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Posts Tagged 'magic'

The Death Of A Wizard

Sword and the RoseThe first thing I saw this morning when I got up was sad news. Not the best way to get up, but sometimes it has to happen. Randy Sapp, the owner of the Sword & the Rose occult shop in Cole Valley died on Christmas Evening.

Randy and his shop were know around the world. It was a tiny place that if more than five people were inside it would feel crowded, but it was the magical feeling of this place that made it special as well as adding to San Francisco a little bit of weirdness. Randy was a master of incense and oils starting as an apprentice at the old Mystic Eye occult shop on Broadway where he spent ten years just sitting in the back focused on making incense. Randy looked a bit like a dark version of David Bowie

Randy’s incense was not the hippy, heavy floral stuff that you’d find on Haight street to cover up the smell of pot [well that’s why they burned it according to my Mother.] Randy’s incense would actually transform you by its smell. Depending on which one you burned it would fill the room with the elegance of a cathedral, but it would also reach inside you and change you. His blends had names such as Anubis, Xepera, Horus, Isis, Holy Grail, Shekinah. He would make the incense when he felt like it. That’s the kind of guy he was. I guess you have to be in a certain state of mind when creating an incense to invoke Anubis.

His shop was just like a movie set when you’d walk inside. There were curtains hanging everywhere. It was dark with an old pot bellied stove to warm the small shop which you could never see from the street. You would have to walk through an alcove and to the back through a very ornate garden to the small ivy covered door. San Francisco has had many occult shops over the years, but that name just doesn’t seem to fit for the Sword and the Rose. This was not a buy my magical trinkets kind of place, but a place where people who seriously needed something different would come. Sure, he’d welcome the curious who might spend a few dollars or just want to talk, but he supplied people from around the world with his incense many of whom would make a special trip to his store when they were in San Francisco on vacation.

His partner of 29 years, Patrick managed to survive and will continue on with the Sword and the Rose once he recovers. Randy will be sadly missed. Was like the David Bowie or the magic world. Not the David Copperfield.

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The Audium

The AudiumThere are truly few weird and wonderful places left in San Francisco today. Yes, I’ve talked about the relics from the 1915 Pan-Pacific Exposition and 1938/1940 World’s Fairs that are on display at the Musee Mechanique, but a place I had forgotten about was brought to my attention the other day — The Audium.

The original concept started in the 50’s when experimental music was in a bit of an underground heyday. Enhanced by somewhat more affordable recording technology there were lots of people who were creating music from the sounds of the world around us or Musique Concrète. These were some of the early days of electronic music as we know it today. The music as it were could be the sounds of construction, cars driving by, people talking which could put you in a place without having to go there, or it could simply be a bizarre array of sounds that you really wouldn’t know what to make of it.

The Audium would fall into a bit of the later category. The room is circular and looks a bit like a space ship on the inside. From the ceiling are 136 hanging speakers as well as built into the walls at it’s current location at 1616 Bush Street. The Audium is best experienced rather than described. With all of those speakers individual sounds can be moved around the room in a way that 5.1 Dolby Surround or even 7.1 Dolby Surround can’t replicate. After you enter and take a seat the low level lighting is lowered to complete darkness. The room isn’t really warm or cold, but everything is set up so that the main focus of the evening is on your ears and the story that the sound will play for them.

Each work is performed live by Stan Shaff every Friday and Saturday night who mixes the taped audio in a different way each time. You could probably make the analogy that Stan is like a 3D sound DJ. Call it genius or insanity, but after you’ve experienced it once you’ll have a completely different idea of what sound it. Tickets for each performance are $20 [cash only] and a limited number of tickets are available pre-show through the City Box Office. Children under 12 are not allowed as, well, it’ll probably be a bit weird for them and they’ll start asking questions which kind of defeats the purpose.

The Audium is a place that everyone should go to at least once in their life if they intend to spend any time in San Francisco. It’s just a little bit of weirdness that helps create the character of our City.

The Camera Obscura, Relic of the Golden Era

Go into a very dark room on a bright day. Make a small hole in a window cover and look at the opposite wall. What do you see? Magic! There in full color and movement will be the world outside the window — upside down! This magic is explained by a simple law of the physical world. Light travels in a straight line and when some of the rays reflected from a bright subject pass through a small hole in thin material they do not scatter but cross and reform as an upside down image on a flat surface held parallel to the hole. This law of optics was known in ancient times.

The earliest mention of this type of device was by the Chinese philosopher Mo-Ti (5th century BC). He formally recorded the creation of an inverted image formed by light rays passing through a pinhole into a darkened room. He called this darkened room a “collecting place” or the “locked treasure room.”

Aristotle (384-322 BC) understood the optical principle of the camera obscura. He viewed the crescent shape of a partially eclipsed sun projected on the ground through the holes in a sieve, and the gaps between leaves of a plane tree.

The Islamic scholar and scientist Alhazen (Abu Ali al-Hasan Ibn al-Haitham) (c.965 – 1039) gave a full account of the principle including experiments with five lanterns outside a room with a small hole.

In 1490 Leonardo Da Vinci gave two clear descriptions of the camera obscura in his notebooks. Many of the first camera obscuras were large rooms like that illustrated by the Dutch scientist Reinerus Gemma-Frisius in 1544 for use in observing a solar eclipse.

The image quality was improved with the addition of a convex lens into the aperture in the 16th century and the later addition of a mirror to reflect the image down onto a viewing surface. Giovanni Battista Della Porta in his 1558 book Magiae Naturalis recommended the use of this device as an aid for drawing for artists.

Thus are the words to describe a little known artifact of San Francisco history. Perched on an outcropping behind the Cliff House is a piece of San Francisco history that few people ever visit. It’s a shame because the Camera Obscura is an inexpensive place of wonder. For $3 you get to enter a 25′ x25′ box that has a couple or rotating lenses housed in a pyramid that shine down on a white parabolic disc in the center giving you a stunning view of the ocean and rocks of Ocean Beach and there’s no time limit on your stay.

I never went there are a kid, but oddly enough I suggested it to a friend from Texas when we took a trip out to Land’s End to see the ruins of Sutro Baths. At the time it was a dollar to get in which even in the 90’s seemed like a deal. As we entered, it felt like we had walked into some sort of ancient ritual chamber. It was quiet and there was some ambient music playing. We gazed into the disk and something old and magical happened. We were looking into something old, sort of Victorian in nature. There was no CGI involved here it was all a definitely what you see is what you get sort of thing. At the time there were still a few sea lions on Seal Rock and they looked so big that we imagined that one of them would reach out and bite us.

For those who get bored easily the walls contained a holograph gallery. It was a nice addition for those who are of the short attention span theater in nature, but not entirely necessary. We felt transported back in time to the late 1800’s when life was much more simple. We were much more aware of the world around us because this Camera Obscura was bringing what felt far away right up into our face. We walked around the central disk for about an hour mesmerized by the sights we were seeing even though we could have been outside and dropped a quarter into a telescope and seen the same thing. This was more real to us because it was so much bigger.

As stated above the Camera Obscura was noted in a book called Magiae Naturalis. Those words translate into the magic of nature. The Camera Obscura is truly a magic of nature and you should experience it when you get a chance. This weekend would be a good time to do so.

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Sutro Baths: The Glory Days

I missed out on the Sutro Baths. A major fire in 1966 pretty much gutted the place and I was too young to have visited there let alone remember this place that through pictures was a glorious place to visit.

Opening in 1896, the Sutro Baths named after former Major Adolph Sutro who financed the build as well as the Cliff House next door created a natatorium similar to the old Roman baths, only well, bigger. We’re San Francisco and we have to one up everyone including the Holy Roman Empire. It was the largest indoor swimming pool establishment in the world at the time with one freshwater pool and six saltwater pools. You had hot pools, cool pools, tepid pools BIG pools and small pools, but it was more than just the water.

Sutro Baths was also home to the Musee Mechanique that I’ve written about before as well as a museum, concert hall that could hold up to 8000 people and an ice skating rink not to mention the obvious food vendors all around the place.

This was the type of place you would have expected to see young gentlemen in suits and hats with long mustaches and canes walking around with young ladies at their arms walking through the imported tropical palm trees gazing in amusement at the novelties that Adolph had brought back from his travels around the world. They even had their own Cliff House railroad to bring people from, “the city” to the outside lands more easily.

During high tide the pools would be refilled with roughly two million gallons of water within an hour and at low tide they would use a large centrifuge pump to do the same. It was like an 8th wonder of the world to many and it was know around the world. Sadly the operating costs got out of control and by the start of the 60’s only the skating rink remained.

[mappress mapid=”35″]Now it is a shell of what it used to be, but there is still some interesting things to find in that shell. The high tides bring up deep dwelling fish and invertebrates that get deposited in the remaining ponds. There is one specific area that you have to break the law by climbing a metal fence and walking down some rickety stairs to a small observation deck that was built on a rock that is home to thousands of sea anemones. There is a little bridge area that goes into a now sealed off cave where people where found dead inside with no apparent cause of death. In the pool on either side of the bridge at night you can see the phosphorescent flashlight fish as they are commonly know glowing in the pools. It has a very H.P. Lovecraft feel to it.

There is also the remains of the rock bridge that took you out to fisherman’s rock. It was destroyed because too many fisherman would be out there oblivious to the tides and get swept away. There is also Seal Rock which was famous for its seals and seal lions prior to their vacating for more upscale digs at Fisherman’s Wharf. It has been said that groups of Satanists and Black Magicians have even gathered in this place to hold rituals. Who knows? It would be fitting for this place.

Now if I only had the chance to go back in time to experience it in it’s heyday. Any Black Magicians out there want to lend me a hand?