Volume 45 Number 07

Appetite: Thanksgiving wine recommendations

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You received the assignment to bring the wine for Thanksgiving… maybe not as difficult as cooking a turkey, but you want to bring something special without having to give it too much thought. Here are a few last-minute bottle suggestions from various parts of the world and a range of prices. Most can be found at shops like Bi-Rite, K&L Wine Merchants, and Jug Shop.

SPARKLING ROSE
2002 Movia Puro Rosé, $49.50 – The Kristancic family’s land covers both sides of the Italian/Slovenian border with vines over three centuries old. This delicate Slovenian rosé captures both a fruity, berry essence, and an earthy, mushroom body. Sparkling and crisp, it makes for a celebratory holiday sipper.

WHITE BARGAIN
2009 Aveleda Alvarinho, $12.99 – Portuguese wines are still in the ‘bang for buck’ category, and with this Alvarinho grape white, there’s enough dryness to pair it with a range of foods while the palate gives off pear, citrus, and a bouquet of flowers.

WHITE SPLURGE
2008 J. Hofstatter Kolbenhof Gewurztraminer, $55 – This full-bodied white is floral, lush, but acidic, from Italy’s fabulous Alto Adige region. A stunner that expresses Alpine vistas of both Italy and the nearby Austrian border.

RED BARGAIN
2007 Moric Blaufrankisch, $17.99 – I love the blaufrankisch grape and Moric’s line of wines showcases the warmth of the Austrian red while remaining a good value. Sandalwood, cherry and cinnamon unfold with a mineral finish.

RED SPLURGE
2005 Vietti Barolo Lazzarito, $130 – Definitely a spendy bottle, this Italian Barolo seduces with tannins balanced by earth, hints of rose petal and robustness, while pairing well with meats.

AFTER-DINNER LIQUEUR
Crispin’s Rose Liqueur, $75 – Impress by bringing a bottle from one of the country’s greatest distillers (nearby in Ukiah) for after dinner sipping. Craft Distillers wows with a rose liqueur unlike any other. No cloying, syrupy qualities here, but rather a full bouquet of roses in a cognac-style brandy based off of an old family apple-honey mead recipe. Available at Cask.

–Subscribe to Virgina’s twice monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot

Appetite: Indy Spirits Expo poured it on

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This year’s Indy Spirits Expo, which took place 11/17, was much improved since last year’s inaugural festivity, though crammed into the cool, brick-walled nightclub space of The Mighty. This event offers one of the better opportunities I’ve seen to sample everything from cachaca and pisco, to absinthe and eaux de vie, all in one room, among the best small batch spirits happening in the US and a few places beyond.

Many favorites you’ve heard me write about were there, like the great St. George, Charbay, Craft Distillers, and more recent greats like Old World Spirits and Don Pilar. Outside of Northern California’s riches, there were my Midwest faves like North Shore Distillery and Death’s Door, plus Oregon delight, Bend Distillery. Amidst a can’t-go-wrong line-up, here are just a handful of highlights:

St. George did it again with a couple special behind-the-table pours, my number one being a brilliant eau de vie infused with fresh Dungeness crabs. I saw photos of a still filled with crabs, smelled the briney-sea whiff that emanated from the pour, relishing the crabby goodness that screamed Bloody Mary. No complaints about the other pour from the masters of liquid experimentation, an eau de vie infused with seaweed.

Charbay brought some special hand-marked bottles filled with straight-from-the-keg whiskeys, including the ravishing 12yr whiskey I’ve told you about before in my Guardian column: their incomparable Release II whiskey, just aged another 6 years.

Old World Spirits poured their latest releases of the gorgeous Indian Blood Peach and Poire Williams (Pear) eau de vie, plus their luxurious Walnut Liqueur. Take a thoroughly different gin route and try their Blade gin aged (“rusty”) in a special, only-through-K&L Wines bottling. Technically you might not be able to call it gin, but the same herbs that go into the regular Blade are aged like a whiskey for 13 months. The gin’s juniper and citrus expand with spice and oak for a truly unique expression (only 250 bottles made with a retail price of $59.99 – contact K&L before they’re all gone).

– A surprising new addition to the rum scene comes from Colorado, of all places: Montanya Rum. It is sweeping up Gold and Silver medal awards the last two years since inception in esteemed places like San Francisco World Spirits Competition. I prefer the light rum Platino to the Oro dark rum, as the former is crisp and clean, nuanced with almond, oak, coffee and vanilla.

– A newcomer, Novo Fogo, ups the cachaça game bringing a 100% organic, gluten-free cachaça to the table. The aged Gold version is reminiscent of a bourbon or a rum, but I prefer the clean Silver, as I get more of those sugarcane cachaça properties, with hints of sea salt, citrus, and sweet peppers.

Subscribe to Virgina’s twice monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot: www.theperfectspotsf.com

Joystick to the world

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culture@sfbg.com

You can see it at your local Walgreens: that magical moment, at midnight every Nov. 1, when the Halloween display melts into the ether, replaced by a bevy of festive, possibly toxic, green-and-red confections. Christmas comes similarly early in the game business; unlike holiday movies, year-end software blockbusters have to be sitting on store shelves in time to entice flocks of early-bird shoppers.

This year promises a winter harvest of diverse delights, though there is a clear emphasis on familiar faces and established names. Groundbreaking technology will wheedle its way into American shopping carts alongside intellectual property that dates back to 1928.

 

ROCK HARDWARE

Though its most promising features are spread out over multiple months, Rock Band 3‘s release in the dying embers of October signaled the start of the holiday game glut. On the more casual end of the spectrum, there are many changes designed to improve the title’s performance as a party-powering karaoke machine on steroids. But it’s on the hardcore end that Harmonix’s offering really shines. New “Pro” instrument modes transform the entire idea of the rhythm game, promising exact correspondence between notes heard and notes played, turning an exercise in plastic-instrument frivolity into an actual teaching tool. The retail version ships with a full two-octave keyboard; future bedroom shredders will have to wait until March 1 to get their hands on Squier’s six-string electric guitar-controller hybrid.

 

KINECTRIC SLIDE

Harmonix rolled out another big title this year: Dance Central, a gleefully earnest dancing simulator that aims to do for cutting rugs what Guitar Hero did for ripping solos. Taking advantage of Microsoft’s Wii-killing, Xbox 360-exclusive Kinect technology (available now), which uses a TV-mounted camera to record player movements, the game weans digital dance off Dance Dance Revolution‘s cheesy floor pads, tracking your entire body and translating that motion into animated on-screen boogieing.

A number of other games have been released that are calibrated for use with the Kinect, either focusing on fitness (YourShape: Fitness Evolved, EA Sports Active 2) or cartoonish, arm-waving sports-mime (Kinect Adventures, Kinect Sports). Liberated from the tyranny of holding onto a controller, 360 owners will also be able to deploy the Kinect’s voice commands, which be useful for browsing through a number of new software features, which include ESPN and Last.fm, streaming direct to your console.

 

EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN

Cannibalizing the past is nothing new when there are profits on the line, but no one does it with the kind of capitalist élan that the game industry evinces. Did you enjoy NBA Jam and Goldeneye 007 in the 1990s? Of course you did. And you’ll enjoy them again, now that they’re back, sporting upgraded display resolutions and gameplay adapted to modern, button-coruscated controllers. NBA Jam began as a downloadable adjunct to NBA Elite 2011; now that that game has been pushed back, the two-on-two hoops title is getting a full retail release on all the major consoles Nov. 17. Goldeneye is available now for Wii and Nintendo DS; playing as Oddjob is still totally cheating.

Japanese giants Namco Bandai have dusted off Splatterhouse, their goofily gory 1988 smash. Musclebound protagonist Rick is back, still sporting a hockey mask, still dismembering ghosts and ghouls with a blood-soaked two-by-four. The survival horror-brawler hybrid is due out Nov. 23 for PS3 and Xbox 360.

 

MOUSE HOUSE

It’s been a long time since Disney’s iconic character was featured in his own video game, so Junction Point Studio’s Epic Mickey is sure to be met with high expectations. Helmed, bizarrely, by legendary designer Warren Spector, who is better known for gritty cyberpunk classics System Shock and Deus Ex, the game promises a slightly more adult — even gothic — take on Disney’s least-adult character.

Gameplay will center around a painting mechanic. Using his trusty brush, Mickey will be able to transform his environment, daubing in bridges over otherwise impassable chasms. The judicious application of paint thinner will erase dastardly enemies. Look for Epic Mickey Nov. 30.

 

WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD (OF WARCRAFT)

If you were to measure the impact of this year’s holiday releases using total hours invested as your metric, there’s no doubt that World of Warcraft: Cataclysm would come out on top. As the third expansion to Blizzard’s megalithic franchise, the game can count on a built-in player-base of some 12 million subscribers, each about as likely to buy Cataclysm as a heroin addict is to buy more smack.

The attractions this time around include two brand-new races — players will now be able to battle their way around Azeroth as Goblins or Worgen (read: werewolves). The expected litany of new dungeons, new loot, and new gameplay tweaks is also provided. The Cataclysm begins Dec. 7. And if you don’t know what to get that tween WoWer in your life at the last minute? But her some game time at www.blizzard.com.

Spread the warm fuzzies

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Caitlin@sfbg.com

Congratulations. Now that you’re reading an article on giving back during the holidays, the healing can begin. Gentle friend, you are now free to have the warm fuzzies! Seriously, though, volunteering and making sure the presents you buy contribute to a good cause are admirable pursuits during this time of fireplace and family — but most of the organizations listed below do their thang year round. Use the season of giving to ignite a relationship with one of them that will continue long past the menorahs been packed away and Christmas tree set aflame by wandering packs of Mad Maxes.

 

VOLUNTEERING

 

ROADDAWGZ

The Tenderloin drop-in center provides a creative outlet for homeless and transitionally housed youth. It’s always looking for volunteers to help with artistic and literary programs, administration, technical support, fundraising, and outreach.

(415) 923-9085, www.roaddawgz.org

 

SF FOOD BANK

Four hundred tons of food pass through the Food Bank’s warehouse each week. That’s a lot of box wrangling! This Thanksgiving, the bank’s hoping to provide 35,705 families with Turkey Day dinner — so get on down to their facilities to lend a hand, no lengthy orientation or time commitment required.

www.sffoodbank.org/volunteer

 

SF SPCA

How much is that doggy in the window? You’ll have the answer to this and other questions when you become a volunteer with SF’s pioneering no-kill animal shelter and its furry yearly Macy’s display windows, site of 300 adoptions and $50,000 in donations last holiday season. Greeter and matchmaker positions are available.

www.sfspca.org

 

GLIDE CHURCH

Glide’s got the goods when it comes to your soup kitchen service time this holiday season. (Hurry, spots fill quickly!) But maybe people aren’t your thing. In that case, come join the church’s good Samaritans who keep Boedekker Park in the Tenderloin in good working order for the TL community every third Saturday from 9 a.m.-noon.

www.glide.org

 

LARKIN STREET YOUTH SERVICES

Calling all shopaholics — we’ll take a break from harassing you about consumerism if you’ll turn your retail frenzy to a good cause. Larkin Street is looking for donations of everything from clothes to electronics to personal care items and gift certificates for its homeless youth holiday gift drive. Chip in, willya?

www.larkinstreetyouth.org

 

GIFTS THAT GIVE BACK

 

UNDER ONE ROOF

From Harvey Milk notecards to San Francisco martini glasses, Under One Roof has a wealth of kitschy-cool presents for someone who could use a little City by the Bay in their life. What’s even better is that Under One Roof has been selling these things since 1990 to raise money for agencies that provide HIV/AIDS support.

518 Castro, SF. (415) 503-2300, www.underoneroof.org

 

COLE HARDWARE

Roommate needs to stop borrowing your hammer? Cole’s got what you need to wrap up self-reliance for him this holiday season — and with its community partnership program, you can choose from a long list of neighborhood and national nonprofits (like local schools) to receive 10 percent of the money from your purchases.

Various locations, SF. www.colehardware.com

 

CREATIVITY EXPLORED HOLIDAY ART SALE

When you’re developmentally disabled, the term “outsider art” takes on new meaning — but points the way to some ravishingly perceptive masterpieces. Creativity Explored provides a support center for these nontraditional Picassos, and you can lend weight to their mission by shopping their holiday art sale.

Dec. 3–22, free. Mon. and Tues. 10 a.m.–3 p.m., Wed through Fri., 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Sat noon-6 p.m. 3245 16th St., SF. (415) 863-2108, www.creativityexplored.org

 

LA COCINA GIFT FAIR

The budding food entrepreneurs supported by this nonprofit will be more than happy to take the cookie-baking off your hands. Give your loved ones a box of chocolate-caramel shortbread squares or a delicious pierogi made by enterprising members of your community.

Dec. 10, 4–9 p.m., free. Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, 2868 Mission, SF. (415) 824-2729, www.lacocinasf.org

50 cute-as-heck gifts for $10 and under

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Our official metaphor for holiday shopping this season is just going to have to be Tron. Not just because Tron: Legacy opens Dec. 17 or because some of us are forever stuck in totally awesome adolescent ’80s video game world. We also must zip across the alien landscape of holiday commercialism, snatching up neon-fantasy presents (and possibly exploding). Go! Go! Go!

Or, you know, use this guide and pick up some killer giftos all in one easy trip. We scoured the city for cool items ringing in at 10 ducats and under. Yes, you can still wear an electric blue bodysuit. (Marke B.)

 

JESUS FLASHLIGHT, $4.99

Tutti Frutti

With the exception of millions of Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindis, and Zoroastrians, Jesus is lighting up the world these days. And what better way for your Xian friends to keep His light flowing than this Jesus flashlight. Pair it with a Jesus pen; we’re pretty sure this is the pen Jesus would have used.

718 Irving, Inner Sunset, SF. (415) 661-8504

 

DYNA GRO PLANT FOOD, $5.95

Plant’It Earth

Since Prop. 19 flopped at the polls, it’s back to dealer-only cell phones and GIY smokes. Give your dealer or favorite organic grower this perfect 7-9-5 blend of plant food and help nourish the next crop (you’ll be paying for it anyway). Plant’It Earth also has grow lights, soil, and other no-Prop. 19 essentials.

661 Divisadero, Panhandle, SF. (415) 626-5082, wwwplantitearth.com

 

SQUEAKY TOY SQUIRREL, $3.99

The Animal House Pet Mercantile

As the movie “Up” taught us, if dogs could talk, their conversation would go something like this: “Squirrel!” Give Bowser this plush toy Squirrel!, which will last way longer than a real Squirrel! and not stink up your house. Animal House also has cat toys, but your cat won’t give a shit.

157 Fillmore, Lower Haight, SF. (415) 552-0233, www.theanimalhouse.com

 

“MEDITATING” SIGN, $7

San Francisco Zen Center Bookstore

Tired of hearing your beloved shriek “Shut the #$%@* up, I’m meditating!” when you inadvertently stumble onto your deck at 6:30 a.m.? End it with this calligraphy sign, which can be hung from a doorknob or from the back of your beloved’s neck. Back it up with a book on Zen.

300 Page, Hayes Valley, SF. (415) 863-3136, www.sfzc.org

 

HOT DOG TOTE, $4.99

Arch Art Supplies

The sandwich rectangle, the pizza triangle, the hamburger round — all are inadequate for toting le hot dog. End the long-standing and justifiable frustration of your frankfurtin’ friends with this washable, reusable, hot dog-specific tote. Pick up the chips bag to go with it, or maybe some drafting or graphics supplies.

99 Missouri, Potrero Hill, SF. (415) 433-2724, www.archsupplies.com

 

BRANCH 3-WAY SPLITTER, $10

Zinc Details

‘Tis the season for sharing — but only if you want to and only if you have the technology. To make others share with you, give your BFF (or No. 1 frenemy) this 3-way music splitter and put an end to the nasty talk about how 3-ways don’t work. Zinc Details has plenty of other nifty stuff that can be done as a two-way or one-way.

1905 Fillmore, Pacific Heights, SF. (415) 776-2100, www.zincdetails.com

 

FROMAGE BLANC, $4.50

Cowgirl Creamery

So “some of your best friends are Jews” and you feel bad because you know Santa won’t go there. Make amends for years of no Santa with this fromage blanc, which is way better than regular cream cheese and not from Philly. Add a tub of hand-clabbered cottage cheese for their blintzes, kugels, and whatever else it is Jews eat.

1 Ferry Building, #17, Embarcadero, SF. (415) 362-9354, www.cowgirlcreamery.com

 

“STUBBY” HAMMER, $4.99

Cole Hardware

We believe that, like hemlines in other realms, a mini or micro version of the Utilikilt is due out any day now. And when that happens, utilidudes will need scaled-down, “stubby” versions of their tools to make it all work (and boy do these tools work). Cole Hardware also has stubby pliers and wrenches.

956 Cole, Cole Valley, SF. (415) 753-2653, wwwcolehardware.com

 

FELT FLOWERS, $7

Samsara

Why buy blooms destined for the dustbin for your loved ones when you can score them these long-lasting buds? Samsara’s small sales floor is packed with small treasures imported from the Far East. Pick up a colorful woven headband or Indian lotus wooden stamp for the yogi on your list.

2035 Union, Marina, SF. (415) 563-5485

 

BOBINO CABLE BUDDY, $3.99

Under One Roof

Many a hook-up mood has been ruined waiting for the hookee to disentangle three feet of earphone wire from a fly or brassiere. Stop the madness with the Cable Buddy, which keeps cords neatly wrapped and out of the way. And get few extra for those cords you know you’ll get ensnared in at the hook’s house.

518 Castro, Castro District, SF. (415) 503-2300, www.underoneroof.org

 

ECO-BAG, $1.75

Ichiban Kan

It’s not a competition, but your my-eco-bag-is-more-eco-than-your-ego-bag pals will love this Japanese-made eco bag. The bag comes in six different patterns, all groovy enough to go with all their hemp outfits. Ichiban Kan also has bento boxes, lunch bags, and knit panda hats.

22 Peace Plaza #540, Japantown, SF. (415) 409-0472, www.ichibankanusa.com

 

SPORK, $4

Flight 001

Your peripatetic pals can’t help it if they find themselves casting off plastic utensils everywhere they go. Detox them with the Spork, a durable, washable spoon-fork-knife in one. The brightly-colored utensil is guaranteed to make fellow travelers say “go Spork yourself” to disposables. Flight 001 also has clocks, bags, and bagatelle for the traveler.

525 Hayes, Hayes Valley, SF. (415) 487-1001, www.flight101.com

 

NOE VALLEY APIARIES, $7.95

The Green Arcade

Give your honey bun some fresh-baked honey buns made with honey from Noe Valley Apiaries. Better yet, give your honey bun the whole jar and she can drink it herself. The limited-edition honey is unfiltered and antibiotic-free. Or get a book on beekeeping while you’re at this perfectly curated, eco-centric store so you can give your honey bun her own hive someday.

1680 Market, Hayes Valley, SF. (415) 431-6800, www.thegreenarcade.com

 

CERAMIC ROSE, $5

Xapno

Put an end to the chronic “Yes, I loved the roses you gave me last week but now they’re DEAD” statements with this ceramic rose. Baked by a local ceramics artist and available with or without a stem, the roses come in lovely shades of pink, ivory, peach, and lavender. Xapno can also set you up with a vase or ribbon to set it off.

678 Haight, Lower Haight, SF. (415) 863-8199, www.xapno.com

 

GLASS STRAW, $9

GlassDharma

The glamour girls and boys who won’t drink coffee or red wine with you anymore because it stains their teeth need to get back to reality with one of these glass straws. (Buh-bye, BriteSmile.) Ensure that they bring it with them to your next drinking game by getting them bamboo carrying case as well.

Online only. (707) 964-9350, www.glassdharma.com/straws

 

CLASSIC SOUL AND R&B MIX CDS, $10

Rooky Ricardo’s Records

Diehard record collectors love to dig through crates of dust-covered vinyl searching for elusive, long-out-of-print song 45s. Rooky Ricardo’s is perfect for them (cool old singles for around $3!) — and for those of us who just want to hear some awesome music without the stiff back and neck (or record player). A sweet selection of classic soul, pop, and R&B mix CDs culled from Rooky’s collection will get your sweet ones humming.

448 Haight St., Lower Haight, SF. (415) 864-7526, www.rookyricardos.com

 

TOPOGRAPHIC TRAIL MAPS, $8–$9.50

Sports Basement

This holiday season, tell your loved ones to take a hike. A handy trail map of southern Marin ($9.50) combined with the 76 Marin Headlands bus can easily help them rediscover the glorious nature beckoning just outside the Golden Gate. Also at Sports Basement: Nalgene PBA-free water bottles start at $8.50.

1590 Bryant St., SoMa, SF. (415) 575-3000;

610 Old Mason St., Presidio, SF. (800) 869-6670, www.sportsbasement.com

 

SWEETIE PIE PRESS BUTTONS PACK, $6 FOR 3

Rare Device

Who doesn’t love buttons? No one. They’re a quick, easy way to customize your backpack, hat, coat, scarf, whatever. And even when they’re designed by artists, they’re still cheap. Sweetie Pie buttons are produced as series by designers using security envelopes, reclaimed silk-screened posters, and other recycled materials. There’s a ton of individuality in each pack, so grab more than one.

1845 Market St., Hayes Valley, SF. (415) 863-3969, www.raredevice.net

 

ICE CREAM GIFT CERTIFICATE, $5

Three Twins Organic Ice Cream

Give a special gift of sweet, sweet empty(ish) calories. Using only organic ingredients, Three Twins scoops up incredible flavors like milk and honey, lemon cookie, chocolate peanutbutter cookie, or the exotic Dad’s Cardamom. With a $5 certificate, your giftee can choose between two teensy ice cream cones or a pint to munch on at home while watching 30 Rock on Hulu.

254 Fillmore St. Lower Haight, SF. (415) 487-8946, www.threetwinsicecream.com

 

THE WALKING DEAD COMIC, $2.99

Al’s Comics

Do you have a friend literally salivating and moaning for next week’s The Walking Dead episode on AMC? Satisfy their zombie craving with an issue of the original comic book series (now at issue #78). And since comic books are Hollywood’s favorite source material for summer blockbusters these days, Al’s Comics is probably going to have 2013’s summer action blockbuster of the year… right now!

1803 Market St., Hayes Valley, SF. (415) 861-1220, www.alscomicssf.com

 

FAKE MUSTACHE, $9.95

Costumes on Haight

If there’s one thing everyone should own, it’s a mustache. It might just be the most useful gift you could ever give. Who knows when your recipients may need to change identities quickly, appear as an authority figure, or even just get really really handsome instantly. Costumes on Haight provides ‘staches for any need or hair color. Spirit gum’s an extra $2, but you’ll earn that back quickly at 10 cents per ride.

735 Haight St, Lower Haight, SF. (415) 621-1356. www.costumesonhaight.com

 

LONELY PLANET PHRASEBOOK $8.99

Get Lost Books

Your perennially-traveling friend always seems to have the most fabulous stories to recount. But the on-the-ground truth is probably a lot less romantic, with miscommunications, bad directions, and an unintentional slur or two. Swing by Get Lost Books for a handy Lonely Planet phrasebook they can take with them when they do. No more ignorant American oopsies for them (and possibly a lot more sex).

1825 Market St., Hayes Valley, SF. (415) 437-0529. www.getlostbooks.com

 

ZING! LAUNCHING SPOON, $5 and SOUPER! SPOON ACTION FIGURE, $10

New People

Naughty uncle gifts alert: New People’s got the goods for meal avoidance — a spoon that doubles as a superhero and another that spring-launches broccoli. Hand off to the nearest tyke, then duck (the wrath of the li’l ones’ parents). Tokyo pop culture mall New People is an amazing one-stop source for quirky, beautiful lifestyle accessories like dope headphones and separated toe socks.

1746 Post, Japantown, SF. (415) 525-8600, www.newpeopleworld.com

 

MINI BURRO PIÑATA, $7.99

SF Party

This party donkey’s cool to get behind — the recipient will be stoked by his party-pumping bustability. (Hint: stuff with mini bottles.) SF Party’s got what you need for instacheer — peep the local store’s decorations and holiday flair for ways to trick everyone into thinking you’re festive.

939 Post, Tenderloin, SF. (415) 931-9393, www.sfparty.com

 

IGNITE ME MASSAGE CANDLE, $10

Good Vibrations

You already know that Good Vibes is the top spot for fun, sexy, and horizon-expanding gifts for your sweetie (or prospective sweetie). These two ounces of scented soy wax set the mood for a little post-mistletoe vida loca. Just light the candle and it melts into massage oil.

Various locations, SF. www.goodvibes.com

 

HOT CHOCOLATE SET, $10

Sweetdish

Looking for a wintertime wonder amid Sweetdish’s happy racks of rare and delicious candies? Try their hot chocolate sets, packaged here in San Francisco: Taza drinkable chocolate disks and a Japanese ceramic mug and spoon are included in this power punch for the holiday sweet tooth. While you’re there, pick up some locally made Poco Dolce chocolate — the burnt toffee ($6.50 per pack) is to die for.

2144 Chesnut, Marina, SF. (415) 563-2144, www.thesweetdish.com

 

TRAVEL-SIZE BUTCH BODY SPRAY, $8

This one’s fun for sending a pleasant mixed message: “They want me to butch it up when I’m on the go, but with a body spray?” Forunately, one sniff of this enticingly spicy scent will ax all doubts, and the travel-spritzing will begin in earnest. (Also available: floral Femme and tangy Original scents.) Local-centric beauty product makers Nancy Boy provides line after line of scrumptious freshness.

347 Hayes, Hayes Valley, SF. (415) 552-3802, www.nancyboy.com

 

LASER MONEY DEVICE, $7

Misdirections Magic Shop

When your teenager wants to expand his trick repertoire beyond lighting farts, it’s time for a magic laser money device. With practice, your teenager can create money out of nothing, just like the Fed! It’s also the perfect comeback to “You can stop washing the dishes when you start making money.” Misdirections has other magic galore.

1236 Ninth Ave., Inner Sunset, SF. (415) 566-2190, www.misdirections.com

 

PERSONALIZED INITIAL STICKERS, $5

Toss

Toss designs its own classy prep looks, which will hit the spot for any beachy babes within striking distance of your gift list. But if the pretty handbags and frothy dresses are too spendy, cop the store’s style with embroidered stickers that’ll customize any existing satchels your bronzed beauty swings over their shoulder.

2185 Chestnut, Marina, SF. (415) 440-8677, www.tossdesigns.com

 

ORIGAMI FAST FOOD SET, $3.95

Paper Tree

Fold-your-own hamburger, shake, and fries for … what, your vegetarian sister? Meat-loving Uncle Mark? Paper Tree’s aisles of origami kits — paper and laughably cryptic Japanese instructions included — range from make-your-own meals to puppy dogs and finger puppets, and make a fantastic offering for any of your friends who dream of creating their own world.

1743 Buchanan, Japantown, SF. (415) 921-1700, www.paper-tree.com

 

HAMBURGER KITCHEN TIMER, $8

Park Life

Too bad hamburgers don’t go in the oven, ’cause that would be the funniest thing ever with this plump, juicy-looking thing! (The joke might work with Hanukkah sufanganiyot, too.) Park Life’s a neato outpost of cleverly designed artifacts and nom-nom art, with something for everyone, but mostly really cool everyones.

220 Clement, Richmond, SF. (415) 386-7275, www.parklifestore.com

 

SOURCE ZINE, $3

Needles & Pens

Locally published advice on fermenting, planting, and all kinds of other stuff makes a swell gift for your favorite urbanite interested in sustainably downsizing for 2011. Needles & Pens stocks indie clothes and jewelery designs, as well as racks of zines from fresh local artists and doodlers.

3253 16th St., Mission, SF. (415) 255-1534, www.needles-pens.com

 

EYE-MELTING WALL CALENDAR, $3

Little Otsu

Calendars can be so … quantifying. Leave it to craft wonderland Little Otsu to make date-finding creative again. Pick up this cheaply had bit of creativity designed by Ron Regé Jr., for the nonlinear thinker on your list, or browse the racks of Otsu’s recycled material stationary and precious T-shirt designs.

849 Valencia, Mission, SF. (415) 255-7900, www.littleotsu.com

 

CANTAINER BICYCLE CUP HOLDER, $10

Gravel and Gold

Because nothing goes better than bikes and bevvies — they’ll cruise into golden, road soda (we mean coffee, of course!) glory with an American-made bike cup holder masterpiece from this beautiful, sunny Mission store, whose shelves of hip handmade treasures take the crass consumerism straight out of your holiday shopping.

3266 19th St., Mission, SF. (415) 552-0112, www.gravelandgold.com

 

PISTACHIO BAKLAVA, $7.95

Sumiramis Middle Eastern Imports

Score flaky, made-in-the-Bay filo dough holiday meal or gathering treats at this fantastical, low-key grocery store, which stocks all things Mediterranean from hookahs to halvah. Your lucky guests will wonder where you got it. (Make like you had to go further than 26th Street and Mission.)

2990 Mission, Mission, SF. (415) 824-6555

 

DE LA ROSA CANDY, $3.69

Casa Guadalupe

These crumbly peanut marzipan gems are a recognizable staple of Latino bodegas, but the red rose on their 30-pack carton wouldn’t look out of place alongside brightly wrapped presents under a Hanukkah bush.

2999 Mission, Mission, SF. (415) 824-2043

 

RHINESTONE INITIAL EARRINGS, $10

Good Fellows

Reward those who’ve been nice through 2010 with this customizable bling — they can wear their sparkly identities on their lobes! Because you know you have a friend who will be more impressed if you tell them you got their present from a head shop. And Good Fellows has a dispensary in the back if your giftee’s on the very, very good list.

473 Haight, Lower Haight, SF. (415) 255-1323

 

YUMMYPOCKETS PB&J ITEM HOLDER, $9.50

Therapy

Stuff the mouth of their wallet — money tastes good again with this disturbingly realistic peanut butter and jelly sandwich billfold. Therapy’s got the goods when it comes to gifts for the young fashionista on your list — another great choice is their faux-Guate coin purses ($10), decorated with colorful embroidered patterns that call up your trip last year to Lake Antigua.

Various location, SF. www.shopattherapy.com

 

THE SNOWY DAY, $6.99

Lola of North Beach

Lit love for the soon-to-be-bundled little one. The illustrations in this new board edition are as stunning as they were when Caldecott winner Ezra Jack Keats published the original book in 1962. Lola’s is a great gift stop for chic families — Mom and Dad included — on your list.

1415 Grant, North Beach, SF. (415) 781-1817, www.lolaofnorthbeach.com

 

HOMEMADE SPINACH PASTA, $2.95 PER POUND

Molinari Deli

Step around the display arrays of Italian fruitcakes and brightly-wrapped candies up to this old school neighborhood joint’s deli case. You can buy the hostess with the mostest a peck of that finest green — a skein of house-made spinach noodles. Maybe she’ll even invite you back for a holiday-themed pasta feed.

373 Columbus, North Beach, SF. (415) 421-2337

 

TRAVELS WITH GINSBERG: A POSTCARD BOOK, $9.95

City Lights Books

Ginsberg in Benares, Ginsberg in Venice, Ferlinghetti in SF — this book of postcards is the perfect bon voyage present for your favorite wanderlustful loved one. Include a card urging that one of the notes makes it back to you when the L.O. has a spare moment. City Lights, as well all know, has the best and brightest in O.G. Beat lit as well as today’s hottest book titles.

261 Columbus, North Beach, SF. (415) 362-8193, www.citylights.com

 

CHOPSTICK KIDS CHOPSTICK HELPER, $10

Aldea Niños

Get ’em going on noodle bowls young with these playful pinchers. Soon enough, your tyke will be ready to slurp udon with the best of them. Aldea’s newly opened children store stocks all the finest in sustainably made baby products. For another cheap, fun gift, try the wooden fish castanets, whose clacking teeth with make a flamenco fiend of any toddler.

1017 Valencia, Mission, SF. (415) 874-9520, www.aldeababy.com

 

SUCCULENT CANDLES, $6

Current

Oof — they couldn’t even keep last year’s astrophytum kicking? Lower the ante and reignite the light with this cacti candle. Current also stocks natural beauty products and small vases made to be tied up in a beautifully wrapped, color coordinating gift box. Indeed, many of its offerings already are, perfect for the gift-and-go.

911 Valencia, Mission, SF. (415) 648-2015

 

MR. LACY SHOELACES, $2.50

Shoe Biz

Sure, your buddy’s got style — but are their Technicolor kicks looking technically mussed and scuffed? You can brighten the load for any sneaker kid with these ties, which sit alongside Shoe Biz’s fantastic selection of boots and slippers and are available in a lacy rainbow of shades.

Various location, SF. www.shoebizsf.com

 

CHARDONNAY ANCHOVY STUFFED OLIVES, $6.95

We Olive

Does it get more posh than Chardonnay anchovy-stuffed Californian olives? No. And they taste good too! We Olive’s racks of California olive products, from tapenade to lip balm, will tickle the palate of any gourmand on your list. Plus, the store has samples that will sate you for hours. Squirt a dab of their transcendent olive oils on a bread cube and get shopping.

2379 Chestnut, Marina, SF. (415) 673-3669, www.weolive.com

 

ALBUM COVER NOTEBOOKS, $9.95

Green Apple Books

Giving new meaning to the words “liner notes,” these repurposed record sleeves have been transformed into the keepers of your giftee’s nascent raps and lovelorn lyrics. Green Apple has three floors of books and an annex of every stripe and flavor, so plan on getting lost for a few days — and emerging with an armful of amazing finds for everyone on your gift list.

506 Clement, Richmond, SF. (415) 387-2272, www.greenapplebooks.com

 

FOUR-INCH SUCCULENTS, $7

Succulence

Haworthia, aeonium, echeveria, oh my! Snag one of these flower-producing enduring plants from this cacti shop — it even stocks two-inchers for the true budget gifty. Succulence also sells unique pots and frames, so your loved one’s new plant buddy will be looking dapper indeed.

402 Cortland, Bernal Heights, SF. (415) 282-2212

 

MAGIC WAND $6

Fiddlesticks

Yes, this is really just a smallish wooden star at the end of a thinnish wooden rod. We will not argue! But the star comes in such pretty colors, and the simple wooden-toyness of it conjures up childhood loveliness. Plus, hello — instantly anyone becomes a fairy princess or Harry Potter! Cool tyke hotspot Fiddlesticks has an array of neat matching outfits and other magical doo-dads.

508 Hayes, Hayes Valley, SF. (415) 565-0508, www.shopfiddlesticks.com

 

CHOCOLATE BAR WITH POPPING ROCKS

Oh, Christopher Elbow, chocolatier to the stars! Your gem-colored, bite-sized, often Bucky Dome-shaped chocolates tend toward adventurous flavors like Venezuelan spice, rosemary caramel, and spiced pear. But you keep it real with our favorite quick trip back to childhood: the Christopher Elbow chocolate bar No. 6. A thick slab of dark chocolate bursting with popping candy rocks? Chocolate plus fun equals win.

401 Hayes, Hayes Valley, SF. (415) 355-1105, www.elbowchocolates.com

 

OWL-SHAPED MUG, $8.99

Kamei Housewares and Restaurant Supply

Who-who can’t resist a cup of joe from a lovable owl? Kamei’s got what you need in terms of high class, unique kitchenware on the cheap. It also has out-of-the-kitchen objects — check by the front door for a stack of beautiful paper parasols for the promenading perambulator on your list.

525-547 Clement, Richmond, SF. (415) 666-3699

 

FELT MUSHROOM, $6 AND $8

Lotus Bleu

Let’s spend the holidays shrooming! For your most cherished permagrinner (or possibly Smurf) come these beauties, small and large, in orange, gray, brown, and blue combinations. Made of sustainable wool by a couple in Nepal, these squishy caps fit perfectly in your hand — and also fit right in with Lotus Bleu’s dazzlingly patterned, natural fabric goods aesthetic.

325 Hayes, Hayes Valley, SF. (415) 861-2700, www.lotusbleudesign.com


TAKENOTSUYU YUKI HONOKA “SILENT SNOW” SAKE, $8

True Sake

True Sake was recently anointed by The New York Times as a true original, a gem of a space specializing in nothing but sakes. Seriously, dozens of gorgeous bottles and wildly diverse flavors await you here. Our pick is this super-cute, super-fresh, super-smooth sake. Wine is so passé — put a little bow on one of these beauties and come off sophisticated.

560 Hayes, Hayes Valley, SF. (415) 355-9555, www.truesake.com

Return to me

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If magical realism is rooted in Latin American cultures, nobody told Adia Tamar Whitaker. Her Ampey!, a 50-minute dance, chant, music, film, and narration piece, is an incantatory celebration of life — including the parts of life ingrained in our muscles and our dreams. If CounterPULSE’s Performing Diaspora program had produced nothing but Ampey!, it would have been worth doing. Performed by a stellar cast of dancers and musicians, Whitaker has succeeded in pulling together strands of complex subject matter into a first-rate, original piece of poetic theater.

Whitaker is equally skilled in verbal and movement languages. The blunt honesty with which she looks at herself, refusing to sentimentalize or overplay her sense of identity, gives Ampey! a strong backbone. The impetus for the work came from a trip to Ghana, where Whitaker traveled to explore her roots. A small-boned, light-skinned woman who shaves her head, she found herself at odds there. With Ampey!, she set out to explore the disconnect between her African and African American identities. Perhaps not surprisingly, she found misunderstandings on both sides. One of the show’s most insightful moments comes via a film clip, in which an elderly Ghanaian man talked about how outsiders not only view his country, but the whole continent.

Whitaker divides Ampey! into three acts: “Freedom,” “Home,” and “Family.” Her periodic narrations, on film, feel a bit like a personal travelogue, but they also create a sense of anticipation for the live segments. On stage, her persona shifts identity by moving from one dancer to another, an effective way of expanding the personal into a larger context.

In “Freedom,” the dancers, dressed in prim American school uniforms, dive into a high-energy children’s clapping dance, “Getting Lite.” With limbs flying, this is an exuberant, wildly energetic but also playful form of urban expression whose African origins — at least as seen here on stage — are unmistakable. A ring shout and a Haitian dance raise the volume of this affirmation of freedom, though in actually it is being denied. Strong vocalist-dancer Tossie Long, scurrying anxiously among the celebrants, acts as an Elder, cautioning Whitaker to be patient.

“Home” switches gears drastically. With one chair conspicuously empty and Whitaker as the lead vocalist, the dancers sit in a row, chanting and keeping the beat with gourd-like rattles. According to the program notes, the dance is a version of the Ghanaian agbadza, usually performed on an open field. Here, clapping and percussion underline rhythmical, forward-bending movements. The flowing harmonies set against that regular bending pattern proved to be hypnotic — I kept thinking of Muslims praying together on the floors of their mosques. Whitaker dedicated this section to her former teacher, Alicia Pierce, who died in San Francisco while Whitaker was learning this very dance in Ghana. This mourning dance, rising and falling, like waves, like deep breaths, was perhaps Ampey!‘s single most beautiful moment.

The final section, the somewhat problematic “Family,” finds Whitaker on her knees. Carefully measuring and pasting segments of tape, she tries to rearrange the complex floor patterns that look like a mixture of astrology charts and gym floors. As people in colorful garb spill onto the stage, she keeps up her task for a while. The scene becomes a marketplace, with dancers “selling” their wares to each other and to the audience. Here, the performers’ individuality — Eyla Moore, Stephanie Bastos, Veleda Roel, Zakiya Roehl, and Rashidi Omari Byrd — creates a vibrantly pulsating environment. Still, as Whitaker finally takes her place among them, the finale feels a little too easy. It is a lovely ending, but not a completely convincing one.

AMPEY!

Thurs/18–Sat/20, 8 p.m.;

Sun/21, 3 p.m., $19-$24

CounterPULSE

1310 Mission, SF

1-800-838-3006

www.counterpulse.org

45 sessions

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If you type “Myron and E” into the search engine on YouTube.com, you’ll likely find a simple video clip of a record player with one of the duo’s 7-inch singles on the turntable. Play the video clip, and the turntable’s needle will descend on the vinyl. And then some of the most wonderfully sweet grooves will pipe through your speakers.

Ba-ba-ba’s fill the air, and the backbeat pops along like a Holland-Dozier-Holland gem, perhaps the Supremes’ “Back in My Arms Again.” The voice of Myron is ragged yet soulful and insistent. “This old heart of mine can’t take much more of what it’s been given,” he sings, as E contributes “shoo-bee-doo-wah” ad libs. “And you showed no shame breaking my heart.” The entire performance lasts just under three minutes, just like they used to make ’em.

The song, “It’s A Shame,” was released on Helsinki, Finland, imprint Timmion Records in January. It’s one of four singles Myron & E has recorded with The Soul Investigators, a Finnish soul band whose members run Timmion. (L.A.-based major-indie powerhouse Stones Throw Records has licensed two of the singles, “Cold Game” and “It’s A Shame,” for U.S. distribution.) All of the singles sound like a lark, but that’s part of their charm.

“It just came together,” says Myron Glasper, snapping his fingers to illustrate, during an interview at Eric Cooke’s apartment in the Lower Haight. Cooke, better known as DJ and producer E Da Boss, cohosts a club night at Oakland spot the Layover on Saturdays called “The 45 Session.” His bedroom is filled with boxes of 7-inch records, including mint copies of Myron & E’s latest jam with the Soul Investigators, “The Pot Club.” As an ode to “Oaksterdam” and California’s burgeoning cannabis industry, complete with midnight-hour “rapp” vocals from Myron, it’s the duo’s most contemporary-sounding effort to date. A full-length album, Going in Circles, is due for imminent release. E Da Boss thinks it’ll drop by December, but early 2011 appears more likely.

The Myron & E thing happened by accident. A few years ago, E Da Boss was on a European tour with local producer Nick Andre; as E Da Boss and Nick Andre, the duo has released projects such as 2010’s Robot Practice EP. Traveling through Helsinki, they met the Soul Investigators and sparked an impromptu jam session. E Da Boss grabbed a microphone and began singing. “They kept telling me, ‘You sound good, you must sing.’ I didn’t really pay attention to it,” he remembers. Later in 2008, E Da Boss was assembling a solo production showcase for Om Records, and reached out to The Soul Investigators for sounds he could chop up into hip-hop beats. (He says Om Records dismantled its hip-hop division before the album could drop. All that came from it was a 2007 single, “Go Left.”)

When E Da Boss contacted The Soul Investigators, the group made a counter-offer: if they sent him some music, would he sing on it? E Da Boss thought of Myron; the two have been friends since touring around the world as part of Blackalicious’ backing band. “When they sent the beat over, I called Myron and said, ‘These guys want me to sing on some stuff. Come over here and help me write a song.'” Within an hour, they wrote an endearingly classic tune called “Cold Game.”

Perhaps Myron and E Da Boss’ years of experience in the music industry accounts for their effortless throwback soul. Originally from Los Angeles, Myron has worked as a dancer (he made a few appearances on the classic hip-hop sketch comedy In Living Color), an R&B singer (he has recorded sessions with Sir Jinx, Foster & McElroy and Dwayne Wiggins), and a backup vocalist (for CeCe Peniston, the Coup, and Lyrics Born). When gigs are few, he even drives a big-rig truck. “Real talk, I will jump in the rig if there ain’t no work. Yeah, cuddy! Rrrr-rrr!” Myron says, eliciting peals of laughter as he trills a few lines from Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again.”

Myron & E’s first four singles have made an impact among soul fans and bloggers in the States, but the two say they’ve had far more success in Europe. Last summer, they performed for thousands at Helsinki’s Pori Jazz Festival. Myron opines that audiences there are more accepting of all forms of music. “They can go from gangsta rap to Norah Jones,” he says. Suffice to say that U.S. audiences don’t want Snoop Dogg at a Norah Jones concert.

And then there’s the question of the “retro-soul” resurgence itself. It can hardly be called a trend anymore since it’s been more than a decade since Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings recorded its first singles for the now-defunct Desco imprint, arguably marking the scene’s evolution from acid jazz revivalism to full-on deep funk aesthetics. Much of the genre’s creative energy hasn’t come from the black community, though, but from discerning record collectors inspired by a musical world that disappeared long ago. That has made for some uncomfortable conversations about appropriation — E Da Boss compares it to the way British rockers adopted Southern folk blues idioms in the 1960s.

“If I went up to the homies in the hood and said, ‘Let’s do this music,’ it probably won’t happen because it’s all about the R&B and neo-soul, the Chris Browns, and the R. Kellys,” Myron says. Some notable black artists like Raphael Saddiq, Cee-Lo Green, and Solange Knowles have begun using a “retro-soul” sound, particularly as the style has grown popular. Still, Myron & E know their efforts, however great, can’t compare to the soul legends of Motown and Stax. As Myron says, “It’s easy to make something that already exists better.”

MYRON & E

Backed by Hot Pocket; with Kings Go Forth, The Selector DJ Kirk

Fri/19, 10 p.m.; $10–$13

Elbo Room

647 Valencia, SF

(415) 552-7788

www.elbo.com

Appetite: Highlights from the Single Malt Extravaganza

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I wasn’t sure what to expect at Tuesday night’s Single Malt Extravaganza at the Intercontinental Hotel, with the welcome giveaway of Romeo y Julieta and Monte Cristo cigars as take-home treats. Despite the lack of rare pours and the absence of master distillers — like the experience at Whiskyfest or Whiskies of the World Expo, you also (thankfully) get civilized, minimal crowds at Single Malt Extravaganza. I was able to flow, take my time with sips, and cover the whole room easily in two hours.

Although most pours were merely re-visits for me, as there wasn’t a lot I hadn’t tasted before, there were a couple special pours that truly wowed.

The highlight came in the members-only line of whiskies from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (the co-host of the event along with Robb Report). Mostly from single casks and at cask strength, the rare bottlings are truly unique. I was relishing all five they had on offer this event. Cask No. 123.5 is an 8yr Southwest Highlands scotch described as “feisty but fun”. I loved the heavy marmalade, cinnamon toast overtones, rounded out with salty caramel and rich woods. But the one I couldn’t stop thinking about and returned to during the evening was Cask No. 25.51. A Lowlands malt described as “cherry lips and bitter nuts”, this bright wonder unfolds with passion fruit, spiced honey, and layers of aromatic rose petals. A hint of smoke, grass and tobacco round out cherry, banana leaf notes. I’ve never tasted a scotch like it and could sip it all night. Though they recommended a splash of water since it’s cask strength, I preferred it neat. I like the Society’s playful bottling descriptors (like “Gateway to Narnia” or “Apples and Hallowe’en”) and singular taste profiles. It’s tempting to become a member.

Spirit Imports/Classic Cask has not much more than 200 bottles left in the world of a brilliant 35-yr Classic Cask Rare Scotch Whisky. I lingered over this beauty awhile. A special millennium release in 2000, it blends 30 different scotches, aged 25 years each, then aged together for another 10 years. While the nose is rich with a buttery sherry from the Oloroso sherry casks it was aged in, the taste covers the gamut from rich butterscotch and oak, to dark chocolate and almonds.

Balvenie’s 21yr PortWood is an ideal after dinner imbibement. Fruity and dry on the nose, it tastes like a Highlands single malt until you get to the long finish of spiced vanilla and nuts, reminiscent of a cognac.

Value sip of the night was Glen Garioch, a small distiller from Eastern Highlands, whose Founder’s Reserve whisky retails around $45 and their 12yr around $60. The first is young, not a showstopper, but fruity with tart green apple and rhubarb, finished with butter cream. The latter hints of floral pears, sweet malt and banana with plenty of oaky notes.

 

–Subscribe to Virgina’s twice monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot: www.theperfectspotsf.com

East Bay studs

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Kieran McGrath, a carefree 32-year-old Irishman living in New York City, would like to be a writer someday. In the meantime, he has a temporary job subbing for a friend as a carriage driver in Central Park. Its fortuitous, because the material for his first book will conveniently climb into the back of his palomino-drawn carriage in the form of an upscale pimp named Marsha and the series of rich and lonely Manhattan women she represents.

McGrath’s perspective on this unexpected line of work has a good deal of compassion and humor-laced insight to it, but playwright-performer David Cale’s one-man show, Palomino, takes us more than once around the park. With a facility for characterization, dialogue, and storytelling that draws one in slowly and surely, Cale unfolds a globetrotting tale of desire and connection from a variety of distinct perspectives, with McGrath’s alone being male heterosexual. By the end, the play achieves a subtle but affecting blurring of lines, as themes of love, solitude, and aging inform a disparate set of vivid personalities.

It’s more than a decade since British-born actor and playwright Cale mounted a show locally (the Obie Award–winning Lillian in 1999). Especially given the recent resurgence in solo theater, Cale’s return to the Bay Area in Aurora Theatre’s simple, elegant production feels timely. His work stands out from much of the solo theater landscape in being decidedly not about himself, but rather the story and characters he has in his head. Despite the actor’s physical dissimilarity to most of the people he plays, he delivers well-rounded and compelling characters. His women are especially attractive — not least the rich but fragile and searching widow, Vallie, one of McGrath’s clients, with whom he has a short but full-blown love affair.

A low-key but masterful performer, Cale displays a lot of love and understanding for his flawed characters, embodying them with supple charm on scenic designer Kate Boyd’s graceful stained-wood set, which swoops up and away toward a screen at the back of the stage. There, Rick Takes’ projected images offer choice visual compliment to the story’s continent-hopping narrative. Heartfelt and at moments a little gooey, the play nevertheless avoids tawdry romantic mush for a gentle, gliding look at the fears and gathering pain beneath lives largely spent skimming the surfaces of things, only every once in a while daring something deeper.

 

THE PLAY ABOUT THE NAKED GUY

“You can’t do this! It will be the death of Integrity!” And not a moment too soon.

Not that we’re unsympathetic to this outburst by Dan (an endearingly silly Brian McManus), the stuffy but passionate artistic director of a puny, unpopular Off-Off-Broadway company, the previously-referenced Integrity Players. But given the sampling of Integrity in action — a painfully earnest and self-righteous set of classical gestures that opens, with much winking hilarity, this zinging new comedy by playwright David Bell — it’s hard not to be thankful for the jolt Dan gets to his artistic sensibilities, not to mention his fragile theater-family composed of stalwart star (a sharp Jai Sahai), visibly pregnant wife and lead actress (a temptingly innocent Eliza Leoni), and disdainful producer and mother-in-law (a riotously larger-than-life Monica Cappuccini).

The jolt, incidentally, comes courtesy of his new producing partners, the box office geniuses behind such gay flesh outings as Naked Boys Running Around Naked and I Am My Own Whore. With financial problems of their own, the crafty Eddie (John Ferreira) and his pair of preening club-boy sycophants, T. Scott (Adrian Anchondo) and Edonis (Timitio Artusio), have moved into Integrity’s little turf to, as Dan puts it, “Fuck art right up the ass.” In tow is their box-office bait, porn star Kit Swagger (a swaggering Steven Satyricon), titular titillator for Eddie’s latest extravaganza, an (even more) homoerotic staging of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.

Impact Theatre, which premieres The Play About the Naked Guy in its aptly seedy basement theater beneath a Berkeley pizza parlor, has a proven way with this kind of material. Directed with anarchic élan and requisite comical definition by Evren Odcikin, Naked Guy turns ably on stripper poles as well as a nicely off-the-shelf but just-true-enough clash between artistic truth and lowest-denominator mass entertainment. The real draw is in the camp, however, played to the hilt, and compellingly enough that it’s easy to echo Dan’s wife and mother-in-law in their rapt engagement with the trashy side: “This is fun! I wanna be gay too!”

“We all do, dear.”

PALOMINO

Wed.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 and 7 p.m.;

Tues., 7 p.m.; through Dec. 5; $10–$55

Aurora Theatre

2081 Addison, Berk.

(510) 843-4822

www.auroratheatre.org

THE PLAY ABOUT THE NAKED GUY

Thurs.–Sat., 8pm (no show Nov. 25); through Dec. 11; $10–$20

La Val’s Subterranean

1304 Euclid, Berk.

(800) 838-3006

www.brownpapertickets.com

Drawn and quartered

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM “I am not a cartoon cat,” she wrote.

I had shared a link to David O’Reilly’s devastatingly brilliant, computer-animated short film, Please Say Something (2008), the plot of which involves a cat and a mouse living together in an emotionally abusive relationship. The setup is Tom and Jerry, but the characters lead fully anthropomorphized lives: he’s a writer mouse, and most of the time he ignores her to work, even when she buys a new blue scarf. They fight, there’s yelling (or squeaking; the animal talk is subtitled.) The sad relationship is projected into the future, regretfully, with slight potential to go another way. When my girlfriend at the time watched it, I guess it came a little too close for comfort.

Being an animator is as terrible as being a writer. Working for Pixar aside, it’s an isolating process, requiring one to devote hours unending to solitary work (with the additional tedium of repetitiously rendering variations of the same image over and over to create just a few seconds of movement). Misanthropic masochists, with pens and tablets.

That’s most likely a gross stereotype. But watching the Irish-German Please Say Something and the eight other shorts that are part of “Nine Nation Animation,” a showcase for the world’s best recent animated work, I was struck by what seemed to be a shared sensibility, a dysfunctional relationship with the world.

The Belgian short film Flatlife (2004) extends the difficulty of getting along with just one person to all of one’s neighbors. A two-dimensional cutaway view of an apartment building reveals the relationship between the occupants of adjacent units. Set to a staccato drum soundtrack, the animators involve the characters in a chain of events where every decision of one person complicates the life of another.

In Norway’s Deconstruction Workers (2008), a laborer discusses the lack of meaning in life with a coworker. It’s depressing and deadpan, as you would expect, but placed in a comic background: the revolution literally happens without them, they remain utterly oblivious to social upheaval while hanging from beams in a bit from a Harold Lloyd picture.

According to programmer Jonathan Howell, “the intention of the program is to give viewers a sample of techniques and styles of animation from around the world.” There’s no theme, but “as they’re chosen by a selection committee of one, the films inevitably reflect matter that I find interesting.” And it’s true, there are more shorts in the program that aren’t specifically about a social malaise, and have their appeal in other areas. Some are lighter, and some are totally bleak.

As a showcase, “Nine Nation Animation” may be a “mature,” not-for-kids program, but it illustrates the most provocative characteristic of all animation: the ability to approach the darkest of subjects with levity and amusement. How else would you laugh at two people running around hitting each other with frying pans?

NINE NATION ANIMATION

Nov. 19–25, $5–$9.75

Roxie

3117 16th St., SF

(415) 863-1087

www.roxie.com

 

Volume 45 Number 7 Flip-through Edition

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Shoot ’em up

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P>Call of Duty: Black Ops

(Treyarch / Activision), Xbox 360, PS3,Wii, PC

GAMER It probably wears on one’s self-esteem to be perennially known as the “B team,” but game developer Treyarch has carried the burden for five years in its work on the Call of Duty franchise. Following the runaway success of “A team,” and franchise progenitor Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare in 2007, Treyarch’s work on the series has gained a newfound level of awareness, and the company appears determined to take advantage of that increased visibility.

A lot of players were surprised when Treyarch’s 2008 follow-up to Modern Warfare, World at War, turned out to be just as good as Infinity Ward’s blockbuster, in spite of its return to the series’ tired World War II roots. This strategy of taking Ward’s successful formula and polishing it rigorously into a release simultaneously familiar and new is something Treyarch looks to repeat with this year’s Black Ops. But intensifying legal issues between Infinity Ward and parent company Activision mean all eyes are on the franchise and its future, setting a rocky scene for Treyarch’s big reveal.

Black Ops is set largely during the Cold War, globe-hopping from Cuba to Russia, Laos, and Vietnam. You play a top-secret operative as he is interrogated for information, each line of questioning launching the player into a flashback. The structure, which is a no-brainer for a series that leaps from location to location as much as Call of Duty does, allows Black Ops to deliver the best Duty story since Modern Warfare. To say that the story is vastly improved is not to say that the gameplay itself has taken any giant leaps — it’s got explosions but is consistently missing tension. With so many action set-pieces, you often find yourself running around frantically, not knowing what to do while shit explodes all around you and characters yell at you to hurry up. So not much has changed.

Luckily, the single player experience is no longer the feather in the franchise’s hat; players come for the series’ RPG-meets-shooter multiplayer, which has dominated the online charts since its debut. Treyarch hasn’t taken too many liberties here, and Black Ops‘ multiplayer plays a whole lot like its ancestors, but with fewer of the unnecessary perks and killstreaks that bloated last year’s Modern Warfare 2.

Solo-only players might find Black Ops the equivalent of a sugar fix, but the multiplayer continues to deliver the addictive experience that made the franchise so successful, and cuts a lot of fat in the process. It’s not Treyarch’s masterpiece, but it has shown that it can recognize the faults of the franchise and delivered a game that goes down far easier than the last Infinity Ward project.

Take that, “A team!”

Reel around the practice space

0

arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC It’s easy enough for Corey Cunningham, guitar player for Magic Bullets, to tell that I’m there to interview the band. Although 2200 César Chávez St. is bustling for 8:14 on a Wednesday night, I’m the only one around without an instrument. Magic Bullets practices in Secret Studios, a warehouse full of closets for bands to rehearse. “Lots of bands practice here,” Cunningham said. Through the walls I can hear the muffled sounds of different groups putting work in on something between a hobby and a dream.

We find the rest of the band crammed into its rented space, surrounded by broken amplifiers. Magic Bullets is rehearsing for a show at the Rickshaw Stop, as well as for a trip to the CMJ Music Marathon, a result of songs from its 2010 self-titled album on Mon Amie having received considerable college airplay. The trip is a new opportunity — despite making music for six years, the band had to start over after the recent departures of its drummer, keyboardist, and second guitarist.

According to Cunningham, who founded the band along with singer and lyricist Phil Benson, bringing in a new drummer was the hardest part. “There are no two drummers who sound the same,” he says. “Even if they’re playing the exact same drum beat, their drum sets sound different, the way they play sounds different. It changes your sound drastically.” Once the group decided to leave out a second guitarist, Magic Bullets’ sound, evocative of U.K. guitar pop, has become clearer. In tandem, the rhythm section is less prone to stuttering and has become more propulsive.

Some bands don’t make that transition at all, observes drummer Alex Kaiser. “If everyone leaves except you — like what happened with my old band — and you’re the only person living within 500 miles, [breaking up is] a pretty easy choice,” he said. Kaiser’s last band, Tempo No Tempo, dissolved earlier this year, with one member making the popular musician move to Brooklyn and the other deciding to pursue higher education.

“There was a month or two when we weren’t really doing Magic Bullets,” Cunningham says. The remaining members started a side project, called Terry Malts, “because we didn’t have a drummer.”

“We were like, ‘Let’s just have fun,'<0x2009>” said Benson. Nathan Sweatt, Magic Bullets’ bassist and third surviving member, qualifies Benson’s optimism: “We thought, we’re paying for this practice space, we may as well get some use out of it.” The group rents the rehearsal space monthly, out of pocket, for about the price of a room in West Oakland. And it’s not necessarily cheap.

“We’re day-jobbers,” Cunningham says. Earlier I ask (in a clichéd fashion) Magic Bullets to describe its image, and the answers veer jokingly between “regular Joes” and “cage fighters.” The former is suggested by keyboardist Sean “Shony Collins” McDonnell, the other recent addition, who splits his time away from the band studying animation and kung fu. With a tendency to quip in cartoon voices, it can be hard to take him seriously. But Benson does.

“I knew Sean from being in bands in the Peninsula,” Benson says. “He actually was the lead singer of this punk band Nathan [Sweatt], and I used to go see when I was 15 years old, Jacob Ham — the local heroes. We all kind of looked up to him, and I’ve actually taken cues from his performances. I’ve told him that before, and he’s always like ‘Aww, you.’ But it’s true.”

If the band has any claim to being working class, it comes from Benson and Cunningham (Sweatt is in education; Kaiser is an “engineer for a big-ass government lab.”) Both work retail jobs for a company that will go unnamed. Cunningham: “We try not to give them too much advertising.” Benson: “Let’s just say you can buy stuff there.”

We talk about CMJ. “[It’s] one of the only things on our bucket list we haven’t done,” Cunningham deadpans, “along with a bungee jump show.” They seem excited — the closest thing they can compare it to at this point is South by Southwest, which they played in a previous incarnation. Remembering how one blog described the group as “a noticeably drunk Magic Bullets,” they begin to theorize on the relationship between alcohol and performance. Cunningham looks embarrassed and says, “Maybe we shouldn’t be talking about this.”

While the whole band is quick to be self-effacing, Cunningham appears to be the most self-critical. On Magic Bullets’ MySpace page, a link to the Pitchfork review of its recent album is accompanied by the mood “weird” and an eye-rolling smiley. When I bring it up, Cunningham is eager to talk about it. “That was a weird one, right?” he says. “Did you notice that they gave us a good number? But you wouldn’t think they liked us at all if you read what they wrote.” He has a point. The number is decent (7.2) and the reviewer doesn’t really say a whole lot. Yet the reviewer accuses the band of ripping a riff within its song “Pretend & Descend” straight from the Smiths’ “Bigmouth Strikes Again.”

Cunningham denies this. Even going back to listen to the song, he says he can’t hear the resemblance, and I don’t press it because, personally, I don’t either. What’s likely worse than the accusation of plagiarism (which puts Magic Bullets in the fine company of the Flaming Lips, Elastica, and Joe Meek), is accusing the band of sounding like the Smiths, a familiar reference in writing about the band.

“I don’t think its a bad comparison,” Cunningham says. “I think it’s just sort of a shallow comparison because there are so many other influences that are a little more noticeable. You know that song “Lying Around”? We were listening to this song called “My Old Piano” that Chic played on. It’s a Diana Ross song. If you listen, it has a rhythmic sensibility. That sounds closer [to “Pretend & Descend”] to me than any Smiths song.”

These points of reference have their use, but they also have their limits. During a Magic Bullets show at the Knockout earlier in the year, a girl mentioned to me that they sounded like, surprise, the Smiths, only to immediately begin discussing Robert Smith. The band was on point, working the crowd into a frenzy that mirrored Benson’s ecstatic dancing as he circled around the crowded stage, singing longing lyrics about relationships that had gone awry for no good reason. Right then, surface similarities didn’t matter and the costs of a practice space seemed worth it. The most important thing with a band like Magic Bullets is that they keep giving it a shot.

MAGIC BULLETS

Dec. 10, 9 p.m.; call for price

Knockout

3223 Mission, SF

(415) 550-6994

www.myspace.com/magicbullets

www.theknockoutsf

30-minute ride

0

arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC Imagine being an artist-musician type and juggling all your favorite things just to stay afloat. Considering the Guardian’s demographic, it’s probably not too hard to imagine. This could be you. I’m not saying I feel sorry for you; it actually sounds fun if you can make it work. But at the same time, it’s got to be a constant hustle. That’s exactly how it goes for KIT, a band that — with members based out of Los Angeles and Oakland — has the California coast on lockdown.

KIT’s new album Invocation is out on Upset the Rhythm. Admittedly, sometimes I judge albums by their covers, and on this one, the colorful heap of junk, outdated toys, and discarded household items by Jessalyn Aaland could certainly read as foreshadowing to the dissonance of the sounds inside. Guitarist George Chen’s clashing and self-described “burly” sound is apparent throughout the collection, a follow-up to 2007’s Broken Voyage (also on Upset the Rhythm). In its entirety, the record clocks in at about 30 minutes.

Producer Phil Elverum, fresh from working with Mirah, gave the album a more “linear and organic” approach, according to Chen, helping them shift away from the digital tinkering and overdubs of their first effort. “I really liked how he did heavy guitar rock on [Mount Eerie’s] Black Wooden Ceiling and got it into my head that he would be an interesting choice to work with,” says Chen.

The band agreed on its new Pacific Northwest producer, known for his unorthodox recordings with Mount Eerie and the Microphones. Previously KIT had employed its drummer, Vice Cooler, as producer, while bringing in an engineer or two. This time around, the band goes analog. Bassist Steve Touchton says the album was recorded in less than one week.

Comparisons between KIT and bands such as Erase Errata and Deerhoof (who they shared a split 7-inch single with) do make sense. The chanting repetition of the word destiny on “Golden” is pretty infectious. Overall, that track stands out as a winner. “Sharks” is for extended listening and will make you stagger with its penetrating, drone-like, single-note guitar lick. The mood to hear the cacophony near the end may not always strike you, but the song conveys a sense of urgency.

“Cloud Chaser” is about creating your own sunshine on a cloudy day. I’m not joking. Kristy Gesch, KIT’s vocalist, sings about seeing someone, who I can only imagine is her boo, during a dreary day, and how when they’re happy, she’s happy. The song’s chief strength is its haiku-like simplicity — the lyric is four lines long.

At times, the album’s drenched-in-sunshine sound is juxtaposed with darker lyrical content. “Broke Heart” sounds more like the death of a loved one than the kind of heartbreak you experience from a breakup. Gesch wails about a nightmare that is both unfortunate and permanent. Perhaps this is one of the reasons Invocation finds KIT in a more reflective and inward state. I can’t confirm what exactly went down in the band’s personal lives.

I have a feeling KIT is one of those bands that sounds even better live. I don’t mean this in an insulting way and am not saying they don’t translate well to record. Given the sheer energy of its sound and knowing the types of places it plays, KIT’s all-inclusive philosophy is a stance that says nay to the ageist outlook that only 21-and-ups should enjoy this kind of music.

“It does turn out that all-ages shows by their nature are more fun than bar shows,” says Chen. “The younger kids are more amped on hearing music and not just having it as a soundtrack to drinking.”

KIT

With No Babies, Black Widow, Forked

Sat/20, 3–5 p.m.;

all ages, $5

Artists’ Television Access

992 Valencia, SF

(415) 824-3890

Hungary for more

0

arts@sfbg.com

FILM In recent years, on the film festival circuit at least, it seems like everything Romania puts out is gold — not that it puts out more than a handful of features per year. This vogue has overshadowed trends elsewhere in the region, notably neighbor Hungary, whose more richly historied, prolific film industry has produced some very interesting work of late. (On a less personalized level, its relatively pristine period architecture and low overhead draw a lot of foreign film shoots — Budapest subbing for Victorian
London, etc. — while different factors make it one of the world’s leading production hubs for porn.)

A few features have broken out commercially in the last decade, like Kontroll (2003), Hukkle (2002), and Fateless (2005) — disparate films united in creating spectral, macabre worlds on the border of horror, whether set in a subway system, quaint village, or Auschwitz. But several emerging directors, far more influenced by such native auteurs as Miklós Jancsó and Béla Tarr than the borderless film education DVD and cable can afford, have so far proved too idiosyncratic to travel much beyond the festival circuit.

A rare chance to see some of that work outside those confines can be had this week at the Roxie, which is hosting a short-run double bill under the umbrella "Magyar Tales of Kornél Mundruczó." Protégé of epic-enigma engineer Tarr — whose exasperatingly slow creative process was one alleged factor behind the suicide of the producer fictionalized in this year’s French drama The Father of My Children — sometime actor Mundruczó has written and directed several shorts and four features to date.

His 2002 debut Pleasant Dreams was a miserabilist frieze of dead-end rural youth. His newest, Tender Son: The Frankenstein Project, mixes similar elements with some taken directly from Mary Shelley. Its "monster" is a teenager exacting revenge for a life defined by abandonment, the director playing himself as … a director, one intrigued by our sociopathic antihero even after he commits several meaningless murders. Son was loathed by many
at Cannes and Toronto, but that’s not really discouraging — Mundruczó’s films are of stubbornly minority appeal, either meditative or watching-paint dry in pace, pretentious or perfect in their narrative simplicity.

The Roxie is playing the two features between. Delta (2008) was originally planned as a revenge saga. But when lead actor Lajos Bertók abruptly died mid-production, Mundruczó replaced him with composer Félix Lajkó and overhauled the script to suit his more reticent personality. Lank-haired, scruffily bearded Mihail (Lajkó) returns to his native Danube village after 25 years’ absence. No one is happy to see him save sister Fauna (Orsolya Tóth) — and she isn’t the effusive type, either.

Diffidently rising above the pervasive culture of loutishness, this somber duo attracts resentment (toward the roll of cash Mihail has to bankroll constructing a well-isolated house upriver), gossip (over their imagined, then real, incestuousness), and eventual violent hostility. Delta is a parable of intolerance as poetically primitive as early Herzog (there’s even some Popol Vuh on the soundtrack); its utter affectlessness will strike you as hypnotic or maddening.

On another note entirely — well, almost — the director’s prior Johanna (2005) is all interior tracking shots to Delta‘s stock-still rural pictures, stillness, and sonic sparseness replaced by the sound of a whole lotta music. At the start, survivors from a large-scale accident are hauled into a subterranean hospital, moaning and bleeding. Then suddenly a tenor doctor trills "The rehearsal is over! Let the dead and injured get up and walk," which they do. All but Johanna (Tóth again), a junkie who’s snuck in to steal pharmaceuticals. Caught, she falls down stairs, lapsing into a coma. On awakening, a smitten medic (Zsolt Trill) trains her as nurse. Her healing prowess proves unconventional, however, even miraculous — both sacred and profane, leading to a martyrdom that (like Joan of Arc’s) cements her sainthood.

A 86-minute opera created for the screen, Johanna is musically rich — who is composer Zsófia Tallér and why isn’t she getting major commissions abroad? — but also wholly cinematic. While seeming an anomaly, its cryptic characterization and suspicious view of society are of a piece with Mundruczó’s other work to date.

MAGYAR TALES OF KORNÉL MUNDRUCZÓ

Nov. 22–24, $5–$9.75

Roxie

3117 16th St., SF

(415) 863-1087

www.roxie.com

Ode to a N-Owl

0

Honest to Tyra, one of my absolute favorite things in the world is the N-Judah Night Owl bus at 3 a.m. Where else can you encounter such a juicy cross-section of the city’s nightlife players — at least the ones too broke or too cheap (or too hot, like me) to snag a cab home?

The guilt-eyed bridesmaid lured away from her bachelorette for a quickie in the bushes; electro kids still fidgety from that tragic final snort; full-throated bro-skis trying tipsily to locate the end of their sentences; post-concert hipsters screaming over their own blown eardrums, ankles swollen and bright blue from asphyxiating jeggings (still!); drooling newbie Googlers who tried so very hard to be “cool,” succumbing to drowsy numbness as their $300 steampunk sunglasses slip, one lens cracked, from their acne-scarred foreheads; botched pot deals, stunned French teens, cruisy bears, fresh tweakers, gothic Lolitas, country line-dancers, really aspiring rappers, several actual hotties … Amazing. Especially when someone busts out a boombox. All aboard our homegrown diesel-driven party train, woot woot!

 

NERD NITE

“It’s like the Discovery Channel … with beer!” I’m not sure if there’s going to be intentional dancing at this hot monthly snarf-a-thon, but feisty cerebella should be jumpin’ for these presentations: “Mars’s Lumpy Bumpy Neato Magneto(sphero),” “Penguins, the True Chickens of the Sea,” and “The Perilous Infirmity of Burning: The History of Neisseria Gonorrhea.” OK!

Wed/17, doors 7:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m., $8. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. sf.nerdnite.com

 

PACO OSUNA

They say that minimal is dead — but it actually just got hijacked by hot Spaniards. They added some much-needed swing and even humor (not to mention a little color) to the pale-faced genre, keeping the intellectual rigor but expanding its rhythmic template. Beardy Barcelonan Paco Osuna still likes it dark and heady in a Plus8 Records vein, but he knows how to thump the floor as well.

Thu/18, 9:30 p.m., $10. Vessel, 85 Campton Pl., SF. www.vesselsf.com

 

RADIOACTIVITY

The monthly happy hour celebrating “the sound of low budget synthesizers, Eastern European Cold War dance parties, and the more experimental, dubby, and danceable side of post-punk” turns one year colder with special guests Dominique Leone, one of SF’s best hoarders of vinyl plutonium, and Wobbly, plus residents Robots.In.Heat and Tristes Tropique.

Fri/19, 6 p.m.–9 p.m., free. 222 Hyde, SF. www.222hyde.com

 

SIMIAN MOBILE DISCO

Yes, the Brit duo is still here, and yes, they are still your friends. I never use the word “eargasm,” because ew, but if your rocks pop for anthemic electro bombast and fuzzy blasts of bass tempered ever so slightly by devilishly insistent samples, then yes, you will have a bananas one of those.

Fri/19, 9 p.m., $18 advance. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com

 

DUBSTEP BEAT BATTLE

Little recognized fact: the Bay has a shit-ton of excellent beats-production talent. (The recent Red Bull Big Tune and BART Series Big Battle were explosions of creativity.) Promoters Phillip Drummond and Ro Knew are unleashing the future wobble with this multiplayer rumble. Plus, it’s a canned food drive for Glide — bring a tin, leave with tinnitus?

Sat/20, 9 p.m., $10/$7 with can of food. Club Six, 66 Sixth St., SF. www.clubsix1.com

 

ILL-ESHA

Breakbeat specialist turned harmonic dubstep heroine (with occasional acid crunk overtones), the Daly City Records artist brings a decade of experience and some spicy live vocals to the tables. This special release party for her new EP includes Brit glitch-hoppers Glitchy and Scratchy, B. Bravo, Slayers Club DJs, and everybody’s favorite cuddly purple noise-monster, Mochipet.

Sat/20, 10 p.m.–3 a.m., $10. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com

 

SEAN PRICE

The adventurous-eared monthly Frequency party brings in this super-talented, kicked-back, bearish Brooklyn rapper — as one-half of the classic Heltah Skeltah, Price rocked and rucked the ’00s, on his own he’s rolling over tasty Lee Mason “Shady Blues” samples. With Danny Brown, Moe Green, Quelle, and DJ Joe Quixx of Oakland Faders.

Sat/20, 10 p.m.–3 a.m., $10 advance. Mighty. 119 Utah, SF. www.mighty119.com 

Skool

1

paulr@sfbg.com

DINE When, in the course of human events, you come across a wood-fired pizza oven in a seafood house — in a seafood house tending in the direction of a sushi bar, no less — you probably blink twice, wondering if you’ve somehow mixed up your meds. But no: step into Skool and there it is, flickering on your left. There is a small catch (!) to stepping into Skool, and that’s finding it in the first place. The restaurant, which opened early in July, lies in a nameless border country surrounded by Mission Bay, Potrero Hill, and the gallery district.

Fifteen or 20 years ago this bricky warehouse neighborhood was deserted at night, and even today, you’d never think you were at the corner of 16th and Valencia streets. Compounding the mystery is the reticence of Skool itself; the restaurant’s street face is a row of tall steel posts, like some kind of barrier to keep tanks from rolling through, marked only by a graphic of an orange fish.

From a checkpoint-like gate you trek steadily uphill, around three sides of an open-air patio, until you finally step inside and find yourself under a firmament of halogen-spot stars, on a loft-like concrete planet forested with gorgeous wood furniture, some pieces of which (I am thinking in particular of the long communal table) look as though they could have come from the workshop of Gustav Stickley himself. It’s sleek, elegant, open, and warm, and the wood makes all the difference.

The restaurant’s style of cooking both does and doesn’t belong in such a setting. It, too, is sophisticated and urban, but — unlike the interior design — it too often goes too far and seems complex for the sake of being complex. The servers are well-drilled in explaining the nuances of the menu and the ingredients that grace the various specials, but the recitations, in their extensive and ruthless precision, made me feel as if I were watching one of those pharmaceutical ads on television, with their windy warnings about side effects that can include drowsiness, dizziness, and sudden death, not to mention certain phenomena lasting more than four hours.

The kitchen’s tendency seems to be not to let high-quality ingredients speak in their own voice without being interrupted — a kind of culinary version of SPIRD (smartest person in the room disorder). We were assured, for instance, that the cubed halibut in the ceviche ($11) was “sashimi grade,” yet it was inflamed with serrano chili and cilantro — two items I love, but they can overwhelm the delicacy of pale-fleshed fish. House-cured sardines ($10) held up a little better, with their oiliness and firmness of flesh not disappearing in the presence of raspberried onion, herb oil, and pillows of ripe avocado. But still, it was a struggle.

A straightforward bowl of squid-ink spaghettini ($17) turned out to be a treasure trove of complexity, with Monterey Bay squid and local white shrimp bathed in a broth of lemongrass, red curry, seaweed butter, and diced tomatoes. These flavors were harmoniously blended, and the look of the dish was striking — a mass of writhing purple-black filaments, like a wig from a character in a Pixar movie — but it did seem to lack a clear direction. A lot of voices, skillfully directed, can become a choir, but they can also turn into a tower of Babel.

Spiced panko salmon ($18) — a thick, shapely filet crusted on one side with bread crumbs — was served atop a sauté of green and yellow wax beans. It was moist and flavorful, but so rich I felt as if I was eating a stick of butter. The fish had been “pan grilled” — in butter?

Some of the best dishes had nothing to do with the sea. The mushroom risotto ($20) was beautifully cooked al dente, and its troupe of wild fungi (among them enoki, buna shimeji, and eryngii) was enhanced by a strong charge of truffle oil, along with plenty of grated Parmesan cheese for that final nutty-salty touch. And (from the pizza oven!) a wonderful flatbread, or coca ($15), like a slimmed-down focaccia, with Laura Chenel goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, tapenade, and greens.

The dessert menu, of all places, was an oasis of calm amid the frenzy. A rich slice of chocolate tart ($6) was subtly enhanced with cardamom, while a pear tart ($6) was a disciplined reimagining of that old autumn classic from France, tarte tatin — flaky housemade pastry, fruit in its prime, some whipped cream, not much too it, really. And yet: from less, more.

SKOOL

Dinner: nightly, 5–10 p.m.

Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

Brunch: Sat.–Sun., noon–4 p.m.

1725 Alameda, SF

(415) 255-8800

www.skoolsf.com

Full bar

AE/DC/DS/MC/V

On the noisy side

Wheelchair accessible

Jail bait

0

le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS On a day when I felt really very much like oiling a countertop with my elbows, I oiled a countertop with my elbows! This proves that such a thing as free will exists, I think.

Proving that I’m not a very great thinker, because maybe I was predetermined to want what I wanted, or maybe we all want the same thing: barbecued pork ramen.

Other evidence of my not-greatness, brainwise, includes knocking over the popcorn, letting my bike basket get moldy, and locking myself out of my apartment seven or eight times a day. I’m exaggerating.

The good news is, I have managed to live my life so far entirely in and occasionally locked out of apartments. Or at least vans. I have never been homeless, or, worse, incarcerated against my will. Every time I see a mental institution I think: there, but for the grace of God, go I. Same with jails.

My poor mom, who has been in both of those places, kicking and screaming, is also in me. See? I believe in genetics. I don’t believe in God, but I do believe in “the grace of God,” I guess, because so far I have managed to pass as merely kooky. And in this people tend to humor me and keep spare keys to my apartment.

Still, there’s a certain moodiness with which one walks or bicycles past the Hall of Justice, if one is me. I mean, if I’m driving a car I’m okay, because the sight of all those police just scares me into closing my eyes, thinking about ponies, and stepping on the gas.

Pedically speaking, I stick to the other side of the street, basking in the barrage of bail bondage. It’s San Francisco’s most alliterative block of businesses, you know: Bail Bonds, Bail Bonds, Bail Bonds, Bail Bonds, Sushi, Bail Bonds, Bail Bonds, Bail —

What the? Did I just say sushi?

Yep. Believe it, jurors and judges. Oh, and bad guys, you no longer have to go to jail without first having one last California roll, or meet with your friendly neighborhood bail bondsmanperson over McDonalds. God damn, what a great city this is! What a wonderful and humane criminal justice system we have here, now that Live Sushi is on the block.

Good luck finding the entrance.

I took the trouble because a) they had a counter, although it wasn’t exactly what my elbows had had in mind. On the other hand, there was a cooking show on TV, and b) they had ramen. And soba and udon. For like, $8 or $9 at lunch time. Which it was.

I wished I could afford some sushi too, but, nah. This is not no criminal justice system sushi, pricewise. It’s Potrero Hill, only crammed between a bunch of bail bonds boutiques. So alls I could afford was a bowl of barbecue pork ramen and a glass of ice water.

Gotta say: the water was very very good, and cold, and came with free refills, and the soup was excellent. The pork could have been a bit less cooked, but the broth was delicious, and I loved the little curly pickles and the ginger. And the ramen. Great bowl of soup, new favorite restaurant. And I think I learned something from watching TV, but I forget what it was. Something about chicken bones.

Anyway, I stopped at Trader Joe’s and bought me their cheapest chicken on the way home, because Mr. Wong was coming over for his own private, personal cooking show, his first, and I wanted to show him how to make five meals from one chicken … a trick I learned by listening to Spot 1019 in the old days.

I didn’t want to start cooking dinner without him, although that’s usually what I do as soon as I’m done with lunch. So, to kill time, I decided to clean the mold off of my super cool Toto Too bike basket.

I went upstairs to borrow some bleach off Earl Butter and, of course, locked myself out of my apartment. There’s a couch in the lobby. And a magazine rack. For the rest of the afternoon, I didn’t get anything done.

LIVE SUSHI BISTRO

Mon.–Fri.: 11 a.m.–10 p.m.;

Sat.–Sun.: 4:30 p.m.–10 p.m.

1 Gilbert, SF

(415) 558-8778

D,MC,V

Beer and wine

alt.sex.column: Wham bam

0

Dear Andrea,

I’m almost 40 and a newlywed. I was a virgin! Unfortunately, sex has not been good for me. His heart races, he sweats. Me? Nothing. No pleasure, no excitement, nothing! I WANT SOME TOO!!! I tried talking to him and we have tried several positions, unfortunately, his favorite missionary position usually hurts. I tend to just give in and pretend I’m enjoying it. I’m hoping you can help or at least lead me to someone who can!

Love,

Desperate Not-A-Housewife

Dear Wife:

I see several different issues here, at least, starting with: Why were you still a virgin at 40? This is rare enough to merit mention, especially under the circumstances.

2) Does he have a lot of experience to your none, or were you both late bloomers?

3) Pain with missionary position? No good, and not normal.

4) Faking it. A classic example of “seems like a good idea at the time.” Isn’t.

OK, so. I’m going to assume that there was something unappealing about either sex, intimacy, or both, for you to leave it so long. There is nothing inherently wrong with not having sex, but it’s a better fit for those who simply aren’t interested. You manifestly are interested, so that is something to look at.

I’d really like to know if he is having fun while you’re not. It’s kind of hilariously awful to think of you both having ungratifying sex night after night and nobody ever mentioning it, but I’m thinking that’s not what’s going on. He is having OK sex while you are not. Also awful, less funny, and a little harder to broach, what with your having to burst his bubble, but burst it you must. Bring it up as a mutual thing, let’s make it better all around, and so on. But you are going to have to admit that you are not, shall we say, fully engaged. Not talking about it about it is guaranteed to eventually break everything not yet broken. I wouldn’t rule out some counseling with a sex-positive counselor, either.

Finally, you are going to have to figure out what you do want if this is ever to improve. If you masturbate, you fantasize. How can you get real life better aligned with fantasy life? If you’re thinking it would be nice if he started slower, paid more attention to your clitoris, and made sure you were responding before he kept doing something, we’ve got something to work with.

As far as how-tos go, I doubt you need a tutorial in hip-moving. But if you do, there is a world of instructional material out there. It is called porn. If that sounds icky, you can try the amateur stuff or any of the seemingly dozens of series with names like “Better Sex” or “Loving Couples.” Bonus: watching any of these things together is going to at least start you on the way to the sweating and elevated heart-rate you so justly deserve to experience.

I think your libido is fine. You’re not getting excited because who gets excited anticipating something dull and a little painful? Get that looked at.

Love,

Andrea

Got a question? Email Andrea at <!– /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:”MS Mincho”; panose-1:2 2 6 9 4 2 5 8 3 4; mso-font-alt:”MS 明朝”; mso-font-charset:128; mso-generic-font-family:modern; mso-font-pitch:fixed; mso-font-signature:-1610612033 1757936891 16 0 131231 0;} @font-face {font-family:”\@MS Mincho”; panose-1:2 2 6 9 4 2 5 8 3 4; mso-font-charset:128; mso-generic-font-family:modern; mso-font-pitch:fixed; mso-font-signature:-1610612033 1757936891 16 0 131231 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:””; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;} p.MsoPlainText, li.MsoPlainText, div.MsoPlainText {margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:”Courier New”; mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} –> andrea@mail.altsexcolumn.com

America’s original sin

1

arts@sfbg.com

VISUAL ART Going into “Huckleberry Finn,” the final installment in the Wattis Institute’s trilogy of group shows organized around canonical American novels, it is perhaps best to heed the notice Mark Twain places at the outset of the text from which this exhibit takes its name and inspiration: “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”

The only punishment one risks incurring with “Finn” is self-inflicted fatigue from trying to take it in all at once. As befits Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn — a book that is, among many things, a satiric portrait of the post-Reconstruction South, a vernacular bildungsroman, an exploration of the cross-racial politics of friendship, and a fictionalized travelogue — curator and Wattis director Jens Hoffmann sets a bold course across American geography, social and literary history, and visual art that is as expansive and winding as the Mississippi.

Much as he did with “The Wizard of Oz” in 2008 and “Moby Dick” last year, Hoffmann — firing on all cylinders here — has assembled a visual dossier that takes an open source approach to its primary text. In the spirit of Twain’s warning shot to plot-seekers and would-be moralists, the exhibit’s pamphlet calls its presentation “fragmented and inconclusive.” This description, like Twain’s, is only partially true. Individually, the pieces (including 15 new commissions) vary in terms of how directly and from what direction they engage with Twain’s novel. But Hoffmann’s talent as a curator lies in grouping together works, artists, and eras that, under the broad umbrella of “Huckleberry Finn,” have something new to say to each other — and to us.

Book-ended by two screening rooms, the first floor galleries examine Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from a largely historical perspective, treating the text and its author as historical objects (in addition to some handsomely bound first editions of the book, there’s even a reproduction of Twain’s trademark white suit, hung casually on a coat rack) and exploring in more depth the cultural geography of the Mississippi (see James T. Loyd’s long survey of the river’s lower half), and in particular, the social inequalities wrought by King Cotton’s reign.

Some of the works, such as Horace Pippin’s two 1944 oils of antebellum life, Harlem Renaissance painter Claude Clarke’s harrowing depiction of a slave lynching, or Alec Soth’s 2002 photographic series documenting the beauty and strangeness of the riverside, are, each in their own ways, remarkable forms of reportage. Other pieces are pointed interventions. Betye Saar’s The Liberation of Aunt Jemima (1972) is a mixed media sculpture that arms a mammy doll, set against a background of Aunt Jemima syrup labels, with a rifle and a broom.

The same could be said of the works on the exhibit’s second floor, as well as their arrangement, which more explicitly addresses the ugly legacy of what historian George M. Fredrickson has called “America’s original sin,” slavery. Right out of the elevator, one is confronted with a powerful triptych: Warhol’s screenprint Birmingham Race Riot (1964) is displayed beside a reproduction of a segregation-era sign that reads “BLACKS ONLY,” and both hang above Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ The End (1990), a stack of free-to-take posters placed against the wall, each one containing a white space framed by a black border.

Whereas pieces in the lower galleries are arranged with greater room between them, Hoffmann fills the second floor chockablock with representations of degradation and defiance: Kara Walker’s massive and monstrous shadow-play of rape and violence covers one wall; Ruth Marion-Baruch’s stoic photographs of Black Panther leaders hang on another. It’s as if Hoffmann felt that the only means of adequately depicting “Jim’s turbulent quest for freedom,” to again quote the program notes’ gloss on things, was actual disorder.

Appropriate to a show inspired by Twain, some works also exhibit a sense of humor as they engage with larger issues. Simon Fujiwara’s video piece — in which the artist dons a kind of cultural drag, playing an exaggerated caricature of himself being interviewed about his relationship to the character Jim — becomes funnier as his interlocutor’s questions become more ridiculous. It is a tall tale — aimed at both critics and artists — about misreading artistic practice as identity formation, and it is worthy of Huck himself.

HUCKLEBERRY FINN

Through Dec. 11

CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts

1111 Eighth St., SF

(415) 551-9210

www.wattis.org

Free parking

0

arts@sfbg.com

THEATER/DANCE In the world of performing arts, it often feels like there is a dearth of resources. The race for funding, rehearsal space, performance space, and audience attention can easily create disillusion. Lucky for San Francisco, there is a light in all this resource madness: the Garage, a small theater run by Joe Landini.

“There is a danger in believing in limited resources,” Landini recently said. He believes in abundance, that there is actually plenty of room for everyone who wants to create work, and that perpetuating this kind of thinking is essential to the mission of the Garage.

An unassuming building, the Garage’s little red door at 975 Howard St. leads into a modest foyer and black box theater. The basement houses a green room, dressing room, and prop closet in one. A lighting board allowing for tech support and sound can be found directly off the stage to the right of the audience seating. A single bathroom and sink are behind the stage’s back curtain. Yet despite its meager facilities, the Garage is home to a surprisingly large number of artists. Approximately 120 performers from diverse disciplines enjoy residencies at the Garage every year, culminating in more than 200 shows annually.

The Garage offers two kinds of residencies for performing artists: AIRspace (artist in residence), which is geared toward queer artists, and RAW (Resident Artist Workshop), the general program. Both are 12-week residencies culminating in a two-night performance run. Artists receive four hours a week of rehearsal space, totaling 48 hours, plus publicity and technical support. Resident artists may also have the opportunity to present their works-in-progress at the informal Raw and Uncut performance series. But perhaps the pièce de résistance of all this is that it comes at no cost to the artist: the Garage provides free rehearsal space, performance space, tech support, and press.

The Garage’s humble facility might be a clue to how this generosity is achieved. Another clue lies in the number of theater personnel; a friend who recently attended a Garage show commented on Landini’s presence, asking who the guy was who ushered, bartended, ran tech, and was basically the Garage’s ringmaster. In other words, there’s no staff and no expensive facility to run either. The Garage is funded entirely by grants and ticket sales, which goes to supporting the artists.

Angela Mazziotta moved to San Francisco earlier this year after completing her BFA in dance at the University of South Florida. Although she had choreographed within her BFA program, she had little experience creating work outside the college environment. Interested in further exploring her choreographic voice, she took up a residency at the Garage in August and will be presenting her new work, SMACKdab — a piece dissecting themes of belonging — Dec. 1-2 as part of the RAW performance series. While researching the dance community before moving to San Francisco, she stumbled across the Garage’s webpage and recalls feeling like the Garage sounded like a place she could start establishing herself. Mazziotta is an example of a newcomer to the SF dance scene who has been able to pursue her choreographic interests through the Garage’s magnanimity.

“The Garage is a place for anyone who wants to get their dance out there,” Mazziotta mused. More likely, the Garage is a place for anyone who wants to put anything out there. From traditional to classical to contemporary to avant-garde to downright insane, the breadth of the work presented at the Garage is staggering. Sometimes the Garage is sold out; other times there’s a sympathetic handful — but the work goes on.

Although the majority of resident artists come from dance backgrounds — due in part to Landini’s strong ties within the dance community — the Garage is by no means limited to dance. Anything performance-related — thespians, circus groups, musicians, poets, and artists of all walks have enjoyed time on the Garage’s stage — can ostensibly find a home there. The basic screening process includes a short write-up of the proposed work and a YouTube video of prior work, and the majority of applicants are granted residencies. This egalitarian mentality manifests the Garage’s guiding principle that anyone who is willing to give their time and energy in the name of art should have a place to do so.

Thus, a new dancer to the city who needs a place to start choreographing can begin at the Garage. A more established artist with limited funds who wants a theater to present work in is welcome there as well. A multidisciplinary artist interested in combining poetry and film would fit in. An eccentric group of performers who stand on their heads and juggle eggs with their feet could probably be accommodated as well. Imagination is the limit. Whatever the inclination or area of interest, the black box theater at 975 Howard will continue to house and assist performing artists through its generous programming and services. Everyone has a voice, and everyone who wants to should have a forum in which to express that voice. The Garage is a perfect example of an institution that supports and promotes the expression of all voices.

www.975howard.com

Delta death

5

By Patrick Porgans and Lloyd Carter

news@sfbg.com

While Californians were held captive waiting for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature to agree on spending cuts and adopt a budget, state officials were throwing hundreds of millions of dollars down the drain and compounding California’s water crisis.

Water officials have wasted more than $10 billion and 35 years in extended delays in their failed attempt to carry out their legal mandates to protect the waters of the state and restore the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary. The result: water quality in the estuary is rapidly declining; fisheries are in crisis; and the proposed solution, an $11 billion bond act set for the ballot in 2012, will only make things worse.

The primary source of the water-quality crisis is a toxic mix of salt and chemicals discharged from lands irrigated by subsidized water delivered by the federal Central Valley Project to contractors farming on the arid west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

The salt comes from several sources. Irrigation water — particularly from the delta, where the water is somewhat brackish — contains salt. There also is salt and traces of much more toxic selenium in the soil. Industrial fertilizers add more dangerous chemicals to the mix. And since crops grown in the Central Valley don’t absorb much salt and the constant flushing with irrigation water leaches the selenium out of the soil, a nasty stew starts to build up.

This U.S. Geological Survey map shows a plan by federal and state regulators to divert toxic water more directly into the Sacramento Delta. All these diversion plans ignore the fact that poorly drained land isn’t suitable for farming.

If the irrigation water isn’t drained off, the salt buildup in the groundwater renders the land unusable to farming. In essence, farmers have been dumping the runoff water — laden with salt and selenium, along with mercury and boron — into the San Joaquin River, which carries it back into the delta and the bay.

All this is being done as the government declares its intent to save the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary.

How much salt are we talking about? According to a 2006 U.S. Geological Survey report, it amounts to about 17 railroad cars a day, each capable of carrying 100 tons of salt, as well as selenium and mercury. That’s 3.4 million pounds of salt a day being dumped in the lower San Joaquin River.

Of course, the river is a freshwater habitat, so all that salt damages plant and fish life.

Some experts say that part of the toxic stew is ultimately flushed out to sea, and the rest perhaps enters the aquatic food chain or at least degrades cleaner delta water.

As far back as the 1998, the state Water Board staff reported that salt loads in the valley were doubling every five years. Toxic salt-loading is not only taking its toll on the river and Bay-Delta Estuary, it’s draining the state treasury since myriad publicly funded programs for drainage, water quality improvement, fisheries restoration, and others continue to be financed with borrowed money from the deficit-ridden General Fund.

The water quality problem was identified as a potential crisis in the 1950s and has contributed to the pollution of a significant length of the 330-mile San Joaquin River. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 215.4 miles of the river are on the list of waterways so polluted they’re unfit to swim in. And some species of fish from the river aren’t safe to eat.

On a 1999 EPA map, the valley is the single largest “more serious water quality problem — high vulnerability” area in the nation.

Water officials, drainers, and the major environmental groups forged a deal in 1995 to permit the toxic drainage to continue until October 2010, at which time the discharges were to end. But that hasn’t happened; the water boards have approved a new target date for compliance (2019) and sanctioned continued dumping of toxic drainage. The train wreck in the making will be allowed to continue dumping and pumping toxic salts every day into the waters of the state for the rest of this decade.

The tons of toxics salts being discharged into the waters of the state are only the tip of the iceberg. An unfathomable amount of toxic salts are also being stored in the soil underground, contaminating groundwater basins throughout the valley.

State and federal officials have put a lot of faith in a federal Bureau of Reclamation project known as the Grasslands Bypass, which is designed to send contaminated agricultural water through a part of the old San Luis Drain (that once led to the contamination of the Kesterson Wildlife Refuge) into a San Joaquin tributary known as Mud Slough.

The Grasslands Bypass Project, begun in 1995, is operated by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation. It reroutes subsurface agricultural drainage water around wetlands on its way eastward to the San Joaquin River.

Originally the agricultural runoff traveled through Salt Slough (a San Joaquin River tributary), which passed through wetlands on the way to the river. The Grasslands Bypass Project uses the San Luis Drain to reroute that runoff around approximately 100,000 acres of land between Firebaugh and Los Banos and into Mud Slough (another tributary of the San Joaquin River).

Carolee Krieger, president of the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), says the Grasslands Bypass Project misses the point. The best solution, she said, is to stop farming altogether on the poorly-draining western valley along the San Joaquin River.

The project protects the wetlands but hurts the river itself. Dennis Lemly, research professor of biology at Wake Forest University in Winston/Salem, N.C., confirmed in December 2009 that the continuation of the Grasslands Bypass Project will cause a 50 percent mortality among juvenile Chinook salmon and Central Valley Steelhead in the San Joaquin River. Furthermore, the state water board lists both the Carquinez Strait and Suisun Bay, both downstream from the San Joaquin River, as “impaired” for their excessive selenium content.

At best, the bypass project can only slightly mitigate the damage. The only real way to resolve the discharge of the tons of toxic salts is to stop irrigating land that has known drainage problems.

In the early 1980s, the discharge of the toxic salts into the now-closed Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge, located in the San Joaquin Valley, was the site of one of the worst government-induced wildlife crises in American history. Several studies have since been conducted and numerous Band-Aid-type fixes have been implemented, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. So far officials have failed to identify a viable cost-effective solution to the toxic agricultural drainage crisis and estimate a pilot program will cost at least $2 billion.

Meanwhile, the Legislative Analyst reported in 2008 that the state and federal government have spent $5 billion on projects to improve the Delta.

This is one of the ways your tax dollars fund the destruction of the San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem.

Patrick Porgans is a Sacramento-based water-policy consultant. Lloyd Carter, a former UPI and Fresno Bee reporter, has covered water issues in California for more than 30 years. For more information, go to www.lloydgcarter.com and www.planetarysolutions.org. Additional research was done by Noah Arroyo.

Down on the farm

0

rebeccab@sfbg.com

Sherman Island may barely register for motorists traveling over the Antioch Bridge and through the delta on Highway 160. Almost wholly owned by the Department of Water Resources, the roughly 10,000-acre patch of Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta flatland is barely developed, and probably home to more cows than people. It lies at the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, where freshwater mixes with the salty seawater of the San Francisco Bay.

What isn’t obvious at first glance is that Sherman Island was once host to highly productive agriculture — but as delta water quality diminished, farmers saw their crop yields plummet. Larry Del Chiaro, who formerly headed the Sherman Island Landowners Association, used to grow asparagus, wheat, barley, safflower, milo, hay, and other crops on the island. But today, like nearly all the others who previously raised crops there, he no longer has property there and has moved on. His story illustrates how California water policies have benefited one group while affecting the livelihoods of the people who live in the state’s central water hub, the delta.

“I was a third-generation farmer on the island,” Del Chiaro told the Guardian on a hot August day in the city of Pittsburg. “My grandfather started it. My father, his brothers, my cousins were all on the island farming.” Del Chiaro majored in soil science in the 1970s and was interested in increasing crop yields, so he set up test plots and was closely monitoring their progress.

But by 1987, the yields were plummeting dramatically — a drought had hit the state, and Sherman Island farmers weren’t getting enough fresh water to sustain their crops. Instead of going to irrigate farmland in the delta, much of the scarce freshwater was being pumped south through the State Water Project to agricultural lands in the arid San Joaquin Valley, causing the delta water to get saltier and saltier.

It presented a problem that was particularly acute in that location. “Sherman Island, to use a cliché, is the plug for the Sacramento Delta,” Del Chiaro said. “We’re the last one to get the freshwater, and the first one to get the saltwater intrusion.”

The North Delta Water Agency, a regional water body, had a contract on behalf of the island’s landowners with the Department of Water Resources (DWR) that guaranteed a certain level of water quality. But DWR’s contractual obligations weren’t met that year. “As the drought continued, our water quality diminished, and diminished, and diminished, till it got to the point where we had to rely on Mother Nature for rainfall,” Del Chiaro said. “And when we didn’t get rainfall, our crops suffered.”

Under state water law, Sherman Island landowners had riparian water rights, which allowed them use of the freshwater that flowed past their land. The overarching problem, he said, was that DWR couldn’t meet contractual obligations to both the delta farmers and the San Joaquin Valley farmers in a dry year because it had over-promised water deliveries through the State Water Project. “We have no control over what Mother Nature gives us in terms of rainfall and the snow pack,” he said. “So they were being overly optimistic in terms of all those contracts.”

With the help of consultant Patrick Porgans and a San Francisco attorney, Del Chiaro and the 26 other Sherman Island landowners sued DWR for damages. In 1991, the state settled for $3.6 million, and the farmers were paid for not drawing water out of the delta. Soon after, DWR bought up the island. Once the water agency took control, it eliminated the need for DWR to satisfy contractual obligations to provide freshwater to the Sherman Island farmers. The farmers had cleared out, and the agency’s problem was solved.

“Compared to the San Joaquin Valley, the vast amount of acreage out there, the people that they employ, and the business compared to the delta, we’re kind of a drop in the bucket,” Del Chiaro noted. “Still, there are the businesses in the delta that basically survive off of our farming operation.”

Sherman Island is more well-known to recreational boaters and travelers, and Chris and Dawn Gulick provide a place for delta vacationers at Eddo’s Harbor & RV Park, located on Gallagher Slough on the east side of the island. Eddo’s wasn’t always a harbor and RV park — when Chris Gulick’s father started the business in 1967, fishing was the primary attraction and the small harbor maintained a fleet of fishing boats for rent. The State Water Project came online around the same time, marking the beginning of freshwater pumping out of the delta.

As delta water quality worsened over the years, there were fewer fish to be caught, so over the decades it became less practical to maintain the fishing vessels. Today, the fishing boats have been sold, and Eddo’s primarily gets its business from recreational boaters looking for guest slips or travelers who find their way to the quiet waterfront park to stay in their RVs.

Chris Gulick emphasized the larger picture during an interview about water issues in the delta, but he acknowledged that his business had been affected by what he saw as the state’s misguided water policies. “When we got here, the striped bass fishery was robust,” he said, “and it slowly has declined, and it steadily has declined.”

Gulick said countless experts and researchers had been in and out of the delta over the years, but he felt that the core problem had to do with governance of the system and the fact that water agencies had over-promised the water.

“The problem with the delta, or the water situation, is that the people that are in policy and are writing these guidelines don’t have a vested interest,” he said. “A lot of them don’t know a whole lot about this, but they’re the experts. They’re the ones who are supposed to be writing the plans. They don’t have a clue — and that is a prevalent attitude to the experts who come out and talk to us.”

How California exports water

0

By Patrick Porgans

In 2009, the last year of the so-called great California drought, a strange thing happened: Sacramento Valley growers produced a near record amount of rice, and down south, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (Met), the largest urban water supplier in the nation, experienced record-breaking water sales. All this despite repeated mainstream media accounts in 2009 of an economy-wrecking dust bowl water shortage.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the California rice harvest in 2009 was up 9 percent from the previous year and approached the record crop of 2004.

Rice consumes a great deal of water for its dollar value and produces little net income. According to a report by the University of California, Davis, the minimum amount of water required to grow a crop of rice is about 42 inches per acre. Unavoidable losses can add to this amount — so that the amount of water consumed (or evaporated) can be as much as 100 inches per acre, depending on the soil. That appears to be enough water to drown the tallest person on earth.

The California Rice Commission, a trade group representing 2,500 rice farmers, estimates that rice uses 2.2 million acre-feet of irrigation water yearly, about 2.6 percent of the state’s total water supply. According to records obtained from Met, that’s equal to the annual average water it supplied to all of its 19 million customers.

UC Davis data from 2008 show that California exported 52 percent of its rice production, much of it to Japan. For every pound of rice exported, about 250 gallons of embedded water used in growing and processing that rice leaves along with it, according to “Water Footprints of Nations,” a 2004 UNESCO study. (The report spawned the Web site www.waterfootprint.com.)

The rice harvest should be of great consolation to the chairman of the California State Water Resources Control Board, Charles Hoppin, who is also a rice grower, vice-chairman of the Rice Growers Cooperative, and immediate past chairman of the California Rice Industry Association. Chairman Hoppin, in a March 2010 speech in Yuma, Ariz., complained that the regulatory community, including much of his staff, doesn’t know or understand the issues facing agriculture and “doesn’t give a rat’s ass.”

According to the Environmental Working Group, rice subsidies in California totaled $2.4 billion from 1995-2009. In that period, the single largest recipient of subsidies was the Farmers’ Rice Cooperative of Sacramento, California, totaling more than $146 million.

Farm recipients of USDA subsidies in California totaled $9.1 billion from 1995-2009.According to EWG, “Washington paid out a quarter of a trillion dollars in federal farm subsidies between 1995 and 2009. But to characterize the programs as either a big government bailout or another form of welfare would be manifestly unfair — to bailouts and welfare.” Then there’s hay — another water-gulping product that’s getting exported, with much of it going to Japan.

Writer Melinda Burns, in a June 10, 2009 story on Miller-McCune.com, notes: “In the Imperial Valley of California, a region drier than part of the Sahara Desert, farmers have found a lucrative market abroad for a crop they grow with Colorado River water: They export bales of hay to land-poor Japan. Since the mid-1980s, this arid border region of California has been supplying hay and feed for Japan’s dairy cows and black-haired cattle, the kind that get daily massages, are fed beer, and produce the most tender Kobe beef.”

She quotes Patrick Woodall, research director at Food and Water Watch, an international consumer advocacy group with headquarters in Washington, D.C.: “There is a kind of insanity about this,” Woodall said. “Exporting water in the form of crops is giving water away from thirsty communities and infringing on their ability to deal with water scarcity.”