May 4th, 2006

SF City Hall 1906

Rain and Old Disaster

As I had expected, the night was pleasantly cool, and the scent of rain lingered for hours. I wouldn't mind having another thunderstorm today. Breathing is fun. Not sneezing is fun. Thanks, rain.

I found a web site containing the first twenty chapters of a splendidly lurid lurid book about the San Francisco earthquake and fire, published in 1906. It was one of many such books quickly brought to press in order to cash in on the public's fascination with the disaster. As the author of the web site (Bill Thayer) says in a brief introduction:
"This is not a very good book. In plain language, it was designed to make a fast buck off public curiosity, and was assembled very fast. The story is told in a diffuse and disorganized way, and the writing is sloppy."
In other words, it's pretty much the early 20th century equivalent of television news. But, like television news, it provides images that have a value beyond that of the verbiage that accompanies them. Several of the photographs in the book I've never seen before. But, one hundred years later, even the text has acquired a value it lacked then, revealing something of the attitudes and values, good and bad, of its time. For example, the blatant anti-Asian sentiments which then prevailed are demonstrated by the heading of the chapter devoted to Chinatown:
"Chinatown, A Plague Spot Blotted Out
An Oriental Hell within an American City — Foreign in its Stores, Gambling Dens and Inhabitants — The Mecca of all San Francisco Sight Seers — Secret Passages, Opium Joints and Slave Trade its Chief Features."
Good heavens! They make it sound so much more alluring than it actually was.

I haven't had time to read more than a few fragments of the text, and probably won't bother to read much more. I read quite a few books of this sort long ago, but I no longer have the time to indulge in this sort of thing, however engaging I may find the excesses of the genre. I'm quite capable of creating my own tripe these days, in any case. It's nice to know that someone has taken the trouble to put it on the Internet, though.
bazille_summer scene


A big frog has moved closer to the house, probably within two hundred feet. It's almost a baritone, and might become a basso if it survives long enough. The creature's croaks are quite loud, and could attract the attention of some nocturnal predator. At least it's unlikely to face death by dehydration. The neighborhood is extensively landscaped, and much irrigation takes place. There will be no water shortage here this summer, the mountain snow-pack being thick and the reservoirs already so full that water is being released into the streams to make room for the coming snow-melt. Each time I pass by a local stream these days, even those which do not receive water being released from a dam, I'm surprised at how full it is and how swiftly it is flowing. Even should summer prove to be torrid, the frog will enjoy cool places of refuge in the well-watered plant beds of our suburban yards. All he needs to do is avoid being eaten.