Sunday, November 30, 2008


This afternoon I visited my friend Mary at her place in Bernal Heights. I hadn't seen her in over a year and a half, and was looking forward to meeting five month old daughter, Audrey. When I arrived, husband Adam was working on my bicycle in the garage, filling the tires, dusting it off. I'd left my bike with Mary hoping that she would get some use out of it while I was abroad. She got pregnant instead, but took very good care of my bicycle.

After getting acquainted at home, Mary, Audrey and I took a walk around Bernal Hill. The views were amazing. Note to self: return with camera. It was warm, the walk pleasant. Audrey was delightful company.

I rode the bike back to Anand's place. What a ride! It was dark, so I stuck to the sidewalks.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Done to death on calendars, t-shirts, coffee mugs, etc., the Golden Gate is a truly iconic image. And the real thing is genuinely lovely.

After picking up a few things at the Noe
Valley Farmer's Market, V and I crossed the bridge late in the morning, stopping briefly at the Vista Point on the North side of the bridge to admire the view. Another beautiful day in the Bay Area.

We continued on to Mill Valley for lunch. I lived in Mill Valley for six months nearly a decade ago, and still have fond feelings for the place. This is particularly true for Avatar's Panjabi Burrito's. An Indian take on the Mexican classic, the basic panjabi
burrito is basmati rice, chick pea curry, carrot pickle, fruit and mint chutneys, and tamarind sauce wrapped in a paratha. Today I added sweet potato curry to the mix.

We'd headed North with plans of walking among the redwoods, but we took several detours along the way. By the time we reached Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve, we had little more than an hour of sunlight remaining. The walk was neither long nor strenuous, but just being among those ancient trees and breathing the fragrant air was highly pleasurable.

Friday, November 28, 2008

O Tannenbaum

This evening I went downtown, and as you might imagine, there were a lot of people around. I wandered a few stores, not really shopping but rather enjoying the festive atmosphere. As I approached Union Square, the crowds on the street were unbelievable. It was like being in Shibuya on a Saturday night. The streets around the Square were closed to traffic, and there was a distinct police presence. Two recent news stories flashed through my mind: the Mumbai terrorist attacks and the Walmart employee who was trampled to death by an insane crowd of consumers. I tried to imagine what might have drawn all these people to this area, but at first I was stumped. I saw a few people carrying anti-gay signs, but they seemed marginal: this was your typical crowd of holiday shoppers. People were even clustered around the windows of surrounding hotels, staring down at the Square. Then I wondered if it might have something to do with the Christmas tree. Sure enough, a few minutes later people started counting down and then the gigantic Christmas tree in the Square was illuminated.

The crowd dispersed much more quickly than I'd have thought possible.
For the record, these photos were taken with an iPhone.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


To Satomi and Shirish, for inviting me over for Thanksgiving dinner. I had no plans, figured I'd just hang out in the city with the other family- and friend-less. The food and company were well appreciated.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


This afternoon I went in search of something to read. I'm currently reading two books*, but they're both short and I could easily finish them off with a couple of hours of concentrated reading. There are many books I'd like to read right here at the apartment where I'm staying. But today I was looking for a Japanese book, and for that I had to go to Kinokuniya in Japantown.

San Francisco is home to the largest- and oldest- Japanese enclave in the United States. At the heart is the Japantown Center, which covers two full city blocks and contains the above-mentioned Kinokuniya, many restaurants, bakeries, and shops selling Japanese goods. Besides the wonderful book store (lots of great books in both Japanese and English), I recommend Hashi no Ue, On the Bridge, a real Japanese-style kisaten or cafe. It crowded, with a counter and just a few tables, and has Japanese newspapers and a good collection comic books. The menu consists of kisaten favorites like Japanese-style curry and rice, gratin and doria, and a great selection of wafu (Japanese style) spaghettis: kimchi, mentaiko, sansai (mountain vegetables)...

Nowadays there's a strong Korean presence in Nihonmachi, particularly at the Eastern end. Elsewhere there's a Denny's with an Asian menu. Soko Hardware sells a broad range of Japanese household goods and is always fun to browse. For low ticket items, from snacks like the ever-popular Pocky and cute lunch boxes to plain old cleaning implements, try Ichibankan. And if you've tired of eating and shopping, there is a place for Japanese language study and a branch temple of the Nichiren school of Buddhism.

I departed Japantown with Miura Shion's Mukashi no Hanashi and a Chococat fob for my new mobile phone.

*Don't think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate by George Lakoff, and Twenty Days on Route 20 by Michael Czarnecki.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I took public transport today, the J Church to Civic Center and the San Francisco Public Library. Though it was completed a couple of years before I ever even lived in the city, this was my first time inside the Main Library. How is this possible? A bibliophile like me?! I usually love libraries, and this was no exception. It's open and airy with lots of natural light. Good places to sit. Even mid-day during the week it was doing a brisk business. The computer terminals were full, and a steady stream of people passed through the check out area.

The library, however, is not without its critics. Despite being more than twice the size of the building it replaced, the collection was actually reduced after the move. The amount of shelf space is limited due to the very large and airy atrium at the center of the building.

Monday, November 24, 2008


My dinner this evening consisted of 1/2 of a baked acorn squash and a bowl of yoghurt with raisins, pistachios, and honey. Sometimes it's nice to eat alone.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Today I added a photo to yesterday's post. In case it wasn't clear, that's the t-shirt I got in the Haight yesterday. I was with my burrito-loving friend, V, at the time. Which reminded me of a story I once told him. V didn't grow up in the US, so I was telling him about a t-shirt that was popular when I was a kid. It said "I'm With Stupid", and had a finger or arrow pointing to one side. I said that while I never had such a t-shirt, a lot of my friends seemed to. Yes, sometimes my sense of humour is rather puerile.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

City Life

It was a very San Francisco sort of day. Walked down to 24th Street to discover that Noe Valley has a Farmer's Market. Drank some decent coffee. Wandered the Haight and got a new T-shirt. Went for a run out at Crissy Field, turning around at the Golden Gate. Dinner at a new Belgian restaurant on Valencia. Arrived early enough at the Red Poppy Art House to secure one of the window seats for the Black Olive Babes concert ("an eclectic mix of Balkan, Romani, Sephardic and American Roots music"). Most of the seats at the Red Poppy are absurdly uncomfortable. Later met friends at a sidewalk cafe in the Mission for a nightcap.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The View from Here

I'm getting settled into my new place in San Francisco. This afternoon I walked down to Ritual Coffee Roasters (with its Turkish flag-like logo) on Valencia and drank wonderful, wonderful coffee with vegan pear bread. I was just about the only person in the cafe without a laptop. Then I continued on Valencia to 16th Street. Browsed in a few shops. Found (but did not purchase) a silly Nepali hat like the one I wore last winter for only $9. Bought a new phone (!) and month-to-month plan. Walked a few miles, up and down hills, the Bay coming into view every now and then. It was a lovely, sunny day.

It's dark now, and the commuter traffic on the Westbound Bay Bridge is like a string of faery lights across the Bay.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Morning Run

This morning I went for a run on the Steven's Creek Trail, which is easily accessible from V's place. It was cooler than previous days and overcast, but rather good weather for running. Along the way I missed a detour and ended up in a construction site. I passed ducks and other water fowl in the creek. Watched an Indian guy climb atop a fallen tree and spread his arms out, face tilted up at the sun in salutation. I also observed that running is much easier without the hills.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Took a little walk out at the Palo Alto Baylands this afternoon. It's long been a favorite place for a run, a contemplative walk, or a bit of bird watching. Around the Harvest Moon, the Palo Alto Moonlight Run is held here. It's dog-friendly. Strangely popular with Russians. Worth a visit if you find yourself on the Peninsula with time on your hands.

Monday, November 17, 2008


I spent the morning engaged in necessary but not terribly interesting activities to help me get settled after the journey and a busy weekend. In the afternoon I walked to downtown Mountain View to browse the book stores and visit the Dana Street Roasting Company. I used to spend a lot of time at Dana when I was unemployed and living in Mountain View a couple of years ago. The cafe has several things to recommend it: they buy directly from growers and roast their own beans; it's open and airy; WiFi is free; they play excellent music; and there's a big wooden table in the center that attracts a mixed cast of regular characters. Sitting at the big table basically means you're open to talking to people. Some of the regulars are self employed or work jobs where they spend time on the road, using Dana as a sort of off-site office. Other folks earned enough money during the dot-com years to not have to work conventional jobs. Their 'work' now consists of managing their investments. And so on. Most of them can be relied upon for intelligent conversation. V referred to these people as "cafe rats." For nearly half a year, I was one of them.

When I stopped in the Bay Area for a week last year, I only made it to Dana once. At that time I ran into one of the regulars, a retired techie. Then today the same man spoke to me in a book store, and we later met up over coffee at the big table. I chatted with a couple of new-to-me-comers and got caught up on what some of the rats have been up to during my absence. It was a warm, sunny day, and the doors were open. They played Yo La Tengo. The-mustachioed-man-whose-name-I-can't-recall* was roasting coffee. It felt a bit like coming home.

*Aaron. I remembered.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Travel Tales

I was planning to write about my travel ordeal the other day, my three thousand mile coast to coast trip that took sixteen hours door to door. But then I remembered my trip from the Nepal-India border to Varanasi back in February, when it took me 13-1/2 hours to travel less than 250 miles. This one sort of pales in comparison. I've often wondered at how my best stories came from the worst travel experiences. Getting stuck in the Atlanta airport, that's a drag, but not much of a story. 

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sleepy But Determined

The details of my trip from Fredonia to San Francisco deserve to be documented here. But it's nearly midnight and I've survived on just four hours of sleep each of the past two nights. I do not function well without adequate sleep, so it will have to wait until tomorrow. It's been a long day.

Friday, November 14, 2008

But this counts, right?

My father has just informed me that we're leaving for the airport in 10 minutes. This may be it for today's posting.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Countdown Begins

I have fewer than 17 hours left in which to pack, eat dinner, continue sorting data, hang with my sisters and nephew, go to BJ's to celebrate its 75th anniversary, sleep, etc, before I leave for the airport. And here I am, sitting in the living room, trying to think of something to write about.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Monday I went out to my father's farm for the last time this year. I tagged along with a friend who was gathering grapes for jam, juice and pies. Despite the snow on the ground, there were still quite a few bunches on the vines. We only spent a short time there, and managed to walk off with a decent haul.

My father was a grape farmer for many years. Now he's largely retired, though he still works for a friend during trimming season. He's sold off the bulk of his land, but maintains a few rows and several varieties: Concord, the classic North American purple grape, popular for juice, jam and kosher wine; Niagara, a sweet green grape that's part Concord and part Cassidy, makes a lovely white grape juice; Pink Catawba, good for making rose and sparkling wines; Steuben, a large, sweet blue-black grape that's delicious right off the vine and can be used to produce dessert wine; and an unknown (and addictive) small, red seedless variety.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Anemometer has been on Pacific time since I signed up for a blogger account, so the time stamp on my postings is three hours off from my local time. Since I move around so much, I didn't see much point in changing it. And of course during NaBloPoMo, the time difference gives me three extra hours to publish. Sneaky, I know.

Once again I'm working through a To Do List, things I should do before I leave for San Francisco on Friday. No matter how well I plan, the last 24 hours before I leave home are always spent in a mad rush. If I start making a list a week or two in advance, things usually go well.  I'm not terribly confident at the moment.

Funny thing, the list making. While it's an effective tool for me, I do realize that it can let those memory muscles atrophy. How many phone numbers have you memorized since you got your mobile phone? Which reminds me of an article I read a few years ago on Excite Japan entitled IT Boke ("boke" means something like senility). It said that doctors were reporting a significant increase in the number of people who were coming to them with memory issues. Previously this problem was limited to folks in their forties and fifties (and older), but recently it was affecting people in their twenties and thirties. The article stated that this had a lot to do with people no longer writing things down by hand or having to remember things on their own. Everyone in Japan has a mobile phone and uses a planner, most of those also electronic. And now that most things are written using word processing applications, there's little need to remember how to actually hand write all those complicated Chinese characters.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Sunday, November 09, 2008

Autumn Serenade

Many years ago, I had a friend in Buffalo* who turned me on to good coffee and Johnny Hartman. He bought his beans green, and would roast and grind them each time he made coffee. A trip to his house in the old Black Rock neighborhood of Buffalo was always a treat.

In 1963, John Coltrane cut his only album with a vocalist. Hartman's smooth baritone was a perfect match for Coltrane's ballad style. While the title track, Lush Life, is by far the most famous song from the disc, there's not a miss in the bunch. The album ends with Autumn Serenade.

The sudden cold yesterday after a warm, sunny week has scared most of the remaining leaves from the trees. This afternoon I briefly helped my father rake the yard. Later, I saw groups of college students raking leaves along Temple and Leverett streets in the village (community service, surely). Autumn comes to an abrupt, early end here in Western New York, and the song Autumn Serenade is on my mind as I rue the end of this lovely season.

* Though we lost track after college, I ran into him in Tokyo a few years later. Not just that once, but THREE TIMES over the course of about a month. I found it an amazing case of serendipity, but he dismissed the significance of it. Mr Kipler, if you're out there, I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, November 08, 2008


During my student days in Buffalo, I worked at a vegetarian bakery and cafe called Preservation Hall. It was small, eight tables inside and three out. (If you've ever spent a winter in the Queen City, you'll know that the outside table season was brief.) The owner was not always easy to deal with, and the neighborhood could be dodgy, but on the whole it was a pleasant work experience. I still remember a few of the recipes I picked up there: the scones, some soups.

Tomorrow evening I'm having the family over to celebrate my sister's and my mother's birthdays. Tonight I'm making Pres Hall-style solyanka, a hearty potato and cabbage soup seasoned with dill, caraway and sour cream (or in this case, non-fat yogurt). I also plan to bake a loaf of bread and make stuffed butternut squash. I'd better not forget the chocolate hazelnut cake.

Friday, November 07, 2008


This was my final day of pushing prescription drugs. Management treated the staff to pizza for lunch in celebration of my departure. Customers were nice (mostly). I promised to send postcards.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Pursuit of Trivia

For nearly a year in 2002-3, I attended the weekly pub quiz at the Britannia Arms in Cupertino. The Quiz Master, Steve, was a real character and took his role very seriously despite the heavy sarcasm. The difficulty level and breadth of topics made for a very challenging experience. We began as a duet, my partner and I, and our team Angkor What? finished dead last or close to it. We soon recruited a third, and began to move up in the standings. But it wasn't until my friend Nancy joined us that we really started to compete. Nancy is bright, worldly, well-educated, and a generation older than the rest of the team. We'd found our missing piece. Subsequently, our four to six person team was able to hold our own against much larger groups. When I left for India, we were at the head of the pack.

Last month a co-worker mentioned that she'd gone to a trivia night at a local bar/restaurant. It sounded suspiciously like a pub quiz, and my interest was piqued. I begged to tag along next time. Again we began with just the two of us, and over the course of the month we have built up the team. The questions are significantly easier than the Britannia Arms quiz. Two weeks ago we placed third, and won a double order of chicken wings; tonight we took second, earning us a $25 gift certificate.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

City of Light (II)

Back in February, I had another post titled "City of Light". That referred to Varanasi. This City of Light is Lauren Belfer's novel set in Buffalo, New York at the turn of the last century. A gift from my mother, and the novel I'm currently reading.

Which reminds me of a story I've heard many times. In 1821, the first natural gas well in the United States was drilled right here in Fredonia, along the bank of Canadaway Creek. A few years later, the Marquis de Lafayette, Revolutionary War Hero, visited Fredonia and marveled at the streets lit with gas lamps.

Other Fredonia firsts:
first Grange (fraternal organization of farmers), 1868; first branch of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, 1873. Not sure how proud I am of that last one. Samuel Clemens' (Mark Twain) mother and sister lived in Fredonia while he worked on the Buffalo Courier, and the village is considered by some to be the inspiration for the short story "The man who corrupted Hadleyburg".

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

haiku gift

Saw you once before
Had a great conversation
And then you were gone
Given my obligatory daily posting, it's going to be difficult for me not to write about the election. (But I'm going to try.)

I went to the movies earlier this evening to avoid a couple hours of the relentless television coverage. My mother is a highly partisan Democrat, and she's had MSNBC on nearly non-stop for weeks. The Fredonia Opera House showed Burn After Reading. I've been a fan of the Cohen brothers since way back in the Raising Arizona days. I'm not going to write about the film here though, because although I found it highly amusing, it's not really a film I'm going to
think about too deeply. Rather, I wanted to mention it so that I could post this photo of the Village Hall and the Baptist church as seen from Barker Commons. The Opera House is located in the back of the Village Hall.

Monday, November 03, 2008

When in Trouble, Write About Why You're Not Writing

Day 3 of NaBloPoMo and already I'm struggling. It's not that I've run out of topics to post, rather I'm running out of topics on which I can write succinctly. In case you haven't noticed, I have a tendency to go on a bit. So I've got a few drafts floating around, such as the one titled "Untitled Japanese Lit Post", but nothing that I can knock off quickly. And to complicate matters further, I'm not entirely ready for my memoir writing workshop this evening.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Adventure of the Old Man's Cap

My parents and I were in the living room watching Sherlock Holmes' The Adventure of the Devil's Foot. Watson had escorted Holmes to the countryside of Cornwall to recuperate (the illness being drug addiction.) As the detective and his loyal companion walked along the moors, my mother turned to me and said, "Look at the doctor's hat. Remember that. I have a story to tell you." The hat was grey tweed, similar to what you'd see on a newspaper boy of the 1920's.

At the end of the episode I asked my mother about the hat, and this is what she told me. After my grandfather died, his house was purchased by a young police officer. Some time later, my aunt received a phone call from him. He'd found my grandfather's hat in the closet, and was calling to ask if my aunt thought my grandfather would mind if he wore it. She said no, that he should go ahead. I tried to picture the hat she was referring to, and managed to conjure up an image. It made me smile to think of that man walking around in my grandfather's cap.

Saturday, November 01, 2008


Post every day for a month. That's all you have to do.

Inspired by National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, now in its Tenth year), the folks at Fussy started National Blog Posting Month for those of us who are not quite up to the task of penning an entire novel in thirty days but still want to give their writing muscles a good workout.

Today I was invited to stop by a friend's house. When I arrived, the table was beautifully set for our tea party. Over the course of my visit, she proceeded to transform the back deck into an Autumn Wonderland with flower arrangements, colourful ribbons and cornucopia. Five or six of her many lovely cats stopped by to pay visits. I wandered the yard, trying out my new camera on the photogenic flora and fauna (cats, mostly). The sweet Texas sheet cake was delicious, and paired well with the earthy taste of the kukicha I selected from among the many options: green tea, blackberry, Egyptian mint, English breakfast... I stayed until I could no longer bear the cold. The sun failed to make an appearance today, and the temperature never made it much above 50.