Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the category “hidden treasures”

Freeway Free in San Francisco: Hangin’ out in the ‘Hood

San Francisco is a city of neighborhoods. Each has its distinctive personality, though they do evolve slowly. The Tenderloin has retained its seedy Character ever since the days of Dashiell Hammett, even though it is tightly sandwiched in between upscale Union Square and the culture-heavy Civic Center. Sea Cliff and Pacific Heights are posh, the Richmond and Sunset districts are full of fog and families, while South of Market (SOMA) is still heavily ethnic and blue-collar.

W and I were invited for dinner in the Dubose Triangle. This is a quiet neighborhood of Victorians which have been cut up into apartments and condos, tucked between the flamboyant Castro District and trendy Cole Valley. We met our host at Dubose Park, just next to the runner where the N-Judah dives underground below Twin Peaks before surfacing in the Sunset District near the beach. The lower section of Dubose Park is dedicated to dogs , with all varieties of mutt and breed frolicking on green and well-kept lawn. The upper section requires leashing so that toddlers can learn to crawl on the grass and families can picnic.

We met our host next to the fenced=in play structure, where he and his neighbors were chatting about good places to camp with children, plans for their next getaway, and the difficulties of finding contractors to do minor remodeling and repairs.

When our hostess arrived after her work-from-home meeting, we pulled the pre-schooler away from her posse and ambled back down to the house. On the way my host was greeted over and over by passers by. “I’ve lived in this neighborhood for fifteen years,” he shrugged. “i know a lot of people.”

Who says urban life is cold?

Freeway-Free in Texas: Past Presence in Bosque County

The day dawned gray and gloomy, with promise of drizzle to come, but we had planned for some weather, and had an indoor outing in our mental hip pockets (I should say W had planned; I was along for the ride.) After a bracing breakfast of yogurt and tangerines, washed down with hot tea, we headed for Clifton, the county seat of Bosque County, and its Bosque Museum.

As you enter the museum, you pass a small oak tree, with a plaque noting that the tree was planted in 1982 by King Olav V of Norway. It’s amazing to think that European royalty made a pilgrimage to this area in honor of its early Norwegian settlers. A section of the museum is devoted to this colony of Norwegians, and features charming displays of furniture and other artifacts which were crafted by these early settlers.

Near the entry lobby of the museum is an animatronic recreation of county resident Al Redder, an amateur archaeologist who in 1967 suspected that a cave overlooking the Brazos River on his ranch might harbor some traces of earlier settlements. After carefully marking off and mapping the site according to the requirements of a proper archaeological dig, he began excavation. He found signs of camps by several different Indian tribes who had passed through the area, and he kept going. More artifacts surfaced. And more. Finally, 14 feet down, he found bones, those of a 40ish man and a young girl, buried together, both in fetal position, and surrounded by traces of jewelry and tools. It turned out that these were the second oldest human remains found in North America, and one of only three burial sites that included ritual artifacts. The exhibit chronicling the discovery and its signficance is fascinating.

The third section of the museum is devoted to the “Bosque Seven.” Bosque County has attracted a number of artist who specialize in Western themes and landscapes, and a large room is devoted to examples of their work. I’m not one who would hang a painting of a roundup in my family room, but some of the landscapes were very lovely.

Following our time in the museum, we explored downtown Clifton. There is the mandatory confection of a courthouse, commons to every county seat in Texas that has not succumbed to Urban Renewal, a Main Street that seems frozen in the 1920’s, including a genuine soda fountain still in business, and the usual stores featuring antiques, collectibles, and souvenirs. W bought a kerosene lamp to have on hand for the next Texas energy emergency. Then back to our shelter, with rain still threatening, we had our midday dinner and settled into a quiet afternoon and evening.

That didn’t last.

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot- Week 29: Getaway Gone

Our favorite getaway spot, just an hour and a half from the busy Bay Area, has been the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove.  This historic retreat was originally a YWCA leadership camp , with historic redwood buildings designed by Julia Morgan, who also designed many of the buildings at William Randolph Hearst’s La Cuesta Encantada in San Simeon (AKA Hearst Castle).    The Center is nestled amid cypress trees and sand dunes just across from Asilomar State Beach on the quiet side of the Monterey Peninsula, separated from touristy and cutesified Carmel by the gorgeous twisting 17-Mile-Drive along the Monterey coastline. .

For the first part of the Lockdown, the Conference center was commandeered by the State as a place to quarantine people who had been exposed to the virus.   After the first surge, the center was emptied and sanitized, but its conference business had dropped to zero.  It reopened to the public only a few weeks ago.  D and I were desperate to get away from our same daily rooms, and reserved a night.  That week the wildfires blazed up, and the Air Quality in Pacific Grove was rated Hazardous.  We rescheduled.  Two weeks later the fires were contained, the air had cleared and we were on our way.

Usually the Conference Center is humming with conferees, who might include  quilters, nutritionists, corporate retreaters, and many other groups.  But there are usually a few unfilled rooms which are available at reasonable cost to the non-conferring public at the last minute.  If you have breakfast in the Dining Hall you will sit at whatever table is not filled, and be liable to have an interesting conversations with whatever genial strangers share the table.  The Lodge is full of teenagers waiting their turn at the pool table or conferees scanning brochures about local activities, or picking up souvenirs at the Park Store.

But that was Before.

As we drove in, the parking lots were nearly empty.  The lodge itself was posted with the first of many signs notifying visitors of curtailed services. “Lodge open for check-in from 2PM to 8PM.”  It was 3PM, so we entered .  The cavernous lodge was empty except for the young lady at the reception desk and one computer jockey at a well-isolated table.  The room was posted with signs saying “[fill in blank] is not available to guests at this time.” (e.g. swimming pool, lodge fireplace, park store, pool table, piano…).  The brochure stand was empty, but we invited to hold up your phones to a QRcode to download information.  The Dining Room was closed also, as were the bike rentals.

All the same, it was a wonderful getaway.  We could sit on our balcony among the cypress trees and look out to a sparkling ocean.  And when we walked down to the beach, we saw that there are some family pleasures that even COVID-19 cannot close down.

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot: Week 19 – Revisiting a Blast from the Past

tarzan_jumpdocYears ago, my father used to say “Everything I know about life I learned from  Tarzan of the Apes.” Although some tattered Tarzan paperbacks were around the house, somehow I never got around to reading them, though my kid sister read the series avidly.  Some time back I mentioned this family story to my husband, and as a gag gift at Christmas he gave me the first four books of the series.  They sat on my bookshelf untouched until four months into lockdown.  With all libraries closed and the neighborhood Little Free Libraries exhausted, I turned in desperation  to the Lord of the Jungle for escape.

Fortunately, I was able to remember that my father was laughing when he claimed Tarzan as his literary preceptor.  The book was published in 1912, and by today’s standards is offensively racist, with its portrayals of black Africans as vicious and cowardly: sexist, with its portrayals of Jane Porter and other women as helpless creatures instinctively drawn to the alpha male; and even animalist – Jane Goodall would shudder at the way Burroughs describes the life and traits of the Great Apes.TarzanJanedoc

If you can overlook the above offensiveness, the story can suck you in.  Tarzan’s birth, adoption by the apes, upbringing, and his discovery by other white men are ingeniously plotted (though Burroughs probably owes a lot to Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli of The Jungle Book). The first volume, Tarzan of the Apes, takes our hero through the events of the above paragraph, terminating with his unselfish refusal to claim either his title of Lord Greystoke or the woman he loves from the hands of the man, his friend, who has  taken both.

Tarzan2Of course, we couldn’t leave it there.  The second volume, The Return of Tarzan, sees Tarzan transformed into a 1912 version of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher: handsome, well-spoken, without ties, and able to fend off an adoring female or fight off  a dozen malefactors without suffering a scratch. I’m about half-way through this volume, but I’m pretty sure that Tarzan’s true love Jane Porter will end up in his arms by the end.  After all, I still have Son of Tarzan and Tarzan the Untamed waiting on the shelf, and I’m pretty sure Tarzan didn’t get it on with any of the apes.

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot – Week 7: Nature’s soft side shows in Spring

Nature has been throwing  us a lot of nasties in the last months – pandemic, killer tornados, smothering snow, torrential rain, and historic drought levels, to name a few.  And then, as if to make up for the tantrums, she sends us a Spring as lavish and luscious as any I can remember.  From native-plant gardens,  to cultivated rose gardens, to bursting containers, everything that has ever thought of blooming in my own garden and my neighborhood is out-doing itself this year.

Above: Poppies, sage, lupine, and blue-eyed grass from a native-plant garden in a nearby park.

Above: calendula, roses, raphiolepsis and orchids in my own garden.

Above: ranunculus border, tulips, wisteria, and rhododendron from a heritage garden nearby.

Above: cultivated roses at a neighboring university campus.

I hope these pix refresh you a bit, especially those of you who are still snowbound as well as lockdown-bound.  Spring still arrives, in spite of everything!

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot – Week 6 -Lockdown Extended 4 more weeks!

 

Cooped up with the morning paper and the hourly news, one would think the apocalypse is at hand.  A walk in nature is called for, but where does one go during lockdown?   Many parks are closed, or have closed the  parking lots  in order to discourage crowding, or at least have cordoned off picnic tables and playgrounds.

20200403_172027webWe found a little oasis not too far from our home – theBlackberry Farm Preserve.  Normally, this green dell offers visits to farm animals and truck gardens as well as grassy paths, but these tours and visits are now locked off.  The playground and picnic areas are also marked as dubious.  But the stately redwoods, the creek,  the twisted bay trees, the fearless deer, and the feral vincas are all still available to soothe the restless mind.

 

 

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot – Week 5 – in praise of Little Free Libraries

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Thank goodness for the Little Free Libraries which have popped up over the last several years in my neighborhood!  With the public libraries closed during Lockdown, these are the source for books I would not have thought of reading an movies I would not have thought of watching. These little neighborhood oases of exchange are so welcome!

Each library has its own style.  Some are shingled, some are stained wood, some are gaily painted.  I’ve seen one made from a doll house,  and one  splash- painted with peace symbols.  On my street is ones built into a stone pillar,  with an accompanying bench seat if you can’t wait to start reading. One is decorated inside with  origami flowers, and gives away origami bookmark.  One gives away colored pencils, sharpeners, and erasers as well as books.

And each has its own literary personality.  One  offers a lot of teenage fantasy novels featuring magic and quests.  One is almost exclusively filled with early-reader story books. One has a lot of 20200406_114628webclassy trade paperbacks which look like they were originally purchased for a book club. Another features a variety of interesting non-fiction.

20200407_080112webOf course, anything you put out for the public is liable to malicious abuse.  A neighbor had worked with her daughter’s Girl Scout troop to set up a Little Free Library in front of her house.  The girls decided it would be good to make it into a food pantry during the Lockdown, and stocked it with canned goods and dried pasta.  The next morning the door had been ripped off and the canned goods had been scattered around, dented, wrappers ripped off.  The debate began – was it vicious mean-spirited teens, or was it racoons attracted by the food?  A neighbor’s security camera settled the question several days later:  it was a person, not an animal.  Maybe he was crazy-mad because he was hoping to find a book?  New hinges were bought, and the Little Free Pantry is open again, fingers crossed.

Each one of these carefully built, gaily decorated, and communally filled mini-libraries is like one of those magic boxes in fairy tales that, no matter how much you draw from it, is never empty, but always refills with a new treasure.  Every time I pass one and open the door, I might find a book I will never want to give away.  And if not, I’ll be able to try again. Thanks to all my librarian neighbors!

 

 

Freeway Free in California: A Serene Escape from COVID-19 Stress

20200310_123757webI live in a COVID-19 hotspot – 43 cases and one death since the beginning of March – and public and private events are being cancelled left and right to prevent transmission.  So what is one to do if you are healthy, not in one of the “vulnerable” groups, and needing some relief from the stress of it all?  Maybe it’s time to visit a local museum.

The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco is one of my favorites.  I visited this week and found plenty of parking in the Civic Center Garage ($12.00 for 5 hours), two featured exhibits of great interest, no crowds, and decent food at the museum restaurant.  And if you are looking for stress relief, Asian art is all about serenity.

20200307_121146webThe exhibit that drew me to the museum featured Zhang Da Qian (Chiang Dai-Chien in traditional transcription) who was the Pablo Picasso of 20th Century Chinese art.  His work spans styles ranging from impeccable copies of venerated Chinese master artists of the past, to modern splash-ink impressions worthy of Jackson Pollock.  He lived in mainland China, Brazil, Argentina, Taiwan, and California, and in each venue did his best to promote appreciation of Chinese art.  One of the featured works in this exhibit is titled “Scholars on a wilderness path”, but the giant monolith in the background must be Half Dome.

Other paintings include a marvelous white gibbon, a black horse grazing in a blue-green pasture, a Tibetan dancer, several giant lotuses, and landscapes formed from giant splashes of ink enhanced with a few brush-strokes to define space, foliage, light, and dark.

After studying Zhang’s various works, a stroll through the adjacent Korean gallery offers a different range of experiences.

You can admire a glowing white “moon jar”, pristine on its wooden shelf, and discover an Asian precursor of the classic patchwork quilt, made from silken scraps.

Or perhaps you will spend some time in another featured exhibit, called “Awakening” which walks you through several centuries of Buddhist tradition, juxtaposing ceremonial vessels made from human skulls, many-armed monsters intricately carved and painted, and dainty gilded bronze sculptures celebrating sensual tenderness.

Or maybe some of the more modern pieces will appeal to you, like this sculpture by Liu Jianhua formed of letters and Chinese characters on view just outside the Korean section. 20200307_121012web

The museum restaurant,Sunday at the Museum, features Asian style street food such as Vietnamese Pulled pork sandwiches, Japanese ramen noodles,  and Chinese dumplings.  You order at a counter and the food is brought piping hot to your table.  Of course you could get better Chinese food in Chinatown, better ramen in Japantown, but the setting attractive and the service is fast and friendly.

If you have children tossed out of their school/daycare, the museum usually has some activities geared toward children set up either in an activity area or  in the Shriram Learning Center on the first floor.

Travels with a Tiny Trailer – Day 5: the Home Stretch

20191022_125051webBack to Bro’s house after our wet, windy, but wonderful weekend at Ft. Stevens State Park.  A night snuggled under C’s cozy quilts, and a day spent visiting nearby relatives.  Then it’s time to hit the road again.

About those bicycles that we never used.  I hate to ask Bro to get up on a ladder to hoist them to the top of the Tiny Trailer, since he has been allergic to ladders since his death-defying dive a few years ago.  But wrestling them into the back of Sis’s compact SUV was such a pain. Then I get a flash of brilliance – why not take the front wheels off the bikes?  Doh!  Suddenly stashing the unused wheels was so easy!  We are packed and ready to roll by the time Bro and his wife C have left for work.

20191022_131329webOur first stop – a quick visit to the local grocery to replenish our stocks of butter, cheese, and wine.  By the time we exit the grocery, the morning  drizzle has given way to sunshine.  We make excellent progress down I-5 through Portland and Salem, and stop for our mid-day refreshment at the Albany rest stop  about 15 miles south of Salem.  Okay, so a highway rest-stop is not exactly a camping haven, but the big rigs kept their distance, and this particular stop does boast the world’s quaintest rest stop visitors’ center.

We follow Bro’s sage advice for our evening stop, and mak our way to  Schroeder County Park tucked away behind suburban streets just outside Grant’s Pass.   This is a lovely park  right on the Rogue River, with lots of trailer sites, and EVERY ONE OF THEM A PULL-THROUGH SITE! No more spending a half hour backing and swerving into the site!  A chance to eat before 9PM!  Truly a Hidden Gem!

We actually got to set up in daylight.  Since it was NOT raining, we left the add-on tent in its wrapper in back  of the SUV, and used the convenient picnic table.  We cooked our chicken on our two burner range, and ate by head-lamp light.  And afterward we built a fire from a bit of shredded newspaper and five twigs.  Now THIS is what camping is about!

And so to bed. The most triumphant day of our trip – on our own, and everything worked!20191022_195634web

Freeway Free in Oregon – the Columbia River Maritime Museum

[AKA: Travels in a Tiny Trailer – Day 4]

20191019_143112webIf you are going camping in a tiny trailer, and you left your bikes at home because the forecast call for a 99% chance of rain,  better hope you can find some indoor activity to pass the time!  If you are camping at Ft Stevens State Park you are in luck, because you are only a short drive from the quaint town of Astoria, [more on this later] and its Columbia River Maritime Museum. 

 

The CRMM is an amazing little museum with exhibits including early navigational charts, an IMAX theater showing films from Jacques Cousteau and others, a comprehensive map of shipwrecks at the mouth of the Columbia River, and a sea-sickness-inducing recreation of what it is like to be on a Coast Guard cutter going out to rescue mariners during a Pacific storm.

20191019_123504webIf you are going to spend some time in a small museum on a rainy weekend, it helps if  Executive Director happens to be an old friend from college.  Dr. Samuel E. Johnson and I had more than a few memories dating back to our freshman year Ballroom Dancing classes together. (I took the class to fill a Physical Education requirement; I suspect Sam took it because at that time the ratio of men to women at our college was officially 3.5 / 1, and it was chance to meet girls.)

In addition to being a very good dancer, Sam is an accomplished raconteur and a dedicated evangelist on behalf of his museum.  Sis, Bro, C and I spent a couple of hours being fascinated by a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum, coupled with stories of plans for the museum’s future expansion and enhancement.

If you go, plan to spend a couple of hours exploring, especially if you take in the IMAX film.  You might not get the hands-on tour, but you won’t be sorry for the visit.

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