On a mission in the Mission District. Mural Central!

Murals are on just about every building in the Mission District. It’s a bright and colourful, if somewhat run-down part of the city. There are a cross-section of people living here, but it’s a predominantly Hispanic neighbourhood.

There are a few homeless people on the streets and a few “crazies” or people down on their luck talking to themselves. Some of the alleyways have a strong aroma of urine, but over all we felt quite safe walking there and chatted to a few friendly locals along the way. We took the bus from 22nd and Iowa Streets in the Dogpatch to 24th and Bryant Streets in the Mission. Each bus ride costs $2.75 if you pay cash, or you can buy a “Clipper Card”, load it with money and use that on the buses, trains and trams at a discounted $2.50 per ride.

The mission District got its name from the Roman Catholic Mission and Church – the oldest in San Francisco – which can be found on the corner of Dolores and 16th Streets. There is a suggested donation of $7 per adult to take a look inside the original mission building, the gorgeous church next door and the garden and cemetery…..end exit via the obligatory gift shop of course. Photos of the Mission and Church are below.

But now, back to the murals. Our walk took us along 24th Street past Alley Cat Books – which of course we felt the need to explore – and purchase a couple of books. From there we went in and out of side streets and alleys until we turned into Valencia Street. We then followed Valencia all the way down to a small park sandwiched between 19th and 20th Streets. I chose this route because it took us past another two bookshops – Dogeared Books and Borderland’s Books…..but this post is meant to be about the murals. Almost opposite Alley Cat books is Balmy Alley which is literally wall to wall with murals so here are a few of our favourites. There’s even a motorbike that’s covered in paintings.

Here are a few more of the murals from along our walk. Click on the individual photos to expand the photo.

After trudging around the streets and alleys in search of murals, we needed a break to recharge our batteries in a nice green space known as Mission Dolores Park – often shortened to Dolores Park. Bounded by 18th and 20th Streets, we entered off 19th and climbed up the main pathway that divides the park in two. Boy was it steep! The park is very popular for locals and tourists and has views over the central business district. It’s also a popular hangout for the homeless so be on your guard. Most of them are harmless and only looking for somewhere to lay their heads for a while.

We had prepared a picnic lunch, so sat on one of the many benches in the park, ate lunch, enjoyed the views, the occasional aroma of weed wafting by on the breeze and read our books. I will do a separate post about the bookshops in this area and books we bought. Weed, cannabis, marijuana – although still illegal in the USA by Federal law, IS legal in some states (including California) by State law – so plenty of people take advantage of that and use the park to get “mellow”. Here’s a few shots of the park to finish off this post.

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Potrero Hill (and books and bookshops).

Heading west and up hill from the flatlands of the Dogpatch area is the mainly residential Potrero Hill which clings to the curves of the east facing hills, giving it a sunny disposition. The condition and quality of the homes here change with each street and sometimes with each cross street from swanky to shabby. Along with homes, this neighbourhood also has cafe’s and eateries and an interesting local music scene…..plus Christopher’s Bookshop which is on my “to visit” list.

Historically a working class neighbourhood until the gentrification of the 1990’s – you’ll now find a mainly working-professional and upper-middle class, family-oriented scene. And talking of scenes, due to the elevated position you have a wonderful outlook over both the Bay and the financial district skyline. I guess I could have lumped Potrero Hill and the Dogpatch together as the Spanish name for the Dogpatch area was Potrero Nuevo, but as you saw from my earlier Dogpatch post there was enough happening there to warrant a post of its own.

I’m not sure how much there will be here of interest from a tourist viewpoint as it is mainly residential and by San Franciscan standards very quiet…..but we’ll see. One benefit is that there is a Caltrain station here so that means easy access to and from the main city.

When ever we visit cities anywhere in the world, we usually seek out the parks and open green spaces for a break from the hustle and bustle to give us a chance to recharge our internal batteries. Potrero Hill has a few such areas. Mckinley Square, popular with children and dog lovers and contains several levels of trails that make up the official off-leash dog area. The park is pretty much on the crest of Potrero Hill and since my blog is primarily about books and writers, has a literary connection. Part of Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s novel “The Language of Flowers” describes the park.

Published in 2011 The language of Flowers is Diffenbaugh’s first published novel and is about Victoria Jones, an itinerant foster child who gets moved from home to home until at the age of 18 she becomes a flower arranger…..hence the title. According to Wikipedia, “The novel was inspired by a flower dictionary, a type of Victorian-era book which defines what different types of flowers mean”. It’s also love story, which is why I won’t be reading it, but for those who enjoy love stories with a heavy accent on flowers and their meanings…it is most likely a good read. In fact Goodreads (did you see what I did there??? Lol) rates it at four and a bit out of five and says “A mesmerizing, moving, and elegantly written debut novel, The Language of Flowers beautifully weaves past and present, creating a vivid portrait of an unforgettable woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own troubled past”.

Around the corner from McKinley Square you’ll find Potrero Hill Community Garden which was established in the 1970s and has a panoramic view of the city. About 10 minutes walk from the Community Gardens is Potrero Hill Recreation Center. Renovated in 2011 – here you’ll find a baseball field, a tennis court, a basketball court, and another dog park. It seems like Potrero Hill residents love their dogs. Likewise, the Jackson Playground at the North Slope also has a baseball field, a tennis court, and a basketball court. And another loosely literary connection…there is a public library which was renovated in 2010 and is located on 20th St. and Connecticut St.

So what else other than homes and parks does Potrero Hill have to offer, I hear you ask? The answer is….not a lot. It’s mainly a residential area with a few shops and cafes to service the locals – which actually makes it quite a good place to visit….WHY? – no tourists and no crowds. From our son and daughter-in-laws apartment, the closest mini-markets within walking distance, of any note – mainly Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are in or along the edge of Potrero Hill so we have ventured into this area quite a few times since our arrival almost a week ago.

To get to Christopher’s Book Store means a steep-ish climb from the Dogpatch up 18th Street to the corner of 18th and Missouri, where you will find a lovely little shop (open every day 10am to 9pm) on the corner with a good variety of stock and a knowledgeable lady owner. The original owner “Christopher” who opened the store in 1991 has a New Zealand connection. Christopher Ellison was from Te Kauwhata (not too far from Hamilton, New Zealand) a very small town of just over 1000 people – serving an outlying area of maybe 10,000 people. He decided that what the Potrero Hill area of San Francisco needed was an independent bookshop. The current owner – Tee Minot – started off working for Christopher back in 1992 and has been here ever since, taking over sole ownership of the shop in 1996. As you would expect of someone who has owned a bookshop for over 20 years, Tee is very knowledgeable about her stock and the area of San Francisco that her shop is based.

The only thing I could even begin to be negative about this shop is that it’s not big enough to have a dedicated reading area. There are just 3 aisles of books – but a good selection. Tee herself said she wished that there was room for a couple of couches in there – sadly there isn’t – otherwise this shop would be just about perfect.

I can buy books cheaper on line but, as I may have mentioned in earlier blog posts, I prefer to support the bricks and mortar establishments – particularly independents – when ever I can. Visiting San Francisco, I wanted to buy a book or two either by San Franciscan writers or featuring stories set in San Francisco. With this in mind, Tee recommended several books/writers and I selected two of them – Rebecca Solnit’s “Call Them by Their True Names” – American Crises (and Essays) printed in 2018 and which I have just started reading.

Image result for call them by their true names review

Solnit, although born in Connecticut in 1961, moved to California when just a girl where she was educated from kindergarten to graduate school. She’s been an “independent writer” since 1988 and has published over twenty books covering everything from Feminism, History, Politics and Power, Social Problems, Travel, Insurrection, Hope and Disaster. This book however is a series of essays about, as she says, “the war at home” – referring to social injustice, climate change, domestic violence and of course the travesty that is Trump. The people at Goodreads rate this book as a 4 out of 5. I’m only about 20 pages in so far but she writes well – informs rather than preaches – so I will no doubt enjoy it.

The second of my book selections from Christopher’s is David Talbot’s “Season of the Witch”. Which according to the cover “tells the story of San Francisco in the turbulent years between 1967 and 1982 – and of the extraordinary men and women who led to the city’s ultimate rebirth and triumph”.

Paperback Season of the Witch : Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love Book

According to the Washington Post “An enthralling and harrowing account of how the 1967 Summer of Love gave way to 20 or so winters of discontent”.

So it should be a good read – at over 400 pages I am going to have to set aside some serious reading time for this one. Talbot was born and raised in Los Angeles, but now lives and works here in San Francisco. He specializes in “hidden histories” where his journalistic training is put to good use.

It scores a high 4 and a quarter on Goodreads but has been criticized for it’s racially singular accounts – being told by a white man basically from a white viewpoint about predominantly white people. I’ll keep an open mind when I eventually get to read it.

My wife Liz bought Jenny Odell’s “How to do Nothing” subtitled “Resisting the Attention Economy”. Unlike my two paperbacks, this is a very nice hard cover book with a colourful dust cover.

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Odell is another local writer, being based just over the bridge in Oakland.

Again this book is a 4 plus rating on Goodreads. “This thrilling critique of the forces vying for our attention re-defines what we think of as productivity, shows us a new way to connect with our environment and reveals all that we’ve been too distracted to see about our selves and our world”.

Where better to sit and peruse our new purchases than just over the road and slightly down the hill at Farley’s Coffee. Farley’s have really good coffee, by the way, so if you’re in the area you’ll be doing yourself a favour by calling in for a cup. The prices are much cheaper than in the tourist parts of the city too – a win / win situation. And the barista’s there are friendly and very good at what they do.

There are tables inside where you can sit and work / browse your laptop, or enjoy a bite to eat from their menu. We chose to sit outside in the sunshine beneath the Bottlebrush trees, sip coffee and read. This little seating area is right outside Farley’s door but is actually a kind of mini public park….or “parkette” if you like…where anyone can sit and while away a few minutes of a few hours, with or without a purchase from Farley’s.

Just a block further up the street from Christopher’s – which is quite a steep climb – there are some nice views of the city from this lofty vantage point on 19th Street.

Later on in the morning, passing the back of the library, the shutter doors were open revealing an area dedicated to selling used books – either ex library books, or donated by members of the public. Every book regardless of size, type or condition costs a mere $1. What a bargain. AND never being one to pass up a bargain I bought 4….and my wife bought 2. Our suitcases will be right up to that 23 kilo limit by the time we’ve finished buying books.

My picks were – Randy Shilts “The Mayor of Castro Street” about the life and times of Harvey Milk. A book of Essays edited by Jennifer Lee by American writers about their experiences in Paris – “Paris in Mind”. A pictorial feast of a book “Gertrude Stein in words and pictures” and my final selection was ironically by a guy who lives and works in my town of birth – Sheffield called Simon Armitage “Walking Home” subtitled “A Poets Journey”, which is about is attempt to walk the Pennine Way (the backbone of England).

My wife’s books were a paperback by Marianne Williamson’s “Healing the Soul of America”, and a cookbook by Terry Walters called “Clean Food”which is a nice quality hard cover book.

I’ll leave you with a few more photos of buildings that caught my eye – this time showing the bottom of the hill, back on the flat easy walking streets….and I’ll throw in another shot or maybe two of Christopher’s Books for good measure, since it’s such a great little shop.

Next post will be of the Mission District Murals.

The Dogpatch – no longer a dog of a place.

This is the first of what will surely turn out to be many posts about the City of San Francisco featuring photos and hopefully interesting information taken/collected by me and my wife on our recent visit to this amazing city. I have been here before, firstly in 1986 and more recently in 2012. Now that our son and daughter-in-law have moved here and SF is their new home town, we’ll no doubt be visiting more often. I hope so anyhow.

Why choose the Dogpatch as my first area to blog about here in this very interesting and beautiful city? It’s where my son and daughter-in-law live, and where we’re staying, so it makes it a natural start point for our investigation of the city. So let’s have a quick look at the history of the Dogpatch and that of San Francisco its self.

The first people to live and hunt in and around this area were the native American tribes – Miwok, Wintun and Wappo. This was prior to San Francisco and indeed most of California being under Mexican control from the early 1700’s until after the Mexican-American War, which ended in 1848, when Mexico ceded California to the Americans. Two years later in 1850 it became part of the Union. It wasn’t until 1847 that San Francisco came into being – before that it was called Yerba Buena by the Spanish and Mexican settlers. So I guess that when Mr Trump talks of throwing the Mexicans out of “our country”, he’s overlooking the fact that the Mexicans were here before the USA officially existed and so, the USA kicked the Mexicans out of what was part of THEIR country…(Independence day wasn’t until 4th July 1776)….and before California became part of the USA (1850). But he’s still hell bent on building his wall.

So, why call this area Dogpatch? Truth is no one is quite sure and there are several thoughts….1) The area was originally covered in a plant called Dogfennel….2) The area had slaughterhouses and so used to attract packs of dogs searching out scraps of meat and offal….and 3) It was named after Dogpatch, the fictional middle-of-nowhere setting of cartoonist Al Capp’s classic comic strip, Li’l Abner (1934–1977)…..Dogpatch is also a colloquialism describing an under developed backwater, which I guess San Francisco’s Dogpatch was. It was an area mostly taken up by warehouses, industry and shipyards. Part of the land here used to be marsh and has been reclaimed. Only the poorest of workers used to live here by choice as it was a very low rated, low rent area. This later attracted the “art community” so set up studios here, in old warehouses, which in turn brought the “hip” and “trendy” who converted warehouse space to fashionable lofts. It’s now an up and coming neighbourhood but still has the benefit of slightly lower than normal San Francisco property prices and rents…..but it’s catching up fast!

There was little redevelopment up until quite recently, as this was one of few areas to escape damage from the huge 7.9 San Francisco earthquake of 1906 so, from an historical viewpoint, the architecture is worth checking out.

Within a few blocks of where we are staying there are bars, cafes, art galleries, breweries, the waterfront and of course dog parks…..San Franciscans just love their dogs. There are a lot around, all being pampered and well loved by their mostly apartment dwelling owners – maybe another reason why this is called the Dogpatch?

We’ll start with the two breweries we have called into so far. The first of which was Triple Voodoo Brewery on 3rd Street, who have a rotation of 16 boutique beers on tap – and are dog friendly (the brewery, not the beer), what would you expect here in the Dogpatch? They offer a flight of beers to taste – you can have a flight of 4 or of 6 of beers of your choice from their menu. Or you can have a glass of beer served in a choice of glass size and this is reflected in the price. My wife and son both opted for a glass of Czech style “Anxiety Pils” where as I opted for a flight of 4 consisting of – “Inception” – a Belgian style golden strong beer of 8% alcohol rating, which was one of the nicest tasting beers I have had for a long time. Strong but smooth and very drinkable. Next up was “Season of the Boch” described as SF Giants IPA. SF Giants are the local Baseball team and this is a big hitting 7% IPA with very nice fruity citrus notes. If I hadn’t already tried the “Inception” I would have been totally won over by this beer. Next came “Summerwood” described by the brewer as Grisette aged on wood – it’s brewed using the “wort” from pressed grapes. This was my least favourite beer – and at 4.5% the weakest – as I just didn’t care for the taste at all. Call me weird if you like, but as far as I am concerned, grapes are for making wine, not beer. My 4th and final beer was “Corpse Paint” – described as a black common lager – at 5.3% alcohol it’s a nice seasonal dark beer with flavours bordering on a stout but without the heaviness. The brewer says it’s his favourite and I can see why….but for me it came in at number 3. Back home in NZ, MOA brew a very similar product…..equally tasty. Anyhow, below is a photo of my, already partially sampled, flight of four.

The flight was priced at $11 and the small glasses of beer at $5 each but the very nice lady bar teller only charged us $17 all up….so got a nice $3 tip. We win and she wins.

The other brewery we tried was Harmonic Breweries on 26th Street – just a few blocks down the street. Walking distance there and staggering distance back! Here they also offer tasting flights, but instead I opted for a full sized glass of beer and tried the “Harmonic Kölsch”. I had no idea what a Kölsch was so thought I’d try it. According to Wiki – Kölsch is a style of beer first brewed in Cologne, Germany. It is unusual because although it is warm fermented with ale yeast, it is then conditioned at cold temperatures like a lager. It’s a 5.8% lager and is a smooth easy drink…..maybe a little too easy! My second beer here I went for an oatmeal stout – “Cold-Press Stout” – at 5.3% it still tasted full bodied enough to be a stout, but I thought it was fairly similar to the “Corpse Paint” I’d tried at Triple Voodoo, and that was a black lager, not a stout.

Harmonic is another Dogpatch, dog friendly brewery and there were a couple of dogs sitting patiently under the tables while their owners imbibed and even one at the bar hoisted on its owners shoulders. I’m not sure what the prices were as my son and daughter-in-law kindly bought the beers.

Just 8 minutes walk away at 1275 Minnesota Street is the “Minnesota Street Project” – a collection of 13 art galleries in a warehouse space. The galleries are spread over 2 floors and are of various size and content with a large open space in the middle of the building which is very industrial like. Art of course, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder and I’ll be honest about this – there are somethings that people call art that I just don’t get at all. For example the short videos where nothing at all happens, or you get flickering light across the video screen so you can’t really see what’s going on. Conversely I really enjoyed visiting the Rena Bransten Gallery which featured, in one room, paintings by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in celebration of his 100th birthday. Ferlinghetti is best known as a poet of the beat generation and also as a publisher and owner/founder of City Lights Bookstore. His paintings are somewhat childlike but I still enjoyed them.

In the other room was a display of photos – all but one in black and white and the centre photo on the walls was in colour – by photographer Louis Stettner (1922-2016). Coinciding with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s retrospective Louis Stettner: Traveling Light, curated by Clément Cheroux’s, the works in this exhibition represent fifty years of Stettner’s prolific career and illustrate many of his most frequented subjects: people in pairs, workers, bodies in transit and rest, and cityscapes. Again, art is in the eye of the beholder and I am a photography nut so loved this exhibition. The photos below show the outside of the gallery building – as I said it’s very industrial both outside and on the second photo showing the open space in between the galleries. The individual galleries are either side of this open area over two floors. The third photo is of my wife standing outside the Rena Bransten gallery with one of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s paintings on the wall behind.

Scattered through a number of the galleries were works of Iranian artists now living in the USA. Many of the designs look like Persian carpets and are offered in a variety of colours – for example with an emphasis on the colour yellow or the same picture but in the colour red. They are quite beautiful. The galleries are free to visit as they are there to promote the artists and to sell their wares. Some of the gallery staff are more friendly and welcoming than others.

Along Indiana Street in the other direction is a small open area outside a nice little cafe – where I am told you can get a very tasty brunch. This open area for better or worse is called the Dogpatch Arts Plaza. They have in the past held some outdoor music events here, but looking at their website – last updated in mid 2018, it doesn’t look very promising for anything happening during our visit. There is quite a nice sculpture occupying space in the middle of the plaza though. See photo below

As you can see it looks like a cross between Centaur meets the Terminator. I quite like it.

Just to round off our Dogpatch experience this far I should also mention Piccino restaurant just around the corner from the apartment on the corner of Minnesota and 22nd streets. It’s located in an old weatherboard building painted bright yellow on the outside, but with an open and modern interior. It’s obviously THE place to be around here as it was very popular on the evening that we dined there. The food was divine. I am usually a very predictable eater in that I know what I like and usually stick to it. BUT for once, encouraged by my son and daughter-in-law I decided to try a few things that I wouldn’t normally try and much to my delight, enjoyed everything put in front of me…..including the raw fish and the cooked octopus. The food is presented on shared plates so it’s easy to try different things. The highlights in my opinion were the Octopus (which was far from the rubbery experience I expected), the Short Rib (that was melt in the mouth delicious) and my dessert – which the menu describes as “zeppole, huckleberry, white chocolate pudding”. I had no idea what zeppole or huckleberries were but was attracted by the white chocolate pudding. It was a taste sensation of light and fluffy mini-doughnut like balls of yumminess with the semi-sharp, semi-sweet fruity berries and the smooth creaminess of the white chocolate pudding. The wine list is what I would describe as being on the expensive side, but accompanied the food perfectly. The staff there are knowledgeable about the food and wines on offer and very attentive. And of course the company my son and daughter-in-law, plus my lovely wife made for a wonderful evening. Sorry – no photos of the food or the restaurant – I was too busy eating!

Next up is our “Mission” to find murals in the very colourful Mission District.

Quotes about bookstores

I don’t know about you, but my home is full of books. Bookcases line the walls of my lounge and my office, the shelves sagging under the weight. And there are more books squirreled away, hidden in boxes, under the beds. Which is probably why, of all shops, I feel most at home and at my happiest in bookstores. Here are a few quotes from like-minded souls.

“You see, bookshops are dreams built of wood and paper. They are time travel and escape and knowledge and power. They are, simply put, the best of places.”
—Jen Campbell

“Browsing through the shelves in bookstores or libraries, I was completely happy.”
—Louis L’Amour

“I have gone to [this bookshop] for years, always finding the one book I wanted—and then three more I hadn’t known I wanted.”
—Mary Ann Shaffer

“Don’t patronize the chain bookstores. Every time I see some author scheduled to read and sign his books at a chain bookstore, I feel like telling him he’s stabbing the independent bookstores in the back.”
—Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I will end on that quote from the centenarian poet, publisher and co-founder of City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco…..a bookstore that I will be visiting in the next few days. One of many of San Francisco’s independent bookstores on my “to visit” list.

Are you prepared for anything?Or are you prepared for everything?

Bad things sometimes happen to good people completely unexpectedly….out of the blue. This was clearly referenced recently in Christchurch, New Zealand with the Mosque shootings – resulting in fifty Muslim worshippers being cut down by a lone white supremacist gunman. Although the shooting of people from one religious group by a member of another group is nothing new these days (sadly), it is something new for New Zealand. Many people had a dazed look on their face and uttered the same words “How could this happen here?” However, with terrorism reaching almost every corner of the world, it was only a matter of time before we in New Zealand became part of the equation.

Christchurch has had a fairly bad run of things over the last 10 years, having suffered two large earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. The 2010 quake registered 7.1 on the Richter Scale but other than a few minor injuries, no one was killed. It was a different story in 2011, when buildings already weakened by the 2010 quake succumbed to the shaking produced by a smaller 6.2 quake, killing 185 people and injuring many more.

Then in 2016, just 180 kilometres north of Christchurch, the coastal town of Kaikura experienced a huge 7.8 quake which shook down buildings, caused land slips severing road connections with the outside world and left Kaikura residents to their own devices for several days. In spite of the size of the quake, only 2 people died and several others were injured. The main highway north out of Kaikura took 2 years to reconstruct. The quake also caused damage to several buildings in our countries Capital – Wellington – approximately 200 kilometres to the north – across Cooks Strait on the north island of New Zealand.

Last year we had serious floods on the north island, leaving communities cut off for a couple of weeks until floodwaters subsided and this year the south island was hit by flooding, with bridges being washed away by raging rivers, again cutting transport and power and, in some cases, water supplies to several communities.

All of these incidents and others have demonstrated that when it comes to large scale disasters, particularly wide ranging natural disasters like storm damage and/or earthquakes, the government of the day can not protect us. Often the damage caused by the natural event is such that it prevents rescuers or aid from getting through and the victims are left to fend for themselves to a greater or lesser degree. Obviously some folks are better equipped and better prepared to cope through a natural disaster than others. Its all about assessing the facts and taking appropriate action to mitigate the potential for disaster. People who choose to live along a fault line, or in tornado alley or in a high drought area etc and choose to do nothing to prepare to survive an earthquake, a tornado or a drought are fools. They are even bigger fools if they genuinely believe that the government are going to come riding over the horizon and save them.

With Climate Change tipped to bring us more extreme weather in the future, these weather phenomena are more likely to become the norm rather than the extreme. Add to this mix the general political unrest in the world today – continuing unrest in the middle east, Trump in the Whitehouse and “Little Rocket Man” in North Korea, Russia and China flexing their military muscles….not to mention the turmoil in Britain and Europe caused by Brexit…and it’s not unusual to react by dispairingly, throwing ones arms in the air, and saying saying there’s nothing we can do about it. BUT, there are some things that we can prepare for and by being prepared for them, they become a less frightening proposition.

Obviously there is a lot of information on the internet on what to do in emergencies of various kinds, but what if the emergency situation takes out the power grid and you lose the internet as an information resource? That’s why I have several books either on my office bookshelves, or ready for a quick get away in my caravan/trailer, that give advice and guidance no matter what the emergency. There have been a flood of “Prepper Books” come out as a result of the National Geographic TV Series “Doomsday Preppers” which started filming in 2011….followed by 2 shows on the same theme filmed in the UK called Doomsday Preppers UK. Some of these books are absolute garbage and are written by people who have no “Prepper” experience who have jumped on the bandwagon to make a quick buck. There are some that I can recommend though that were written years before the Doomsday Prepper series was even conceived.

One printed in 1987 by Reader’s Digest simply called “What to do in an emergency”, offers useful tips and information on what to do in a multitude of emergency situations, from simple things such as treating bites and stings, to stopping bleeding, dealing with burns and broken bones, through to solving electrical problems, preparing for a coming storm, dealing with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. It also gives advice on forest fires, emergencies at sea and even what to do in the event of your plane being hijacked. Being a Reader’s Digest book, it’s written in plain, simple language, has helpful illustrations, and is easy to follow. The important thing though is not to just have books like this sitting on your shelf to be referenced after an emergency happens. Read them well first, make notes or if you don’t mind your books being damaged, use a highlighter to clearly mark the most important parts for quick reference when the time comes.

Another very useful book is Ted Wright’s 1993 book “Complete Disaster Survival Manual”. In this book you receive some of the same information as the previously mentioned Reader’s Digest book, but he delves more into preparing in a group situation, either at work or in the home/community and has come up with several useful lists of “must have” equipment for dealing with said emergency situations. He also points out some myths/facts about various situations. Some are comforting but others are quite disturbing when he points out how ill prepared the authorities actually are for many emergency situations that could arise. For example having little or no food/water stored for emergencies, or siting an emergency control centre in the basement of an earthquake prone building on land that would be submerged in the event of a tsunami…..as is the situation in the town close to where I live.

A good standby that most Preppers either have on their bookshelves or in their “Go-Bags” is John ‘Lofty’ Wiseman’s “SAS Survival Handbook” – subtitled “how to survive in the wild, in any climate, on land or at sea”. It’s a mine of very useful information written by a man with years of military survival know-how under his belt. Everything from setting up camp in the wilds, finding your way by the stars, first aid, natural medicines you can find in the woods and fields (with diagrams to help identify plants), edible plants, poisonous plants, hunting, fishing and trapping, how to cope in extreme conditions such as deserts or mountains – all this and more is in this book…..as I said a mine of information. He also talks about building your own disaster “pocket survival kit” and what to do in a variety of natural disasters.

Although the above mentioned books all have sections about health and first aid, it’s important to have a book (or two) specifically on the subject of first aid and keeping healthy. My “Go-To” book is the St Johns “First Aid handbook”. It gets updated every few years, but my copy is from the 1970’s (not the one pictured) and used to belong to my father.

There are a lot of useful books out there that can help us to be like good boy scouts and “be prepared” for all eventualities and those are just a few of what’s available.

Just going back to the “Doomsday Preppers” series. Much of what’s shown on TV is very much over the top as far as these Preppers are concerned. They seem to think that an underground bunker, a dozen high powered semi-automatic weapons with thousands of bullets plus a years supply of freeze dried food will protect them and their families from all hazards. Not only do you have to be very wealthy to have this sort of emergency preparation, I couldn’t imagine being confined in a smallish space underground with my immediate family and probably my in-laws as well, for an extended period of time – we’re talking months in some cases!

My preference is community based prepping and being able to build your own shelter and live off the land….which is why we already grow most of our fruit and vegetable needs (we save seeds for the following years crops) and preserve any extra produce so we can eat it after its season ends (it also provides us with a useful emergency supply store of food), we have a bee hive, harvest rainwater from the roofs as a means of watering our gardens (or in dire emergency as a drinking water supply). With this in mind I also have books on subjects such as gardening/pruning/organics and permaculture, wild edibles, natural medicines and home remedies, preserving (dehydrating/freezing/salting/bottling or canning), natural building methods (straw bale/earth building), making your own electricity and general self sufficiency.

I have been a home gardener since I was a child, helping my father in his veggie garden. I’ve been interested in prepping and being prepared for disasters for a somewhat shorter time, taking a more serious interest about 7 or 8 years ago. There is a lot of information about “Prepping” and “Preppers” on line – some of it is very helpful and can be taken at face value, where as other information needs to be taken with a pinch of salt….in some cases a very LARGE pinch of salt. I would encourage anyone interested to check out any of the on-line forums about Prepping – common sense will soon tell you which are the useful ones and which are run by purely gun-toting rednecks. For New Zealanders interested in finding out more about Prepping, try prepnz.proboards.com or message me for more info.

We face interesting times ahead here in NZ. As a response to the Christchurch shootings, our Prime Minister is pushing through new gun ownership laws which is hardly surprising. What concerns me though is where this change will lead. This is not America. We have no 2nd amendment. At the moment, because our security status here is high, after the shootings, police are currently carrying weapons, once it drops back to “normal levels” they will once again have access to weapons in lock boxes in patrol cars, but won’t be carrying a Glock on their hips.
There is talk once more of permanently arming our police force regardless of security level….while at the same time disarming the general population. In the UK they have gone a step or two further by now making restrictions on knives – the type and the blade size that it’s citizens can own. Like I said, interesting times ahead.

Your feedback/comments are appreciated on anything mentioned in this post.

San Francisco beckons

I’ll soon be heading off to San Francisco to catch up with my eldest son and his wife….and aim to visit as many of the amazing independent bookstores there as I can. Immediately Green Apple Books, City Lights, Alley Cat Books and Dog Eared Books spring to mind, but there are dozens more scattered around this awesome city. Since my blog is primarily about books, writers, and bookstores, this will form the “bones” of my trip, but I’ll also flesh it out with lots of other bits and pieces and pursue my other passions of photography and travel…..not to mention the cafes and boutique breweries, bars, restaurants, galleries and shops. Speaking of galleries, there will be visits to photography galleries and art galleries plus there is a lot of art in public spaces outdoors such as the hundreds of murals in the Mission district. Then again, San Francisco also has some wonderful parks and open spaces to explore too, so after exhausting ourselves in the parks on this side of the bridge, we’ll probably head over the Golden Gate Bridge and see the mighty Redwoods in Muir Woods and since we’re almost there already… there are the vineyards of Sonora to check out.

We’ll also be spending a few days on the Monterey peninsula and a long weekend in Portland, Oregon – where I’ll spend some of my time in Powell’s bookstore – the biggest independent bookstore in the USA.

If anyone has any other tips on “must see” things in San Francisco, OR if you have any requests for things you’d like me to check out and blog about while in SF, please let me know in the comments below. I won’t be going to visit Alcatraz as I have already been there twice – once a few years ago and once back in 1986….but any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Christchurch – love, empathy and forgiveness out of a terrible tragedy.

As those of you who have been following my blog know, it’s about books, writers, bookshops – and occasionally movies, travel and photography. But because of what occurred here in New Zealand a week ago I feel compelled to write something about it.

One week to the day ago 50 people who were going about their lives, many of them praying in their place of worship – their place of safety – were murdered and around the same number were hospitalised. It was, without a doubt, a hate crime and the dead and injured were targeted because of their religion and/or colour. All we know at this point in time is that there is just the one accused man in police custody who has been charged with one count of murder with more counts to be added before he stands trial. Much has been made of the fact that this man is a white supremacist and is Australian. I guess the authorities here want to make the point that it was NOT a New Zealander who committed such atrocities and to try to distance ourselves from the perpetrator.

I am not sure what the killer expected to happen as a result of his crimes, but if he wanted to start a race war, or religious war, or merely to spread hatred and distrust among the various races, religious groups and communities of NZ….he failed miserably. Never have I seen such a coming together of people. The support shown by the NZ public of love and empathy toward the Muslim community has been huge. And in return that love has come back from the Muslim people to the rest of NZ. Long may this state of being last.

Distrust and hatred among people of different races or religions comes mainly from ignorance, of not knowing anything about these people or their religious practices. It’s interesting to see how many hits on line there has been about what it is to be Muslim. People aren’t looking this up in order to convert, but just to understand and accept that there are more similarities between the various groups than there are differences. All too often we make a big deal about how different some people are from others instead of embracing our similarities. There has been particular distrust from non-Muslims relating to the wearing of the various head scarves starting with the hijab – which covers the hair and the neck, but leaves the face visible – through to the full burka which covers the entire head and face. For Islamic women who choose to wear the hijab it allows them to retain their modesty, morals and freedom of choice. They choose to cover because they believe it is liberating and allows them to avoid harassment. Unfortunately due to ignorance from others who have no idea about why these various head coverings are worn and so therefore fear or distrust them, harassment, of a racial kind ,is something that happens all too often. I think it’s important for all of us to have a little knowledge about all religions, all ethnic groups so that we understand rather than fear or hate through our ignorance.

A post on the BBC website – link below – shows the differences between the various Muslim head coverings and their names. https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/24118241

In Iran, since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Hijab has become compulsory. Iranian women are required to wear loose-fitting clothing and a headscarf in public. However in most other countries it is optional, but as a sign of respect and modesty most Muslim women choose to wear a head covering in some form or another.

The morning after the shootings, my wife told me that she wanted to pick some flowers from our garden and take them down to the local mosque to show that white people can also show love and empathy, not hatred and bigotry. So, she picked a few flowers, wrapped a ribbon around them and we visited the mosque. The gates and the building were all locked up….small wonder after what had happened in Christchurch. We were surprised to see, so early in the morning, that there were already many floral tributes and cards with messages of support attached to, or leaning against, the fence around the mosque. These tributes have continued to grow in number throughout the week and are now so deep that they are taking up most of the footpath.

There was a short – I can’t call it a service because it had no religious meaning – it was more of a moment of love and respect, there outside the fence of the mosque, when poem was read out written by the poet Rumi, called Silence (or in silence)…..followed by a minutes silence for us to reflect on what had happened. Many people of all skin colour were openly weeping. It was both sad, but at the same time quite beautiful to see this coming together of people who would not normally even speak to one another.

All over New Zealand there have been vigils and public meetings and tributes. Here in my home town of Hastings – which happens to have the only Mosque in the whole of Hawke’s Bay (our region – the same as an American state or an English county) – a service of remembrance, of love and empathy was held in the middle of town by local civic and religious officials last Monday, and even though it was in the middle of the day, when so many people would have been at work, it was heartening to see hundreds of people of all ages, races and religious backgrounds there. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and more all side by side united in grief and love.

Many non-Muslims who want to show their unity and support for the Muslim community are not sure of the protocol to follow. In times such as these it is natural to want to hug someone and tell them that things will be OK. BUT it is not generally acceptable for people outside the Muslim faith of opposite genders to have physical contact. So in general it would be acceptable for a male to hug a male and a female to hug a female – BUT please ask first. Show your respect for their culture. For female non-Muslims who want to wear a scarf or hijab to show support for their Muslim sisters – this is quite acceptable. There was a story about Muslim women who after the Christchurch attack were afraid to go out in public wearing the hijab to take their kids to school. However, non-Muslim women in the community offered to walk with them and to wear the scarf themselves.

There was a photo on Facebook showing 3 eggs – one white, one light brown and one dark brown – all decidedly different looking. In a second photo all the eggs had been cracked into a pan – all looked identical. Under that outer shell – that outward appearance – they were exactly the same. A simple but at the same time a timely reminder to us all to embrace our similarities and not focus on our differences.

We have had our first threat – supposedly from ISIS – saying that the deaths of their Muslim brothers and sisters in New Zealand will be avenged. This is not what the NZ Muslim community are saying. They have reacted only with love, peace, gratefulness for the huge show of public support…..and unbelievably… forgiveness for the shooter. I think all of us can learn from this.

This post is primarily about the good that came from this tragedy. I may write another post, at a more suitable time – outlining from my own perspective what I see as the problems, the unanswered questions arising from what happened and comment on the NZ governments response.