NOIR CITY: A photographic epilogue

In this follow-up to the chronicling of my recent trip to NOIR CITY 16 in San Francisco, I take considerable artistic license with photographs of San Francisco. To read the entire series, please start here (or with this related, more analytic post).

It is an open question whether I would have grown so inordinately fond of this film festival if it were held anywhere but San Francisco, a city I loved long before I attended NOIR CITY 12 in 2014.

In my recent nine-part travelogue I focused primarily on my sojourn in NOIR CITY 16 (January 26 – February 4, 2018). As a result I elided San Francisco locales I visited during prior festivals but not this year.

I will redress that oversight in two parts. First, I will describe specific places not mentioned in the NOIR CITY 16 posts. Second, I will present quasi-artistic photographs of streets and buildings, with a brief digression on the street-facing fire escapes endemic to San Francisco. I then conclude with a haunting question.

Part I: Specific Sites

Following an early-morning flight from Boston that deposited me in San Francisco at 12:30 pm (all times PST) on Friday, January 24, 2014—leaving me so sleepy I watched my brand new, monogrammed suitcase and valet bag ride around the luggage carousel many times before a helpful airport worker pointed them out to me–I met my friend PH at the Prescott Hotel.

The Prescott was the “official” hotel of NOIR CITY (that honor has gone to the Hotel Rex since 2016), and they greeted me in style:

IMG_0725

IMG_0722

I quickly made myself comfortable…

Prescott TV

…in this small…

IMG_0797

…albeit unusually decorated room (this painting in the bathroom enthralled me).

IMG_0934.JPG

Sir Francis Drake Hotel. PH and I walked the one-and-a-half blocks east on Post to this storied boutique hotel (one block north on Powell from Union Square), where PH’s friend worked in its diverse bars and restaurants.

We found her tending the quiet main lobby bar.

As we sat, drank (unwise given my exhaustion level) and ate surprisingly-unappetizing flatbread pizza, this imposing model of Drake watched over us.

IMG_0723

The hotel did achieve culinary redemption when PH and I ate at the superb Scala’s Bistro my last night there (Monday, February 3, 2014); PH’s friend waited on us with amiable grace.

Aquatic Park/Ghirardelli Square. On Sunday, January 26, 2014, I took my first meandering walk through Nob Hill and Russian Hill. Here, I look south on Kearny at Vallejo…

IMG_0746.JPG

…before looking west on Vallejo.

IMG_0747.JPG

Here I look north on Mason at Grant…

IMG_0751.JPG

…then climbed Lombard Street before arriving in Aquatic Park and Ghirardelli Square.

Sometime before 3 pm, I wandered into the Winery Collective, located in the nautical-themed Argonaut Hotel, in response to a very full bladder.

The rest rooms were located in the connecting lobby of the Argonaut. Returning to the winery, where I had deposited by stuff, I started a long conversation with the charismatic African-American oenophile working behind the counter.

She did require much persuasion for me to sample these wines:

IMG_0758

My view as I sipped:

IMG_0760

You cannot go to San Francisco and not order a sourdough soup bowl. I took this photograph some 20 minutes later, in the Blue Mermaid Restaurant, located in the lobby of the Argonaut.

IMG_0761.JPG

It was a chilly, foggy day—which made the view of the Golden Gate Bridge from Aquatic Park even more dramatic

 I actually explored the park—and Ghirardelli Square—when I returned in 2015.

IMG_1567.JPG

IMG_1564.JPG

IMG_1565.JPG

 IMG_1566.JPG

This park serves as one end of the Powell & Hyde cable car route. After my wine and soup, I waited a long time to board a cable car to return to the Prescott. In fact, I ended up running so late that I needed to take a taxi to the Castro Theatre, arriving just in time to enjoy two films noir from Japan—Yoidore Tenshi (Drunken Angel) and Nora Inu (Stray Dog)—both directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa.

Unique Sweets. My wife Nell and I started regularly watching Food Network and Cooking Channel in the early 2010s. An early Cooking Channel favorite was Unique Sweets.

The third episode from Season 4 (“San Fran Sweet Treats”) highlighted three desert-themed restaurants: Craftsman and Wolves, Dandelion Chocolate and The Ice Cream Bar. Originally airing December 1, 2013, I re-watched it OnDemand before leaving for San Francisco.

On the morning of Monday, January 27, 2014, I set off in search of the first two, conveniently located next to each other on Valencia Street.

IMG_0763.JPG

Yes, that is sipping caramel.

IMG_0764.JPG

The aromas in Dandelion Chocolate are so enticing they blur your vision.

IMG_0765.JPG

IMG_0766.JPG

IMG_0767.JPG

I still have that gray fleece.

IMG_0768.JPG

As for the Ice Cream Bar, just bear with me.

PH lives near Haight-Ashbury, so on the afternoon of Friday, January 31, 2014, we toured this iconic  neighborhood.

I had been hearing (and seeing) a great deal of Bettie Page vintage clothiers, so we stopped in.

IMG_0856.JPG

IMG_0858.JPG

IMG_0861.JPG

IMG_0863.JPG

After lunch at Crepes on Cole, where I took this photograph for our vegetable-chomping younger daughter…

IMG_0865.JPG

…we traveled back in time to this vintage ice cream/soda fountain.

IMG_0864.JPG

IMG_0867.JPG

IMG_0866.JPG

IMG_0868.JPG

John’s Grill. Towards the end of The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett writes:

Spade went to the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company’s station in Powell Street and called Davenport 2020. “Emergency Hospital, please….Hello, there’s a girl in suite twelve C at the Alexandria Hotel who has been drugged….Yes, you’d better send somebody to take a look at her….This is Mr. Hooper of the Alexandria.”

He put the receiver on its prong and laughed. He called another number and said: “Hello, Frank. This is Sam Spade….Can you let me have a car with a driver who’ll keep his mouth shut?….To go down the peninsula right away….Just a couple of hours….Right. Have him pick me up at John’s, Ellis Street, as soon as he can make it.”

He called another number—his office’s—held the receiver to his ear for a little while without saying anything, and replaced it on its hook.

He went to John’s Grill, asked the waiter to hurry his order of chops, baked potato, and sliced tomatoes, ate hurriedly, and was smoking a cigarette with his coffee when a thick-set youngish man with a plaid cap set askew above pale eyes and a tough cheery face came into the Grill and to this table.

“All set, Mr. Spade. She’s full of gas and rearing to go.”

“Swell.” Spade emptied his cup and went out with the thick-set man.

I first visited John’s Grill in November 2003, while in San Francisco for a scientific conference—and of course I ordered “Sam Spade’s Lamb Chops.”

On the evening of Monday, January 27, 2014, I returned.

IMG_0774.JPG

IMG_0776.JPG

IMG_0777.JPG

IMG_0781.JPG

This is the actual prop used in the iconic 1941 film noir.

Actual Maltese Falcon prop at John's Grill, SF Jan 2014.JPG

Almost one year later (Thursday, January 15, 2015), I returned; the novelty had worn off, though.

IMG_1502.JPG

The Ferry Building (on The Embarcadero). PH and I caught a ferry to Sausalito from here on the morning of Tuesday, January 28, 2014.

IMG_0786.JPG

IMG_0787.JPG

Sears Fine Food. Lured by the neon sign and its apparent historic importance, I stopped in here for a snack on the late afternoon of Monday, February 3, 2014 (my last day in NOIR CITY 12).

IMG_0931.JPG

IMG_0928.JPG

IMG_0930.JPG

The place was not exactly hopping.

IMG_0929.JPG

As someone who has watched many episodes of Restaurant: Impossible, that made me nervous. I do not recall what I ordered, but it was nothing special.

Part 2: No Particular Place To Go.

Arresting buildings and interesting views. From 2014, in no particular order, we begin with this vista in Haight-Ashbury…

IMG_0849.JPG

…before moving to these gorgeous “noir” buildings on Powell between O’Farrell and Ellis.

IMG_0922.JPG

IMG_0923.JPG

Here the street-facing fire escapes are plainly visible.

IMG_0921.JPG

Fire escapes are often a visual focal point in films noir. Like Venetian blinds, prison bars and slatted stairwells, they allow light to be broken into jagged shards, mimicking German expressionists.

But these fire escapes were often in the rear of apartment buildings, allowing private ingress and egress (did nobody lock their windows between 1941 and 1959?), perhaps to frame a detective for murder (e.g.¸ The Dark Corner) or simply as part of daily life (e.g., Rear Window). Or a young boy could sleep on them, inadvertently witnessing a murder, as in The Window.

Our Brookline neighborhood’s rabbit warren of alleys, paths and stairways is littered with rear fire escapes—and I love their metallic glint in the muted glow of street lamps and safety lights at night.

But having them front and center the way they are in San Francisco is such a visual contrast to how they are typically seen (or, to be precise, not seen) that they fascinate me.

Here is my 2018 photograph of the Rex, cropped to emphasize its street-facing fire escape:

Rex fire escape

One final shot from 2014, looking up from Powell and Ellis.

IMG_0924.JPG

From 2015, again in no particular order, we have this building looming over Chinatown at the intersection of Grant and California.

IMG_1576.JPG

This is the Transamerica Pyramid as seen from Kearny, just south of Pacific.

IMG_1539.JPG

It is a long descent to Alcatraz from the corner of Green and Taylor.

IMG_1562.JPG

Looking toward the Bay Bridge from Broadway and Taylor.

IMG_1546.JPG

Looking up on Taylor from Ina Coolbirth Park, between Vallejo and Green.

IMG_1561.JPG

I was smitten with this vintage trolley on 17th Street, just around the corner from the Castro.

IMG_1637.JPG

Here are additional vistas from 2018.

The Bay Bridge seen from Vallejo, between Mason and Taylor.

IMG_3375.JPG

Looking northeast from Vallejo and Taylor:

IMG_3378.JPG

Looking south on Mason from Washington.

IMG_3385.JPG

This alley off Stockton, between Post and Bush, caught my eye…

IMG_3579.JPG

…as did this view looking east on Geary from Powell, at the southern edge of Union Square.

IMG_3587.JPG

Daughter-inspired. I took these first two photographs by Dragon’s Gate, at Grant and Bush.

IMG_0740.JPG

IMG_0741.JPG

This now-defunct store on Powell seemed intended for our highly-imaginative younger daughter.

IMG_0770.JPG

From 2015, we have this storefront on Grant, between Bush and Sutter.

 IMG_1507.JPG

 I took this photograph in 2017 for our athletic bookworm eldest daughter.

IMG_2972 (2).JPG

Noir-tistry. I achieved these John-Alton-inspired effects by setting “Light” and “Color” to -100 and “Clarity” to 100.

IMG_0850.jpg

IMG_3395.jpg

Look—another street-facing fire escape.

IMG_3564.jpg

 IMG_3640

Oddities. I took this photograph at 535 Valencia, just north of Craftsman and Wolves/ Dandelion Chocolate, in 2014. As far as I know, my mother never made sushi…or mixed particularly interesting drinks.

IMG_0769.JPG

One final question (unanswered since 2015): What did John do to deserve this fate—and in what “one way” will it happen?

IMG_1535.JPG

Until next time…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s