Tuesday, May 23, 2017


During a recent docent shift at the Conservatory, I almost clouseau'd a woman in the belly to prevent her from crushing a Spicebush Swallowtail to death. My arm moved just in front of her mid-section as she bent forward to, hand outstretched, touch a Julia resting on a leaf. Her right foot moved toward the Swallowtail, but the, sort of, karate-chop motion I made at her torso forced the woman to pull her foot back. 'Right by your foot is the lovely Spicebush...'

I apologised for nearly gutting her with my arm, but she ignored me and moved off in search of more butterflies to touch/crush. It's usually kids who run around trying to grab at the butterflies, but, sadly, this wasn't my first brush with adults behaving badly. There must be something that switches off in the brain of certain people when they are near beautiful butterflies. I make a point of mentioning to the visitors how delicate the butterflies are and how prolonged contact with our skin adversely affects their ability to detect nectar. (The long and short of it is that the oils in our skin block the taste sensors located in their feet.) Even after being given this information, some folk still seem to feel compelled to touch them/try to pick up butterflies. Alas.

When one enters the butterfly exhibit, I also make mention of the fact that one needs to look down when moving through the enclosure as more than a few butterflies are normally perched along the ground. They don't wear bells around their necks, so it's up to us to look out for them. Some folk become overly cautious, stepping gingerly around the exhibit. Others...well.... During a shift, I normally have to scrape at least two butterflies off the ground and dispose of them in the nearby shrubbery.

The outstanding Question Mark smartly resting above the ground.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Summer of Love fifty years on

The de Young Museum marks the 50th anniversary with a retrospective open through the summer months, naturally.

My parents married in 1968, so I hadn't yet been a thought in anyone's mind until a few years after the hippies descended on the Haight. Both working class kids who needed to support themselves and didn't seem too into 'tuning in and dropping out', neither of my parents participated in any of the counter-cultural events happening under their noses here in San Francisco some 50 years ago.

The retrospective, though engaging, was mostly focused on the art and fashion of the time. I guess that's no great surprise as the de Young is an art institution, that, in recent years, has showcased the fashion design of some of the biggest names in the business. I had hoped for a bit more information on the political and social ideas that came out of San Francisco at that time as well. The last bit of the exhibit before one was funneled into the Summer of Love Gift Shop, dealt a bit with the Black Panther movement, the anti-draft movement, the advent of the pill, and, interestingly, Watergate.

Here are some of the 'groovy' fashions on display--

Quite possibly my favorite piece

Joan Baez and her sisters for the anti-draft movement

Vietnam vet art

Hallelujah, indeed!
Simulated psychedelic space replete with bean bags and trippy music

Bottom left, corner of a poster featuring Pink Floyd

Lenny Bruce, among the music

Crochet art (bed spread) by Birgitta Bjerke

For those of you who were around back in '67 I ask: What were you doing during the Summer of Love?

For those of you weren't: Were your parents hippies?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


I went to a screening of the docu-film Neuland the other evening at the Goethe Institute. In 2013, Neuland opened in Basel, and, although I was still living in Zurich at the time, I didn't manage to see it. The film highlights the lives of a handful of younger refugees living in Basel-Stadt & Basel-Land who are attending a two-year training course as part of their language and cultural integration into Swiss life. Without this schooling, I dare say these young people would be lost. The film deals with the refugees' anxieties around finding employment, understanding Swiss German (the courses are conducted in Swiss German-inflected standard German), and, of course, understanding the Swiss mentality.

Some students fared better than others, in terms of integration, and that seemed to be down to a combination of personal drive, the ability to learn German fairly quickly, and by their not being too hampered by current circumstances. One of the school's instructors was also featured prominently in the film. He seemed such a caring sort, but he was also 'no bullshit'. At one point, he told a student (who'd been cutting class to work any menial job he could find) that in order for him to continue on with his schooling, he needed to sign a contract stating that he'd both be in class Monday through Friday & also not be late for said class. No exceptions. What he did at the weekend was, of course, up to him. The student owed a huge debt to his smugglers who were now seeking repayment, and, were they not to receive it within the specified time frame, were threatening to take away his family's land back in Afghanistan as punishment. The pressure this young man must have felt---I just can't imagine. The teacher told another student, a bright & lovely girl who had dreamt of becoming a teacher in her native Croatia, that her German was simply not good enough for the teacher training track. He encouraged her to find work as a carer instead. She did & she excelled in the position.

The end of the film also marked the end of school for this particular group of students. And, as is the Swiss way, graduation was celebrated with a lively lunch at a restaurant. There were many hugs, many tears & many expressions of both congratulations & gratitude.

The film is well worth a watch. Check it out, if you're inclined.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Walk to work.

SF has a massive homelessness problem. I don't have stats, but it seems that in my time spent abroad from 2010 to 2015, ever more 'tent zones' have sprung up dotting bits of the Mission District and beyond.

There's one short block off of Market St. heading toward Mission St. that I have been walking down en route to one of my volunteer gigs since November of last year. It's since become a 'sleeping rough' corridor.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Sunday outing.

The hubs and I took a wander around town today with only one goal in mind. We were to find both a bike shop and a coffee shop that offered a good selection of product. After coming up short in North Beach--the only bike shops we could find were bike rental joints catering to tourists--we hiked up and over the hill en route to Polk St. Along the way, we bumped into Lombard St. (the windy bit), took a couple of fun snaps & kept moving. 

You can't mistake Lombard St. due to its unusual curves, but, really, you can't mistake it due to its unfortunate never-ending stream of motorists driving slowly down its hairpin turns. I would think the homeowners there would wish to band together to make this street off-limits to through traffic. Why this hasn't happened yet is beyond me. Don't the millionaires who live on this part of Lombard hate the throngs of cars constantly filtering past as they attempt to come and go in their fancy European SUVs? -never mind the ceaseless foot traffic. They paid how many millions of dollars to live on a permanently congested street? I just can't imagine...

Overall, it was a lovely day to be out and about. We found both tasty coffee at a hip joint and a bike shop with good chain lube. The temperature heated up to a toasty 75F around mid-day. For the hubs, who was wearing jeans, it became a bit unbearable toward the end of our jaunt. Upon our return home, he promptly took a nap on the sofa.

View from Lombard St., Transamerica building off in the distance.

View of Alcatraz, en route to Polk St.

Second-hand, tres expensive.

Stumbled onto Claremont St. which begins at the curvy bit of Lombard St. and ends as you see above. 

Same second-hand shop on Polk St. selling bottle/can openers for 8 bucks. Um, no thanks.

Brunch queue. Basik must be the shizz.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Coffee date.

The local historian aiding me with uncovering some nearly forgotten family information is actually friends with the woman, K., now living in the house that my great grandfather built just after the turn of the last century. The historian put us in touch a few weeks ago. Since then, she and I have been emailing a bit. She's shared some interesting information regarding what's gone on with the house since my family sold it in the 60s. Hippies in the 70s, she said, had bought the place & lived in it communally. At some point in the mid-70s, there had been a house fire that somewhat damaged the parquet flooring great grandpa Axel had laid down way back when.

Given that I was born after my great grandparents died, I don't have any first-hand information to share with the K. I do, however, have at least one old photo showing the facade of the house replete with a few generations of the family sitting cosily on the porch. Additionally, I have scads of pictures of the great grandparents, their siblings & offspring & those whom they married. I brought a few of those pictures over to my coffee date with her this afternoon. I learned a bit about her in the process. Interestingly, she is also an immigrant from Sweden just as my great grandparents were. Go figure?

The porch looks much the same is it did in the 40s when the picture below was taken. K. told me that Axel had lifted the house in order to accommodate & build garages for the two flats above. Until seeing the house, I hadn't really realised that the house was purpose built as a duplex. This new-found realisation explains why my Uncle had asked me which part of the house K. lived in. I said to him, 'The whole thing?' That was not true. K. has tenants below in the flat where my grandparents & the kids lived. I don't recall Dad ever telling me this, but I'm thankful I still have my Uncle to tell me things regarding his/their early life.

I put my Uncle, who lived in the downstairs flat with his brother (my Dad), another brother & their parents from '40 to '45, in contact with K., and, so far, it's been a profitable exchange. His memory has been jogged by her mentioning things about the house & giving name to the mostly forgotten Swedish dishes my Uncle's grandma used to prepare.

A shot of Crocker-Amazon/Excelsior, where my grandparents moved to after moving from Bernal Heights.

Swedes in Rockford, IL

K. was able to translate the postcard. Still not sure who the writer was as it was signed 'me'.

Swedes (and their spouses) on the porch

The great grandparents married in SF, early 1900s

I'll be scanning some of the above family photos for K's records. I'm glad to have made the connection with her.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Fireman Robert Ceiley

The San Francisco Fire Department, established in 1866, has had a rich history in its 151 years. From the earthquake of 1906 and resultant fires that left half of the city's 400,000 residents temporarily homeless to the Loma Prieta quake of 1989 that collapsed a portion of the SF-Bay Bridge, the Fire Department has grown exponentially. Today, the SF Fire Dept. serves approximately 1.5 million people, providing fire and emergency services to residents, workers and visitors of the city.

My great-grand Uncle was a man called Robert Ceiley. Robert was born in 1889 in Newton, New South Wales, Australia. He and his father, Henry Ceiley, came to San Francisco from Australia in 1910. My great-grandmother Bea, her mother and one other sibling had already made there way here. Having become a naturalised citizen, Robert served in the the US army during 'The Great War'. A few years after his service, in 1921, Robert joined the San Francisco Fire Department. He held various positions during his 36 year career. He worked as tillerman, the man who guides the long hook and ladder trucks from the rear, as truckman, and as hoseman. I had always heard from my Uncle, also an SF fireman, that Robert had saved 'a few people' from a burning building way back when and was awarded a medal as a result of his efforts. Many years ago, one of Robert's daughters shared a newspaper article with my SFFD Uncle regarding her father's bravery. She must have been very proud of her Dad and rightly so.

Bounty from the main branch library

Having recently discovered the SF History branch of the SF Public Library, I have been able to learn some of the specifics of said event through reading various newspaper clippings of the time. In 1933, Robert Ceiley carried a 'crippled girl', 'her 200 lb brother' and 'younger man' from a burning building at 1377 Ninth Avenue in the Inner Sunset. For this action, he was cited by the fire department for bravery. Both he and another fireman, a man called Dennis Magee, were given citations for heroism that year, but there was to be only one medal awarded by the then Mayor of San Francisco, Angelo Rossi. A coin toss was to determine who won the medal. My great-grand Uncle won the toss & received the Scannell medal for heroic action. 

David Scannell, born in NYC, became a volunteer fireman at the tender age of 12. As an adult, Scannell volunteered to fight in the Mexican-American war from 1846 to 1848. Of the 850 men who fought in his regiment, only 150 survived. After the war, Scannell moved back to New York before again crossing country in 1851 to seek his fortune in San Francisco during the Gold Rush period. At some point thereafter, Scannell joined the San Francisco volunteer fire department. In 1855, he was elected sherriff of our then burgeoning & still somewhat lawless city. He was the third man to hold the post. He served for one year. When the fire department transitioned from volunteer to paid staff, Scannell became the first fire chief of that outfit. He served as fire chief three different times over his career, totalling 27 years in the role. He died in 1893 at the age of 73. In 1909, a fireboat was named in his honor.

What an honor (and stroke of luck!) it must have been for my great-grand Uncle to receive such a medal.

Scannell Medal

RH Ceiley's modest home to the left of the tree in Ingleside, SF

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