Tuesday, November 11, 2008


This week-end, L and I drove across the bay to pay an afternoon visit to Sausalito. Why? Well, why not. Once we established that Sausalito had a pet shop, we had to check that out, but not before going through the marina, which hosts some truly weird things, like this Taj Mahal replica, or this mutant floating log cabin.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Soapbox race at Dolores Park

There was a soapbox race in Dolores Park today. For those not familiar with the international soapbox racing circuit, a soapbox race is a competitive event where contestants use a home-made, non-motorized vehicle, and get an initial push from their team-mates to go downhill as fast as possible. Think hybrid between bobsled and circus.
The event was pretty amazing, and drew a crowd of 75,000 people - I have never seen Dolores Park so packed. There were 35 teams in competition, some pretty creative ones - and also some very nice crashes...

The slopes of Dolores Street are merciless.

No event in the Mission is complete without some random pirates.

They are going for speed!

The Hamster Weel team unfortunately didn't make it to the end, but was pretty cool while it lasted.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Urban Strip 4

Another piece in the series of sidewalk stencils that weave a story throughout the Mission - this one at the intersection of Guerrero and Cumberland:

She looks up at her landscape of concrete towers, shrouded in fog.

Go to next episode

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Saturday, July 26, 2008


L and I watched "The edge of heaven" (Auf der anderen Seite) yesterday - and both really liked it. It's more mature that Fatih Akin previous movie, and the permanent back and forth between the two languages was strangely appealing - Turkish being disorienting, German bringing back childhood memories.
After the movie, we stopped for dinner in Japantown, where we found multiple wish-trees. It felt very strange to browse through these anonymous requests - like reading through someone's diary. I found this one, left by a fellow rationalist, particularly endearing:
I wish for universal understanding of logic.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Conformity is addictive

Not taking deadlines too seriously was part of the spirit of May 68, so I don't feel too bad for posting mid-July this picture which would have been fitting for the 40th anniversary of that event...

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Special of the day

L and I had brunch at Zazie yesteday morning; the first item listed on the check was somehow unexpected. "SF health care ordinance $2.00". Uh? What is this about?

It seems that the City of San Francisco passed a legislation which requires mid-sized businesses to provide their employees with health care coverage; some restaurants, rather than increasing their prices on the menu, have opted to explicitly charge their patrons with an add-on to the bill.
I actually don't have a problem with this. after all, most restaurant invoices do have a "Tax" section, and I have no idea what it covers, so knowing that my "tax dollars at work" are serving a good cause is somewhat satisfactory. However, I see the point of people who just go to the restaurant to have a decent meal and a good time, and would prefer a plain price increase, to being dragged into a politicized discussion.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Man legs (two)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Where is the love?

In a city named after Saint Francis, patron of animals small and large, it was a bit odd to see this little dog waiting outside a pub on Valencia street.

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Sunday, June 8, 2008


Friday, May 23, 2008

Don't look any further than your own backyard

That's it, I now belong to the Oz-luminati, and I have seen Oz the Great and Powerful, in my own backyard, Dolores Park. As with most masterpieces, I had some idea of what to expect (L had briefed me quite a bit beforehand so that I would be ready), and I was still surprised. One thing I did not expect was the sudden switch from black-and-white (sepia, actually) to color; it is particularly effective, especially as it happens at a moment when the movie kicks into a scene that looks straight out of a deranged pothead fantasy - Munchkin land.
Munchkins in their natural habitat.

Munchkins sighting in Los Angeles.

Anyways, it was really fun. The open-air showing created a great ambiance; there was quite a crowd, strong whiffs of exotic plants being inhaled, and L and I had a big bag of popcorn and a great time. The movie is quite literally for all audiences: the dog of our grass neighbors really got into the movie, and strongly identified with the adventures of Toto the dog; at the same time, there is quite some exegesis around the movie, and its interpretation as a commentary on the relevance of the Gold Standard and other monetary policy considerations in the US. As a novice freshly initiated, I won't dare to comment on this question, but I definitely recommend this movie to fellow companions who want to gain a better understanding of America!

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Foundation books

When I was in high school, our philosophy teacher gave us parts of the Bible as a reading assignment. His opinion was that, regardless of one's opinion about the contents, it was a worthwhile read because of its huge influence on occidental thought and writing. At that point, I had largely parted ways with catholicism, but I actually really enjoyed the experience. I had attended catechism as a kid, but there the book was studied as a source of guidance, and I had largely missed (or forgotten) that it was also the origin of numerous popular expressions.
I had a similar experience much later as I attended a class in graduate school in California. The professor made a reference to a road of yellow bricks, which was absolutely unintelligible to me. Looking around in the classroom, I could observe a divide: while most foreign students looked utterly puzzled, it seemed to make sense for Americans. Later on, it was explained to me that it referred to "The Wizard of Oz" - and I discovered that, while maybe less influential on western thought overall, Oz permeates the American language, with its set of references, covering topics from Kansas to what's to be found over the rainbow.
I haven't had the opportunity yet to watch Oz, but this will finally change, as tomorrow, the movie will be played in open air in Dolores Park. I have great hope this will help me figure out some of the missing keys in understanding America!

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

We all scream...

for ice scream! Sunny days are here again, the days when it's so nice to have an ice-cream right after dusk, when the temperature slowly cools off. L and I are just back from Mitchell's - where we found out we were not alone thinking that the evening is a perfect time for an ice-cream!
Besides Mitchell's, another area was packed with people tonight, and that's the Castro, where people were celebrating the California Supreme Court's ruling.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Some more urban strip

On my way to the Cinco de Mayo party in Dolores Park, I had a good surprise; at the corner of 19th and Guerrero, I found another stencil on the sidewalk, which belongs to the series of small stories I had begun to follow. I had hit a dead-end and was stuck without indication as to where to look for, and was very glad to find this one out of sheer luck.
I could still not fully decipher it, any Champollion-esque expertise is appreciated!

An owl swoops by her,
a mouse clutched in its talons,
and flies towards Dolores park.
a. Compelled, she follows it.
b. Flustered, she continues on.
[Edited May 14th, with the help of the Resident Champollion, and Master of Words, Elif.]

b. leads to the illegible one, and then to this one.

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Sunday, May 4, 2008

Tres de Mayo

Yesterday was May 3rd, also known as Tres de Mayo. Tres de Mayo is a date of some significance in the history of Spain, and, apparently, of Poland and Lithuania. On the other hand, from a Mexican perspective, Tres de Mayo isn't particularly memorable; what matters is Cinco de Mayo, which commemorates one of the numerous times the French army got smashed, this one taking place in Mexico in 1862...
This year, Cinco de Mayo falls a Monday (tomorrow), which isn't that convenient to party and celebrate, so the Mission Neighborhood decided to celebrate it on Saturday in Dolores Park. It was pretty nice, albeit a bit windy, and I think the discrepancy between Cinco and Tres may have confused some people, because the park wasn't as packed as I expected it too be. Anyways, it was fun, and I got a few nice sunburns.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Count Orlock in the Castro

Tomorrow evening, the Castro theater has a double-feature not to be missed: two silent movie masterpieces, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari at 7pm, and Nosferatu at 9pm, with the Club Foot Orchestra playing live. There is even a third movie earlier that day, Sherlock Holmes Junior, but remembered that "the better is the enemy of the good", so L and I will just go to two movies, and skip Sherlock. Can't wait!

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Friday, March 28, 2008

San Jose Showdown

Even though the Shamrock vs. Cung Le Strikeforce event has suffered some setbacks - Jake Shields injured, Nick Diaz preemptively banned because of his preference for marijuana "over Ritalin or anti-depressants" - I am still pretty stoked to watch the main fight tomorrow in San Jose.
It's an intriguing fight, pitting the two most notable fighters of the areas, two guys who have in common a following of both rabid fans and fervent haters. It's also an interesting fight, because both bring very clear strength to the ring, as well as huge question marks.

Frank Shamrock is an early days Fedor Emilianenko of sorts. He has a stellar career, and in his heyday, he was arguably the first ever complete fighter. The issue is, after a hiatus of nearly a decade, his come-back has not been exactly conclusive. Taken down at will by Renzo Gracie, winning gassed out against Baroni, winning a meaningless victory against a newbie in Cesar Gracie, his last outings have not provided any clear answer as to whether the Shamrock of today could be as dominant as he used to be.
By contrast, Cung Le has made a name for himself on the San Shou circuit, with an unquestionable striking game. The question is, how good is his ground game? While better prepared than most strikers transitioning to mma, because of the throws incorporated in San Shou, critics have pointed that his mma opponents so far have been handpicked to make him look good. Cung Le is known to be a hard worker, and has no doubt developed his ground, but no one has seen it really tested yet in action. Will that be sufficient to tackle an opponent known for his submissions?
On paper, I would tend to expect Shamrock to win, through experience, power, and his superior ground game; but what makes this fight tough to call is its unknowns - the extent of each of these guys' known weaknesses. Has Frank Shamrock passed his prime? Is Cung Le also able to win when taken to the ground? I can't wait to get the answer, and I expect a good fight, because so much is at stake in this fight, and both guys always come motivated. Regardless of the outcome, I also expect the boards to go into wild discussion mode afterwards, as whoever wins will likely receive no credit, but rather be criticized for defeating an opponent with known shortcomings...

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Friday, March 21, 2008

The End

This is the resolution of the unbearable suspense of the "urban strip" decorating the sidewalks of 18th street; this one is located at the intersection of 18th and Valencia, on the north - east corner.

He gets a delicious churro but it fails to fill his existential hollow.

Back to previous episode

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008


On Howard street, close to 8th I believe, there is a building which catches my eyes every time. If Salvador Dali and M.C. Escher had a child who went into architecture and crack, this is probably what he would build. I didn't have enough time to check what the deal is; having a giant clocks or pieces of furniture crawling on the walls certainly does give lots of cachet to the place, but living with the windows permanently open to provide them with an escape route can't be that convenient to conduct business or live in...

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Urban strip

One thing I like about my neighborhood is that there are stencils everywhere; decorative or political, on the walls or the sidewalk. The one I like most is a series on 18th street. It is a series narrating a story with multiple choices; the ink has been fading away, which adds to the mystery.
The segment below is at 18th and Valencia, and is the penultimate of the plot. Unfortunately, when I followed the mouse down towards Dolores, I could not find any follow-up, but I saw a spot which looked like it had been whitewashed... I hope this isn't it...

A white mouse peeks its head out of the sewer grates and gives him an inquisitive glance. He swears the mouse winks before it scurries on 18th.
a. Intrigued, he follows the mouse.
b. Dismissive, he shrugs it off.

To be continued...
[Note: if you know of other stencils that are part of this series, please let me know!]

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Monday, February 18, 2008

A trip to the South Bay

I originally wanted to write something about my two recent super American experiences, Super Bowl XLII, and Super Tuesday 2008, but I have been down with a cold, and in the time it took me to get back on my feet and catch up with things, these two events have been talked about to death; so I will keep my thoughts on football and politics to myself for now, and discuss MuShu and shower heads instead.
This Saturday, I was coordinating an educational event organized by Bay.Net in Cupertino. I really don’t go to the South Bay much since I moved to San Francisco, and even though it has only been three years since I left Palo Alto, it feels like an eternity, and this trip was almost nostalgic. Luckily, a friend of mine who lives in Santa Clara let me crash at his place on Friday evening, which spared me a drive at the crack of dawn from San Francisco. L was at Stanford on Friday, so we decided to have dinner at Windy’s, on University avenue in Palo Alto, but found out when arriving there that it had closed, for good. I was surprisingly sad – this is where I had my fist MuShu, and it was the best I had tasted in the Bay Area. As an aside, if you know a great place for MuShu in San Francisco, you will earn lots of gratitude points!
After dinner, I drove to my friend’s place. The South Bay archetypal habitat is a 2-store condo, built in the middle of a parking lot and around a swimming pool; its paper-thin walls make it possible to hear in utmost details the days of your neighbors unfolding, and thus create a great sense of community. Fortunately, my friend lives in a house he shares with 2 other software engineers, another pretty typical combination, but definitely a step up comfort-, and privacy-wise.
So I crash, and Saturday, 7 am, I wake up, in an unfamiliar environment. There is no coffee – a shower is what I need now to start the day right, and get my thoughts together. So I head to the shower, and find the following shower mechanism. Aha – a challenge!

After 5 good minutes, I have made some progress. I quickly figured out how to get the water flowing, by turning the large handle, and I painfully figured out how to adjust the water temperature, by changing the angle between the second handle and the first one. This one was trickier, but the red/blue symbols on the handle provided a hint. Anyways, I finally got hot water, but was now stuck on the last but crucial step: how to get the water to flow to the shower head, instead of the faucet located one foot above ground level?

There is usually some lever to pull or push to do that, so I started to pull and push everything I could, but to no avail. By a lucky turn of events, one of the roommates was already up to go to triathlon practice, so I gave up, swallowed my pride, and asked what the trick was. Here it is:

You seriously have to wonder what perverse mind designed this; it is a very clever design, if your goal is to make sure no one will find out the mechanism. Had I not read The Design of Everyday Things, I may have been a bit depressed that after all this years of costly education, I was still unable to get a shower to work; instead, I felt excited I had found another remarkable specimen of terrible design.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Social Distortion

Last Monday, I went to the Social Distortion concert at the Fillmore, thanks to a friend of mine who got an extra ticket. I knew close to nothing about the band beforehand; based on some crude sociological profiling of people I had seen sporting Social D. gear, I knew it was some punk-rock type of band (see poster below), but I had never heard their music.

Therefore, I was a bit surprised when the concert opened with an accordion, an upright-bass and two acoustic guitars; no drums, no distortion, and plenty of country, a genre I know almost nothing about, besides the "Johnny Cash at Saint Quentin" album.

The sound gained some muscle midway through; still, there was plenty of country: they closed with "The Rings of Fire", and played quite a few Hank Williams covers, if I am to believe my friend. All in all, the result was very successful, and in retrospect, made me realize that both punk-rock and country have something in common with one of my favorite genres, blues: all three are so formulaic, technically simple, and stripped down, that artists cannot hide behind gimmicks: only bands who know how to own a stage, and put some sincerity and personality in their music can play in these styles without sounding like a parody. Social Distortion definitely passed the test.
A last thing: that concert also made me happy for another reason. I really like the free posters the Fillmore distributes after concerts, but the last times I had been there, zilch! No poster. I had come to believe that this tradition had gone, and was really happy to receive a poster at the end - even though I don't think I'll hang it in my living room.

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Friday, February 8, 2008

Avec le sourire!

I have a lot of catching up to do, and until I find the time to share with you some of the events that have kept me busy last week, I will try to buy some time by sharing a nice cup of coffee with you:

I am usually not big on the whole "barrista" culture, which is in my mind associated with the whole Starbucks thing; but as L and I went for breakfast this morning, my coffee came decorated with this smiling face which I found pretty nice, so I tip my hat off to the Barrista at "la Boulange de Cole Valley".
As an aside, though, the random shortening of words in French ("Clim'") is a pet peeve of mine, and "Boulange" is one of the worst offenders out there.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

40 days, 40 nights

It's been what? A week or two of rain, and besides bringing out the fungi-like creatures in San Francisco, it's starting to depress the hell out of me. A long time ago, in a former life, I was used to this kind of weather, but California has done it to me: any week which doesn't include basking in the sun feels like an abnormality. Where is global warming when you need it?

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Literary readings

Thanks to my status of happy satellite of the D-list, new circles are revealed to me, and I am introduced to events the existence of which I did not even suspect before. My latest initiation was to the literary reading circuit. When L told me that we were going to a reading featuring Ann Gelder, I was not too sure what to expect. Not having much of a point of reference, I remembered a high-school lecture on "the battle of Hernani", and vaguely imagined authors reading their texts with revolutionary ardor, furiously arguing for the need to radically renew their art form.

Things did not quite turn out that way. The reading was hosted in the Bernal Yoga center; I owe to its policy of "no shoes inside" the knowledge that writers, like us mere humans, go to Mervyn's to renew their stockpile of socks. The Bernal Heights neighborhood provided an unexpectedly rich audio background to the reading - a Safeway cart shuffling in the adjacent street, and what sounded to the untrained ear like a duck being chased by a dog.
To be perfectly honest, it was not my first reading, and it confirmed something I did not expect initially: I do enjoy readings. I like to read in the privacy of my couch, following my own pace and going back to passages I enjoy, so I imagined initially that having to follow someone else's rhythm would be more of an imposition than anything. Quite to the contrary, it turns out that listening to someone else has a very soothing quality, and creates a state of mind which is very different from reading the text itself, simultaneously surrendering to it, and paying more attention to individual words so as no to lose the flow. The cushioned and peaceful atmosphere of the yoga center may have contributed to this, but it made me think that the pleasure I had as a kid when I was told stories must have been similar.

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Friday, January 18, 2008


Seen at Suriya, a Thai restaurant on Valencia Street, a mysterious assortment of animals; mysterious not that much for the animals themselves, but for the fact that they all proudly exhibit a strangely long, frog-like tongue.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

UFO Response Team

A few days back, bizzflip asked the following question:
What are you more likely to see in San Francisco, a UFO flying overhead or an available parking space near where you want to be?

As a proud inhabitant of SF, I'll tell you that I rated the difficulty of this question "easy"; but I now decided it was time to downgrade it to "trivial". Not only is a mysterious UFO Response Team fearlessly making sure the City remains a UFO-free environment, but they also began taking some of the few parking spots that were still available...

Mea Culpa, January 16th
Ooops coming too close to the Proton Packs laying in the trunk of that car must have interfered with my brainwaves; I should be downgraded, as the question went up from "easy" to "slightly tricky".

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Monday, January 14, 2008


Oxymoron seen on Irving Street, in the Sunset area.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008


Seen on 24th street, in the Mission.


Sunday, January 6, 2008

Tempest in San Francisco

San Francisco has been hit since Friday by what has been poetically described in the blogosphere as "a big ass storm". Like a few others, L had no power at her place on Twin Peaks on Friday. Comparatively, I haven't seen too much damage in the Mission - just heavy gusts of wind and rain, and the tragic end of my tomato plant, which was broken off its pot. I had nurtured it with great care last year, and was rewarded for my efforts with one single and tiny, yet oh so beautiful tomato, which I remember happily sharing with L. Good bye, tomato plant! You were maybe not the most impressive out there, but you made me really proud, and it was a pleasure taking care of you.

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Thursday, January 3, 2008

Fortune cookies: a review

The New Year is not that new any more by now, but that won't prevent me to keep on the theme of good wishes; this time, with a showdown between Burmese and Chinese fortune cookies collected end 2007. Introducing first in the red corner, a Burmese restaurant from the Inner Richmond, which serves a killer tea leaves salad, and is a great fall-back plan if you are not in the mood for a one-hour wait at the nearby Burma Star, is Mandalay. In the blue corner, its opponent, located on the right side of the Balboa Theater, is a small (and pretty decent) Chinese restaurant the name of which escapes me at the moment.
From the bell, this match is not even a contest; it's a gross mismatch, and a total slaughter. The Chinese subtlety is no match for the straightforward, no-nonsense Burmese style. Seriously - "Your luck has been completely changed today"? I give that up any time of the day, even if the change is complete, for a guaranteed "comfortable old age". I'll give you that, "You should be able to make money and hold on to it" sounds a bit too uncertain for my taste; but then, what kind of advice or promise is "investigate new possibilities with friends"? Nah, I say, a definitive Burma 1 - China 0 on that one.


Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Your weight in '08

In this period of new year's resolutions, the walls of San Francisco have some words of wisdom: remember that
The average U.S. woman is 5'4" and weighs 140 lbs, whereas the average U.S. model is 5'11" and weighs 117 lbs.

So have a happy new year, everybody, may 2008 be all you wish it to be - and... love your curves!


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Fillmore in 08'

HGTV is sponsoring a campaign focusing on revitalizing communities across the country, and the Fillmore neighborhood of San Francisco is among the selected projects. If you are into music, chances are you have been to the Fillmore area already; and you would also most likely agree that a face-lift would do it lots of good. So go and vote for the Fillmore! You can officially vote once a day until December 21st.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Hands up

You have to give it to them, X-21, on Valencia, has a knack for eye-catching window-dressing. As I heard a passer-by say, "Wow! That's a lot of hands right there!" I found this sea of raised hands slightly uncomfortable to watch, though.

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Sunday, December 9, 2007

Oy to the world

The Mission is a politically assertive neighborhood, where opinions and messages pertaining to all sorts of important causes are ubiquitous; still, I was somewhat surprised to see from the corner of my eye a proud Israeli flag in the window display of a vintage-clothing shop (Retro Fit) on Valencia street today. Where I expected your standard "peace-and-love" T-shirt variety, its message turned out to be a kabbalistic "Oy to the world". The through Google research that followed yielded two conclusions:
1) the fuzziness around the definition of "Oy" (an interjection "used especially to express exasperation or dismay", dixit Webster) does not allow me to conclusively interpret the message "Oy to the world",
2) after visiting Oy Bay ("The Jewish Blog-by-the-Bay"), I realized my perception of Hanukkah as an old-fashioned, traditional celebration needed to be updated. ("Girdle your circumcised loins with sour cream or apple sauce, Heebs! Crazy latke-dreidle dancin’ comin’ atcha!" “Getting Krunk (Kosher Drunk) with Dan Wolf“). Happy Hanukkah!

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Friday, December 7, 2007

Vampire Weekend, the return

Vampire Weekend was back in San Francisco last Wednesday, this time at the Independent, as the headliner, and with an album soon to be released. Besides that, not much has changed - the band is still as endearing, and I am still a fan of the "Upper West Side Soweto style". They hinted at a second album (we even had the honor of having a song premiered), and announced another passage in the Bay Area in January; you have to wonder when that second album will materialize, if they keep touring the way they have been...

I really enjoyed the opening band, Grand Ole Party, as well. A band with a female drummer who is also the lead singer is pretty unusual, and gets your attention; but it's the music itself that kept me engaged afterwards. It had all the qualities of a good power trio - compact, simple, and catchy.

And I can't resist - I have to point at the angle of the pictures (I certainly can't brag about the quality of the pictures themselves). That's right, they were not taken from crowd-level, but rather from the VIP, invitation-only balcony... Knowing someone on the D-list has its perks!

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Thursday, December 6, 2007

It's fall in the Mission

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Go west, sad young literary men!

They came, and they went; after launching issue 6 in the San Francisco Bay Area, and one week of readings and a memorable party, the n+1 crew is off to other destinations. The itinerary goes something like this: Los Angeles, Seattle, Vancouver, and Portland, and for those who wonder about the logic behind this apparently erratic back-and-forth, it seems that being a talented editor and emerging writer does not automatically imply solid notions of geography.

Anyways, the n+1 party last week was a blast; how can you go wrong, when you start on such solid premises as one-dollar drinks? One dollar at a time, I progressively lost focus, until I finally forgot about taking pictures altogether - so what you see below is only representative of the very early part of the event...