Sunday, August 27, 2006

My Dog is Trying to Tell Me Something

Last week I came home from work and found that she'd gotten into my lower bookshelf (the one housing all my self-help books). I was feeling like a basketcase for a while and I'd been spending too much money making self-help authors rich. See the picture below of what she did:

Next thing I know, there's a present in the living room. No, not that kind of present. This one:

Now, my dog is plenty smart and she's been known to leave things (messages?) like this upon occasion. This is not a random thing. There is absolutely nothing else in middle of the floor except these three items and they are carefully laid out. What are they? A subscription card to Real Simple magazine, the book "Why Men Love Bitches" and the red ball that I sometimes put treats and peanut butter inside for her eating pleasure.

I think she's sick of me reading these damn self-help books and magazines and ignoring her. This is probably a much needed message in my humble household. I'm sure if she could move the computer to the middle of the floor, she would do that too.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Second Annual Trip to Napa Wine Country

Earlier this month was the second annual "girls-gone-wild" trip to Napa. Me and three of my girlfriends drove up to Napa Valley, about an hour east of San Francisco, stayed at B&B and did some intense wine tasting. Before I launch into the rest of this post, it's very important to note that I am a lightweight. A quarter glass of wine gets me tipsy. My friends note that this is a shame because I have a "good palate." I know very little about wine, but seem to be able to taste all the flavors everyone talks about during wine tastings (I once described an "earthy" wine as "licheny" since everyone agreed that "mossy" wasn't a good description; they agreed that my observations were spot on). My tolerance was even lower than usual this year because my usual drinking buddy moved to Southern California.

Accomodations: Internet pictures of an unfamiliar bed and breakfast can be very deceiving. Sure you can see the rooms, but you can't see the fact that there's a layer of dust on the furniture. There's a great view, but there's tons of the innkeeper's crap everywhere else and the innkeeper will gladly watch your dog, but that doesn't stop her 4 year old granddaughter from coming into your room unannounced

Silverado Trail is overall the best place to concentrate if this is not your first trip to Napa and you're visiting Napa on the weekend in the Summer. The main road, Hwy 29, was like a parking lot.

Friday Night Highlights: Dinner. At. Martini House. Without a doubt, this is one of the best restaurants I've ever eaten in. Keep in mind I haven't traveled much, but the food here was truly amazing. Located in St. Helena, this is an upscale restaurant with great atmosphere. I ordered Cream of Mushroom soup (unbelievable) and Flatiron Steak in Cabernet sauce (Jesus Christ!!). My friends had lamb (excellent), halibut with crab raviolis (yummy) and duck. I don't like eating duck at all, but the duck was knock-you-flat-on-your-ass fantastic. We drank a lot of champagne, wine and port. I lost track of which ones we had, but they were all great.

Saturday Highlights: We hit the following wineries Cuvaison, Mumm, Merryvale and Rutherford Hill. Cuvaison was nice and small. Pretty good wine.

Mumm was overall the most fun. Depending on what you pay for your tastings, you can get between 4-7 glasses of sparkling wine (what people incorrectly call champagne). You sit on the patio at your own table with an umbrella. It's a beautiful day. You drink your sparkling wine. Things get rosy and tipsy. Really fun.

Merryvale is located just off of Hwy 29. Good wine. I limited my tastings to two glasses instead of the usual five which my friends had. They had this stunning long table for special events. It reminded me of something out of Harry Potter (see below).

We spent quite a bit of time trying to get into some other wineries for tasting, but it seems that many of them are requiring reservations. Our last winery of the day was Rutherford Hill. Really good wine. I'd been to this winery years ago on my honeymoon and it's a great tour. I highly recommend it so you can see the caves. We didn't do the tour this time. Rutherford Hill is also a wonderful place to have a picnic. There's a nice view of Napa.

For pre-dinner drinks (!) we stopped next door at the bar at Auberge du Soleil. Auberge is legendary for its luxury. We had pizza, french fries and oysters. The oysters were glorious. Whew! I was pretty much tanked by the time we were sitting on the balcony overlooking Napa (see below) so I had an Irish coffee. That sort of perked me up before dinner. Sort of.

Dinner that night was at Press, also in St. Helena, located next door to Dean and Deluca. Dinner was great although I can't for the life of me remember what I had. My friend had a filet mignon which melted in my mouth when I had a taste. More wine, champagne and port. Good thing we hired a driver that night. Dean and Deluca is a great, upscale grocery store. Wonderful for picnic supplies if you don't mind spending money.

Sunday Highlights: Amazingly enough I was the only person who wasn't hung over. Sunday's tastings were decidely more upscale. We had to make reservations for each of wineries we went to: Quintessa, Joseph Phelps and Duckhorn.

Quintessa was the most upscale and most expensive. $25 for two tastings. We also got a sliver of brie, a tiny slice of blue cheese and two buttons of quince paste. My girlfriends insisted that the Cab we tried was the best overall wine of the weekend. They know all about wine. Knock your socks off. I liked it just fine, but found myself enjoying wines at other places more. Plus it was $120 a bottle.

Joseph Phelps was a wonderful tasting experience. You take your glass to two wine stations and then sit on the patio. It was another gorgeous day. The view was lovely as you can see from the picture below. My brother had requested a fruity, but not sweet Merlot so I bought him a bottle of the 2002 Merlot. It's quite good. Fruity, spicy.

We saved best for last. The glorious Duckhorn estate boasted not only the best wines overall, but a great tasting experience. You pay your $10 (3 glasses) or $15 (5 glasses) and wait for someone to call you. When you get into the tasting room, you get your own table, your own person to explain what the wines are and your own little bottle of water. Each wine has a little card explaining things like what the weather was like that year, what types of varietals are blended into the wine, etc. I bought my brother another 2002 Merlot which just kicks ass (we've already drank it). I also bought a 2005 Sauvignon Blanc which is fruity, fresh and perfect on a hot summer day. I almost never drink white wine and it takes a lot to impress me, but this shit is fantastic. The farmhouse-on-steriods architecture is beautiful (see below). You can't see it here, but there's a huge, wide wraparound porch on the house. Yes, that's my box of wine in the lower right corner. I'm thinking of joining their wine club.

Lunch was in Yountville at Bistro Jeanty. The food was good, but the service was lousy (they almost triple charged me). Their Tomato Soup in Puff Pastery was wonderful though. I had no idea tomato soup could taste like that.

We made it home safely and have already started planning next year's trip (probably to Santa Barbara for a "Sideways" experience).

Sunday, August 20, 2006

San Francisco Life

I changed the title from The White City back to the old title Mock Turtle's San Francisco Life. The White City felt more introspective to me, more exploration of the vast internal life going on all the time. There will still be a little of that, but I wanted to see that this blog was more externally oriented when I logged onto

Besides I like the old title and I really like seeing my name there.

There are a lot of potential changes coming up for me. I can see things are shifting when I look out at the horizon. From personal changes to work changes and everything in between. I've been feeling very introspective and spending most of my time enjoying being at home and being alone. Since I'm sick of whining on this blog, I thought I'd be more selective with my posts.

Thanks for reading.

Cookie the Penguin: November 1, 1992 to August 11, 2006

It's so hard when penguins die. It really is.

The first thing I'm kicking myself over is I have no picture of Cookie to share with you here. Sure you can argue that all penguins look pretty much the same and you would be right for the most part, but shit, I can tell them apart.

Next Saturday, I'm going to concentrate on getting decent pictures of all the birds.

Cause of death: he had a disc protrusion of the spine. It was causing him huge problems with his left leg in that he couldn't really use it. We started giving him meds and he was able to use the leg for a long time, but lately things had been getting worse. The last time I saw him before he died he was in so much pain that he couldn't stand on his own two feet long enough to even get out of the water. He'd spend a lot of time swimming in the jets. They must have felt good to him in the same way sitting in a jacuzzi feels good to us. Nature in her wisdom and mercy caused things to go downhill fast for him. His body shut down quickly.

I am thankful and pleased that the end was quick for him. I'm even more pleased that he's no longer in any pain.

Cookie was always a nervous bird. Legendary for his skittishness, he still managed to surprise us. For example, he had an odd relationship with Pierre the Alpha Male. Given Cookie's nerves, I would have thought Pierre would either ignore him completely or enjoy chasing him around, but they had an understanding. Often, Pierre would allow Cookie to enter his territory when no one else was able to. And in a funny twist, the two took to preening each other every once in a while. Penguins who preen each other are almost always bonded couples so preening each other is the penguin equivalent of making out. Pierre was at the time, and still is, without a mate.

Cookie had a very specific feeding pattern: swim around in three circles as you approach the person holding the fish, pop your head out of the water and gobble down a big herring as quickly as possible, then swim away. He would only eat very large herring. This was probably because most people could only get him to eat once each feed.

His parents were Flash (female) and Oreo (male, and one of my dearest penguin friends). Both are dead. His mate is Homey, a sweet soul and a very big girl. Cookie lived his whole life at the Aquarium. I was fortunate enough to be around when he was conceived and hatched, and I spent much time raising him from when he was a nervous little chick.

Homey is at present mateless, but will likely pair off with Pierre at some point. The problem is Pierre is behaving like the cranky old man that he is. He's going to have to stop beating her up and start turning on those courtship rituals that he's so skilled at to win her over. We'll see if that happens.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

City Life: Permission to Speak Freely

Forest Hills MUNI Station, San Francisco

I took this picture quite a while ago and forgot about it. I used to take pictures at MUNI stations all the time until the MUNI folks said I couldn't do it anymore. I guess they were worried I was doing research for a terrorist attack. No matter. Better to be safe than sorry. However, I did see this sign for a little over a week before finally taking three quick pictures. It didn't come out as well as I would have liked, but at least you can see what the person was doing here.

Graffiti in general is very interesting to me, but something like this really gets me salivating. Metro PC ad as biblical forum. I love it. I did spend some time reading the entire ad. I wondered what the person was like. The thought of carrying all those thoughts about Hell until you can't contain them anymore makes me think this person is not having a good time. I hope I'm wrong about that.

The next day I noticed they'd replaced the ad with a clean version. I'm glad I took this picture.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Movie Musings: Horror Movies

Last night I was having one of my familiar "dark nighttime of the soul" evenings. I had just seen "The Descent" which I really enjoyed. It's ridiculous, but I had fun screaming and applauding, plus watching those women hanging from rocks was amazing even if it was a set. The plot is six women go caving and get trapped deep underground. Not only do they have to find another way out (it's a new cave system), but there may also be something else down there. Something really, really hungry.

I have a tough time watching horror movies. I seem to be better now than I was years ago, but since I sleep alone I generally avoid them. Last night, I was up late at night looking up plot spoilers for movies I've never seen such as "Tale of Two Sisters," "Hellraiser I-IV," "Skeleton Key," "The Grudge" and "Silent Hill." "Tale of Two Sisters" sounds scary and fascinating. The others seem okay for horror movies although "Silent Hill" sounds like a big mess. I was reading the plot spoiler and trying to figure out what was going on there. The movie must be over three hours long.

My cousins were fond of watching "Chiller Diller Matinee" on channel 2 and "Creature Features" on channel 44 when I was growing up. Both featured bad low grade horror and monster movies. I was so impressionable that I couldn't watch anything scary at all because I would have terrible nightmares afterwards.

On the other hand, sometimes both shows would feature Godzilla movies which were my favorites when I was growing up. I was never afraid of the big lizard since I love dinosaurs so much.

My breakthrough movie came when I watched "Creature from the Black Lagoon" for the first time. I was really scared at first, but ended up glued to the couch. I was so riveted that by the time the movie was over, I didn't realize I was the only one still watching it.

I managed to avoid horror after that until my best friend insisted we watch the first "Friday the 13th." Bad dreams ensued. Later, at our neighborhood movie theater, they showed a double feature of "Altered States" and "The Shining." I saw both movies nine times in nine weeks. "The Shining" gave me the SCREAMING horrors so much that my mother called my friends and told them I couldn't watch that movie anymore. I would get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and walk down the hallway in the dark. When I looked towards my parents' bedroom, I'd see those two creepy little girls standing at the end of the hallway. They would say "forever and ever and ever." Things got so bad that for a short time my parents took to giving me a quarter of Valium so I could sleep at night.

Now that I'm a little less impressionable, I think "The Shining" is one of the all time great movies. The images are iconic, the sets stunning, the cinematography, music and sound are all phenomenal. Shelly is great with her wide-eyed rabbit terror and Jack, of course, with his carefully plucked eyebrows, is amazing. I love the dialog too, especially between Jack and Delbert Grady in the bathroom ("I corrected them") and between Jack and the Satanic looking bartender (Joe Turkel). Great stuff.

A young friend of mine begged me to take her to see "The Ring" on opening weekend. She was into all things anime and Japanese at the time and wanted to see it before her friends did (some of her friends weren't allowed to see it). We had such a grand time. We hid under my coat and spend a lot of time screaming. I think I missed a good quarter of the movie that first time because either had my eyes shut or was hiding under my coat. I was most impressed with "The Ring." It was a very interesting movie.

That's a wonderful memory.

I must be out of my "dark nightime of the soul" place. No weird thoughts. No potential for bad dreams. It's a lovely, foggy summer day here in San Francisco and I just remembered I need to add "Saw II" to my Netflix queue.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Movie Musings: Mid-Kurosawa

***Note: I just realized that this post is inaccurate. Walter Hill did NOT direct "Die Hard." My apologizes. I try check my facts for accuracy before I post, but didn't do it this time. Such is arrogance. However, Walter Hill did direct "48 Hours" a movie I enjoyed very much, but he still doesn't measure up to Kurosawa or Leone.***

For a while now, I've been watching the films of Akira Kurosawa. When I'm finally finished I'll write a post of my overall reactions, but wanted to write about one film in particular and compare it to the subsequent remakes.

Yojimbo/Fistful of Dollars/Last Man Standing.

Story: Yojimbo - the silk merchant and his cronies vs. the sake merchant and his cronies.
Fistful of Dollars - Mexican thugs (played by Italians) vs. white gun runners.
Last Man Standing - Irish gangsters vs. Italian gangsters.

Our anti-hero rides into town and pits both sides against each other among other things.

Director: Akira Kurosawa/Sergio Leone/Walter Hill. Let's take a look at some of the other work these men have done: Seven Samurai/The Good, the Bad and the Ugly/47 Hours. Maybe if I squint long enough, Mr. Hill will be able to get up on his chair long enough to kiss Kurosawa's and Leone's butts.

Badass, crazy guy: Tatsuya Nakadai/Gian Maria Volonte/Christopher Walken. Now we have a worthy comparison. Although Nakadai's turn in the Sword of Doom establishes him as the most perfect sociopath ever to grace the screen, his performance here is nothing to sneeze at (plus he's the only samurai with a gun). Volonte's performance as the lead Mexican Ramon is charismatic and robust. Walken, not surprising, is the best part of Last Man Standing. Scary and funny with a scarred face to match.

Leading man: Toshiro Mifune/Clint Eastwood/Bruce Willis. You just have to see that list and there's really nothing more to say, is there?

Some random notes:

Yojimbo - the dog running down the street carrying the severed hand when Mifune first walks into town (which looks like a western town, by the way) is priceless. This is a great film and one of Kurosawa's most influential.

Fistful of Dollars - Nobody can squint like Clint does, and nobody looks better in a poncho. Cowboy clothes are super sexy too.

Last Man Standing - Let's see, a gangster movie set in a western town where there's either a ton of dust everywhere or it's running so hard that it's flooding. Hmm. On the other hand, Willis is never shy about showing his bare butt. I guess that's a good thing. Also, it's always nice to see Bruce Dern in a movie.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Dream I Had: Looking for April

Over the weekend I had a strange nightmare. I dreamed I was with a group of 25 people. The age ranges were probably from 25-50. All sizes and shapes. All different nationalities. We were told we had to get to this particular place or die trying.

At first, we didn't know what we were supposed to do or where we were supposed to go. The landscape we were in was vast and desolate. Everything was grey and overcast. Dead barren trees. No plant life and the ruins of old buildings and rusted out cars. Trash here and there. No animals and no other people or so we thought.

Along the way, we met a very pretty girl named April. She was about 11 years old and wearing the only color in the place (everyone else in my dream were wearing black, grey or black and white). She was dressed in a forest green plaid pleated skirt, forest green blazer, white button down shirt, little green and red tie, knee high socks and black shoes. She also had on a large forest green wrap. She was Japanese and had long perfectly straight hair with bangs.

She looked a bit like me at 11 except more Japanesy. I'm half Japanese. In fact, she reminded me a little of Go-Go in the movie "Kill Bill, Part 1." She was hiding in one of the buildings crying and we convinced her to come with us to wherever we were going. Soon after she joined us, people started dying. Most were bizarre, gory seemingly freak accidents, and then she disappeared. We realized we had to find her and set off through the landscape and broken down buildings.

One by one more people died. Awful violent freaky deaths. It was like being in a horror movie. In the end, the last three of us were running from something and we saw April in the distance. She was smiling and leaning up against a rusted out car wearing her forest green wrap. The two other people with me, both men, were very glad to see her and ran straight for her. I stopped and realized that April was evil and the one causing all the deaths. I shouted at them to stop, but they kept going. As they approached her, both men were killed (I can't remember how, but it was bloody and terrible). I ran away from her and she started laughing. As I ran, I saw an ancient white VW van pull up. The man driving was blond and pale and he shouted at me to get into the van. I jumped in and we drove away. I looked back at April and she was still laughing, and then I saw the souls of the others who had died all standing behind her. They were crying and wailing.

The blond man stopped the van and told me I had managed to survive the ordeal. He said I had two choices: I could leave now and go home or I could take the sword. He handed me the sword so I could look at it. It was heavy and shiny and glowing with a divine light. Then he leaned back in the seat and waited, smiling.

I realized the blond man was an angel (a surfer angel at that!) and the sword was blessed somehow. Without him telling me I knew that if I took the sword, I would be on a path where I would have to fulfill my destiny. In this case that meant doing battle with April, evil incarnate and a collector of souls. If I won the battle, I would be able to free the souls of the people she had collected including the people I started out with. I stared at the sword in my hands for a long time, then I looked at him and nodded. He smiled and I got out the car holding the sword. I slammed the car door and started to make my way towards April. Then I woke up.

An odd dream. I haven't had one this disturbing in a long time.

In my personal mythology (everyone has their own), there are three stages: the stage where you barely survive, the stage where you receive your weapon (in this case, the sword) and go fight for your life and, oftentimes, to save the world and, lastly, the stage where you lose your weapon all together and there's nothing to protect you. The only thing you can do at that stage is let go and let things happen as they will even if it means being torn to pieces. Sometimes you can save yourself, sometimes you get help and some times there's nothing between you and whatever you're facing. Sometimes you live and sometimes you die. Sometimes you have to sacrifice yourself, and sometimes you do so and realize that sacrificing isn't enough so you have to come up with another way.

I describe this as my personal mythology because I've written stories along these same lines. I've even started a novel based on this mythology. There's even a sword involved.

I don't know what it means, but you can bet that this dream is trying to tell me something. Since I remember it so vividly there's some treasure here to be unearthed. I just don't know what that might be.