Each holiday the populace drones out to the local malls in search of appropriate gifts. Not that there’s anything wrong with the holiday institutions of bad parking, blasphemy, and Black Friday — they are, after all, our modern manifestations of the holiday spirit — but in the event you like the idea of giving charming gifts handmade with affection and idiosyncrasy, you have an array of clever and affordable online options at your fingertips. Largely conceived and produced by local artisans, these handicrafts play well to most audiences, offering irony for the siblings, sincerity for the grandparents, and neutrality to the ne’er-do-wells.
Before we hit the gifts, it’s worth noting that the holiday season is a time to acknowledge all the people in our lives. As nice as that is, few of these folks will actually receive gifts. Happily, the right card can take the place of a casual gift and still produce warm fuzzies the way the best wrapped packages do.
Take, for example, Motormouth Press’s ornament cards (www.motormouthpress.com). These paper fetishes are fitting mementos for those in small living spaces as they store easily, weigh nothing, and are as cute to receive as they are to hang on your space-saving tree. Motormouth’s penguin flexagon card tells a little story and ends with a seasonal greeting. In a more mixed-media vein, Notesink (www.notesink.com) builds cards using remnants of fabric, buttons, and paper and also features screen-printed, kid-themed, and, of course, holiday cards. These cards are so cute you’ll rub your eyes in disbelief — they may even inspire you with their crafty prowess. If that happens, you should look into Sideshow Stamps (www.sideshowstamps.com). A purveyor of funky stampedelica, Sideshow features pithy images such as its Leg Lamp stamp, and if you’ve seen A Christmas Story, you know that’s Xmas imagery plain and true.
The Bay Area has much to offer in the way of bath and beauty product lines. Though using soap is a personal matter, bath products make peculiarly neutral gifts. To spice up the body politic, the following kitchen chemists have put some weight into product design. Take Lizzie Sweet (www.lizziesweet.com), for example. The tangy-looking packaging is intended to make you feel as sexy about buying the bath line as using it. Presentation also matters to Aqua Energy Design Studio (www.aquaenergydesignstudio.com), whose island-inspired products include supersexy bath salts that resemble uncut diamonds. The Aromatic Way Apothecary (www.aromaticway.com) uses potent olfactory triggers to make its pragmatic products. The cold salve clears your pathways better than Vicks and without the chemical blur, while the scented shea butter sticks, packaged in deodorant twist-up tubes, are practical for the pocketbook.
Though all bath products can be hedonistic experiences, not all are. Mandrake Apothecary puts the sense into sensual. Perfect for the solstice, Mandrake’s line of sexy scents (www.mandrakeapothecary.com) is rife with plant extracts and mystical purpose. It’s genuinely magic stuff. And not like Jesus magic — like magic magic. For a more arcane approach to the sacred ritual of bathing, look to Oakland’s Pomegranate Body (www.pomegranatebody.com). Skin-nourishing shea butter abounds, and the Citrus Sun line smells like sunshine.
The Curiosity Shoppe (www.curiosityshoppeonline.com) could be San Francisco’s one-stop craft shopping mecca. With themed products for the home and the office, it has layers of quippy objets d’art that can offer petite grandeur to all the people on your shopping list. The brass bird nest (with stone eggs) is precious, and rumor has it that using the owl paperweights will make you smarter. For the “kitschen” (get it?) it’s all about Lorena Barrezueta’s ceramic takeout containers. For more gender-specific items, think about getting Conphorm’s Um Felt wool tote and carry bags, which have a durable design for the modern maiden, and Deadly Squire’s shrewd neckties — ideal for the alternadad. For other whip-smart items, look to Poketo’s intoxicating array of clever wallets (www.poketo.com) or the jocular skull patches from Krooked Stitches (gaytha.net/krooked).
Fabric always warms up the coldest of transactions, and fabric checkbook covers from Blissen (www.blissen.com) make bill paying that much sweeter. If you know someone who could use more comfort while managing their finances, throw in Sprout Studios’ cozy tea-inspired ceramics kit (homepage.mac.com/bob.jen/sprout/index.htm): it’s ideal for making your hot beverage merry and bright.
When it comes to the eenie ones, let’s be honest: you’re buying more for the parents than the kids, so why not consider adorable attire? Tiddly Toggs (408-371-7919) offers hand-knit sweaters, dresses, and hats for babies and toddlers in colors and shapes that vary with the seasons. Crafted by a British ex-nanny and seamstress (imagine Mary Poppins with knitting needles), the work features patterns both unpredictable and sedate. The three-owl pullover with buttons for eyes is a real heart warmer. The baby attire available at One Hot Tomatoe (www.onehottomatoe.com) is pretty adorable too. Tomatoe’s cheeky lobster bib could help train your favorite one-and-a-half-year-old in the ancient art of snobbery — that is, if the training isn’t already over.
If said one-and-a-half-year-old is a smart-alecky lass, you might want to drop her right into a RicRac pirate party dress from Tartlette (www.tartlette.com). Festooned with a skull and crossbones (the skull is dotted with a tiny pink bow), this dress could get your toddler into the VIP room at a SoMa club. If your fav one-and-a-half-year-old is a lad, perhaps a Mary tee from Oh Baby Apparel (www.ohbabyapparel.com) is more fitting. With a Virgin of Guadalupe patch adorning the shirt’s pocket, believers could well consider it a layer of protection (from on high!) for their bouncing boy. Complete that ensemble with high-top- or Mary Jane–<\d>style felted boots from the Clever Kitty (thecleverkitty.com) and then round out the look with a grouchy stuffed doll. The Little Gorgeouses from Little and the Girl (www.littleandthegirl.com) are sweet felt stuffed toys with an air of mystery. Lucille the French poodle carries a comforting expression, while kitten Clive is a masked avenger complete with cape. For the more acidulous, consider Scared Girl’s cunning felt Pretend Friends (www.scaredgirl.net), who live squarely on the intersection of adorable and wonky. Rectangulo’s name may give you an idea of his shape, but it says little about his demeanor. Equally emotive is poor little Grubbly, who cries perpetually, perhaps because he’s got seven appendages. He just needs a little love! (FYI, these creatures are great gifts for everyone — even the grouches who say they don’t care about local businesses or craftspeople and would rather scarf down food court junk while being crushed half to death at a mall. Maybe they too just need a little love.)
Volume 41 Number 10
December 6 – December 12, 2006
Wintertime has descended, which means it’s high time for wonderfully unhealthy, heavy eating (a food coma is as close to hibernation as you can get). The chilly nights practically demand that you keep yourself in extra cuddly form, but at least you can hide your pale, flabby body under coats and sweaters. As we know, San Francisco’s Victorian and Edwardian apartments can be hella drafty, so when your fingers feel like frozen Vienna sausages and you need a break from wrapping presents, here are some hot spots around town guaranteed to warm you — and fill you — right up.
Nothing gets you toasty like a big bowl of soup, so count your lucky stars there are Vietnamese pho joints all over this foggy, damp city. The finest of them all is Turtle Tower, where you get some of the best pho in the city, and it’s ridiculously cheap. At the first sign of a cold, get yourself a bowl of their pho ga (chicken noodle) soup — you’ll score a pore-cleaning blast of steam as you slurp the delicate hand-cut noodles. You can really sweat a cold out with a bowl of the beef soup, like the pho soc vang — and feel free to go nuts adding some spicy, sinus-clearing sriracha to it.
631 Larkin, SF. (415) 409-3333
SUZU NOODLE HOUSE
The Japanese have turned noodles into an art form (it’s right up there with bonsai), but it’s a shame so few eateries in our Japanophilic town give them much respect. One place that knows how to rock the ramen right is Suzu, nestled in the bottom of the Japantown Kinokuniya complex. It’s a small space, but the options for bowls of tender udon and silky ramen are varied and numerous. Some swear by the chicken kara-age (fried chicken), but the mabo ramen is the truly irresistible choice: tofu and ground pork in a somewhat spiced broth. Slurp.
1581 Webster, suite 105, SF. (415) 346-5083
MATTERHORN SWISS RESTAURANT
The only snow we tend to get is in the bathrooms at the clubs, but you can still make like Hans and Heidi and head over to this quirky chalet for a winter wonderland night of fondue. Take your pick from a variety of cheese and beef fondues and start dunking chunks of baguette (carbs and calories be damned). You can even choose extra sides for dipping, such as apple, sausage, and mushrooms. But a ticket to ride to this alpine fantasy comes at a price — not quite a Swiss bank withdrawal, but still: cheese fondue is $34 for two, beef is $44 for two, and sides are $4 each — and if you have your heart set on some chocolate fondue for dessert, you’ll pay $16 for two. (“Edelweiss” not included.)
2323 Van Ness, SF. (415) 885-6116
ABSINTHE BRASSERIE AND BAR
The French have it down with soupe a l’oignon gratinée. Really, what’s not to love about crusty bread, sweet golden-brown onions, chicken and beef broth, a whisper of brandy, fresh thyme, and melted Gruyère cheese? It’s the original meal in a cup, or bowl for that matter. And one of the better bowls of this wonder stuff can be had at Absinthe, working a très charmant brasserie environment to accompany a menu of Frenchie classics. Finish or, heck, bookend dinner with some primo cocktails from the bar, and you’ll leave toasty and a little toasted.
398 Hayes, SF. (415) 551-1590, www.absinthe.com
The Germans practically invented hefty food, and if there is ever a time to scarf down some schnitzel or sauerbraten, these cold-ass months are it. Two East Berlin lasses run this homey neighborhood joint and will ensure you are well fed without totally lightening your wallet (entrées clock in at less than $15). And vegetarians, achtung! Now is the time in Sprockets when you eat, since there are a rather tasty vegetarian schnitzel and a meatless cabbage roulade on the menu, both served in generous portions with mashed potatoes. Bonus: this place is always warm and packed with friendly bodies, partially due to the seriously legit beers on tap. Prost!
381 S. Van Ness, SF. (415) 551-7181, www.walzwerk.com
Ahhhhh, chowdah. There’s a reason anglers are able to keep fueled and warm on the stuff — it’s hot, filling, and hearty, and the boys at Bar Crudo are happy to make sure you leave feeling like a nautical warrior, even if you work for Google. This rich and savory chowder has fresh clams, cod, squid, and potato, plus some hunky hunks of smoky bacon, all in a cream-loaded broth that makes you grateful you’re not lactose intolerant. Order up an ale from the extensive beer list, and you’ll be calling yourself Long John Silver in no time. Oh, wait, he was a pirate.
603 Bush, SF. (415) 956-0396, www.barcrudo.com
So your socks are soggy and your nose is runny? Let’s pretend you’re maxing and relaxing at a balmy locale instead. Poleng’s tropical feel, complete with batik, a water wall, and other island-evocative decor, should help. And for some weird reason, it can also feel quite stuffy, so the resort fantasy isn’t too far-fetched. Thanks to the talented Filipino chef, you can feast on an array of Asian small plates that are as delish as they are affordable, such as fried chicken adobo wings, lumpia Shanghai, and garlic crab noodles. Don’t miss the tea service, which is almost as effective as self-warming seats in a Saab.
1751 Fulton, SF. (415) 441-1751, www.polenglounge.com
San Franciscans know wintertime is all about Dungeness crab. And when there’s crab, there’s a bowl of the quintessential San Francisco treat out there with your name on it. Not Rice-A-Roni, friend — cioppino. Belly up to the counter at Tadich, and you’ll get a big steaming bowl of clams, prawns, scallops, bay shrimp, crabmeat, and white fish, with garlic bread on the side. You can also warm up with a bowl of its various chowders or some Chesapeake Bay oyster stew. For those who have never had a Tadich experience, just know the long-standing waiters here are about as salty as your Saltine cracker, so don’t try any funny stuff, kid.
240 California, SF. (415) 391-1849
Luna Park is already a favorite of comfort food junkies for its warm goat cheese fondue, oven-baked mac ’n’ cheese with broccoli and applewood-smoked ham, and other stick-to-your ribs savories for less than $20. But this holiday it’s time to release your inner kid, the nice one who wants to decorate cookies (not the bad one who throws rocks)! From Dec. 10 to 25, you can come in and decorate your own gingerbread man and Christmas tree cookie with all kinds of candies and toppings. You can also warm up like an adult with a mug of Santa’s Little Helper, Luna Park’s brandy- or whiskey-spiked eggnog. It comes with a bar of dark chocolate, perfect for stirring and eating naturally.
694 Valencia, SF. (415) 553-8584, www.lunaparksf.com
This friendly little eatery is well-known around town for its killer brunch, but a lot of people are just learning about its ridiculously affordable dinners too, thanks to the new owners. Chow down on homey neoclassical American faves such as slow-roasted lamb shank, roasted free-range chicken, and Shiraz-braised short ribs, with not a single dish more than $16 in that little roundup (and you get some fab veggie sides). Any place that serves chicken potpie is a champ, but how about chicken hash, for dinner? Uh, yeah, bring it on. Fill up on the homemade bread too.
500 Presidio, SF. (415) 441-2238, www.ellassanfrancisco.com
KOKKARI AND TERZO
Most San Francisco fireplaces have been converted into receptacles to store crappy gas heaters, but there are a couple spiffy restaurants around town that understand the importance of a good, crackling fire. Nothing quite tops the fireplace at Kokkari, which does double duty as a rotisserie for various meat treats such as spring lamb, whole Red Wattle pig, duck, goose, and goat. (No Duraflame here.) Meanwhile, newcomer Terzo has a cozy hearth that complements its slick and attractive space; its extensive menu of Mediterranean and seasonal small plates supplies some old-world hominess.
Kokkari, 200 Jackson, SF. (415) 981-0983, www.kokkari.com; Terzo, 3011 Steiner, SF. (415) 441-3200, www.terzosf.com
A steamy room isn’t normally considered an asset, but when it’s nippy out, nothing quite beats the front room of Woodward’s Garden for snuggly respite. The open kitchen cranks up the ambient temperature and sends out seasonal and substantial dishes such as pork chops, lamb shanks, and homemade ravioli. Depending on what’s cookin’, you also might walk out smelling a little smoky, but don’t say we didn’t warn you.
1700 Mission, SF. (415) 621-7122, www.woodwardsgarden.com
We can all stop hoping and pretending now: The facts are in. No matter what anyone, right, left or center says, no matter what the truth is on the ground, no matter how clear and powerful public opinion has become, President Bush isn’t going to change anything about the war in Iraq.
That’s what we saw from the president’s press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair Dec. 7th, and from his statements since. He’s not going to start withdrawing troops, and he’s not going to negotiate with other regional powers.
The Iraq Study Group report has its flaws. It talks about diplomatic discussions with Iran and Syria, but it stops short of describing the real reason the U.S. is bogged down in the Middle East (the lack of a coherent energy policy that doesn’t rely on foreign oil). It suggests that the U.S. should leave the job of rebuilding Iraq to Iraqis, but fails to state that the country that created all the problems should play a role in paying for their solutions. And it would leave thousands of U.S. soldiers in Iraq as advisors for the long term, putting them in serious jeopardy.
Still, it’s at least a dose of badly needed reality here. The report acknowledges that the Bush Administration’s current policies have made an awful mess of Iraq, that the situation is deteriorating, and that continuing the current path isn’t an acceptable option. And it recommends that all combat forces leave Iraq by 2008.
That such a broad-based, bipartisan panel, which includes hard-core conservatives like Edwin Meese III and Alan Simpson, would reach that conclusion unanimously isn’t really that much of a surprise. Everyone with any sense in Washington and around the world these days agrees that the U.S. needs to set a timetable for withdrawal. Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist who initially supported the war and who has long argued that some good could still come out of it, wrote Dec. 8 that the group’s recommendations “will only have a chance of being effective if we go one notch further and set a fixed date – now – for Americans to leave Iraq.” Even George Will noted the same day that “the deterioration is beyond much remediation.”
Let’s face it: Iraq as a modern nation is entirely an artificial construct, lashed together by the British out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. There are bitter, ancient divisions between religious, ethnic and tribal groups, and it’s no surprise that once the dictatorial central government of Saddam Hussein was overthrown, the factions would have trouble working together. Now, through U.S. bungling, they are engaged in what can only be called a civil war.
As long as the United States retains combat troops in Iraq, they will be the target of sectarian violence and will be the focus of that war. When they leave, the Iraqis will have no obvious villain, and there might be an actual hope for a long-term resolution.
The notion of an all-out Kurd vs. Shiite vs. Sunni civil war isn’t going to make anyone in Damascus or Tehran happy, since those two countries will be caught in the middle. And a clear statement from the U.S. that American troops will be leaving on a specific date, not too far in the future, is, the majority of experts agree, the only way to bring all the parties to the table for a serious and meaningful discussion. That could lead to a United Nations conference, among all the regional powers; the final outcome might be a division of Iraq into several states, as Senator Joe Biden and others have suggested.
And yet, Bush and Cheney remain alone, aloof, refusing to acknowledge that military “victory” in Iraq is utterly impossible and that the old mission of establishing a U.S. client state in the middle east will never be accomplished.
The death toll for U.S. troops is approaching 3,000. The cost is running at $250 million a day. This simply can’t be allowed to continue. If Bush and Cheney refuse to begin a withdrawal program, then Congress needs to act, decisively, on two fronts.
The first is to inform the president that under the Constitution, Congress has the sole power to declare war, and this Congress will no longer pay for Bush’s military adventure in Iraq. Congress should set a deadline for troop withdrawal and announce that funds for the war will be cut off on that date.
But there’s a larger problem here. Bush and Cheney have lied to the American people, taken us into war on the basis of fraudulent information, perpetrated an unjust and unjustifiable war and violated their oaths of office. Back in January, we called on Congress to begin debating articles of impeachment; the GOP-controlled House wasn’t about to do that. But things are different now. The voters have made it very clear that they don’t like the president’s war, and the Democrats have a clear mandate for change.
Impeachment is serious business, but Bush has left us no alternative. We can’t simply allow the war to continue as it has been, year after bloody year, until Bush’s term expires.
The only thing holding up impeachment hearings is the word of the incoming speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who said during the campaign that that option was “not on the table.” Well, it ought to be on the table now. Pelosi should publicly inform Democratic leaders in the House who support impeachment know that she won’t block an impeachment effort. And her constituents in San Francisco need to keep the pressure on her to allow Congress to move forward on its most important responsibility in decades.
This isn’t going to be easy. It will take a re-energized peace movement and a huge new national mobilization. But the stakes are too high to wait. It’s time to start, today.
Vice Guide to Travel
For 10 years now, Vice, the bible of subversive popular culture, has been instructing willing hipsters to live dangerously — Vice-style. The publication might finally incite the kids to take the plunge with the release and screening of the new DVD Vice Guide to Travel, which follows cofounder Shane Smith and others visiting unlikely travel destinations such as the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, refugee camps in Beirut, and Bulgaria (to purchase dirt bombs). (Hayley Elisabeth Kaufman)
2565 Mission, SF
In the mood for sweet soul music — from the motherland of civilization? Shake it with DJ Rascue, rotating residents Madison, Wizzkey, Marcella, and special guests as they spin R&B, soul, reggae, Latin, and soulful house. (Kimberly Chun)
9 p.m.-2 a.m.
Spank Rock’s Yo Yo Yo Yo Yo (Big Dada) is a hot rock because of xxxchange’s deep minimalist production. I’ll also give a little love to the Urkel-like Spank and his pubescent nerd’s pussy fixation, even if I dream of the day when xxxchange’s Yo Yo beats are wed to Roxanne Shante. Some self-employed prosecutors claim Spank Rock exploit Baltimore club music, while an entirely different group claim they’re misogynist. But if you like beats that ricochet into the future, you’d better start practicing your air cock thrust and get your ass down to Mighty. (Johnny Ray Huston)
119 Utah, SF
Each streamlined scene has been carefully laid out to maximize character and plot development, seemingly creating the beginnings of a rich, thoughtful film. The strong cast — led by Anthony LaPaglia and Isabella Rossellini — provides ample reason to remain hopeful. But as the plot progresses, these characters seem increasingly stereotypical and each facet feels calculated. Writer-director Matt Tauber has the makings of a talented designer, but The Architect needs a less hollow structure. (Jonathan L. Knapp)
Lumiere Theatre, 1572 California, SF
The members of Brooklyn’s free-form folk mavericks Akron/Family are all credited in their liner notes as players of bric-a-brac; given the intriguing intrusions of odd whistles, creaks, and moans that slide into their mantras and meditations, the claim makes sense. These weird beards breathe new life into old forms. (Todd Lavoie)
With Black Fiction and Dodo Bird
2565 Mission, SF
Jay Bennett has that type of gravelly, whiskey-worn voice that many strive for and few succeed at. The multi-instrumentalist, producer, and sought-after studio musician best known for his stint with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot–era Wilco brings a rebellious energy to the typically sleepy alt-country genre with elements of power pop à la Big Star and a melodic Beach Boys innovativeness. (Hayley Elisabeth Kaufman)
With Death Ships and Weed Patch
155 Fell, SF
Paco Gomes and Dancers: Many Little Pieces
Paco Gomes grew up in Bahia, where he studied and then taught folkloric and religious dance; more recently, he’s led Afro-Brazilian and Afro-Peruvian dance classes in the Bay Area. Since 2004 he’s overseen Paco Gomes and Dancers, putting on performances rooted in parable and myth that depict warrior queens while also choreographing autobiographical work. His company begins a home season at Dance Mission with Many Little Pieces. (Johnny Ray Huston)
Dance Mission Theater
3316 24th St., SF
Portland experimentalists Menomena traffic in the same kind of expressive pop alchemy as do David Longstreth’s the Dirty Projectors but lean the boat even further toward suggestions of prog rock. The band’s debut, I Am the Fun Blame Monster! (Film Guerrero, 2004), used a nifty software innovation that fluidly cuts together song fragments. After spending 2005 working up the score for an experimental dance performance, the band is now on the verge of its proper follow-up, Friend or Foe. (Max Goldberg)
With 31 Knots and the Bad Hand
1131 Polk, SF
Bay Area, yow — that’s one logical response to “111@111,” a many-fanged and many-fangled art attack that promises to cram 111 Minna Gallery’s space full of works by 11-times-10-plus-one painters, animators, sculptors, and photographers. Bilbo Baggins may have left the shire at the age of eleventy-one, but I doubt he ever came across a building that housed art by Lee Harvey Roswell and Sam Flores and some Hamburger Eyes guys. (Johnny Ray Huston)
Reception 5 p.m.–2 a.m.; show continues through Jan. 28
111 Minna Gallery
111 Minna, SF
Spring Josh Wolf
Call for the release of blogging journalist Josh Wolf, who is still in the slammer for refusing to turn over his footage of a violent anarchist protest at 24th Street and Mission last year to a federal grand jury. Supporters of Wolf and champions of shield laws protecting reporters, including state assemblymember Mark Leno and Guardian publisher and blogger Bruce Brugmann, will attend. Money raised goes to pay the legal fees for the 2006 Society of Professional Journalism Journalist of the Year recipient. (Deborah Giattina)
2183 Mission, SF
$10 suggested donation
(415) 255-7227, www.joshwolf.net
Considering the recently rekindled interest in pre–rock ’n’ roll sounds, isn’t it about time for a Western swing revival as well? Bay Area barn burners Lost Weekend carry on the tradition of Bob Wills and Spade Cooley with limb-loosening odes to wide-open skies and small-town girls with sparkles in their eyes. Early arrivals will be treated to a dance lesson. (Todd Lavoie)
7:30 p.m. dance lesson; 8:30 p.m. concert
1317 San Pablo, Berk.
Paul Chan’s take on politics and art might offend SF activists who still recycle 20th-century protest codes. But isn’t it past time to move beyond the recent mania for what he calls war porn and antiwar porn? Anyone capable of citing Hélène Cixous and Richard von Krafft-Ebing in a manner that’s practical and fresh is capable of giving a rare lecture: the kind worth hearing. (Johnny Ray Huston)
San Francisco Art Institute
800 Chestnut, SF
It’s happened again. December has rolled around, and last year’s promise not to buy gifts for anyone has melted into a familiar panic. “Just a few people,” I thought — and those few quickly snowballed into a dozen, that dozen into many, that many into, well, the onset of a big ol’ holiday freak-out. What the hell to buy for everyone? The thought of going to a mall gives me the all-overs. Too many people, too many shiny displays. Too many “it” items this year — though I must admit, this season is mild compared to past years of Tickle-Me-Elmos and Furbies. Furbies really freaked me out, man. At least there aren’t any Furbies this year.
It’s not that I’m a Scrooge. In fact, on a holiday scale from “Ho, ho, ho!” to “Bah humbug!” my seasonal sentiments rate a solid “Fa la la la la.” I’m just oozing with holiday cheer — what I’m lacking is the cash to spread that cheer around.
Another major deterrent to the mother of all shopping seasons: people scare the hell out of me. Last year I almost lost an eyeball attempting to navigate around the umbrellaed masses of Union Square. There was barely a light drizzle, but the umbrellas were up, the people combative, and once I reached the safety of the Disney Store, there was another enemy force: children. Screaming, snot-nosed children. Sleep-deprived mothers trailing behind, trying to wrangle the ankle biters to the next shopping destination.
Is it worth all the stress? Not in my estimation. That’s where good planning comes in. I have three rules. One: make every gift thoughtful, personal, and original. Two: stay the hell away from shopping centers, big-box stores, and those umbrella-wielding maniacs of Union Square. Three: spend as few of my hard-earned dollars as possible. I’m no expert on shopping, but I’ve made enough mistakes to know I’ll need one hell of a strategy to pull off the perfect shopping caper. The plan? Divide and conquer. Get ’er done. Make it up.
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
Consider who the most important people on your list are. The people you love the most are always the most difficult to shop for. Get the important stuff out of the way early to minimize stress. Special people call for special circumstances — that’s why shopping at smaller, local businesses is best. Your big brother might love that copy of Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, but you can bet your ass he saw it on the Border’s clearance shelf for $6.98.
THE HEAD HONCHO
Chances are most bosses have received more bad gifts from their underlings than they can fill their oversized offices with. Steer clear of tchotchkes and give the gift of booze. A good bottle of wine goes a long way. Try K and L Wine Merchants (638 Fourth St., SF; 415-437-7421, www.klwines.com) for a huge selection and a staff so helpful they could explain the nuances of a petite sirah to a donkey. Or try Coit Liquor (585 Columbus, SF; 415-986-4036, www.coitliquor.com). This San Francisco landmark looks like your basic bodega, but the corner haven offers one of the best selections of fine wines in the city.
If you have to buy for half the office, at least take comfort that these are the only people on your list who truly understand your financial woes. Think stocking-stuffer small. Think clever. Think original. Think Wishbone (601 Irving, SF; 415-242-5540, www.wishbonesf.com) for all the odds and ends of your shopping this season. Everyone loves adorable useless bullshit.
YOUR (FEMALE-GENDERED) SWEETIE
Known affectionately among locals as “Oh — that store with all the skulls?” Martin’s Emporium (3248 16th St., SF; 415-552-4631, www.martinsemporium.com) also happens to have an obscenely large collection of antique jewelry. So if your honey has an itch for F. Scott Fitzgerald, get her all Gatsbyed up with some jazz age earrings, brooches, and pendants. Or pull a Clinton: find a signed or first edition of your lady’s favorite book among the antique items at Thomas A. Goldwasser (486 Geary, SF; 415-292-4698, www.goldwasserbooks.com) or the pulp paperbacks of Kayo Books (814 Post, SF; 415-749-0554, www.kayobooks.com).
YOUR (MALE-GENDERED) SWEETIE
I blame Sears. Men are hard to shop for, yeah, but it seems like department stores have all but given up. Steer clear of the mall stores with the prepackaged wallet–<\d>watch–<\d>grooming kit gift sets. Stay away from the cologne-aftershave-and-soap-on-a-rope gift set he’ll never use, and think outside the little boxes. If you can’t spring for the PlayStation 3 that he really wants, you can agree to let him loose for an afternoon in Isotope Comics (326 Fell, SF; 415-621-6543, www.isotopecomics.com). Or if you refuse to feed his geeky side, go for his cuddly one. The San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (2500 16th St., SF; 415-554-3000, www.sfspca.org) always has little friends who need loving homes. What’s better than a faceful of puppy kisses for the holidays?
It’s hard to skimp on Mom’s gift. Something heartfelt, personal, and dirt cheap — is that so much to ask? Lucky for us, moms these days are hardly the June Cleaver types. Give her something original, social, and rewarding. She’ll thank you for foregoing another year of bath salts. Classes make great gifts, and she’ll never expect it. It’s never too late to learn a new language: The Alliance Français (www.afsf.com) has beginner courses starting at $365. The Goethe-Institut (www.goethe.de/sanfrancisco) will teach Mom German starting at $230. For every other language in the world, starting at $175, try the ABC Language School (www.abclang.com). For even cheaper options, hit up Craigslist for a private tutor (most start at around $20 an hour) or send her packing to City College.
If you don’t think Mommy Dearest is into spending her days conjugating verbs, she might give yoga a try. At Mission Yoga (2390 Mission, SF; 415-401-9642, www.missionyoga.com), the Bikram program rules. The huge studios are open every day of the year, and they even offer Spanish language classes! Yoga Tree (www.yogatreesf.com) has locations all over town and offers tons of different styles. Perfect if Mom still thinks “asana” is a swear word.
Ah — my Republican Dad. We both love Johnny Cash and mob movies — that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Instead of delving into the dangerous world of politically themed gifts (boy, was that year fun), hiding behind an ugly tie, or grabbing yet another ratchet set, shoot for the common ground. Records are great because they are traditional, and Daddy can get all nostalgic about how much better Gordon Lightfoot sounds on vinyl. Check out Grooves Inspiralled Vinyl (1797 Market, SF; 415-436-9933) for a huge country section.
Time to play Let’s Make a Deal. No gifts until January. My closest friends and I are all always broke, so we have a tradition of buying each other dinner for birthdays, holidays, and special occasions. More often than not, by the time our schedules align we all owe each other at least one meal. This means we can justify an outlandishly expensive restaurant, split the bill evenly, and settle all debts. If this won’t swing in your inner circle, go for something experiential. Close friends are close for a reason — usually a common interest. Bond over art? Buy each other yearly memberships to the SF Museum of Modern Art (www.sfmoma.org) or Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (www.yerbabuenaarts.org). Love music? Concert tickets at Slim’s (333 11th St., SF; 415-255-0333, www.slims-sf.com) and the Independent (628 Divisadero, SF; 415-771-1421, www.theindependentsf.com) are as cheap as CDs and, as something you can do together, much more personal.
LITTLE BRO OR SIS
It’s every older sibling’s privilege — nay, responsibility — to introduce the younger family members to the more subversive side of life. If the kids happen to be teenagers, now is the time to pump them full of all the J.D. Salinger and Jack Kerouac you can get your hands on. Go to the source of the rebellion and buy from City Lights (261 Columbus, SF; 415-362-8193, www.citylights.com). If you really want to start a fire, hit up anarchist ground zero Bound Together Books (1369 Haight, SF; 415-431-8355). You are also well-placed to mold their fallible little minds into appreciating good music. Find all the songs that riled you up in your adolescence at Streetlight Records (3979 24th St., SF; 415-282-3550, www.streetlightrecords.com). Even if they hate your picks, you’ll have taught them a valuable lesson about snubbing all that fancy marketing and finding their own taste. You’re such a good role model.
BIG BRO OR SIS
It’s always hard to shop for the person who made your young life a living hell. To help you turn the page on that awkward history of rivalry, sign your tormentor up for the gift that keeps on giving. Magazine subscriptions are always a great idea for the holidays — but really, who wants to funnel their money into publishing houses all the way out in New York? We have tons of extraordinary publications based right here in the Bay Area! You can’t go wrong with Planet (www.planet-mag.com) for culture vultures, SOMA (www.somamagazine.com) for artsy types, Mother Jones (www.motherjones.com) for the world conscious, or Wired (www.wired.com) for the tech savvy.
THE YOUNG ’UNS
The only reason I tolerate the holiday shopping madness is that it offers a valid excuse for grown people like myself to play with toys. Now that there are some nephews in the picture, I don’t feel so creepy fondling everything on display at the Discovery Channel Store (865 Market, SF; 415-357-9754, shopping.discovery.com) in the Westfield Center. I know, you have to brave the big, scary new mall, but the payoff is strong. From crime scene kits to talking globes, this store will make you feel like a kid again. Everything is educational, but the children will never know. Ambassador Toys (186 West Portal, SF; 415-759-8697, www.ambassadortoys.com) has all the lovely LeapFrog (a local company!) baby things and tons of interesting multicultural stuff too.
Mom-mom and Pop-pop are so easy. If you remember to call, they’re thrilled. Getting them a gift? Oh, you’re such a honey pie! Head to Paxton’s Gate (824 Valencia, SF; 415-824-1872) and pick up some orchids or carnivorous plants for her to fawn over. Grandpa will probably be happy if you just show him how to use the digital camera you got him last year, but go the extra mile and start an aquarium for him. This way you’ll know exactly what to get him every year: more fish! The folks over at Ocean Aquarium (120 Cedar, SF; 415-771-3206) will get you started right.
Don’t forget about your little critters this season. San Franciscans like to give their pets the run of the house — in my case, the tortoise Bukowski has the painfully slow and woozy stagger of the place, but you get the idea. Bukowski will be getting a tasty bouquet of dandelion greens from Golden Produce (172 Church, SF; 415-431-1536) in his stocking this year. Fido probably won’t enjoy chewing the weeds, so try Babies (235 Gough, SF; 415-701-7387, www.babiessf.com). This store is pretty much the holy grail for spoiled little dogs.
Admit it, you have an inkling that your ex is probably stalking you on MySpace. Why not call the sneak out with some kitschy spy wear from the International Spy Shop (555 Beech, SF; 415-775-47794, www.internetspyshop.com)? Nothing says “I can still see right through you” like some X-ray glasses. The Fisherman’s Wharf shop is also ground zero for all things private dick.
Just put your name on the damn card. Fin.
GET ’ER DONE
So you waited until the last minute — you haven’t bought a single gift. People have started dropping hints about the great things they’ve found for you (some of these people weren’t even on your list — the jerks). What the hell do you do now? Don’t panic. Get to the Castro. Stat.
Cliff’s Variety (479 Castro, SF; 415-431-5365, www.cliffsvariety.com) is the best store in San Francisco. OK, I’ve shown my hand. The toy section is top-notch. It’s got games, gizmos, and playthings galore. Great for the kids, even better for your coworkers and casual friends. The windup animals, novelty tokens, and traditional knickknacks will have them waxing nostalgic for days. The kitchenware section has the best in sleek, smaller appliances (FYI: giving a French press or percolator to everyone on your list who still subsides on drip coffee will make you a hero for years to come) and unnecessary (but totally useful) gadgetry. Check out the annex for swanky furniture, household items, baby clothes, and all things craft. Oh, and shopping at Cliff’s is dirt cheap.
MAKE IT UP
Do yourself a favor and don’t put all your holiday stock in a DIY project you’ve never tried. Even if you have every intention of knitting scarves for the 35 people on your list, even if you bought every spool of fancy yarn in the city, even if you took three weeks off from work to do the project — if you still don’t know how to handle the needles, you may as well shoot yourself in the foot. Your peeps will get squat, and all you’ll have is a three-by-five-inch scrap of knotty wool. There are safer ways to craft. Here are some:
Use those concert tees. Music is a huge part of my life — likely one of the reasons I’m always broke and most certainly the reason I have an enormous collection of swag I never wear. This year that T-shirt collection overflowing the closet is going to shrink. The quick how-to: Pick out the ones with obscure bands, ridiculous logos, or just great colors and restructure them into cost-free, made-with-love gifts. Cut a big square out of the center of both sides of the shirt (this should include whatever graphic is involved). Put the insides on the outside. Stitch around all four sides, leaving a three-inch gap in the center of one side. Turn right-side out and stuff (use cotton, newspaper, more old shirts — whatever isn’t perishable). You just made a pillow! Simple quilts and tote bags are also pretty easy to swing with limited knowledge of sewing. If all you learned in junior high home ec has escaped, run over to the Stitch Lounge (182 Gough, SF; 415-431-3739, www.stitchlounge.com) in Hayes Valley. The rockin’ ladies there will show you the ropes for a nominal fee. Bonus: they offer gift certificates, so you can give the gift of craftiness even if you gave up on threading the needle.
Feeling guilty for paring down your list? Making personal holiday cards for everyone you snubbed will cure your ills. This project will only take an afternoon (or an evening with friends and lots of liquor), and you already have the supplies! Look at all the paper crap you’ve collected around the house. Those calendars you got at a discount last January have some high-quality photos. Magazines stacked everywhere, coffee table books on their last legs, and all that cheesy holiday junk mail. Got scissors? Glue? You know what to do. Try Paper Source (www.paper-source.com) if your home stock won’t cut it.
Since you’ve already made such a mess, here’s another project for you. Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, sit back and let me tell you a thing or two about gift baskets. They suck. They are predictable, boring, and awkward as hell to carry on Muni. The day of basket-wrapped gifts is over. Instead, take all that stuff you’re cutting up and do some decoupage. My favorite gift vessels are mason jars and shoe boxes — both are simple, portable, and look great once you start decorating them. Stick to themes and you’ll be golden. Example: decoupage a box with images from Italy and fill it with gourmet noodles, a decent wine, and that killer sauce recipe you have. Add a cheap vintage apron from Held Over (1543 Haight, SF; 415-864-0818), and voilà — you have a gift!
Use your skills. Computer savvy? Check your list for any artist, comedian, musician, or writer who could benefit from your illustrious Web site–<\d>designing skills.
Take great photos? This is San Francisco — chances are several people on your shopping list are in struggling bands. Bands need press kits. Press kits need photos. Photos are expensive. You take great photos. Are you there yet?
Do you give Rachael Ray a run for her perky money? Baking for people is still way festive — just steer clear of fruitcakes, and your gift will be well received. Or cheat like hell — that’s why they put cookie dough in those convenient little tubes.
If you totally suck at the DIY thing, you aren’t alone. Lucky for you there are some people in the city who are very, very good at making things. Needles and Pens (3253 16th St., SF; 415-255-1534, www.needles-pens.com) showcases a variety of paper goods and clothing made by local craftsters. My favorite is the 2007 Slingshot Organizer, but be sure to check out the other DIY goodies at this little shop that loves you back.
Call of Duty 3
(Activision; Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii)
Kids! You might be able to convince your parents to buy this game for you based on its historical content. It is virtually impossible to play without learning a bit about World War II. That’s a nice side effect.
The latest incarnation of the popular Call of Duty first-person shooter series takes place in 1944 at the Normandy Breakout. American forces have already landed in France and are about to liberate Paris from the Nazis. The game does a great job of giving a bigger picture of the war than is often presented. Fourteen missions cover 88 days, culminating in the liberation of Paris. You play alongside platoons from Britain, Canada, and Poland. It’s neat to hear a variety of languages while shooting brains out.
The graphics are nothing short of stunning. The smoke, trees, grass, and buildings are simply incredible. To get the full effect, you have to play on a high-definition TV, but even on a stone age set, the game is beautiful.
Although the game play is fairly straightforward, an array of modes and challenges keep things interesting. Fans of the series will have no problem jumping right into the action, and newcomers will be brought up to speed via a training mission at the start. The aiming system takes some getting used to and provides two options. The right trigger allows you to shoot from the hip. It’s not too accurate, but it’s quick. Pulling the left trigger brings the sights up to eye level and enables you to take precise shots. The trade-off is that while you’re aiming, enemies have a clear shot at you. The game takes advantage of all the buttons on the controller, including the analog sticks. Pressing the right analog stick initiates a melee, while pressing the left brings up your binoculars. Those will pop up when you least expect them — as you’re frantically manipuutf8g the stick to make an escape. It’s a flaw in the control scheme. Or maybe it’s a perfect simulation of how messed up combat situations can become.
Speaking of simulations, the game includes a challenge that has players trying to get through a level while being hit by fewer than 30 bullets. Who takes 30 bullets and calls that a success? The game would probably take weeks of nonstop play to complete if you weren’t permitted to absorb a few slugs. Other challenges ask you to complete missions for assorted countries, work as a medic, drive a jeep, drive a tank, and arm explosives. The range of challenges and three difficulty levels make for a long shelf live.
The greatest aspect of Call of Duty 3 is the multiplayer game. A four-player split screen enables buddies to get rowdy at home, but the online universe is where things really get nuts. Xbox Live allows for as many as 24 players, four per Xbox, to play at once as warriors or medics, with the latter deciding whom to help and whom to ignore. Online stats are tracked, and players build their rank. The online play chain of command is determined by rank — pretty cool.
The sounds are as beautiful as the sights. A surround sound system is recommended, because it’s insane hearing bullets whizzing by from behind. Star Trek composer Joel Goldsmith’s orchestral score makes one wish everyday life were accompanied by one.
All in all, Call of Duty 3 is one hell of a game. For the full experience, buy a $4,000 HDTV and get on Xbox Live.
In a house overlooking the San Francisco Bay, a young painter named Amy (Dena Martinez) hosts a seeming vagabond, Palo (Johnny Moreno), through one long grief-filled night. She’s in numb, guilt-stricken mourning for her husband, a purportedly shallow man who, out of his emotional depth, stepped off his sailboat, into the ocean. Palo, for his part, is convinced he knows Amy as Lila, the woman he once loved, abused, and has been searching for up the long coast from Mexico. So their meeting at the Marina Safeway, where Palo finds Amy stalled in the detergent aisle staring helplessly at the Tide, comes fraught with significance for both while reflecting the humor, irony, and metaphorical richness at work throughout Gibraltar’s brilliantly layered poetry.
The latest work by internationally acclaimed Bay Area playwright Octavio Solís, the San Francisco–<\d>centered drama was commissioned by and premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2005. Its impressive Bay Area debut comes somewhat revised, in an intelligent, well-crafted coproduction by Thick Description with the San Jose Stage Company (which will host it in the South Bay in early 2007). Solís’s relationship with Thick Description goes back a long way — to the playwright’s first major theatrical success, 1993’s Santos and Santos — and despite some unevenness in the generally strong cast, artistic director Tony Kelly’s discerning staging surely reflects, in part, the fruit of this long association.
Scenic designer Melpomene Katakalos renders Amy’s environment, a plank-board living room whose sole furnishing is a futon, with a serene, dreamlike simplicity, as if that futon were a life raft adrift in an endless night. One assumes Amy has taken the handsome but intensely volatile Palo home to her flat as an instinctual reflex betraying her acute loneliness and sexual tension.
Their violent courtship, which takes the form of competing stories, is as much a struggle as a dance, a wrestling with deep feelings and needs worthy of the term Solís uses throughout — duende — the ultimately untranslatable Andalusian term for a kind of soul or spirit, what Federico García Lorca spoke of as coming to life “in the nethermost recesses of the blood.” Visually, it is evoked here in the blackness at the edge of the stage (and also, later, in a poignant unveiling of a canvas entirely painted over in black).
Amy’s and Palo’s dueling stories, or cuentos, form a strong narrative current, pulling other stories, equally suggestive of duende, into the fray: a young man (David Wesley Skillman) whose boyhood grief over his father’s suicide resurfaces in the affair he has with the woman (Vivis) who drove the older man to despair; a police officer (Danny Wolohan) driven to desperation and self-doubt when his wife (Danielle Thys) leaves him for another woman; and finally, the story of Amy’s own involvement with a middle-aged man (Michael Bellino) and his Alzheimer’s-stricken wife (Joan Mankin), which begins to unravel the secret of her own despair. As she replays these scenes, interacting with them in a spot where time and space dissolve, Amy finds herself compelled to rewrite them. “This is not how the cuento ends,” Palo complains. “You’ve changed it. You’ve changed everything.”
Gibraltar’s mediation on love — its ruthless, destructive ferocity and its redemptive promise — shrewdly mimics the forces at work on its eponym, washing over its audience with the turbulent yet creative force of the surf as it constantly reshapes the shore.
GOMEZ FOR THE HOLIDAYS
Alone and horny on Christmas. Not even Mrs. Claus deserves that. But when Cochina (a nickname meaning “pig” bestowed on the title character as a free-spirited child by her deeply repressed and highly authoritarian maiden auntie) responds to this crisis with a militant government-funded abstinence program, she’s asking for some karmic retribution. Thus Marga Gomez’s solo show The 12 Days of Cochina — a revised and politically up-to-date version of her popular 2001 play, sharply staged by Theater Rhinoceros artistic director John Fisher — follows a jilted, sex-starved lesbian through a not exactly Dickensian but still Ebenezer Scrooge–<\d>like reawakening. Fans of the charismatic playwright-performer don’t need telling, but Gomez’s work is consistently funny and smart, and her high-energy performance is as deft as they come.
Through Dec. 17
Thurs.–<\d>Sun., 8 p.m.
1695 18th St., SF
THE 12 DAYS OF COCHINA
Through Dec. 17
Wed.–<\d>Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Theatre Rhinoceros, Studio Theater
2926 16th St., SF
Sweet — doesn’t the sight of Gwen Stefani shaking her logo in your face on that singing-nun mess of a video for “Wind It Up” — off her new album, The Sweet Escape (Interscope) — make you want to look for the exits? Booze, barbiturates, love, angels — all the traditional escape hatches look good, because as much as I sneakingly enjoyed the creative mosh-slop of Stefani’s ur-kitsch solo debut, her new one looks and sounds like a Scandi-stinker so far. Maybe Sound of Music lederhosen camp just can’t hold a candle to organic movements like African American step culture. Maybe the reality of childbirth spoiled the wish-fulfillment magik of her Love. Angel. Music. Baby. equation. In any case, all the gloss (we do like our pop princesses — B, G, and Fff-urgh-ie — predictably blond and brassy in ’06 ) makes you want to repair to the proudly ramshackle, raw-cuz sonic junkyard that Tom Waits built, especially when you listen to his recent Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards (Anti-). The arrival of this three-disc set of never-released oldies, comp odds, loose ends, and unifying newbies might even spark a few murky thoughts on Waits and a few of his musical offspring: Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous, who put out his first album in more than five years this fall, Dreamt for Lightyears in the Belly of a Mountain (Astralwerks), and Calexico, who truck through town this week. “Alternative” and “experimental” seem like weak adjectival gruel for their obsessively archival, at times combustible aural tinderboxes. Is it fair to call them the pop foundlings of found sound? Or better, the deadbeat dads of pomo rock’s darkling plain?
These junk-shop mixologists have a few things in common: critical descriptors like “dusty,” “distressed,” maybe even “stone-washed.” The music often emanates from a solitary, male figure (one exception: Calexico’s Sanford and Son bedrock duo of Joey Burns and John Convertino) surrounded by a shifting gang of ace musicians. Horns, the Delta blues, evocative music from travels abroad, and samples from around the street corner follow the contours of what might loosely, goosily be called rock. Accordions hound their sound like junkyard dogs. Hissy, dirt-caked, lo-fi production values hit the spot. And they’re not above reaching for an erhu.
Next to Stefani’s frantic semiotic scramble of crucifixes, Singer sewing machines, and yodels, these savage songsmith salvagers seem positively, perhaps geriatrically, old-school. Flaws glare like the humanism shining through a handmade rug. Their music’s creaky mechanism — even when driven by a beatboxed gasp, as on Waits’s “Lucinda” — is more deeply nostalgic, in love with a tattered industrial, rather than information, age, less preservation-minded than resigned to soldiering forth in a jalopy burdened by the ever-weighted cargo of music history — the male counterparts of Mother Courage in the recent crack Berkeley Rep production of that Bertolt Brecht bleakathon.
It’s a nonformulaic formula of sorts that Waits seems to have dreamed up with Swordfishtrombone (Island), way back in ’83 — and it’s been refined to the degree that even the castoffs of the cantankerous, bluesy Brawlers, the sweeter, soporific Bawlers, and the story-laden, weirded-out Bastards are all of one compulsively listenable piece. Covering Leadbelly and the Ramones twice, utilizing the simpatico musicianship of locals such as Ralph Carney, Carla Kihlstedt, Gino Robair, and the late Matthew Sperry along with tens of others, Waits shows that even his off-the-cuff leavings — à la his reading of Charles Bukowski’s “Nirvana” and the sorrowful instrumental fugue “Redrum” — are better than most belabored new studio releases. Hell, does it make a difference that these 54 songs have been culled from far-flung corners in film, theater, and tribute comps, what with the mishmash of producers on most mainstream pop albums? It all glitters, magpie.
So what about Waits’s other spawn? Linkous shows up on Orphans (“Dog Door”) just as Waits materializes on Linkous’s album (“Morning Hollow”), while Sparklehorse takes the noise down a notch and foregrounds melancholy melodies with production help from Danger Mouse. Calexico also got hit with the pop stick — witness this year’s Garden Ruin (Quarterstick). Borders — between north and south, white and brown, ranchero and rock — are still a major leitmotif for the band, Calexico cofounder and guitarist Joey Burns told me, citing Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy and the 1993 documentary Latcho Drom, which makes graceful connections between gypsy musicians across centuries and countries. Yet the streamlined Garden Ruin seems to represent a race from the wrecking yard of music’s past, the inevitable legacy of collaborating with artists ranging from Neko Case and Los Super Seven to Gotan Project and Goldfrapp.
“What stands out the most for most people is there are no instrumentals, so that kind of soundtrack quality is not there, and the focus is on songs,” the talkative Burns told me from Tucson. “But within songs there are a lot of orchestrated passages, and there’s just as much variety there as there’s always been.”
The collaborations — and soundtracks — continue. After our talk, Burns was heading out to listen to Calexico’s mixes of Bob Dylan songs for Todd Haynes’s forthcoming filmic reverie on the singer-songwriter, I’m Not There. Iron and Wine and Roger McGuinn were among the group’s musical partners, with Willie Nelson clocking in as the most memorable. Tracking “Señora” at the red-headed stranger’s golf course–<\d>cum–<\d>studio, Burns said Nelson “barely knew he was supposed to record. Heard about it during a poker game in Dallas, and he stumbled in with friends. It was phenomenal watching his process.”
Perhaps the ragtag process of Waits, Linkous, and Calexico is even getting dusted off, cleaned up, and given a new spin by another generation. One can’t help but hear a little of their aural roamings in the shambling brass-band collectivism of A Hawk and a Hacksaw and Beirut. And apparently, I’m not the only one discerning an umbilical chord: those combos recently toured Europe with Calexico, Burns said. “We all bonded beautifully.”
With Los Lobos
Fri/8–<\d>Sat/9, 9 p.m.
1805 Geary, SF
While we wait to be instructed on the lessons of Iraq by James A. Baker III — the Bush family consigliere assigned the Mosaic task of leading us forth from the Mesopotamian desert — let us consider the lessons of the Thanksgiving meal just past.
The bane of all holiday cooking is starch, and the Thanksgiving meal is the apotheosis of holiday cooking. Therefore: Thanksgiving = starch. You have your mashed potatoes, your bread stuffing, your bread, your pie crusts. By some point late in the afternoon or early in the evening, you can’t believe you ate the whole thing.
How, then, to curb starch without being a killjoy? Other holiday meals will require other answers, but at Thanksgiving this year at our table, the answer was to serve succotash — the ancient Indian dish of corn and beans — instead of potatoes and stuffing. There were a few bleats about tradition, but the general feeling seemed to be that the succotash was wonderfully tasty and much less … stuffing. It was also a tip of the cap to the Indians and the immeasurable sorrows that overtook them. Thanksgiving really ought to be consecrated in their memory and honor; we need not be self-flagelutf8g or ostentatiously guilty to recognize that but for their horrendous loss, most of us would not be here. And we do right by them and ourselves, it seems to me, when we incorporate bits and pieces of Indian life into our own evolving traditions while remembering where they came from and what they meant. If we don’t do it, no one will.
As for the current fashion of brining the turkey: bah and humbug, I would say. My far simpler and less messy alternative is to rub the bird the day before with a couple tablespoons of kosher salt and a couple more of herbes de Provence. Before roasting, work some softened sweet butter and a few smashed garlic cloves under the skin at the breast, back, and legs. Roast breast side up in a hot (450 degrees) preheated oven for about 25 minutes, until the skin is golden. Flip the turkey over and reduce the heat to 350 degrees. Keep turning the bird every 30 minutes or so and allow about nine minutes per pound. No stuffing, of course, and let the turkey rest under aluminum foil before serving.
(To read Marke B.’s take on Anselm Kiefer, “Crash and Burn,” click here.)
REVIEW Recently, in an Amish schoolhouse shooting, five girls were killed and five wounded by a man who was “angry with God” and haunted by thoughts of molestation.
One girl escaped. In the earliest versions of the story, nine-year-old Emma Fisher simply snuck out. It was later said that she misunderstood the shooter’s instructions in English and thought she was supposed to leave. A more recent variation has Emma hearing one of the schoolteachers’ helpers say to her, “Now would be a good time to run,” as the shooter messed with the window blinds. But the helper says she didn’t speak, and some Amish are suggesting the voice was an angel’s.
If that angel’s voice — poised at the edge of bloodshed, salvation narratives, and sociopathic dreams — had instead taken its ephemeral sound waves and rolled them around in clay, lead, ash, burned wood, India ink, and stars, the result would look much like the show “Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth” now at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Kiefer is not interested in salvation, he says, but he wants you to see angels: angels with their wings weighed down with lead, angels in the form of flaming books, angels spiraling up and down between the heavens and earth. Kiefer isn’t angry with God — he wants to identify with a god whose creations and destructions dwarf mere human emotions. His massive works and their equally massive subject matter reveal Kiefer as a size queen in active defiance of the art world’s ongoing love affair with the bonbon. Nobody’s precious obsessions or daily life is represented here, unless it is the daily life of an all-encompassing godhead in the midst of cyclical death and rebirth. Is that interesting? It is gorgeous. Kiefer passes the acid test. His love of texture and pattern creates enough Rorschach blots of darkness and light to keep even the most ADD of us visually interested — never mind the titles, with their names of gods, stars, and emotional states. Osiris and Isis (1985–<\d>87), for example, contains porcelain shards enmeshed in its vast canvas, referencing a myth of fragmentation and a jokey half-assed attempt to cobble together the various parts of the sundered deity with circuitry and wires. Kiefer’s vocabulary is that of alchemy, hermeticism, and gnosticism, with a particular emphasis on the Jewish mysticism of kabbalah. Although kabbalah has been inseparable from western esotericism for centuries, Kiefer’s investigation takes on an added resonance. A German artist born in 1945, he has throughout his career addressed the wounds left by the 20th century’s most famous sociopaths. With gestures as slight as the introduction of a propeller onto a vast canvas in a work titled The Hierarchy of Angels (1985–<\d>87), Kiefer acknowledges and comments on his nation’s monstrous history. In work addressing the Jewish poet Paul Célan, he acknowledges the degree to which the Nazi dream of molesting the globe efficiently removed not only the mysteries and symbols of a people once integral to German cultural life but the people themselves.
Trafficking in the cosmic raises questions of whether it is necessarily apolitical, ahistorical, or irony free. It isn’t. Novelist Jean Rhys wrote that before she could even read she imagined that God was a book: “Sometimes it was a large book standing upright and half open, and I could see the print inside but it made no sense to me.” Kiefer seems to have shared that fantasy and reproduced it as multiple books: huge circular standing books full of star maps; crumpled, distorted books like crippled angels; charred and flaming books. All are filled with indecipherable but oddly familiar writing of lead, dried plants, clay, or copper wire. Vaporous patterns emerge, like imprints left by the dead, even in the utter blackness of seven burlap books whose hieroglyphics consist of oil, charcoal, and glue in Cauterization of the Rural District of Buchen (1975).
The schoolhouse Fisher escaped from was torn down; there is no hopeless memorial there now, just an empty field. Kiefer’s hellish earth is burned, scarred, frozen, scorched — just like ours. Maybe not so much like ours, his blackened ground is fertile and regenerating and has reached the nigredo stage in an alchemical process leading toward something fabulous. Imagining that the destruction of the planet has led or will lead to a kind of regeneration is a kind of mental escape from the sociopaths currently molesting the globe and maybe even a necessary one. On the other hand, maybe now would be a good time to run. Despite his preoccupation with stars, Kiefer isn’t ready to pack up the spaceship yet. Giving the title Faith, Hope, Love (1976) to a dense, dark, entangled work composed of ash, seeds, and ink may not be laugh-out-loud funny, but Kiefer’s humor is rarely human scale. “Wherever you go, there you are” is the angelic message of his Milky Ways and charred landscapes, which are always also internal states.<\!s>
ANSELM KIEFER: HEAVEN AND EARTH
Through Jan. 21, 2007
Fri.–<\d>Tues., 11 a.m.–<\d>5:45 p.m.; Thurs., 11 a.m.–<\d>8:45 p.m.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third St., SF
$7–<\d>$12.50 (free first Tues.; half price Thurs., 6–<\d>8:45 p.m.)
TECHSPLOITATION I can’t stop thinking about the Antikythera Mechanism, a 2,000-year-old computerlike device made by some Greeks who wanted to predict the motion of the sun, moon, and stars. Fashioned out of highly-sophisticated interlocking gears, the mechanism was discovered a little over a century ago in a shipwreck off the coast of the Greek island Antikythera. About the size of a shoebox and operated with a hand crank, the machine can also plot the dates of eclipses.
I know all these details because a group of international researchers used cool new X-ray imaging technologies to look at the mechanism, which to the naked eye appears rather like a pile of crusty, corroded plates that have stuck together. Using X-rays, however, scientists could see how the gears fit together. Pictures are available on Nature.com and reveal a machine whose complexity rivals the internals on a Rolex. Researchers say it was probably state-of-the-art technology around 30 BC. It’s likely that Greek astronomers on Rhodes had been perfecting such gear-driven temporal charts of the heavens for decades or even centuries before inventing the Antikythera Mechanism.
As Nature editor Jo Marchant points out, what’s intriguing is not so much that the device existed 2,000 years ago but that the technology behind it ceased to exist for the next 1,000 years until the first mechanical astrolabes and clocks worked their way out of the Arab world and into the West. It’s very possible that gear-driven mechanisms were made throughout the first millennium in the Middle East, but Western scholars have yet to gain access to the ancient texts that describe them.
For people interested in the evolution of technology and so-called scientific progress, the Antikythera Mechanism doesn’t just provoke questions about history. Instead, it asks us to rethink the future. If the ancient Greeks and Romans managed to invent the precursor to information technology 2,000 years ago and then essentially forget about it, what does that say about the kinds of amazing advances we might be throwing away right now?
Tech historians have two theories about why the Greeks and Romans didn’t get into gear mechanisms full bore and invent some kind of clock or computer before the Holy Roman Empire smooshed Europe. First of all, there was no power source for their gear devices other than the hand crank. Weight-powered clocks weren’t invented until the late Middle Ages in Europe. So devices like the Antikythera Mechanism weren’t particularly practical unless you were an astronomer or a rich collector. Plus, who needed to know time down to the minute? As long as you knew the hours and seasons, you could get by just fine in classical antiquity.
More interesting to me is the theory that the widespread practice of slavery in Greece and Rome would have prevented people from trying to create machines that could perform human labor. It’s not that having slaves kept people from inventing gear mechanisms — it just kept them from imagining possible outcomes and applications. If you already have people performing all the manual and intellectual labor you don’t want to do, there’s no need to figure out what kinds of machines would be capable of doing it.
Obviously, it’s impossible to know what stopped our ancestors from connecting the dots and ushering in the information age 2,000 years ago. And it may be equally impossible to figure out what our sociological blind spots are today that prevent us from hurtling into a better world more quickly. Still, there are some missteps in progress we can see and correct before plunging into another Dark Ages. It’s clear that our dependence on oil has halted progress toward finding cleaner, more efficient energy sources. Similarly, the widespread use of cars has halted progress in public transportation.
Who knows what kinds of great discoveries are cast aside when labs lose their funding or graduate students lose hope and slink away from experiments in defeat? Tomorrow’s Antikythera Mechanism is probably sitting in some disgruntled engineer’s garage right now, rusting. Let’s hope we discover it in two years rather than 2,000.<\!s>
Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who was actually invented 2,000 years ago but only discovered recently.
To read Stephen Beachy’s take on Anselm Kiefer, “All That Heaven and Earth Allow,” click here.)
REVIEW You could go into “Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth” looking for a rush of monumental drama and cosmic philosophizing, for German guilt writ large, and for abnormal feats of technical skill. Or you could go in looking, as I did, for laughs.
Well, not laughs exactly, but at least a little humor. Would it be too much to ask, amid all the clumps of blond hay representing Jewish hair, split-open staircases leading into Rosicrucian limbo, and stick-thin pogrom graves shaped like ancient runes on Kiefer’s canvases — not to mention the literal deadweight of his giant lead sculptures — for an occasional wry smile to shine through? The artist’s work as presented here is the endgame embodiment of Sturm und Drang — thunderous metaphors crashing into lightning-streaked enormity — but once the viewer’s sheer awe wears off and there’s only beauty to contend with, Kiefer begins to look like a bit of a one-trick pony. (How to make a Kiefer: Stick an M-80 up Joseph Beuys’s ass. Explode onto nearest 15-foot canvas. Add a pair of antlers, scratch “Holy Ghost” and some numerals onto a clump of painted birch bark, and voilà — instant mysticism.)
So besides the blockbuster romanticism and genius overlay of German postwar themes onto the work of that other wizard of industrial spirituality, Antoni Tàpies, what else is there? Certainly not subtlety — for a small dose of that in the same key, rent Wim Wenders’s film Wings of Desire. But lack of subtlety may be a symptom of the grand themes Kiefer saddles himself with. It must be tough to be a German artist. Props to Kiefer for confronting the nightmares of his country’s past and throwing them in our faces. And props again for exerting superhuman artistic strength to create vibrant icons of arcane spirituality.
But those two impulses aren’t always compatible. In fact, they’re pretty antagonistic (wasn’t it the whole superhuman ideology thing that led to the Holocaust?), and what we’re left with is an innate contradiction that tears Kiefer’s grandiose postures apart without the humane buzz of resonance that such contradictions launch in other artists’ works. In attempting to synthesize the entire world into an “as above, so below” set of equations (every point in heaven has a monument on earth) while trying to reconcile with his country’s ghosts, Kiefer paints himself into a melodramatic corner. The empty gothic building with flames running along its wooden floor in his painting Quaternity (1973) could be the brick-making factory of his youth, could be the Jew-burning furnaces of the Bible, could be Bergen-Belsen, could be Valhalla, could be hell, could be heaven. Guess what? It’s all of those. But not much more.
To avoid such results, other German artists have opened up their metaphoric palette to include either humor (Sigmar Polke’s daffy takes on Germany’s garish postwar commercial culture) or sly abstraction (Gerhard Richter’s Lesende manages to trump all of Kiefer’s stabs at spirituality by painstakingly rendering a shaft of light falling on a reading girl’s neck). Current wunderkind Neo Rauch does both in his ’50s sci fi–<\d>meets–<\d>Diego Velázquez canvases. Comparing artists by nationality is lame — and maybe one of Kiefer’s points is that art offers no way out — but c’mon, man, could he be more stereotypically heavy German?
Here and there, Kiefer does deliver some insightful chuckles. Those dried sunflower seeds raining down on a gouache vortex could be a play on Vincent van Gogh. The lethal-looking sculptures of enormous books fanned out and standing on their spines might be a nod to Richard Serra (sure enough, Serra’s Gutter Corner Splash: Night Shift [1969, 1995], which looks like what would happen if one of those books fell down, is at the end of the exhibition). That broken motherboard at the top of a ziggurat is kind of funny. So is the smashed toilet bowl signifying the biblical breaking of the vessels.
All mildly amusing, but nothing compared to the moment when, while taking notes near a ginormous lead-plated canvas, I was told by a security guard that I couldn’t use a pen in the galleries. Too risky near the art, he said, and handed me a pencil. Sure, pencils are made of graphite now, but I still fell out over the irony. Which spurred me to consider that maybe Kiefer’s having the last laugh after all — the crowds thronging his show had been breathing in lead dust the whole time. The afterlife may be nearer than we think.
Got a question for Andrea? Click here to ask!
I’ve heard two men recently refer to “Mitusa” as a fabulous oral technique to use on a woman, but they were reluctant to explain it. What is it and why the secrecy?
Dying To Know
Maybe they don’t know themselves what it means? I never do. I’m still not sure I know what the “butterfly technique” is, and I can never remember if it’s “tea bagging” or “snowballing” that was invented for some stupid movie, or was it “tea-balling?” “Snow-bagging?” Why not? They’re all equally plausible if you ask me.
Sometimes I fear that by the time my kids are old enough to pick up the latest smutty slang from their peers and bring it home to puzzle their parents, I’ll be too feeble to keep up: “Skazzy? What’s that? Did you say that song ‘has fangs?’ What? Why, in my day we called cool things hot and hot things cool and that was good enough for us, dadgummit.” Eventually, we all end up like my poor 80-year-old uncle, whom we dragged to the Borat movie without adequate briefing ahead of time. Two days later he was still gamely trying to figure out if Sacha Baron Cohen is really Kazakh or what and if he always has that mustache.
“Mitusa,” as a sex word, has made barely a ripple on Google, so I assumed reasonably enough that it was just another flash-in-the-pan pseudotechnique and thus safely ignored. According to one of the very few hits not referring the curious reader to industrial lift pumps or the Maritime Industries Trade Union of South Africa, “Mitusa” supposedly refers to giving a woman light little touches with your tongue instead of, I don’t know, jabbing at her like her lady parts require tenderizing or just drooling on her. I’d think little light tongue-touches could simply be considered one phase of any ordinary oral sex session — you do a little of this, a little of that, a little light-tongue-touching — but I’d be wrong. People have an apparently insatiable urge to catalog these things exhaustively, and some have a need to then lord it over other people with their special secret knowledge. People are silly.
Further reading, however, turned up a rather fascinating article on a very not-my-style site called holisticwisdom.com, which sells sex doodads with a vaguely feminist spin and seems very well-intentioned, although I beg to differ with them over the source of the ejaculate in female ejaculation. The site’s founder, one Lisa Lawless, PhD, CEO (not to be confused with Lucy Lawless, Xena), who was also asked this question by a reader but was inclined to do more serious sleuthing than I was, has turned up something both interesting and disheartening, if not surprising. Mitusa, it turns out, is not merely a mysterious and possibly nonexistent oral sex technique, it is a proprietary mysterious oral sex technique, the private property of somebody called Jill McSomething, who wishes to sell it to you or allow you access in exchange for filling out a lengthy marketing survey. The technique, according to some poor suckers who actually ponied up for it, is either a confusing mishmash of not-at-all mysterious techniques you already know about or else a badly translated version of the well-known Sam Kinison alphabet technique. Either way, nothing earth shattering.
But wait, there’s more (and stranger): until exposed by Lawless on her site, Ms. McWhatever was marketing the technique exclusively to men, apparently in an attempt to present the product (to men) as something that could be dangled in front of prospective conquests (“I know Mitusa, baby”) who would be so intrigued that they would happily follow some schmo back to his swingin’ bachelor pad (or parent’s’ basement) and hop obediently onto his face. Happens all the time.
Ms. Lawless, PhD, CEO, also discovered what appears to be some sort of viral marketing scheme in the form of (fake? who knows?) LavaLife posts where women warn that “you’d better know Mitusa.” The best thing I can say about this sort of campaign is that in this case, at least, it seems not to work, leaving product and proprietor in well-deserved obscurity.
I think we’re safe from this one, and I hope there’s no reader who would be silly enough to fall for anything so ridiculous, but I’ve got to say it anyway just in case: there are no secret, never-before-discovered sex techniques. There is no series of arcane exercises from the ancient Levant which will miraculously enlarge your penis. There is not — I guarantee this — any technique, drug, or ritual offering to the gods that can “guarantee extremely intense orgasms,” as Ms. McWhatev’s site purportedly claimed Mitusa could do (the site has since been taken down but has undoubtedly been reborn somewhere as the same old crap masquerading as some new crap). On the upside, there is also precious little you can’t learn to do if you get off your ass and off the Web and practice, practice, practice.
Andrea Nemerson has spent the last 14 years as a sex educator and an instructor of sex educators. In her previous life she was a prop designer. And she just gave birth to twins, so she’s one bad mother of a sex adviser. Visit www.altsexcolumn.com to view her previous columns.
OPINION I am a registered sex offender. I have lived in San Francisco since 1997. I moved here from the state of Minnesota. I am also an openly gay male.
At the time I committed my crime, I was 19, he was 13. I was attending college in Duluth, Minn. I was running a personal ad, he sent me a letter, and I arranged to meet with him. We engaged in intercourse.
It was one of many mistakes I’ve made over the years. I’m also HIV-positive, have a history of substance abuse, and have mental illness. I’ve sought and received treatment. I have access to the help that I need.
I go to a wonderful health clinic in the Mission District of San Francisco. I have friends here. I’m politically active. This is my home.
I’ve been in a variety of living arrangements. I’ve held a number of jobs. I have clerical skills. I’m integrated into the community and getting help and support.
I’m on Supplemental Security Income right now. The plan was for me to go back to school, then go back to work. Those plans are on hold. My hopes and dreams hang in the balance.
Proposition 83, a law that passed in November, bars registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park. That means it bars us from living in San Francisco. It affects my life and the lives of thousands of others. Some are guilty only of having been entrapped. Many are transient.
Most of us have received various degrees of help. Some of us are more functional than others. We can be, and have been, rehabilitated. We hold down jobs, rent apartments, buy homes, get married, go to church, have friends, have families.
I have lived here for more than nine years, all that time in San Francisco, all that time within 2,000 feet of a school or a playground. I have not reoffended. Most sex offenders who receive treatment do not reoffend.
Most sex crimes take place in the home. Most of the offenders know the victim. Prop. 83 will not work. It’s draconian, and it’s unconstitutional.
The courts are now considering whether the law can apply retroactively to people who have already served their sentence and paid for their crime. If that ruling goes the wrong way, many of us could be forced out of our communities, away from the help we need.
I have no trust in the legislature or the governor. I hope and pray the courts will rule wisely.
I could lose everything. So could 93,000 other human beings.<\!s>
XYZ is the pseudonym of a San Francisco community activist.
REVIEW Writer-director Matt Tauber has clearly taken his debut movie’s title to heart. Each streamlined scene has been carefully laid out to maximize character and plot development, seemingly creating the beginnings of a rich, thoughtful film. The strong cast — led by Anthony LaPaglia, Isabella Rossellini, and Viola Davis — provides ample reason to remain hopeful. Tauber, with playwright and coscreenwriter David Greig, gives us a movie full of multifaceted characters, but as the plot progresses, these characters seem increasingly stereotypical and each facet feels calculated. LaPaglia plays Leo, a successful architect unaware of the world crumbling around him: his wife (Rossellini) is bored and depressed; his son (Sebastian Stan) questions his cozy, straitlaced upbringing; and his blossoming teenage daughter (Hayden Panettiere) sure wants some male attention. Elsewhere, a low-income housing complex of Leo’s design deteriorates, and a resident (Davis) works to tear it down. Tauber has the makings of a talented designer, but The Architect needs a less hollow structure.
THE ARCHITECT Opens Fri/8. Lumiere Theatre, 1572 California, SF. See movie clock at www.sfbg.com. www.landmarktheatres.com, www.magpictures.com
CHEAP EATS I should say a few words about Weird Fish. Not that I didn’t thoroughly exhaust the topic in last week’s restaurant review, but because it’s just so fun to say the name of the place. Weird Fish.
Weird Fish is a new nice little Mission-y restaurant at Mission and 18th Street. On the basis of its great name alone, it’s my new favorite restaurant. The food was good too, but if I tell you how small the plates were, my faithful fans will all write to me and say, like they did when I wrote about Café Gratitude, “Come on! Be true to your roots, man.”
I think roots are great, for trees and, you know, Christians and such. But what can I say? In addition to not having a spiritual bone in my body or bark or branches, I don’t eat like I used to. I just don’t. I don’t anything like I used to.
Now, I know not everyone reads these things as meticulously as I right them (yes, that’s a joke), but I would think by now it would be clear that I’ve come entirely unhinged. I don’t have no roots, man. I live and lie down entirely on top of my planet. And I just love Weird Fish. To eat at and to say.
I met a guy at a party who had just eaten dinner at Weird Fish, and our mutual friend, who was introducing us, said, “Dani just wrote a review of Weird Fish.”
And I said, being a brilliant conversationalist, “Mm-hmm, yes, that’s right, I did.” Or something to that effect. Then I suavely spilled a small sip of wine down my chest and asked, to secure the continuation of our acquaintance, “Wha’d-ya-get?”
“Fish and chips.”
I nodded thoughtfully, as if to say, “Ah, fish and chips,” but for some reason I didn’t say anything. I was trying to remember what I’d had at Weird Fish. Blackened trout? Mango salsa?
Oh, it was yummy, whatever it was, but a lot of good that did me now.
After an awkward silence, my new friend handed me a napkin and while I dabbed at my chest, he became involved in a passionate discussion with our introducer about teaching and I think maybe pedagogy (depending what that word means).
I turned to the woman on the other side of me and engaged her on the topic of poop.
Yes, the dates are rolling in! I have to have a calendar now to keep it all straight — which days I’m doing what with whom and eating where with what. Soon I might have to get a watch or a cell phone. Anything is possible, life remains interesting, love flows. And while you’re shuddering at the thought, let me remind you that I use the word date loosely and love even looselier and that in any case my new pattern is to fall for wonderful, fascinating folks who are ultimately unavailable to me, at least in any kind of horizontal fashion. Luckily, I love to kiss people standing up, preferable with my back pressed against a wall.
So, OK, so: what does this tell me about me, my initial relationship to my overwhelmed, unavailable mom, who passed me off to an aunt and uncle while she cranked out her fifth, sixth, seventh kids? Being now a self-aware, psychologically-minded, in-therapy type of person, I have to think about these things. But because I am also still very much a fool, I get to “persist in my folly” — hooray! — and continue to chase after rainbows and windmills in the meantime. I have permission. From Blake and Cervantes!
I’m not giving up just yet on the queer wimmins, cause I just love the bejesus out of them, whether they want to ever git me nekkid or not. My luck, on that front, may well change. To ensure it doesn’t, I think I’ll switch my focus back to straight men. Speaking of windmills. Yes, question?
Yes. Thank you. So why, when presented with the opportunity the other night to put your weird fishy body into a hot tub with a sweet straight stoned dude who people said was flirting with you … why did you wash dishes instead and then drive the dark, winding drive home? Hmm?
That’s a very good question, and in fact, I’m still bashing my head into the wall over it. If a fool persists in her folly, as the saying says, she shall become wise. Like all good philosophies, this raises more questions than it answers. Mainly: when?<\!s>
Sun.–<\d>Thurs., 9 a.m.–<\d>10 p.m.; Fri.–<\d>Sat., 9 a.m.–<\d>midnight
2193 Mission, SF
As a partisan of salt, I could hardly help but love a restaurant called Salt House, and I did — and do — but … how funny that there apparently are no saltshakers at the bar. I was casting about for one, wanting to salt something up a little while waiting for someone to arrive, but I had to settle instead for pouring myself more water from the glass jugs the staff set out for your very own. Water is nice, of course, but sometimes only salt will do.
Salt House is the latest project from the brothers Rosenthal, Mitchell and Steven, who for the last decade or so have run the kitchen show (and I mean this quite literally) at Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio, where the exhibition kitchen is of the capital-E sort. The first stage of the Rosenthals’ exit strategy involved opening their own restaurant, Town Hall, in an old SoMa building a few years ago. Salt House is their Chapter Two and coincides, more or less, with the end of their reign at Postrio.
Like Town Hall (which is just around the corner), Salt House has been installed on the ground floor of a venerable structure, a century-old building that used to be a printing plant. The restaurant’s street-front space is boxy, fairly narrow, and deep — like a garage bay for an 18-wheeler, if there are such bays. In keeping with SoMa’s postindustrial fashionability, there are exposed wood beams (including a kind of indoor arbor, sans greenery, near the host’s station) and exposed brick, along with a line of light fixtures that look like barrels beginning to explode above the dining room and neoquaint incandescent bulbs dangling over the zinc bar.
Mostly, though, I noticed the windows, huge multiglazed modern marvels that admit oceans of light while giving the entire redo a distinctly sleek, Mies van der Rohe cast. If you want to know if an old building has been rehabbed, look at the windows; if you see a certain waviness, like heat rising from pavement on a hot day, you are probably looking at original window glass and an unrehabbed building. If you see gleaming perfection, a sheen like the undisturbed surface of a pond, you are looking at renovation money, and perhaps at Salt House.
The food might be called California pub food, but it is pub food of a high order. As at Postrio, the Rosenthals have orchestrated a brass band of big flavors. Even the little bar snacks are vivid: the house-made “pot o’ pickles” ($5) — an array of vegetables including cauliflower, baby carrots, pearl onions, and wax beans — jumps with a vinegar charge in its fist-sized crock; and the mixed nuts ($5) — almonds, pistachios, a cast of thousands — are roasted with one of life’s great improbables, truffle honey, along with sea salt. (This was the dish I was trying to salt up at the bar, incidentally. The sea salt had settled at the bottom of the crock, a fact we discovered only when the crock was nearly empty.)
Nearly every dish has some flavor kazoo. In the poutine ($7 at dinner, $10 at lunch), basically a plate of potato chips dribbled with short-rib gravy, it’s the layer of gorgonzola, which not only gives a textural effect like that of nachos but adds a tremendous charge of pungency up the nose. In the shellfish stew ($19), mainly mussels and shrimp, it’s a broth infused with saffron aioli. In the pizzalike preserved tomato tart ($11), it’s the intensity of the preserved tomatoes — along with the squares of luxuriously buttery pastry crust they sit on. In the chili-roasted oysters ($13), it’s the fiery chili sauce, which, it must be said, makes the dish a little top-heavy.
The watchword for fish is crispy. This cannot be a bad thing. A mackerel filet ($9) wears a waistcoat of golden panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs), while pan-roasted skate wing ($24) gets a nice searing on both sides before being plated with roasted, quartered brussels sprouts, chunks of salsify, and dabs of a tarragon salsa. Skate wing, with its corrugated texture, is one of the most interesting fish to eat — getting the last of the flesh away from the bone is like cleaning stray hairs from a comb — and yet we should not be eating it. Too late I learned from Seafood Watch that skate are seriously endangered and should be avoided. Like sharks, they reproduce slowly, and they are taken through the highly destructive method of trawling. (Mackerel are in the “best” category, but that was just a lucky stab for us.)
I would be glad to learn that skate had been replaced on the menu by petrale sole or some other type of local, floundery fish that might not be as fascinatingly ribbed but isn’t teetering on the brink, either. The Rosenthals are eminences here; if they set a good and conspicuous example, others will follow. It would be a great help to ordinary diners if restaurants simply refused to buy and serve any seafood whose populations aren’t in sustainable shape (per Seafood Watch or some similar authority) and indicated as much on their menus — maybe with a smiling or dancing fish icon?
Sundries: desserts ($7) are mostly in the American grain, including a lewdly moist warm chocolate Bundt cake and some nostalgia-laced butter pecan ice cream, presented in two scoops. The house-blend wines, including a fruity-floral white, are available on tap (from steel barrels) and are presented in several sizes of nifty apothecary bottles, near relations of the water jugs and perhaps of the saltshakers, if they ever come to pass.<\!s>
Mon.–<\d>Fri., 11:30–<\d>1 a.m.; Sat., 5 p.m.–<\d>1:30 a.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.–<\d>midnight
545 Mission, SF
There’s a reason Kate Winslet has four Oscar nominations. Even in a film as fake-snow fluffy as The Holiday, she’s able to imbue her character, lovesick Londoner Iris, with pathos and dignity. Since this is a contemporary romantic comedy (new turf for Winslet), she’s also able to cut loose with some air guitar — although The Holiday is so mass-market it assumes Iris would rock out to something as MOR as “Are You Gonna Be My Girl.” But even if she’d cranked “Ace of Spades,” The Holiday would still be a painful viewing experience, amplified to agonizing any time Winslet isn’t onscreen.
Yep, that’s a dis on Cameron Diaz. Why writer-director Nancy Meyers (What Women Want, Something’s Gotta Give) decided to cast actors as unevenly matched as Winslet and Diaz is perplexing. Diaz can play goofy-glam in the right context (There’s Something about Mary, Charlie’s Angels), but The Holiday also asks her to emote. Bad call. Diaz’s story line — she plays Amanda, a tightly wound LA gal who swaps homes with newfound IM buddy Iris for Christmas — is also weaker than Winslet’s, which only adds to the torture.
Why is this movie more than two hours long? Why is the eternally cool Eli Wallach trotted out for a subplot about Old Hollywood that’s not only entirely superfluous but also a reminder of all the romantic classics (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Casablanca) your eyeballs aren’t admiring? Am I swigging extra haterade for The Holiday because I’m so clearly part of its target demographic — female, early 30s, unmarried, and superficial enough to squeal over a humongo-screen TV?
Could also be I ain’t buying what The Holiday is selling because it’s a chick flick composed of nothing but false notes. Jude Law (corny) and Jack Black (dialed down) put in appearances as Amanda’s and Iris’s rebound men (both of whom turn out to be the One, by the way — oh, was that a spoiler? Tee-hee!), but The Holiday’s main message lies with the ladies and for the ladies. Turns out the prospect of being single is so terrifying it requires frequent flier miles to avoid.
Opens Fri/8 in Bay Area theaters
See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com