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Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco’

The Best Medicine

February 25, 2015 | by

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“He just simply couldn‘t stop it / He never knew when it was coming”: Winsor McCay‘s Little Sammy Sneeze, 1905.

If you’re not sick, you soon will be, and all the hand sanitizer in the world won’t save you. Everyone is a potential foe; no one wants to admit it. This morning on the subway, everyone was coughing and sneezing with varying degrees of discretion. The only people who seemed at all comfortable were two Japanese tourists wearing paper surgical masks. Well, maybe also the old man with a roll of toilet paper hanging around his neck on a loop of string. I envied all of them. 

All you can do is read Mark Twain. He wrote “How to Cure a Cold” for the Golden Era shortly after arriving in San Francisco in September 1863. Twain may never have actually said the famous thing about a San Francisco summer being the coldest winter he’d ever known, but the Bay Area fog was presumably enough to aggravate a lingering head cold—well, that or a nineteenth-century cross-country train ride. According to a series of humorous letters to the editor Twain sent in to the Call and the Enterprise around this period, he’d had the cold—and an ensuing bout of bronchitis—for at least a month when he wrote this piece chronicling various home remedies. Read More »

Shep and Dorothy

November 15, 2014 | by

A husband-and-wife team and their influential midcentury designs.

Page 34-35

From Dorothy and Otis: Designing the American Dream.

Lucky is the designer who can see in both two and three dimensions. Luckier still is she or he to be married to someone with equal gifts—especially if that mate is a collaborator and not a competitor. So appears to have been the case with Dorothy and Otis Shepard, whose enviable creative lives have been captured in the absorbing, moving, and lushly illustrated new book Dorothy and Otis: Designing the American Dream, by Norman Hathaway and Dan Nadel.

Both Dorothy and Shep (his nickname since childhood) got their start as commercial artists during San Francisco’s billboard boom of the 1920s. The Federal Highway Act, signed in 1921, helped fund the expansion of U.S. roadways, and advertisers took the opportunity to reach audiences beyond the traditional black-and-white pages of mail catalogs by posting colorful advertisements along America’s highways. Shep, a veteran of World War I, was a man of great adventure, with a strong and lasting interest in the theater. He was well regarded as a commercial painter while employed as an art director at Foster & Kleiser Outdoor Advertising Company, a top Bay Area agency of the period. In 1927, he wisely hired the gifted and highly praised Dorothy Van Gorder straight out of the California School of Arts and Crafts, from which she had graduated in only three years, as valedictorian. According to family lore, Dorothy was unabashedly outspoken (and just plain unabashed—she was once evicted from an apartment for sunbathing nude on the roof), and it cost her the Foster & Kleiser job, but almost as soon as she was let go, she was rehired for her prized skills. Hathaway and Nadel write that either in spite of or because of Dorothy’s brashness, Shep, the “raconteur,” soon began courting the “young bon vivant.”

And so their joint artistic adventure began—most markedly with a honeymoon in 1929 to Paris, Venice, Zurich, and Vienna. While there, they purchased Bauhaus furniture and had the good fortune to meet the great modernist Joseph Binder, who was a leader in the European abstract graphic style. “Shep and Dorothy already wanted their work to convey meaning through compositional structure—instead of realism,” write Hathaway and Nadel, but Binder’s reduction of “an image to a series of shapes and forms and [integration of] typography into his pictures” helped refine their approach to design and illustration. Both Dorothy and Otis had been following the modernist movement with great interest back home, but seeing this work and the new techniques in person and to scale had a profound and lasting effect on them. Read More »

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Deconstructing Édouard Levé

November 5, 2014 | by

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From the cover of the English-language edition of Autoportrait.

I find myself ugly more often than handsome. I like my voice after a night out or when I have a cold. I am unacquainted with hunger. I was never in the army. I have never pulled a knife on anyone. I have never used a machine gun. I have fired a revolver. I have fired a rifle. I have shot an arrow. I have netted butterflies. I have observed rabbits. I have eaten pheasants. I recognize the scent of a tiger. I have touched the dry head of a tortoise and an elephant’s hard skin. I have caught sight of a herd of wild boar in a forest in Normandy. I ride. I do not explain. I do not excuse. I do not classify. I go fast.

Édouard Levé’s “When I Look at a Strawberry, I Think of a Tongue” appeared in our Spring 2011 issue, and it’s been a staff favorite ever since—a beguiling and sui generis self-portrait. It’s taken from the pages of Autoportrait, which Levé wrote in 2002 while he was traveling across America, taking the photographs that became “Série Amérique.” He’s still best known as a photographer, but his four works of prose—Oeuvres, Journal, Autoportrait, and Suicide—have begun to find the wider readership they deserve. Levé delivered Suicide to his publisher eight days before he took his own life, in 2007, at the age of forty-two.

If you’re in San Francisco, join our editor, Lorin Stein, in conversation with Jan Steyn for “Deconstructing Édouard Levé,” tonight at The Lab. (Lorin and Jan have both translated Levé.) Two Lines Press’s Scott Esposito, a certified Levé-ian and the coauthor of The End of Oulipo?, will moderate the discussion:

“We will immerse ourselves in the artistry and ideas behind his books—and we will also invite the audience to participate in creating some Levé-ian artworks and texts of our own. No prior knowledge of Levé or experimental prose necessary!”

Entry is free, and the event begins at seven this evening.

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The Poet Bandit

November 3, 2014 | by

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Black Bart, the outlaw poet.

November 3, 1883, marked the beginning of the end for Charles Earl Bowles, aka C. E. Bolton, aka Black Bart the Poet, aka the very picture of delinquent suavity. Bowles was a legendary nineteenth-century stagecoach robber known for the poetry he left at the scenes of his heists. Over the course of nearly a decade, he pulled off some two-dozen robberies hither and yon, concentrating on Wells Fargo stages throughout Oregon and Northern California. He made off with thousands of dollars a year plus the many intangibles that come with being a criminal mastermind, and he never once fired his gun or rode a horse.

Many fragments of his poetry survive, but apparently only two verses can claim Bowles as their author with full certainty. (Understandably, the guy had a lot of copycats.) Both of these merit close exegesis. The first was found at the scene of an August 1877 stagecoach holdup:

I’ve labored long and hard for bread,
For honor, and for riches,
But on my corns too long you’ve tread,
You fine-haired sons of bitches.

And the second verse, found at the site of Bowles’s July 25, 1878, holdup:

Here I lay me down to sleep
To wait the coming morrow,
Perhaps success, perhaps defeat,
And everlasting sorrow.
Let come what will, I’ll try it on,
My condition can’t be worse;
And if there’s money in that box
‘Tis munny in my purse.

Bowles had a pretty good reputation, as far as highwaymen go. People referred to him as a gentleman bandit, a man of sophistication. A police report described him: “A person of great endurance. Exhibited genuine wit under most trying circumstances, and was extremely proper and polite in behavior. Eschews profanity.” Read More »

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Sacred Rites

June 10, 2014 | by

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William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Crown of Flowers (detail), 1884.

The food takes awhile which gave us time to watch a waitress deliver a Dutch Baby and envelop us with its fragrant, perhaps sacred, steam. A tray of ruby grapefuit [sic] juice in large glasses made me think of luxurious jewels. Obviously we had traveled back to a past time. —A review of the Original Pancake House

When I was about twenty-six, a friend sent me a listing for a job at an online review site, which, at the time, had not yet gone public. It seemed to me a good idea to apply to lots of things, so I sent in a letter.

“We’re looking for someone hip and quirky for this job,” said the woman, Tyler, who interviewed me from San Francisco; she’d mentioned an improbably high salary and a host of benefits and perks. “You seem hip and quirky. But we need someone more integrated into the Web site’s community. I notice you have no reviews, no profile, and no ‘friends.’ We’ll need to see more of a commitment.”

I attacked my new assignment with determination. I set myself a quota of ten reviews a day and implored everyone I knew to join my network. In my capacity as manager of the lingerie store where I worked weekends, I commandeered the computer, knocking out reviews of the coffee at the bodega on the corner (“too subtle for the common palate”), the new artisanal pizzeria (“a horseman of the gentrification apocalypse”), and the local nail salon (“The nail technician was slovenly and surly; her coat was soiled; she started cutting my cuticles without asking”).

While I placed a premium on quantity, I began to take my task seriously: I was appalled by the cavalier manner in which fellow reviewers dismissed small businesses after a single visit or graded spots where they hadn’t bothered to wait for a table. I took special care in rebutting what I felt to be thoughtless and uninformed reviews. My tone became hectoring. Read More »

Our New Year’s Resolution: Travel More

January 3, 2014 | by

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Mallet compound locomotive of the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway (Frisco) via Wikimedia Commons.

We know: it’s hard to leave home. Your showerhead gets great water pressure; the guy at your bodega saves you the last copy of the Post; the coffee people remember your name. Why skip town? Indeed, we’re so irredeemably tethered to Manhattan that we haven’t bothered to have a foreign office in forty years. And we’re The Paris Review.

But it’s a new year, time to cast off our parochialism and see the world. Riches may lie in store. Legend tells, for instance, of a land called San Francisco, where paupers pan for gold, used bookstores line the streets, and the buses run on electricity. What is the state of letters in this paradise? Which fashions are in vogue among its citizenry? How’s the ceviche? We can’t say. But we know who can: McSweeney’s, a San Francisco institution since 1998.

This January only, you can get a dual subscription to The Paris Review and McSweeney’s for just $75—20 percent less than two individual subscriptions. In other words, you’ll have the comforts of home and a year of bicoastal exploration for less than it would cost us to get from Penn Station to Philadelphia, if that were something we were inclined to do.

Get transcontinental with McSweeney’s and the Review.

 

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