Disappearing Panthers; Latin Confusion

Quick update: took the depression test, scored mild to moderately depressed. Surprised it wasn’t worse.

Back to California: When I was planning the trip the Universe sent me suggestions in the form the  NYTimes on what to do in Oakland. One involved a tour of spots where the Black Panthers founded the movement. Anna and I decided it would be a kick to do the tour, and when I mentioned it to Ashley, he said, “I can get you a Black Panther tour with an actual Black Panther.” His years of working and living around San Francisco and Oakland had put him in touch with pretty much everyone who was anyone.

I started by calling the phone number listed in the Times, which Ash and Kathryn said wasn’t even in Oakland. A quick check showed that it’s in Santa Rosa, which is half way to Napa from Oakland. I never received a call back. Then Ash put out the word to his people, and learned that Dave Hilliard, who conducts the tours, was traveling and wouldn’t be around.

Ash did some more legwork, but time was getting short and we had made other plans. The closest we came was a business card from Samuel Brooks advertising the sale of “posters, newspapers, buttons, etc.”

Maybe on the next trip we can view this endangered species.

The alternative plan took shape, and on Wednesday Anna and I made a return trip into San Francisco. This time parking was a cinch. On our way out Tuesday we asked the attendants at the BART station. They said the $1 spaces fill up by 7 a.m. Plus there was a complicated process for paying that involved adding a dollar to the ticket one used to enter and leave BART. I wasn’t clear on how the meter maids knew who had added the dollar, but I guess one had to key in the license number or something.

A better choice: the spaces that could be reserved online with a sheet that one stuck on the dash. The cost – $4.50, the cheapest parking I’ve encountered except for the freebies at the Amtrak station in Old Saybrook, where the demand is maybe 10 cars.

I navigated the maze of BART’s instructions and held my breath as the sheet printed. We arrived at the station around 8:45 to discover that most of the $4,50 spaces were still empty. The only limits on the reservation are that one has to arrive by 10 a.m. and can’t park over night.

This time we got off of BART at the Civic Center stop and discovered a blocks-long farmers’ market. This one is called Heart of the City. It’s there on Wednesdays and Sundays, migrating elsewhere on other days of the week. We wandered around for some time and wished we’d brought shopping carts. A band was tuning up – maybe more than one because the area could accommodate musicians galore. These markets are far more than just a bunch of fruit and vegetable stands – though what there was of those looked fresh and enticing. Vendors sold every imaginable kind of product as well – there were handknit scarves and socks, and CDs for sale – though I wouldn’t inquire too much into their legality.

Anna and I intended to stop back and buy lunch to eat al fresco, but by 1 p.m. the promised 90 degrees had turned to 60 and a stiff wind drove us to the Asian Museum of Art, where we both warmed up with bowls of soup.

In between we visited the library, which had a magnificent display of ephemera from the 1939 World’s Fair and looked at the très, très expensive items for sale in the Asian Museum gift shop.

That evening, after a trip home on a supercrowded BART train, we ran out for pizza and then watched Pan’s Labyrinth. I had been reading Like Water for Chocolate and the two ran together in my dreams and in my head even though the book is set in Mexico around 1900 and the movie takes place in Franco’s Spain in 1944.

The book drew me because of the recipes that begin each chapter even though I could eat maybe two (the hot chocolate and the wedding cake). The rest are made with copious amounts of lard or pig innards, or both. Recipes lacking such ingredients start, “Two days after killing the turkey…” The narrative falls in the realm of magical realism, which I love, with flocks of birds and fire materializing out of nowhere, and people dying or disappearing mysteriously.

Pan’s Labyrinth has lush visuals like House of Flying Daggers and almost as much fantasmagorical stuff as Water for Chocolate, but it is larded with far more brutality than I can stomach. The torture scenes left me feeling nauseous, even though I knew they were part of the action.

Unlike much of the reading I do when I’m away from home, Water for Chocolate suited the environment with the Hispanic influence in architecture, food, and culture in and around San Francisco. Even Pan’s Labyrinth fit nicely into the milieu.

But I needed something to get the underlying taste of violence out of my system, so I turned to the book I’d brought with me, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. There’s violence in that book, too, but it doesn’t overwhelm the material. A full review will follow when I’ve finished reporting on the trip.

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