telegraph hillsan francisco – 1st entry

sailboatMy first day in San Francisco and we went on a boat ride through the harbor. The harbor is huge reminiscent of the one in Naples. And the hills that surround it are brown with no vegetation.

The city itself is of a human scale. All the housing is two, three and four story buildings. You walk out of Tom-and-Kathi’s house and the neighborhood is proportioned for humans. (It is different to see all the housing constructed from wood. Coming from a cold climate where wood had become an interior material and brick the pervasive external sheath.) The city also has a Mediterranean feel to it making it familiar and accessible. Even the downtown office buildings do not create the caverns of Manhattan Island.

The image is from the harbor cruise-ship looking at Telegraph Hill and the Bay Bridge on the left.


i could be in spainsan francisco – 2nd entry

churchUp the street from Tom-and-Kathi is the Jesuit University of San Francisco. And given that the Spanish discovered California and that Ignacio de Loyola was a Spanish nobleman, the university church and the priests’ residence are late Baroque and beautiful against the morning sun.

The image on the left is the copula and one of the bell-towers from the large campus church. (My goal is to go there tomorrow morning and shoot the interior.) The image was shot from the Jesuit Mother-House that now houses the University Admin offices. The Mother-House complex is high Baroque and its soft stone facade gleams in the California sun.

As I walked around the old Mother-House, I kept thinking that Tom and I lived in the Christian Brothers’ Mother-House in the late 60’s. It wasn’t in California, but in grey New England. But is was every bit as grand and expansive.

There really was a time when Mother Church added to the American culture; when it nurtured its European immigrants in the New World. Mother Church brought over the priests, nuns and brothers that created some of the best schools in the country. And it supported this group that educated the children of the immigrants giving them the opportunity to fully participate and contribute to the economy and culture of the New World. And for this grand legacy, I may have to rethink my antagonism towards Mother Church.



the northern coastlinesan francisco – 3rd entry

What amazes me is how similar the San Francisco area is to southern Italy, to Calabria. The topography and the look are so familiar, I keep saying, “If my Dad could see this. If the Calabrese could have come here instead of severe Northern Ontario, their transition would have been so much easier.”

Today, Tom and I drove south as far as Santa Cruz. (The above image is of the coastline south of San Francisco.)

The other refreshing aspect of being here is the lack of references to anything English. Canada with its British legacy and Pittsburgh with its English obsession are annoying. Here everything points to its Spanish past. There is no Queen or King Street and there are no East-enders swooning over Masterpiece Theater and its latest costume farce. You know, the ones where the dukes-and-duchesses look down their noses at the chambermaids and footmen. (If only help weren’t so hard to come by or so demanding of a living wage the East-enders too could live like the Royals of public television.)


the jesuits in san franciscosan francisco – 4th entry

dome2Sometimes I look at all the religious architecture I shoot and think that maybe I’m over doing it. I’m on the campus of The Jesuit University of San Francisco in a modern atrium. Looking up, I realize that it was built to face the old church and to frame the old copula, so I had to shoot it.

It’s and urban campus and therefore everything is compact. The area must have had a collection of religious organizations, because there are two convents and an old all-girls college surrounding the university. (The all-girls college has been assumed into the university.) Within a five block radius, there are many Spanish style steeples. I wonder if the convents are also Spanish in origin.

I’m not interested in going into St. Ignatius Church; I just like the steeples and dome against the blue San Francisco sky.

Tomorrow we head up to Napa. We will tour a couple of the vineyards that Tom-and-Kathi like. (Frank claims that Napa will look even more like Calabria. He and his family were here in 93. So what it took me 23 more years to finally get here.) The weather in Napa is supposed to be warm. The 3 days I’ve been here, I’ve been in long-pants and sweaters. On one level, I want to say, “But it’s June.” but then I remember that I would be wearing the same clothes if it were February – amazing.


off the silverado trailsan francisco – 5th entry

canvasWe spent the day in the Napa Valley. We went to two vineyards, the first one because of its art collection, the second one because of the tram.

The above image is of the canvas awnings in one of the wine tasting areas.

Some of my favorite things about Napa:
– Finding out that the valley runs east and west. This allows the hot winds from the desert to blow into the valley. It was so warm, we were glad to have AC buildings to go into.
– The valley topography is obvious and the flats are covered with grapevines.
– The Christian Brothers have a Novitiate in the Valley and at one time they had one of the largest wineries in the Valley. They made Christian Brothers Brandy.
– The wineries on the Silverado Trail are better.

I did hate the traffic on 29 especially through St. Helena.


naked in napasan francisco – 6th entry

nudeThis triptych is in the Hess Gallery at the Hess Winery – the first winery we visited. (I guess wine has made millionaires of the Hess family.) And next door was the Christian Brothers Novitiate and Conference Center. I don’t know what I liked more – discovering the Christian Brothers Novitiate in Napa, especially after having written about the contributions of the religious orders to American culture, or that the old and retired Brothers are living next door to a modern art collection.

In the whole United States, there are about 700 Brothers left in the organization I joined back in my youth. (The average age of the group is over 70.) The religious order that took me out of northern Ontario and opened the door to New York City and Pittsburgh is dieing. Within 20 years the Brothers, Sisters and Priests that ran the Catholic Schools in the United States will be no more. Bobby, who is my remaining friend in the Brothers, is in Concord, CA; he is the principal at the Brothers High School there; and Bobby is my age.

Tom and I did go up to the Brothers House asking if Brother Robert was in, but school, in the East-Bay Area is still in session.


the christian brothers in napasan francisco – 7th entry

altarThis is the third entry about Napa.

The surprise yesterday was finding the Christian Brothers Novitiate and Holy Family Institute next door to the winery. Tom-and-Kathi had been to the winery before, but neither had ventured into the next property. I saw the bell-tower on the Spanish facade and had decided that I wanted to come back after touring the gallery.

Tom went up to the sign and discovered that it was the Christian Brothers Novitiate. This is comparable to the Novitiate we were at in Narragansett, Rhode Island. This was the west coast version. The above image is the Mont La Salle Chapel and what’s amazing about it is that it was renovated in the same style as the chapel in the Brothers Novitiate in Barrytown, New York. I found the black-and-white picture of the Barrytown chapel online.

barrytownWhen we were at Narragansett they took us on a trip to the Barrytown Novitiate and Mother-House. (Most of the Brothers who were 10 years older than me, had gone through the Novitiate here on the Hudson. The Narragansett facility wasn’t built until the early 60’s.) The original chapel building, from the outside was your typical European church structure, and walking in to see the modern renovation was a shock. It was amazing to see this minimalist chapel in a building that must have dated from the 30’s.

I’ve sent Bobby an email asking if he can find out who did the renovations both at Mont La Salle and in Barrytown. He answered that the Brothers had contracted with the Rambush Architectural Firm for the Mont La Salle Chapel, the Barrytown Chapel and the chapel at the Brothers Washington DC house.


the aids memorial in golden gate parksan francisco – 8th entry

aidsGiven that in 4 hours, I’m headed to the airport, today was a down-day. We walked up to Haight Street and then down into Golden Gate Park. Two observations about the Park: one – all the marginal people are white; two – the Park is full of people. I said to Tom, “If San Francisco can do it, why can’t New York City? Why can’t Central Park be made safe so every part of it can be used?”

It’s a very walkable Park and we ended up at the AIDS Memorial. I had seen the documentary that chronicled the building of the memorial and I’m glad to see that those who wanted a low-keyed, subdued commemoration won out. The place is peaceful and serene.

There are boulders throughout the grove and many of them are carved with people’s names and various epitaphs. The one above was a strange one. I liked the quote, but under it was the name of the corporate sponsor. I removed the corporate name and kept the message.

Running through the grove is a dry stream-bed beautifully landscaped with hand-picked rocks. I found a rock that was split and took it as my souvenir from San Francisco.


June 10, 2015 diario/journal, san francisco

bay-bridgewhen sundown pales the skysan francisco – 9th entry

It’s been four days since my first visit to Northern California. I really liked San Francisco; it felt both safe and accessible. The brown hills, the pine trees, the vineyards were so familiar that I kept thinking I was back in southern Italy. The temperature was cool; the whole time I was there I wore a light sweater and long-pants. The Pacific can be ignored, but the Bay is wonderful. The city exudes a sense of tolerance and the gay community takes that tolerance as a given. I was proud to be in a city where Liberals run an amazing urban center. The urban landscape is on the other side of the Bay – out of sight and maybe out of mind. The housing density is second to New York City and housing prices are extreme. (I kept thinking that Tokyo, must have the same dense feel to it.)

The Golden Gate is majestic, but the Bay Bridge is elegant. (The above image is of the Bay Bridge.) Mendocino is New England, but Napa is Italy. (The rugged coastline and quaint shops of Mendocino stand in for Jessica Fletcher’s home in the fictional town of Cabot Cove, Maine. And the Spanish haciendas and Italianate cantinas blend wonderfully with the long rows of grapevines of the Napa Valley.)

But San Francisco shows that Liberals can succeed in an America held hostage by an intolerant Republican Congress.


June 11, 2015 diario/journal, san francisco

        four expatriatessan francisco – last entry

hollyHTalking to my mother about norther California was funny. She revealed that it had always been a place she had wanted to see. Don’t know why she never told me that before. When I told it was my first sight-seeing trip to the state, I had to explain why I had avoided The Golden State, The Land of Milk and Honey, La La Land. She laughed.

What I keep thinking about is the amazing weather. Tom-and-Kathi just put in a furnace in the last 3 years. (Can you imagine no AC bills, no heating bills?) And the fact that I spent the entire time with long-pants and a light sweater was amazing. Without sounding too sarcastic, I loved that fact that there were no references to England or English things. (The Spanish architecture is so much more interesting than the British influenced, severe buildings of Toronto.)

And then to top it all off, I got an email from one other Calabrian expat – Pietro – who lives in San Francisco. The four of us – Pietro, Gabriele, Carlo and I – left Aprigliano in the 50’s and came to the new world. Pietro’s family went to Montreal, but he couldn’t deal with the winters and left for Florida. But he left The Sunshine State, and headed for the golden, rolling hills of California. He opened two restaurants, one in San Francisco – Ristorante Parma – that his daughter still operates and one in Napa. Gabe landed in Toronto and is the most financially successful of the group. Carlo too ended up in Toronto where he is a partner in a healthcare firm. And Rick Wertheimer and I managed to build an innovative and successful charter high-school in downtown Pittsburgh.

For those who come to San Francisco, summertime will be a love-in there . . . Scott McKenzie’s song was one of my favorites and for the first time ever, I have hollyhocks blooming in my back yard – the accompanying image. But it was too late, by the time I got there, to wear flowers in my hair.