Journal

Saturday, June 6, 2020

In the evening Henry took me to the Avenue of the Flags, a breakwater walkway lined with flagpoles that shields the docked yachts from the fury of the sea. Bands of Mexican teens in their Pro Clubs and baggy shorts and backwards caps roamed about on their BMX bikes and families were seated at the sunbleached plastic tables outside the harbor restaurants and on the breakwater itself immigrant children crawled and caught crabs on the barnacled rocks that lined the inner edge of the walkway while their elder siblings and parents and aunts and uncles stood above them with Spanish ballads playing from portable radios and fishing poles angled above the still water. As we tread the walkway the waves would crash against the outer barrier and leap above the concrete wall and land in splatters on the already drenched pavement, and we received the force of the spray a few times on our journey across. We reached the steel crow’s nest on the far side that housed an electric beacon but the smell of brine and the thick rust on the ladder and the threats of federal prosecution dissuaded us from climbing it. We then walked back and saw a few white teens in brightly colored baseball caps and Hawaiian shirts and swim trunks greet each other (a gesture, reciprocated contact, “not in real life!” from the initiator) and then got back in the car and drove back along the shoreline, the remains of the sunset a bright line beside us.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

We awoke and washed up and got in the car and and drove down Shattuck to the U-Haul dealership on MacArthur. It was in an abandoned area of Oakland next to the Bart line and we parked next to a Victorian house that must have once been beautiful but had since fallen into disrepair, boarded up and painted white and tagged with layers of bright graffiti. The weeds grew wild on the property and the sidewalk lots and styrofoam cups and plastic bottles and multilayer polymer chip bags laid amid the beds of grass. I waited in the car while Henry and Francis got the pickup truck and we drove back to Treehaven and loaded the bed with the mattress and the box foundation and the bedding and the futon and the disassembled desk and the three boxes of scattered items. We then drove both vehicles to Francis’s new apartment and Francis got the key from the landlord and we started unloading everything into his new flat. The apartment was in a modernist building that looked to be a few decades old stuccoed and painted in the drab beige that they often come in. The interior had been cleaned recently and the carpets were nearly spotless and the doors and trimming had been painted a bright glossy teal. The interior of the unit smelled of carpet cleaner and the windows had cheap aluminum frames over which the landlord had hung enormous vertical blinds, but the kitchen and bathroom looked newer than the building itself and the whole place was in much better repair than Treehaven ever would be after the past century of neglect. Francis’s roommate had arranged to pick up a sofa from someone and after we finished unloading we drove the truck to the building on Telegraph where they lived, and they let us in and we took the elevator up and entered their apartment which was shrouded in darkness and looked as if a tornado had blown through it and grabbed the pale green cushions and sofa from the far end of the room and made an abortive attempt to load the massive thing into the elevator and discovered it wouldn’t fit and Henry and two of the tenants took it down the stairwell while Francis and I descended in the lift with cushions in hand. We loaded everything into the truckbed and drove back and maneuvered it up the stairway of the building into Francis’s apartment, then returned the pickup back to Oakland.

We had not eaten since the night before and it was now past noon and we were hungry and tired. We drove back to Treehaven only to find we had lost the key, then ordered some crepes from Crepevine and waited outside while they made the food and drove it to Indian Rock to eat, reflective of the time a year ago when we had eaten deep dish pizza on this same rhyolite. We then drove back to the new apartment to search for the keys to no avail, and Francis called the Treehaven landlord and discovered that he had left a set hidden in some nook on the first floor of the building. We drove north again and got the keys and cleared the place out and returned the keys to their nook and drove again to the new apartment. When we arrived Francis’s roommate and his parents were parked on the sidewalk in front of the building. He was a quiet man with glasses and a shock of hair dyed blue and his parents were the archetypal Chinese parents, backs slightly hunched, the father in glasses and a hoodie and sweatpants, the mother with hair tied back. Because of the new social norms under the virus and the trouble with the lease-signing that they had caused I was less cordial with them than I otherwise would have been, and we moved things in silently and in parallel in an odd dance of unlocking the building door for each other.

After that we drove to the Richmond 99 Ranch and donned our masks and searched for the items that Francis wanted and that my mother wanted (king oyster mushrooms, napa cabbage, Shandong noodles, sesame oil) and called her several times and checked out and loaded the things into the car. We then stopped by the rental location to drop off the contract that we had left at Treehaven and attempted to do the online check-out process until we learned that they required mileage numbers that we could no longer access. We dropped the groceries off at the flat and drove Francis and his roommate off north of campus where they wanted to pick up a mirror and then we were finally on the way back home. We dropped by a family friend’s house in Cupertino to pick up some luobosibing and Portuguese custard tarts and ate a few on the road and stopped at a farm near Salinas to stretch our legs and taste the wind and take photos of the sunset and then we never stopped again until we reached Santa Barbara. When we got back it was nearly midnight and the morning activities seemed eons ago.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Henry and I drove Francis up to Berkeley to help him move in. On Friday Henry had gone camping with some friends up at Lizard’s Mouth and he had drunk some beer and walked between the sandstone boulders and stepped into air where he thought there was rock and fallen and caught his ass on a branch of manzanita and scraped a liquid gash on his leg and twisted his left arm with such force that he could not move it without hurting. He spent the night sleepless and dazed beneath the stars in a tent on the sandstone and drove with his friends to Lompoc in the morning. When we arrived they were in the driveway outfitting an old Honda with a suspension lift and he collapsed into the back seat with disheveled hair and a look of exhaustion and his face and his things seemed to glow with the yellow dust of the hills. The blood had caked on the surface of his shin and his arm could hardly move and the manzanita had rent a hole in the back of his polyester mesh shorts that he was now obliged to wear for the rest of the weekend. We said goodbye to his friends and drove out of the neighborhood and saw a deer that lay dead by the side of the road and continued out of the hills to Santa Maria.

On the drive north we saw the same sequence of things that we had seen time and time again on our drives along this road over the years. Long golden lines of summer grass covered the fields and hills and stretches of bright cloudless blue would be broken by rain so strong that it filled the windshield with white water even as we set the wipers rocking at the limit of their speed. The water was fed by the wind which blew against the traffic so the rear window remained dry as we watched the torrents flood the asphalt and heard the clamor of the downpour like the tapping of great fingers on the roof of the car. The vehicles before us became bright orbs of nebulous haze as their tires sent plumes of white spray into the air around them. Amid this the distant firmament would sometimes shine blue, a remark by higher powers on the vastness of the sky.

We stopped in King City to eat the burritos that we had picked up in Goleta and to get gas from the station by the flowering gulch. Then we were on the road again in the land of sun and rain until the corporate suburban landscapes of the Bay engulfed us. We were welcomed by the familiar billboards that advertised arcane marijuana products and startups that would collapse within a year and business solutions for problems that you wouldn’t know could be had unless you had spent too much time in the corporate ladder. After the hour on the 880 we exited at Claremont and drove to Treehaven and were welcomed by the same musty smell that had plagued those corridors for a century.

The apartment was in disarray. There were cheap particle-board tables left a year ago by the tenants before them and a shelving system constructed of aluminum tubing and corrugated plastic and chunks of soil from the plants that it used to support and a flexible vinyl storage bag of polyester bedding and a thermoplastic job fair mug branded with the Walmart logo and cookware and dishware and scattered containers and corn nuts and candy canes and other foods that I forgot people ate and several cubic feet of cooking supplies and cleaning products. We boxed what Francis deemed worth keeping and discarded the rest, a task of a couple hours.

We then got in the car and drove across the Bay Bridge and entered San Francisco and parked by the austere Modernist houses on the slopes that surround Twin Peaks. People had tagged the blacktop with protest grafitti and the sun shone on the wild blackberries and locals and tourists were scattered on the trails in the usual Californian casual garb. A Latino family sat silently on a concrete barrier and an Indian family spoke cheerfully in a South Asian language and tech bros rehearsed their usual conversations about cameras and going to the gym. At the peak of the hill we took photos of the view and saw the cars proceed along Market through the skyscrapers toward the sea and watched the helicopters buzzing over the George Floyd protests like black hornets.

Back in the car we drove to the Enjoy Vegetarian in Inner Sunset and ordered four dishes and walked around the block as they cooked it and drove the food to Lafayette Park which was alive with young professionals out to picnic or to walk their dogs. We ate on the stone benches by the dog play area and detoured to the Brutalist medical center west of the park and imagined being a dying patient within those colossal walls. As dusk settled we drove to Ina Coolbrith and circled a few times in our search for parking and walked to the park to witness the skyscrapers disappear into the mist as the sky blazed pink behind them. The glass walls of the pool of the adjoining luxury apartments gleamed like a gem in the center of the park and the mansions of Russian Hill loomed behind us. We ascended the stairway between those mansions and emerged at the crest in a small luminous glade and in the Vallejo Street cul-de-sac we saw an ancient European sedan and a massive Gothic lantern and a balcony populated with exotic rushes and on our way back down we saw a Buddha statue in the cavernous window bay above the entrance of a house. We then drove back to Berkeley in the night and collapsed in fitful sleep.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Watched Michael Mann’s Miami Vice (2006) yesterday. Great film; surreal to see Gong Li in a speedboat amid Americans. Watched As Tears Go By, Wong Kar-Wai’s first film, last Friday.

Watson’s Qin Dynasty volume of Records of the Grand Historian came; so did Virginia Savage McAlester’s Field Guide to American Houses. Finished Capitalist Realism and the introduction of Botany in a Day.

昨天看了 Michael Mann(麥可・曼恩)的『邁阿密風雲』(2006)。好片,看到鞏俐在一羣美國人中乘着快艇周遊四海感覺挺離奇的。上禮拜五看了王家衛的第一部片,『旺角卡門』。

華茲生翻譯的『史記』秦篇送達了,佛吉尼亞・薩維奇・麥卡勒斯特(Virginia Savage McAlester)的『美國房屋圖鑑』也到了。兩本都讀了一部分。上禮拜讀完了『資本現實主義』以及『一天學會植物學』的導論。

Zuótiān kànle Màikě Màn’ēn (Michael Mann) de Mài’āmì fēngyún (Miami Vice, 2006). Hǎo piàn, kàn dào Gǒng Lì zài yī qún Měiguó rén zhōng chéngzhe kuàitǐng zhōuyóu sìhǎi gǎnjué tǐng líqí de. Shàng lǐbài wǔ kànle Wáng Jiāwèi de dì yī bù piàn, Wàngjiǎo Kǎmén.

Burton Watson (Huá Zīshēng) fānyì de Shǐjì Qín piān sòngdále, Virginia Savage McAlester de Měiguó fángwū tújiàn yě dàole. Liǎng běn dōu dúle yībùfèn. Shàng lǐbài dú wánle Zīběn xiànshí zhǔyì yǐjí Yī tiān xuéhuì zhíwùxué de dǎolùn.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Watched a documentary on Taiwanese gangs last weekend: 黑白邊緣:台灣幫派浮沈錄 (2011) (on YouTube: 1, 2, 3).

Discovered a couple websites in the last month that I forgot to put here:

  • TRS Tour 臺灣驛站之旅, a site documenting the Taiwanese rail system
  • Maps Talk 地圖會說話, a blog by Ko-Hua Yap 葉高華 on Taiwanese maps

Looked through some American traditionalist architecture firms, all associated with the New Urban Guild:

Also looked at some international firms:

Recent reading: the interview with Studio Mumbai in El Croquis 157 (2011), an interview with Robert Pattinson in GQ (June/July 2020), the first few chapters of Hong lou meng.

Two books arrived today: Capitalist Realism (2009) by Mark Fisher and Botany in a Day, 6th edition (2013) by Thomas J. Elpel. Read a good amount of both.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Watched Scarface (1983). How different Al Pacino is here, young and gaunt and Cuban, compared to his presence in Heat.

A few books came recently: Nancy Steinhardt, Chinese Architecture (2019) and Liao Architecture (1997); Ronald G. Knapp, Chinese Houses: The Architectural History of a Nation (2006); and the first volume of Minford and Lau, editors, An Anthology of Translations: Classical Chinese Literature (2000). The first part of Knapp’s book is very good: providing details on construction and architecture and how houses in different regions vary based on climate and available materials. A good correction of my misconception (induced by Liang Sicheng) that Chinese architecture is mostly wooden. Reminded of OnEarth, the Chinese firm.

When the literature anthology came, I was struck by how little it holds my attention now; how overwhelmed I am by literature; how little it matters to me. Steinhardt’s books are similar: they engage me but more for the illustrations than anything else. I’m glad I didn’t pursue the academy. I am realizing, even if I already knew, that what allures me most about study is not study itself but of making it new.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Watched Heat (1995) again, with Francis. Continued thoughts throughout the night: imagining the television man absent, or Waingro killed on the asphalt, or “Slick” left unsaid, or McCauley or Hanna less drawn to the heat of the chase. Their final encounter predicated on the blood that runs in them both.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Did some printing.

Finished Benito Cereno (1856). I already knew the plot from talking with Payam about one of his essays years ago, which perhaps spoiled the experience, but I enjoyed watching Melville unfold it nonetheless.

Friday, May 1, 2020
Thursday, April 30, 2020

In my dream, I was exploring a campus that I was convinced was in Michigan. There were verdant pastures veiled by mist and wooden steps incised into the hill and towering arches of greenhouse glass and brickwork reminiscent of the Moorish countryside and vistas from the third floor through the glass into the fog and the trees beyond and small mirrors mounted on poles that reflected scenes of great clarity. We reached a library that Ian could enter but I couldn’t until we persuaded the receptionist, and then I watched in horror from outside my own body as guards in black armor arrived and shot me through the chest with a lightning cannon.

Been reading a lot of online writing:

In the evening, talked to Sara for the first time in years.

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