flaneur

Flaneurs a Trois

Wednesday this week was #4 of my “flaneur” days rambling through the streets of San Francisco, taking it all in with sketchbook in hand. The flaneur(m), flaneuse (f) (French for loafer, stroller, loiterer, dawdler) apparently has nothing better to do with their time, though in this case I would agree that I can think of nothing better to do with my time than this!

Two of my urban sketch friends agreed with me and asked to join, hence Flaneurs a Trois – the esteemed Oliver Hoeller (from whom I stole the idea) and the esteemed Cathy McAuliffe of urban sketching and other fame.

We met on Mission St. in S.F.and started out at Grand Mission Donuts and Bakery, an unassuming neighborhood bakery, where we set the ground rules. Oliver had the idea of a throw of dice to introduce randomness into our expedition, but more importantly to avoid long discussions (aka disagreements) about which direction to walk in. We all agreed.

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Cathy called the first stop (she’s sooo good at seeing sketch opps!), and we plunked right down on the sidewalk to do our first 20 min sketch. I tried not to panic.

It helped that, as I was putting color on my messy sketch, a very hip young couple with their kid in the stroller and their designer dog came along. Luis asked if he could take my picture. “Of course!” I said. After all, I shamelessly sketch everyone in sight without ever asking permission.

“You are so cool!” he said enthusiastically. Of course I’m thinking, you think I’M cool?! This old lady on the sidewalk doing this messy sketch?

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Cathy and Oliver

It wasn’t long before it happened again! We were sketching across from the colorful Women’s Building when another person said, “You guys are so cool!” You get the picture here, right? Sketching on the street is the new uber-cool thing to do. And look at these cool dudes here.

Mission2 Well I think it was at this point that I was getting a little tired of Oliver’s dice running my day (even though I’d been enthusiastic about it in theory). And the dice was sending us down a street I didn’t want to sketch and I started whining. They noticed and were both very sweet about it, asking me what I wanted.

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Turns out I didn’t want to sketch buildings (which take too long for me to figure out) so when I saw the workmen, we stopped. Notice how I got out of doing much building sketching even though that’s what they were building? We’re talking 20 minutes after all!

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And then my wish came true and we went inside Paxton Gate a shop with endless curiosities from the natural world and a wall full of taxidermy. Around the time I’d sketched the last of these animals I started to think about the exploitation of wild animals and felt uncomfortable about sketching them.

It was time to put on paint so I went out to the back where there was space to sit and was soon joined by a young woman who was also sketching. Turns out she’s a Vietnamese born college student at U.C. Berkeley who has just started to sketch and was excited to hear about Urban Sketchers. What are the chances. . .?

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Walking down Mission St. again the wind was kicking up. I was learning that you don’t want to walk down the sidewalk in this part of the Mission without keeping your eyes on the ground where your feet are stepping – a difficult thing when you’re being constantly distracted by the life on the street.

This guy on the corner selling fruit drinks and corn, Latin American style was a magnet for us. It started to feel like my memories of Mexico, which is what I love about the Mission.

Next stop was for coffee and to get out of the wind. An interesting discussion of how we approached the day and what it all means transpired then. Cathy filled us in on the history she’d collected at our various sketch sites. Oliver approached it with his scientifically trained mind, asking lots of questions. He promises to shed light on this flaneur business with his thoughts, soon to be written out and shared!

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And then it was time for me to hit the road for the long drive home. But not before a last sketch on the corner of 16th and Mission.

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and a selfie of the trois flaneurs.

Look for Oliver and Cathy’s sketches on Instagram and other media!

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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.

LaughingSal

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!

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(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.

Tania'sBirdMan

Photo by Tania Amochaev

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!