On the Town
Nona Caspers

Author finds that 'mundane journeys' around city are best
by Aidin Vaziri, San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, May 6, 2007

Nona Caspers' new book of stories, "Heavier Than Air" (University of Massachusetts Press), has received the Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction from the Association of Writers and Writing Programs and was selected as an editor's choice by the New York Times Book Review. But that's nothing compared with the accolades the assistant professor of creative writing at San Francisco State University (and Minnesota native) will be getting for her list of favorite places around the city. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, but mostly it will make you want to follow in her footsteps.

Buena Vista Park, Buena Vista Avenue East and Haight Street. "Edgar, my Pomeranian, and I hike up Waller Street to Buena Vista Park, one of San Francisco's first parks, tended since the 1970s by Buena Vista Neighborhood Association and Friends of the Urban Forest. The trees are amazing -- Eucalyptus, Cypress, Giant Sequoia, Redwood, Madrone. At the top of the hill the city planted a park map of all the trees. Also at the top: San Bruno Mountain to the south, Farallon Islands off the coast, Mount Tamalpais and Angel Island looking north, and the dome of City Hall and Mount Diablo looking east. Anywhere you look, beautiful views. (And some beautiful boys on the southeast dirt paths -- just a hint.)"

The Luggage Store, 1007 Market St. "They don't sell luggage -- it's a nonprofit art gallery featuring some of the most inspiring and refreshing exhibitions and events I've seen in this city. And of course the art is for sale. I recently went to the opening of the Amber Room (Liu Ding, Won Ju Lim, Shirley Tse, and Wang Wei). The space sponsors a new music series every Thursday, and often the crowd spills over onto Market Street. The curators, Laurie Lazer and Darryl Smith, have an eye for hot unknowns and a heart for the power of invention and image to cross cultural boundaries. Even the tiny bathroom, in the back of the messy office, is eye-opening."

Concrete Noticing Tours -- Weed Walk, locations vary weekly, www.weedwalk.com "A San Francisco treasure, community artist Michael Swaine, known for his sewing project the fifteenth of every month in the Tenderloin (yes, he'll attach buttons and stitch hems for a minimal donation while you wait), takes people on neighborhood tours with his botanist friend Arcangelo Wessells. My girlfriend, Elaine, and I joined a group of 15 at the Embarcadero and zigzagged south of Market with antiquarian books strapped to our feet (a book weed-walk in celebration of the San Francisco Antiquarian Book Fair). We stopped for a reading under a ficus tree on Second Street. We ate lunch at picnic tables on the bay at Carmen's -- beautiful breeze and garden burgers."

Bean There Cafe, 201 Waller St. "Not the fanciest neighborhood cafe and they won't allow Edgar inside, but one I frequent because they leave you alone for hours and one young man behind the counter has the sweetest voice and way of serving I've ever seen. He's gifted in the art of kindness and pouring hot water over cloth tea bags. He restores my love for human beings. Coffee, sweets, little quiches, and numerous tea selections -- and you can move tables around outside to suit your sun and wind needs."

Phoenix Bookstore, 3850 24th St. "When Edgar, Elaine and I hike over the hill for the ambience of Noe Valley, we like to see what the staff has picked at this little bookstore. Unless it's raining, the doors are open and the sidewalk serves as an extension for its eclectic collection of used and new books. Well organized, with great fiction and art books and a surprisingly well-stocked section on Eastern and Western philosophy and religion. Theory says this is where the neighborhood's ex-hippies 'unload the spoils of their spirituality phases.' I like to think the ex-hippies are just unloading their books, not their spirituality."

Mundane Journeys, locations vary weekly, (415) 364-1465 or www.mundanejourneys.com . "Kate Pocrass offers Mundane Journeys throughout the city. For $5 you can buy her grant-funded book of "Mundane Journeys," with directions such as, 'Walk, bike or public transit to the corner of Market and Battery. Look at the tall office building on the northwest corner from afar for at least a minute. Next, wander close to the cement walkway against the Market side of the building. Stand 1 foot from the building's edge. Notice the size of the square siding tiles. Now look straight up from that vantage point.' Other journeys end at fun food establishments such as Creations Dessert House at 5217 Geary Blvd. or the Olympic Market gum display at 372 5th St."

Guy's Flowers, 15th. and Noe streets. "Guy has been selling fresh cut flowers on the corner of Noe and 15th for 25 years -- daffodils and tulips, irises, roses, ginger, lilies. He discounts older flowers. Inside his chartreuse-painted garage you can find vintage postcards, vases and the occasional orchid and houseplant. Let him know what you like and he'll pluck it out and wrap it, and if you're lucky chat a bit so you can hear his smooth Baltimore speech. He himself looks like a flower in his orange and yellow outfits and occasional earrings dangling out from his cap. The flowers I buy from Guy often last longer than I expect flowers to last."

Golden Produce, 172 Church St. "Across the street from Safeway sits this gem of a family-owned and -run market with fresh organic and conventional produce from 'Hony Manila Mangos' to jicama to dino kale to eight varieties of tomatoes. My neighbor says they sell the only sweet ripe pears in the city. They also stock bulk grains, oats, nuts, carob chips, fig cookies. Along the back wall, the fridge holds a range of cheeses, tofu products, yogurts and fresh noodles, including Matsuda, Kalkooksu and Kelp Noodles. And there is an olive bar! Elaine and I marvel at their use of space -- yes to laundry detergent and dish soap and yes to all the teas behind the checkout counter."

Health Wise for Pets, 157 Fillmore St. "Edgar loves to poke around this neighborhood pet store that carries nutritious food for pets such as Prairie Dog, Wysong, Natural Balance, Wellness. Duck, pheasant, lamb, vegetarian, freeze-dried. I bought Edgar's travel bag there, airline approved, for only $59. We hardly notice the shelves and shelves of items for birds, cats and fish. Another magical use of space. The owner, often the man behind the counter, knows a lot about dogs and cats, and will answer your questions if you behave."

Studio Valencia, 455 Valencia St. "One of the last strongholds of reasonably priced rentable space in the city for dancers, musicians, performers, yoginis. Local artists often rent the large studio to rehearse or teach workshops and classes in movement, pregnant-lady yoga, improvisation, shadow puppets. Studio Valencia has been around for 25 years and if it gets more patronage could be around for another 25."

Duboce Park, Steiner and Duboce streets. "Do you love dogs? I love dogs. Edgar and I watch the dogs at Duboce Park -- Italian greyhounds, pit bulls, toy poodles, mutts of all kinds, labradoodles, corgis, shepherds with squeak toys. We try to interpret their physical and social language and forget about the mess of human beings with all our symbolic complexities. Sunday mornings are the best, if you don't mind the faint aroma of dog poop."