In the 163 years since San Francisco became a city, public nudity has never officially been illegal. In fact, until the ordinance proposed by Supervisor Scott Wiener took effect last Friday, nudists were a fairly common site around various parts of the city, especially Jane Warner Plaza at 17th and Castro.

Over the last year and a half, the once novel and mostly overlooked population of nudists came under more and more scrutiny by the SFPD and city government. In September 2011, an ordinance was enacted banning nudity in restaurants and requiring nudists to use a towel or other barrier while sitting on public benches. Further meetings were held, public opinions were heard, protests and demonstrations were organized, and eventually the city council voted 4-7 in support of the ban.

The evidence presented in support of the ban was at best superficial if not outright false. Proponents quoted 85% of business owners in the Castro as reporting, “the naked guys are negatively effecting business”. This figure actually came from a meeting organized by Sup. Wiener in which business owners were invited to share their opinions. Feeling that the ban was a foregone conclusion and their opinions were seen as inconsequential, a number of attendees walked out in protest. At the end of the meeting, the remaining individuals were polled and then held as representatives of the entire neighborhood. Further claims regarding public safety hazards due to distracting drivers and drawing crowds are not only contradictory to the claims that it drives people away, but they’re entirely based on personal opinion and circumstantial observations.

While this certainly isn’t the most grievous civil rights violation ever enacted, it’s still one less freedom to enjoy and one more reason to send someone to prison. There are exceptions written into the law that allow for nudity under certain guidelines in permitted places and times. Events like Bay to Breakers or the Folsom Street Fair fall under this category.

I have to wonder though, if all it takes is a handful of squeaky wheels to criminalize an otherwise harmless activity, how untouchable are the rest of these unique things that make San Francisco San Francisco?

The full text of the ordinance can be read here.

Whisky, haggis, and fireworks: Scotland is everything I had hoped it would be. There was so much I didn’t get to see outside of Edinburgh and I would love to go back some day. Edinburgh was definitely the place to be for New Year’s eve though. Hogmanay is like a lot of other crowded street parties I’ve been to but at the same time, unlike any other I’m likely to experience. Seeing carnival rides spinning and flashing against buildings older than America was a memorable juxtaposition. I also managed to learn a few interesting facts in the midst of all the drinking and sight-seeing.

Dolly (the sheep they cloned back in 1996) was named as such because the cells she was created from came from a mammary gland. According to Ian Wilmut, one of the head scientists, they “couldn’t think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton’s”.

Auld Lang Syne”, the song that everyone sings at midnight without really knowing what they’re saying, comes from an old Scots poem and translates to “old long since” or long, long ago. Hearing that made me wonder if the first line of the chorus was the origin of the phrase, “For old times’ sake”.

The Stone of Destiny, used for centuries in the coronation ceremonies of Scottish Kings, was captured by Edward I in 1296 and taken to England to symbolize his dominion over Scotland. It was set into the base of his throne and kept at Westminster Abbey for nearly 600 years until it was surreptitiously taken back on Christmas day of 1950 by four college students from Glasgow (one of whom was, ironically, the 21st great grandson of Edward I), only to be discovered and returned to England a few months later. In 1996, the British government returned it to Scotland in a sort of goodwill gesture with the caveat that it be returned to Westminster Abbey for any future coronations. The imposing guard at Edinburgh castle explained this to me with an alternating voice of pride and irritation, all while swiftly and sternly shutting down any attempts to photograph the stone.

Copenhagen has a population of 1.2 million people but you’d never guess it if you arrived two days before Christmas like my wife and I did. In stark contrast to the commercially driven Christmas of the US, all the stores in Denmark close and everyone stays home for three days with their families to drink and eat in a manner that would make their Viking ancestors proud. After the 26th though, the shops open and everyone comes out to enjoy the 6 hours of twilight masquerading as daytime. Denmark is a wonderful place with delicious food that is impossible for a non-Dane to pronounce. Among my favorites are smørrebrød, æbleskiver, and pariserbøf. Gløgg is the best drink ever invented for cold weather. It’s like a sweater for your stomach.

116,000 people crowded around McCovey cove behind AT&T park to watch the 10th annual US Red Bull Flugtag. 32 teams of Wright Brothers wannabes flew their various contraptions off a 30’ flight deck into the chilly San Francisco Bay. Nobody came close to breaking the current distance record of 228’ but most of the teams still put on a pretty good show.

I never paid much mind to Día de los Muertos before moving to San Francisco but it’s become one of my favorite holidays. Not only is it a fascinating tradition but the parade, more of a procession really, is a lot of fun to photograph. Unlike the Carnaval Parade which follows a similar route, there aren’t any barricades or regulated floats. There are organized groups who do their own thing but everyone is free to walk with them or stand on the sidewalk and watch. The ofrendas set up around Garfield Square are amazing. Such intimately personal tokens in a totally public space is really a special thing to see.

The Downtown Throwdown came back to San Francisco for the second year just in time for one of the warmest days of “summer”. 2,750 40lb bags of shaved ice were cut open and spread out individually over the slope. Even though temperatures were above 70° in the shade, the snow stayed solid enough to ride on all afternoon. Smushed between the public library and the Asian Art Museum, the little piece of board park was a lot more interesting than the farmer’s market that usually occupies the space. 

Boxwars: Fight Or Be Recycled!

It’s one of those things that you really, truly, cannot find anywhere but San Francisco. With names like Box Turtle and Tower of Power (three boxes stacked Tetris style with no arm holes), cardboard-clad warriors descend on Dolores park to womp each other with egg crate maces and refrigerator box sized swords. The melee lasts until there’s nothing left but piles of shredded box armor and bruised laughing people. Boxwars happens about once a year, give or take, and this is the sixth one. It was the biggest yet and I wouldn’t be surprised if next year was even bigger.

Keep up to date at http://boxwars.tumblr.com

237 years ago today, congress authorized the establishment of a navy. A week ago, the modern day products of that authorization came to visit San Francisco along with their younger siblings, the air force, marine corps, and army. I feel very fortunate that when a fighter jet comes tearing through the sky over my neighborhood I have the peace of mind to be excited by it and not frightened by the prospect of war. A lot of people in the world do not have that luxury. There are a number of heavy topics that could be discussed regarding this ideaand I am always willing to discuss thembut for now, I still enjoy taking pictures of the Blue Angels.

The Folsom Street Fair is really something to see. If you do it in the privacy of your bedroom (or basement) there’s a stage dedicated to it at Folsom St. You can hear all about it and you can even look at pictures from it but unless you’ve waded through the crowds of half naked leather-clad strangers, you really don’t know quite what it’s like.

Those unfamiliar with the scene may be frightened or intimidated by that idea. The interesting thing about Folsom St. though, is that it’s one of the most entirely inclusive environments I’ve ever seen. It definitely celebrates the extreme more than the mundane but as long as you have an open mind and an accepting nature, you really can’t be an outsider there.

See photos from the 2011 FSF here.

New Belgium Brewing’s Tour de Fat is just good old fashioned fun. It’s the product of people who, when told to grow up, said, “Nah, I’m gonna go ride my bike and make beer.” All employees at New Belgium get a bike after working there for a year. And not just some random bike, a super cool Fat Tire bike. Seriously.

The tour travels around the country every year like a troupe of beer fueled bike carnies. The day started with a costumed ride around Golden Gate park with the usual group of weirdos that an event in the city brings out. They ended up at Lindley Meadow where the SF Bicycle Coalition had a bike valet service going. They set up corrals with home made Frankencycle contraptions for people to try out, games to play for kids and parents alike, stages with great bands, tasty food, side shows, and of course, beer. A pint of beer is $5 which, in San Francisco, is a totally decent price. The lines are short, the people are happy, and best of all, it’s totally free to get in. They say the best things in life are free and I completely agree.