Volume 44 Number 29

Appetite: Anchovies three ways


One (of many) of my great pleasures traveling in Italy is eating fresh sardines and anchovies along the coast, whether baked, brined or any other way. Thankfully, anchovies are plentiful — and often out of local waters — in the Bay Area. The anchovy, in particular, gets a bum rap as a too-salty pizza topping. That’s too bad, because it’s fantastically flavorful in the right preparation. Here are three places doing anchovies proud, with their own unique takes on one of the most healthy of fishes.

Moussy’s Basque Anchovies
Moussy’s (named after owner, Jean-luc Kayigire’s, father’s hometown in the Champagne region of France) is a welcoming basement bistro in Alliance Francaise, where you can drop in after French films or language classes (or just go straight there). With new chef, Nathan Ivry, the already charming space becomes a destination for comforting dinner bistro fare: burgers and frites, grilled prawns and salads (more details at The Perfect Spot). Ivry cooks a fine dish of Basque white anchovies ($8), flaky and bright, over avocado yogurt.
1345 Bush Street
(415) 441-1802


Lafitte’s Anchovy Onion Tart
Open less than a month, Lafitte, with its picturesque Embarcadero waterside perch, is already getting a lot of buzz (see my Perfect Spot early review). Dissident Chef Russell Jackson, whose underground dinners have amassed a loyal following over the years, helms the free-form kitchen that only loosely adheres to a menu, which changes daily based not merely on freshness but inspiration. If you go with an open mind and give Jackson free reign, all kinds of goodness can happen, like an anchovy onion tart that pairs the sweetness of caramelized onions with the anchovy’s salty assets.
Pier 5, The Embarcadero
(415) 839-2134

Ooh la la, Lafitte!


White Anchovies at La Salette in Sonoma
Next time you’re in Sonoma, consider La Salette, just off Sonoma’s idyllic town square, for a Portuguese feast (brunch, lunch or dinner). I’ve not found a restaurant quite like this elsewhere in the area. Paired with Spanish or Portuguese wines, order a platter laden with cheeses, Spanish hams, marinated octopus, blood sausage and the like (your choice of 3 items for $15, 5 for $24, 7 for $33). Don’t miss briny, impeccable white anchovies that taste as fresh as the sea. They also bake a mean plate of sardinhas assadas, flaky and drizzled with olive oil.
452 1st Street E, Suite H, Sonoma
(707) 938-1927


Visit Virginia’s culinary itinerary site, www.theperfectspotsf.com.

FEAST: 10 kick-ass brunches


We here at the Guardian don’t survive on green buds and printer ink alone. We eat real food. Sometimes! But we do get up late and hungover. While we often forgo fancy brunch — unless we save our pennies for the amazing eggs-meet-legs “Sunday’s a Drag” buffet at Harry Denton’s (www.harrydenton.com) or dim sum nirvana at Yank Sing (www.yanksing.com) or Ton Kiang (www.tonkiang.net) — we’ll sure as shootin’ shell out for thrifty chilaquiles and bloody marys, especially the way the Bay makes ’em. Here are some of our dearest bleary-eyed, late-morning tummy fillers. (Marke B.)



There are days when you wake up with a bladder full of Jameson’s and a fervent wish to sink into a salty, unglamorous world of egg and cheese. These are the mornings when bottomless mimosas and goat cheese frittatas sound like fightin’ words. Easy tiger, I got you — just slump into a booth at Bashful Bull Too, the most standard of Outer Sunset diners. There’s no live jazz band, no “scene” at all — just you and your greasy calories. Get down on their cheap plates of hash browns and bacon, or better yet, a burger. Slabs of ground beef are acceptable fare when, after all, you’re having breakfast at 2 p.m. (Caitlin Donohue)

3600 Taraval, SF. (415) 759-8112



In you’re from the Midwest, good brunch spots are distinguished by waitresses who call you “hon” and have your coffee waiting for you before you sit down. Become a regular at Bean Bag Café in the Western Addition, and they’ll do all that and more. Bean Bag’s extensive breakfast and lunch menu and progressive cooking staff means never having to decide if it’s too late for Goldilocks oatmeal (yep, it’s just right) or too early for pancakes and beer. Speaking of pancakes, the Bean Bag buttermilk, customized with bananas and caramelized walnuts on top, is a must-have. Pair it with scrambled eggs drenched in Tabasco, and you’re set until 3 p.m., when Bean Bag kicks off its happy hour with beer for $1.75. Other highlights: sunshine and a petting zoo of scruffy but wuvable dogs outside. (Diane Sussman)

601 Divisadero, SF. (415)-563-3634



Lower Haight — known for its nicoise? C’est vrai! The salad nicoise at Cafe Du Soleil is a stunner, bursting with tender tuna, piquant greens, and enough fresh fixings to ensure some inner sunshine. But don’t stop there — or at the pastry case in front, with delectable goodies like croques madames and hazelnut chocolate croissants. Soleil’s salmon tortilla, a sort of deconstructed-quiche pyramid topped with lovely lox and drizzled with smoky romesco, is this laidback Parisian hang’s brunchtime piece de resistance. Bonus: hunky scruffsters and tattooed ladies. (Marke B.)

200 Fillmore, SF. (415) 934-8637. www.soleilsf.com



Let’s face it, one aspect of brunch — at least on a Sunday — is the wait. Chloe’s is no exception. The restaurant’s rep and tiny size mean that while weekdays are fine, on the weekend you will be waiting in a (loose) line. The upside is that Chloe’s is on a quiet corner of Church Street, so on a sunlit day, you’ll get fresh air and nothing noisier or more imposing than the people-watching pleasure of the J-Church sliding by. Once inside, indulge your sweet tooth: two highlights of the low-key menu are french toast made with croissants (served with strawberries and powdered sugar) and banana walnut pancakes, a Chloe’s specialty. Chloe’s offers some pleasant, simple variations on scrambled eggs, and the fresh fruit and white rosemary toast to compliment them. This may be Noe Valley, but the coffee is Twin Peaks good. (Johnny Ray Huston)

1399 Church, SF. (415) 648-4116



The agony of brunch, since it allows for judgment-free consumption of lunch dishes or breakfast dishes, means having to choose between savory or sweet, sandwich or omelet, salad or hash browns. Ten minutes alone can be devoted to the age-old question of pancake or eggs benedict? Coffee or cocktail? Pancake or … This is where Chow ends the cycle of neurosis. At Chow, you can order one egg benedict and one pancake, accompanied by one cup of coffee and one wine mojito. Plus, Chow has two pancakes without peer: the blueberry with warm blueberry sauce and mascarpone cheese, and Marion’s ricotta pancake with lemon. Get one of each! Of course, if you want the chilaquiles or a cheesy scramble, Chow will happily oblige. Watch them start to emit a soft, warm glow when paired with a blushing bellini. (Diane Sussman)

212 Church and 1245 Ninth Ave. 415-552-2469; 415-665-9912, www.chowfoodbar.com



It’s Saturday morning-slipping-toward-noon, and there are few reasons to expend the effort to pick your fuzzball head up off the pillow it dropped onto in the after-party wee hours. Curled in your cocoon, there is but one comforting thought: breakfast! Few places can revive the soul and satisfy the belly as proficiently as Homemade Café. You’d be wise to choose the spinach, mushroom, and feta omelet. Sweet or spicy is a tough choice, though, since there are spectacularly fluffy blueberry pancakes to be had as well. It’s crucial that you remember this magical phrase: “Upgrade to Home-Fry Heaven.” They’ll arrive smothered in cheese, salsa, sour cream, and a choice of guacamole or pesto. You will feel alive again — at least until naptime. (Rebecca Bowe)

2454 Sacramento, Berk. (510) 845-1940



I love Lime. Not just because it offers a pretty good assortment of belly-filling foodstuffs on Sunday mornings or the hip and lively atmosphere — but because of the bottomless mimosas and bloody marys. Now, I could try to compare Lime’s eggs benedict to others I’ve eaten, but why bother? There are bottomless fucking mimosas and bloody marys, people! Who cares about the food when I can get stupid drunk with my friends at 11 a.m.? In fact, I can’t recall a time when we weren’t asked to leave, albeit very nicely by the wait staff. Just be careful, those drinks will knock you on your ass and give you a hangover by 4 p.m. Guaranteed. (Ben Hopfer)

2247 Market St., SF. 415.621.5256, www.lime-sf.com



Lynn and Lu, I heart you. Snag a quaint table under an umbrella on Grand Avenue or find a spot on the back patio for a beautiful sunny brunch. The morning portions are fat, happy, and classic. Three-egg omelets come bursting with your filler of choice and arrive sitting next to a pile of yummy roasted potatoes. Those with stomachs bigger than their eyes will be relieved to see that the Escapade frittatas look more like a crowd-pleasing tower of peppers, veggies, and eggs than a paltry single serving — everyone will waddle away with a smile. The service is fabulous, the price is just right, and the food comes quick enough to whisk away any dream-soaked cobwebs. (Amber Schadewald)

3353 Grand Ave, Oakland, 510-835-5705



Imagine a John Waters time warp with rickety counter chairs, a napkin art gallery, and a suggestive painting of female softball players with a giant bat, and you’ve just about captured the quirkiness of Mama’s Royal Café. The home fries, hollandaise dishes, and rib-sticking omelets are consistently satisfying, but weekly specials also offer seasonal and delicious treats like lemon-ricotta pancakes with blood orange curd. The wait staff often serves on hipster time, which, quite frankly, works out perfectly since Mama’s is best enjoyed with friends on a lazy Sunday as you discuss, or help each other remember, last night’s misadventures. (Robyn Johnson)

4012 Broadway, Oakland. (510) 547-7600. www.mamasroyalcafeoakland.com



After a recent multihour hike around the Presidio, I found myself ravenous. You know the feeling — fully prepared to combine breakfast, lunch, dinner, a multitude of snacks, and dessert into a single meal. Where better to do that than at Stacks, the San Francisco location of a mini-chain (others are in Menlo Park and Burlingame) that looks like a Denny’s that got an upscale makeover, with some of the biggest floral arrangements you’ll ever see. Speaking of gigantic, Stacks’ portions are robust, and their menu is a monster: over a dozen omelet choices; copious varieties of pancakes, crepes, and waffles; sandwiches and burgers; daily specials; and at least seven different smoothies. (Cheryl Eddy)

501 Hayes, SF. (415) 241-9011. www.stacksrestaurant.com



Being on a tight budget has forced me to get creative, and this underdog taqueria located on a block full of distracting alternatives has become my favorite spot for a weekend breakfast burrito. There are never any lines, the food is as cheap as it comes, and the egg and chorizo burrito with beans, cheese, and rice is guaranteed to soak up a whole weekend of leftover mischief hanging. It’s even big enough to share with any co-conspirators still hanging out as well. (Paula Connelly)

3036 16th St., SF. (415) 861-3708. www.taquerialoscoyotes.com



Yes, there’ll be a wait — but it’s more than worth it at Zazie, a French bistro that is San Francisco’s best patio brunch spot. The heart of the menu resides in the poached egg dishes (my favorite is La Mer, with real Dungeness crab, avocado, and green onion), seven to choose from, each with a choice of one, two, or three perfectly poached eggs, wonderfully tangy hollandaise sauce, and a side of potatoes fried up with, get this, roasted garlic cloves. Yum! Everything on the brunch menu is awesome, from challah french toast to scrambled eggs Fontainebleau to the full-on trout du sud. C’est magnifique! (Steven T. Jones)

941 Cole Street, SF. (415) 564-5332, www.zaziesf.com

Appetite: 3 upcoming events covering sips ’round the world


From Dry Creek Valley barrel-tasting  to the snowy peaks of Austria, here are a trio of flavorful events that encompass a full range of delectable vino.

4/22 Wine Enthusiast’s Toast of the Town

One of the big wine events each year, this swank soiree in the War Memorial Opera House hits major cities (like NY and Chicago), often selling out. Tasting runs the gamut of the US (from Cali to South Carolina), through Tuscany, France, Chile, New Zealand, and so on. Food is almost an equal highlight here from Wine Country favorites such as the girl & the fig and Mustards, or Urban Tavern, Farallon, Chez Papa, even Oakland’s Home of Chicken & Waffles.

5-7pm VIP; 7-10pm general public grand tasting
$89 general; $169 VIP
War Memorial House
401 Van Ness, SF.

4/24-25 Passport to Dry Creek Valley

A Wine Country locals’ favorite event annually, this weekend focuses on Dry Creek Valley and starts off with a classy shindig at Dry Creek Kitchen on Friday night. Then it uncorks the weekend with two days of barrel tasting (yes, you can purchase futures) and newly-released wines at over 60 wineries, Mingle with winemakers and growers as bands play (from blues to rock) or belly dancers dance. There’s food at each winery, everything from oysters to BBQ, even games of bocce ball and early morning vineyard tours.

$120 for 2-day passport; $70 Sunday only
At participating wineries around Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County


5/3 Austria Uncorked

How familiar are you with Austrian wines? Well, it’s time you became acquainted. Bottlenotes is selling tickets to this unique event (only held here and New York City) on a mellow Monday in Fort Mason. There’s more than 80 Austrian wines represented with Austrian cheeses and snacks to boot. The entire evening becomes one pleasurable education on top sips from this gorgeous country.

6-9pm, $60
The Officers Club, 1 Fort Mason

FEAST: Free crystal glass!



Should ceaseless hangovers and clumsy, inebriated behavior ever sour you on the drinking scene, you could do worse than while away an evening in one of SF’s many pan-Asian dessert cafes. Cheap prices, pleasant late-night crowds, cultural cachet … the sole caveat being that, for the neophyte dabbler in casual Asian cuisine, menus can approach this side of incomprehensible. This thought came to me midway through ordering at Tapioca Express (1522 Fillmore, (415) 346-6600. www.tapiocaexpress.com). A whim had struck me for bubble tea, but in my naiveté, I had come unprepared for what lay ahead. A universe of flavors, forms, and toppings were at my fingertips — it’s not unusual for a café to feature more than 80 bubble tea options; variations on form, flavoring, and toppings (“free crystal glass,” which to me sounds like a great deal on street drugs). Even ignoring the savories, I was at a loss. But I squashed the disorientation and walked away with an avocado snow, a tapioca-beaded milkshake whose creamy taste will dispel any hesitation you have toward desserts made from nacho ingredients. Sitting with my prize and savoring the peaceful, nonalcoholic hum around me, I knew: I was hooked. I needed more dessert cafe. And thus it began, the adventures of a white girl in the land of taro, grass jelly, and tadpoles.

As if the culinary adventures at Creations Dessert House (5217 Geary, (415) 668-8812, www.creationsdessert.com) weren’t enough food for thought, the ambience, as in other specimens of its genre, strikes an odd balance between coffeehouse and sit-down restaurant. Rather than highlighting its bubble teas, the ginormous menu focuses on hearty snacks, from fast food-like “value boxes” to potato polenta-esque radish cakes topped with fish sauce, and elaborately plated desserts (bowls of cubed fruits and ice cream nestled neatly alongside each other, rather than the helter-skelter mix-up found on most Western plates). The waitress will bring you complimentary hot tea while you ponder your options.

An after-school crowd and a more fast food vibe prevails at Quickly (2116 Irving and various SF locations, (415) 665-3090, www.quicklyusa.com), a global megachain that provides a gateway to bubble tea from New Zealand to Singapore. I learned about Quickly’s ubiquity from the café’s helpfully excessive signage, which also alerted me to its “new healthy fashion food” with “fiber green milk tea, black rice, and colis milk.” Eschewing the fried mini octopi and hot grass jelly, a plant-based pudding treat, I opted for a saccharine sweet rose bubble tea. And, in a bit of providence, I tried the Hong Kong egg puff, which turned out to be a crispy, waffle-bubble wrap marriage. It’s folded into a paper envelope, which fit nicely into my heart. New favorite thing!

Imagine, then, my elation at discovering that this mysterious egg puff was not a solely corporate creation — that, in fact, a sojourn into the Outer Sunset (SF’s epicenter of Asian dessert pleasures) will reveal Eggettes (3136 Noriega, (415) 681-8818, www.eggettessf.com), whose specialty is the puff. Eggettes has the distinction of three flavors; original, chocolate, and honeydew, whose golden-brown crust cedes to a chewy green dough within. Eggettes features the usual phalanx of bubble teas, and for the packs of adolescents usually present, not just free wireless but free computers! Imagine! Should you go, try the rice rolls, flat noodles rolled into delicious chewy nuggets, accompanied by peanut and hoisin sauce.

The challenge of dessert cafes may be what relentlessly pulls us to them — the variety of their wares. After all, the menu at 37 Degrees Dessert Café (1155 Taraval, (415) 566-3887) is a solid 10 pages long, filled with evocative photos to guide your deliberations. Dare you try the Deep Sea, whose striated layers of sweet liquid and “coral jellies” resemble nothing more than the dentist office’s saltwater aquarium tank poured into a tall ice cream sundae glass? Will you opt for the crystal rolls at 100% Sweet Café (2512 Clement, (415) 221-1628), small rice paper sachets of sugary goo, fresh strawberries, and mangos that constitute the most difficult and slippery food item to eat ever?

All told, the dessert cafes made a distinct impression on me. Situated at a small table, plied with free hot tea, megalith menu in hand detailing lobster balls, black pearl barley, and cold tofu flakes curdled in a wooden bucket — it’s easy to lose a few hours contemplating the fact that one will never, ever know all there is to be eaten under the sun.

But a girl can try. Osmanthus jelly with a side of explosive eggs, please?

Throwing down with the Tablehopper


The incredibly everywhere Marcia Gagliardi, a.k.a. the Tablehopper (www.tablehopper.com), has somehow canvassed, in-depth, every eatery, drinkery, and food-cartery in our fair city — while still maintaining her voracious appetite, sassy aplomb, and appealing figure. Her new book, The Tablehopper’s Guide to Dining and Drinking in San Francisco (Ten Speed Press) is one of those must-have recommendation books that truly opens your eyes and mouth to culinary nooks and crannies. Divided into a multitude of sections like “Shituations” (places for dumping someone), “Morning After Breakfasts,” “Picky Eaters,” “Dude Food,” and “Ethnic Group Dinners,” it’s a fantastic thing to have on hand for every occasion, real or imagined. Marcia took a minute to answer some of our more “Guardian” questions about Bay dining and drinking. (Marke B.)

SFBG I’m pansexual and bursting with spring fever. What bars or restaurants can I go to where the boys and girls and everything-in-between are hot and open to everything?

MARCIA GAGLIARDI I’ve always thought the Lush Lounge (1221 Polk, SF. 415-771-2022, www.lushloungesf.com) has a good mixed vibe, and it seems Blackbird (2124 Market, SF. 415-503-0630, www.blackbirdbar.com) draws a mixed crowd as well. Orbit Room (1900 Market, SF. 415-252-9525) too. Or just go to Beretta (1199 Valencia, SF. 415- 695-1199, www.berettasf.com) late at night, sprinkle some Ecstasy on everyone’s crispy thin-crust pizza, and see what happens.

SFBG I have $5 for dinner. Where should I go?

MG I’d go to Balompie Café (3349 18th St., SF. 415-648-9199) or El Zocalo (3230 Mission, SF. 415-282-2572) and get a couple of extremely filling pupusas, which come with chips and salsa. Yep, you can get some hot pupusa action for less than $5. Hott!

SFBG Oh dear, I’ve doublebooked on date night. But then I get to thinking — why not take ’em both on at once? They might get into each other as well, and three’s certainly company! What’s a good place to have them both meet me and, once the initial confusion subsides, gently introduce the idea of a potentially delicious ménage à trois?

MG Well, hello, Ms. Popular. This is the kind of night that calls for some sexy atmosphere, and whaddya know, booze. The cozy downstairs booths at Oola (860 Folsom, SF. 415-995-2061, www.oola-sf.com) might fit the bill, and you can take turns licking the sauce from the yummy, sticky, baby back ribs off each other’s fingers.

SFBG My parents are on their way to take me out to dinner, but I just got really stoned. Where will my goofy demeanor blend right in?

MG Florio (1915 Fillmore, SF. 415-775-4300, www.floriosf.com) would work because its dandy-yet-friendly atmosphere is parental-unit approved, the lights are dim, the hearty food will jive with your munchies, and there’s usually enough going on in there that your parents won’t be watching your every move. There’s also a little alley around the corner where you can spark up if you need another puff before dessert.

SFBG Best place to announce my impending gender reassignment surgery to someone close to me who may be surprised?

MG Absinthe (398 Hayes, SF. 415-551-1590, www.absinthe.com). You can request a quieter table so not everyone hears your answers to all of your friend’s burning questions, and the spirited cocktails — a coquettishly tangy Ginger Rogers or bourbon-spiked Scarlett O’Hara, perhaps? — will help them digest the good news.

SFBG Someone took me out on a date to a really expensive restaurant and insisted on paying. Now it’s my turn to take them out, but I’m like, down to my last $20. Where can I take them so they feel I’ve treated them to something classier than my budget suggests?

MG Ah yes, the old smoke and mirrors. I’d go to Great Eastern in Chinatown (649 Jackson, SF. 415-986-2500), which has some bountiful deals on set menus, and the room is spiffy. Or you could take them to dim sum at one of my favorite places, S&T Hong Kong Seafood (2578 Noriega, SF. 415-665-8338) in the Outer Susnset, and you will feast fo’ cheap.

SFBG What wine bars have the best pours? I mean top-of-the-glass for $6. I’m a-thirsty, girl!

MG Well, the folks working the bar at Castro’s 2223 (2223 Market, SF. 415-431-0692, www.2223restaurant.com) know their clientele well and do pretty big pours. Same with Laszlo (2526 Mission, SF. 415-401-0810, www.laszlobar.com). I also noted a fuller glass the last time I was at the Hidden Vine (620 Post, SF. 415-674-3567, www.thehiddenvine.com). And based on the number of loaded folks at the Wine Jar (1870 Fillmore, SF. 415-931-2924, www.winejar-sf.com), I’d say the generous pours are to blame.

SFBG What would you say are the most “interesting” things you’ve ever eaten in the city?

MG Some of the dishes at Spices! (294 Eighth Ave., SF. 415-752-8884) have definitely pushed the envelope for me. (Stinky tofu, intestine stew — and I don’t care to have either dish ever again). The tendon pho at Pho Tan Hoa (431 Jones, SF. 415-673-3163) definitely rates on the funky meter — and I’m talking big hunks of tendon.

Pioneers! O Urban Pioneers!


By Robyn Johnson


People are returning to land like it’s the 1970s all over again, but they’re not packing up for Vermont, letting their hair go au naturel, and unplugging from the grid to do it. Urban agriculture is sprouting up like, well, sprouts. And while we all feel strongly about sustainability and pay a lot of lip service to higher ideals, the majority of us probably aren’t willing to adopt the radical homemaker lifestyle and sacrifice cell phone coverage, The Colbert Report, or regular social interactions. The following cursory guide highlights a few urban farms in SF and immediate environs where you can volunteer or access food, as well as resources for cultivating your space in the concrete tangle (even if you live in a third-story apartment) and options for the time-honored tradition of gleaning.



Community farms offer support not always available for the individual plots of community gardens (which typically have astronomically long wait-lists anyway), or even your own cramped Bay Area backyard. And for 60-hour-work-weekers, it might be taxing to grow more than a bit of basil or mold on that cheese in the back of the fridge. If you don’t have the time, energy, space, or inclination to follow famed urban farmer Novella Carpenter’s fantastic example (ghosttownfarm.wordpress.com), consider volunteering at the following places to satisfy your green thumb’s bidding.

As Chris Burley, the director of Hayes Valley Farm (www.hayesvalleyfarm.com) told me, “People are looking for a tangible way to get their hands dirty and address the impacts of our ecologically destructive, industrialized food system while doing something meaningful and connecting with their community.” And that’s exactly the goal that the farm, located off Laguna and Fell steets, has been aiming to fulfill since its inception as a way to revitalize an unused lot, once a freeway onramp, into a shared space.

Although the farm is still taking root, so to speak, the plan is to eventually grow enough fresh and organic food to feed the neediest nearby members plus the volunteers working to cultivate the space. Education also plays a major part in the function of the project, with Thursday and Sunday “work parties” where people can get that hand-dirtying experience, as well as regular classes on urban gardening and permaculture.

Altho Quesada Gardens Initiative (www.quesadagardens.org) primarily operates as a community-directed organization that seeks to strengthen the social systems of Bayview-Hunters Point, local food production has become one of the top concerns of the neighborhood. The resident-led nonprofit connects and maintain backyard farms and free food-producing community gardens throughout the area. In one of the neater facets of its food justice work, the group also helps maintain the kitchen garden of roving supper club Old Skool Café (www.oldskoolcafe.org), which employs at-risk or previously incarcerated youth. With such kick-ass people, it’s no wonder that urban farm hero Will Allen adopted one of the satellite gardens on his visit to the Bayview. Community volunteer meetings and gardening days tend to be informal, so e-mail for specific opportunities.

Sometimes the best things in life really are free. Located at Gough and Eddy on land kindly lent by the Lutheran Church, The Free Farm (www.thefreefarm.org) intends to give away 100 percent of its produce. Still in its initial development stages, the fledgling project welcomes volunteers every Saturday and Wednesday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. to help with the launch. Working in tandem with its sister organization, The Free Farm Stand in the Mission also offers fresh fruits and vegetables donated by other local urban farmers. Although places like Little City Gardens (www.littlecitygardens.com) and folks who glean from public land contribute, the bulk of the produce comes from the 18th Street and Rhode Island (www.18thandrhodeisland.org) farm maintained by the SF Permaculture Guild, which offers volunteer opportunities as well. With a goal to sextuple the farm’s output within the next five years, it could probably use a little bit more help. Work days are on Friday.

For West Oakland residents, two nonprofits have been power-housing to combat the food desert that plagues the area. City Slickers Farms (www.cityslickerfarms.org) operates several all volunteer-run farms throughout the neighborhood that could always use a few extra work hands. Collectively these six lots cultivate ducks and chickens, bee hives, veggies, fruit trees, and medicinal herbs, the produce of which are distributed through the Saturday Farm Stand on a sliding scale or work-trade basis — no one’s turned away. And if you still have a mighty urge for some composting, weeding, planting, and mulching, People’s Grocery (www.peoplesgrocery.org) runs three farms that constantly need tending. The 55st Street location tends fruit trees, culinary herbs, and vegetables; 59th Street is a slightly less cultivated space in collaboration with Berkeley’s Spiral Gardens Community Food Security Project (www.spiralgardens.org), which runs its own food garden off Oregon and Sacramento streets for you West Berkeleyites. People’s Grocery’s newest land acquisition, the plot behind the California Hotel off of 35th and Chestnut streets, hosts a greenhouse and a biointensive microfarm that replaced its 3.5 acre Sunol site last January.



If you have access to private land to cultivate, or even if you don’t, the following resources will set you on the path to food freedom. These classes, demonstration sites, and professional landscaping services will help you turn backyards, rooftops, and even windows into humming generators of small-scale urban agriculture.

Before you even think to take a shovel to your virgin backyard or start a worm bin, visit Garden for the Environment (www.gardenfortheenvironment.org). A one-acre demonstration garden in the heart of Golden Gate Heights that also teaches organic food production and sustainable landscaping with weekly workshops, you can see how it’s done before trial-and-erroring on that graywater irrigation system or chicken coop. The resource directory on its Web site also serves as an invaluable aid for at-home troubleshooting. Hotlines for gardening and composting issues, where to find recycled lumber, how to test your soil, manure suppliers, wasp removal companies — it’s all there.

DIY food production classes abound everywhere in the Bay Area but the one-stop shopper won’t find a better resource than the Institute of Urban Homesteading (www.iuhoakland.com) in Oakland. It offers a comprehensive curriculum ranging from beekeeping, butchery, goat farming, brewcraft, herbal medicine, bread making, fermentation, berry patches, and other topics of the same ilk. It’s a real crash course in manifesting your inner Laura Ingalls Wilder. With no central location, classes are taught in the teachers’ homes, which presents a neat opportunity to see real-time urban homesteading and the different ways people create sustainable places in an urban setting. Also consider Urban Kitchen SF (www.urbankitchensf.com) and BioFuel Oasis (www.biofueloasis.com) in Berkeley for supplementary courses.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and green behind the ears, several services will landscape your yard into a cornucopia of organic delectables and even continue the maintenance if you just can’t do anything with that black thumb of death. Star Apple Edible Gardens (www.starappleediblegardens.com) provides a range of services throughout the Bay Area, the simplest being consultations and composting tutorials. You also can order ready-made kitchen gardens or go whole kit and caboodle and have customized “garden design and installation, pathway and hardscape installation, irrigation design and installation, planting, plant feeding and cultivation, regular harvesting of your garden crops, and design, installation, and maintenance of composting systems.” Other similar businesses include All Edibles (www.alledibles.com), which specifically works with East Bay dwellers, and Chris Sein of Wildheart Gardens (www.wildheartgardens.com), who also consults on backyard chickens and mushrooms.

For a lot of us in the Bay Area, the dream of having a backyard is about as likely as Glenn Beck admitting that Obama is not a herald of an impending Orwellian dictatorship. So what can the more dispossessed among us do to return to the soil? Popular in Europe and becoming more so here, rooftop gardens are a great solution to space issues. Graze the Roof (www.grazetheroof.blogspot.com), the community vegetable patch on top of Glide Memorial Church, hosts rooftop gardening workshops. You can also gain experience by volunteering on work days every Thursday or first Saturdays. For those feeling less than philanthropic or sociable, pop over to your local bookstore to pick up the Use Your Roof Guidebook by Bay Area Localize (www.baylocalize.org). Seven bucks and four easy chapters gets you on your way to a more edible roof.

For balcony-less apartment dwellers, and maybe those with vaulted ceilings, window farms have become the new rooftop gardens. An open-source project that’s evolved over the past year, Windowfarms (www.windowfarms.org) gives how-tos for its innovatively cheap and space-conscious hydroponics system — jerry-rigged from repurposed plastic water bottles, tubing, and fish tank pumps that hangs in vertical columns in the window — as free PDFs on its Web site. It also hosts community boards where members share improvements to the system, which is constantly being updated. Alas, window farms can only really successfully raise leafy greens, but having a homegrown salad in a studio apartment is still pretty darn amazing.

If you already have your urban farm bustling along — or even just a prolific citrus tree — then yard-sharing is a great way to spread the fruit of your labor throughout the community. Neighborhood Fruit (www.neighborhoodfruit.com), SF Glean (www.sfglean.org), and Produce to the People (www.producetothepeople.org) will gladly help you to unload the excess bounty and distribute it to the hungry.

FEAST: 5 farm-fresh cocktails


We’re used to well-crafted, artisanal cocktails year-round in our city, and some bartenders showcase the bounty of the seasons in their cocktails, using local fruits, herbs, vegetables. It’s easy to take the abundance of the region for granted, but let’s not and remember to enjoy what can happen when fresh produce and spirits get into the right hands. Here are a few places and drinks we recommend as winter turns to spring. (Virginia Miller)


The Alembic offers quite a selection of spirits and beer, plus some of our city’s best cocktails, including New Orleans’ classics done right. (Thankfully, the bar doesn’t let the small space get too crowded, it regulates crowds at the door during peak hours. Even so, I prefer "off" times during the afternoon or early weeknights). The staff knows its stuff, so go ahead and ask them to make you something off menu with your favorite spirit as a base. In recent weeks, I’ve seen wonders worked with fresh produce on hand, whether it beets, ginger, or even galangal. A couple versions of a beet cocktail wowed me each time, the latest being a Rittenhouse Rye base with dry vermouth, red wine vinegar, orange zest muddled with sugar, and plenty of beets for a glowing red hue. Topped with a celery leaf and splash of sparkling wine, it’s a tart, earthy, slightly effervescent delight. If no beets are in house, you can’t go wrong with menu staple, Southern Exposure ($10), a Junipero Gin cocktail brightened with mint leaves, lime, a touch of sugar and a shot of fresh celery juice.

1725 Haight, SF. (415) 666-0822, www.alembicbar.com


If you want to be ahead of the curve tasting a new small batch spirit no one has heard of or cocktails unlike anyone else’s, Nopa is your spot. Bar manager Neyah White, who’s always ahead of trends and has a pioneer’s taste for the untried, has introducing me to spirits I’ll later hear everyone talking about. Neyah and the Nopa bar staff create luscious cocktails — try one of their sherry or white whiskey renditions for a proper use of the spirits. If you’re lucky, the kumquats they’ve been procuring for weeks will still be on the menu for a kumquat caiprinha ($9). I’ve had kumquats in a number of cocktails — the juicy tart is a lifelong favorite taste. Not only are Nopa’s kumquats the best I’ve had in recent memory, but the use of Boca Loca Cachaca and fresh lime with the plump, tart citrus makes for a bracing drink: pleasantly sweet, floral, tangy. I ate every kumquat out of the glass.

560 Divisadero, SF. (415) 864-8643, www.nopasf.com


Rickhouse has one of those dream menus for cocktailians: pages and pages of flips, fizzes, and punches. The atmosphere holds the magic mustiness of a dim old bourbon house — without the must. (You just have to brave — or avoid — the Financial District happy hour mobs). From Rickhouse’s beverage director, Erick Castro, comes a drink created last spring that has thankfully stuck around: the Kentucky Buck. A refreshing bourbon and ginger beer cocktail ($8), it is one of the best-balanced bucks I’ve tasted. ("Buck" is the historic name for drinks involving a base spirit, citrus, and ginger beer or ale). Bourbon is served with organic Monterey Bay Farms’ strawberries, lemon, Angostura bitters, then topped with ginger beer. Refreshing and spring-like, it’s nuanced, showcasing all the strawberry’s best assets without overstepping into sweet territory.

246 Kearney, SF. (415) 398-2827, www.rickhousebar.com


Range sets the standard for experimental but refined cocktails. This is one of the great neighborhood restaurants, but it’s also a worthy bar destination. You can expect fresh and inventive here every time — with classic cocktail sensibilities. The Evergreen welcomes spring with gusto in the form of citrus and herbs. Plymouth Gin and St. Germain accompany fresh kumquat juice, sage, and lemon. Smooth and bright, not one flavor overpowers the other, but all meld nicely. If tequila is more your speed, try the Malia with Pueblo Viejo blanco tequila, lime, egg white, cinnamon bitters, and a winning duo of quince and apple.

842 Valencia, SF. (415) 282-8283, www.rangesf.com


Thankfully, this cocktail has been on the menu a while, a glass of layered delights from one of our city’s best all-around bars, 15 Romolo. Track 42 ($12) is an exhilarating fresh garden of a drink made with 42 Below Manuka Honey Vodka, basil, unfiltered apple juice, lemon, and egg white. You won’t go wrong with most anything on (or off) the menu, but this treat involves more complexity and nuanced flavor than the "vodka cocktail" label would suggest, and is a favorite among many, many delectable drinks. Other highlights: I love the Prohibition-era elegance, laid back staff, and legendary Chartreuse Gong Shows — American Idol-like karaoke shows with judges, a giant gong if you suck, and, yes, shots of chartreuse for everyone. 15 Romolo is the bar I wish was in my neighborhood.

15 Romolo Place, SF. (415) 398-1359, www.15romolo.com

FEAST: 6 voluptuous buns


Pools of ink and its electronic equivalent have been expended helping SF’s legions of night-crawlers find the best drinks, beats, and eats. Not so for our less numerous early-risers. But there are plenty of reasons to get up early: seagulls materializing out of the fog, the sun rising over the bay, first pressings at Ritual, parking spaces, and, perhaps most important, morning buns. Specifically, warm morning buns.

Unlike the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana‘s rules on pizza (dough no higher than 1/8 inch thick, hand-kneaded only), the French-inspired morning bun has some latitude. Buns can be made with brioche dough or croissant dough; flavored with cinnamon, or orange, or both. Puff pastry does not raise cries of quelle horreur! But whatever the yeast-risen dough base, the ideal MB should be a “turned” pastry, layered with butter and spices, then dusted with sugar and baked to caramelized crispness. Nuts, raisins, or frosting mean you have strayed — egad — into snail or danish territory.

Like bagels, MBs also are the perfect food ephemera. By 9:30 a.m. the chances of finding a still-warm one have passed. By 11 a.m., they have aged out completely. So set your alarm and get in line. (Diane Sussman)



This small Bernal Heights newcomer is already making a name for itself for its superlative sandwiches, kashi pans, and pastries (I’m talking to you, Valrhona pain au chocolat), and its MB is no exception. Starting with a brioche dough, Sandbox MB has a crisp, flaky top that gives way to fragrant, generous layers of cinnamon, sugar, and orange doughy bliss. Even better, this is one bun source where you can still get a warm one even if you sleep in (sort of). Although the bakery opens at 7 a.m., one staffer revealed that its MBs don’t usually come out of the oven until 7:30.

833 Cortland, SF. (415) 642-8580. www.sandboxbakerysf.com



Scoring an MB at Tartine requires a strategy. Well before it opens (times vary), Tartine has lines out the door. Granted, not everyone is there for an MB, but that doesn’t alleviate fears among MB heads that the person ahead of you line won’t order five dozen. In addition, Tartine Mbers have subgenres of preferences, preferring “light on the bottom.” But not to worry. All colors of Tartine’s MBs (which start with croissant dough) have crisp, sweet, flaky, muffin-like tops with soft, yeasty, buttery centers sprinkled with orange, cinnamon, and sugar. In addition to competition, Tartine’s MBs are also more expensive ($3.75 compared to $2–$2.50 elsewhere).

600 Guerrero, SF. (415) 487-2600. www.tartinebakery.com




Delessio is the MB slug-a-bed’s dream joint. The combination deli-bakery doesn’t open until 8 a.m., and even then the bakers often run 10 to 15 minutes late. (Value add: sometimes the friendly staff will let you pluck your own MB from the cooling rack — use paper!). Delessio’s offering is moist, flaky (it uses a brioche dough), not too sweet, and generous with cinnamon. Delessio does have one tragic flaw, though: it doesn’t bake those buns every day. Call first or learn a vital lesson in flexibility with the breakfast brioche.

1695 Market and 302 Broderick, SF. (415) 552-5559 and (415) 552-8077. www.delessiomarket.com



Stare into one of the pastry cases at Boulange and you’ll see the signs for “morning buns.” But Boulange’s morning bun isn’t really a morning bun, as one staff member readily acknowledged. “We call them cinnamon-orange buns,” she said. “They are our own version of morning buns.” Starting with a croissant dough, Boulange MBs are flatter and rounder than a traditional morning bun, don’t have the crispy, caramelized sugar muffin top, and have a bit more orange than others. While purists may shriek, “Wrong!” iconoclasts are likely to counter with “Nice!” (Whole Foods also carries Boulange’s buns in its bakery cases.)

Various locations, www.laboulange.com



The small neighborhood café at the corner of Fulton and Baker streets in the Panhandle doesn’t bake its own MBs, but it does get a daily stash from Bakers of Paris. Shunning tradition, Bakers of Paris uses puff pastry and rolls its version with orange zest, making for a light, refreshingly acidic, not too sweet treat. Although you can’t get one fresh out of the oven (Bakers of Paris’ bakery is in Brisbane), Matching Half staff will heat it up for you. (Bakers of Paris also sells its buns at the Sunday farmers markets on Grove in the Divis Corridor and Irving in the Inner Sunset.)

1799 McAllister, SF. (415) 674-8699. www.matchinghalfcafe.com



Sorry, you can’t go to the source, and you won’t get a warm one. But if you have access to a warming device — and you can wait — you can opt for one of Semifreddi’s goodies. The bakery, which has its baking operations in the East Bay and no retail outlet, trucks its wonderfully carmelized, brioche-based MBs to numerous grocery stores, including Mollie Stone’s, Berkeley Bowl, and Faletti Market. Perfect for when you really slept late. www.semifreddis.com

The good, the bad, and the fence-sitters



The Guardian has been periodically producing the Board of Supervisors’ Good Vote Guide for many years, tracking where our elected representatives come down on important issues. And unlike a similar poll recently put out by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, which chose 10 votes designed to promote deregulating and subsidizing big businesses, we chose items important to the broad public interest.

The 20 votes we selected this time reflect our concerns for protecting tenants, funding vital public services, safeguarding civil liberties, promoting small businesses and nonprofits, appointing qualified people to commissions, and valuing the environment more than “green” press releases and corporate profits.

To view our guide (PDF), please click here

Taking the Waters



SFIFF Jessica Rabbit was just drawn that way, Foster Brooks just happened to stumble on his “lovable lush” act, and likewise, actor-writer-producer Derek Waters — he of Drunk History fame — just sounds like he started poking around in the liquor cabinet earlier in the day. In the same way, we all happened to just look up from our many open browser screens and realize our attention spans have drastically shrunk — one of the many reasons Waters believes the histories have been so popular, leading to offers from HBO to produce a Drunk History sketch show and spinning off a host of homemade copycat videos on YouTube.

“Attention spans are way too small to watch whole movies,” says the 30-year-old Waters, speaking from Los Angeles. “I think if these came out in the ’70s, I don’t know how popular they would be.” And who can blame the pretenders, justly inspired by the shorts — and the sight of soused comedians relating their favorite great moments in history (while occasionally losing their lunch or lying down to get more comfy) while actors like Michael Cera, Jack Black, and Will Ferrell reenact out all the blurry details, down to Ben Franklin’s improbable “Holy shit … there’s a fucking lightning storm happening right now outside!”

The fact that creator Waters could get actors like Crispin Glover and John C. Reilly to play, for instance, the battling Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla is yet another plus. “Edison was publicly electrocuting animals to prove his point,” Waters says. “And to see Crispin Glover doing that was a dream come true.”

No fear that Drunk History will swallow up cable — or traditional academic — programming, though Waters says his old teachers have e-mailed to tell him they’ve shown the films to their students. “I think Drunk History is funny for five minutes,” he says. “I don’t think you can ask too much of a drunk person.” The actor is doing a HBO series called Derek Waters Presents LOL instead (“I like to say it stands for ‘Lots of Losers.’ I guess you write what you know”), remaining committed to the short, funny form, as well as the dream of turning his 13th Grade short, set at a community college, into a full-fledged series.

All that makes Waters a primo candidate for a drunken evening at the theater with Wholphin DVD magazine editor Brent Hoff. He’ll be showing relevant shorts such as Bob Odenkirk’s gut-busting The Pity Card — part of Waters’ and The Big Bang Theory‘s Simon Helberg’s online short series Derek and Simon — and talking about that film, as well as, no doubt, the work he’ll contribute to Wholphin‘s next edition.

Incidentally, Wholphin‘s latest issue, its 11th, is a doozy: “It’s the most edible-looking yet,” quips Hoff in San Francisco. “All bubblegum-y colors.” It includes Ramin Bahrani’s Plastic Bag short with poignant hilarious voice-of-the-bag narration by Werner Herzog, in addition to an excerpt from Bitch Academy, a doc about Russian women taking a class on how to snag millionaires — a grim, scary variant of the cheese-cloaked Millionaire Matchmaker — which Hoff describes as “the most terrifying thing we’ve ever put out.”

More terrifying that listening to writer Eric Falconer lose his eight vodka cranberries and then get back up to talk American history? For some, it might be a draw. “There’s something fascinating,” Waters observes, “about someone so passionate about something but not moving forward at all.”


Mon/26, 9:30 p.m.

Sundance Kabuki

1881 Post, SF



Live on screen



SFIFF All those with curious minds, step right up, we have live cinema waiting for you in this dark room. The idea of “live” or performance-generated movies has taken on a new vitality recently via the light-projecting likes of Bruce McClure, whose ear-splitting and eye-blasting appearances in San Francisco usually sell out. On a smaller local level, Konrad Steiner’s neo-benshi programs have united local writers and a wide variety of filmic subject matter in creative and sometimes entertaining ways. At the San Francisco Film Festival, live music by bands for silent works has become a reliable main attraction. But Sam Green’s and Dave Cerf’s new meta-documentary Utopia in Four Movements adds a new facet to the phenomenon: instead of utilizing an over-familiar voice-over, it unites live narration by Green with a musical performance overseen by Cerf, allowing for degrees of spontaneity and change.

Utopian, isn’t it? At the Mission bar the Phone Booth on an early Monday evening, Green can’t help but tease out his thoughts on the very word. “To me, utopia is almost a metaphor for hope, or hope in the imagination,” he says, shortly after we’ve been flirted with (and flashed) by one fierce female patron. “It’s about trying to be hopeful these days, which is hard. Utopia is almost a way to make up hope. In some ways it’s so preposterous. The word even has negative connotations these days — people are told not to be utopian.” Half an hour later, he returns for another analogy or two: “Utopia is a thing that never really exists. It’s like a flower — it always wilts. Even if there’s a moment of great utopian energy, it can’t last.”

Utopia may not exist in fully realized forms, but the quartet of mutations in Utopia in Four Movements (five if you count the movie) fascinate as real-life fables. The first segment explores Esperanto, which was invented in the late 19th century with the aim of its becoming a universal, international language. As Green puts it, Esperanto is “a wonderful idea that can’t be,” an idea that he illustrates with short direct portraits of contemporary Esperanto speakers that, uncannily, takes on a colors-of-Benneton feel.

Esperanto has also yielded some memorable black-and-white cinema, namely a 1965 Esperanto horror film shot in Big Sur by Conrad Hall, which stars a pre-Star Trek William Shatner. San Francisco movie maniacs may recognize Incubus through the efforts of Will The Thrill and Other Cinema’s Craig Baldwin. “William Shatner wrote a memoir in which he talks about it,” Green says, before adding some information that reflects Utopia‘s ever-changing nature –and utopia’s pitfalls. “I’m trying to do an interview with him because he’s practically the most famous person to have spoken Esperanto. But the world’s most famous Esperanto person is probably [financier] George Soros.”

The idea of utopia isn’t new to Green, whose best-known feature The Weather Underground (2002) digs deep into the multi-faceted realm of ’60s radicalism, riding out its actions and repercussions. The second part of Utopia, set in Cuba, adds a new chapter to Green’s explorations of thorny political contradiction. Like Assata Shakur, the segment’s subject lives in Cuba as a fugitive. In the present, she’s engaged with Cuban hip-hop, but she remains tied to her past as a radical in America. “It’s about the last embers of revolution,” says Green.

One of Utopia‘s movements examines the potential of forensice science in a manner quite different from pro-law enforcement US true crime television, showing how the smallest reinforcement can be regained from sites of mass tragedy. But the movie’s sojourn in China is in some ways its most vivid. There, Green takes an extended trip to the world’s largest shopping mall, in China. The subject matter is akin to dramas such as Jem Cohen’s Chain and Jia Zhangke’s The World (both from 2004), but this is a case of reality trumping fiction. “Almost every article I read about China and capitalism talked about how the world’s largest mall was there now,” says Green. “But nobody described it as a total failure. We were at the mall for ten days, and it was soul-killing. There’s something about a gigantic failed mall that is profoundly depressing.” Luckily, an encounter with a Teletubby who eventually removed its mask added some life to the experience.

The world’s largest shopping mall — at least for now: Green says it is slated to be bulldozed — may be grim, but it’s also richly symbolic when history is integrated to the picture. “Victor Gruen who essentially invented the [shopping] mall in the US in the 1950s was a socialist who came to America,” Green says, as “This Monkey’s Gone to Heaven” gives way to “I Feel Love” on the Phone Booth jukebox. “In turn the mall has gone to China, and the grounds of cultural revolution became the site of a government-funded bust of a mall. In a way, it’s the trajectory of the 20th century.

Today, we tiptoe into the 21st century, with a new president and old-new ways of seeing and making movies. “A year ago, when I was looking at [Utopia], people were saying ‘Aren’t you going to change everything because of Obama?’,” Green remarks. “It felt like cotton candy hope. When [U.S. presidents] are the limits of your possibility, it’s pretty lame.” Truth: Green may have used utopia in his title, but perhaps it’s time to come up with some fresh formulations of hope as well. *


Sun/25, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki

Red, blonde, and blue



SFIFF The evening breeze caresses the trees tenderly early on in João Pedro Rodrigues’s To Die Like a Man. This shift from the furious winds of Rodrigues’ Odete (a.k.a. Two Drifters, 2005) is a signal that the director, ever aware of the lexicon he’s blooming, is adopting a languid pace. Rodrigues’ third feature film isn’t immune to irony, a main one being that slow death allows his cinema to breathe most deeply.

At the onset, To Die Like a Man does not seem like the story of a drag queen perishing from poisonous silicone implants. Rodrigues begins in a nighttime jungle of young male longing, in a nod to Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady (2004), though his vision is much less chaste. Greasepaint is applied to a beautiful young soldier’s face, and upon wearing that militaristic form of drag, he’s soon fucked by the masculine makeup artist. Moments later, the two enlistees happen upon a lone mansion and peer through a window. The pair of ladies within are … not quite ladies. We are in a world where a lush garden is gradually revealed to be a terrarium, and that terrarium is soon visually rhymed with an aquarium. Nothing is what it seems, except that which flowers and dies.

It isn’t until after a gunshot and Rodrigues’ trademark blood-red letter credits that we are introduced to Tonia (Fernando Santos), a buxom blonde who bears a familial relation to one of the soldiers. Not quite weary enough to dispense with her wry wit, Tonia makes her living performing drag numbers at a club, where a beautiful and quite opposite heir apparent (Jenni La Rue) looks down at her from the other side of a mirror. At home, she cares for her drug-addled, dress designer boyfriend Rosario (Alexander David). Her chief confidante, her little white dog Augustina, appears to be slightly more obedient.

Santos’ presence at the heart of To Die Like a Man opens up Rodrigues’ distinctive world view, giving this musical without (much) music a true voice besides that of the director — quite literally in one bravura sequence, where Tonia half-whispers, half-sings a song long after Rosario angrily snuffs it from the car radio, as the world passing by is reflected in a car window adorned with raindrops. The hot-as-hell garbageman of Rodrigues’ O Fantasma (2000) and the leggy lunatic of his schematic Odete are as mute as they are ravishing, but Tonia has something to say, in tones that are smoky and relaxed and resigned to fate. Within English-language films, Divine’s siren song in Hairspray (1988) and Dorian Corey’s backstage aria of wit in Paris is Burning (1990) are the best touchstones for Tonia — ones that reveal the heft of Santos’ performance.

In life, Tonia has not fully crossed over to the other side. To illustrate her ladylike sensitivity, she complains to her transsexual friend and hairdresser, Irene (Cindy Scrash), about a doctor’s blunt, origami-like demonstration of how a penis is transformed into a vagina through surgery. But the man beneath Tonia isn’t immune to a cruise through the dark for a grope in the park.

A true auteur who hasn’t fallen prey to the excessive worship that has hindered influences such as Tsai Ming-liang, Rodrigues is cultivating his craft. He’s aware that he’s still developing, yet comfortable enough about his formidable command that he can casually deploy the motifs of great filmmakers as pivot points. If Odete‘s peculiar double-vision was constructed from the eyes of Hitchcock and Warhol, To Die Like a Man is his In a Year of 13 Moons (1978), or 1999’s All About My Mother changed to All About My Father. (A Marnie poster hints which wing of the Hitchcock library Rodrigues currently resides in, exploring patriarchal and matriarchal ties.) Fassbinder and the larger specter of "’60s and ’70s European art film is hilariously invoked through the character of Maria Bakker (the superb Gonçalo Ferreira De Almeida), a sweet beacon of death prone to epigrams and fits of vamping. In the film’s key moment of ominous reverie, she and Tonia and their sidekicks sit down in the woods and are softly serenaded by Baby Dee’s song "Cavalry."

Rodrigues has a way with sound and image, and the queeniness of the characters here allows him and longtime partner and art director João Rui Guerra da Marta to indulge their own flouncier yet symbolically rich impulses. Tonia wraps a car gift for Rosario in silver foil, and her cell phone holder is a porcelain leather pump — with a puff ball at the heel. Her backstage mirror is decorated with photo mementos of Brad Renfro and Cristiano Ronaldo, and one of her chief stage outfits is like Dorothy’s red slipper turned into an entire dress. In a single shot, a bath towel, bath mat, and dog offer variations of furry whiteness. Twice, the aesthetically heightened naturalism of Rui Poças’s cinematography gives way entirely to fluorescent pastel hues.

Tonia’s story is about uncovering what is buried before one’s body is laid to rest. Her journey crosses through some of the Lisbon landmarks of Rodrigues’ previous films — the fatal intersection and cemetery walls of Odete, for example — while finding rare blooms on the edges of urbanity. A farewell tour as long as Cher’s, To Die Like a Man never tests one’s patience. Forget-me-not is one of the ever-referential Rodrigues’ secret mottoes as a director. Even if life and drag — and the drag of life — persist beyond the end of Tonia, he’s created a film to remember.


May 1, 9 p.m., Clay

May 3, 12:15 p.m., Kabuki

May 4, 6:15 p.m., Kabuki

Love, guts, and glory



SFIFF Though there were far starrier, more expensive films debuting in the Midnight Madness section of last year’s Toronto Film Festival, the category’s prize and foot-stomping audience favor was stolen by a low-budget Australian film that arrived with no fanfare, no name actors, and a writer-director who’d made no prior features.

Sean Byrne’s The Loved Ones focuses on small-town teenager Brent (Xavier Samuel), who’s severely depressed from a recent tragedy but rouses himself to attend the school prom — or would have, if he wasn’t hijacked instead for one of the most harrowing first dates in film history.

Pegged by some as "Misery meets Pretty in Pink," this instant horror mini-classic is by turns poignant, funny, grotesque, alarming, and finally very, very satisfying. It’s sure to be a hit again in the San Francisco International Film Festival’s Late Show section. Between festival travels, Byrne was back home in Melbourne when he answered my e-mail queries.

SFBG The movie really throws you for a loop by spending the first stretch on serious psychological drama, then springing something entirely different.

Sean Byrne Well, I needed [to establish] a hero who was uniquely qualified to survive hell. Someone who is conditioned to pain, who feels like they deserve to suffer. He’s a cutter or self-mutilator, someone who tries to block out emotional pain with physical pain. He’s a kid with a death wish who’s forced to endure a literal hell, and in the process realizes he’s got everything to live for.

SFBG Your central female character is more interesting than the usual horror movie villains in that she’s so spoiled she thinks she’s a victim, which then excuses her behaving monstrously. Where did that come from?

SB I was thinking about what could make a signature, iconic, highly marketable villain and I noticed how my five-year-old niece, along with almost every little girl, is obsessed with wearing pink. It’s part of the magic and fantasy stage of childhood, where they actually believe the Disney line "someday [my] prince will come." So then I started thinking, well, what if our villain is a teenager with raging hormones but still somehow stuck in this spoiled, childish, preoperational stage of development. I imagined "Princess" as a teenage version of that irritating kid in the supermarket who demands lollies and won’t stop screaming until she gets them.

SFBG I like that her favorite song is self-pity anthem "Not Pretty Enough." Has Kasey Chambers had any reaction to the film?

SB I tried to stay within the horror genre but at the same time subvert the conventions. And having our troubled hero listen to heavy metal (the "devil’s music") and our villain listen to a top-of-the-pops ballad like "Not Pretty Enough" was a way of doing that. As far as I know, Kasey hasn’t seen the film. I’m dying to know how she’ll react.

SFBG A difference between this movie and those associated with "torture porn" is that here both the victims and the perps are pretty complicated characters.

SB I hope so. I did my research and tried to get inside the heads of these characters before I started writing. Characters in horror movies are often one-dimensional cardboard cutouts. But really great ones like The Shining (1980), The Exorcist (1973), and Rosemary’s Baby (1968) delve into the psychology of the moment. They answer the question: how do ordinary people react to extraordinary situations honestly? They explore our base instincts with emotional authenticity.

SFBG The film really does dish out some horrifying abuse, though — did you ever pull back on how graphic it would be?

SB No. Never. I’m not a fan of PG-13 horror. The middle ground is pretty boring — that’s why it’s called the middle ground.


May 2, 10:30 p.m., Castro

May 6, 3 p.m., Sundance Kabuki

MORE ON SFBG.COM For an extended version of Dennis Harvey’s interview with Sean Byrne, visit www.sfbg.com/pixel_vision

Not fade away



SFIFF Returns are dangerous. The story of Lot’s wife tells us that looking back is enough to be compromised. In cinema, the figure of return can stretch the basic spatiotemporal properties like so much silly putty. Take the two San Francisco International Film Festival speculative nonfictions that allow archival footage to overflow its conventional containers: 14-18: The Noise and the Fury, an epic reexamination of World War I narrated by a fictional French soldier, and Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno, Serge Bromberg’s dogged excavation of the eponymous French director’s famously unrealized film. Then there’s Claire Denis’ return to Africa (White Material), a Chinese documentary portrait of a family’s fraught journey home (Last Train Home), and American filmmaker Tanya Hamilton’s Night Catches Us, a double return (the story of a Black Panther’s homecoming to his troubled neighborhood and a reconstruction of 1970s Philadelphia).

The cliché that “you can never go home again” is made freshly acute in Kamal Aljafari’s Port of Memory, a melancholic study of the Palestinian community of Jaffa where Aljafari is from. The film reminds me of The Exiles (1961) in its urban-fragmentary scenario, well-portioned running time, and lovingly quotidian portrait of a marginalized group. Port of Memory doesn’t announce that the fretful middle-aged woman who goes through the motions of housekeeping and caretaking is Aljafari’s mother and the man who wanders Jaffa’s crumbling streets his uncle — we’re left to piece together these intimate views on our own. As a narrator, Aljafari is discreet but hardly complacent: he intercuts establishing shots of his uncle’s promenades with footage from old Israeli and American films (for example, the 1986 Chuck Norris vehicle, Delta Force) that use the same streets for dubious spectacles of violence and nationalism. Doubling back on these inadvertent documents of occupation, Port of Memory‘s thin line of fiction has the now off-screen Israelis acting as a gentrifying force.

Like Aljafari’s film, Pedro González-Rubio’s gorgeous Alamar (“to the sea”) is set between landscapes (land and sea) and ways of telling (fiction and documentary). The bare frame of a plot places a young boy with his father and grandfather, Mayan fishermen working the Mexican Caribbean. The sweetness of this idyll is tempered by its provisional bounds: the boy will return to his mother in Rome at the end of his compressed experience of a father’s love. Every shot is earned: there are several in which the camera bucks with the boat, physically linked to the actors’ experience. The child is at an age of discovery, and González-Rubio channels this openness by fixing on the details of the fisher’s elegant way of life and the environmental contingencies of their home at sea.

The same well of patrimony and nature has been poisoned in Vimukthi Jayasundara’s surreal fable of destruction, Between Two Worlds. In this mythopoetic work, Sri Lanka’s 30-year civil war ravages on in screaming city streets and darkened forest visions. We first see the film’s central figure — a nameless wanderer resembling many other “chosen ones” — in a death pose, splayed on the beach with crabs crawling over him. Two fishermen trade variations of the story of a prince destined to survive great bloodshed to kill his powerful uncles, and several forest dwellers seem to think our protagonist is the man. The slipperiness of Between Two Worlds‘ reality, in which visions are liable to be doubled or outright contradicted, evokes both the shifting ground of trauma and different rules of oral storytelling. In its best moments, the film put me in the mood of Jeff Wall and Raúl Ruiz; in its least, a slow-motion Lost. But Between Two Worlds amply demonstrates that returning is not always a matter of volition: such is fate and endless war.

Top pic picks


The White Meadows (Mohammad Rasoulof, Iran, 2009) This latest by the recently jailed Iranian director of Iron Island (2005) is a stark, visually striking allegory whose natural settings (the salt formations of Lake Urmia) could hardly be more surreal. Aging Rahmat (Hasan Pourshirazi) rows his little boat from one tiny island community to another, collecting tears from variably aggrieved locals so they can be absolved of their sins — just how, neither they or we know. During his latest travels he gains a teenaged stowaway, then a blind-struck painter as passengers; witnesses a couple of village rituals that prove fatal for their main participants; and experiences other curious events that scarcely prompt a raised eyebrow from him. As with so much modern Iranian cinema, Mohammad Rasoulof’s film carefully renders its political symbolism so abstract you can dig endlessly for hidden meanings, or simply lose yourself in the hypnotic black-and-white-in-color imagery of black-clad people on bleached landscapes. Fri/23, 6:30 p.m., Kabuki; Sat/24, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki; Sun/25, 8 p.m., PFA. (Dennis Harvey)

Nymph (Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Thailand, 2009) Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Girl cheats on boy with boss. Boy falls in love with tree. So are the broad strokes of Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s jungle-horror, Nymph, a city-to-country romance that deftly weaves strands of urban anomie, sexual dysfunction, and rural mythos into a dreamy, arboreal fantasia. One might be tempted to reference Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (2009) and fellow Thai helmer Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s 2004 breakout, Tropical Malady, as obvious points of reference, but that would derogate the potency and intensity of Ratanaruang’s singular, artistic design. The director of Last Life in the Universe (2003) and Ploy (2007) creates a tropical mise-en-scène that is less cinematic than immersive, developed largely by his use of tight, suspenseful close-ups, fluid camera work (including a 10-minute opening sequence that is practically gymnastic), and a transfixing ambient score. But unlike Tropical Malady, which leveraged much of its second-half’s novelty from overwrought, homoerotic tropes and a condescending nativism, Nymph‘s descent into the jungle is only the beginning of this powerful love story. Fri/23, 9 p.m., Kabuki; Sat/24, 4:30 p.m., Kabuki; April 28, 4:45 p.m., Kabuki. (Erik Morse)

Around a Small Mountain (Jacques Rivette, France/Italy, 2009) Around a Small Mountain (or 36 vues du Pic Saint Loup) is New Wave doyen Jacques Rivette’s return to the whimsy of 1984’s Love on the Ground, another exploration of theater staring eternal demoiselle Jane Birkin. In Mountain, Birkin plays Kate, a prodigal daughter who has returned to her deceased father’s circus after an unspecified trauma forced her into a 15 year absence. En route she encounters Vittorio (Sergio Castellitto), a peripatetic who instantly discovers in Kate a fellow improviser for his acrobatic feats of conversation. In hopes of learning her secret past, Vittorio follows Kate and her shabby troupe from performance to performance through the tiny towns of the Cevennes. Along the way, Rivette treats his audience to a mish-mash of sideshow sketches, enchanting dialogues and haunting soliloquies, all beneath the magical totem of the big top. The film is spellbinding ode to the theatre of everyday life and the actors who prance in and out of its cirque. Fri/23, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki; Sat/24, 4:15 p.m., Kabuki; April 28, 6:30 p.m., PFA. (Morse)

Way of Nature (Nina Hedenius, Sweden, 2008) Save for when Werner Herzog is doing the talking, documentaries about the natural world often benefit from a lack of voiceover narration. Nature’s seasons, cycles, and rhythms provide their own narrative structure, and simply, silently observing what happens can make for fascinating viewing. Nina Hedenius understands this. Her engrossing year-in-the-life portrait of Lisselbäcka Farm in northern Sweden is cut around creatures great and small — horses, cows, goats, chickens, dogs — and their routines. Although humans are part of the bucolic scene Hedenius so meticulously orchestrates (the sound editing is such that the film would be no less immersive if you watched it blindfolded), they are merely supporting actors. After watching, for the fourth time, another gangly offspring leap to its feet, minutes after being born, you start to realize the ways in which our species is quite helpless. If their keepers suddenly passed away, the animals of Lisselbäcka — domesticated though they may be — would probably manage to carry on. The way of nature is instinct, not mastery. Sat/24, 2 p.m., PFA; Sun/25, 3:45 p.m., Kabuki; Mon/26, 1 p.m., Kabuki; April 28, 6:30 p.m., Kabuki. (Matt Sussman)

Between Two Worlds (Vimukthi Jayasundara, Sri Lanka, 2009) Part vision quest, part historical allegory, Vimukthi Jayasundara’s lush and beguiling head-scratcher unfolds like the mutable folktale told between two fishermen in one of the film’s asides. A synopsis would go something like this: an unnamed South Asian man falls from the sky into an unspecified South Asian country (although the Sinhala the actors speak places us in Sri Lanka) under siege by revolutionaries intent on destroying all means of communication and killing any remaining young men. Fleeing a riot-ravaged city he winds up in the countryside where he reconnects with his sister-in-law, and undergoes several mysterious and mystical experiences at a nearby lake. “It’s possible that one can see today what has happened in the past,” cautions an old man to our protagonist, and Jayasundara — with an eye for arresting mise-en-scene, gorgeously photographed by Channa Deshapriya — attempts to offer a way to re-see the traumas of the civil war that ravaged Sri Lanka for over three decades. Like a freshly remembered dream, Between Two Worlds is as stubbornly oblique as it is hard to shake. Sat/24, 6:15 p.m., Kabuki; Sun/25, 9 p.m., Kabuki; Mon/26, 9:15, Kabuki. (Sussman)

Transcending Lynch (Marcos Andrade, Brazil, 2010) Picture it: everyone’s favorite psycho-thriller filmmaker and coffee retailer waxing beatific about peace, love, and “infinite bliss,” his American Spirit–stained teeth frozen in a perma-grin as he extols the virtues of the “unified field” of consciousness. At certain moments in Transcending Lynch, an exploration of infamous auteur David Lynch and his 35-year devotion to transcendental meditation, the director comes across as flakier than the celebrated piecrust at Twin Peaks‘ Double R diner. (At one point he even utters the phrase “Holy jumping George!”) For the irony-soaked, all the TM talk may be a little TMI, but for Lynch the practice is nothing short of the very source of his creative wellspring. Marcos Andrade’s documentary, which follows Lynch on a 2008 Brazilian book tour, won’t offer the mad-genius Eagle Scout’s more rabid followers much new insight. While the movie strives to be meditative, it’s more of an amalgam of trippy travelogue and pitch meeting. Even more frustrating, we get only teasing glimpses of how TM has directly informed and impacted the artist’s work. Lynch may be on the path to universal enlightenment, but when it comes to the man himself, the rest of us ignoramuses are still mostly in the dark. Sat/24, 6:30pm, Kabuki; Mon/26, 9pm, Kabuki; Tues/27, 12:30pm, Kabuki. (Michelle Devereaux)

14-18: The Noise and the Fury (Jean-Françoise Delassus, France/Belgium, 2009) Made for French TV, Jean-Françoise Delassus’ unclassifiable film would be arresting simply for cobbling together seldom-seen archival footage reflecting all aspects of the First World War, from its leaders to its trenches. But he and co-scenarist Isabelle Rabineau have shaped that footage into a narrative driven by the writings of a (fictional) French everyman soldier who somehow manages to survive and serve in most of its major conflicts. The result melds exquisite color tinting, first-person narration, clips from commercial films about the war (by D.W. Griffith and Chaplin as well as European directors), and ambient sound to create a brilliant kind of living history lesson that makes the events of nearly a century ago seem as immediate as yesterday’s. Mon/26, 4:30 p.m., Kabuki; May 1, 2 p.m., Kabuki; May 3, 9 p.m., Kabuki. (Harvey)

The Peddler (Eduardo de la Serna, Lucas Marcheggiano, and Adriana Yurkovich, Argentina, 2009) Daniel Burmeister is a traveling filmmaker. He drives his infirm jalopy from one small Argentine town to the next, hoping to set up camp for a month and make a movie with the locals. He’ll need food, a place to stay, and a camera. Whatever camera they can find. Usually the mayors are easy to convince, because Burmeister is essentially a regional attraction, a one-man circus they know about from the neighboring towns. It’s this strange repurposing of the filmmaking experience that makes the documentary so distinctive and special. And just watching the old man hustle from shot to shot with his bashful actors, working efficiently from one of the handful of scripts he’s been cycling through for years, is an absolute pleasure. Directors Eduardo de la Serna, Lucas Marcheggiano, and Adriana Yurcovich capture the jury-rigged process with unobtrusive admiration and an absence of condescension. As I watched it I kept thinking it was like the soul that was missing from Michel Gondry’s 2008 warmed-over DIY manifesto Be Kind Rewind. Mon/26, 6:30 p.m., PFA; May 1, 12:30 p.m., Kabuki; May 4, 6:30 p.m., Kabuki. (Jason Shamai)

Russian Lessons (Olga Konskaya and Andrei Nekrasov, Russia/Norway/Georgia, 2010) I remember watching the news two summers ago and feeling confused by the details of the Russia-Georgia War, the culmination of a dispute over the territory of South Ossetia. There seemed to be a haziness about who started what. Russian Lessons offers Olga Konskaya and Andrei Nekrasov’s version of what happened that summer and indicts Russian and mainstream international news organizations for exactly that failure to present a satisfactory chronology. Konskaya, a theater director and documentary producer, filmed events as they unfolded on the Northern end of the conflict while Nekrasov, a veteran documentarian, filmed in the South. The result is a collection of interviews with residents of recently bombed Georgian towns, confrontations with Russian soldiers, and investigations of still-smoldering battle sites. The filmmakers spend an equal amount of time scrutinizing source footage from the war and its antecedents, exposing how it was used to mislead the international community. It’s a disturbing and persuasive rebuttal to the Putin administration’s official side of the story. April 28, 3:15 p.m., Kabuki; April 29, 12:30 p.m., Kabuki; May 1, 6:15 p.m., Kabuki. (Shamai)

Restrepo (Tim Hetherington and Sabastian Junger, USA, 2010) Starting mid-’07, journalists-filmmakers Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger spent some 15 months off and on embedded with a U.S. Army platoon in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, a Taliban stronghold with steep, mountainous terrain that could hardly be more advantageous for snipers. Particularly once a second, even more isolated outpost is built, the soldiers’ days are fraught with tension, whether they’re ordered out into the open on a mission or staying put under frequent fire. Strictly vérité, with no political commentary overt or otherwise, the documentary could be (and has been) faulted for not having enough of a “narrative arc” — as if life often does, particularly under such extreme circumstances. But it’s harrowingly immediate (the filmmakers themselves often have to dive for cover) and revelatory as a glimpse not just of active warfare, but of the near-impossible challenges particular to foreign armed forces trying to make any kind of “progress” in Afghanistan. April 30, 3:45 p.m., Kabuki; May 2, 4:15 p.m., PFA; May 4, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki. (Harvey)

Animal Heart (Séverine Cornamusaz, France/Switzerland, 2009) This first feature by Séverine Cornamusaz has a story that would have fit just as well into the cinema of 1920 — or the literature of Thomas Hardy or George Eliot 50 years earlier. Paul (Olivier Rabourdin) is the gruff owner of family lands in the Swiss Alps, raising livestock whom he treats better than wife Rosine (Camille Japy). When he’s forced to hire a seasonal hired hand in the form of Eusebio (Antonio Bull), the easygoing Spaniard’s concern for ailing Rosine incites not Paul’s compassion but his brute jealousy. This elemental triangle set amid the severe elements of its spectacularly shot setting has a suitably blunt (but not crude) power; it leads not where you might expect but to a hard-won fadeout of audacious intimacy. April 30, 4 p.m., Clay; May 2, 9:15 p.m., Clay; May 3, 6 p.m., Kabuki. (Harvey)

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno (Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea, France, 2009) A painstaking craftsman who left nothing to chance, French suspense master Clouzot (1955’s Diabolique, 1953’s The Wages of Fear) decided to push his own envelope a little in 1964. He cast Serge Reggiani as a resort innkeeper who becomes pathologically, paranoically possessive of his gorgeous wife (Romy Schneider). Convincing himself she’s having an affair, he gradually snaps tether — and the film itself would reflect that downward spiral by increasingly illustrating his mental stage in distortive image and sound. Unfortunately, the project also drove Clouzot mad in a way, as his grapplings at a new filmic language ran counter to the kind of creative discipline that normally storyboarded everything within an inch of its life. Shooting endless footage, spending endless money, he finally admitted defeat and abandoned ship. Never completed, the film’s surviving pieces were restored for this absorbing unmaking-of documentary — even if the original clips, daring then but now looking like psychedelic kitsch, suggest Inferno would likely have been no masterpiece but a fascinating, instantly-dated failure. May 2, 1:45 p.m., Kabuki; May 5, 6:15 p.m., Kabuki. (Harvey)

Presumed Guilty (Roberto Hernández and Geoffrey Smith, Mexico, 2009) A fan of true crime TV programming, I all but take for granted that little coda at the end of each episode reminding viewers that the suspects shown are innocent until proven guilty. I sometimes forget that such rights are not the case in all countries, such as in Mexico where the criminal justice system employs a reverse practice requiring the accused to prove themselves innocent. In Presumed Guilty, filmmakers, lawyers, and UC Berkeley students Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete use rarely-seen, up-close footage of the Mexican trial process in their effort to exonerate a young Mexico City street vendor who is falsely accused of murder in 2005. The proceedings, which require the defendant to stand for hours on end and are performed sans jury, is riveting stuff for fans of those A&E true crime shows and is sure to ruffle the feathers of a few sympathetic humanitarians. May 2, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki; May 3, 6:30 p.m., PFA; May 6, 3:15 p.m., Kabuki. (Peter Galvin)

Lebanon (Samuel Maoz, Israel, 2009) “Das Boot in a tank” has been the thumbnail summary of writer-director Samuel Maoz’s film in its festival travels to date, during which it’s picked up various prizes including a Venice Golden Lion. On the first day of Israel’s 1982 invasion (which Maoz fought in), an Israeli army tank with a crew of three fairly green 20-somethings — soon joined by a fourth with even less battle experience — crosses the border, enters a city already halfway reduced to rubble, and promptly gets its inhabitants in the worst possible fix, stranded without backup. Highly visceral and, needless to say, claustrophobic (there are almost no exterior shots), Lebanon may for some echo The Hurt Locker (2009) in its intense focus on physical peril. It also echoes that film’s lack of equally gripping character development. But taken on its own willfully narrow terms, this is a potent exercise in squirmy combat you-are-thereness. May 2, 9 p.m., Kabuki; May 5, 9:30 p.m., Kabuki. (Harvey)

The Day God Walked Away (Philippe van Leeuw, France/Belgium, 2009) Director Philippe Van Leeuw states in the press materials that he made The Day God Walked Away in an attempt to understand how the assassins of the 1994 Rwandan genocide could do what they did and how others could stand by and watch. I walked away from Day with a better understanding of what might draw a person to choose defeatism over an unlikely survival. The film opens as a Tutsi housekeeper (Ruth Nirere) finds herself trapped in her Belgian employers’ house, fearing for her children and surrounded by gun-toting murderers. Light on scripted dialogue and featuring local actors, van Leeuw’s nonintrusive filming lends the film an authentic atmosphere that can be slow but is never boring. In lensing the film’s horrific scenes in a simple and matter-of-fact fashion, he eerily replicates the emotional separation that survivors of the massacre were forced to adopt in order to live. May 3, 6:45 p.m., Clay; May 4, 4 p.m., Kabuki; May 5, 4:15 p.m., Kabuki. (Galvin)

The Practice of the Wild (John J. Healey, USA, 2009) “The way I want to use ‘nature’ is to refer to the whole of the physical universe,” explains the poet Gary Snyder in John J. Healy’s succinct but penetrating documentary on the octogenarian poet, essayist, and environmental activist. Snyder’s expansive definition conjoins the two areas to which he has devoted his life and creative practice to better being at peace with: the terrestrial and the existential. Healey provides the back story — covering Snyder’s farmstead childhood, his discovery of his love for the outdoors, his association with the Beats and later immersion in Zen Buddhism, and his two marriages — told in part through the obligatory scan-and-pan photography and contextual talking heads. The film’s highpoints, however, are the many lively conversations Snyder engages in with his friend and fellow writer Jim Harrison, whose grizzled countenance and chirpy demeanor make him a character in his own right. May 3, 6:45 p.m., Kabuki; May 5, 1:30 p.m., Kabuki. (Sussman)

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, USA, 2010) Whether you’re a fan of its subject or not, Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg’s documentary is an absorbing look at the business of entertainment, a demanding treadmill that fame doesn’t really make any easier. At 75, comedian Rivers has four decades in the spotlight behind her. Yet despite a high Q rating she finds it difficult to get the top-ranked gigs, no matter that as a workaholic who’ll take anything she could scarcely be more available. Funny onstage (and a lot ruder than on TV), she’s very, very focused off-, dismissive of being called a “trailblazer” when she’s still actively competing with those whose women comics trail she blazed for today’s hot TV guest spot or whatever. Anyone seeking a thorough career overview will have to look elsewhere; this vérité year-in-the-life portrait is, like the lady herself, entertainingly and quite fiercely focused on the here-and-now. May 6, 7 p.m., Castro. (Harvey)

THE 53RD SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL runs April 22–May 6 at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post, SF; Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore, SF; Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; and the Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, SF. Tickets (most shows $12.50) are available by calling (925) 866-9559 or by visiting www.sffs.org>.


Join the cult!



SFIFF If you know San Francisco’s cult movie culture, you know Midnight Mass, the Bridge Theatre’s long-running celebration of late-night movies. And if you know Midnight Mass, then you most certainly know Peaches Christ, the event’s fabulously dressed and tressed hostess.

Many local film fans are already hip to the reason Peaches — and her civilian alter ego, Joshua Grannell — declared that 2009 would be the last year for Midnight Mass’ popular summer-weekend series. Grannell just completed his first feature film, All About Evil, about a mousy librarian named Deb (a killer Natasha Lyonne) who blossoms, rather terrifyingly, into a horror filmmaker named “De-bor-ah” after she inherits the Victoria Theatre. Deborah’s frighteningly, er, realistic short films begin drawing crowds to the struggling, single-screen movie house, with teenage horror geek Steven (Thomas Dekker of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) looking on first in admiration, then suspicion. Also along for the ride are some familiar faces from Midnight Mass, including John Waters superstar Mink Stole and Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson.

A perfect fit for San Francisco International Film Festival’s Late Show series, All About Evil makes its world premiere at the fest, though it’ll be screening at the Castro Theatre rather than the Victoria, its central filming location.

“The Castro is just like, how can you not want to be at the Castro?” Grannell said. We were sitting outside of Farley’s on Potrero Hill — not one of Grannell’s usual haunts, but multiple friends of his still happened by. Peaches Christ is well-loved in this town, people. “I definitely didn’t want [the premiere] to be at the Kabuki, mostly because of what the movie is about. I think they’ve done a nice job with the Kabuki, but I was writing the movie while living and breathing at the [single-screen] Bridge.”

And lest ye forget, the Castro has a glorious stage. The SFIFF screening will be “like Midnight Mass,” Grannell explained. “But because it’s gonna be the world premiere and I have access to some of the cast, we’re actually incorporating them into the show. Natasha will be there and will do the Q&A. Mink is doing a number with me, and Thomas is doing his own rock number with all the young cast. Which is kind of unique — when do you get to go to a movie, and the cast is doing a show before the screening?”

Of course, Peaches Christ, who has a pretty delightful cameo in the film, will also host. “It’s kind of a marrying of Midnight Mass with All About Evil,” Grannell said. “And it’s kind of a surreal moment for me. We’ve spent 13 years creating live entertainment to celebrate all my favorite movies and now we get to do it for our own movie.”

Fortunately, the celebration isn’t going to be limited to one night. After SFIFF, Peaches and company plan to hit the road, taking the film and a scaled-down version of their live show to different venues (Austin, Texas’ Alamo Drafthouse is tops on the list). Grannell said that All About Evil will also have a limited theatrical release (playing midnight circuits, of course). For faithful locals, he’s giving the Victoria its due later this year.

“I thought, what are we gonna do in San Francisco? The world premiere doesn’t seem like enough. So we’re going to do a run with a full stage show in October,” he said. “We’re calling it ‘environmental theater,’ where we transform the Victoria back to the character it plays in the movie. I kind of think of it as a haunted house, where the characters will be interacting with you as you walk through the doors.”

Grannell is a huge cult movie fan, and his movie clearly references that. But he’d rather you didn’t call his movie a cult film just yet.

“[If All About Evil became a cult movie], that would be a dream come true. But it’s not that yet. There’s a long, long way to go, and only a few movies become that, truly,” he said. “But it’s sort of frustrating: ‘New cult movie All About Evil to have its world premiere!’ It’s like, how can it be a cult movie? Nobody’s seen it yet! I’m hoping that maybe someday I can go see All About Evil at someone else’s Midnight Mass. Someone else’s midnight series. Because then it’s really pure. Cause then it’s like, wow.”


May 1, 10:45 p.m.


429 Castro, SF


The O word



VISUAL ART There is no doubt that “James Castle: A Retrospective” is a treasure trove. On view at the Berkeley Art Museum, this comprehensive gathering of the self-taught artist’s many and varied works would be utterly overwhelming if its many miniature pieces and slight changes of form and approach didn’t encourage a certain freedom on the viewer’s part. In this regard it’s quite different from the recent traveling Joseph Cornell retrospective that had a stay at SFMOMA, where in a single viewing Cornell’s box constructions quickly became exhausting to engage with due to the sheer relentless volume and repetition of the presentation.

Cornell’s name is a charged one to evoke in relation to Castle, because just as one could — though perhaps few writers do — draw comparisons between the artistic themes and tactics of Cornell’s art and the art of Henry Darger, Castle also shares some traits with Cornell (and, in turn, with Darger). In the realm of Castle, it is helpful to flip the script so to speak, and see that whereas Cornell is renowned for his boxes, Castle frequently turned box material — cardboard — into imaginative open space. Of course, a certain invisible wall separates, or separated, the eccentric but successful Cornell from Darger, who toiled in near-absolute obscurity and isolation, and from Castle, a deaf man who created at home in a familial farm environment with little public recognition until late in his life.

Which brings us to the word outsider, ever-present in art-speak during Darger’s 1990s rise to posthumous cult stardom, yet curiously absent from the majority of writing about Castle. To be sure, notions of outsider art far predate Darger, even if he has become its best-known recent representative. Roger Cardinal’s book Outsider Art, first published in the U.S. in 1972, catalogs its definition of the term, with an emphasis on outré words such as madness and primitive, and a focus on violent creative forces such as Adolf Wölfli. With the coronation (however rightful) of Darger, it’s as if outsider art became cuter, with even Darger’s romantic and gender-bent view of little girls discussed in relative terms of endearment. Kid gloves, as it were — since Darger was so thorough an outsider, locked in imagination instead of literal action, he was safe.

No such illegal undercurrent runs through Castle’s work, even if, like Cornell and Darger (and a plethora of artists and other human beings today) he recreates pop images of childhood and innocence. But the measured focus of the meticulous and valuable discourse around Castle’s work — traits shared by Tom Trusky’s biography James Castle: His Life & Art; Jeffrey Wolf’s documentary of the same year, James Castle: Portrait of an Artist; and editor-writer Ann Percy’s monograph for the Castle retrospective — risks the creation of an overtly (perhaps the t should be subtracted from that last word) self-aware viewpoint. The evidence is in the flatness of the titles. If Castle is to claim a rightful place among great American 20th-century artists, here’s to future dialogue about him that allows for the same irreverence and uncensored opinion afforded those who were wined and dined and made megabucks. In addition, he could be spoken of in the same breath as talents as disparate as Darger and Wölfli in a manner that rescues outsider art from shame-based erasure.

The aforementioned o word doesn’t appear until the halfway point of James Castle: A Retrospective, which also rejects the idea of Castle as folk artist. (Interesting, since Darger’s commercial apex has occurred with New York folk museum realms.) Even then, it’s placed within conversational quote marks by the painter Terry Winters. Encouragingly, Winters later flips the notion and mentions “insider” art, a notion that probably is intended in commercial terms, but could just as easily signify those artists whose creative life has an inbuilt insularity. For now, the atmospheric and perhaps emotional darkness of so many of Castle’s soot-and-spit works is in the light, and it would be an honest mistake to view those works as cute. His books, assemblages, and drawings are as complicated as the people they render, and possess as many open doors as the houses or homes they depict. 


Through Sun/25, $5-$8 (members and children under 12 free)

Berkeley Art Museum

2626 Bancroft, Berk.


Bring it back?


UPDATE: Oh dear, the Talvin Singh show’s been cancelled. More Volcano fallout? Hopefully he’ll be back soon, tablas in hand.


SUPER EGO One thing I’ve noticed recently, with equal parts pleasure and mind-warping “oh jeez”-ness, has been the unashamed use of the terms electronica and trip-hop in party promotions. I know we’re in a moment of total 1990s nostalgia — and, yikes, rap-rock was the byword at Coachella, according to the New York Times — but can we finally chuff off the wallpaper blahs of these musty genres and renew them? This week sees a plethora of well-known older acts like Talvin Singh, Bonobo, Signal Path, and Bluetech coming to town — all with live instrumentation. Maybe the moment to reshine has arrived, live? Ping me when DJ Shadow steps up with the Dap-Kings or Boards of Canada melts into Mastodon. Or Owl City grows some Orbs.



It’ll be tablatastic when the British legend, who laced drum and bass with acoustic Asian-flavored classical effects (and took Indian dance music out of the bhangra and into the digital) with seminal album OK in 1998, brings his live act to town. Yes, he’s calling his sound tablatronica, and, yes, he has invented an electronic instrument called the Tablatronic. The future is here again. Tabla!

Wed/21, 8 p.m., $25. Bimbo’s 365 Club, 1025 Columbus, SF. www.bimbos365club.com



Montana — known for its live electronic musicians? For the past decade and change, Missoula duo Signal Path have been representing with a bop-worthy blend of live instrumentation and “computer-generated production.” (Think all kinds of wired hijinks plus live drums and guitar.) The effect is surprisingly free of pretension, almost jam-bandish, but without all that twirling patchouli. They’ll be joined by energetic SF groovers MO2 — no relation to Montana.

Thu/22, 9 p.m., $10. Boom Boom Room, 1601 Fillmore, SF. www.boomboomblues.com



One thing about the last decade’s electro-filter explosion — the music may not survive, but future anthropologists will forever be puzzled by the profusion of masked DJs. Italian duo Bloody Beetroots are among the few big names standing in terms of ear-splitting squelch and spangle (and their original Bizarro Spider Man masks are still de rigueur), perhaps by expanding their onslaught to include quiet moments of finely sculpted beauty — and a live drummer. Plus, they quote Baudelaire on the MySpace.

Thu/22, 9 p.m., $20. The Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. www.theindependentsf.com



I’ve seen trip-hopper Bonobo several times in his DJ guise, and while he pushes all the right sonic buttons for a toke-tastic night of bass-heavy sway, it always seemed his mind was more on mental trips than dance-floor hips. On new album Black Sands, he’s added live horns, strings, vocals, and percussion that allow his more cerebral compositions to take on fuller force and rumble. He’ll hit Mezzanine with the whole works.

Fri/23, 9 p.m., $25. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.blasthaus.com



Set on expanding his musical palette beyond mere laptopping, Hawaii’s ambient wizard Bluetech has gone live with his new band Satori Social, adding a vocals, flute, horns, and percussion to his mellow glitching. Can a Burner-heavy crowd vibe on a little jazzy soul and reggae-ish sunshine? Whatever the answer, the question-wrestling should be a joy to watch and hear. Contempo Brit dubber Ott and hometown acid-crunky an-ten-nae open up.

Fri/23, 10 p.m.- 4 a.m., $15. 103 Harriet, SF. www.1015.com



Oh dear and good goddess, they’re back. DJs Adrian and the Mysterious D are two of our finest exports, delivering genre-defying bootlegs and monster mashups to needy hordes from Budapest to Hong Kong. They’re back from roving the world on a giant tour to helm once again their little famous party, Bootie, here at home. Will they be bringing back any Finnish death rock to pervert?

Sat/24, 9 p.m., $12. DNA Lounge, 375 11th St., SF. www.bootiesf.com



More striking disco re-edits on the scene, this time coming from Austin, Texas — and, oddly, from a member of the Fully Fitted crew that includes ho-hum hipster-electroids Amanda Blank and Pase Rock. Don’t let that scare you away. If you’re into warm, red classics made warmer and redder and no neon posing, Prince Klassen (not to be confused with Prince Language, the NYC re-edit master) can provide. Disco love is a drug.

Sat/24, 9 p.m.- 3 a.m., $5. Deco Lounge, 510 Larkin, SF. www.decosf.com *

La Trappe



DINE Trappist monasteries are renowned for their contemplative silences, during dinner in particular, as well as for their beer-brewing. To get a sense of how these conflicting tendencies work themselves out in the great world, all you need to do is step into La Trappe Cafe, which could be the city’s only Belgian restaurant and whose signage describes it as a “Trappist lounge.” If this is true, it’s certainly in the beer sense and not the silent sense. Of course, beer does not conduce to silence, especially in the young — at least not right away — and La Trappe is nothing if not a haven for the young. And it’s in North Beach! North Beach has young people, tons of them, not just aging Italian tailors. They come pouring through the door in groups of two, three, and more and head immediately downstairs.

Downstairs is where the action is at La Trappe. Upstairs, on the main floor, is a perfectly nice North Beach storefront restaurant with lots of windows and an exhibition kitchen. But descend the curvy stairway and you find yourself in a moodily lit realm that’s like a cross between a speakeasy and a medieval monastery — only louder. St. Benedict, the sixth-century figure whose rules guided Trappist monks from their beginnings in 17th-century Normandy, surely would not be pleased by the din. But he might well approve of the many varieties of beer on offer; some of the labels, such as Chimay (brewed by “pères Trappistes”), are among Belgium’s best-known exports.

How different is Belgian food from Dutch food or, for that matter, German food? The potato plays an outsize role in all these cuisines. In Belgium, the spud is turned into glorious fries, served with mayonnaise for dipping (a hint there of French influence, about which more anon), and La Trappe’s version ($6) of this national dish is beautifully rendered. The fries are properly ectomorphic, with sturdy, crunchy exteriors and voluptuous, creamy insides. That are served in the traditional paper cone along with two dipping sauces of your choice. These range widely and include several kinds of mayo (regular, wasabi, Dijon) as well as curry ketchup, which will be familiar to aficionados of the German treat Currywurst and is quite gingery — an index of freshness, I would say.

Belgium, though small, is an interestingly fractured land. The capital city, Brussels, is mainly French-speaking, while in the more northerly city of Antwerp the dominant tongue is Flemish, a language related to Dutch and Low German. La Trappe describes its asparagus ($8) as prepared “Flemish style,” and this means the spears are steamed, then sprinkled with what looks like a light snowfall of grated Parmesan but is in fact shredded hard-boiled egg. I would have preferred the cheese. The egg added nothing to what is one of the most prized vegetables in French cuisine.

But such blips are a rarity at La Trappe. The food is solid and satisfying across a broad range that runs from California familiars like calamari salad ($10), dotted with halved cherry tomatoes and dressed with a red-wine vinaigrette subtly sweetened, I thought, with a dash of balsamic, to Belgian dishes such as Oostend fish gratin ($12), which looked like a small shepherd’s pie: a crust of melted cheese atop mussels and chunks of cod swimming in béchamel sauce. One of its near relatives has to be macaroni and cheese, with seafood substituting here for the pasta.

In a city of bad burgers, La Trappe’s ($11) is exceptional. The menu card announces that the beef is grass-fed and organic, from Marin Sun Farms, and usually I would interpret these proclamations of virtue as a warning that the burger will turn out to be dry and tasteless. But not here. If you order it medium-rare, you’ll get it that way, with a well-seared crust around a succulent, rosy core. Add a slice of Gouda on top ($1.50) and have the brioche bun, and you might be holding the best burger in town, certainly one of them. The fries are probably superfluous, since you’ve almost certainly had a coneful or two as a starting nibble, but they’re also irresistible.

The dessert menu contains at least one item of genuine interest, a parfait ($6) layered with strawberries, whipped cream, and pulverized Belgian biscuits our server likened to ginger snaps. You even get a whole biscuit so you can see what it looks like in its pre-pulverized form. By order of St. Benedict?


Dinner: Tues.–Sat., 6–11 p.m.

800 Greenwich, SF

(425) 440-8727


Beer and wine


Deafening downstairs

Tricky wheelchair access


That po’ boy



CHEAP EATS There is something pretty exquisite about being stood up by a date. When I find out what it is, I’ll be sure to let you know. Meanwhile, you’ll just have to take my word for it. Words.

The stander-upper was someone I’d bonked back before I accidentally fell in love with whatsername. We’d had a long coffee date that turned into a long walk in the park that turned into making out for a long time on a park bench, which of course turned into going to the grocery store to buy pork.

And a bottle of wine.

Now, I had a very strict policy back then of never having sex with someone on a first date. I have since added an amendment forbidding me to have more than one date with a person in a single day. Because somewhere between the pork and the wine we determined that since we’d driven separate cars from the grocery store to my house, this dinnery business was technically our second date.

So, yes, sex happened. Then, like a lot of guys who sleep with me once, he became obsessed with two seemingly contradictory thoughts: how to sleep with me again, and how to never ever, under any circumstances, sleep with me again. Thus he would e-mail me every other night: He had to see me immediately or else, as I read it, his hair would catch on fire and his penis would rocket away from his body, through the roof of his house, into outer space, and then back down into the atmosphere where of course it too would be consumed in flames and therefore ruined.

Not wanting that, I would cancel whatever plans were cluttering my calendar and we’d make a date — which he would cancel at the last minute because his mom had a tumor, or his car blew up, or his son or sister (or in many cases both) had been taken aboard an alien spacecraft and needed everyone’s prayers for a while.

I’m a trusting sort, and pretty patient, I think, but after 60 times I told this cat to get lost. Instead, he went into therapy. So I got lost. In Germans and Germany and so forth. Well, around the time things were busting apart for me there, I got another e-mail from him here saying he can’t stop thinking about me, he can’t believe he blew it with me, he’s gotten his shit together finally and wondered if I would give him another chance.

The man is tall. Very tall. So tall that I can wear four-inch heels and still only come up to his chin. For the first time in nine months, I wrote back. I said I was a broken woman, that I was coming home, and that eventually I would have coffee with him. That that was all we would have this time. No pork.

So we did, eventually, have our second first date — just coffee — and then, even more eventually, a very nice and only slightly less platonic dinner date, which ended with a soft, sweet kiss in his car.

It was our third (or in other words, fifth) date when he stood me up. And as I sat there waiting at my for-real favorite restaurant, Just For You, listening to live violin music, I decided that being stood up was pretty exquisite, maybe because it implies just dating, which implies uncertainty — and then when you finally give up and place your order, and the waitressperson as-discreetly-as-possible clears away that other place setting … then you do know. It’s decided, done, or over before it started, and sad, yes — but it’s a delicious sadness, because you still get to eat.

As I drenched my fried oyster po’boy in Crystal hot sauce, which somehow seemed even more romantic than violins, I decided that even if he was in the hospital having heart attacks, I would not give this tall man another “another chance.”

Three days later I finally heard from him. By e-mail. He’d been in the hospital, having heart attacks. Hopes I’ll still see him.

That same day eating with Last Straw’s childerns at Sunflower, Larkstraw, age 10, who aspires to be a writer, asked how long I’d been writing about restaurants, how much I get paid, do I ever write about the same place more than once, and if so, why?

“Any excuse I can find,” I said. Happy 20-Year Anniversary to: 


Mon.–Fri. 7:30 a.m.– 9 p.m.; Sat.–Sun. 8 a.m. – 3 p.m.

732 22nd St., S.F.

(510) 647-3033


Beer and wine


Rolling forward


By Adrian Castañeda


San Francisco’s Potrero del Sol Skatepark is often packed with skaterboarders, a testament to the sport’s popularity and to the dearth of places in the city where it’s legal to skate. But that will soon change with the city’s commitment to build two new skateparks: one in SoMa and the other in the Haight.

Both have been tentatively approved by the Board of Supervisors. But before any concrete is poured, the skaters will have to overcome budget crises, angry homeowners, and their own bad reputations, particularly in the Haight, where the proposed park has gotten caught up in the furor over vagrants and the proposed sit-lie ordinance.

San Francisco has long been a skateboarding hub, yet there’s always been friction with police, businesses, and everyday city life. Even though it’s legal, there just aren’t that many places to do it anymore, partially because the city and property owners routinely attach barriers to any surfaces that might be appealing to skaters.

Skateboarders, long accustomed to being ignored and disenfranchised, have responded in their usual DIY fashion, such as building a few obstacles in an empty parking lot under a freeway overpass. The city took notice of the demand and after three years of planning and meetings, the newest of San Francisco’s skate parks has finally been allotted the necessary funds to begin construction around the end of summer.

The Central Freeway Skate Park will be located in what is now a parking lot at the intersection of Duboce and Stevenson streets in the north Mission District area. With $2 million collected through the Central Freeway Corridor Housing and Transportation Improvement Act of 1999, which provides for the sale and lease of parcels of city land that were under the now-demolished freeway, officials plan to develop the park to eventually include basketball courts and a dog run.

Rich Hillis of the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development said the city is considering a variety of improvements, but confirmed that “we think the skate park is the priority.” He attributes the park’s relatively unopposed approval to the demands of the city’s skaters and to the community as a whole. “They embraced the idea of a skatepark early on,” Hillis said of the forward-thinking residents of the area. He jokingly adds that the park should be named “Hornbeck Park” after Bryan Hornbeck, director of the San Francisco Skateboard Association. Hornbeck and his associates started the SFSA to push the city to build new parks designed with skaters in mind.

“San Francisco has to have a world-class skatepark,” Hornbeck said at one of the many skate events his group organizes. Hornbeck said the city has been receptive, working with skaters on the design of the park, but left SFSA to organize skaters and raise the funds. “It’s bake sale; it’s lemonade stand; it’s the best we can do,” Hornbeck said. “We’re not trying to take anything, we’re trying to make our own thing.”

Plans for the park, drawn up by notable skatepark design firm New Line Skateparks, are currently under review by civil engineers. After the plans are finalized, the project will be bid out to find a contractor. Tentative 3-D renderings have been online for months, sparking heated debate on skateboarding Web sites.

When the acclaimed Potrero del Sol Skatepark opened in 2008, many skaters felt that while it was well-designed and enjoyable, it didn’t have enough terrain that mimicked street riding. New Line has designed a number of skating plazas, most recently in Los Angeles. Its involvement gives many skaters hope that the new park will incorporate obstacles that represent the city’s rich street skating history.

But things are not moving as swiftly for the city’s other planned skate park, just beyond where Waller dead-ends at Stanyan in the Haight, which doesn’t have the same guaranteed funding stream. While bids for a design have been submitted, the Recreation and Park Department needs to get approval for $1 million–$2 million in construction funds before moving forward. The city proposed the 120,000-square-foot cul-de-sac at the end of Waller and next to SFPD’s Park Station after the original site near the Golden Gate Park horseshoe pits was found to be too small and lacking the necessary sight-lines for safety. But according to some residents groups, the parking lot is less safe for youths.

Citing police incident reports, Lena Emmery, president of the Cole Valley Improvement Association, told us the Waller park would be in an area with a high number of reported assaults and drug arrests and would add to noise pollution. “This location puts a skateboard park too close to a dense residential area, as well as some businesses that would be negatively impacted by the noise from the skaters,” she wrote via e-mail.

While the lot is occasionally used for bicycle safety classes and overflow parking at Kezar Stadium, it sits empty most of the year, although a farmers market will hold its grand opening there April 28. Will Keating, a Waller Street resident and skateboarder who works on Haight Street, is excited about the proposed park. He disagrees with claims that the park would be a negative impact on his neighborhood. “I hear homeless mutants going crazy outside my window every night, I would much prefer skateboards,” Keating said of the current noise pollution.

The Haight Ashbury Improvement Association, which is leading the charge for a sit-lie ordinance, conducted a survey on its Web site and found that many of its visitors feel the skatepark would increase noise and safety problems in the Haight. Visitors to the site also said the lot would be better used as a farmers market. Yet city officials say the two are not mutually exclusive, and early designs for the project are said to include a large public plaza adjacent to the park intended for community events.

“We realize this is going to be a multiuse space,” said Nick Kinsey, property manager for the Recreation and Park Department. “Throughout San Francisco there are thousands and thousands of skateboarders but only two places where it is legal to skate.” Kinsey called the park is “a done deal,” citing a 2007 ordinance introduced by Sup. Ross Mirkarimi that mandates the department build a skatepark on the cul-de-sac.

Kent Uyehara, merchant chair for the HAIA and owner of FTC skateshop on Haight, said the community’s fears about pedestrian safety are understandable, but that fears of increased violence and drug use are irrational. “If you can’t have a skate park next to a police station, then basically you are saying you can’t have it.”

If the city enacts the sit-lie ordinance, which Uyehara supports, it would be easy to imagine that a skate park would be a magnet for homeless and others looking to escape police harassment. But Uyehara is adamant that the park would not become a haven for Haight Street refugees. “Skateboarders self-police their own areas,” he said. “We’re not trying to kick the homeless out,” he added. “We’re trying to make the neighborhood attractive for everyone, whether they’re buying something or not.”

Uyehara is no stranger to opposition. When his shop first moved to the Haight in 1994, he had to deal with threats from residents and a neighborhood organization, similar to the one he is now a part of, because of what skateboarding represented to them. Since then skateboarding and his business have prospered, and FTC now has four locations worldwide. “For a city that hosted the X-Games, it’s pathetic how skateboarding has been treated.”

Uyehara says the Waller park, along with the Central Freeway and Potrero del Sol parks, are part of a plan developed by the San Francisco Skate Task Force, created in 2002 by then-Sup. Gavin Newsom to address the growing friction between the city and its skateboard population. The task force envisioned “a series of five parks located in a star pattern, and one in the middle of the city, [that] would make it possible for users to easily get to a park within at least two miles of their home.”

All the meetings and fundraising will be in vain if the park is poorly designed and built, said Jake Phelps, editor-in-chief of Thrasher Magazine. He says locals should design the park “so we have no one to blame but ourselves,” and avoid another flawed park like Crocker Amazon in Sunnydale where, he says, “the fence costs more than the skatepark.” Unimpressed with preliminary designs for the park on Duboce, the notoriously blunt Phelps says, “They’re going to come to our town, drop a turd, and leave.”

The veteran skater is wary of “landscape designers” with grandiose ideas. “There are people who get too involved. They don’t skate. Who are they to tell anybody what it is?” Newer skateparks are too crowded with obstacles trying to please all different kinds of skaters, he said. Instead, he urges a simple design similar to the streets of downtown. “The whole idea of skating is being utilitarian with your environment.” Regardless of the design, he believes it won’t have a dramatic effect on the Haight community: “Homeless people are gonna sleep there,” he said. “People are gonna tag on it and think it’s theirs.”

“The whole city’s a park, but people need somewhere to go when they get kicked out of everywhere,” says pro skater Tony Trujillo, who is able to skate to the Potrero park from his house and thinks others should have the same proximity to hassle-free skating. Julien Stranger, another local pro, feels a park in the Haight would benefit youth in the area by giving them a healthy, creative outlet, something the Haight symbolizes to many. “I don’t think that the neighborhood should be complaining about the energy a skate park will bring,” he said. “Skate parks are pretty positive.”

Earlier this month, an informational meeting hosted by the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council, Kinsey, Hornbeck, and other residents raised concerns that noise pollution and property damage would increase because of the skate park. “There’s been no public outreach,” said Martha Hoffman, who lives across from where the park is slated to be built. “If we’d known about it sooner, we would have opposed earlier.”

Thuy Nguyen of the SF Skate Club, an after-school program that promotes skateboarding as a safe and positive activity, urged residents to look beyond their property values and consider the benefits for the city’s youth. “It’s important for kids who feel that traditional sports aren’t for them.” Her partner, Shawn Connolly, added that skateboarding has grown in popularity with children. “It’s right after baseball,” he said.

“If the city doesn’t have a skatepark, the city is the skatepark,” Hornbeck said of the Waller Street lot where he often hosts skate events with donated ramps to ease the community into the idea of skateboarders using the area. But until the city budget can provide for skateboarders, the debate over the park will rage — and the underused parking lot at the end of Waller will remain just that.

The inside angle



Josh Wolf’s second spell in the hot seat — and other penalties brought down against independent journalists documenting California’s defiant student movement — raise some important questions about the freedom of the press at civil disobedience protests.

Wolf, a student at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, faces a possible academic suspension for violating the student conduct code during a Nov. 20 student occupation of a campus lecture hall. But Wolf says he was there to document the moment as a reporter.

Brandon Jourdan, an independent journalist who was also inside the hall with Wolf, now faces his own set of misdemeanor charges after capturing footage of a March 4 student protest that broke onto a West Oakland freeway. And David Morse, a journalist and Indybay collective member who reported on a raucous Dec. 11 protest at the UC Berkeley chancellor’s residence, is now fighting the seizure of his camera and a search warrant issued by UC police for his unpublished photographs — something the First Amendment Project maintains is in violation of state law.

The footage that Wolf and Jourdan took on Nov. 20 and March 4 captured police use of physical force against protesters and documented the widely publicized actions from unique perspectives. The reports were broadcast on Democracy Now!, a popular independent news program that airs nationally on satellite television stations, public access channels, and online.

The gutsy camerapersons aren’t the first to face criminal charges. After nine reporters followed several hundred protesters seeking to block construction of the Black Fox Nuclear Power Plant onto private property in June 1979 and were arrested, an Oklahoma court of appeals ruled the First Amendment guaranteed them no immunity from prosecution for trespassing.

“That makes the position of a journalist very difficult, in areas where demonstrators are essentially exercising civil disobedience to make a point,” notes Terry Francke, executive director of Californians Aware, a watchdog organization focused on First Amendment issues. “There’s no free pass for journalists in the crowd recording what’s going on. Their principled position would presumably be yes, like [protesters] risk arrest and consequences for the greater good, they’d risk the same for the sake of giving the public … a close-up picture of what it’s like to be in those circumstances.”

Without that journalistic witness, “When you hear stories about what went on in the middle of a police and demonstrators’ confrontation … you’ll have two irreconcilable versions, from only directly interested parties,” Francke points out.

There’s been no shortage recently of civil disobedience on California college campuses, where operations have been ravaged by budget cuts. The Nov. 20 occupation was staged early in the morning at Wheeler Hall, when students barricaded themselves inside to protest a 32 percent fee hike imposed by the UC Board of Regents. While most reporters gathered outside the building or flew over in helicopters, Wolf was inside, and he’s the only student to claim being there in a journalistic capacity. He says he wore a police-issued press badge.

Wolf, a video journalist, enjoys a sort of celebrity status because he spent 226 days in jail after resisting a subpoena to testify before a federal grand jury. It started when he shot a film of a 2005 protest in San Francisco, which police tried to obtain because they believed it could help them pinpoint demonstrators who vandalized a police car and injured an officer. Since the case was pursued at the federal level, he was unable to invoke California’s shield law protecting journalists from being compelled to reveal unpublished material.

Democracy Now! aired a lengthy report of the Nov. 20 occupation featuring footage that the two embedded reporters had captured from the interior of Wheeler, coproduced by David Martinez. Show host Amy Goodman specifically named Wolf as a co-contributor when the report aired.

Now Wolf is facing a possible seven-month suspension by the campus Center for Student Conduct, which charges him with violating the student conduct code on multiple counts. “Their perspective is that I am a student and that I am a journalist,” Wolf explained. “My responsibility is no different from anyone else’s in there, and therein, my punishment should be reflective of that of everyone else.” Wolf said he had the backing of the journalism school, which confirmed to the Guardian that the dean wrote a letter of support for Wolf.

David Morse, 42, is a journalist who has covered hundreds of Bay Area protests on Indybay, an online news site that spotlights grassroots movements and protests. In a motion filed against UCPD, the First Amendment Project charges that Morse was arrested and had his camera seized Dec. 11 despite repeating six times that he was a journalist and displaying a press pass. “They told me, ‘You have a camera, we want your camera,'<0x2009>” Morse recounted. The next morning, as reports of angry, torch-wielding students storming the chancellor’s home and smashing windows made headlines, Morse was still sitting in jail in Santa Rita. “My voice as an eyewitness was completely silenced,” he said. His charges were dropped, but now he is challenging the search warrant to get his memory discs back.

When the police department sought a search warrant for Morse’s unpublished photos, they didn’t mention that he had identified as a journalist, the FAP charges. The legal nonprofit filed a motion to quash the warrant on grounds that it violates a provision in the penal code barring search warrants for journalistic work products, invoking the state shield law.

Jourdan, meanwhile, faces five misdemeanor charges after filming the March 4 freeway protest and subsequent police response, which many have characterized as excessive. (In one clip, an officer can be seen striking an individual who doesn’t appear to be resisting with a baton.) He was arrested along with two other videographers who also face criminal infractions. Footage Jourdan and Martinez captured from March 4 aired on Democracy Now!, and Jourdan’s report was also featured as a lead story on the Huffington Post. Jourdan says he wore press credentials.

“It’s unfair for them to file charges against me when they’ve dropped charges against others,” Jourdan said. The Oakland Police Department confirmed to the Guardian that Jourdan had been charged with crimes such as unlawful assembly and obstruction of a thoroughfare, but did not respond to a message asking what set him apart from other reporters.

Jourdan, who has also contributed to Reuters, The New York Times, and other outlets, has managed to capture a variety of similar events on film, including Amy Goodman’s arrest during protests outside the Republican National Convention in 2009. “Barely a month goes by that some lawyer isn’t calling me up trying to get footage of some one getting beat up,” he said. But he maintains that documenting these intense moments is crucial, not for resolving disputes, but to document these moments in history.

Reporters from mainstream television news programs toting bulky cameras were also filming on the freeway, but were allowed to leave. Guardian news intern Jobert Poblete and multimedia producer Cameron Burns with UC Berkeley’s Daily Californian were arrested on the freeway too, but their charges were later dropped after state Sen. Leland Yee intervened. “Journalists are generally provided greater access to cover news stories than other members of the public,” Yee wrote in a letter to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. “Unfortunately, law enforcement did not provide such leeway in this case.”

Adam Keigwin, Yee’s chief of staff, said the senator’s office got involved on behalf of the Guardian and the Daily Cal because he knew those publications. “We just need to know more about this,” Keigwin said. “Once credentialed media is present, it’s the senator’s perspective that journalists should have the right to cover these things and should not be charged.”

But when asked if there is a deficiency in state law since that right doesn’t technically exist, Keigwin responded, “This may be something we should consider.”

Driving up the cost of housing


By Jobert Poblette


GREEN CITY If you think living in the Bay Area is expensive, think about what it would be like if you didn’t have access to public transportation. A new report by Chicago-based think tank Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) considers just that problem, offering a new way of understanding just what constitutes affordable housing.

The CNT report — dubbed the Housing and Transportation (H+T) Affordability Index (www.htaindex.cnt.org) — maps housing affordability for 337 metropolitan areas and provides before-and-after snapshots that show how affordability changes when transportation costs are taken into account.

Affordable housing is usually defined as consuming 30 percent or less of a household’s income, but CNT proposes a redefinition. Under CNT’s new definition, housing is only considered affordable if the sum of housing and transportation costs constitutes 45 percent or less of household income. That redefinition would have dramatic effects on the Bay Area’s affordability picture.

Many communities in the region that would have been considered affordable under the old definition — including large swaths of Hayward, Marin County, Sacramento, and Stockton — would be unaffordable under the new standard. And San Francisco, well served by public transit, would be deemed a lot more affordable.

The difference that smart planning and public transportation make can be huge, especially for households already feeling the pinch of a weak economy. According to CNT, transportation costs in “location efficient” neighborhoods — its term for “compact, mixed-use communities with a balance of housing, jobs, and stores, and easy access to transit” — can be as low as 12 percent of a household’s budget versus up to 32 percent for less efficient neighborhoods where residents must drive to jobs and services.

For example, CNT calculated an annual transportation cost difference of $2,780 between Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood, which it calls “compact,” and the city of Antioch, which it considers “dispersed.”

CNT says “location efficiency” in development can translate to big savings. According to its report, if 50 percent of new growth in the Bay Area occurs in compact rather than dispersed neighborhoods, the region could collectively save more than $1.1 billion in transportation costs.

Besides reducing a community’s environmental impact and improving residents’ quality of life, the report argues that things like walkability, proximity to jobs and services, and efficient public transportation help make an area more livable and affordable. The report also raises questions about the wisdom of cutting public transportation, especially in a period when many households are being forced out of their homes.

CNT hopes that its analysis will lead to more awareness for policy makers and more transparency for consumers. “What we’re looking for is a new definition of affordability, transportation cost disclosures for consumers, and incentives to build more compact communities around transit,” CNT spokesperson Nicole Gotthelf told us.

Gotthelf said the Bay Area has been at the forefront of this issue, specifically mentioning the work of the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the agency that plans, coordinates, and finances transportation in the nine counties that make up the region. “They’ve been actively trying to understand the housing and transportation trade-offs for Bay Area households.”

In turn, MTC offered support for the principles behind the CNT study. “We agree that it is good policy to promote the development of affordable housing at or near transit hubs,” MTC spokesperson John Goodwin told the Guardian.

In its “Transportation 2035 Plan for the San Francisco Bay Area,” which outlines how the agency will spend $218 billion in transportation funds over the next 25 years, MTC even sets out a goal of “decreas[ing] by 10 percent the combined share of low-income and lower-middle-income residents’ household income consumed by transportation and housing.”

Goodwin told us the agency is committed to smart growth principles: “The Bay Area is not unique, but I think the Bay Area is part of a vanguard … We are among the leading metro areas in making this a policy priority, and I feel confident in saying that this priority will continue to be affirmed.”

Goodwin pointed to the agency’s Transportation for Livable Communities (TLC) program, which is designed to promote development that “revitalizes central cities and older suburbs, supports and enhances public transit, promotes walking and bicycling, and preserves open spaces and agricultural lands.” Now in its 12th year, the TLC program has helped fund scores of transportation-related and affordable housing projects.

The MTC also administers the Housing Incentive Program, which “rewards communities … when they successfully promote high-density housing and mixed-use developments at transit stops to support transit use.” The program provides up to $3 million in grants to local governments that partner with developers to build housing near transit hubs.

Conversely, the agency also won’t approve funding for new transit stops that aren’t in dense areas. The thresholds require a minimum number of housing units within a half-mile radius of new transit stops, from 750 units for new ferry terminals to 3,850 units for new BART stations.

But the MTC’s efforts represent only one part of the equation. Goodwin said that coordination is key. “What we have here in the Bay Area is that decisions about transportation funding — for the most part — are conducted at the regional level, while land-use decisions are made at the local level. So it requires coordination between regional agencies like MTC and local cities and counties.”

In spite of the MTC’s efforts, huge problems plague the region. Housing costs in the Bay Area are among the highest in the nation. A recent report conducted by the Urban Land Institute — based on research conducted by CNT — found that, on average, Bay Area households spent $41,420 a year on housing and transportation, a whopping 59 percent of median income.

With budget crises affecting many of the region’s public transit providers, service cuts and fare hikes make the picture bleaker. Recently, AC Transit and Muni services were cut by almost 10 percent, causing longer waits and crowded buses — and a huge budget deficit could mean deep cuts in Caltrain service this summer. If these cuts force more Bay Area households to turn to cars, the region’s affordability can be adversely affected, even as households deal with the pressures of a weak economy.

On the national stage, several developments offer signs that smart growth principles — including the link between housing affordability and transportation — may be gaining wider traction. These developments are presenting smart growth and public transportation advocates with opportunities to push for reform.

Last year, three federal agencies — the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency — announced a partnership that would have the agencies working together on housing and transportation initiatives. The partnership laid out six “livability principles,” including commitments to provide more transportation choices, “promote equitable, affordable housing,” support existing communities, and “value communities and neighborhoods.” The new partnership’s rhetoric includes references to location and energy efficiency, transit-oriented and mixed-use development, and walkable neighborhoods.

On Capitol Hill, Congress is working on a new omnibus transportation bill to replace a bill that expired in 2009. The bill would provide billions in federal funding for highways and other forms of surface transportation. Consideration of the new bill in both the House and Senate has stalled, but some proposals emphasize the creation of transportation choices and livable communities. Transportation for America (www.t4america.org), a coalition of housing, transportation, environmental, and other groups, is mobilizing to promote public transportation and sustainable development in the new transportation bill, seeking to make CNT’s way of looking at the world into official U.S. policy.