lots of money thru a generation or two of Industrial Revolution-age innovation and commerce (and I mean LOTS of money), and then, when you become head of the empire, use some of your dough to purchase an artistic work (sometimes two) from pretty much every single major artist in the last 900 years (and counting). Sounds nice, eh? but here's the kicker: Toward the end of your career donate the entire collection to Spain. The Thyssen, as it's known, is relatively small (compared to, like, the Prado), very personal (naturally, as it's the vision of one man), and (here's another great idea) displayed chronologically from the earliest artwork to the most current. It is lovely. It is unique. It is worth a visit.

Time for a break, and for the next reason you should visit Madrid.

Tapas. I'm not sure why, but I feel as though America has a hard time capturing the true essence of tapas culture. Perhaps we work too hard at it, try to make the whole phenomenon something it's not. Sure, there's a few Spanish chefs dishing up designer fare in designer spaces, but tapas in Madrid (at its best, for me at least) is meant to be casual, crowded, full-flavored, bustling, jostling, quick-tempo'd, full of lively discussion and bas cuisine. Hopefully that last term means low cuisine, as opposed to haute cuisine, which means high cuisine, which means highfalutin, which means fancy or pretentious. But whatever...back to Madrid and a few tapas experiences you gotta put on the list.

First must-do is Mercado de San Miguel, an old, wrought iron-framed building in La Latina (a hipster Madrid neighborhood) that's been converted into a food emporium full of individual stalls hawking their goodies. Some of the product is to go, like in a regular market, but most of it - beer, wine, and tapas in all its glorious shapes and sizes - is meant to be consumed on site, if you can squeeze in and vie for some service, and if you can snag some realty at one of the communal tables (it's extremely popular, and it's extremely crowded). The second experience is totally different, is equally authentic, and is called Calle de la Cava Baja: an entire street full of individual tapas joints, also in La Latina and also extremely popular. The idea, and the Madrileños do it with mucho gusto, is to spend an entire afternoon or evening meandering from tapas bar to tapas bar - a bite here and a sip there - meeting old friends and making new acquaintances, walking the street and people watching the entire way.

On the menu of must haves: 
Boquerones con vinagre - Spanish white anchovies marinated in vinegar.
Jamón ibérico de bellota - D.O. protected cured ham from a breed of Iberian black pig finished on a diet of acorns, usually served in paper thin slices (so rich and nutty and intense and complex and lingering it'll blow your mind!).
Croquetas de bacalao - salt cod fritters.
Patatas bravas - fried potato fritters served with spicy tomato sauce or aioli.
Tortilla de patatas - omelet containing chunks of fried potatoes and onion.
Callos a la madrileña - traditional tripe stew with all sorts of variations, but expect the likes of Serrano ham, blood sausage, chorizo, tomato, garlic, onion, chili pepper, saffron, bay leaf, perhaps garbanzo beans.
There's so much more…small plates of octopus, shrimp, chorizo, olives, cheese, and probably the most flavorful roasted red peppers I've ever tasted.

Sated and stoked for more? Okay then…Back to the arts, and some history.

Palacio Real de Madrid. Envision the over-the-top splendor of Versailles in France, then rein it all in a notch or two (especially the palace grounds and gardens) and make it much less confusing to tour. Keep the building in the capital city center as opposed to a train ride away, and decorate the whole shebang according to the whims and fashions of the ruling Habsburg dynasty kings and queens of the 16th and 17th Century. Regal, royal, wonderfully opulent, at times so jaw-droppingly ornate it'll make your head spin: the palace is a peek into another time and world, but one the government still uses for State functions. And a good peek is not that time consuming, as one ticket fits all three areas of the palace grounds open to the public: the Royal Pharmacy (very unique, and pretty cool), the State and private rooms (holy crap!), and the Royal Armory (considered one of the finest historic collections in the world).

Now here's a totally Ginger (mom) story. Below, pictured with the two of us, is a Spanish gentleman named Jorge. Now mom and Jorge met maybe 20 years ago in Cleveland, Ohio (perhaps longer), as he dated my cousin for a bit. The courtship didn't last, but Ginger kinda stayed in touch as Jorge moved here and there about the USA, then finally back to Madrid. Thus, lo and behold, one afternoon we rendezvous with Jorge at a tiny, family owned tapas joint for a glass of Rueda and a snack (Bodegas Ricla, loved the place!), then walk down the street for more chat and a more substantial tortilla de patatas. The encounter was a blast (I had never met him before), totally unexpected and fun! Mom had emailed him in advance for a current picture; it had been so many years she didn't know if they would recognize each other. Even better: during our lunch Jorge reminded mom that, way back when, he didn't just show up for family meals with my cousin but actually spent a week sleeping on the couch in my parent's house after the relationship fell apart, before his travels continued. What a trip down memory lane!

Okay, then...back to the task at hand. The following may not be actual reasons to visit Madrid, but once there they sure don't hurt. First, the people of Madrid, los madrileños, are very friendly, very talkative and passionate, and love the evening neighborhood walk about (they also love a good smoke, so prepare yourself). Second, el Metro de Madrid is extremely modern and clean, and it's extremely easy to understand and use. Third, the city of Madrid is a great walking town; it isn't totally flat, but it's not that hilly either, especially within the central tourist areas. And finally, Madrid is more or less smack dab in the middle of the country, which makes the city conveniently and centrally located for day trips (or longer trips).

Case in point. Even though it's a bit of a trek (okay, a major trek for a single day) I felt that I just couldn't spend a week in Madrid - not knowing if and when I'd be back - without traveling to La Rioja, one of Spain's most traditional, and most world renowned, wine growing regions. Thus, on our last full day in Spain, mom and I zipped north on the bullet/local train combo for a very brief look-see around the region, complete with a lovely tour, tasting and luncheon at CVNE (Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España), a personal favorite producer of mine. It was a whole lot of travel for a seven-hour visit, but very worth the early wake up call and 10:00 p.m. arrival back in Madrid. Which, as any authentic madrileño will tell you, is the perfect time to meet your other traveling companions for tapas and drinks on Calle de la Cava Baja!

My mother Ginger lured me to Madrid, but it was my cousin Betsy and her daughter Julie that lured my mother. Julie, you see, was finishing a college semester of study in Salamanca, the university town 200 kilometers northwest of Madrid, and Betsy was heading to Spain to meet her for a mother/daughter week of playing tourist before their return to the States. Somehow Betsy invited mom, and mom invited me. I hemmed and hawed about it for a while, but then my December work schedule opened up and I realized I had the time.

But did I have the desire?

Madrid? Really? Ah, what the hellsure. Why not?

Then I got there. Then I experienced the vibrant city, rubbed shoulders with the handsome, passionate madrileños two weeks before Christmas when it seems like the entire populace is out walking, celebrating. Immersed myself in the world-renowned art scene; roamed the broad boulevards and narrow alleyways; feasted on really tasty (well-priced, too) Spanish food and wine. And then, on top of it all, I realized what a poignant trip this was for Betsy and her daughter! Because wait, there's more…You see over three decades ago Betsy had done the same as Julie, but Betsy spent a whole year at university in Salamanca. Since leaving Spain she'd kept in touch with friends and with her host family, but in all that time she'd never been back! I know…pretty cool, eh? The first two days Betsy and Julie spent in Salamanca, reconnecting in person, while mom and I hoofed around Madrid by ourselves. The final four days we attacked the Spanish capital in unison, and it was a blast!

For someone who had to actually talk himself into going to Madrid, after seven days I departed a huge fan of the city. Surprise! Loved the joint. Loved the travel with mom, of course, and with Betsy and Julie as well; it was an extremely special trip, for many reasons and for all involved (including those roasted red peppers, pictured below), and I feel honored to have been a part of the adventure.

It was an extremely special month, as a matter of fact. One that I'm now fondly calling a December to Remember, because a few days after my return from Madrid to San Francisco I flew to Cleveland, Ohio, for Christmas with the family. Then, a few days post holiday, I hopped another plane from Cleveland to Orlando for a week-long road trip in south Florida, which included snorkeling with manatees in the Crystal River, an overnight in Naples on the Gulf, multiple hikes in Big Cypress and the Everglades, and New Year's Eve in Key West with my sister Molly, friends and cousins. All of which we shall explore in upcoming posts, so stay tuned.

Hasta la pronto, amigos.
Peter J. Palmer

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Size Matters

I was finishing up an hour-long urban assault hike the other day, heading back toward shore along the outer curl of concrete pier at Aquatic Park, down by Ghirardelli Square, when my one-foot-in-front-of-the-other reverie was interrupted by the sound of someone shouting. As my ears and eyes and mind re-focused I realized it was a woman's voice, and above the usual bayside soundtrack - that noisy squawk of seagulls and baritone bark of sea lions, the slap of waves and snap of sailboat rigging and white noise of our omnipresent San Francisco wind - I heard it again. "S'cuse me. S'cuse me!" she yelled.

Shifting my gaze toward the voice I noticed a well-dressed man and woman of Asian descent, standing arm in arm and framed, like anyone is on the pier, by the dramatic, world-renowned backdrop of moody, gray-green water, crumpled coastal hills and, oh yeah, iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Sure enough the woman was waving my way and beckoning me to their side.  Ah...a photograph, I thought.

Now I love taking pictures. I love taking pictures of tourists, for tourists. Hell, I love assisting tourists with whatever whenever the opportunity presents itself: giving directions, offering recommendations on things to do and see, trails to hike, which bus to take, favorite places to eat and the like. Lord knows I've been a tourist myself a-plenty, and have always appreciated kind-hearted, informed local advice and insider information. Plus, after a lifetime in the restaurant biz, hawking food and drink in several tourist meccas in the good old U.S. of A. and the Caribbean, relying on tips for a good portion of my income, I figure it's the least I can do. Let's face it: I have absolutely no problem with tourists, lots and lots of tourists.

Without breaking stride I quickly veered off my intended trajectory and approached the couple, ready and willing to work some digital magic. As I neared, the woman continued to gesture urgently and ask the same question again and again, a question I couldn't understand due to her thick accent, couldn't comprehend until I saw that neither one of them was holding a camera or phone or anything, until I noticed one solitary Dungeness crab at their feet, lying on its back, spindly legs and claws waving angrily skyward.

I'll make this quick for those of you who may not know. Dungeness crab is THE best eating crab on the west coast of North America (perhaps on either coast…sorry Maryland, Florida, et al.), found in coastal waters from Santa Barbara, California, to the Pribilof Islands of Alaska. In San Francisco and environs the local Dungeness crab season begins mid-November and lasts thru March. Whether commercially harvested or caught purely for recreational fun and good eats, however, one can't just be pulling crabs from the ocean and keeping them willy-nilly; there's all kinds of state regulations concerning season, sex and size. If interested you can surely find all the specifics on some sort of state fish and wildlife website, I'm sure, but the point is if you catch a crab and you want to keep it, you must follow the rules, one of which is to make sure the body (carapace) of the beast exceeds the legal minimum size. Which brings me back to our story.

The woman was asking if I had a ruler. Like, on me. To measure the crab.

Say what? Don't know where she thought I might be hiding a ruler, as I was wearing no jacket, carried no backpack, no school book bag.  Perhaps in my pants? I mused, then quickly lit on the expected bawdy response: No ruler there, ma'am...I'm just really happy to see you. Happy as well to have scenic, wind-swept Aquatic Park in my bayside backyard, tho I imagine the city will soon have to deal with the dilapidated nature of the concrete pier (they've already cordoned off the western edge of it due to structural deterioration). Happy for Dungeness crab, too. Gotta love Dungeness crab and a good old fashioned crab feed. With lots of lemon and little bowls of melted butter, and some aioli. And oodles of crisp white wine and crusty bread and a big green salad.

Okay…I digress.

I didn't even slow down but laughed and pleasantly shook my head her way, then veered promptly back on course toward the hill that would lead me to the Great Meadow and my home in the Fort Mason District. The encounter left me chuckling for the remainder of the day whenever I thought of it, but in retrospect it also raised some questions.

Questions like...What gives, people? Where'd that crab come from, and if you caught it where's all your official crabbing gear, your crab net and ropes and bucket? And why go crabbing in your Sunday finest, if you were indeed crabbing? Questions like…What do you think you're gonna do with that crab. You gonna keep the thing? Turn it into supper in your hotel room? Because I don't think it's really legal to harvest Dungeness crab from the bay. Maybe I'm wrong about that, but I thought it was just for sport.

Questions like…Really? A ruler?

Peace out.
Peter J. Palmer

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Giddy Up!

Dang, it's been a while. Truly. Like three-and-a-half wordless months a while. Don't really know how that happened, that big pause in my riveting, somewhat regular-ish online posts (and don't know why no one emailed me to personally lament the lack of said posts), but there you have it. Whatever. Ain't no problem, as now we just gotta unscrew us one big old serious bottle of ketchup. As in catch-up. As in crank that shit back up! That shit, of course, being The Headlands Report. And the New Year, the Year of the Horse. Crank up 2014. And some rain, too. Crank up some damn rain, fer cryn-out-loud, because we need some rain out here in California! "Some" meaning a whole lot, buckets and buckets. And we need it now. "Now" as in yesterday.


Okay then…So where the hell did I leave off. Oh, yeah: National Park closures and dog vomit.  (There! See? I can't believe you've been able to drink your morning coffee without this stuff, haven't contacted me for MORE.)

Gonna let pictures do most of the talking as we cover some serious ground, from that last post in early October 2013 to now, to today, to January 21, 2014, which just happens to be my beloved sister Anne's birthday (Happy Birthday, Anne!). We're twins, you know…Irish twins. Go ahead, look it up.

After we're finished here and you're up to speed (should you wish to remain up to speed), in subsequent posts we'll then explore, in a bit more depth and with more pictures, two most excellent globetrotting adventures from what I've decided to call a December to Remember (which included very little actual work). For now, tho, let's return to autumn in San Francisco.

Sometime early October: the street where I've lived for the past 16 years, Octavia Street between Lombard and Bay, was ripped up for a two month sewer replacement job (that's my building, in the middle, but my unit is in back, facing west). It wasn't such an inconvenience, but it sure was a sight! Huge mounds of dirt and asphalt and concrete and pipes and other assorted materials; a handful of grungy, orange-vested civil engineering guys doing a whole lot of nothing for hours a day; monster bulldozers and dump trucks and the like beep-beep-beeping around.   kept wondering why moms and pops in the hood weren't lining up in droves with their kids, because it was serious pig heaven for any 6 year old child!

I'd have to ask her for the actual date, but lo and behold my longtime friend//hiking buddy Lori Theis moved back to the Bay Area from southern California, where she and her husband Patrick had been living for the past 10 years. (That's her in the middle, with hubby right and another friend Heidi on the left, during a delightful tramp on Mount Tam.) "Longtime" as in we met in early 1988; when I first moved to SF she and her roommate Holly let me crash at their railroad flat on Polk Street, and were two of my first new friends in the Bay Area.

Mid-November: local, organic winter squash (butternut pictured here) starts showing up at SF Real Foods, the store where I do pretty much all of my shopping for foodstuffs and more. If case you don't know why this is important…it's because I'm crazy for winter squash. Love the shit. Fave way to cook it is like the above; simply slice the beast open, remove the guts, slather with EVOO, pop in some shaved garlic, sprinkle with salt and roast in the oven. Couple a cracks of coarse pepper when finished and…Voila! Scoop out that culinary crack with a spoon and enjoy it as you stand over the stove (if no one's around) or save it for a more elegant presentation. Like with people, and at a table. If you have to.

Jump to the weekend before Thanksgiving and behold the poster/graphic for PinotFest 2013, which was created by our good family friend Mike Takich, an incredibly talented artist and art teacher in the Cleveland area.

PinotFest, should you not know, is the brainchild of yours truly: a 2-day celebration of west coast pinot noir featuring 60 wineries, several wine tastings, a wine dinner, 600 or so people, and a whole lot of camaraderie. Founded in 1999; this year was one of the best yet, a HUGE success!

And…for the first time ever some family attended the vinous festivities! Pictured here on our Sunday, post PinotFest tour of Sausalito is sister Anne, mom Ginger and niece Eleni, all from the Cleveland area. Not pictured, unfortunately, is my brother Art and his wife Patricia, who dashed in from New York City on Saturday morning, sipped some pinot noir at the big PinotFest bacchanalia, and dashed back to NYC on Sunday morning. It was a whirlwind, and it was great to see them all!

Thanksgiving 2013. I adore these people! Unfortunately I see four of them only once a year (Annette and Jim, Lori and Mark), which is a travesty, and the other two not much more (Shelley and James), which is also a travesty. A travesty because they all live just across the San Francisco Bay, in the East Bay, not in, like, Yolo County up by the Oregon border or Bumfuck Egypt, wherever the hell that is. Amazing how our lives can get in the way of our lives. Dinner this year was chez Annette and Jim, and it was utterly delicious. So tasty. So comfortable. So engaging. Plus, as you can see, we all sported some totally cool Plymouth Rock headgear, compliments of Lori the craftswomen.

December now, and yup…Madrid. With mom (that's her enjoying some churros con chocolate on our first full day), and with my cousin Betsy and her daughter Julie. Can't tell you how much I enjoyed this six-day visit to the Spanish capital, how much it surprised me, but I will in a later post, as it's part of the aforementioned December to Remember.

There they are: Besty and Julie, mom and daughter, at Sobrino de Botin, the supposed oldest still-operating restaurant in the world. It was such a blast to travel with them!

After Madrid. Back in SF for three days before my flight to Ohio. One sommie shift at Waterbar, some laundry and repacking, and a lovely Crissy Field walk to the GGB and back with part of my familia West Coast! That's Patrick and Lori, Heidi (sans her hubby Don), Julie, me and Linda.

Big jump east to Christmas 2013. Arrived in Cleveland on the 23rd, immediately started shopping and prepping for the Xmas Eve "Fish Chowdah" party chez mom and dad, which was and always is a total blast. This pic is from the day after, Xmas morning proper, which we usually spend with sister Thea and the rest of the Zimmerman clan in Cleveland Heights, so dad can get his yearly fix of the traditional candied fruit roll (which he adores, when he can remember that he adores it). New this year? The newlyweds Jake and Allison!

The Christmas eating orgy continues later that day, with dinner at sister Anne and hubby Itri's house in Lorain on the west side of Cleveland, shown here with Mr. and Mrs. Fligner, owners of THE grocery store in Lorain (and extremely generous supporters of the Lorain community). I was so happy that I was able to spend yet another Christmas in Cleveland with family (and get three inches of fresh snow on the 24th, just in time).

Now for the not so usual. On December 27th I abandoned the cold and mom and dad and hopped a plane from chilly Cleveland to balmy Orlando, the first leg of a seven-day south Florida road trip: Orlando to Crystal River to snorkel with manatees (awesome!), south to Naples on the Gulf Coast, east thru Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park, down the Florida Keys, to Key West for a New Year's Eve rendezvous with sister Molly and her good friend Mike and cousin Lisa and her hubby Kenny, then back to Orlando, where I enjoyed one final dinner with another Florida cousin, Dee, who I have not seen in 30 years! 1,100 hot and humid miles, lots of boardwalk hikes thru sawgrass and swamp, oodles of birds and reptiles and dolphins and pelicans, some more time with family and friends, and my first trip to Florida since 1985(?)…I loved it!

Molly, Mike and me on New Year's Eve day in Key West. Actually 70 miles west of Key West (a 2.5 hour ferry ride) in Dry Tortugas National Park. Spent a full day getting there and back, exploring the Civil War Fort Jefferson (learning a bit of history), beach combing and snorkeling...Not! It was way too churned up to snorkel (bummer). But it was a fine adventure on the high seas and on the coral atolls that make up the very isolated National Park.

Duval Street, Key West: the most heterosexual homosexual New Year's Eve bash on the planet (more later, in a December to Remember). And the first New Year's Eve in (at least) the last 26 that I have not been working.

January 1, 2014 with Molly, Mike, Kenny and cousin Lisa (they drove down from Daytona Beach), outside our rented doublewide trailer on Cudjoe Key, before the search for a sandy beach anywhere in the Keys. Which, by the way, is an almost futile search, 'cause they are far and few between! As in like two, or three, maybe four, tops, from Key Largo to Key West…It's bizarre.

We did, however, get to see this, an actual crocodile, which is not to be confused with an actual alligator (more on the difference in subsequent posts).

And this. We got to see this as well. (Was just driving by, looking for the endangered and diminutive Key deer, and I couldn't resist.)

And this! I got to see Bruce Strong at Antonia's Restaurant on Duval Street. Bruce Strong, general manager there, and a long lost friend from 1983-ish Cincinnati, Ohio, and The Diner on Sycamore (but no longer…thanks Facebook).

Major segue...Back in Cleveland for five more days following the Florida fest, five really really butt-ass cold days, and before the return trip to San Francisco. Some excellent hiking in the snow-covered MetroParks, some Quiddler and delightful family meals, but, sorry, no snowmen this year.

Betsy, my sister Molly's girl, my niece, turned 21 years old while I was in town! Had her B-day dinner at Taki's Greek Kitchen in Lorain, Ohio, which, I gotta say now that I've been a few times, is a damn good restaurant. I like what they do, and I'm so glad I was around for Betsy's celebration.

So there you have it, cyber-peeps. I'm finished with the ramble, for now; but as I promised, more on the trips to Madrid and Florida soon. Twas a unique couple of months and a totally awesome couple of months, especially because I got to spend so much of it with family. Alas, I'm back in San Francisco now (yeah, right…"alas"; see the pic below), hoping for a stampede of rainy days but enjoying the 70-degree January with walks and hikes galore. Looks like change is in the air, tho, as the fog has moved back in and the upcoming forecast is for cooler temps. It's not the major precipitation we need, but it's a start. Hopefully.

Gung Hay Fat Choy, everyone!
Wishing you all the best for the New Year (of the horse).
Let's throw a saddle on this bad boy...and let's giddy up!

Peter J. Palmer