Strolling Solano Avenue

Confession: this is me stealing from me. This blogpost is taken (with minor edits) from “On the Avenue,” my regular column in the Thousand Oaks Neighborhood Association newsletter that is published quarterly. My beat is the businesses along the Berkeley end of the street.

It was midday on a sunny Saturday when I strolled Solano Avenue. People were eating burgers outside at Barney’s, waiting in line at Lavender Bakery, and going inside stores (masked, of course!) to buy shoes, clothes, gifts, and rugs. An adorable pre-school ballerina all in pink was waiting outside The Tutu School. The door was open at Anytime Fitness, where people were actually working out on the equipment. And, notably, the northern, Solano-facing entrance to Andronico’s is no longer blocked. To those of you who used to park in the grocery store lot, cut through the market to pick up your Zachary’s pizza, and then buy wine and a pint of ice cream on your way back, you can do it again. (That wasn’t just me, was it?) Related news—Zachary’s slices are back!

Hey, I used to teach at Prospect Sierra School!

It almost felt…normal. Of course, COVID still requires precautions: Women were getting their toenails painted under a tent outside Le Petit Nail Salon. Only eight customers at a time are allowed in Pegasus Books. And customers still put on hand sanitizer before entering Payn’s Stationery. But in general, Solano Avenue is starting to look like the bustling business district it once was. Although I couldn’t see if people were smiling under their masks, I sensed joy all around. Even the gnomes in the window at Wendy’s Gnome Shop looked happier to me.

Doesn’t your neighborhood have a gnome shop?

So, what’s new to the avenue? A colorful Chinese dragon adorns the entrance to recently opened West Wind Karate (1775, Fit Lite’s former home) where they teach martial arts, self-defense, boxing, and more to “all types of students ages four to seventy-four, men and women.” The Solano site is the latest West Wind School to open, founded in 1969 by Master Ron Lee.

After months of anticipation, I’m quite excited to announce that voluptas (1585) is up and running! Self-described as a “small-batch artisanal bakery experiment,” it offers lots of breads (including gluten-free), croissants, cookies, fresh pasta, and chili. During COVID, the bakery delivers to North Berkeley, Albany, and Kensington, or you can pick up your order there. According to the website https://quovoluptas.com/shop, the storefront will open in the near future!

Just off Solano at 904 The Alameda is an offshoot of Noor & Sons Rugs called The Art Box, (although I had to ask the name because there’s no sign up yet). It’s on the other side of Hana Design and Antiques in the space where Persimmon used to be (or, as I thought of it—the place with all the cute socks in baskets outside). I stumbled upon it on its opening day, April 10. Among their offerings are unusual lamps, ottomans, small area rugs, tiny ceramic bowls, and jewelry. Eclectic inventory, huh?

I love my neighborhood. The aroma of the homemade cones they make at iScream makes my mouth water every time I pass by. There are oodles of places to eat, buy natural fiber clothing, and get your nails done. And I guarantee you won’t find more rug stores anywhere else in the East Bay!

Footwear is the soul (sole) of my wardrobe

My new boots that can either fold over or not!

To me, shoes are more important than any other item of clothing. They have to support me throughout the day, whether I’m exercising or just walking around doing everyday things. I’ve always insisted on comfort, and as I’ve grown older (and fatter), it’s become even more vital.

This holiday season, it seemed that much of my footwear had decided to retire. The last time I wore the boots I’d bought at the consignment shop around 6 years ago, I noticed that the soles were pulling away from the uppers, and I could actually see my toes through the tip of the right one. So I bid them a fond farewell and ordered a pair from Old Navy at half price. They’re lined with fake fur and oh-so comfy.

I’d already performed surgery on my left moccasin slipper when the bottom on the right one started crumbling. And the cushy liner had long ago flattened, providing little in the way of support, so I finally admitted that it was time to let them go as well. I’ve ordered a pair from Land’s End (also on sale!) and I anxiously await their arrival.

On the left, my de-strapped Mary Janes; on the right, my trusty slippers
My new shoes

My go-to Anu black leather Mary Janes that I bought maybe eight or ten years ago on sale at Shoes on Solano served me well, even after Ruby chewed off one of the straps when she was a puppy. I had the other strap removed by the shoe repair place, and they continued to provide a safe haven for my feet many more years, helped along with new insoles. But as I was returning from an errand, I saw that Shoes on Solano was having a sale. Because everyone was masked and only three customers are allowed inside at a time, it felt safe, so I ventured into my favorite shoe store, only half intending to make a purchase. I couldn’t buy the same brand because it didn’t exist anymore, the store clerk explained. But I found a pair that ticked all the boxes–black leather flats with straps that were uber comfortable. And they were half price, so I kind of had to buy them.

Out with old footwear and in with the new. I dub 2021 as the year of the shoe!

Too Young to Be Senior

My adorable husband, Dave, was carded well into his 40s for his youthful face. In a 2005 S.F. Weekly article promoting Whereabouts Press, of which Dave is the publisher, he was described as having “sandy hair and a boyish air.” And that was when he was 43.

The photo of Dave that accompanied the S.F. Weekly article.

This morning he came home with bagels from our local bagel shop, and I happened to notice on the receipt that he got a 10% discount–not as a frequent purchaser, not because he bought in bulk, not because there was a promotion going on. It stated right there in cold dark type: Senior discount.

Granted, Dave is 58 and does have more salt in his salt & pepper hair than he once did, but I think he still has that “boyish air.” In fact, except for his hair–which, in addition to being grayer, is also much shorter these days–he looks a lot like he did at age 18, when I met him. He claims that his nose has grown bulbous like his father’s, but I think that’s how he sees himself because for so long he assumed that would happen. Now rather than going on pictoral evidence, he’s accepted what he considers the inevitability of heredity. After all, his dad lost his hair long before he turned 58, and Dave has not even a hint of a receding hairline. So I’m thinking his hair owes its existence to his mom’s side.

I showed Dave the receipt, and he hadn’t even known he’d gotten the senior discount. Now it’s not like he goes to Noah’s Bagels every week, and everyone there knows him. And they didn’t ask him if he qualified for a senior discount–they gave it to him automatically. So what’s my point? Why am I not thrilled that we may now spend less on breakfast?

It’s that they assumed he was old.

To provide context, our little Thousand Oaks neighborhood in North Berkeley is on the older side. If it weren’t for this pandemic, which keeps us all six feet apart, you’d bump into a Boomer everytime you turned around. What I’m trying to say here is that Dave, at 58, is younger than the average resident. And yet some kid at the bagel shop bestowed senior status on him!

My adorable husband in a recent photo.

Dave really didn’t care one way or the other.

Okay, you’re saying, Dave doesn’t care, so why should you, Tanya? Because I’m 58 too, and I have more gray hair than Dave. So what’s going to happen the next time I buy bagels? I might as well start pricing walkers now.

I have always thought that I would age gracefully, go gently into that good night of creaky joints and crepey skin. I sincerely do not mourn the passage of time; nor do I wish to be in my 20s again. And of course there’s nothing wrong with senior discounts–as long as they are reserved for seniors. But in my book, 58 is still middle-aged–not a SENIOR CITIZEN!

With any luck at all, I will reach 65, at which time I will happily accept all senior discounts available. Until then, beware–anyone who assumes I am older than my 58 years will find themselves on the other end of an icy scowl that is otherwise reserved for people who talk on their phones in movie theaters or throw litter out of their car windows.

Postscript

After writing this post, I thought maybe I should just check on Noah’s Bagels’ senior discount policy. It turns out that you get a senior discount at age 55.

I could get bent out of shape because 55 is obviously too young to be considered a senior. But I’ve decided to enjoy the benefits that my creeping age affords me. Who am I to say no to more change in my pocket? And an onion bagel sounds pretty good right now…

Small signs of resilience

Here in Berkeley, the weather has been lovely. So despite shelter-in-place orders, people take walks, whether it’s for the benefit of their dogs or themselves. Where I’ve decided to create my remote classroom–on our dining room table–I have a view of neighbors strolling by. Most have cloth masks with sturdy elastic ear pieces. Some have fashioned a scarf or bandanna, and a few have surgical masks. On foot, scooter, bike, or with the aid of a cane or walker, a parade of people pass my window, all at least six feet apart.

When I venture out myself, I’ve been sporting an old n95-respirator leftover from last year’s wildfires. I know–it’s undoubtedly beyond its original capacity to protect me from 95% of the dangers lurking in the air, but it surely keeps any droplets that might emanate from me from landing on others, which is the main objective.

On a recent walk–always veering out of harm’s way when presented with another human also taking advantage of a clear, sunny day–I went on a bear hunt. People have placed teddy bears and other stuffed animals in the window for children to look for on their outings. And there are also rainbows–drawings, paintings, or printer-produced stock photos–hanging in the window for kids to spy on rainbow walks. But my favorite addition to this surreal COVID-19 landscape are the colorful chalk drawings accompanied by encouraging suggestions, such as “Take Care of Each Other.”

Yes, the world is different. It’s not as safe as it was just a few months ago. The sandlot at our closest park has no toddlers vrooming Tonka trucks, nobody is sitting at the umbrella-ed-tables at our local tacqueria taking advantage of Taco Tuesday, and all the theaters are dark. Patient grocery shoppers wait outside in a stretched-out queue before they are allowed to enter the Safeway where Plexiglas has been erected to make interactions with cashiers safer.

But we’re still out here, albeit in protective garb, waving to neighbors from the other side of the street, even calling out hello because they can’t see us smile under whatever face covering we’ve chosen. We’re writing and reading messages on the sidewalks. And we’re looking for teddy bears and rainbows.

To quote one sidewalk chalk artist: “We got this.”

Shelter-in-place: Day 27

The day before the City of Berkeley was instructed to shelter in place was the first day of my spring break. We had planned a vacation in Chicago to see theater, go to some museums, and visit friends. Instead, we were relegated to our home, except to shop for groceries or get take-out.

But I vowed to make the best of the situation. I had big plans to read a lot and accomplish numerous projects.

I really thought I’d have finished more books, but I’ve mostly read the New York Times, Daily Kos, and Berkeleyside–all online news. I am compelled to follow the death count of COVID-19 cases, both regionally and world wide. (Spoiler alert: the numbers just keep rising.)

I also imagined myself organizing countless closets and drawers. I was sure my sock drawer would be picture worthy by now. Maybe tomorrow…

I’d also planned to do some serious house-cleaning. But when it occurred to me that nobody was going to see it anyway, it lost all appeal. I do occasionally vacuum, but Ruby’s hair keeps growing and shedding at such an alarming rate that is impossible to keep up with.

What I have done is played way too many hours of Two Dots on my phone, watched about a hundred hours of movies and TV shows, logged in more Facebook time in 27 days than I had in the previous two years, and consumed an impressive quantity of alcoholic beverages and Mexican cokes.

And I won’t deny it: I slept in on a regular basis.

Something I rarely did before COVID-19 was watch clips on YouTube; yet this morning I watched several minutes of Berkeley High grad Andy Samberg in a compilation of his many appearances on “Late Night with Seth Meyers.” Just because I could.

And of course I’ve washed my hands 273 times. (Okay, I haven’t actually kept track, but that seems to me a fairly reasonable estimate.)

On the plus side, I’ve not only gotten to eat most of my meals with Dave–my husband and soulmate–but we’ve solved many crossword puzzles together.

And I’ve played my guitar more regularly, written two COVID-related songs, and started a neighborhood tradition: we have a sing-along every night at 6 o’clock where we stand at least 6 feet apart. (Hmmm…should we call it 6X6 a la SXSW?)

In addition, I’ve joined Dave and the pups on more dog walks, though our choices have become more limited with the dog park being shut down.

And I’ve enjoyed a lot of snuggle time with Rumpus, who seems completely unperturbed by the whole quarantine situation.

Ruby, the fur-shedding machine (left) and Rumpus (right)

So if my off-work hours have not been as productive as they could have been, I’m okay with that.

It’s not like watching Andy Samberg is a bad thing…

Dr. Fauci (Take two)

I decided to learn the chords on the guitar and record the song I wrote about in my last post. But I don’t have the upgraded version of WordPress to upload the video here. So I’m just letting you know that if you are one of my FB friends, you can see it on my page. (I’m sure there’s a way of embedding the link here, but I haven’t figured out how to do it…)

Another corona virus song!

Our neighbor Barbara thought that “Let It Be” would be a good tune to create another song about our current situation. And she wanted to honor Dr. Fauci at the same time as reminding people how to avoid spreading the deadly virus. But she was not used to writing songs, so she asked me to take a stab at it.

And this is what I came up with.

Dr. Fauci

Now that we’re in times of trouble Doctor Fauci has the key

He’s got all the answers for me

When I need an expert who will tell me what I’m s’posed to do

I hear Dr. Fauci–don’t you?

Chorus:

Wash your hands, stay inside. Let the doctor be your guide.

Speaking words of wisdom–Dr. Fauci

I will not touch you–don’t touch me

And in our hour of darkness, do not stand there right in front of me

Keep a six-foot distance, if you please

(Chorus)

And when the broken-hearted people listen to the CDC

We will stall the virus–you will see

For though we may be parted, there is still a chance that we will be

Standing on this planet, virus-free.

(Chorus)

She played the violin during surgery?

Recently NPR, the Washington Post, and several other news outlets featured a fascinating story about Dagmar Turner, a violinist in the Isle of Wight Symphony Orchestra, who serenaded some doctors at King’s College Hospital in London while they removed her brain tumor. This was not just a grateful patient attempting to entertain her surgical team, however. She had been instructed to play the violin during the operation so that surgeons could ensure that she retained the fine-motor skills in her left hand. After all, it is the left hand that holds down the strings to produce different notes.

Reportedly, Turner’s playlist included Gershwin and Mahler. (It was not clear whether members of the team made any requests.)

But before any surgeon lifted a scalpel or she lifted her bow, the team studied her brain painstakingly for two hours so they knew which nooks and crannies she relied upon to make music. NPR reporter Merrit Kennedy explained that “doctors are now able to map the patient’s brain activity in great detail before the surgery using an imaging technique called functional MRI.” So this was no generic model of the human brain they were consulting; this was a personalized brain mapping.

Apparently this type of craniotomy, during which the patient is awake in order to provide crucial feedback, has been performed for decades. According to Brad Mahon, a cognitive neuroscientist at Carnegie Mellon University, an accountant was once asked to solve a math problem during surgery to make sure those areas were left intact. Usually, however, the patient’s participation is simply answering questions to check language function.

The surgery was deemed successful, as 90% of the tumor was removed, and the fine motor skills in Ms. Turner’s hand were not compromised in any way.

Amazingly enough, Dagmar Turner was not the first musician to play during her own brain surgery. In 2016 a music teacher was given his saxophone under similar circumstances, and in 2018 a professional flutist in Houston played through her surgery and a man in South Africa strummed a guitar during his.

All of this brought to my mind many questions: Could these four musicians perform as a quartet while their respective surgical teams were also working? And how they would manage someone who plays a stand-up bass? Or a pipe organ?

Daily delight for 2/21/20

I decided to find out what the differences were between plum and cherry blossoms.

One of several plum trees at Capistrano & Miramar in Berkeley, CA.
Petals are just starting to fall.

I love the few weeks in the year when these trees on my street here in Berkeley burst into masses of pink blossoms. They had not bloomed when I looked a few days ago, but today there they were in all their glory. I’m glad I caught them before the petals blanketed the sidewalk, which is pretty too, in its own way.

I mistakenly thought these were cherry blossoms for years until our neighbor George identified them as plum trees.

Note rounded petals of the plum blossom.

I decided to find out what the differences were between plum and cherry blossoms. Despite its less-than-perfect English, this Japanese travel and culture website clearly spells it all out. Apparently you can’t tell them apart by the color because both plum and cherry blossoms come in a range of colors from white to dark pink.

See the split petals on this cherry blossom? Rikugien Park , Tokyo. Photo: Tadashi Okoshi Flickr/Creative Commons Licensing.

The main distinctions involve petal shape, leaf color, and the bark. Petals on a cherry blossom are split on the end, whereas the plum’s petals are fully round. The plum tree has reddish purple leaves, as opposed to a cherry tree’s foliage, which is green. And the bark of the cherry tree is lighter and has horizontal lines.

The shape of the buds and the fragrance differ too, but who needs more than three things to look for?

Here you can clearly see the red-purple leaves of the plum tree.

Originally I had planned to simply post a picture of the plum tree in full blossom and not write a thing, allowing the beauty of the flowers to speak for themselves. But after learning how to differentiate the two, I wanted to share what I’d learned because maybe I wasn’t the last person on Earth to know how to tell the two apart!

Looking at the sky through the plum branches.