Wednesday, March 30, 2011

a beautiful "painted lady" victorian house in the haight

The area we call the haight includes the famous haight/ashbury intersection.
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in the community garden down the street from where i live

It's 70 degrees right now and it feels like a sweet, tender miracle.
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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Movie Musings: I Saw The Devil (Akmareul boattda)

Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun) and Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik)
are working through some serious issues together.

This is a 2010 Korean film by one of my favorite directors Kim Ji-woon, who also directed excellent films like A Bittersweet Life, A Tale of Two Sisters, and The Good, The Bad, and The Weird. I'd heard of this film but hadn't looked very closely into it. Imagine my excitement when I read it was showing locally. I managed to catch it on the last day it was playing at Lumiere Theater here in SF.

The first thing you need to know is this is one of the most violent films I've ever seen. They're marketing it as a horror film but it's not. I understand why they went this route because it's the only way to prepare the audience the extreme level of graphic violence. The word "extreme" is used far too often but it's completely appropriate here.

No, this isn't a horror film, rather it's a revenge tale. A secret agent's wife is dismembered and murdered by a serial killer. Sometimes we hear people in movies (or in real life) say that death is too good for someone. This film takes that idea and pushes it past any sane person's limits.

The film stars two of my favorite Korean actors: Lee Byung-hun is Kim Soo-hyun, our avenging secret agent, and Choi Min-sik is Jang Kyung-chul, our serial killer. Lee's Soo-hyun is stoic and efficient and seems to get even more so as time goes on. He's keeping it all in, everything he feels, and he willingly walks on his chosen path of an eye for an eye. Choi's Kyung-chul is a monster. His insanity and blood lust are almost casual and are so much a part of him that it appears to be as natural as breathing. Both actors are great in their roles but Choi is unbelievable. It's my opinion that Choi is South Korea's best actor and we really see it here. This character might be up there as one of the greatest villains to grace the screen.

These two characters really face off with each other. Neither of them refuse to yield so you have these two immovable forces hurtling at each other like two trains.


There's a lot of violence and gore in this film and it's relentless, very graphic, and sickening. There's very little gun violence. Choi Min-sik is probably best known for his amazing role in Oldboy. Oldboy is violent as well but nothing like this. Choi's use of a hammer during the brilliant hallway sequence in Oldboy has become an iconic image, of sorts. He uses many hammers, knives, and other blunt and sharp objects during this film and uses them over and over. People in the audience kept reacting out loud to the violence: gasping, groaning, mumbling things like "do they have to show that?" I didn't see anybody leave but I was sitting closest to the screen. I wouldn't be surprised if a couple of people walked out.

Of course, this film is beautifully shot and scored. The sound is...both sickening and amazing. We would expect nothing less from our esteemed director. Mr. Kim was required to make certain cuts otherwise it would have been difficult to show this film in Korea. I'm looking forward to a director's cut with all the accompanying extras this film will surely have.


So I saw this film last Thursday night at Lumiere Theater and it clocked in at 144 minutes. I decided to see it again at Opera Plaza Cinemas on Van Ness on Sunday night and they cut about 20 minutes from the film! What the FUCK? I can't think of any reason why they did that. They cut an entire scene, the scene in the doctor's office. This scene is important because it's here you begin to understand what Soo-hyun is doing because it's more than just find the bad guy and then kill him. Also, it provides the explanation for why Kyung-chul is limping for the rest of the film. I've looked around for some kind of explanation for the shorter running time but haven't found one. I guess I should be glad I got to see the long version.


I really loved this film though I can't recommend it to anyone because of the violence. There are no heroes in this movie; it's not cool or awesome in any way. It's certainly not satisfying the way some revenge movies are. This is a film about destruction but it also has a kind of purity about it because it's gloriously uncompromising: The camera will not look away. It's supposed to be about what happens when someone goes down that black, bloody road known as revenge but this moral question becomes irrelevant after a while. This film is great because everyone knows what happens at the end of such an endeavor and the characters and director allow us to go there with them without trying to shield us from that awful place. Magnificent.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Writing Life: Dry

Time doesn't stop, the grains of sand keep slipping through old wavy glass. Desert wind blows, parching everything in its wake. I think to myself that I have so many ideas, whole universes of ideas, and they crowd round for the front row seats of my awareness yet on some days I'm dry as a bone and can't think of what to put down on the screen.

Stuff percolates underneath this bloodless surface fighting for exposure while I sit here at the keyboard waiting. What to write? What to write?

I don't usually experience writer's block but having decided to post regularly makes it difficult to come up with things to write about. Thankfully, this blog could be about anything but sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to come up with original content if I was just writing about movies, for example. The problem is I know I'd get bored quickly.

The biggest problem I'm having is it's necessary for me to stay focused on whatever interests/projects I have going on at any given time so it's difficult for me to think outside of those interests/projects. Blogging forces me to consider other ideas and other subjects to write about. This is good but somewhat uncomfortable since my mind really likes to stick with whatever has captured its attention.

You might think taking pictures would be an easy way around this dilemma. It can be but taking pictures requires effort as well. It requires me to leave my apartment and walk around. It requires enough focus to get into the "picture taking mode." Of course, carrying my camera around with me all time like I used to would make this process more natural.

When I first started blogging I had plenty to write about and posted almost everyday for a while. At the time blogging was my primary form of writing. Now I'm spending most of my time writing fiction and writing about my interests/obsessions as well as blogging. I'm still getting used to making this transition from one area of writing focus to three. I wonder if I can sustain this level of daily writing. I guess I'll find out soon enough.

Huh. I hadn't thought about shifting my focus from one form of writing to three until just a few minutes ago when I wrote the previous paragraph. This is interesting. I guess the challenge will be trying to figure out how to sustain such schedule without burning myself out. It's a good thing I have great endurance for writing but now it's clear I'm going to have to find out what else I need to do to keep this up.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Master Notebook and the State of My Obsession

One of my favorite programs is Circus Ponies Notebook. It's a note taking program which allows you to store text, pdfs, images, links, video, etc. You can also do outlines and to do lists, and it has a powerful search engine and clipping service. There are also sticky notes and flags you can affix to a page and you can change the look of the pages to lined, grid, etc. It's called Notebook because the interface looks like a three ring binder with tabs, dividers, and the like. That's all I'll say about its features. If you want to know more, check out the link there to its official website.

People use Notebook for many different things. Students use it, of course. Apparently, trial lawyers use it to create their trial notebooks. I used to dump things in it here and there and made random notes. Now I use it as a record of my various interests and obsessions. I call it my Master Notebook.

I get interested in certain subjects and tend to go all out with them as you might have noticed. Before I started using Notebook regularly I'd get interested in a subject matter, learn all about it, then move on. I almost never saved the information I learned and certainly didn't write about it unless I did a blog post. Yet I loved all the things I was learning and decided it was time to start creating records of my interests.

I'll start with my great interest in South Korean Cinema. Korean films are now my favorite film genre and my favorite actor is Korean. I've seen over 30 films so far and own a total of 17. I've started logging all the Korean films I've seen. I also have a page of Films Seen But Not Worth Logging. There are about six films on this list. It took me several hours one day to make the list of all the films but it was worth it.

A screenshot of the South Korean Cinema Table of Contents.

I have a four star rating system and will be putting the films in rating order. I prefer to use the Cornell Notes page style which Notebook allows you to choose as an option. The left side of the page includes director, year released, actors, the rating system, any short factual notes, and a summary of the story. It also notes whether I own it and when I saw it if I have that information. The right side is a photo from the film. The bottom is my review.

I'll also write any appropriate commentaries related to the subject matter. There's almost always a commentary entitled "How I Arrived at this Place and the State of My Obsession." This commentary discusses how I got interested in the particular subject matter and my personal history with it.

Eventually, I'll add an commentary about Song Kang-ho, my favorite actor and Park Chan-wook, my favorite Korean director. I'm certain I'll add additional articles about other directors, definitely Bong Joon-ho is at the top of that list. "The State of My Obsession" section is a kind of ongoing journal of notes with particular emphasis on the high level of interest I have in the subject matter.

I'll be going back to my first two film surveys of Akira Kurosawa films and Weimar Cinema and adding them to the Notebook. I'm planning to write a commentary about Kurosawa and three of the major actors he worked with (Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, and Tatsuya Nakadai). I'm also going to do a commentary entitled Fritz Lang and the Maverick Filmmaker for my Weimar Cinema survey. My only regret is that I didn't start this Notebook sooner. It would have so lovely to have notes and a log of these surveys as I went along.

Of course, I'm logging all the films for my Luis Bunuel survey as I go along with any commentaries that occur to me.

A screenshot of my Un Chien Andalou page using the Cornell Page style.

When I was attending the SF IndieFest I made sure to take good notes of the 16 films I saw. I didn't use the Cornell Note format for those notes. At the end I turned the part of the notes into blog post I did here.

The Master Notebook houses my current, all-consuming obsession with Fullmetal Alchemist or FMA. FMA is a manga by Hiromu Arakawa. I found FMA because I became interested in anime TV series and wanted to check some out. After doing some searches I decided to start with FMA because it was consistently ranked in the top five on almost every top 10 list of TV anime series I found. The idea was I'd add the entire series to my Netflix queue and watch the first two discs. By the time I got to the second disc and episode 7, I was completely hooked. The amount of media associated with this manga is impressive. In addition to the TV series with 51 episodes, there's a remake TV series of 61 episodes. There are movies and OVAs, not to mention the manga I haven't read yet. There are currently 24 volumes of the manga.

A screenshot of my summary of episodes from FMA Season One of the 2003 Series. Sure, Wikipedia and other websites have summaries but I prefer to do my own (this screenshot contains spoilers!)

One of my favorite pages from the Notebook is the "How I Arrived at this Place and the State of My Obsession" page for FMA. I love, love this page. The way I take my notes makes me sound like some starstruck teenager. It's badass.

Dates are very important in my notebook. I'm trying to record as accurately as possible when I see and do things. And pictures! They really add to the pleasure of flipping through the pages.

I usually open my Master Notebook first thing when I wake up my computer even before I check my email. I tend to leave it open all day long. I tell myself it's so I can just dump things into as I go along but the real reason is I like to stop for a few minutes here and there to flip through it or edit a page. I get so much pleasure looking through it.

I don't plan to share much of this information with anybody. All of this effort is for me and merely an extension of what I already do anyway. The only difference is I have a place to make notes and a format to put it in. As many of you know, I don't watch television and I spend a lot of time on the web looking up and learning new things. This Notebook provides me with focus and a depository for all that.

I love this thing. I just want to give it a big hug.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

City Life: Along The Embarcadero, Part 1 (Ballpark to Ferry Building)

The Embarcadero is a street that stretches from the end of China Basin where the Giants Ballpark is located all the way past Fisherman's Wharf. It runs right along the San Francisco Bay. Though I've taken plenty of pictures here, particularly of the Bay Bridge at night, I thought I'd do a little neighborhood walk for you all. According to Google Maps, it's about a 1.4 mile walk from the Ballpark to the Ferry Building.

B is where I started at the Ballpark. A is where I ended at the Ferry Building.

The home of our World Champion Giants

I've only been to a few games here but the ballpark is beautiful and right on the water. There are plenty of bars and restaurants in this area, not surprising. Sometimes it gets a little chilly during night games. The train station (Caltrain) is almost right across the street from the Ballpark, on the other side of The Embarcadero. There's a MUNI stop right in front of the stadium. Take the N Judah or T Third Street going Inbound (towards downtown).

Sorry I couldn't resist!

I took this walkway behind the Ballpark since it's right on the water. The small but historic Third Street Bridge is located directly behind me in this picture. This stretch of water is called McCovey Cove though it's official name is China Basin. On game days, small boats and kayaks hang around in case there's a fly ball to catch.

One of the many amenities at the Ballpark is this Waterfront Promenade (a little further down on the left side in the previous picture of the walkway) where people can stand and watch games for free. I think they clear the place out after every inning and the view is somewhat obstructed but you can still see what's going on.

This is a fishing pier at South Beach Harbor. As you can see it's located behind the Ballpark. You can walk all the way out and look out at the Bay.

The Harbor.

Continuing on in the direction of the Bay Bridge. It was very quiet when I was here (last Monday). Many times there are tons of people walking, biking, running, and on game days it's packed. The Playground is located on the left side of the walkway there (see below).

As you can it was a beautiful day in San Francisco last Monday. It's been raining the rest of the week. That street is The Embarcadero.

Cheap parking! We're close to the Financial District. As we get closer the parking prices go up. In some places, it can cost about $40 a day to park in one of the big parking garages. There are many smaller lots like this one close to the Ballpark, of course, and they are much cheaper during the day. On game days people charge a different rate.

I believe I've taken this picture before for this blog. Red's Java House is a hole in the wall greasy spoon featuring cheap prices for drinks (beer!) and food. I've only had breakfast here which I enjoyed but I love diner food anyway.

The underside of the Bay Bridge next to Pier 24. For some reason I love standing here and listening to the pock, pock sound of the cars on the lower deck of the Bridge on their way to the East Bay.

The East Bay is home to cheaper housing prices, Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, and various bedroom communities. I don't spend much time there unless I'm visiting friends or going to Berkeley Rep Theater for a show. I should do some exploration and post it here on this blog.

Another view of the Bay Bridge. That island there is Treasure Island, an artificial island halfway between San Francisco and Oakland. The lower deck of the Bridge takes you to Oakland, the upper deck into San Francisco. The Bridge is undergoing a years long retrofitting and upgrade to repair damage from the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.

The historic Hills Bros. Coffee building though you can't see the lovely sign from this angle. We're getting very close to the Financial District now.

This section of The Embarcadero is a nice park with plenty of places to sit, walk your dog, and have snack or picnic. I love these small watery sculptures on the sitting areas. There's also an upscale restaurant or two here though I haven't eaten at either place yet. As you might imagine this area is a prime spot for folks to stop at lunchtime during the week.

My heart in San Francisco. The name of this sculpture is "Cupid's Span" and it never fails to startle people driving by. The street is on the other side of the sculpture.

The Pier 14 walkway is a lovely stroll. You can walk all the way out and get great pictures of the Bay, the Bridge, the Ferry Building, and San Francisco skyline.

Ah yes, my beloved Ferry Building. Note the iconic tower and clock. The Amtrak office is immediately to my right. I say that because people have difficulty finding it even if there are a bunch of signs all over the place.

The inside of our historic Ferry Building.

True to its name you can catch a ferry to the East Bay for commute or other travel purposes here. The Building was closed while it underwent extensive renovations and reopened in 2003 as a gourmet marketplace. It's expensive here but friggin' awesome for great food, drink, whether for shopping or eating. The most upscale Farmer's Market in the City is here on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. I love working down here.

One of the many shops in the Ferry Building. This place just sells mushrooms and other fungi. Heaven!

The Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, home to many after work gatherings. I've been here many times myself. They also have a small wine shop and are great with their recommendations.

Another view of the Building near the front main entrance.

Ahhhh! One of my favorite places! The Cowgirl Creamery. See all that incredible cheese? They give out samples and are experts at helping you find good cheeses for a party, picnic, and give great recommendations for wine/cheese pairings.

Blue Bottle Coffee is generally considered to have the best coffee in the City. The place is usually mobbed. There's a Peet's too but this place is great.

The back of the Ferry Building. There are many more shops (tea shop, gelato, chocolate shops, small well-appointed grocery shops, you get the idea) and restaurants, of course. If you can manage to get a bench here on a nice day it makes for a lovely lunch outing. The places where you board the ferries are on the left.

Standing in front of the Ferry Building looking towards the bottom of Market Street and towards the Financial District. Justin Herman Plaza is across the street to the right as is Embarcadero Center. The Ferry Building/Embarcadero MUNI stop is here.

The Ferry Building MUNI stop is part of the Market Street/Wharves F Line with its historic street cars. You can take the street car up down the length of Market Street from here to The Castro and from here to Fisherman's Wharf.

I've crossed The Embarcadero and am now looking straight up Market.

The underground Embarcadero MUNI/BART station is just up the street on the right. There's also a California Street Cable Car stop next to the Hyatt Regency Hotel on the right as well. This cable car line goes from the Financial District, through Chinatown, over Nob Hill, and ends at Van Ness Avenue. A historic street car in red is coming towards me in this picture.

Part 2 of this post will conclude with my walk from the Ferry Building to Fisherman's Wharf.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Imaginary Friend

"We're in a holding pattern, Miss Turtle."

"Yes, we are," I say. A seagull is calling in the distance. I'm standing on my sloping rock but it's hard to be comfortable, my feet keep sliding down. I hop off and sit down on it instead. There's a large rock next to us, bigger than me, very smooth. It's an overcast afternoon at the shore.

"I suppose it's easier when you have hooves," I remark, "To keep from sliding off, I mean."

"When you have hooves, yes, I suppose it is easier. I don't have hooves," he says. He stops speaking for a moment then resumes, "You're trying to distract me again."

"No, I was merely remarking about the rock. I don't think I've ever mentioned it before."


Mr. Gryphon and I are standing in our usual places, the place of our origins. I'm not sure why we're here but it probably has something to do with the fact that we haven't spent much time on this stretch of shore since I started these blogs. The tide is going out. It's almost like the sea knows we're supposed to do the Lobster Quadrille soon.

"Shouldn't you be going to take a nap? Our girl is supposed to arrive at the appointed spot with the Duchess soon," I say. The wind ruffles my hair. It's breezy but not cold. The salty ocean smells gentle: tender rocks, soft sand, warm water.

"As I said, you're trying to distract me, Miss Turtle. I liked the other post better, the one on the spaceship. More importantly, there's another story to write about us. You haven't even started it yet."

I shake my head and turn away, looking out to sea. He walks around the rock and stands in front of me. I can't look at him. He opens his wings so quickly that a golden feather or two goes flying, startling me. He kneels down.

"Don't look away from me. I'm getting sick of it," he says, glaring at me.

"Don't yell at me!"

"I'm not yelling," he says, and for a moment he reminds me of someone. A unexpected memory shifts into my awareness, leaving me disconcerted.

"I'm busy. There's too much going on. I can't write this story down now. It will take forever, it's going to be long, and I really need to make some progress on my other writings," I say. I stand up and step around him, striding towards the water. The waves are rolling to shore in neat rows and the lowering tide has revealed many shells and rocks. In Miss Turtle's world, the beaches are not picked clean of such treasures. He comes after me, of course.

"We're in a holding pattern as I said. Everything is grinding to a halt. You need to work on this one," he says, right behind me. I mumble. "What?" he says.

I turn to face him. "I don't need to do anything. I don't even have to write this down if I don't want to," I say. He puts his hands on his hips and I feel the frustration rising inside me. "You! You are just a voice in my head, something that flies out of my fingers onto the screen! You don't exist!"

He folds his arms, a very familiar gesture. "I thought I was your imaginary friend."

This response makes me want to cry. I feel stupid all of a sudden or maybe I always feel stupid but am able to keep that feeling at bay some of the time.

"Write it down, please. You know it needs to be done," he says. He is unmovable.

I stiffen and clench my fists. "Who are you to tell me to just 'write it down'? Do you have any idea how much work goes into these stories? How much emotional energy is invested? For God's sake, I JUST LOST MY DOG. CAN'T YOU GIVE ME A BREAK??" We stand there looking at each other and I have to consciously let my shoulders relax and lower. I open my hands and look away from him again.

"I...I can't look at you anymore, Mr. Gryphon. I'm sorry," I say. I'm thinking that my level of stupidity has reached some serious heights now. Why do I torment myself like this? Is it so I don't get bored? Is that why?

"This is precisely the reason why this story has be written down," he says.

"I don't even plan on posting it. I think it's going too crazy for even me to read after I've written it down."

He opens his mouth to say something but he doesn't have to.

"You're right the other post is better but it sets the bar too high. How am I supposed to fulfill those kind of expectations?" I ask. A light rain is starting to fall. I look at the gray water and gray clouds. There's a sliver in the clouds far off shore and a stream of sunlight is shining on the water.

"I suppose our girl isn't going to show up after all. I don't think she has an umbrella with her," I say. The rain is warm and feels good. I raise my face to the falling water.

"Our conversation would be entirely too depressing if she came now," he says. I glance up at him and then away again. Normally, I'd call one of my blue doors so we can go to the parlor and have tea but he can only maintain the facade I've stuck on him for so long. Tea is out of the question. All of sudden I'm dead tired and want to be alone in my library or in the Conservatory but I know he'd follow me. He has to. As he said everything is at a standstill.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Old Blog: Alligator Munches Digital Camera

First Posted 11/30/05

Note: This incident took place at the old aquarium before the place was closed for renovations.

I volunteer at an aquarium. Been doing that for a long time. One Saturday, a panicked security guard comes running into the library where we were eating lunch.

Security Guard: "A visitor's lost his digital camera! He dropped it into the Alligator Pit while he was taking a picture!"

We all look at each other. Then one of my friends, let's call him Biologist 1, specialty: temperate salt water, says he'll go check it out. We resume our lunch. A few minutes later, he walks back into the library.

Biologist 1: "Uh, so the guy was taking a picture of the alligators while he was holding his kid at the same time and I guess the kid started squirming and he dropped the camera."

Biologist 2 (specialty: tropical salt water, in particular coral reefs): "So did you fish it out with the net?"

Biologist 1: "Uh, no. The alligator swam over as soon as he saw it and ate it."

He looks around uncomfortably. It is worth mentioning at this point that the Herpetologist on staff (specialty reptiles/amphibians) wasn't working on Saturdays. All of the other biologists working that day specialize in fish. No one in their right mind wants to have to get into the alligator pit with two alligators that are bigger than them just to retrieve a stupid camera.

Biologist 1: "I'll go talk to the guy again." He leaves.

We start talking about what an idiot that guy was to have dropped the camera. Isn't that why cameras have straps? Biologist 1 returns after a few more minutes. We wait.

Biologist 1: "So the guy's wife is insisting we go in there and pry the camera out of the gator's mouth. I explain there's no way we can do that and if she wants we'll send it to her when it comes out the other end. Then she starts screaming about how her brother's wedding pictures are on the camera and we HAVE to pry the gator's mouth open."

Biologist 2: "Did you tell her she's shit out of luck?"

Biologist 1: "I didn't have to. While we were having this conversation, the alligator decided he was tired of the camera and spat it out. I retrieved it with the net."

Biologist 2: "So are they happy now?"

Biologist 1: "No, the woman was so upset that the camera was ruined that she grabbed her kid and left the aquarium." He pulls a digital camera wrapped in plastic out of his pocket. One end is completely crushed and there are four perfect alligator tooth marks that go all the way through the camera.

Me: "Wait, isn't there a way to retrieve the chip and memory or something and get the pictures that way?"

Biologist 1: "I doubt it. The whole thing is soaking wet and has alligator slime and spit all over it."

Biologist 2: "They should have kept the camera as a special souvenir. Would have made a great story for their families and friends."

In the end, I think Biologist 1 kept the camera, but I'll have to ask him about that.

Note: This is the reason I always use the camera strap when taking pictures. Always, always, always, no matter how fast I'm trying to shoot I make sure to loop that little strap around my wrist. Also, years later I asked Biologist 1 if he still had the camera. He told me he ended up giving it to the Herpetologist.

The Old blog

When I first started blogging in 2005 I posted regularly for about eight months then shut the blog down for a few weeks. After flailing around, I started back up again. Don't ask me why. Let's just say it had something to do with one of my exs.

It took me several days to review the old blog and cut and paste almost all the posts for safe-keeping. I have everything in a Word document that's almost 100 pages long. I thought I'd put up a few of my old posts here on occasion. I really like some of the writing and very long time readers like my friend Anne will recognize many of them.

I hope you like these posts as much as I enjoyed writing them.