Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Return to San Francisco and more...

Even though I may already know the subject I'll write about in my next post, by the time I write it I have thought about so much more, that I usually go on a tangent and end up with an "eclectic" and longer post - this is another one.  I'll start then with the "more" from my title.  Let me hasten to say that the day after I published my last post, on the rain in Georgia, it stopped raining.  It has been sunny every day since with mild temperatures and low humidity.  This morning it was 65 degrees F (18 C) and now, in the afternoon, it is only 78 degrees F (25 C.)  It is not warm enough for my figs to ripen on our tree but our potted plants are flowering more than usual.  (Click on any collage twice to enlarge.)

Since I am not sure if there will be enough figs to make jam this year I went ahead and made peach jam - but with a difference.  I used a large mango, ripe Georgia peaches and finished with two tablespoons of "Safari" liquor.

I bought this liquor in Amsterdam a couple of years ago because the label said "Safari - Exotic liqueur spirit with tantalizing flavor of exotic fruits - maracuya, mango, papaya, lemon and lime."  It is produced in the Netherlands.  I thought an "exotic" touch would do well in my peach jam.  I was not sure what "maracuya" was and saw on Google that it was "Fruta de la Pasión o Maracuyá" and is also called Passionfruit, Pasionaria or Grandilla (Passiflora Edilus.)  The fruit is either yellow or purple at maturity.  It is a climbing plant originally from Central America but produced in many countries.  Photos below courtesy Wikimedia.

The Sunday before I wrote my last post, Sunday 18th August to be exact, it was raining so we decided to go to the movies.  We had not been since last November and there was a film I wished to see called "Blue Jasmine."  It was playing in Atlanta.  Early in the afternoon we drove there and saw that another film I had seen advertized on TV, called "Lee Daniel's The Butler" was also playing.  We purchased our tickets for Blue Jasmine but saw that the film The Butler was sold out until the evening show.  We were early for Blue Jasmine so we peeked in the theatre where The Butler had started.  I did not know that the 5 minutes or so we stayed there would create more time spent on the computer for research.  I'll explain below.

First - Spoiler Alert! for The Butler film.  As we started watching the movie I thought that it was telling the story of the butler's ancestor - it was a scene in a cotton field.  A boy was there with his parents - I thought it must be the butler's great grandfather on a plantation.  The mother is taken in a shack by the overseer and I guess, raped, as we hear her screams.  The boy asks the father if he will say anything about that, the overseer comes out, the father gives him a bad look, and the overseer shoots the father in the head point blank and kills him.  That's it, that's all we saw - we left to see our movie.  But I wanted to find out later what time period this scene was.  I did find that this scene was supposed to be in 1926 when the Butler was a boy and this tragedy happened to his family, on a cotton plantation in Macon, Georgia.  There are many fields of cotton in Georgia now but I rarely see any people working in them as production has been mechanized.  Below is a field of cotton I photographed last autumn, about 15 miles from my home.

Since I like history and research I read more on the movie and The Butler himself.  I found out that the original Butler was named Eugene Allen, that he was not born in Georgia on a plantation, but on a farm in Virginia.  His parents were farm workers but his mother was not raped and his father was not murdered.  Seeing on the poster (at the very top) that it says "Inspired by a True Story" I wondered what was authentic.  I found out that in the movie the Butler, re-named Cecil Gaines (I guess to avoid
slander) has 2 sons and one of them died in Vietnam.  In truth Eugene Allen only had one son and he came back from Vietnam alive.  In the movie Cecil's wife is an alcoholic and has an affair with a neighbor.  In truth Allen's wife of many decades was a lovely woman.  I wondered what else is not true and I guess about 95% of the movie is fiction.  In the movie the other fictional son is an activist, joins the Black Panther, is roughed up several times and spends some time with Martin Luther King, Jr.  He also pushed his father to quit his butler job - none of it true.  Actually I found out that the real Butler was a Republican (!)  Below are more photos of cotton fields but in vintage postcards from 1905.

All this research has brought many conversations with my husband.  He feels that if a film says based on or inspired by a true story or true events then only 2% needs to be true.  I disagree and feel that if the studios advertize the film this way, at least 60% should be true.  I understand that there is poetic license and that to make a film more dramatic some liberty can be taken with the story.  To me it shows not much respect to invent a promiscuous drunken wife to this real butler.  It cheapens the story and hurts the reputation of the true butler.  I think the audience is owed more "truth" if the studios market the movie as such - I saw TV interviews saying that most of this film was true.  I am also afraid that young people in this country, and other countries where this film will be shown, may not take the time to research the story as I have and believe the plot to be a true rendering of what happened to this American butler and his family (with all the African-American stereotypes) - then will see the word "true" in there and will believe it is.

When I go and see a movie founded or based on a true story I don't expect to watch, for more than two hours, mostly fiction and lies freely added to manipulate and rile up my emotions whether the actors are good or not.  Forest Whitaker is one of my favorite actors - I am sure he gives a strong and moving performance in this movie but I would enjoy it more knowing that it is a fictional tale showing the history of race in America, even if the idea for this film came at first from a butler's life in Washington, DC.  Any thought on that?  (Picture below of Forest Whitaker courtesy Entertainment Weekly.)

I really liked the film we went to see - "Blue Jasmine."  The main character, Jasmine, is played by Cate Blanchett.  She shines in this Woody Allen movie.  Her performance as a fragile emotional socialite is flawless.  The rest of the crew were well chosen and give great performances too.

As you can see from the poster above Blue Jasmine takes place mostly in San Francisco.  This brings me back to the subject of this post.  When I finished my 3rd post of San Francisco in the 1960s (click here to read it) we had left on the last day of 1969 thinking we would be back.  We never went back until this last June, and 43 1/2 years had passed.  The main reason I did not go back is because I had to go to Paris at first once a year then twice to three times a year to visit my mother as she became ill.  San Francisco was not on the way - it is in the opposite direction.  My mother passed away in 2002.  Last February I saw flight sales to San Francisco from Atlanta.  Tickets were bought - a hotel was found, and we went.  By air the distance from Atlanta to San Francisco is 2,138 miles or 3,440 kms (driving distance is 2,472 miles and 3,977 kms.)

To give some perspective I tried to see which town is about 2,138 miles from Paris.  I was surprised to find out that the flying distance between the capital of Armenia, Yerevan, and Paris, France is exactly 2,134 miles.  During that flight one does not fly over several states like in the US, but over separate countries, such as Austria, Hungary, Turkey and others.

It was raining as we left the Atlanta airport on May 30th, 2013, but sunny when we landed in the San Francisco airport.  I took many pictures from the aircraft along the way,

When landing into San Francisco airport you feel that you will land in the bay as it is close to the water, but everything went fine.  The airport did not look like it did in the 1960s.  It has been much improved.  We had never been on the BART rapid transit either.  We used it to get to downtown San Francisco.  Below at the top of the collage is a vintage postcard of the airport in the 1950s or early 60s, and the way it is now.

The five hour flight had gone by quickly.  It was only about 2:30 pm when we arrived downtown so there was still time to walk around the city after we checked into the hotel.  That will be in a future post.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Rain in Georgia - in Paris and Lisbon

What are the lyrics that Gene Kelley sings in the 1962 musical movie "Singin' in the Rain?"

I'm singing in the rain
Just singing in the rain
What a glorious feelin'
I'm happy again
I'm laughing at clouds
So dark up above ...

No, I don't have a glorious feelin' about all the rain we have had in Georgia.  This year the spring was sunny and bright as usual but, starting in late May, the rain came.  Saturday May 18, 2013, was the 175th Anniversary of the Trail of Tears - the starting of the removal of Cherokee Indians from their homeland in Georgia and other states in the South.  This event was celebrated in New Echota State Park, in Calhoun, Georgia, about 47 miles from our home.  In 1825 the Cherokee national legislature had established a capital there called New Echota.  There is a museum, several original and reconstructed buildings.  I'll have a post on all this later.  I'd like to return first to take pictures because that day it was pouring rain most of the time.  We sat huddled under a tent listening to the dignitaries, and several Cherokee elders chanted, also under a tent.  (Click on collage twice to enlarge.)

It seems that was the start of the rain.  It rained almost every day in June, in July (the 4th of July fireworks were rained out here) and in August.  It does not rain all day long, but it does rain sometime during the day or night.  I have collected many umbrellas along the years - I bought some, some were gifts and others were obtained as a bonus for buying an item.  For example I obtained my red Burberry large golf umbrella when I purchased some Burberry eau de toilette years ago.  It is the largest umbrella I have and the one my husband likes to use to go down to the mailbox.  I just saw on eBay that one is for sale as a "rare, vintage" for $300, so we better take good care of ours.

I have another red umbrella, a folding one that was a gift from Avon when I purchased some lotion.  Here it is below with other folding umbrellas.  I decided to open it and, of course, my cat Cody had to come and see why.

In Paris a folding umbrella is a necessity as it rains quite often.  I always had one in my purse going to school, or later going to work.  I did not carry a camera then so I don't have pictures of rainy days in Paris but here are some paintings showing Paris under the rain.  On the right is "Rue de Paris" by Gustave Caillebotte, French (1848-1894) and on the left "Femme au Parapluie" by Louis Anquetin, French (1861-1932.)

The French word for "umbrella" is "parapluie" from the Latin "pluvia" (rain) and the combining form "para" meaning against.  The French actress Catherine Deneuve obtained her first major movie role in the 1963 film "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg."  It was the first French musical, entirely sung.  It became famous worldwide and received several prizes.  This year the city of Cherbourg, in lower Normandy where the film was made, is celebrating the film 50th anniversary.

Colorful umbrellas might encourage one to be cheerful as it can be quite gloomy walking in the rain in New York as shown in Childe Hassam's painting "Rain Storm, Union Square" American (1859-1935.)

or in Paris as shown in Edouard Leon Cortes' painting "Place Vendome in the rain" French (1882-1969.)

Black and white photographs show the somber and dark sides of the rain quite well as in the four vintage photographs below, from well-known photographers.  Top left is Paris 1963 by Andre Kertesz, Hungarian-born American (1894-1985) next to Quai du Louvre by Rene-Jacques, French (1908-2003.)  Bottom left is Rue Muller 1934 by Willy Ronis, French (1910-2009) next to Passants dans la Pluie by Brassai, Hungarian (1899-1984.) (Don't forget to click twice on the photos in the collage to see better.)

The sun makes me happy and the rain, after a while, sad.  Some people are used to rainy weather, such as in Washington State where it rains often.  My blogging friend DJan, whose blog "Djan-ity" I have been following since 2009, goes on weekly hikes with a group, very often under a mist or rain.  She shows beautiful rainy pictures of her walks in the mountains.  Here are several that she let me use - please go to her blog to see many more (click on her blog name above.)

I do not take many pictures in the rain.  This week I took one of the skies toward Atlanta from my doctor's office, on the 5th floor.  Below there were several Canada Geese grazing in the parking lot, which earlier had been flooded.  I also have a picture of a music event that I took earlier, under the rain.

When I went to my doctor I used my large beige Portuguese umbrella.  Several years ago we went to Lisbon, Portugal for a week.  It was raining as we went to visit the famous Calouste Gulbenkian Museum.  I bought an umbrella in the gift shop to use later on our hike to St. George Castle.

The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum is an outstanding museum located on 17 acres of beautifully landscape gardens.  It is one of the largest private collections in the world.  The collection was built during 40 years by Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian, an Armenian born in Turkey (like my father.)  As a young man Calouste went first to Marseille, France, then to King's College in England where he obtained a top engineering degree at only age 19.  Later he helped found the Turkish Petroleum Company (later Iraq Petroleum Company) and was the first industrialist to exploit Iraqi oil.  He was the person who negotiated the oil concessions from Saudi Arabia to US firms.  His 5% share made him one of the richest men in the world.  He left $70,000,000 and his 6,000 art collection to Lisbon to start a foundation.  He died in Lisbon in 1955, age 86.  His collection includes many masterpieces such as Greek coins and a vase 2400 years old, Japanese prints and European art by Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, Houdon sculpture and unique pieces by French glass maker Rene Lalique.

Above is a portrait of Calouste Gulbenkian as a young man.  Above him is a painting entitled Quilleboeuf, Mouth of the Seine by Joseph M. W. Turner, British (1775-1851,) top right is Two Women Asleep by John Singer Sargent, American (1856-1925) center is Still Life with Melons, Claude Monet, French (1840-1926) and bottom is Portrait of Madame Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, French (1841-1919.)  Below is a pendant by Rene Lalique, French (1860-1945.)

It stopped raining in Lisbon after our first day then it was easy walking and sightseeing during the rest of our stay.  It would be easy walking on our road too, but so much water is not appealing to me.

Maybe if I used my Paris umbrella, I could imagine that I am walking in the rain in Paris?  I don't think so.

It's better to stay inside and read or watch Mitsuko, my kitten, taking a peek outside from the window sill.  The shade loving plants have done well under the rain  - even though some pots are water logged, and the weeds have grown so tender and green that we get a daily visit from a bunny.

 Insects like to be indoors too I think as I watched a scorpion in my sink this morning when I went to wash my teeth.  My husband picked the scorpion up and placed it on the front porch among all the plants.  The Caladiums have been growing quite well, but my figs are still small and green - usually by now I am making fig jam.

In the back yard, apart from a couple of foliage plants, the flowers have drowned.  You can see below how pretty were the violet Torenia in the spring, and the pot now is full of water - flowers all gone, and not a pretty sight!

As I am writing this, Tuesday evening August 20th, it is still raining.

Since I started with a song, I'll finish with another one.  It is a rainy night in Georgia tonight ... and it sure feels like it's rainin' all over the world!

A rainy night in Georgia, a rainy night in Georgia
Lord, I believe it's rainin' all over the world
I feel like it's rainin' all over the world ...

- from Brook Benton's song

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Time goes by in a park and in restaurants

Most of my life I have lived on hills or mountains and I love being up high.  When I was a wee child I lived in Vaison-la-Romaine with my grandparents until I was about 4 years old.  This town in Provence is at the base of the Mont Ventoux - which is quite a stiff hill for the climbers of the Tour de France.  Here I am below with my granddad at the base of the Mount Ventoux that can be seen in the background. (Click on collage twice to enlarge.)

Then I lived in Paris in the Montmartre area, near the Sacre-Coeur.  I don't know how many times I went up and down the steps shown in the photo below (I never need much encouragement to show a photo or painting of my hometown.)  This photo was taken in 1936 (before I was born!) by the famous Hungarian photographer Brassai (born Gyula Halasz - 1899-1984) and entitled "Les Escaliers de Montmartre" - the Montmartre Stairs.

But I have some photographs of my own.  Walking along the streets of my old neighborhood you can see the Sacre-Coeur on its hill while turning a corner or crossing a road - of course now you can also see hundreds of tourists.

As shown in my post of July 28, 2013 - A Birthday Party, I also lived on a hill in St Leu la Foret, going toward the Montmorency Forest.  Later, when I arrived in the US I first lived on Nob Hill in San Francisco, then on a hill on 17th Street and then on the hill near the SF Mint.  Here in Georgia I have been fortunate to live near Kennesaw Mountain.  Actually Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park is about 4 miles from my home and on my road.  Although if I walk the other way I can see a hill in the background of my second neighbor's land, behind his cattle.  It is called "Lost Mountain" because as you approach it, it disappears from view - I guess because the terrain keeps going up.  (I don't live in a suburb really; it is more like the countryside at the bottom of the end of the Appalachian Mountains.)

For decades I had to drive through the park every day going to and fro from work and shopping.  When I had to work on some Saturdays I would drive through the park around 5 am, and it was a bit eerie crossing the park in the early morning fog.  Now that I am retired I don't just drive "through" the park I walk into the park and up the mountain.  People come from far away to visit the preserved 2,923 acre National Battlefield Park where the largest battle of the Civil War in Georgia was fought.  Fighting occurred in the vicinity of the mountain from June 18 through July 2, 1864 during the Atlanta Campaign.  The battle on the mountain itself was on June 27, 1864.  The Confederate Army had 63,000 men and 187 guns.  The Union Army under William Tecumseh Sherman had 100,000 men, 254 guns and 35,000 horses.  There were about 4,000 casualties on the mountain during the battle (Union: 3000, Confederates: 1,000 casualties.)  A soldier's belt buckle was found in our yard by the previous owners.  Some of the canons are still on the mountain.

 The earlier inhabitants of the mountain were the Cherokee, Native Americans from that area.  They were forced from their homes when the land was parceled out to white settlers.  Later, in the Kennesaw Mountain region, there were some free blacks - no large plantations were around here so slaves were very few.  Two free blacks, the Johnson, lived in the nearby city of Marietta - Monemia ran a restaurant and store and James, her husband, was a barber.  After Atlanta was captured in November 1864, Union troops ransacked her restaurant and home and took everything there.  Then the store, restaurant and home were destroyed by fire.  Monemia Johnson filed a claim against the US Government for over $2,500 in damages, but she received a check for only $246, thirteen years after the end of the Civil War.

Just a couple of days ago we went up the mountain again.  It had rained that morning (as it has been raining for over a month almost daily.)  It was cool for an August day - about 65 degrees F (18C.)  It is 64 degrees F and raining as I am writing this today.  Having lived near Kennesaw Mountain now for 37 years I know it so well - the trails, the rocks, the trees, the historical markers and the view.  The view is imposing.  I never get tired of looking toward Atlanta, which is about 20 miles away (32 kms.)  That day it was a bit hazy and one could barely distinguish the tall buildings in Atlanta in the distance.

There is a parking area at the top of the mountain and some benches.  As my husband was walking up another trail I sat on a bench to read my book.  Not many people were around - a couple of hikers, a man with his dog - the dog stopped by me so that I could pet him.  Another man was meditating on the grass in front of the view and butterflies were fluttering around.

Everything was vivid green - every bush, tree and grass along the mountain road - it certainly has not been a dry summer.  We stopped at the bench facing the 1/2 mile trail to Little Kennesaw Mountain.  There were wild flowers and wild animals there too.

As my husband went down the trail I sat again on the bench but could not read my book - it was so peaceful and beautiful there - a good place to think.  I could not stop reflecting about all the brave men, from both armies, who fought so many years ago.  I thought that if I looked closely I might see one of them coming around the bend of the trail... if they came back I am sure they would recognize the mountain.  Time passes slowly on a mountain.  I have taken pictures of Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park under many skies, sunny and grey, cold, wet and warm weather.  It is a mountain for all seasons.  Time goes by it but all the memories remain.

The 150 years anniversary of the big Civil War battle here is approaching.  The park attendant told me that they are starting to plan their "Sesquicentennial Commemoration."  It will take place toward the end of June 2014 with re-enactments, stories, living history displays and more.  More flowers have been planted and the cedar rails have been refurbished.

So Kennesaw Mountain and park near my home have not changed much in those 37 years - and it is good.

However, other "things' do change, sometimes forever.  I am talking about old restaurants now.  (This is another eclectic post.)  One of the first restaurants we visited when moving to Atlanta was "Dante's Down the Hatch."  It was an Atlanta institution where you could eat several fondue dishes while listening to jazz.  The interior resembled an 18th century sailing ship tied to the wharf of a mythic village in the Mediterranean Sea.  There were several levels where you could see the sailing vessel with its sails, mast and crocodiles surrounding the hull.  Clocks from the original Lloyd's of London, paneling from an old English bank and an 1892 barbershop from Sheffield, England, were some of the antiques there among other fascinating memorabilia.  (Picture below courtesy Dante's.)

But the restaurant was located in a high rent district - on Peachtree Road in the Buckhead area of Atlanta.  The city increased the taxes of Dante's restaurant as if it were a 40-story high rise.  Dante Stephenson, the owner, announced that after 43 years of business in Atlanta, he had to close the door on July 30, 2013.  He tried to work something out, but could not fight the city or promoters.  Atlantic Realty Partners will build a 10-story luxury apartment tower on the property.

In another state an historic restaurant closed at about the same time.  In the last few years we usually visit New York City once a year and stay in a hotel in the Upper Westside.  We have seen most of the tourist sites and try to discover new places but we always walk by the Hudson River which we can see from our hotel window.

Another stop in our routine is "Big Nick's Burger & Pizza Joint" just a couple of blocks away on Broadway at West 77th Street.  We have been in that neighborhood so often, we know the shops, grocery stores, the second-hand book store, the restaurants and underground station - it is familiar and like home.

But I just read that Big Nick's closed on July 28, 2013 after 51 years in business.  Impossible but true.  The first time we went there, years ago, it took me forever to read the menu - it was so large.  The booths were small and not that comfortable, but the staff very friendly and the food like homemade and very reasonable - a rarity in New York City.  There were 60 varieties of hamburgers and such an assortment of other dishes - similar to a roadside diner.  There were autographed photos on the walls between announcements and food ads - it was quite unique.  I did not even get a chance to try the fried pickle!

The owner, Demetrios Niko Imirziades, came from Athens, Greece in 1961 (same as me in San Francisco) but he stayed in New York where he started by washing dishes and then went all the way to be owner of his restaurant.  As in Atlanta, the city, the developers and landlords are hungry for more money.  Big Nick's rent increased from $42,000 a month to $60,000 and he could not pay that.  To me this was like a landmark in New York.  (Photo below - unknown author.)

Cities in America are losing their soul, destroying historic places, whether they are old restaurants with a loyal clientele or grand ole mansions - I guess it's called capitalism and free market - so as times goes by, things change (but is it better?...)  I am sad because we, the patrons of these unique restaurants, have lost them forever.  We just have to sing, as Frank Sinatra did "Thanks for the memories..."   I just hope Paris can stay the same and that I can return to my old stairs in Montmartre for real, and not just in my memory.

La Rue Muller in Montmartre painted by Maurice Utrillo, French (1883-1955)

"When nothing else subsists from the past, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered ... the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls ... bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory.
- Marcel Proust, French novelist (1871-1922.)

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