West Portal – Closures and Big Machines

As everyone probably knows by now, West Portal tunnel is closed while they repair and replace the hundred-year-old lines.

The main staging area is West Portal, the commercial street. It’s a big mess. But a big intriguing mess. (And, we hasten to add, it’s open for business and the shops and restaurants are operating normally.)

We were fascinated by the huge, specialized machines parked everywhere in the first couple of blocks of West Portal.

And here are some more:

All in matching, very visible yellow, though each machine is different.

It’s all very much under control, and as long as you avoid Ulloa and Vicente and the stretch between, it’s not difficult to drive there or find parking.


But the stores sure could do with some support, so if you were thinking about shopping or dining there… please do. And if you have kids who are interested in huge machines and construction activity – it’s the perfect time to ogle the earthmovers!




Squat & Gobble Tree Not Saved

So some months ago, I’d asked – Did someone save the Squat and Gobble trees?

Squat and Gobble, the West Portal eatery that was being rebuilt after the fire there, had sought approval to remove a tree to provide heavy machinery access to the site. (I’d thought it was two trees that were scheduled for removal, but it was one.) But, as I reported then, work was well underway and both trees were still there. I was glad; West Portal has lost some beautiful trees, most notably an old one near the tunnel entrance when work was done there.

two trees to be cut down

I wrote to Carla Short at the Department of Public Works, asking if the trees had been saved. She didn’t know. She replied:

As for the West Portal trees, only one tree was approved for removal in order to accommodate the crane for construction. I have not heard that they are planning to preserve that tree, so it may be still coming out. Their permit is valid for six months. If they found a way to work around it, though, perhaps they are preserving it, I just haven’t heard anything. If it does get removed, they will be required to plant a replacement tree, and some additional trees on the West Portal frontage.

Well, the tree was there through much of the construction, but when Squat and Gobble reopened, I found it was gone. Even the tree-basin the tree had grown in was gone. There’s no replacement tree there, nor any along the West Portal frontage.  I hope they’re planning to put them in.

missing tree in West Portal

It’s just one tree, and it was removed through a proper permitting process.  But I’m beginning to see an anti-tree ethos in this city. Whenever there’s a project, whether private or City-led, trees are the casualty. There seems to be no emphasis on trying to preserve and work around them.

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.”
William Blake, The Letters, 1799

West Portal Arts Fair – 6 April 2014

west portal art festivalI went back to the West Portal Arts Fair yesterday afternoon. It was sunny and windy, nice for a stroll to admire all the interesting things the artists and crafters had brought. I got a bunch of photographs – used here with permission from the stall-holders. If you’re interested – go today. It ends at 4 p.m., and after that it’s gone until next year.

I tried getting a list of all the stall-holders and what they were selling, but I couldn’t find the organizer. People kept telling me he was on the other side of the road… which was rather like “jam tomorrow.” Next year, maybe I’ll try email.

Meanwhile, here’s a bunch of the stalls that I stopped at. (I ended the trip with a shoulder bag with froggy yogis, and a small welded-scrap owl.)


This glowing art glass caught my eye – it reminded me of the Dale Chihuly exhibition of a few years ago.
1 art glass

Across the road, this stall was selling colorful switchplates and small salt-and-pepper sets.

2 colorful switchplates

This one had such cute kiddy clothes, it made me wish I’d someone to buy them for. Unusually, it had some neat stuff for little boys as well, with dinosaurs and sharks and pirates.

3 kiddy clothes for boys and girls

This was unusual – photographs printed on slate (yes, the rock) and then mounted in slate frames. If I had any wall space left, I’d probably have got one … some pieces were really beautiful. The slate gave them a texture and a solidity one doesn’t associate with photographs.

4 photos printed on slate and framed in slate frames

Quirky fridge magnets, earrings, and what looked like Christmas decorations here:
5 cute fridge magnets and earrings

These bags were simple, and beautifully made. But what made them special was the whimsical fabrics the artist chose. (I got a bag with froggy yogis on it – frogs in yoga poses.)

6 bags handmade with fun fabrics

Comfortable clothes that still have an artisanal look attracted quite a few visitors.

7 clothes for women

A few artists let me photograph their work. (Some others didn’t want their work photographed, I guess because people sometimes rip them off by making cheaper copies.)

8 paintings

Figurines dressed as old men accompanied by furry animals, made of real fur – this stall seemed like it was planning ahead for winter and maybe Christmas.

9 furry figures

I’d seen welded scrap sculptures before, but this lot from Metal Souls were unusual – it had Dr Who themed stuff like the Tardis and Daleks, Star Wars figures like Darth Vader, a few dragons, and a whole menagerie of animals from alligators to owls.

10 welded metal daleks darth vader and more

The San Francisco-themed photographs here showed scenes familiar to us San Franciscans.

11 fine photography

Organic cosmetics, with none of the strange-sounding additives of commercial brands.

12 organic cosmetics

The bold jewelry designs here were quite elegant.

13 robert wuncie silversmith

Each of these salt-cellars and pots was hand-made.

14 handmade ceramics

Ramos Designs had really pretty sparkly and unusual necklaces and earrings.

15 sparkly unique necklaces and earrings

This man was explaining an odd-looking piece of furniture – the bed desk. It’s like a little book-holder, and can lock into various positions so it can become an easel, a snack tray, or a lap-top table. It folds flat. There’s a great little brochure that explains its versatility – or you could visit the Fair and get a demo.

16 multipupose bed-desk

The silver jewelry in this case was very pretty and delicate.

17 delicate silver jewelry

And the last stall I photographed: wooden toys. They were beautifully made.

18 wooden toys

Of course, that’s not all the stalls, even if I include the ones I saw yesterday. Some people didn’t want their work photographed, and I didn’t manage to get to all of the stalls anyway. (If anyone wants to send me more photos, I’d be happy to run them.)

This Weekend: West Portal Arts Fair (April 4-6, 2014)

west portal art festivalI was at West Portal today, meeting friends for lunch. The weather was pleasantly sunny after overnight rain, and I was delighted to see the West Portal Arts Fair had arrived. Both sides of the street were lined with stalls set up by crafters and artists. I recognized some from previous years, but others were new.

By the time we’d finished lunch (and made a detour to West Portal Books), the sun was gone. Nevertheless, I stopped at a few stalls, buying ear rings for a gift, a beautiful handmade wooden spatula from the same stall where I bought a coffee scoop last year, and yearned after some wonderful Zapotec rugs and handmade marquetry mirrors with naturalistic designs. One of them had a great blue heron, another had cherry blossoms, and yet another had mother-of-pearl inlaid in the wood, representing glass windows. A stall I didn’t recall from last year had adorable clothes for kids, I’m guessing mostly for little girls. And the White Rose Boutique had a Festival special – and an eye-catching display of hats that apparently made your feet happy…

By this time, a drizzle had started up, and the vendors were covering or packing up their stalls. I decided to go back tomorrow; the forecast is for better weather.

In other West Portal news: The Squat and Gobble restaurant, which had burned out in October 2012, is back! We ate there the other night. They have a broader range of offerings now, and the food is predictably decent. The new decor, though, is quite bland – nothing like the rotating art they used to have initially, and the mural that replaced it.

new squat and gobble restaurant west portal san francisco

This Tree…

tree on Claremont, San Francisco

This tree is near West Portal, and I pass it probably twenty times a week. I’ve admired it for years. It dominates the street; there’s no other tree of that size or beauty near there.

A few years ago, I was writing a piece on Memorable Trees, and wanted to add this one. But around that time, the owners had it pruned. It was very well done, not butchered, but still the tree looked shorn, like a child after the kind of haircut you get them when you don’t want to have to struggle with it too often.

For a tree, unlike a kid’s hair, it takes quite a time to come all the way back. In the last year or so, I’ve been noticing it again, and I thought I’d better get photographs before it’s time for another pruning.

To the owners of the tree, should they encounter this post – Thank you!

Thanks for caring for it. It’s a grace to the whole community.

this tree 2

Did Someone Save the Squat & Gobble Trees?

two trees to be cut down[Edited to Add: It turned out they had permission for one tree to be removed, and no, it has not been saved. It’s gone.]

A few months ago, I reported that the two trees were marked for removal, next to the burned-out Squat & Gobble restaurant on West Portal. Though they’d survived the fire and the fire-fighting, they were in the way of the cranes that would be needed for rebuilding on the site.

It was sad. So many trees were being lost. There used to be a splendid old tree at the station, opposite the library; it was removed when work was done on the Station.

But… here it is, mid June. The rebuilding is coming along nicely.

And our trees are still there.

West Portal trees saved

two trees saved in West Portal

If they have indeed been saved, a big thank you to whoever preserved these trees.

West Portal Arts and Crafts Fair, 2013

It was a bright blue day in West Portal, and the vendors at the street fair seemed to be getting a response. I got there only an hour or so before it closed, but I was glad I made it.


It was as colorful and interesting as usual, and it’s always a pleasure to browse.

dramatic colorful necklaces

There were the usual unusual things: jewelry designed and made by the people at the stalls, artworks I wished had wall-space for, garments, several stalls with hats and caps, rugs, candles, decorative mirrors with marquetry or metal frames, bags, and ceramics.

glass photo holders and art

pendants in bright glass


cloth bags

ceramicsI took my camera, but forgot to charge the battery, which gave up one block down. I have fewer pictures than in other years (like in 2011, HERE or 2010, HERE). If anyone wants to send me some to fk94131 at yahoo dot com, I’ll happily publish them here.

handmade wooden things

At one stall, beautifully finished hand-made wood utensils caught my eye. They looked very tactile. I couldn’t resist; I bought a lovely little coffee scoop of madrone wood, even though I favor instant coffee… and when I got it home, I was delighted by the brand-name: Moonlight Shenanigans.

coffee scoop of madrone wood - made by Moonlight Shenanigans


The fine day and the promise of the street fair seemed to have brought out not just the crowds, which was great, but an unusual number of panhandlers. None of them seemed to be West Portal regulars, to whom I admit I do sometimes give.  Today I just felt disconcerted and didn’t.

two trees to be cut down

And then, to top it off…  removal notices on the two trees on the sidewalk next to the former Squat and Gobble. They survived the fire and the demolition; but now they’ll be demolished anyway, to provide access for cranes. Necessary, but sad. They’re among the few tall trees still left in West Portal. There was a huge and beautiful tree next to the station entrance that was lost in one of the renovations. Gradually, all the tall trees will be gone and the village will have lost something of its character.

tree removal notice

West Portal Arts and Crafts Fair Coming up – April 12-14

west portal sidewalk fine arts and crafts fair 2013I was in West Portal yesterday, and saw this poster for the annual street fair. It’s always worth a visit, if you like arts and crafts, or are looking for a unique gift for someone. I try to go each year. Here are links to my posts from previous years.

West Portal Fire at Squat & Gobble

Edited to Add: I was sent this message from the West Portal Merchants Association:

“Many are saddened by the fire that has destroyed the building at the corner of West Portal Ave. The biggest tragedy is that there are over 60 displaced employees. Loss of employment just before the Holidays adds to the stress. An account has been set up with Bank Of America to accept donations. You can walk into any B of A Bank and ask to deposit into the “West Portal Fire” account. ALL money received will be distributed to the displaced employees. All overhead costs are being funded by the West Portal Avenue Association A.K.A West Portal Merchants Association. Please be generous to those most affected by the fire.”

West Portal Merchant’s Association

And the Greater West Portal Neighborhood Association noted that the city is trying to help and they’ll keep us informed.

“The City plans to expedite permits for repairs. In fact, Regina told me that Squat & Gobble already has their permits. They will help with legal and relocation activities. They are awaiting the Department of Building Inspections decision on if the Vin Debut building can be rebuilt or must be torn down.”


There’s been a large fire at West Portal. Early yesterday morning, a blaze started at Squat and Gobble restaurant, and spread to the wine bar next door as well as an orthodontist’s office. There’s  CBS report about it HERE.

I went by around midnight. Squat & Gobble is boarded up, so is the wine shop; and a fire-truck is parked beside them.

People in the bars across emerged from time to time to look. I’m guessing that each time someone new went in the bar, they were being told what had happened.  A couple of buses and a train came by. Muni seemed to be running normally.

A white van – fire department surveillance of some kind? – sat in front of the West Portal Tunnel entrance. In front of the Studio Redz salon, a sad pile of debris was cordoned off with yellow tape and a traffic cone.

Even as I left,  a few people stood on the sidewalk pointing at the burned out building. A smell of smoke still hung in the air.

[Edited to Add: A few more pictures,  showing the damage in the day time. The inside was gutted.  I took these on Oct 25th, but did not get around to posting them until now.

Soon, I hope, this will merely be a sad memory.]


In other, non-fire-related news: Cafe for All Seasons is apparently closed for good. The other day, I was surprised to see it shut  mid-week and at lunchtime. Expecting a temporary closure, I jumped out of my car to read the note on their door for the dates. Instead, it was an eviction notice. Pity, that. First West Portal Bakery, gone equally suddenly, now this. I hope whoever moves in will be as popular as Goat Hill Pizza, which took West Portal Bakery’s spot.

West Portal Sighting

This little snippet from a neighbor who prefers to remain unnamed:

Was on my way to West Portal, a little local neighborhood shopping and dining area. Very sleepy and quaint normally. I ran into a huge amount of traffic, it was like midtown Manhattan at 6pm, WTH?

I crawled along, and lo and behold the Woody Allen film crew was there filming and Mr Allen was there too. He is a tiny little guy. He has been all over San Francisco filming here and there.

Love it when movies are made here, good income for SFO and people get to see my lovely City by the Bay.

Edited to Add: I went by there a day later, and the filming continued, across the street from the Valero station. I didn’t see Woody Allen, but there was a lot of activity with trucks and support people, and of course, onlookers.

West Portal’s Arts & Crafts Fair: April 13-15, 2012

The West Portal Arts fair is this weekend. It’s a lovely place to pick up unique gifts, or buy jewelry or art or craft pieces directly from the people who make them. I love the atmosphere, and the variety.

(CLICK HERE for my report on last year’s fair.

And HERE’s my report from 2010, with a slideshow of pictures.)

I think there are some people who come back year after year. I also heard there’s a rug weaver who takes commissions…

Wishing them good weather this year too!

ETA: I dropped in on the fair this evening, just before it closed. The rug weaver was there, Xenon Hippolito, Master Weaver. The rugs are Zapotec, and they’re beautiful. Some are in neutrals, like beiges and browns; others are in saturated reds and oranges.

Everyone I spoke to said today had been good, and that augurs well for the weekend. Hope the weather holds!

A Local Celebration

Mother’s Day, 2011. The family took me out for lunch to a place of my choice… Pacific Catch on 9th Avenue. It’s barely 10 minutes from Forest Knolls, and has an interesting range of food from sushi to fish-and-chips served in faux newspaper. (Until I started writing this, I didn’t know it had 4 locations: 9th Avenue, and Marina in San Francisco; and in Corte Madera and Campbell.) I’d eaten there a couple of times before, and really liked it —  great food, friendly servers, spacious, modern and bright decor. (Don’t miss the modern chandeliers made of bottomless cobalt glass bottles.)

We parked at the paid parking lot across from Ebisu restaurant… and we’re glad we did. The street was crowded, and parking difficult.  Only a little while later, we saw a car being towed out of the bus-stop box while parking enforcement stood by. Oops. Not a good way to celebrate.

Knots of people stood in front of all the restaurants on the block. “It’s so cute,” commented one of our party, “All these people standing in groups, like here’s our mother.”

We’d made no reservations, so while we waited for a place to open up, we walked across to Golden Gate Park. There, just above the baseball diamond, was a Blue Heron hunting in the grass, oblivious to the people out enjoying the sun and breeze. Only temporarily oblivious, though. After a few minutes, it had had enough and flew into a tree . They’re nesting at nearby Stow Lake. (Stow Lake’s an avian nursery right now: There’s a Great Horned Owl nest with fledgelings, the heronry, at least one batch of ducklings, and recently I saw a pair of Canada Geese with 8 goslings in tow.)

After a great meal that started with spicy ahi tuna and calamari and edamame and got even better from there on, we went to Tuttimelon, the newish gelato place in West Portal. They have superb sorbets in addition to gelato and frozen yoghurt. (I got passion-fruit and mango…) They also have Illy coffee (“best coffee in the world” commented one of our group), and soon plan to add Vietnamese sandwiches to their offerings. I’m looking forward to it, banh mi are great.

This beautiful pink hydrangea came from  Papenhausen (also inWest Portal), complete with a double pot with a wick to reduce the need for water. Even though it’s a hardware store, it often has an enticing display of potted plants out front. Especially in spring.

In fact, the only non-local element was this wonderful arrangement of ranunculus, tulips, roses and white hydrangea. That came from Menlo Park, a charming new flowershop called Twigs and Petals. Definitely worth it!

Then the guys stayed home to watch a film on TV, while the girls went off to the Legion of Honor’s Pulp Fashion exhibition. It was very impressive: Costumes from the medieval to the vintage, replicated in paper and paint. They were so elaborate and so beautifully made as to be jaw-dropping.

Unfortunately, neither the Legion of Honor nor the De Young permit photography of their exhibitions — even without a flash. I can’t think why.  People can’t post pictures on blogs or Facebooks and tell their friends. (This is why there’s no report here on the Olmec exhibition.)   In this era, it’s like turning down  free publicity of the best kind — word of mouth. With added pictures, worth a thousand words.

A Brilliant Day at West Portal Arts Fair

It’s wonderful weather for a fair. The sun’s out, the wind died down, and it’s cool. Which is lucky, because West Portal’s annual Arts and Crafts festival is on this weekend. It started today, and I went to have a look.

Many of the wonderful stalls that were there last year are back. It’s a mix of art, jewelry, clothes, and things like handmade wooden toys and elaborate artistic wood-inlay. Prices ranged from maybe $3 (notecards) to $3500 (an elaborate marquetry mirror). A Navajo Zapotec weaver was working on a rug, his loom set up next to an artistic display in bright colors as well as muted ones.

I stopped to talk with some of the artists. That’s always interesting; they’re so into their work, and willing to explain their artistic vision. One jeweler talked about texture and using unusual materials. She had a necklace of baroque pearls that looked like jasmine buds on a string.

A few people were out and browsing. I overheard one young woman discussing the spiritual significance of lapis lazuli with a jewelry artist. A little boy in a stroller spotted the wooden toys. “Stop, I want to look!” he said. Unfortunately, his mom was in a hurry. He gave the toys a regretful glance as they went by.

Here are a selection of photographs:

West Portal Arts Festival, 8-10 April 2011

It’s that time of the year again! West Portal’s having its Arts and Crafts Fair this weekend, starting tomorrow actually. It was a lovely fair last year, and this year promises to be good, too. Sixty-five professional artists. Paintings, photography, sculpture, jewelry and a great deal of other stuff. Browse through last year’s fair report for a sense of what to expect. [ETA:  Here’s a quick report from the first day of this fair.] Here’s the poster.

West Portal Mystery

We went to West Portal last evening with a couple of simple errands that would take us to St Francis Market or Eezy Freezy and Walgreens. When we got there, we found several fire-trucks, lights flashing, on the first block near the Chase Bank branch.

There was no sign of fire or smoke, but there were half a dozen emergency response vehicles out there, and fire-crew. Someone came out of the Chase branch, talked to them, went back in.

It looked quite normal. Soon, he came out accompanied by another person, probably another bank employee. Meanwhile, the crew had placed a ladder against the other side of the building, between Bookshop West Portal and the Chase building.

I asked the bank person what happened. “Someone smelled something,” he said. “Something burning. We called 911 just to be careful. They have it all under control now.”

We left to do our errands, with a small detour via the Bookshop. (It’s difficult to avoid small detours via bookstores.) I headed for St Francis Market.

That’s when the lights went out. The whole of the first block went dark.

“It’s like the beginning of a mystery story,” my companion said. “When the lights come back on, there’s a corpse.”

“There’s an author who writes West Portal mysteries,” I said. “Maybe she could use this.”

It looked like the rest of the street had lights, so we went on to Walgreens, in the middle of the second block. Despite the fact that stores on either side had power, Walgreens was dark. Curiouser and curiouser.

Over coffee (and a gingerbread man) at West Portal Bakery, we decided to go to the Safeway at Taraval. It turned out that several blocks of homes were also powerless. But from about 14th avenue and Taraval, the lights returned.

Except, Safeway was also dark. Curiouser and curiouser and curiouser yet.

We couldn’t figure out whether the power loss was incidental to whatever brought the firetrucks, or if it was part of the same problem. We couldn’t understand the pattern of power failure, either: Why Walgreens and Safeway, both standing amid buildings that apparently had normal power?

If it were a novel, this would be the Coincidence that was Not a Coincidence.

In the event, nothing happened. A couple of hours later, we drove through again. The lights were back on. I presume there was no corpse.


Edited to Add: The story has an interesting coda. Since Bookshop West Portal was in darkness after our failed errand, we went to Borders at Stonestown. We bought one or two books (or it might have been three or four), then went home.

This morning, my email in-box had a message from Bruce Black (not someone I know) headed “Your wallet.” Someone had turned in my wallet that I’d apparently dropped or abandoned at Borders.

They tracked me down by my Borders membership card.  I got my wallet back intact, and they wouldn’t accept a reward.

Thanks, Bruce (and whoever turned it in). You’re terrific.

West Portal Has Christmas Windows

Everyone knows about Union Square and the decorations there. Macys has puppies and kittens in its windows. Tiffany has a fairy-tale in paper-sculpture. But our own local shopping village, West Portal, has Christmas windows too.

(“You keep writing about West Portal,” a friend said.  It’s true. I go there nearly every day. It’s an easy place to run almost any errand, once you figure out the parking.  The meters accept parking cards, and there’s street parking on the streets around. And it still feels sort of small-town… quite different than going to a mall.)

So, the windows.

Shaws, the confectioner’s, has giant nutcrackers turning their heads, and a funny reindeer.

West Portal Antiques has a lovely traditional tree and doll’s house, as well as toys on a sled and a silver candelabra.

Citipets has Christmas in one window, and Chanukah in the other.

But the one I thought was the most amusing was the Zombie Outbreak in the window of the hardware store Papenhausen. Santa Zombie Claus!

I only took pictures of a few – and if anyone wants to add their favorites, I’d be happy to do it.

Emerald Forest and Manor Cafe

I’m generally late putting up a Christmas tree. We use the real trees, and I’m always afraid that if I put it up too soon, it’ll dry out — especially since it’s usually January 2nd week before I take it down again.

This year’s no exception. Everywhere I go, windows are full of brilliant trees. The city’s live tree in Golden Gate Park is already lit. We got round to tree shopping only last night.

I always buy my tree at the same place: Emerald Forest, at Sloat and 19th. Clancy’s at 7th and Warren is closer, and I’m sure they’re pretty good. But where I go is Emerald Forest.

I usually go in the afternoon or evening. Parking isn’t a problem then, though they have only a few spaces just outside their lot, off of Sloat. The bright lights and flags and illuminated Santa and wreaths hanging by the gate all celebrate the season.

Inside, it does feel like a forest. The aisles of trees are sweet-scented with pine and fir. The ground’s always a little damp and covered in pine needles and mulch. Most of the trees tower over my head (which is admittedly not difficult to achieve). I know exactly where to look for our tree: In the aisle near the back, on the right.

And I know what I’m seeking: A tree that’s about 5 feet tall, springy and fresh, bushy and symmetrical. (The symmetry always seems important initially; by the time it’s covered with ornaments, it will matter far less. But each year, we forget that; each year we seek the perfect tree.)

I told the lady running the tree lot I’d blog about them. Were they a family-run business?

“Oh yes! And we’ve been here for twenty years,” she told me.

Was there anything they’d like to say? I inquired.

“Oh, I don’t know… maybe that we sell Silver Tips? Not many places have those. People come all the way from Marin and San Jose for them.” (They had a selection of Douglas Fir, Nobles, and Silvertips. We always get a Noble, ourselves.)

She attended to the purchase of our tree, and filled out the paperwork while in the background, some helpers put it on a vibrating platform to shake off the excess needles.

“And I guess we do flocking. Not many people do that any more.” I don’t want flocking on my tree, but I could see into the flocking tent, where they had trees in red, white and blue.

But I don’t go to Emerald Forest for flocking or Silvertips.  My reason’s much simpler: They deliver.

Not only do they deliver, they bring the tree right into my living room, and set it up for me in the tree-stand I’ve had for years.

And they remember my name, even though I only see them once a year. Quite a feat, that. I don’t think I could match it.

# # #

This afternoon we stopped at the Manor Cafe at West Portal. It was all lights, garland, and festive display. A carousel turned, a Santa climbed a ladder, a toy box held moving miniature skaters. (“It’s a lot of work,” they said when I complimented them on the decorations.) If you like Christmas kitsch — as I do — it was worth it!

With coffee, I ordered the mango pudding. I was glad I did. It had an authentic mango flavor, and was drizzled with raspberry sauce and circled with berries.

All in all, an instant mood lift.

West Portal Library – Sing Global, Write Local

Okay, I love our library.

Our local library at West Portal isn’t just books. This evening, it put on a show : Singer Riffat Sultana and her husband Richard Michos,  and talks from four local authors

  • Gerald Nachman
  • Henry Conserva
  • Diana Orgain
  • Mary F. Burns

I was surprised that an event of this quality was free. Later, Librarian Melissa Riley told me it was funded with a grant from the Friends of the Library. Melissa made it intensely local by inviting participants actually connected to West Portal or to the library, using it for writing or research.

California State Assemblywoman Fiona Ma was there, showing her support.

Henry Conserva, Fiona Ma, Mary F Burns, Diana Orgain

This library is one of the charms of our area. It’s in a pretty building, sensitively remodeled in 2007 to be accessible to people with disability, and managed by friendly and helpful librarians. Events like this are a bonus. I was fascinated by the local focus: Who knew so many authors, not to mention musicians, were from around here?


In the first half,  Riffat Sultana sang songs from Pakistan and India, all  in Urdu, Punjabi and Hindi. (These are all related but not identical languages of the Indian subcontinent.)

She’s a world-class talent, originally Pakistani, from a 500-year old lineage of classical singers.  Her husband, Richard Michos, who works at The Music Store in West Portal and teaches guitar, accompanied her.

Several of her songs were from the Islamic Sufi tradition, love-songs to God: You are my heart, you are my life, you are everything… She also performed a bhajan — Hindu devotional music — with the refrain God is truth, truth is Shiva, Shiva is beauty. Then she sang a “ghazal” (a poem set to music), in which a young woman laments a lover who doesn’t show up.

Later, I read her biography on her website. It’s a fascinating story of a born performer who started life in a conservative Muslim musical household where girls weren’t allowed onstage, and ended up performing with her own group and releasing her own records.


The second part of the evening was devoted to authors.  It started with Gerald Nachman. Looking the quintessential author in corduroy and fair-isle and round-lensed glasses, he read a speech about how his career all started in libraries.

Later I looked it up: He’s been a humor columnist for the New York Post, and theater critic for the San Francisco Chronicle amongst other equally illustrious things.  He writes about the golden age of radio and TV;  his latest book is Right Here on Our Stage Tonight about the Ed Sullivan Show. “How TV’s most inept emcee created America’s most powerful popular variety show…” says his website.

Henry Conserva, the next author,  formerly taught school at Lowell High. As befits a teacher, he was an interesting and relaxed speaker. Together with his friend photographer John Weir, he was involved in the Sunset magazine’s book, The California Missions. First published in 1963, it’s still in print. Since then he’s written a whole bunch of books, many for school children, on topics from Physical Geography to the Constitution to Propaganda.

Author Diana Orgain, whose Mystery books are published by Penguin, was inspired by motherhood. She didn’t want to go back to work in a corporate setting; she wanted to hang out with her baby. She wrote the Maternal Instinct mysteries, about a first-time mother who is a Private Investigator. Bundle of Trouble came out last year, Motherhood is Murder in March 2010, and Formula for Murder comes out next March. Diana’s a really local author; she lives on Ulloa. The books sound like fun, and I’m a sucker for mysteries.

The final author for the evening was Mary F. Burns, who headed the West Portal Neighborhood Association and authored “The Woman Who Wrote the Bible” about Janaia, a daughter of King David. But what she spoke of  was her two earlier books, “cozy” mysteries actually set in West Portal (and subtitled A West Portal Mystery). The first, inspired by her friend’s bulldogs, is called the The Lucky Dog Lottery. The second is The Tarot Card Murders. Featuring such familiar places as St Francis Market and the Village Grill, they’re self-published and available from Ex Libris. And from our local West Portal library.

I left the library with an armful of books from each of the authors,  looking forward to some good reading ahead. (Unfortunately, I’ve promptly lost one of them, probably at St Francis Market or Eezy Freezy. I hope someone returns it to the library so I can check it out again!)

ETA: Melissa told me I’d left the “lost” book at the library.

Bookshop West Portal & Simon Winchester

Bookshop West Portal (which I’ve written about in my earlier article on West Portal) often arranges author readings. This Friday evening, it was Simon Winchester talking to a standing-room only audience.

The best-selling author, Simon Winchester. In our little neighborhood independent bookstore.

Simon Winchester

Not only does Winchester write fascinating, well-researched non-fiction, he’s an entertaining speaker and raconteur. He was promoting his new book,  Atlantic. Instead of reading from his book, as authors commonly do, he told us stories: The story of how he came to write the book; the story of how he decided to structure it (it’s based on Shakespeare’s  ‘Seven Ages of Man‘); and then several stories from his book research, from places as far-flung as the Faeroe Islands, Tristan da Cunha (where he’s not allowed to land), and the Skeleton Coast. In between, he recounted how acetone was linked (via World War I, Chaim Weizmann and the Balfour Declaration ) to the founding of Israel.

Afterward, he autographed books for people. It was a great evening.

Bookshop West Portal also made an announcement about its knitting classes (and Simon Winchester has a funny story about knitting, too). The instructor’s holding some special classes for those who want to knit gifts such as scarves and fingerless gloves.

If you want to be kept informed about all the interesting authors and activities at a store only 2 miles from us — get on their email list. I’ve found this a pretty useful and painless way of staying in touch.

My West Portal Village – 2

Here’s another batch of some of my favorite stores at West Portal…

[Edited to Add:  Read HERE for the previous batch.]

Growing Up Toys

I love this toy store for its charm and warmth; it feels like a place from a children’s story book. I think the half-door helps… It also has a fun selection of toys, often as quirky as the store itself.

Ambassador Toys

And here’s another, larger, toy store. This has enticing window displays, an area displaying glow-in-the-dark stuff, and dolls and toys of different cultures. Again, a pleasant stop when I’m seeking a gift for a kid.


This store elevates my blood sugar just by existing… it’s wonderful. It has an unusual selection of candy, including liquorice allsorts and fantastic designer chocolate. On a hot summer day, there are often school-kids on the bench outside with ice-cream.

Just Because

The shop for interesting greeting cards, seasonal decorations, and cute stuff… it’s got a fun, modern vibe. [Edited to Add (June 2012): This has now transformed into a more formal stationery store, the Desk Set. Not sure if it’s the same ownership.]


This might be the most romantic, feminine store I’ve ever encountered. Scented soap. Candles. Delicate gifts and flowers. If I’m buying something for a girl, this is a place I browse.

Andy Jewelers

As long as we’re talking about gifts for girls… this is a nice little family-owned jewelry store. We’ve bought small things here now and then. But they also help us with things like ring re-sizing, changing watch straps, and replacing batteries.

The City Antiques

This is an eminently browseable place, with a really eclectic bunch of stuff. Furniture. Glassware. Jewelry. Art. Silver. All kinds of collectibles. Again, a great place to get a unique gift for someone.

The Grateful Head

Every couple of months or so, these people battle my genes to make my hair stop resembling a bird’s nest. I’m Grateful, notwithstanding the pun.

Pacific Rim Optometry

Half our family needs glasses, and we’ve bought a bunch from here… it’s a personal touch, unlike some of the big chain names. [Edited to Add, June 2012: This store has also changed hands, but is still selling specs.]

West Portal Produce

The perfect place to pick up some veggies for dinner, or fruit for desert. Again, family-run, small, easy, and not expensive. The fruit displayed outside all tempts me.

West Portal Bakery

The perfect place for a cup of coffee and freshly-baked bread… and a selection of pastry and cookies. [Edited to Add, July 2012: Disappointingly, this place closed overnight some months ago. I believe Goat Hill Pizza is coming in instead.]


Walgreens. Walgreens? Yes, Walgreens. It’s like the anchor store of a mall. Open late, stocks everything you might need in a hurry. Once upon a time, this was a Woolworth’s; then it was RiteAid, and then Walgreens bought RiteAid.