Friday, January 18, 2019

Plants I'm Growing: First Blooms--Pink Flowering Plum and "Noyo Dream" Rhododendron

I've been keeping track of the first flowering of many plants in the garden for about eight years now. I have analyzed the data to see if the flowering period of plants are shifting, which was my original intent in creating a kind of botanical calendar, but the Rhododendron "Noyo Dream" bloomed today, which seems very early. Usually this plant blooms in February or even early March. For example, "Noyo Dream" bloomed on February 25 in 2009, on February 7 in 2010, on February 2 in 2011, and March 2 in 2012.

On January 13, the first blossoms opened on the pink flowering plum alongside the house. Today both this plum and the white plum on the other side of the house are in full bloom and buzzing with bees.


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Books I'm Reading: A Beautiful Question

The last book I read in 2018, Nobel Prize winner Frank Wilczek's A Beautiful Question (Penguin, 2015) is one of those books that you immediately want to re-read the moment you're finished with it because it handles such difficult subject matter.

I periodically subject myself to these books on physics, because I want to understand what human beings so far understand about the universe, but I never seem to make much progress. The fault is mine, not the author's.

Wilczek lays out the now-familiar history of the development of quantum physics but approaches the story from a somewhat unusual perspective. His focus throughout the book is on beauty and idealizations of reality and the relationship of these to actual reality as we understand it. His greatest pleasure is in pointing out how human intellect, inspired by notions of the ideal, has arrived at solutions to basic problems that in large part conform to expectations—and in this symmetry, this conformance of real to the ideal, he sees great beauty. He looks at the universe as envisioned by Pythagoras, Socrates, Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, and then by physicists of the modern era, pointing out along the way how our understanding of the universe points to a positive answer to the question he initially posits "Does the universe embody beautiful ideas?"

I see that I read only 14 books in 2018, which seems a shamefully small number. That's a book every 3.7 weeks. I'd like to be near one every two weeks, at the very least.... So many books. I will have to try harder in 2019.

Plants I'm Growing: First Blooms—Cyclamen Coum and White Flowering Plum (First Week of January 2019)

I've become lazy about keeping track of first blooms in the garden. I think this is because, having taken fairly careful notes, for several years, I've satisfied my original curiosity about the consistency of bloom dates. At first I recorded the first blossoming of virtually every plant in the garden. More recently I've limited by attention to a smaller sampling and missed a few dates I would have liked to have recorded more carefully.

As usual, Cyclamen coum, a dwarf cyclamen variety, was the first flower to bloom in the garden in the new year, several blossoms were already open on the 2nd or 3rd of January, but a single blossom had already opened on December 16--which is quite a bit earlier than every before. Probably an outlier, not part of a trend. Last year this plant bloomed first on January 4. So, aside from the one early bloom, this is in line with its usual pattern.

The white flowering plum on the side of the house began blooming almost a week ago, but I missed the exact date. Probably around January 4. Always pretty, always delightfully fragrant, the bees are already swarming it, probably mostly to collect the abundant pollen. We lost our bees this past summer, so these are bees from hives the neighbors keep. The plum first bloomed last year on January 14, so this is comparatively early, although not unusually so. The tree has had its first flowers as early as December 30 in the past.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Rain: Lots More Rain

It's been rainy for the past few days and the forecast is mostly for rain in the coming week. People are already grumbling about it. How quickly we forget about drought....

Since last reporting, we've had 3.50 inches of new precipitation at my location in northeast Santa Rosa. That brings our total so far for the 2018-2019 rain year to 13.95 inches as of noon on January 8, which is about two inches below the historical average (about 15.9 inches) for this time of year, but judging from the forecast, we could easily make that up in the coming few days.

[As of the morning of January 12, we've had another 1.10 inches of rain at my location, bringing the total to 15.05 inches. Average cumulative rainfall for January 12 in Santa Rosa is just under 17 inches, so, we remain a little under two inches behind.]

[As of the afternoon of January 17, we've had 2.80 more inches of rain, bringing the total to 17.85 inches, but it's still raining....]


Monday, January 7, 2019

Art I'm Making: My Second First Cyanotype

A few weeks back, I posted here my "first cyanotype." Being new to this process, I was pleased with an image that had faults that I was willing to overlook in the excitement of getting a moderately successful image. Here, I post what I think I will be able to look back on as my real first cyanotype in the sense that this one actually looks the way I envisioned it from the outset.

I've been working to create a curve that works for me. However, this image worked a little by accident, I believe. That is, I think the curve I'm using now just happens to work well with this particular image. Using the same curve on other images and on a test target has been disappointing. I'm still have trouble getting a range of tones at the highlight end of things.

For the moment, though, I'll take what I can get. This is repeatable because I have the successful negative, but my work will continue until I get a curve that works more generally.

For those who like technical details, this is a print using the traditional cyanotype formula on Arches Platine, double coated, exposed for 15 minutes under an artificial UV light source. Developed in water with one tbsp of vinegar per quart for one minute under constant, vigorous agitation (which seems to be the key to keeping the highlights from getting stained) and then for 30 seconds in water with one tbsp of hydrogen peroxide added per quart of water. Washed ten minutes. The bird is a Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus), photographed in Santa Rosa, California (digital capture, negative made on Pictorico transparency film). The Great-tailed Grackle is a comparatively unusual bird here, but it is becoming more common as it appears to be extending its range into our area of Northern California from its traditional range, mostly in the southwestern and south-central US and Mexico.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Birds I'm Watching: First Bird of 2019


2019—First bird of the year
: White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis). This portends good birding in 2019, I think, as White-throated Sparrow is a relatively uncommon species here. I saw one under the feeder this morning as I pulled up the blinds on the living room windows. I've started putting out seed again after a hiatus of a couple of years prompted by the presence of young cats in the neighborhood. I'm hoping for the best now (but will remain vigilant).

To all my birder friends: I wish you a bountiful 2019 with many exotic, rare birds among the regulars.

Music I'm Listening To: Ranking the Mahler Symphonies

Ranking the Mahler symphonies: The Third is far and away my favorite. Followed by the Sixth, the First, The Fifth, the Fourth, and the Ninth, in that order, and then numbers 7, 8, and 2, although, I must admit that it's only the Second that I actually don't enjoy. The Seventh and Eighth I simply haven't listened to as much as some of the others.

My favorite recording of the Third remains the recording by Maurice Abravanel and the Utah Symphony Orchestra. I first discovered this recording, on LP (Vanguard Cardinal Series VCS10072/73, my copy pictured above), by chance in the cut-out bin of a record store in Columbus, Ohio back in the early 1980s, long before I had ever really listened to Mahler in earnest. I thought it sublimely beautiful, and still do. Years later, I was thrilled and relieved to find it re-released on CD, as I had feared I would wear out the grooves on the LP never able to replace it.

I can't imagine a finer performance of this piece, and the sound is ethereal. On a road trip across the United States, in 2009, in search of things beyond my grasp, atheist though I am, I stopped in Salt Lake City to pay homage to the Mormon Tabernacle because it's where this recording was made. The Tabernacle is manned by eager young Mormons who want to talk about God, I found. The young woman who approached me, visiting from Brazil, I think it was, didn't understand why I was there. Although the Tabernacle is an odd building--looking much like a tired roller skating rink or a hockey arena with a stage and chairs in it instead of ice, and with wooden columns painted to look like marble--it's magical for its sound.

The other Abravanel Mahler symphony recordings are very good, too, but this is a standout. In fact, if I had to pick a single recording from among the thousands that I own--of any music by any composer--to take with me to a desert island, I'd probably pick this.

A bounded infinity.
Happy New Year to all my friends and acquaintances—whether Mahler excites you or not.

Wines I'm Making: Racking and Dosing the 2018 Wines

Belatedly I report that I spent most of Christmas Eve this year handling wine. I racked our 2018 Cabernet (six gallons) and our 2018 Sangiovese (four gallons) for the first time, assuming (although not confirming) that malolactic fermentation had gone to completion. I lightly sulfited the wine and would have added oak staves, but I had none on hand and it was a holiday. Today, writing on New Year's Eve, I still haven't added the oak, but will do so when the stores open again on January 2nd. So far, the wine seems sound and well on its way.

I also racked a gallon of rosé that I made from subpar grapes that I didn't want to leave sitting on the skins during fermentation. I decided to try to use this wine to make a sparkling wine (a first attempt). Having made sparkling cider several times before, it seemed easy enough, but I won't be able to riddle the bottles and clear the lees after the secondary fermentation in the bottle, so, while the wine will be sparkling, it will have a little yeast debris in the bottom, like a bottle-fermented beer rather than like a crystal clear Champagne. We'll see.

After racking, I bottled the wine and dosed it at 1.4oz of sugar/gallon for the in-bottle fermentation. The only complication was that I didn't realize that sparkling wine bottles are larger at the lip than the beer bottles I use for making cider. Thus, my crown caps and capper were the wrong size. I had to go to the supply store to buy larger caps and a larger fitting for my capping device. It didn't go very smoothly because the fitting kept separating from the capper, but I did get eventually get the bottles capped. They are now (presumably) undergoing secondary fermentation in the bottles.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Cocktail Glass Collection: Doc's Clock

A new addition to my collection of photos of neon cocktail glass signs in front of bars. This is the sign in front of Doc's Clock, at



For more, click the "Cocktail Glass Collection" label at right toward the top of the page.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Rain: More Rain in mid-December

Rain off and on in the past few days has added 1.80 inches to our total for the 2018-2019 rain year, which now stands at 10.05 inches as of noon on December 21. Average by this time of year in Santa Rosa is about 10.3 inches, so we have caught up after a slow start—but more rain is forecast for this weekend.

[Subsequent rain added another 0.40 inches, bringing the total to 10.45 inches as of December 26. The forecast for the next ten days is mostly sunny.]

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Art I'm Making: "Go Figure" at The Sebastopol Center for the Arts

I'm pleased to say I got word today that two of the three pieces I submitted to the upcoming "Go Figure" show at The Sebastopol Center for the Arts were juried into the show. The show will feature representations of the human figure from more than sixty artists from all over the world.

One is this drawing of a young pregnant woman I did years ago, in Tokyo, using sanguine conté crayon. She had been disowned by her family and needed money, so had turned to modeling. She had become pregnant by her boyfriend, who she told me was a Greek sailor. The stuff of Victorian novels....

And here is the second of my two pieces that will appear in the upcoming "Go Figure" show at the Sebastopol Center for the arts.

An untitled nude. This is a traditional photograph (a gelatin silver print), a view of Kanako, the first model I ever hired. She had a habit of stretching before we began a session of drawing or photography. In this photo I caught her in side-light as she linked her hands behind her head and twisted a little to limber up her back.

The show opens Friday, January 11. It will run through Sunday, February 17 at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, 282 S. High Street, Sebastopol, CA 95472. Telephone (707) 829-4797. Information also at info@sebarts.org The opening reception will be at the Center, on January 11 from 6:00PM to 7:30PM.

Art I'm Making: Recent Collages

A couple of recent collages. I've been lazy about posting recent ones, mainly because I'm making them at a far slower pace than in the past. I feel like I've done what there is to do with this particular mode of working, but I'll probably keep at it sporadically. Right now, my attention is turned to trying to figure out the subtleties of the cyanotype process.
Above is Untitled Collage No. 207 (Santa Rosa). September 19, 2018. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, fragment of a doodling robot drawing in archival marker, collage. Image size: 11.5 x 12.2cm (4.5 x 4.8 inches). Matted to 11 x 14 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Below is Untitled Collage No. 208 (Santa Rosa). October 4, 2018. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, rice paper, antique silver leaf, collage. Image size: 11.5 x 11.7cm (4.5 x 4.7 inches). Matted to 11 x 14 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse. This one really needs to be seen in person to get the full effect. The antique silver leaf is the large triangular bit behind the rice paper. It's actually inserted into a pocket in the rice paper, floating loose but held in place by the rice paper.

For more, visit http://ctalcroft.wixsite.com/collage-site

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Rain: More Rain--Lots More Rain (November 28 to December 1, 2018)

Heavy rain overnight on the night of November 28 and 29 and into the morning hours left us with 2.3 inches of new precipitation as of noon on November 29. That brings our total for the 2018-2019 rain year to 7.00 inches. Judging from clouds on the horizon, there will be more, although its clearing right now.

[Sprinkles following this post added 0.15 inches to the total, which is now 7.15 inches as of 8:00PM November 30.]

[Still more rain later added 0.75 inches, to bring the total to 7.90 inches as of December 2, 2018 at my location in northeast Santa Rosa.]

[And yet more in the following days added 0.35 inches, bringing the total to 8.25 inches. More rain is predicted for the weekend of December 14-16] 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Art I'm Making: First Cyanotypes (November 25, 2018)

The cyanotype process has always fascinated me, but it's only been in the past couple of months that I've started investigating it in earnest, thanks to my brother, who built me an amazing UV exposure box, and to Bob Cornelis, who has been extraordinarily generous with his time and advice.

After many trials, I printed my first actual attempts at making photos yesterday. Some tweaking is still in order (the midtones are greyer than I would like), but generally speaking, I'm quite pleased at having achieved crisp whites and dark, velvety blacks--or blues, I should say. 

This view of the Transamerica Pyramid, in San Francisco, was done on Arches Platine paper using the traditional cyanotype formula, coating the paper twice. 15-minute exposure. Processed in water with one tablespoon vinegar/quart of water for one minute. Then rinsed in a bath of one tablespoon hydrogen peroxide/quart of water for 30 seconds. Washed 15 minutes. Off to a good start. :) 

[My very first cyanotype was actually more than two-and-a-half years ago. Here's a link to a comment about that attempt.] 

[And I've made some progress since posting this ]

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Rain: First Rain Since the 2018 Fires

Yesterday and last night (November 21) we got the first rain since the recent fires north of us. The air is finally clean again and I hope the weather has helped contain the fires. We got 1.30 inches at my location. That adds to the 1.5 inches we got back in October. Although this was only the second rain of the 2018-2019 rain year, more rain is in the forecast. Yesterday's rain brings our total so far to 2.80 inches, which is well below normal.

[Update: Rain the following day added another 1.90 of precipitation to our total, which stands at 4.70 inches as of noon on November 24.]

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 206 (Santa Rosa)


Another recent collage, mostly in blues.

This is Untitled Collage No. 206 (Santa Rosa). August 6, 2018. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Image size: 19.6 x 17.4cm (7.7 x 6.9 inches). Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

For more, visit http://ctalcroft.wixsite.com/collage-site

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Miscellaneous: The 100th Anniversary of the End of World War I

Marine Sergeant Warren R. Laity—my mother's father. As a Quaker, he chose not to become directly involved in combat service but volunteered his skills as a photographer. He served as an aerial reconnaissance photographer in France (the same service that Edward Steichen performed) in 1918. Warren's brother served as an ambulance driver.

My son, Warren, is named for this man. Honoring his memory today, the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. Shown here is one of his best-known images, the US Capitol in the rain, circa 1918.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Music I'm Listening To: Sharon Isbin and Hilary Hahn

Last week was a busy week on many fronts. Musically speaking, I attended one of the November Santa Rosa Symphony concerts featuring guitarist Sharon Isbin. The following day, I had the privilege of hearing Hilary Hahn in recital at Davies Symphony Hall, in San Francisco. Isbin played the Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra, by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Also on the program were Dances of Galánta, by Kodály, Liszt's Mephisto Waltz No. 1, and Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from Westside Story.

The Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra joined the main symphony musicians at the end of the concert to play Bernstein's Overture to Candide in an unexpected encore--a piece that was on their tour program in Europe earlier in the season. Isbin, too, played an encore--one of those extremely familiar Spanish guitar pieces that I can't immediately put a name to.

I did backstage photography for the Santa Rosa Symphony again. Isbin tuned before going on stage using an electronic tuner. Just before it was time to go on stage, she turned to conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong and said "I'll take an A from the oboe so I can pretend to tune," which struck me as rather funny.

I have almost no words for the Hilary Hahn performance. She was superb, as always. She played one of the Bach solo sonatas for violin and two of the solo partitas, including Partita No. 2, with the famous extended chaconne. As an encore, she played a movement from another of the sonatas. It was strange to see the Davies Symphony Hall stage entirely empty of chairs, music stands, and instruments except for the lone figure of Hahn who nevertheless commanded the attention of perhaps the biggest crowd I've ever seen there. I counted six empty seats. During the encore, having already left my seat, I was able to watch and listen looking back from one of the doorways into the hall and to see the rapt audience all focused on Hahn, her violin, and the music she was making with it.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Art I'm Looking At: Sherrie Lovler on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi (October 30 through December 30, 2018)

I'm pleased to announce the next show on the Art Wall at Shige Sushi. We'll be showing paintings by Sherrie Lovler, known for her poetry as well as for her work inspired by the Western calligraphic tradition. Opening reception will be Monday, November 5 (5:00PM to 7:00PM). Sherrie will do a poetry reading and give a short art talk at 6:00PM, but come early to enjoy the work, have a glass of wine, and meet the artist.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Books I'm Reading: American Eclipse and The Education of a Coroner

I've recently finished two books—David Baron's account of the total solar eclipse visible across much of the American West in 1878, The American Eclipse (Liveright, 2017) and The Education of a Coroner (Scribner, 2017). The 1878 eclipse path stretched from the northern tip of Idaho to the heel of Louisiana. Author Baron suggests the eclipse offered the first opportunity to show skeptics that American scientists could hold their own against more seasoned investigators in Britain and Europe, and it was the first total solar eclipse widely visible in the Western United States since the nation's founding, according to the book (although there appears to have been a total eclipse on August 7, 1869 with a path that stretched from Alaska to North Carolina; perhaps that eclipse came too close to the end of the Civil War for much to have been done about it), but as many as one hundred expeditions were organized to view the 1878 eclipse.

Baron focuses on three groups of eclipse viewers. One was organized by astronomer James Watson, known as a planet hunter (more precisely, as discoverer of asteroids), who appears to have been chiefly interested in the opportunity the eclipse seemed to present to see the planet Vulcan, said to orbit the sun inside the orbit of Mercury (he claimed to have seen it; the claim proved a distraction to the pursuit of astronomy for many years subsequently). Another group was led by Maria Mitchell, a pioneer among women interested in the heavens. The third group included inventor Thomas Edison who was eager to gain the respect of serious scientists. He brought with him his "tasimeter," a hyper-sensitive heat-detecting invention with which he hoped to measure the heat of the sun's corona during the eclipse (it proved a failure).

Trips into remote parts of Colorado and Wyoming presented numerous difficulties. All the groups had to put up with primitive accommodations, while Maria Mitchell and her all-female entourage (primarily gifted students of astronomy she taught or had taught at Vassar) had the additional burdens of dealing with prejudice against the undertakings of a woman scientist and of trying to locate equipment lost by a railway company more interested in a feud with a competitor than it was in locating luggage critical to her investigations (ultimately recovered in the nick of time). Edison garnered far more attention in the press than Mitchell, despite her credentials.

Although the book seemed a bit anti-climactic as it devotes little space to the eclipse itself (being focused on the events leading up to the event), it appears to have been meticulously researched and it is well written and entertaining. Recommended.

John Bateson's The Education of a Coroner, subtitled "Lessons in Investigating Death," presents a selection of cases handled over the years by Ken Holmes, who worked for 36 years in the Marin County Coroner's office, starting as a death investigator and ending his career as the county's coroner. The case studies involve everything from obscure but intriguing incidents such as the discovery of a Golden Gate Bridge suicide with no labels in his clothes and no suicide note who was identified only by chance more than twenty years after his body was found to a few high-profile cases, such as the case of the so-called  Trailside Killer, whose first victim was found on a Mt. Tamalpais trail in 1979.

Beyond the case studies, the book is interesting for the procedural details it gives, for its look into how coroners operate in general, for its local focus (many of the locations discussed will be very familiar to residents of Northern California and San Francisco), and for its look at how politics impinged on the career of Mr. Holmes. Worth the time.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Wines I'm Making: 2017 Cabernet and Sangiovese Bottled

Newly bottled and labeled 2017 wines
I finally got around to bottling and making labels for the 2017 wines--a very small batch of Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc from the backyard vines and two batches of Zinfandel from the neighbor's grapes, some oaked, some unoaked.

2018 Sangiovese in the press
In other wine news, I pressed the 2018 Sangiovese from our vines on October 14, after an 11-day fermentation. We got a little under four gallons of Sangiovese, which will make 20 bottles. I pressed the Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc today, October 17. The 2018 yield was six gallons, which will make 30 bottles, or 2.5 cases.

Sangiovese ready for the press


Thursday, October 4, 2018

Music I'm Listening to: The San Francisco Symphony with Leonidas Kavakos

I attended the September 28 performance of the San Francisco Symphony, at Davies Symphony Hall, part of an ongoing Stravinsky Festival. MTT conducted Petruschka, The Rite of Spring, and the Violin Concerto. Leonidas Kavakos was the soloist in the concerto.

It was fun to hear Petruschka live for the first time, but I was more  interested in the rest of the program as this was my second time hearing the San Francisco Symphony doing each of the other two pieces. Back in 2013, I heard Leila Josefowicz play the Stravinsky concerto (my comments on that concert here) and heard The Rite of Spring just last summer, with Susanna Mälkki conducting (comments here). I was curious to hear these two pieces again and with MTT conducting.

I don't know what it is about MTT. I know he's popular. He's won multiple Grammy Awards. I just don't get the way he conducts. I thought The Rite of Spring oddly static in the first half. It's a piece that should be marching forward, relentlessly, and he managed to make it seem like it was standing still at times. I always feel a disconnect between him and the orchestra (with one notable exception, his brilliant reading of the Mahler Fifth Symphony I heard back in March this year). In the second half of The Rite of Spring, things finally seemed to be in gear and the audience was very appreciative, but this performance, while enjoyable, didn't leave me with anything of the excitement I felt hearing virtually the same musicians under Mälkki's baton back in June of 2017.

I felt kind of the same way about the concerto. The opening chord—the chord that opens each of the concerto's movements—seemed weak. It should come as a shock. I had never heard Kavakos play before or even heard his name, so I went into the concert with an open mind. After the initial chord, I was prepared to be disappointed, but, it got better. Again it took some time for the players and the conductor to convincingly join forces, or so it seemed to me. In the end, I liked Kavakos. That said, this performance didn't have the fire of the 2013 performance I attended with Josefowicz on the violin. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 205 (Santa Rosa)

A recent collage, mostly in blues.

This in Untitled Collage No. 205 (Santa Rosa). August 6, 2018. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Image size: 12.5 x 12.1cm (4.9 x 4.8 inches). Matted to 11 x 14 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

This piece is in the Art Trails preview show now on at The Sebastopol Center for the Arts.

For more, visit http://ctalcroft.wixsite.com/collage-site or, even better, come visit my studio during the Art Trails open studios event. October 13 and 14 and October 20 and 21. This year I'm Studio 40, at 973 Stone Castle Lane, in Santa Rosa, California.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Rain: First Rain of the 2018-2019 Rain Year

Following brief showers on September 30, we had real rain last night and into this morning, the first rain of the 2018-2019 rain year, which began on October 1, 2018. We got 1.25 inches at my location in northeast Santa Rosa. Rain is a welcome difference from the strange weather we had almost exactly a year ago--the windy weather that led to the fires of October 2018.

[Update: We got another 0.25 inches on the 3rd, bringing the total to 1.50 inches at my location. The forecast now is for sunny skies for the coming ten days or so, but at least we don't have to worry about the kind of fires that devastated Santa Rosa at almost exactly this time last year.]

Books I'm Reading: The Thirsty Muse

Tom Dardis, in The Thirsty Muse: Alcohol and the American Writer (Ticknor & Fields, 1989), looks at four American writers—Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and O'Neill—and their relationship with alcohol. He argues that, while these men believed drinking aided their creativity or was even essential to it, alcohol was more often responsible for their creative decline.

The book asks why so many American authors have been alcoholics. Dardis points out that of the eight Americans that have received the Nobel Prize in literature (at the time the book was written), five were alcoholics. The number of winners has swelled, however, and the list would in any case depend on how one defines "American." I had to look it up, but the group would now be: 1930 Sinclair Lewis, 1936 Eugene O'Neill, 1938 Pearl S. Buck, 1949 William Faulkner, 1954 Ernest Hemingway, 1962 John Steinbeck, 1976 Saul Bellow, 1978 Isaac Bashevis Singer, 1987 Joseph Brodsky, 1993 Toni Morrison, and 2016 Bob Dylan. As none of the last three appear to have been alcoholics, the argument has been somewhat dimmed by time, and Dardis never really answers the question of why there have been so many drunk American writers (including plenty that were not Nobel Prize winners). The book also seemed a little flawed in its assumptions about the nature of alcoholism the disease, which in places seemed a trifle out of date. Nevertheless, the book is nicely written, engaging, and fascinating for its details of the lives of four important writers, particularly details about the role that writing for Hollywood had in the lives of Faulkner and Fitzgerald (in both cases, the only way they could make money once publishers began rejecting their work). Worth the time.   

Wines I'm Making: 2018 Harvest

Cabernet grapes, just harvested
Harvest 2018: As rain was forecast for this week (and it's raining right now--first rain of the 2017-2019 rain year), I picked our backyard grapes on September 28, both the Sangiovese and the Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc section of our little vineyard of 34 vines.

Grapes in the crusher
We got 84.5lbs of Cabernet grapes, about 30% more than last year. The must tested at 24.0º Brix, which is just about perfect, although I could have let them hang another week or so. I decided to pick because of the rain and the fact that critters were beginning to discover them (despite being netted and protected by an electric fence). Today, October 2, I pitched the yeast, so they've had a three-day pre-soak, which is in line with my usual practice. The only deviation this year has been that I did not sulfite either the Cabernet or the Sangiovese must, as having more grapes this year allowed me to choose only the best, healthiest grapes.

Crushed grapes--on their way to becoming red wine
We got just over 70lbs of Sangiovese. Normally, I make rosé from the Sangiovese, but circumstances conspired against that. I've been so busy with work and other obligations in the last week that they'd already been on the skins for about 30 hours by the time I got back to them. I could have pressed them and made a deep rosé, but I didn't have the energy, so I left them; this year we will make a red wine from the Sangiovese for the first time in many years. The must tested at 20.5º Brix, which is on the low side. I added 2.5 ounces of corn sugar to the must (all I had on hand), which will raise the alcohol level slightly. This wine probably will be best pressed early to make a lighter wine. We'll see how things turn out....

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Miscellaneous: Things We Need Words For

Things we need words for: The uncracked or barely cracked pistachios that accumulate at the bottom of the bag, having been repeatedly rejected for the easy-to-open ones.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Places I'm Visiting: San Francisco Film Locations

The plaque on Burritt St., near Bush and Stockton
111 Sutter St., the Hunter-Dulin Bldg.
Walking around San Francisco last week I looked up some old film locations. I finally figured out where the plaque is that locates the murder of Miles Archer in The Maltese Falcon (1941). It's on the wall of a building on Burritt St., near the corner of Bush and Stockton. There is now a building in the spot where Archer breaks the railing and tumbles down the hill in the film, which is why the location is a bit confusing today, but the plaque is there. It reads "On approximately this spot, Miles Archer, partner of Sam Spade, was done in by Brigid O'Shaughnessy" 
(The coordinates 37.7902, -122.4075 will take you to the location of the plaque on a map.)

Elevator lobby of the Hunter Dulin Bldg. Spade and Archer had offices here
Entrance to the Hunter-Dulin Bldg.
In the opening scenes, there's a view of the Bay Bridge from Spade's office windows (that establishing shot is one of the few actually done in San Francisco, apparently; most of the film was made on set). The view is supposed to be from the fifth floor of the Hunter-Dulin Building at 111 Sutter Street. Built in 1927, it was originally the head West Coast office of NBC. The entry and interior are rather ornate. They don't build them like they used to....

Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall) lived here, in Dark Passage (1947)
Art Deco reliefs at 1360 Montgomery St.
I also found the building that was Lauren Bacall's apartment in Dark Passage (1947), where Humphrey Bogart hangs out while waiting for his face to heal after his plastic surgery. The building has some interesting Art Deco-style reliefs. The address is 1360 Montgomery St., but it's best approached by car on Union St. On foot, you could walk up the Filbert St. steps to approach the apartment (with a view of Coit Tower behind) as Bogart does in the movie....

View from the top of the Filbert St. stairs
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