Category Archives: Uncategorized

16hrs in San Francisco

That’s 16 hours in San Francisco with 6 spent asleep. Much to see, no time to waste. If you too happen to be passing through in winter, exhausted with an urgent desire for alcohol and lettuce, follow the blind and try the following:

Do the Golden Gate Bridge thing: Over you go & back you come.

Drink in Mission. This is San Francisco’s old heart: edgy, arty, tatty, wearisome and energetic in equal measure. Population is predominantly Latino and Hipster plus flamboyantly dressed old writer/artist types; a fair few wealthy arrivistes joining in, and a fair few people shuffling by with shopping trolleys in the street waving their fists and holding animated, abusive conversations with lamp posts. Parking’s tricky but there are plenty of people eager to look after your car.  Head for Mission, Valencia and 24th streets and find the party. “I’m so-o-o-o happy. I’m in love with life” said the friendly man who joined out table outside some bar. “I’m. In. Love. With. Life. Man” . (A friend who lives there recommends Doc’s Clock).

Do the driving up and down the steep hills thing. Yes, like Steve McQueen in Bullitt, but slower, and pausing at the intersections.

Check into Cow Hollow Motor Inn in Cow Hollow, a relaxed neighbourhood which is either in the Marina District or on the border of it, depending on who’s talking. It’s not the most glamourous choice but it’s good and nice and affordable and an easy, easy option with parking. And it also has a load of fine restaurants and bars within walking district.

Eat healthy food at Plant. This was a right treat. Almost everything in the streets around Cow Hollow is a restaurant or bar, but there are only so many nachos and tacos a girl can eat, and Plant Organic Cafe proved irresistible – and it was fabulous. There are a number of branches in San Francisco but this one’s on Steiner St and Chestnut St.

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Have breakfast at Mel’s Drive-in (opposite) on Lombard St. Maybe ‘The Elvis’: scrambled eggs, chorizo, green chile, Monterey Jack cheese and a whole load of other stuff, like toast and jelly. Plenty of chrome, booths and jukeboxes, staff in black and white and a menu of 50s staples (root beer, banana splits, spaghetti and meatballs, sundaes). Mel’s declined, closed and reopened in the late 80s, but now has its kitschy charm preserved by grateful and nostalgic patrons. The original Mel’s was demolished shortly after starring alongside Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford in American Graffiti but this one’s just like it.

Cow Hollow Motor Inn 2190 Lombard St 415 921 5800 http://www.cowhollowmotorinn.com.

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Palm Springs House-Hunting

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Palm Springs is desert modernism and desert modernism is the finest of all 2oth century architecture. In my opinion. The little city, lined with palms and backed by rocky mountains has more: pools, heat, bars with gardens and patios festooned with fairy lights, a history as the numero uno Hollywood playground, shows with leggy lovelies, interior design stores, restored vintage cars, dogs wearing kerchiefs and a big gay population, but the star attraction is the architecture.

Not only are the commercial buildings – the bank, the post office, the visitor centre / center  – eye-poppingly lovely, but there are dozens of houses dotted around the boulder-strewn hills, designed by such inspirational modernist greats as Richard Neutra, John Lautner, E. Stewart Williams, William F. Cody. And a few more worth oggling, conveniently located on the flat grid of central blocks, like the Frank Sinatra Residence.

A photo of the Kaufmann House is on the cover of a book that I’ve been looking at off and on for a decade. It was one of Richard Neutra’s final USA houses, designed in 1946. (easy to find at 470 W Vista Chino Rd). I may be getting confused here, but I think Barry Manilow was once an owner which means I’ll have to recalibrate my thinking about the naff crooner. Another one fairly easy to spot is the also-very-famous Edris House by E. Stewart Williams. Both houses are privately owned which means viewing on a self-drive tour means lurking reverentially at some distance, feeling shifty.

Good luck spotting the Steve McQueen, William Holding and Bob Hope Residences which are on the tour map, but also on a private road with various clear off signs and one saying You are being photographed – a pretty effective deterrent when you don’t like your picture being taken. But you can get a glimpse of the Bob Hope Lautner property from the parking lot just before you turn back to Palm Springs central in despair for a margarita.

I’m in Vegas just finishing off a quick video of a self-guided architecture tour which I’ll upload as soon as possible, but, without wanting to spoil the conclusion, book a place on a guided tour unless your navigational skills are excellent and your nature very calm and patient. Fact is that much of what makes the private houses so attractive to the people that own them, aside from clean, sleek lines, is that the public face is often nothing much more than a low wall; all the inside-outside, walls of glass and design features are revealed on the inside. If you have the cash you can rent a retro retreat, or stay in a mid-century modernist hotel. (I stayed at the Royal Sun Inn which isn’t one of the Special Ones, but is cheap, friendly and has a pool.)

Pick up a map of mid-century modern landmarks or book a tour at the Palm Springs Official Visitor Center, which was once the Tramway Gas Station designed by Albert Frey and Robson Chambers. I’m going back for Modernism Week that starts February 14 1913.

Details can be found at Visit Palm Springs and Modernism Week

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Releasing the brakes

Everything’s sort of packed up. There may or not be a lorry sorted for the day we move out, and the boxes may or not fit in their designated self-storage unit. I have left out two suitcases – one with hot country clothes, one with cold country clothes. It’s time to release the brakes.

The brakes I would like to release are the Peugeot’s, at the top of a cliff after renewing the insurance. However, that’s just a little fantasy, and illegal. The brakes I’m referring to are metaphorical as described in The Principles of Success. I didn’t read the chapter, so I’m not sure what it said, but I get the gist. Get moving. The shortlist of places I would like to go to includes China, Big Sur, Dripping Springs in Tennessee, Rome in Ohio, Siberia, Assos in Kefalonia, the Osa in Costa Rica, Havana, Miami, Vancouver, Albania and the Congo. Flicking through an atlas this seems infeasible.

Freedom can be very stressful for the institutionalised. Logically though, looking at my scattergun chart, it makes sense to head for the Americas. That’s what Christopher Colombus did 500 years ago when Europe was looking for a fresh source of income. If it’s good enough for Europe, it’s good enough for me. On a practical level it’s a plan that also ties in neatly with a couple of ongoing research projects for a book and two possible documentaries, so I’ll have purpose. I’ll take a look around the US of A, then over-winter further south.

Of course the first stop on the Somewheresville journey has to be Toronto. Not only is it a top city except in February and March when it’s a slippery, frozen city, but it’s home to my boy George, studying music at Humber.

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Breaking eggs

If it was my book, I’d have added ‘you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs’ in one of the later chapters of The Success Principles. Because just days after finishing the last in my big pile of self-help books I am empowered and motivated. I don’t quite know where I am going yet, but I am going to Somewheresville, and I am going now. Or at least soon.

Hence I’ve emptied the kitchen cupboards, packed up my Cabinet of Precious Things, emptied the bookshelves and cupboards and am now in a permanent state of confusion with gaffer tape stuck to my socks. It’s a bit bloody difficult packing when you don’t know where you’re going or for how long, but Brian Tracy, author of Eat That Frog says ‘avoid failure to execute’ which sounds manly and unpleasant, but adds: “Successful, effective people are those who launch directly into their major tasks and then discipline themselves to work steadily and single-mindedly until those tasks are complete.”

I have launched directly into the major task of emptying the flat. My partner – who lives in it – is surprised.

Had I continued through ‘the twenty-one most powerful principles on personal effectiveness’ Tracy had ever discovered, I’d have seen 5-12 basically say focus and prioritise, but I’m taking a different approach. With all the clothes on the floor, boxes everywhere and nothing to cook with, plus the Virgin team on standby to snip the internet connection and notice handed to the landlord, staying here is no longer an option.

This is a good method, but not for the faint hearted. On the other hand if I’d drawn up a list of everything that needs doing to extricate yourself from a place, I’d have said f**k that for a game of soldiers and resigned myself to a life of underpaid employment interspersed with Word Poker sessions. A bit like eating sausages: you want them; if you knew what went into them, you wouldn’t. OK, some sausages.

So far, I might have baulked at several points, specifically: estimating storage space (do I have 100 cubic feet of possessions? I’ve never really thought of them that way); discussing global roaming charges and options; backing up my work on external hard drives (why have I been locked out of my own Rugged? Why does the external drive set up on the Mac refuse to acknowledge the hard drive on the PC?); password storage (unless I have them tattooed in mirror-writing in rows across my backside); meter reading; weeks of goodbye drinks hangovers; Responsible Disposal of Household Items; the failure to sell my car – even back to the garage I bought it from a year ago for half the price (it’s a Peugeot GTI, parked in London, make me an offer).

But I haven’t, because I can’t.

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