The sweater

sweater by Steve Werney

Rain has finally come back to the door. The land needs it. Time to curl up, get cozy and wrap yourself up in a soft warm sweater, to feel safe and protected.

And so off again I go on a memory, to one rainy November day a few years ago. I was strolling up Fillmore Street, on one of those cold days when you want nothing more than to sit next to a fireplace, sip hot tea, give your concentration to the flames and be close to someone.

I walked by a store, saw something in the window, bought it and walked out, in my cozy and new soft sweater.

A few months later I travelled to Paris.  It was spring, but still very cold, I went exploring the promenade of Le Viaduc des Arts, enjoying the old railroad on the brick and stone viaduct, which carried trains until the late 1970s. Later, the old vaults beneath the rail line were turned into craftsmen’s workshops and galleries. There you can find cabinet builders, musical-instrument makers, fashion designers and even textile restorers.

I wandered from shop to shop, from a paper restorer to a flute maker. And then to a knitting shop. I stepped in, admiring the yarn, knitting machines and sweaters, particularly one that was olive green and cozy looking. I handed it to a petite, dark-haired young woman. She looked at me smiling, as though she knew me. I told her I wanted to buy it. She wasn’t surprised, she told me she knew I would buy one of the sweaters.

“How did you know that?” I asked.

“Because you are wearing one of my sweaters,” she replied.

I told her that was highly unlikely since I had bought it in San Francisco.  “Yes, it’s a little store on Fillmore Street,” she said and named it. She added that it was the only other shop in the world that sold her creations.

But what are the odds of such a coincidence? That I would have been wearing the sweater that day and find my way to her store and all because of the weather and the seasons, a restless heart on a particular day…

The Epitome of Streamline Moderne Style

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One of San Francisco’s signatures is its Victorians, but the Malloch Building, at 1360 Montgomery St. on Telegraph Hill, is an unexpected match to the city’s esthetics.

I became acquainted with this Art Moderne-Style building while working on a remodeling project for a client, who, just like the Lauren Bacall character in Dark Passage, owns a stunning, very chic apartment in the building.

Everywhere you look there’s an abundance of curves, everything flowing round and round: the dining room is round, the Art Deco fireplace is round, even the light seems rounded, coming in indirectly, through floor-to-ceiling windows, which, as you might imagine, offer unparalleled views of the Bay, with Yerba Buena Island in the backdrop.

Every element in the building reflects the Streamline Art Moderne style, including a trio of silver sgrafittos by Alfred du Pont. All the details have been preserved exactly as they were when the building opened — in 1937 — including an elevator encased in a backlit glass brick shaft. At night, as it comes up to get you, you have the sense of rising liquid silver.

An open-air lobby appears tropically lush and green with monstera leafs, framed by etched, sandblasted windows, and the art deco geometric images of clouds. You can still admire the same etched-glass windows and stylish railings just as they appeared in the film, and as Bacall lead Bogart up to her 3rd floor apartment, for ‘the kiss.’

Such a perfect contrast — the mid 20th century, sleek all-white moderne interior serving as a backdrop to one of the great examples of film noir. And no wonder that that famously stylish Humphrey Bogart took his refuge in apartment No. 10.

Show Dogs and Vampires

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Sitting at the corner table of my friends restaurant Show Dogs, watching the wild street life at the corner of Market and Golden Gate Ave., I remembered another wild scene, happening in the same building. I am talking about the morbidly beautiful cult movie, Interview with the Vampire, which begins with the camera sweeping over nightly San Francisco Bay, traveling down Market, following street life like a hunter following his prey, and then finally zooming in on a top floor window at the St. Martin Hotel. We are drawn into the dark, sparsely furnished room where Louis de Pointe du Lac, a gloomy gorgeous vampire, portrayed by Brad Pitt, is spinning his 200-year-life story to journalist Daniel Malloy.

The Flatiron Victorian building, known for the fictitious St. Martin Hotel to classy vampires and to foodies alike, also features the Show Dogs restaurant. They all come to find substance at this artisan’s hot dog place, where you can sink your teeth into the most delicious wild boar sausage, accompanied with poached cherries in red wine. Imagine little Claudia, after her first bite, saying, “I want some more.”

Of course, my little darling, then you shall have it.

Foreign Cinema owners and chefs, Gayle Pirie and John Clark, opened Show Dogs four years ago, serving delicious, locally-made sausages and other fine foods accompanied with locally brewed beer.  You can also order a glass of deep, red wine — and all that just a few floors below the room where I imagine that my favorite vampire is to this day still telling his fabulous stories.

Country house

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I have told you about the love I have for this house before.

The house stands at the end of the village, which overlooks an apple orchard. This is not far from the Adriatic. There are just nine houses in the village, along with a church and a creek. The house was built two centuries ago, although nobody knows when exactly.  The last date chiseled in the face of the stone portal is 1806.

The walls are a yard thick in places, meant to hold warmth in winter and cool in summer. The stone is held together by crumbling mortar. The enormous and very old oak wine barrels confirm stories of once existing “ostaria”. The front double door opens into a vast courtyard, surrounded by living quarters, a barn and a wine cellar. The back of the house is built into a hill, a drain runs under the floor. The roof tiles are terra cotta, underneath all whitened with the natural pigment of the lime stone dust, exposing the terra cotta in the geometric pattern. The timbers are worm-riddled.

The previous owners included four cousins; one of them, Nino Capone, is a cousin of Al Capone. before emigrating to New York, the Capones lived in the nearby town of Fiume. Nino’s mother, as a little girl growing up in the house, moved as a young woman to Trieste, where she met Al Capone’s uncle, married him and they had a son Nino, who become a partial owner of the property upon his mother death.

Adriana, my daughter, and I spend almost every summer there, but I think of the house much more often, dreaming about it the way you would dream of a lover. I visit it the way you would a vacation home a few hours away.  In my visions I am often in the courtyard, sitting under the wine pergola, sipping the local wine, feeling the sun.

Or, I remember the times that this or that happened, the time Adriana found a monstrous spider on the wall and carefully took it to the orchard or the time we watched a ferocious fight between a scorpion and centipede. Or, memories of our neighbor Maria, now gone, who had this beautiful tradition of leaving the basket of her garden treasures: tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, or whatever was ready to harvest that day, leaving it for me to find every morning when I opened the frontdoor.

When I am really there, I am always busy, cleaning the wine cellar, tending the orchard, oiling the timbers, pruning the vines. It’s not just the upkeep, it’s a very intimate work I do with my own hands. It’s a relationship, with the stone walls, with the village, with its history and mine.

The way

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Is not the road to a destination often more interesting than the destination? We say that, but is it? Not always, perhaps; the road out of lost hope for example.

The journey to the Lighthouse at Pt. Bonita, the getting there is the thing.

This lighthouse featured the first foghorn to roar and blare on the West Coast, so that a pilot on a ship’s bridge seeing nothing at all, had a sense of the narrows.

And so to get to the lighthouse, you follow the coastal route, which starts at the northern end of the Golden Bridge and winds along the Headland on that narrow road along the edge of a cliff, with few barriers. You keep going, past the World War II bunkers and then you come upon the trail head.
The short, steep pathway takes you down to the hand-carved tunnel, framed in bright red ironized stone, etched with gold veins.

The tunnel is dark, wet and medieval smelling, and when you come out there’s a suspension footbridge above the furious waves. And now here you are at the lighthouse, with its beaming Fresnel lens, which can be seen 18-miles away. You wonder how anyone could build a lighthouse on such a perilous point.
In 1877, the Pt. Bonita lighthouse was moved to its current location because the original place was often too obscured by fog for the light to be visible from the bay. The story goes that the lighthouse keeper had to have his kids tied up on the leash so they wouldn’t be blown away.

It is one of the most dramatic places around San Francisco. I see it as a symbol of the way life works, the pathway that encourages you to overcome a dark tunnel, a fragile bridge, all to reach the beautiful point with the light. But even when you reach the point, you could still be blown away, you could still be lost at the very point of reaching your destination, and so you must be mindful and watch for a supportive hand.

The Vanishing Points of Andy Goldsworthy

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My appreciation of Andy Goldsworthy’s art installments began in 2001 shortly after I dragged my seven-year-old daughter, Adriana, to the Roxie, a one-hundred-and-four-year-old theater in the Mission District which, you could argue, looks its age, to see the documentary, Rivers and Tides.

Rivers and Tides has become a classic and a great inspiration to would-be artists wishing to collaborate with nature. Goldsworthy is the master collaborator, and his genius is his ability to fit things together, particles of ice, a pile of stones, a string of leaves. To fit things together, but subtly — not in an effort to decorate nature or to try to one-up natural beauty but merely to add an unexpected caption.  As though to say, ‘I offer this by way of thanks and appreciation.”

Most of Goldsworthy’s art decomposes or otherwise disappears back into the earth over time. One merely needs to look at his installations at Oliver Ranch in Sonoma. All were temporary: the longest lasted three months, the shortest, just a few minutes.

Yet the Bay Area has become a home to three of his very rare permanent installations.

The first, Drawn Stone, was installed in 2005 for the entry to the De Young Museum. The work features a continuous crack thru the floor and stone slabs, representing the fault-line of the Great Earthquake.

The second work, Spire, stands in the Presidio. It’s a 100-foot-tall structure composed in 2008 of Cypress tree trunks that were removed as part of the replanting of the Presidio’s historic forest. The wooden tower, reminiscing of Trans America Tower, looks like a natural mirror to the building that dominates the downtown skyline.

The third work is Stone River, a 320-foot wall-like serpentine on the campus of Stanford University, constructed in 2001 with sandstone from University buildings destroyed in the 1906 and 1989 earthquake.

Like Venice, where each rise in the water line reminds residents that the city is slowly disappearing into the sea, San Francisco shares the fear of a similar vanishing point, a great earthquake..

It reminds us of the recurring metaphysical message: Don’t get caught up in what might happen, even what will happen — but focus on the beauty and mystery of nature and the intersections between the man made and the mother nature-made.

Goldsworthy reminds us that everything is temporary and more important that this is all nature’s way, and our way, and not to be fought.

When Goldsworthy is done with his project, his art companion, nature, continues on with the process.

Christmas Angel

There is one photo of Adriana that I particularly treasure, taken when she was just a little girl. It was shot by Heward Jue, one very cold December evening.  I remember it exactly. You could see your breath.  We were down at the Embarcadero.  Evening just breaking.  The strong scent of the bay.  The benches, the wooden planks, the light stands along the pier, the Bay Bridge sparkling, stretching off into a mechanical rainbow.  It was all like a postcard from the 19th Century, from some nameless metropolis. And here’s this little child, in a scarf and white hat, with her trademark smile. The very center of the world.

Happy holidays!

Donald Judd’s Marfa

Marfa is the West Texas town where minimalist artist Donald Judd found refuge in the early 1970s. He was fleeing the New York art scene and accidentally, or purposefully, fell in love with silence, unlimited space and the prospect of doing something with several empty residential and commercial buildings, which he purchased with help from the Dia Art Foundation.

Judd saw Marfa as an opportunity to fulfill his aesthetic beliefs about the display and preservation of his work. Everything is Minimalistic. The buildings are stripped of embellishment, exposing raw structural details. Along with permission to manage the presentation of his work, the town of Marfa allowed Judd an abundance of exhibition space and in effect enabled him to play the role of both artist and curator.
On our trip into the wild of Texas we visited the Judd Chinati Foundation, plunked down in the fields of tall yellow grass, surrounded with gently slopping mountains, everything touching an incredible big blue sky.  You walk for nearly a kilometer through an art installation of large concrete boxes.
It’s not an entirely pleasant walk, the grass blades are sharp, the air is full of bugs and there’s always the fear of rattle snakes. I felt like some sort of art pilgrim enduring the local travails to reach this very unusual synapse of art and nature.

All of a sudden the cement bricks made so much sense to me: The shadows, the placement, the balance.
I remember the first time visiting the Louvre and stopping in front of Nike, that most beautiful winged goddess. This was an oddly similar sensation. I can’t possibly explain it, only to say that it is abstract in the truest sense, and what you come away with is wonderment at the way he found a way to balance the material and the immaterial; and so these ordinary objects are set on a three dimensional canvass of weather and geography, and then enlivened and tuned, by time, sound and light.

Judd’s friend, Rudi Fuchs, described the artist’s vision in Marfa, and in life, this way: “In Judd’s scale of values … beauty and perfection are ultimately matters of dignity, not only of the artwork but of nature and culture in general. Beauty is a very special and noble state. Yet Judd fervently believed that such an idealistic notion of beauty … is, in the end, much too limited. Like the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness, people have a right to things beautiful.”

Prada Marfa Texas

A few weeks ago Steve and I took Hwy 90 East out of Van Horn,  West Texas on our way to Marfa. The speed limit is 75, but even at 100 it feels like you’re hardly moving at all.  It’s just ranch land, tumbleweeds and the big nothing on the either side of the highway, no traffic, just train tracks to keep you company.

After an hour I started to wonder if we would ever again see another human being.  Suddenly we see something off the road, a low modern building.  We’re past it and we’re thinking, “wait a minute”.  We make a U and half a mile back, there’s a Prada store right in the middle of nowhere, the symbol of haute couture in the middle of the big nothing. It was truly surrealistic: the dream of a feminine world in the ultimate cowboy country.

Prada boutique is an art installation by Berlin artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset. The installation’s door is nonfunctional, it will never be opened. On the front of the structure there are two large windows displaying Prada shoes and handbags, which you can’t buy; they will stay there forever, and we will always know what the 2005 fall collection was, picked out by Miuccia Prada herself. The building was intended never to be repaired, so that eventually it will degrade back into the natural landscape.

And it reminded me of the last lines of Shelley’s poem, inspired by a statue of Ramesses II.

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bar

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Bar Agricole

I fell in love with Bar Agricole the first time I stepped in the place, and not just because of the way it’s been designed, and those heavenly cocktails, but because it evokes so many associations with where I came from.

As you know by now I live as much in the past as in the present.  Each is my parent.  Each tries to drag me away from the other.

And so yes, I admit it. The glass skylight sculpture takes me back to Trieste, to the feeling of those strong winds, the Bora, raging across the Adriatic through the Kras area. Sidewalks in Trieste have railings just so passengers don’t get blown away. Roofs of the houses are covered with extra bricks, so tiles don’t fly away.  It will take your mind if you’re not careful.

Incidentally, the skylights fixtures are made of a thousand fused tubes of clear glass, a masterpiece by Nikolas Weinstein. They appear like curtains blowing in the wind or air- dried laundry catching the wind, with the ever changing light hitting the fabrics and in this case, glass, a material that adds the most dramatic effect to the space. The skylights are surrounded on one side by a wood siding crafted from reclaimed whiskey-tanks that fold down behind the tables, like a wave of warm evening air following the winter coldness of the blowing glass.

Bar Agricole is a perfect mix of the old country and always inspiring California, the minimalistic and at same time dramatic interior, all designed and made by local artists, designers and craftsmen. Chairsbenches, even the waiters uniforms are designed by a local designers.

Steping into this eco-perfect tavern. designed by architects Aidlin-Darling, it’s like visiting a gourmet showcase of San Francisco Crafts and Design, with the perfect esthetics and there you are, sipping a seductive classic cocktail, shaken and stirred by the tavern owner, Thaddeus Vogler. The drinks are fresh and at the same time celebrate the old traditions of farmhouse distilling, mixed with fresh fruit, every sip dangerously delicious.

My father and my grandfather were masters of distilling plum brandy, which makes me respect and enjoy those beautiful cocktails all the more. Thank you Thaddeus Vogler for giving us the gift of locally made food, drinks, art and design. More please.

Floriana

I am an interior designer, drawn to beauty in all its forms, especially in art, architecture and fashion. As a designer, I take my inspiration from my clients, and from what I find in the world.

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