chinatown S.F.

On the Embarcadero with Tania

It’s always good to start the day with a laugh! Tania and I were embarking on our third full day in San Francisco spent walking, sketching (me), photographing (Tania), talking to people along the way (mostly Tania) with some eating and drinking thrown in along the way. I follow her lead since she’s the one who has lived in the city off and on since childhood, but when I see a great place to sketch, I plunk down wherever for 15-20 min. and she starts talking to people and doing her marvelous street photography. We started the day where she lives, at the Ghiradelli Square area of Fisherman’s Wharf, walked down the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building, then west through the Embarcadero Center to Chinatown and north through North Beach back to her home.


Tania remembered the arcade and Laughing Sal was the star, so we headed into the Musee Mecanique first. Tania loaded coins into Sal so we could enjoy her belly laughs which shook her ample figure!


(ink sketch done on site, color added later)

Usually one doesn’t sit down next to a homeless person and start sketching them. But Tania made friends with Terry. He was busy enough with the pigeons and seagulls, feeding them food that he’d probably found in a trash can, since he’d not had a proper meal himself. Tania was assigned as the “look out”. It’s apparently illegal to feed the birds in public places in the city. The pigeons were in his hands, on his lap, in the air! An orgy of love for this man.


Photo by Tania Amochaev

Then the gulls got jealous and wanted part of the action!


As we proceeded down the Embarcadero there were suddenly lots of brightly dressed security guards with caution signs keeping people away from the cruise ship. I wondered about all the ruckus til I found out there were 3000 passengers who were hitting the street at the same time! Never having gone on a cruise of this sort before I was agape at the size of the ship, which looked like it could contain the residents of a small city! So while we were waiting for our lunch date friend to show up, I got a weird angle view. That’s the S.F. Bay there on the right.


After lunch we went inside the Ferry Building, a spectacular structure that among other things houses a daily Farmers Market-like offering of mouthwatering local delicacies. Committed sketcher that I am (and of course my stomach was already full after feasting on fresh sea scallops for lunch) I declined to eat/shop and took the opportunity to try to get the scope of this interior, something that many urban sketchers would find elementary. But yikes! Impossible! Tania (front figure) made a selection at the  smoked meat counter so that I could have a model.


That was already feeling like a pretty full day, and it was getting hot, but next we walked through the Embarcadero Center to Chinatown and Portsmouth Park. On this gorgeous, record-breakingly warm winter day the park was overflowing with Chinese community members sitting in groups, playing games, enjoying the sun and even. . .having a music lesson.

The teacher here on violin was playing lovely, western sounding music that I could not identify but certainly enjoy. Meanwhile the lady in the pink hat, holding a tiny microphone attached to a red “purse” which seemed to disgorge the sounds into the park sporadically and at an alarming volume, was singing something that sounded more traditionally Chinese, or to my ears more like a high pitched screech.

A rather down-and-out looking character sitting next to us clapped enthusiastically whenever a song was finished. I couldn’t help thinking that this lady was a brave soul to expose her voice lessons, which seemed challenging at best, to the entire Chinese community! We had to interrupt the lesson to meet them and share the sketch.


And of course they were so friendly and wanted lots of pictures taken with us. This is one of the very best parts for Tania and I about doing these “Flaneur” days where we become “passionate wanderers”.

A walk back to Tania’s home, stopping briefly to share a glass of wine in North Beach and our day’s adventure, number three in a hopefully on-going series of what I call “Tania Days” came to an end. (You can come along on the other ones here: Day One and Day Two.)

Next day I was beat and had to miss Jazzercise class and sleep in, while Tania was off early for a four hour hike.

About our day Tania wrote: “I needed a day to just wander around and let my mind roam where it wanted.” She’s busy right now preparing for the release of her new book March 1,  Mother Tongue: The Saga of Three Generations of Balkan Women, written under the name Tania Romanov.

Mother Tongue is an exploration of lives lived in the chaos of a part of the world known as the Balkans. It follows the lives of three generations of women―Katarina, Zora, and Tania―over the last 100 years. It follows countries that dissolved, formed, and reformed. Lands that were conquered and subjugated by Fascists and Nazis and nationalists. Lives lived in exile, in refugee camps, in new worlds.

This is a book you won’t be able to put down!



A Weekend of Urban Sketching

I had been looking forward to this 3 days in San Francisco.  My husband Bob was at a photography portfolio review, leaving me to get out on the streets and sketch!  No shortage of subjects in S.F., that’s for sure. I carefully assembled my supplies and outfit for my new urban sketch persona.  The trick is to have everything you need for comfort and art making compact and accessible.  Only thing is the list of all those things gets so long that you might as well be packing for a trip to Europe!

My new vest with 15 pockets really helped. I’m not kidding.  15 pockets, which means you have to memorize where you put things. But it worked great!  So now I need a whole new wardrobe of all vests with lots of pockets.


Ready for my first day out.

My husband Bob made me a lovely sketchbook with BK Rives printmaking paper in it.  This paper is so soft and lovely.  But there’s a bit of a learning curve for me to use it, as I discovered with my first sketches in Chinatown.


I did a rough blocking out of the card players in Portsmouth Square and midway they all got up, rearranged their “furniture” and played musical chairs. Only the lady in purple stayed put.  So I erased the pencil and that’s when I discovered that the paper was too soft.


But I had to try the cherry blossoms and I knew this guy was stoned and not likely to move. . .


One of the challenges I’d assigned myself was a true urban sketch of a building with some complexity.  Sitting among the smokers in the park, but on a comfortable bench with a view of this restaurant, I plunged in, trying all my different pens while trading texts with my friend who suddenly showed up in town and wanted to take me for a drink.  (oh yeah, it was my birthday)


Next day I had planned to sketch the 164th annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities downtown, including the parade of 200 floats.  But first, while waiting for the bus, I saw the nude bike-a-thoners pedal by.  (no sketches there!)  Arriving to a sea of green bedecked humanity I instantly understood the this was not a very accessible sketch venue.  Too hot in the sun and everything moving!  Nevertheless I tried some figure sketches.



  • the guard in front of the Asian Art Museum
  • parade4
  • the ubiquitous cell phone
  • Next:  Pirate Ships on the Bay with the SF Urban Sketchers