And What Do You Think?

  

And What Do You Think?

On Sunday afternoon, our friend Jazz and his son Danny came for a visit. I wrote about Danny a few weeks ago. On the previous visit, Danny asked me a question, “Do plants think?” I told him that I would write about this subject in my weekly “Encounters”. His immediate response was – “You can make your next book, answering my questions”. Danny is eight. We became friends with his father about five years ago through a chance meeting and share a love of photography. Jazz is divorced, lives in Palo Alto and shares custody of his son. In the past, he would come on the weekends when Danny was with his mother, and we went for walks, having conversations like father and son (Jazz is forty).

As Danny grew, he started coming along. Upon their arrival, Danny informed me that he has no questions for me this time. We went for a walk with our dog Max to a neighborhood café on West Portal. The conversation was about school and summer vacation. Last year, Danny spent it on a trip to Armenia, where his grandparents live. This year he had to stay home, and his father tried to encourage Danny to learn something in his free time. “What about photography?” he suggested. Because Danny is a very smart kid, I was not surprised by his answer, though it was unexpected. “I have some interest in photography, but I am not ready yet. It might be a gradual process like increasing voltage in an LED light (He learned about that from his engineer father). “Would you like to go back to school?” I asked. Before Danny could answer, his father, who has conservative views on the idea of opening schools in September, had a concerned look on his face. However, before he was able to inject his opinion, I asked Danny, “And what do you think?” “I want to go back to school”, Danny said. “Why?” I asked. “You can study at home on the computer?” “Yes,” he answered, “but I like math, and at home I am the boss. After I finish my homework, there is no one to challenge me. At school, my teacher is the boss, and during recess, I can play with my friends.

On the way home, I was using my small camera to bring Danny’s attention to the trees and flowers. We talked about intricate designs on the tree trunks; how the annual flowers after fading, away drop seeds in the ground to return the following year; how bees collect pollen, and the only way to show all of this to others was to use a photo camera. How a powerful microscope can see deeper than seeds and to capture this we need special cameras. During these discussions Danny’s interest for photography grew. He was right – every child needs a “boss”, a teacher who will guide a child’s natural interests.

P.S. Seeing a flower lying on the pavement and another one on the bush, I asked him which one would look better as a photograph? He said that the grey pavement on the sidewalk could serve as a beautiful background. A child of eight can understand beauty. But I also pointed out to him that as a skilled photographer, I can change the background to make images more interesting. I hope you will see the beauty, which I produced in the four images under Danny’s influence. You can see more of my beautiful flowers on my Instagram account.

Please share the beauty with others!

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How to Celebrate a 53rd Anniversary

  

How to Celebrate a 53rd Anniversary

Whenever I tell someone that my wife Elfa tolerated me for fifty-three years, some wonder how that is possible. Well, of course, I am joking. Though it probably was not easy. After all, we are together most of the time. Not too many couples can claim that not only they lived together for over half of the century, but they also worked together. In September, we are going to celebrate 35 years since we started our mortgage brokerage company – Pacific Bay Financial. This fact by itself is an incredible achievement in our long marriage. Our secret – we do everything together, which includes of course, taking vacations.

Last year, we celebrated our anniversary in The Sea Ranch, one of our favorite short vacation destinations. We hoped to be there this year as well, and even managed to get a reservation. To our surprise, soon after we booked the house we were going to stay in, we were informed that our reservation was canceled. After trying different local agencies, to our disappointment, nothing was available, except one house for an exorbitant amount for three days’ vacation. Since people cannot travel abroad for vacations due to Covid-19, there is a new local demand. We tried other resorts in Mendocino County, there was no vacancy either, besides the question was – where will we be able to eat?

After not finding what we were looking for, we decided to change direction. I called a friend who lives in Carmel. Turns out that there were many good restaurants with outside seating. Elfa was able to find accommodations at a small Colonial Terrace Hotel located away from the tourist drag — Ocean Avenue. We stayed a block away from the ocean and fell asleep under the roaring sounds of the waves. No wonder I was able to catch up on my lack of sleep. It also helped that Max stayed in the city with his dog sitter. As my friend told me, the restaurants were open. Most of them built street sitting arrangements; some used the building roofs for a patio. Most stores and art galleries were open as well, and though the majority of the visitors wore face masks, our visit felt like a déjà vu, since we’ve visited this jewel by the sea many times. Can San Francisco and other cities follow the same protocol and enjoy a semi-normal protected life? Years ago, we celebrated our wedding anniversary as tourists in Downtown San Francisco. I hope it will not take long for our beautiful city to become tourist attraction again.

P.S. Upon arrival to our hotel, the first thing I noticed – flowers, many varieties, which competed with each other to attract bees and other insects, and human appreciation. These four images are just some of them, which with my artistic skills become more visible and distinct. You can see more of my flowers on Instagram, where I am planning to post daily under the name “Beauty a day will keep your worries away.”

Enjoy and Share with A Friend.

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Why Be Kind?

  

Why Be Kind?

“Acts of kindness may not be that random after all. Science says being kind pays off.” This is the opening sentence from the article which appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle on Friday, July 3, 2020, titled “Science says it makes us both happier, healthier” written by Seth Borenstein. It is based on the forthcoming book, “The Kindness of Strangers” by U.S. San Diego psychologist Michael McCullough. According to the author, “Kindness is as bred in our bones as our anger or our lust or our grief or as desire for revenge.” I found this list fascinating. How can kindness in our bones coincide with the desire for revenge? As it often happens in my life, I found the answer in the Torah, where being kind to strangers was mentioned at least 36 times. “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love them as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34). It also says in Leviticus (19:18), “You shall not take revenge.” At the same in the Book of Numbers (31:1-3), “Hashem spoke to Moses saying: Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Children of Israel.”

Another surprise for me in the article was that “Scientific research is booming into human kindness and what scientists have found so far speaks well of us.” Is it not obvious that we need to be kind to each other? Is this not in our bones? Nevertheless, scientific conclusions are promising. “We’re kind because under the right circumstances we all benefit from kindness,” Oxford’s Curry said.

There is another contributor to the subject — Duke University anthropologist Brian Hare, author of the new book “Survival of the Friendliest”, “The more friends you have, the more individuals you help, the more successful you are,” Hare said. Another researcher, psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, found out from over twenty years of experiments, that people feel better when they are kind to others, even more than when they are kind to themselves. This last realization brings us back to the words in Torah.

We only can love others (be kind) when we love (are kind) to ourselves, which brings to mind the words of Sage Hillel the Elder (110 BCE — 10CE):

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”

If I am only for myself, what am I?

And if not now, when?”

Staying home during the pandemic gives us plenty of opportunities for kindness. How about calling some of your friends, who might feel lonely, or any other small acts of kindness?

One of the simplest expressions of kindness can be a smile. Practice smiling to yourself first thing in the morning while looking into the mirror, and then keep smiling to others, even if your face is covered with a mask.

P.S. My personal act of kindness is to bring a smile to your face. This is why I’ve produced my next book “42 Encounters with Laughter”, which is going to be available in a few months. Meanwhile, keep smiling and laughing, like some of those people whom I encountered on my journeys.

Enjoy and Share with A Friend!

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Alta Plaza Park

  

Alta Plaza Park

After living in San Francisco for forty years, exploring it, writing about it, I thought I knew it. However, this is the magic of our beautiful city; it always shows a new side.

Recently, I drove Max to his dog-sitter. There I found out that the destination for morning dogs’ walk was Alta Plaza Park. When I got there I recognized the area because I’ve driven on Jackson Street in Pacific Heights many times. The green lawn blended with the tennis courts, and when I got to the top of the terraced hill, I saw a children’s playground with incredible 360-degree views of the city. I knew that I have to come back after sundown to take photos from the hill at night. There were many parents with their children and dogs on leashes. It took me awhile, when I finally saw Jim—the dog handler who brought seven “best friends” to the park, where one area is designated for dogs to off leash and to play with balls, generously supplied by Jim. Max was surprised to hear my voice and excited to play ball with me. An hour later the pack was taken back to the van to go back home to rest. Later that afternoon, the dogs will go on another walk into a different park. But for me it was enough. I had my images. What makes this hilly park unique is its role in San Francisco’s history. Until 1877 it was a rock quarry, when the City purchased the 17 acres parcel for park development. It was conceived and executed by John McLaren, the designer of Golden Gate Park.

Alta Plaza Park has another special role in San Francisco. It is one of 114 sites with an Outdoor Warning System siren. In the case of actual emergency the siren tone will cycle repeatedly for 5 minutes and people should go indoors and immediately tune to a news source on one of the local media stations. I just wonder where other 113 sites are. It seems I have more stories to share with you.

P.S. I love to photograph dogs, not only Max, who as you can see, leads the pack. If you have been in the park with many dogs, you probably noticed that each of them has a different way of behaving, as you can see in these four images.

Enjoy and Share with a Friend!

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Where To Celebrate During COVID-19

  

Where To Celebrate During COVID-19

We usually associate the word “celebration” with the special events in our lives – birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and restaurants are one of the natural destinations. But COVID-19 changed everything.

Every day, when I open the San Francisco Chronicle, I learn about the number of people who got infected and died, growing. It seems that someone purposely wants to get me scared or upset. The information about the disease is confusing, and instructions how to protect ourselves change all the time (did you read about 3 feet social distancing?). Not everyone follows the Shelter-in-Place orders. Just visit Golden Gate Park over the weekend. It is filled with people, who come here to celebrate life and other life events and are not stopped by the government restrictions. When I recently drove through Chestnut Street, I was surprised to see how many coffee shops and restaurants built sidewalk sitting arrangements, which were filled with diners. 

One of the major changes in our lives that was a result of COVID-19, was that we have to eat at home all the time. Of course some restaurants offer take-out meals or outside sitting arrangements, which is better than nothing, but all of this misses the fun, the atmosphere and the ambience. Pre-Covid, our favorite restaurant was Zuni Café on Market Street. We first had lunch there in 1989. Since then, this popular restaurant became our favorite dining destination. We’ve gone there for breakfast (in the early days), lunches and dinners, either by ourselves or with friends. This was the place where we would first dine, after returning from our travels, and for birthday celebrations with our friends.

Over the past thirty years, we got to know the staff and the owners, and when I called Gilbert Pilgram, the executive chef and the current owner of Zuni to find how he is copying, I found out that they had started take out service, as well as provide meals for the needy people through the World Central Kitchen.

When I recently received a text from Gilbert that on Sunday there is going to be lunch on the sidewalk, we were delighted. It was also the day our daughter Alona and her boyfriend Jeff came to San Francisco, which was a good reason to celebrate.

One of the reasons we like to eat in Zuni is the food, which is consistently delicious. We ordered chicken for two (eaten by three, with leftovers) and I ordered salmon. The food was familiar, but the experience was different. We were not accustomed to sitting in front of the windows, which were covered by plywood, after they were broken during the demonstrations against the police. Since Mr. Pilgram is a very creative person, the plywood was painted over with beautiful pictures. I know it’s going to be a gradual process for us to return to the dining experience we carry in our memory, but we are ready and patient.

P.S. It just happened that this was the day of the miniature Gay Pride Parade, and some of the participants who walked by were happy to pose for me. I also captured an image of Adrianne, who usually greets the customers at Zuni with a big smile, not covered with a mask.

Enjoy and Share with a Friend!

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