Volume 45 Number 16

Appetite: Germanic adventures

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Though I have more than a few food obsessions, there’s something about authentic food and wine from the Germanic countries that comforts me on a profound level. Maybe it’s my German Miller (or Mueller) family heritage on my Dad’s side or the satisfying straightforwardness of dishes like dumplings or sauerkraut. Either way, there’s not enough food around from that region as far as I’m concerned. So it is with great delight I witness the opening of two unique restaurants.

Here’s two early “sneak-peeks” on North German Gaumenkitzel, debuting this week in Berkeley, and Leopold’s, an Austrian restaurant just opened Friday in Russian Hill (see additional photos of both spaces in my next issue of The Perfect Spot, coming out Feb. 1).  

LEOPOLD’S – With the words Treffen (meet), Trinken (drink), Essen (eat) painted under the name, Leopold’s offers something with no parallel in our city: an Austrian restaurant. It opened quietly this past Friday night in a cheery, bright space on Polk Street housing animal heads, Austrian art, pine wood tables and booths. Here, the relaxed warmth of a neighborhood beer haus (with a number of beers on tap and by the bottle, including Kostritzer Black Lager and St. Bernardus) meets dirndl-clad waitresses, all the while maintaining a refinement that doesn’t cross the line into kitschy.

Brothers Albert and Klaus Rainer, from my favorite Austrian city, Salzberg, run the place with effusive charm. Though they must be working out new-opening kinks, my initial meal was seamless and delicious. Hungarian Goulash (borders of Hungary and Austria changed so often that regional dishes meld) is tender beef in a paprika-rich sauce with buttery, addictive spaetzle and a green salad brightened by lemon zest. Wiener schnitzel is exemplary: prepared traditionally, lightly breaded, pounded flat with a squeeze of lemon, contrasted perfectly with Lingonberry sauce and a warm escarole potato salad. These entrees are quite filling at a mere $12.75 each, while the highest-priced menu item is Choucroute Garni Platter at $17.75.

As in my travels through Austria, Switzerland and Germany, salads are ultra-fresh. Roasted beet salad ($6.75) rests on a light horseradish creme fraiche in a bed of mache and endive, accented by walnuts and radishes. Additional appealing starters include duck crepinettes, vegetable strudel and house-smoked salmon on potato cakes. An off-menu starter of dense German breads made an impression topped with beets on a creamy liptauer cheese spread (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liptauer) or Black Forest ham with fresh-shaved horseradish. Wines are affordable at $20-34 a bottle, with plenty of glasses and carafes available. I delight seeing mostly wines from Austria, Switzerland and Hungary, with an additional few from Slovenia, California and Oregon. Save room for a slice of apfelstrudel (apple strudel – $5.75) in warm vanilla cream sauce.

This heartwarming haven is one I’m already plotting my return to.

2400 Polk Street (at Union)
415-474-2000
Sunday-Thursday, 5:30-10pm, until midnight Fri-Sat.

GAUMENKITZEL, meaning ‘delight for the taste buds’, opens later this week (if all goes as planned) in an open, sunny space on San Pablo Ave. in Berkeley. Owner Anja Voth brings restaurant and patisserie experience from Hamburg and Berlin. Her husband Kai Flache constructed and designed the restaurant with his local firm. They operate as a gracious, complimentary team.  

A rustic wood ceiling, huge windows and skylight illuminate the yellows, whites, reds and oranges of the clean, modern room. A spare collection of German china and ceramic dolls line the shelves, adding a homey touch. While the main portion of the room is eat-in, one can order take-out or baked goods. A section to the left of the entrance offers stools and countertops for a quick meal.

A pastry chef bakes fresh breads and pastries in-house, including a delicate Linzer torte with red currant jam. Anja operates as chef with assistance from a chef who worked 15 years at Oakland’s now-defunct Citron. I stopped in for a preview lunch, savoring baked goods, beet salad, an addictive caramel custard, and beef roulade with braised red cabbage and creamy mashed potatoes. The beef roulade is Anja’s mother’s recipe, rolled up with pickles and onions, while red cabbage is equal parts apple with a tart, spiced kick.

A breakfast menu lasts all morning with items like German porridge, house-baked rolls, cold cuts, müsli. There’s afternoon tea (2-4:30pm), while lunch and supper entrees cover the gamut from salmon with rhubarb compote to wild mushrooms with spaetzle. They also make their own seasonal jams, like a pleasantly tart/bitter Meyer lemon marmalade I sampled. Menu prices had not yet been finalized on the menus I previewed, but it will be affordable, mid-range.

The joy here is dishes with a predominantly North German focus, a rarity as local offerings are typically of the South German kind. Influences from Anja and Kai’s port city hometown of Hamburg are showcased, like curry (poached fish with curry sauce) and fresh fish (from Monterey Fish Market). Expect authentic German, reliant on local and seasonal ingredients, prepared with care from a couple involved in every aspect of the place.

2121 San Pablo Ave, Berk.
Daily 6am-6:30pm
www.gaumenkitzel.net

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

Appetite: Catching our Fancy

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Fancy Food, the largest showcase of specialty foods in North America (held annually in NYC and SF) returned to the Moscone Center. Again this week I explored thousands of products from around the world, with only the limits of my stomach to slow me after hours of sampling.

Fancy Food showcases trends in food, which there’s been much talk of this week already. I didn’t notice many major differences from last year, but saw a welcome increase in spirits vendors (though still merely a handful) and a continued proliferation of healthy, organic, low calorie (therefore sometimes tasteless) products. I was impressed by Teatulia out of Denver and their completely compostable wrappers and packaging. Their clean, 100% organic teas are grown in Bangladesh, subtle but full in flavor. I also took note of Philippe Padovani of Padovani Chocolates‘ sultry chocolates, in flavors ranging from apple banana ganache to lilikoi soft caramel.

Here’s my coverage from last year, and my stand-outs this year:

SPIRITS

Sinai Mezcal – Probably the best taste of the day for this spirits lover was Sinai Mezcal, a tiny, under-the-radar mezcal that, despite tasting numerous brands, is the first to really excite me since Del Maguey. Whether Blanco, Reposado or Anejo, each is smoky, clean with slate and agave. Don’t mind the low budget labels… it’s all in the taste. They need a US distributor (hello, anyone?) At the very least, it should be on the shelf at Tommy‘s.

Velho Barreiro – One of the most popular cachaca brands in Brazil, this bright sugarcane spirit tantalized in a well-made Caipirinha but also stood on its own, whether the traditional Velho Barreiro or Gold (aged) version.

FOOD

La Tourangelle Oils – Based out of Richmond, CA, it’s no surprise these memorable oils are local. La Tourangelle‘s peanut, pistachio, sesame, white & black truffle, and avocado oils are superior to average brands, but their latest releases especially wow: Thai Wok Oil exudes lemongrass and basil essences, while Pan Asian Stir Fry Oil is layered with garlic, ginger, fried onion. You can purchase at Whole Foods, Andronico’s and Williams Sonoma, to name a few.

Rumba Dessert’s Ice Creams
– I’d seen Rumba before, but had not been able to try as many of its products as I did here. Whether creamy banana & cinnamon, tart passion fruit ‘maracuya’ or caramel-y lucuma (a tropical Peruvian fruit), I appreciate the robust flavor and care evident in these ice creams.  Rumba’s husband/wife team are delightfully engaging (wife, Laly Protzel is president and creates the recipes, while her husband assists with marketing and business). Find Rumba at Noe Valley Whole Foods and RJ’s Market in the Rincon Center, not to mention around the Bay Area.

Tahitian Gold Vanilla Products
Tahitian Gold is an elegantly-packaged line of vanilla products based out of Torrance, CA. Going the 100% natural route, they use a range of beans to create an intense vanilla bean paste, refined extracts for cooking, Tahitian vanilla sugar and fleur de sel. The look and quality is among the best I’ve seen in the vanilla world.

GlopGlop may not exactly sound appetizing, but it’s a playful spread of Parmesan and Asiago cheeses, olive oil, garlic, herbs and spices. It’s another Bay Area-based company — and the exciting part is they’re working with one of my very favorite chefs, Aziza’s Mourad Lahlaou, who has created sauces and dips they are hoping to sell further into the year. I especially like smoky harissa, chickpea and yogurt herb.

Yarra Valley Dairy’s Marinated Feta – From Australia, Yara Valley Dairy’s (http://www.yvd.com.au/) creamy feta pops with flavors of herbs in uber-fresh cheese. Handmade on the farm, it’s an elegant (and addictive) snack.

Crispy Green & Fruitzio – Usually a long list that includes gluten free, dairy free, vegan, nut free, means I’m not going to like it. In the case of a little bag of freeze-dried fruit from Crispy Green and Fruitzio, I’m pleased at just how edible the product is. Stand-outs were freeze-dried pineapple, banana and kiwi. It’s one of those guiltless snacks that doesn’t compromise flavor. Here’s where to find it.

COFFEE

Malabar Gold Supreme from Josuma Coffee Company – Kudos for a shiny, silver espresso machine calling me like a beacon and perfect espresso preparation of Malabar Gold from Josuma, based in Menlo Park. They sell their beans mainly to cafes or restaurants though are seeking retailers. The crema atop their espresso glows a warm, velvet brown, while the flavor awakens you with robust, elegant force.

Caffe Barbera – From Naples, Italy, Caffe Barbera, a fifth generation coffee company since 1870, likewise served a supreme shot from their gold espresso machine.

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

Volume 45 Number 16 Flip-through Edition

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Lee should stop the recycling eviction

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EDITORIAL Mayor Ed Lee needs to demonstrate, as we noted last week, that he’s making a clean break from the politics and policies of the Newsom administration — and there are things he can do immediately to reassure San Franciscans that he’s going to offer more than another 11 months of a failed administration.

He can start by calling off the eviction of the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Recycling Center.

The move by Newsom to evict the recycling center, on the edge of Golden Gate Park, was part of his administration’s war on the poor. It made no sense from a financial or environmental perspective. The center, which pays rent to the city, would be replaced by a community garden, which would pay nothing. The center creates green jobs that pay a living wage; all the workers would be laid off under Newsom’s plan. The center also operates a native plant nursery and provides a drop-off recycling site for local businesses.

A community garden makes only limited sense in a shady area that gets fog most of the year.

The only reason Newsom was determined to get rid of the place is that low-income people who collect bottles and cans around the city (an environmentally positive activity, by the way) come by the center to drop them off and pick up a little cash. Some of the wealthier residents of the Haight don’t like poor people wandering through their neighborhood. It’s class warfare, declared by the Newsom administration — and Lee, who got his start as a poverty lawyer, doesn’t have to tolerate it.

Lee should direct the Recreation and Parks Department to cease the eviction proceedings and negotiate a long-term lease for the Frederick Street site.

It seems like a small item in the long list of issues the new mayor will have to deal with — but the HANC recycling center has strong symbolic importance. Ending the eviction and allowing the center to stay would be a sign that Lee intends to be a mayor who is willing to work with the progressives and that he’s not going to try to solve all the city’s problems by blaming, harassing, and criminalizing people who are barely surviving in San Francisco.

The new mayor could take another simple step toward broad credibility by opening up his office — to the public and the press. Under Newsom, Room 200 was an unfriendly place to outsiders, and often the news media were treated as enemies. Lee should start holding regular press conferences — not just stage-managed events designed to showcase one issue, but broad-ranging, open sessions where reporters can ask questions about anything his administration is doing. And he ought to direct his press office to make compliance with the Sunshine Ordinance a priority.

For starters, he could release whatever proposed budget cuts Newsom left behind. It’s hard to believe the former mayor just turned them over to Lee without a list of things that were on the chopping block. The sooner the public sees where the previous administration was going, the sooner we can all determine what, if anything, Lee will do differently.

Editor’s Notes

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Tredmond@sfbg.com

I talk to the Unitarians sometimes. I’m not much for church myself, but the Unitarians are pretty mellow. My neighbor, who grew up Unitarian, tells me that Unitarians “believe in one God … at most.” There’s even an atheist caucus at the Unitarian Church on Franklin Street. That works for me.

So a couple of times a year, they invite me to come and talk to their discussion forum Sunday morning, before services, and I always go — sweet, wonderful people who are about as liberal as religious people get, and they actually listen to me and ask intelligent questions.

So I was there two weeks ago talking about the year ahead in local politics, and after I went on far too long complaining about a city and a society that don’t want the wealthy to pay taxes, a woman walked up to the mic and made a really interesting point.

When you get your property tax bill in San Francisco, she said, there’s a little box you can check to make a voluntary contribution to the arts. Why, she asked, is there nothing about contributing to the public schools?

It’s not an academic point. In most states, local property taxes support local schools. In California, Proposition 13 forced the state to take on that responsibility. Now the state’s broke, and education has taken huge cuts. And even if San Francisco wanted to put more local money into the schools, the local budget has no extra room, either.

But almost everyone who owns property in San Francisco is getting a great deal from Prop. 13. My brother owns a house in upstate New York that cost about $100,000 — and his property taxes are higher than mine, and my house in San Francisco cost a good bit more than that. Warren Buffet complained about it to former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger; Buffet’s place in Southern California has lower taxes than his home in Omaha — and the tax bills don’t exactly reflect the comparative assessed values.

Now, I’m not into charity. I mean, I’m fine with charity, and people should be generous and all that, but when it comes to essential public services, charity won’t cut it. Rich people should pay taxes, and elected representatives should decide how to prioritize where the money is spent.

But here we are in San Francisco, with all these wealthy people not paying fair taxes on their property and Prop. 13 seemingly set in stone. So maybe we could start a campaign. It’s not hard to figure out how much you’re getting away with under Prop. 13. Take the actual value of your house (come on, you know what the place down the street just sold for); multiply it by the current tax rate (it’s on the invoice); and subtract the amount of your bill. Yeah, you’re saving a lot of money. Some of you are saving a whole lot of money.

Then the tax collector can put a box on the property tax bill that lets you make a voluntary contribution to the public schools that reflects some of that savings. Just some, a little bit. If we all did it, we’d make a huge difference.

Uncertain developments

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sarah@sfbg.com

Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to eliminate redevelopment agencies and enterprise zones has San Francisco officials confused about which local projects will be affected.

Currently, the state allows municipalities to redevelop specified areas by borrowing against estimated future property taxes. Brown says he doesn’t want to interfere with any redevelopment bonds or commitments that have been contractually entered into — but the plan would redirect billions from development projects to schools, public safety, and other local programs.

“Redevelopment takes money from schools, cities, and counties,” Brown said at a Jan. 10 budget proposal press conference. “We want to take that money and leave it at the local level for the purposes it was historically intended. That’s police or fire or local activities, county, or schools.”

Brown says his proposal will save the state’s general fund $2.7 billion over the next 18 months. And he wants to help cities and counties raise taxes to replace that money.

But local officials say it remains to be seen what Brown’s plan means for existing obligations, and details won’t emerge until the governor releases a draft budget in March.

“I don’t think we’ll really know until we see what the legislation says,” said Redevelopment general counsel Jim Morales. “Clearly if you have a binding contract, that’s enforceable in court. The Legislature couldn’t pass a law that interferes with that.”

Redevelopment already has contracts related to the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard and Mission Bay. “The fact that we have an agreement is helpful. But a redevelopment plan of itself is not an agreement,” Morales said. “It goes to the question of what is the obligation, who gets it, and what tools do they have to fulfill those obligations.”

Morales said he believes the passage of Proposition 22 in November — which blocked the state from taking local redevelopment funds — lies at the heart of Brown’s proposal.

“The way Prop. 22 was drafted doesn’t give the state Legislature much room to use these funds except to eliminate redevelopment agencies,” he said. “It’s a legal as well as a political strategy to amend by another ballot measure or somehow modify Prop. 22.”

Brown’s bombshell landed just as city officials announced that a settlement had been reached with the Sierra Club and Golden Gate Audubon Society over charges that the city’s environmental impact report for Lennar Corp.’s massive development proposal for Candlestick Point and the former Naval Shipyard was inadequate.

The agreement includes criteria for the design and construction of a bridge across Yosemite Slough to lessen environmental impacts and provide habitat improvements.

“A settlement that provides great benefits to people and wildlife is not one that is often achievable. We’re extraordinarily pleased to have done so in this case,” said Arthur Feinstein, chair of the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Chapter in a Jan. 8 press release.

“The agreement creates benefits for the community and the open space, habitats, and wildlife throughout the project area,” said Mark Welther, executive director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society. “The lagoon and other improvements will create an area whose beauty and ecological significance will rival Crissy Field.”

Lennar’s Kofi Bonner said the settlement helps clear the way for fundraising efforts. “It means we have one less lawsuit to deal with,” Bonner told the Guardian at the Jan. 11 swearing-in for interim Mayor Ed Lee.

Still on the table is a suit that Bayview-based Green Action and Power (People Organized to Win Employment Rights) brought against the city’s EIR for Lennar’s project.

Bonner said POWER’s lawsuit is about issues that the developer does not control. “POWER’s suit is about toxins removal and how the Navy is handling the issue,” he said.

POWER counters that it’s premature for the city to certify the EIR for the Lennar project. “The problem is that we are asking the city to approve future uses at the shipyard when we don’t know the result of the Navy’s clean-up process,” said Jaron Browne, a spokesperson for POWER.

Browne said that there’s nothing in POWER’s lawsuit to prevent Lennar from moving forward at Candlestick Point or with rebuilding the Alice Griffith public housing project.

The cruelest cuts

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By Hannah Deveraux

OPINION Sitting alone in my apartment off Turk and Mason streets in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, I try not to let myself slip back into depression or anxiety over my finances. My apartment is small, an adjective that makes it sound bigger than it really is. Still, it’s mine. I am able to pay rent through my Supplemental Security Income (SSI) check, and when my disability claim was first approved, I was relieved.

It had been a nearly two-year uphill battle with the Social Security Administration, and even after my benefits were approved, I still spent an additional three months living out of various shelters while I waited on several housing lists. But then the call came from my social worker at the shelter that I had been placed in a hotel in the Tenderloin, and I was excited to be out of shelters once and for all.

I am not someone who is easily given over to making hyperbolic statements, so I cannot say that I was ever happy to have to be living off SSI. Nevertheless, I was happy to have a roof over my head rather than a rain-soaked cardboard box, and I was thankful to have Medi-Cal. After all, San Francisco is just about the only place where transgender woman like myself can get affordable or free healthcare and be treated with dignity from our providers.

Little did I realize that being treated with dignity by our government was no longer in the cards.

It began when many of my friends, also on SSI or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), started complaining about reductions to their checks. Our benefits were cut — but the Social Security Administration wasn’t telling us what had happened. Some checks were cut by as little as $20, some $60, and others as much as $150.

My check was unaffected for a few months, and then the cuts started to hit me as well. I have now seen six separate reductions to my monthly check, which was $964, and is now only $845. Because of the cuts, I no longer have enough to meet all of my basic needs each month. Many days, dinner is a loaf of warmed up garlic bread because it’s all I can afford.

But things got much worse. The government did the most inhumane thing imaginable: it took away vision and dental benefits from our Medi-Cal. Suddenly, three epiphanies about politics dawned on me: the first that the poor are sound bites for politicians; it always looks good for politicians to get their picture in the local newspaper with their arm around a smiling 60-something homeless guy. Second, the poor will always be the first minority group to have their funding for social service programs, essential food services, and low-cost or free medical care targeted in a bad economy.

The last thing I realized is that politicians don’t care if the poor die — as long as they die silently and the politicians don’t get blamed for it.

These days I wonder if I’ll even be able to keep my housing, and I often have anxiety attacks where my heart races and I cry to myself, just out of sheer stress and worry.

The fact is, I shouldn’t have to live this way. I have to wonder how amounts so small in proportion to California’s $25 billion deficit are even going to come close to making a difference.

It’s unconscionable that the first thought of our government would be to steal from those who are already disabled and poor and barely getting by, those who really don’t know how to advocate for themselves, and who have few allies to begin with. *

Hannah Deveraux has a roof over her head — for now.

alt.sex.column: Resolved

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Dear Readers:

I’m pretty sure last year’s New Year’s resolution was to get a New Year’s resolution column in on time. So that one’s out, but there is still time for me, and, more important, you, to do a sex-and-love-life audit and figure out what’s wanting and what you could do about it in the coming year. Here are some ideas.

1) No faking it. Have you been faking it? Quit that. If it’s going on and on and you know it’s heading nowhere, say that. Conversely, if it’s a nice relationship and generally good sex but just not going to go that way for you this particular time, just offer to get partner off and it’s your turn next time. No harm done, and no faking.

2) Try something new. Obvious, I know, but honestly, do this. I’m not going to tell you what the “this” ought to be. But just because you haven’t noticed the rut, doesn’t mean you’re not in one. Maybe it’s just so deep you can’t see the way out. Or maybe things could be even better.

3) Read up on other stuff. You don’t have to try the new stuff, just find out about it. But maybe if you investigate X thing, you’ll be inspired to try it. Maybe knowing some new weird stuff will just make you fun to talk to at parties.

4) Buy something new. Sex toy stores like Good Vibrations, Blowfish, and Babeland make it easy and not even embarrassing. If you’ve been there, done that and yawn, maybe you could go to Etsy or one of the other handicrafts marketplaces and find something a little different, like the tentacle dildos. Or if you’re already over one-of-a-kind handmade blah blah, make your own!

5) Rummage. Find something that makes you feel irresistible and/or invincible. The usual suggestion is fancy lingerie but if you’re not the girly type (none of this requires you to be an actual girl) maybe it’s boots or a corset. Actually, those are mine, find your own.

6) Do something nice to (not just in) your bedroom. Clean it, declutter it, maybe paint it. Buy it new sheets. Cracker crumbs and a dirty ashtray do not a sensual oasis make,

7)Stop waiting for people to notice you and ask someone. You can do it. Hide behind technology if you like, but do it.

8) (Big One) Figure out what you want. Read around, look at porn, read the nice catalogs, pay attention to what crosses your mind just before you decide you’re in the mood, or while you’re doing it. Reflect on episodes that really worked for you. Don’t just do what you’ve been doing or what you think you ought to be doing, put some serious work into figuring out what you want to be doing.

9) Tell your partner. And this brings us back to 1), don’t fake it.

Happy New Year.

Love,

Andrea

Gor a question? Email Andrea at andrea@mail.altsexcolumn.com

Come to my room

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le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS After his thing he went right up to her and whispered in her ear. Here’s what he said: “Are you doing anything tonight?” Here’s what else he said: “Do you want to come to my hotel room?”

“Really?” I said. “You said that?”

“Can you believe it?”

“No,” I said. We were sitting at a picnic table in Dolores Park, in the sun in the cold, eating samwiches (his word for it, although … I would agree). The samwiches were from Bi-Rite Market, and therefore very good. “And did she come to your hotel room?” I said.

“Yes.”

There were also chips involved, and apples — a regular midwinter picnic. I knew my friend was telling the truth, but still couldn’t believe it.

“So, that really happens?” I said.

“Come on,” he said. “All your years in bands, on tour, you never … ?”

“No,” I said. “Never.”

It was so cold. Colder than it’s supposed to be, in my opinion, in San Francisco. He was sitting on the bench, and I was sitting on the table, face to the sun. It helped to be that much closer to it.

“Book tours? Readings?” he said.

I shook my head. My samwich was crunchy with carrots and cilantro, and therefore delightful. Vietnamese pork. I’m not proud of the fact, but it is, in fact, a fact: I never got laid on tour. Not on any kind of tour, ever. Not as a man, not as a woman, Sam-I-Am. Of course, I offered in my defense, the last couple tours were of senior centers and nursing homes, so …

Then I remembered that, during the first couple tours, I was in love with one of my bandmates, so …

Technically, I guess, I was not only getting laid after the show, like a rock star, I was also bagging the lead singer, and in this respect I was a groupie of my own band. Take that, Mr. Walks Right Up To Her.

We finished our samwiches and chips and apples just as the sun dropped behind some trees and that was the end of it, give or take Elton John. He wanted to know if I liked Elton John.

I thought this was a strange thing to want to know, after a samwich. Luckily, I knew the answer right away: “Yes.”

“What’s your favorite album?”

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”

His was Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. Did I know it?

“No.”

So of course he invites me to his house to burn me a copy. Who wouldn’t? Mind you: the invitation was not whispered in my ear, so what I took home from this whole samwichy experience was exactly that: Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.

Which I’m listening to as I write this.

Come to think of it, I was — until becoming beautiful and confident — almost always in love. Hey, maybe I’m bad at getting laid because I’m good at being in love. I don’t know. It’s a thought.

If it happens to also be true, I damn well better get over it, because, good-at-it or no, love ain’t happenin’.

So.

This Saturday Ed’s Redeeming Qualities is playing a reunion show in Boston. I’m 15 to 20 years older, not to mention a whole different person than I was in that band. And I’m about as single as a piece of cheese. Tell you what I’m going to do, I’m going to step off the stage at the end of this show, and Walk Right Up To … someone.

I wonder who it’s going to be. I know what I’m going to say, I’m going to say, “You’re a butterfly, and butterflies are free to fly.” Like Sweet Freedom, like my friend, I will whisper these words. “Fly away.” Then we will see.

BI-RITE MARKET

Daily 9 a.m.–9 p.m.

3639 18th St., SF

(415) 241-9760

AE/D/MC/V

All kinds of alcohol

Gorgeously Gorey

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caitlin@sfbg.com

NIGHTLIFE Actually, the Edwardian Ball — now in its 11th year of gothic, ghoulish, glorious celebration — isn’t strictly a gathering of period costume nerds. In fact, those who focus on historical accuracy, says event cofounder Justin Katz, are kind of missing the point. “Much to their frustration, the founders of the ball don’t care if your collar is Edwardian or not,” he chuckles.

That’s because, as any good SF costume freak will tell you, the original Edward of this shindig is Gorey, not Windsor. In its first years, it was actually named the Edward Gorey Ball, a theatrical homage to the work of the macabre writer and illustrator of such classics as the A-to-Z book of child demise, The Gashlycrumb Tinies. This tome was read at the ball’s first incarnation, which was hosted by Rosin Coven, the pagan lounge ensemble that has graced the stage each subsequent year.

Why Gorey? “Once we began to explore his work, we really enjoyed his ‘untelling’ of stories,” Katz continues. “Almost nothing happens in his books!” Which isn’t exactly true, of course, but his slight and spindly, grave-studded plot lines seem slightly unsuited for nightlife action, especially the bedazzled, bedazzling theatrical productions that Mike Gaines’ Vau de Vire Society circus-dance troupe so spectacularly gives birth to on stage at the ball.

“It isn’t the easiest thing to base a dramatic stage show on,” Gaines admits. “But Gorey left [his stories] up for interpretation. He was a real theatrical cat.” Gorey was a noted ballet fan, and his illustrated landscapes could easily double as sets. And if he did indeed mean for his creepy-cute stories to be blown into phantasmagoric carnivals someday, then he is smiling down on the Edwardian Ball.

But as far as the event goes these days, Gorey stories are but one of its attractions. In addition to all the offstage attractions at the ball (which has burgeoned into a weekend-long affair that includes an expo of steampunk wonder-toys, entire floors of the Regency Ballroom given over to vendors of satin and skeletal finery, even a Friday night-only Ferris Wheel to be erected inside the ballroom itself), the event has become a group therapy session for SF’s costume-addicted party people. Well, a therapy session in which the addicted bust out their most flagrant behavior and congratulate each other on having done so.

Top among Gaines’ favorite get-ups from years past was an homage to Gashlycrumb‘s Winnie, the poor tot who met her maker after becoming “embedded in ice.” The intrepid Edwardian in question encased herself in frosted Plexiglass for the evening’s festivities. Others choose more technically Edwardian-accurate ensembles, and others still will use the event as an excuse to wear whatever the hell gets their creative juices flowing: goth-steampunk-geisha, anyone?

This inclusivity most likely explains the success of the ball. Katz mentions that one is likely to see one of the aforementioned period fundamentalists having a cuppa with a giant grasshopper, one table over from a couple who “look like they just crawled out of a nightclub,” all in a steam-powered tea garden. And then they’ll all join in a round of ballroom dancing that takes place near the main stage on Saturday. One mustn’t forget about the ballroom dancing. *

EDWARDIAN BALL AND WORLD’S FAIR

Fri/21 “World’s Fair”: 8 p.m.– 2 a.m., $28–$75

Sat/22 bazaar: noon– 6 p.m., free; ball 8 p.m.– 2 a.m., $38–$85

Regency Ballroom

1300 Van Ness, SF

www.edwardianball.com

 

Ms. Behavior

0

arts@sfbg.com

DANCE Fat chance Aura Fischbeck could have escaped becoming a dancer. Her mother was one of the last students of legendary German Expressionist dancer Mary Wigman; her father is an actor/musician who pioneered multimedia dance theater in the 1960s. Additionally, she had an older sister, also a dancer. “[She] was always a step or two ahead of me,” Fischbeck remembers. “I grew up surrounded by dance, but I didn’t like some of the politics that go with the profession.”

So what’s a gal to do? Fischbeck was drawn to poetry and history, but the pull of “embodying ideas,” as she puts it, was too strong. If you can’t fight ’em, join ’em; Fischbeck became a dancer.

The Philadelphia-born, Naropa University-trained dancer recently met me for an interview at CounterPulse during a break from rehearsing the upcoming world premiere of Bodies That Won’t Behave, to be presented this weekend in a double bill with The Riley Project. Although her company, Aura Fischbeck Dance, is only two years old, she has been dancing, rehearsing, choreographing, studying (with Kathleen Hermesdorf), and producing in SF ever since she hit town seven years ago. She immediately hooked up with Joe Landini when he opened The Garage in 2007. Since then, she has participated in just about all of the various programs that home-for-dancers offers.

As a choreographer, Fischbeck’s work — such as Relay and her solo Compass — has resembled a dialogue between a kind of abandon that looks spontaneous or improvised but isn’t, and a fascination with control and formalized structures. She has managed to put a personal, fresh twist on this common tension between two modes of being. It’s a pull she readily admits to in her own life. “I want to let loose and let go, and then I have to reign myself in.” In Fischbeck’s choreography you can also see a strong conceptual basis, much as you do in the work of people she admires: Miguel Gutierrez, Ralph Lemon, John Jasperse, and Jess Curtis.

In the trio for Bodies, which Gretchen Garnett, Julie Potter and Travis Rowland are rehearsing when I arrive at CounterPULSE, Fischbeck is working with “proper” and “improper” behavior. (An accompanying video by Chris Wise shows the dancers “misbehaving” in Golden Gate Park.) Fischbeck doesn’t make moral judgments about comportment. She wants to explore the body as a vessel for conflicting values.

In an e-mail later the same day, Fischbeck is at pains to articulate the motivating force behind Bodies: “The idea of misbehavior is unpacked in this work as a way of expressing love and acceptance for our imperfections,” she writes, “and for allowing the parts of ourselves that are awkward or unkempt or simply uncontrollable to be witnessed and celebrated.”

What you are likely to see on stage this weekend is comédie humaine: three dancers, with Potter as the smallest one in the middle, on adjacent folding chairs trying to negotiate individual and common spaces. During the rehearsal, this attempt to balance conflicting interests very quickly began to look like a fierce competition. Attempts to navigate and hoard resulted in moments that are frustrating, painful, hilarious, tender, and just plain awkward. When the trio finally broke into spaciously flowing unisons even those soon began to hiccup and disintegrate.

Bodies will be seen in conjunction with two premieres by Leigh Riley, All You Need and DuBeUs. All You Need grew out of Riley’s interest in Aristotle’s concepts of love: philia, eros, storge, and agape. “I grew up in a Christian tradition where we always heard about those four different kinds of love,” Riley explains. “But I really wanted to make four very different duets.” DuBeUs is a collaborative quintet for Caroline Alexander, Jennifer Bennett, Leah Curran, Stacy Swann, and Katharine Vigmostad. It examines the demands on an individual’s identity when belonging to and assimilating into a group, such as happened, for instance, throughout “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” *

AURA FISCHBECK DANCE AND RILEY PROJECT

Fri./21-Sat./22, 8 p.m. Sun./23, 2 p.m.; $12–$20

CounterPULSE

1310 Mission, SF

(415) 626-2060

www.brownpaperickets.com

Beast and the Hare

2

paulr@sfbg.com

DINE If one reason to go out to eat is to partake of dishes you can’t easily make yourself, another is to find ideas for dishes you can make yourself. I place myself more in the latter category, and, as an ersatz Frenchman and perhaps unacknowledged admirer of French industrial espionage, I find myself peeking at dishes as they emerge from restaurant kitchens, wondering whether I could manage some version of this or that in my own kitchen or appropriate a few clever twists or wrinkles as enhancements to some quotidian staple of the repertoire. As urban voyeurism goes, this subspecies seems fairly mild and nontoxic.

Food fits a sensibility, ultimately, the same way clothes do. Some people are born to wear tuxedos and nibble foie gras from dainty toast rounds — Pierce Brosnan springs to mind here — while others (the young, mostly) look most aglow in t-shirts, cargo pants, and espadrilles, eating foil-wrapped burritos while sitting on the curb.

Extremes tend to attract the most attention, in part because they’re easy to identify, but between them lies a wide country full of distinctive treasures. In San Francisco these treasures are — I speak now of food, not clothes — the neighborhood restaurants, the places that, for the better part of 20 years, have found and held a balance between flair and rusticity. They make the kind of food you’d make at home, if you spelled home with a capital H and Architectural Digest was coming to shoot a photo spread; they make food that’s recognizable and unintimidating yet subtly sublime, at a reasonable price.

There was a bloom of these places in the early to mid 1990s, and according to this timeline Beast and the Hare, which opened at 22nd and Guerrero streets in November (in the old La Provence/Mangiafuoco space at the corner) is a latecomer, or maybe a throwback. The restaurant is good-looking — simple, royal-blue walls and generous spacing among the tables — but it’s not stunning. It reminded me of someone wearing a nice pair of Levi’s with a white button-down shirt and black loafers. Such a person would want honest but sophisticated food, and that’s what chef Ian Marks’ kitchen would give him.

Marks’ résumé includes a stint at Liberty Cafe, a neighborhood light from the early 1990s, as well as Fatted Calf and Hog Island Oyster, and so his to-the-point menu includes, not surprisingly, oysters and house-made charcuterie. You can get a satisfying arrangement of charcuterie, including lardo draped on thin slices of pink-lady apples, rabbit rillettes, and slices of smoked duck breast, along with toast rounds and a small pile of pickled vegetables, for $14.

The pickles helped cut the sense of fattiness, we found, as did the lacinato kale ($5), which had a light crispiness, almost like that of pappadum, I associate with flash-frying. My ersatz-Frenchman self noted that the idea of handling kale (which can display an obstinacy like that of cheap steak) in this way had never before occurred to him.

Osso buco ($18) is typically served with risotto, which, for creaminess is hard to beat. But risotto is unforgiving and tricky to time, and — in a slight inversion of the usual rule — restaurant versions often aren’t quite as good as the homemade kind, at least if the home chef is reasonably attentive. Beast and the Hare’s solution was to substitute white beans for the risotto, and if they weren’t quite as creamy, they did give a nice textural counterpoint to the rich, gelatinous marrow sauce oozing from the core of the gigantic veal shank.

A pressed duck leg ($18) reminded me of chicken under a brick, with crispy skin, a restrained juiciness to the meat, and a convincingly steam-rollered look. If, like me, you have been overexposed to confit and sometimes find duck too rich and fatty, you would probably warm to this method. Further cutting the richness were a pair of nicely browned potato disks and a bed of still-crunchy chicory.

The dessert menu does contain at least one extraordinary item, and that is the beer ice cream, which appeared as a small sphere accompanying the German chocolate cake ($8). Beer ice cream sounds gimmicky, but it did really, and pleasantly, taste of beer — as if someone had mixed suds with some heavy cream and a touch of sugar, then frozen it. A little more conventional were the beignets ($6), like a bunch of little fried basketballs in a rack after gym class, with, on the side, a thick and bewitching orange caramel sauce. If they’d only served you the sauce, you probably wouldn’t have complained. The ersatz Frenchman had to be restrained from licking the dish clean. What a beast he is.

BEAST AND THE HARE

Dinner: Wed.–Mon., 6–10 p.m.

1001 Guerrero, SF

(415) 821-1001

www.beastandthehare.com

Beer and wine

MC/V

Moderately noisy

Wheelchair accessible

 

Knock knock

0

superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO I think we’ve all agreed to finally bury overused buzzwords like “legendary” and “icon” and “classic” and “mitxirrika” in the cold, cold buzzground. Hype gives me the sneezes. Nevertheless, there are some accomplished parties and DJs making return visits (and, in one case, celebrating a semi-centennial) this week, which and who deserve some fresh superlatives.

 

DOC MARTIN

Dear me, Doc’s been such a part of the West Coast dance music landscape for the past 25 years that he can throw down any type of set he wants and walk away a winner. In the past two years alone, I’ve seen him pump early house, cutting-edge post-minimal, and full-on balls-out techno. He’s got the mastery to match his moods, the mark of true artistry.

Fri/21, 10 p.m., $15. Temple, 540 Howard, SF. www.templesf.com

 

FAG FRIDAY

At the previous lovely instance of this omnisexual soulful house party’s reunion, in October, I looked over the masses losing their minds when DJ David Harness dropped Danny Krivit’s rework of Derrick May’s “Strings of Life” and teared up a little with the gorgeous wonder of it all. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll strip off someone’s shirt and twirl around with it. Mr. Harness returns, with Juanita More, Rolo, and Miss “I Get Lifted” herself, diva Barbara Tucker live. One of my favorite things.

Fri/21, 10 p.m.–4 a.m., $10. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com

 

JAZZY JEFF

Those 1990s revivalists will forever pin him to the Fresh Prince — but man, they just don’t understand. Jazz’s output, especially his recent mixes, has shown a level of crate sophistication and broadmindedness that transcends retro hip-hop shtick. Don’t worry, you’ll still get some joyous old-timey hands-in-the-air, but Jazz’ll drop some smart new hip-shake as well. With Apollo, Sake One, and the Whooligan.

Fri/21, 10 p.m.–late, $20. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. www.mighty119.com

 

KAFANA BALKAN

Are you being Serbed? Well, get Kosovar here! This raucous, incredibly fun party returns after a long hiatus for its fourth anniversary, its trademark Gypsy-influenced tunes in tow. There’s a dedicated crowd of oom pah pah-lovers, who live for live performances by talented ensemble Brass Menazeri and those almost-hallucinogenic moments when DJ Zeljko hits ’em with a vintage old-country slice in goddess-knows-what time signature. It’s a little bit Burner, a little bit Beatbox, and all Balkan, baby.

Sat/22, 9 p.m., $10. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. www.rickshawstop.com

 

JACKHAMMER DISCO

Juan Maclean’s DJ Kicks mix on K7! was one of the best label-released mixes of last year, showing an astute ear that managed to bend disparate elements into a pleasant happy house revival (which cannily matched the single “Happy House,” released by his band, The Juan Maclean). Drop your coat on the floor and prance around it when he headlines this winky-ravey party.

Sat/22, 10 p.m.–late, $15. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com

 

DJ BUS STATION JOHN’S 50TH BIRTHDAY

“Looking back, I really believe it was fated that this music I have such a passion for — thousands of songs somehow magically encoded in these spiral grooves of black plastic 30 years ago or more — was meant to survive, to be with us another day,” says DJ Bus Station John. As was he. Now with us for half a century (that’s a lot of polish on the ol’ glory hole! Somebody drop her off at Sotheby’s for appraisal!), the old school disco-teer is still going strong, and bringing generations together. “I love the great rapport I have with the young’uns on and off the dance floor. But it’s important that guys my age and older know they are heartily welcomed at my clubs as well. After all, we lived it the first time ’round. And like my records, we are survivors, here to tell the tale. So boys, I want to see more of your wrinkly faces shining under the disco lights!” For his 50th, he’ll guest star at the weekly Honey Sundays party, playing a “special 12-inch edition” of that party, based on his much-missed marathon tea-dance, Double Dutch Disco.

Sun/23, 7 p.m.–2 a.m., $3. Holy Cow, 1535 Folsom, SF. www.honeysoundsystem.com

Bye bye blackbird

0

arts@sfbg.com

FILM During the course of writing this review, I will at some point be ensnared by a sentence, reworking its syntax and flow across many notebook pages. For some of us, this is what writing is. When we praise commanding literary performances as great writing, we’re actually talking about reading. It’s not surprising that film portraits of artists usually only give us a mime of their craft; biography and circumscribed performance are shields from the crooked time of the creative process.

Pedro Costa made a rare “painters painting” movie of the French filmmakers Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, and now he has done another with Jeanne Balibar. The two films trail distinct voices: Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie? (2001) had the voluble Straub, whereas in Ne change rien Balibar speaks an obscure language of process (“Bring out the silences.” “This is fragile.”) that is outside the paltry domain of the conventional music documentary.

Costa forgoes exposition, and his stationary long takes require patience. Early on in Ne change rien, we watch Balibar work through a compact melodic phrase for more than 10 minutes. Stretched out of shape in this way, singing comes to seem distinctly of the body — equal parts athletic and spiritual exercise. Warhol’s unstinting camera is an obvious reference point for Costa’s staring-down-the-void, but while it’s true the Portuguese director doesn’t fear boredom, neither does he court it. He forgets the audience but gives us a greater taste of being for it. His tendency to black out vast portions of the frame makes a special kind of sense in Balibar’s recording studio; herein, both sound and vision register as isolated degrees of a larger frame.

Balibar’s appearance seems to change from one song to the next, and Costa’s signature shadows accentuate this disappearing act — we might call it seduction. Though the film shows us Balibar live onstage and training for opera — a different person almost — the heart of Ne change rien is in the studio, where we get to know a handful of songs as we would people (i.e., not all at once). A recording studio is not conducive to spectators; indeed, it can be difficult to remain engaged even as a participant. It is where musicians break their songs apart for the discrete elements can be recombined as a dynamic illusion of a single performance. Similarly to the Straub-Huillet portrait, Costa situates Ne change rien in an enclosed chamber of creative production while withholding the composite product assembled there.

We are left clinging to fragments, and yet the offhanded threads between shots (a repeated quip about movie sets, a cat) underscore the more resonant elucidations of the songs in construction. As Balibar circles a melody, so the tunes coil the sequences — no wonder they’ve been haunting my sleep. Late in the game of “Cinéma,” Costa cuts between guitarist Rodolphe Burger and the recording engineer listening to the full playback of the song and Balibar in a different room recording its vocal track (she hears what they do on headphones, but we hear her voice alone). This is the only time we see a piece of the outside world, and you will have to take my word that the window and her voice are one. At the end of Ne change rien, Costa cuts to the musicians in a backstage room flooded with artificial light. Graphically, the shot is the opposite of all that’s come before. The group runs through a lovely song we haven’t yet heard (“Rose”). The effortlessly unfolding time-frame of rehearsal is something new too. It looks a lot like grace. 

NE CHANGE RIEN

Thurs/20, 7:30 p.m.; Sun/23, 2 p.m., $6–$8

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2787

www.ybca.org

Crack-ups

0

arts@sfbg.com

FILM Who wants to die for art? That question, immortally screamed by Divine at the climax of John Waters’ Female Trouble (1974), has most recently been taken up by Darren Aronofsky’s campy psychological thriller Black Swan (2010), in which Natalie Portman’s fragile ballerina discovers that giving her all as the good and evil leads in an edgy production of Swan Lake requires giving up her sanity, and eventually, her life.

The somewhat romantic notion that an overinvestment in one’s art can lead to a psychotic break with reality also underlies Ronald Colman’s far more gripping, Oscar-winning performance in George Cukor’s 1947 backstage noir A Double Life, a film Black Swan perhaps owes as much a debt to as it does to its other cinematic antecedents such as The Red Shoes (1948) or All About Eve (1950) (2007’s I Know Who Killed Me also deserves a lesser place on that list).

In the film — which screens at the Castro Theatre in a new archival print as part of Noir City 9 — Colman stars as Anthony John, a celebrated stage actor with a nasty temper who winds up playing the title role in a production of Othello opposite his ex-wife Brita (Signe Hasso), who has been cast as Desdemona. As John gets deeper into his character, his own lingering frustrations over his failed marriage become cross-wired with Othello’s jealous rage resulting in a fatal instance of life imitating art. "What seems a fairly safe profession, acting," wrote New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther in his review of the film, "is as dangerous as they come."

Cowritten by husband-and-wife team Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin (who themselves were no strangers to the stage) and photographed with Expressionistic verve by Milton R. Krasner, A Double Life is — true to its title — filled with mirror imagery, split frames, and opposites locked in conflict. It also sets the stage, if you will, for the other titles in this year’s Noir City program, many of which turn on a character struggling to keep from splitting in two.

So often in film noir, the burden of proof is so great as to drive our hero or heroine mad as they try to convince those around them that they’re innocent, in danger, or more often than not, both. Such is the case with Pat O’Brien’s museum curator in Crack-Up (1947), who survives a horrible accident only to be told it never happened, or Barbara Stanwyck’s imperiled, bed-ridden rich girl in 1948’s Sorry, Wrong Number (Stanwyck, it should be noted, is all over this year’s festival, including a blistering starring turn as the titular addict in 1949’s The Lady Gambles).

In some cases, as with two of this year’s many not-on-DVD rarities, the protagonists actually do have evil twins. Olivia de Havilland beat Hayley Mills to the punch playing both sisters in Robert Siodmak’s The Dark Mirror (1946), in which the evil de Havilland uses her physical resemblance to frame her sweet sister (also de Havilland) for murder. Meanwhile, in Among the Living (1941), Albert Dekker goes up against himself as a brain-damaged psychopath who terrorizes a small town and the fraternal twin who must take him out.

This year’s nuttiest film by far is Fritz Lang’s Freudian roller-coaster ride The Secret Beyond the Door (1948). Faster than you can say Rebecca (1940), Joan Bennett’s naïve newlywed has been whisked off to her new husband’s big, dark house full of repressed secrets and a spinsterish head housekeeper. As gorgeous to look at is its plot is difficult to follow, The Secret Beyond the Door is a film you’d have to be nuts not to see.

NOIR CITY 9

Jan. 21–30, $10

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6120

www.noircity.com

La Frontera

0

arts@sfbg.com

HAIRY EYEBALL Walking through Tracey Snelling’s 10-year survey at Rena Bransten brings to mind the famous opening tracking shot of Orson Welles’ 1958 noir Touch of Evil. For over three tension-ratcheting minutes Welles’ camera — all swooping omniscience — takes in the garish sights and sounds of a tourist outpost along the U.S.-Mexico border as it tails an American car that, unbeknownst to the couple behind the wheel, has been planted with a bomb that’s about to go off.

Much like the back lot border-town surveyed by Welles, the Oakland-based Snelling pays repeated visits to liminal spaces: empty strip malls, dusty souvenir shops, seedy motels, and bygone roadside attractions. From her intricate miniature models of these buildings — many outfitted with ambient noise soundtracks, realistic interior lighting, looped video clips of “occupants,” and distressed paint jobs — to the mock-ups of the sort of neon signage once seen along Route 66 that greet you as soon as you walk into the gallery, Snelling’s art drops us somewhere south of some border, just on the edge of town, and definitely on the wrong side of the tracks.

The locations Snelling chooses are for the most part generic and yet deeply familiar. This is in no small part due to their recurrence as archetypical backdrops in pop culture and Hollywood films, something her art self consciously plays with. Take Big El Mirador, a large sculpture of an adobe hotel, for which Snelling has set up six DVD players behind the piece (coordinated with a sync box) to play a different film clip through each of the building’s six window to give the illusion of action happening in the rooms. Other models feature clips swiped from movies that feature similar structures, or are, as with the sculpture of Norma Desmond’s mansion from Sunset Boulevard, miniature versions of buildings from films.

At the same time, Snelling’s obsessive eye for detail — whether getting the fluorescent glare right inside a convenience store or building a perfectly weathered Tecate billboard — make each environment feel more “true-to-life,” inviting the viewer, much as a child does with a doll house, to construct narratives for the often-unseen occupants of these ghost town dioramas.

In other pieces Snelling situates the viewer as the occupant. In the space of a few steps one goes from looking at the exterior of model of the Motel El Diablo to standing in what could presumably be one of its rooms, complete with a cramped single bed, dresser, bad art on the wall, and more suggestively, a pair of black high heels casually tossed on the floor. Another life-size installation is a walk-through gift shop filled with to the brim with motion-activated tchotchkes, fake kachina dolls, Chinatown good luck dragons, and Hindu religious posters.

This scalar slip ‘n’ slide between life-sized and downsized only further adds to the fun house atmosphere generated by Snelling’s lovingly crafted and decidedly lonely monuments to displacement.

 

MARKING TIME

Max Cole’s acrylic-on-linen paintings feature alternating arrangements of two horizontal elements — ramrod straight lines of varying widths and small vertical hatch-marks — executed in varying shades of gray, black, brown, and white.

Like the painter Agnes Martin, Cole is an abstract precisionist whose canvases function as time cards, that with each tick, document to an almost zero-degree the entire span of their own creation.

And like Martin, Cole’s paintings are also rooted in the natural world, despite their superficial resemblance to, say, ruled writing paper. Titles such as Briscone Pine welcome one to see the grooves and ruts of tree bark, or in the case of the show’s name, “Terra Firma,” geologic strata, in these painting’s large bands and delicate vertical marks. *

TRACEY SNELLING: 10-YEAR RETROSPECTIVE

Through Jan. 29, free

Rena Bransten

77 Geary, SF

(415) 982-3292

www.renabranstengallery

MAX COLE: TERRA FIRMA

Through Feb. 12, free

Haines Gallery

49 Geary, SF

(415) 397-8114

www.hainesgallery.com

Life within sound

0

arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC Peer carefully at the expansive gatefold cover art of Barn Owl’s Ancestral Star (Thrill Jockey), and what at first glance looks like two interstellar vessels cruising through the night sky coalesces into something much more grounded, tethered to the spectral shadow of the image’s photographer, Barn Owl guitarist-vocalist Jon Porras, holding his hands over the light source in the foreground.

Porras took the three-minute exposure of the moon over a campfire at SF’s Ocean Beach on a cold, clear April night. “If you look closely, you can see the waves crashing,” he says. “All the light becomes saturated on film — that’s why it’s so luminescent. I actually had to go up to the fire to warm my hands, and you can see a ghostly image of me warming my hands over the fire.

“It’s become a funny joke between my friends.”

It’s also an unlikely, mysterious footnote perfectly in sync with the majestic sounds pouring from Ancestral Star, one of 2010’s best albums, and one that continues to surface new pleasures — from “Sundown”‘s opening overture of distorted guitars to the title track’s incremental, tonal tectonic shifts to “Cavern Hymn”‘s glimmering, deeply echoed fingerpicking. The enigmatic, unexpectedly earthbound image parallels the long tone and drone listening experience as well. “It requires a certain patience,” Porras, 25, muses. “I think long tone music can open up aspects of reality you may not have otherwise have seen.”

Meditative drone, black metal, Tibetan throat-singing, gliding meditations on bowed guitar, and celestial compositions sprinkled with synth, gongs, bells, and singing bowls seamlessly ebb and flow, seemingly of one mesmerizing piece, in a work that feels like the lost, alternative soundtrack to Paris, Texas, or the score to a lost Alejandro Jodorowsky western — a sound that was part of the thinking when Porras and fellow guitarist-vocalist Evan Caminiti went into the studio with friend the Norma Conquest in 2009. It was their first opportunity to record over the course of several months, refining their sound and bringing in musicians such as violinist Marielle Jakobsons (Darwinsbitch) in a professional studio setting.

“We were going for a metaphysical cinematic western,” Porras explains. “We like to have these Americana-influenced guitar passages in combination with more experimental elements to create this overall narrative. I guess the desert at night is an image we like to invoke — fog-shrouded hillsides, the awestruck feelings you get from a landscape.” The sweeping, wonder-inducing American spaces of Cormac McCarthy and Porras’ favorite, Zane Gray, were an inspiration for the two musicians, who first met each other in an American Indian science class at San Francisco State University in 2005.

Metal, as well as the long-tone compositions of Lamont Young and the American primitive fingerpicking of John Fahey, also provided common ground. “We had similar ideas,” Caminiti recalls. “I just remember wanting to combine things that hadn’t necessarily been combined before — heavy music and blues with more folk-influenced music — so we’d work on a piece that had heavy drones and do blues-influenced fingerpicking over it. There was a lot of exploration that had to be done, and we just distilled the sound over the years.”

Those sonic journeys have manifested recently in a collaboration with Headlands Center for the Arts resident Ellen Fullman — who installed her room-sized long-string instrument in her old army building of a studio — out on the Important imprint. And Caminiti and Porras, who also hold down the musical projects Higuma and Elm respectively, are currently working on a new Barn Owl album with Trans Am’s Phil Manley at Lucky Cat Studio, on music sparked by Popul Vuh’s “interlocking chiming guitar passages,” according to Porras.

Now, with performances in the group’s past at such disparate spots as Grace Cathedral (“Great in particular because there’s six seconds of natural reverb, which is perfect for resonant sound,” Porras says), sometime label Root Strata’s On Land gathering, the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and the Supersonic Festival in the United Kingdom, the Barn Owl experience might be characterized as more metaphysical than visceral.

“We aim to create an enveloping atmosphere where everyone is sucked away into an alternate dimension for 30 minutes,” Caminiti observes. “Everything around you is just put on pause, and you’re just living within the sound in the moment. You become engulfed in the sound. The sound becomes a living organism, which is also why there’s a lot of room for improvisation in our set. For us, it leaves us centered and at peace — it’s a meditative device in a way.” 

BARN OWL

With Phil Manley Life Coach and Diego Andres Gonzalez

Tues/25, 9 p.m., $6

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

(415) 923-0923

www.hemlocktavern.com

Playlist

0

>>Read part one here.

NOBUNNY

Raw Romance

(Burger Records)

Nobunny, the bunny-masked alter ego of Oakland rocker Justin Champlin, has been performing since 2001. He had his first full-length release in 2008 with Love Visions on Bubbledumb Records, and last fall he released his follow-up, First Blood, on Goner. Between that, in 2009, there was Raw Romance, a cassette-only release composed of new songs, covers, and acoustic alternates to favorites from Love Visions. With only 500 hand-numbered copies of Raw Romance in circulation, it garnered a cult following. Now Burger Records is releasing it remastered on vinyl, and the first 300 copies on pink vinyl.

Raw Romance starts out with a Buffalo 66 sample, and then plunges into “Your Mouth.” It’s a simple, sweet song with risque PG-13 lyrics, ornamented with tambourine, handclaps, and whistling. A nod to Nobunny’s own appearance, “Mask’s On” is an ode to mask-wearers and lovers. The recess-worthy “Apple Tree” is both sexy and scary, like a vampire crush. On “Tonight You Belong to Me,” Nobunny offers a raw acoustic version of the song famously sung by Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters in The Jerk. “The Gutter” is a mix of Elvis-rockabilly and country twang — a harrowing tale that ends in … the gutter. Although it’s a hodgepodge, Raw Romance makes a boisterous addition to any Nobunny fan’s collection. (Michelle Broder Van Dyke)


NOBUNNY

With Battlehooch, Exray’s, The Downer Party

Feb. 25, 9 p.m.; $12

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455

www.bottomofthehill.com


EXRAY’S

Exray’s

(Howells Transmitter)

From making “musical fiction” with Ray’s Vast Basement to playing in the SF band Black Fiction, a project with Tim Cohen from The Fresh and Onlys, Jon Bernson is a force in the Bay Area music scene. He’s contributed music to a dozen plays and at least four short films. And if you’ve seen the $200 million-grossing movie The Social Network, then music from his latest project Exray’s has no doubt crept into your ears.

As Exray’s, Bernson and Michael Falsetto-Mapp released a cassette, Ammunition Teeth, last year on San Francisco label Howells Trasmitter. The band is now set to release its self-titled full-length Feb. 1. It boasts an impressive guest list: Nate Query (the Decemberists), Warren Huegel (Citay, Jonas Reinhardt), and Cohen. Opening with “You Forget,” the album flows forth with uptempo beats and a florid blend of guitars, synths, and samples. This release evokes various moods, akin to the settings that Ray’s Vast Basement created for its “musical fiction,” making it clear why those behind The Social Network soundtrack found the Exray’s track “Hesitation” appropriate. Underneath the steady pulses and the pop melodies, there is an anxious undercurrent. “Stolen Postcard Sun” is a slowed-down number that hints at the mysterious. An album highlight comes at the end with “When I Was You,” which paints a somber postromantic picture. This electronic-pop duo crafts songs that hint at the unknown while steadily pacing ahead. (Broder Van Dyke)

EXRAY’S

With Magick Trick, Fiveng, DJ Cyclist

Feb. 4, 9:00 p.m.; $12

Cafe Du Nord

2170 Market, SF (415) 861-5016

www.cafedunord.com

 


TY SEGALL

Live in Aisle Five

(Southpaw)

Bay Area-favorite Ty Segall has been churning out recordings under his own name since 2008 with the cassette Horn The Unicorn on Wizard Mountain, and there are no signs he’s slowing down. To start 2011, Segall is releasing Live in Aisle Five, recorded by local noise-maker Eric Bauer last summer at an Amnesia show for Southpaw Records’ first-year anniversary party.

The album starts with a triumphant “How you guys doing?” from Segall, and then the smashing new song “Come to California.” There’s the usual rumble of reverb, so it’s hard to discern all the lyrics, but it sounds like a ragged advertisement for our home state. It’s got an astounding guitar solo that flushes the song out and moves into the pounding drums of “Imaginary Person,” off of 2010’s Melted, on Goner. Segall’s signature wolf-worthy howls are heard throughout the album. On his cover of GG Allin’s “Don’t Talk to Me,” the onomatopoeia of “chitter, chatter” and “yak tak” is screamed like it was meant to sound. More than his recordings, Segall wins fans live. And if you yearn for that visceral experience that is more human in its imperfections — one that makes you want to move — this is your record. (Broder Van Dyke)

TY SEGALL

With Nodzzz

Jan. 28, 8:30 p.m.; $12

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF

(415) 861-2011

www.rickshawstop.com

Grind fidelity

0

arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC For years, critics have written about heavy metal using the vocabulary of biology — the increasingly byzantine music was framed as an evolutionary process, a family tree of genre and subgenre. Given the nature of the predominant acts at heavy metal’s initial apex, this move made perfect sense. Metal has always been a supremely visceral music, acutely concerned with human bodies, from the imperious god-beings of Judas Priest lyrics (are you standing by for Exciter?) to the figures’ inverse: the cadavers depicted by the gleeful medical dictionary versification of Carcass.

Human bodies will always be tethered to metal. But for not entirely arbitrary reasons, I’ve been finding it interesting these days to map out the unfolding universe of metal spatially — as doom continues to position itself as the vanguard of the music (and with good reason), creating sprawling, planar worlds of tone, this approach seems like a productive step toward thinking about the specifically musical elements that link so many disparate styles within the coordinates of the blanket term “metal.” It also seems conducive to starting arguments with your friends about bands and shit, which is a constructive goal in its own right.

If funeral doom represents this (sonic) world-creating move, then grindcore represents its spatial inverse, an implosion of familiar dynamics into dense, indecipherable fragments that are over too quickly to unfold in time. There’s always been something hilarious and perverse about this anti-musical gesture, which is perhaps best explained by the genre’s bifurcated history — as much as it was an antecedent to later metal styles, grindcore was also fundamentally the next logical extreme of punk rock, and thus, rock ‘n’ roll reduced to its most unpleasant and confrontational.

Fundamentally, grindcore has always had a healthy sense of humor about itself: former Napalm Death guitarist Justin Broadrick, as quoted in Albert Mudrian’s book Choosing Death, recalls doubling over with laughter during early rehearsals as he and his fellow bandmates pushed then-drummer Mick Harris to blast away on his kit at increasingly nonsensical speeds. This pervasive sense of fun underlying even some of the most aggressive bands is perhaps one reason why a genre that tends to allow itself an extremely narrow musical space in which its ideas can stretch out has lasted for so damn long.

Napalm Death’s Scum (Earache), the first grindcore record (hypothetical metal-nerd/Siege/Extreme Noise Terror fan: stop yelling at the newspaper; you’re making a scene …) was released in 1987, 24 years ago. Since then, grindcore is still going strong, while countless styles, seemingly more complex, have exhausted themselves and bored their former fanbases in the interim. (Even crabcore, a genre that combined the dynamism of Casio keyboard demos with the showmanship of inexplicably squatting while playing guitar, has fallen by the wayside.)

Speaking of improbable, heroic survivors, what better venue to host the 10th anniversary of Short, Fast, and Loud, a massive showcase of all things grind, than Berkeley’s 924 Gilman, which, like grindcore, has been sticking it to the mainstream’s delicate sensibilities for more than 20 years by simply existing?

This year’s installment is a two-day affair, featuring an impressive collection of scene favorites (including several alumni of the legendary Slap A Ham Records) mostly spanning the West Coast, with one extremely notable exception being New York City’s legendary Brutal Truth. Undeniably one of the genre’s greats, Brutal Truth affects the kind of balance between righteous, politically-conscious anger and the unbalanced energy of the maelstrom of noise and blastbeats and buzzsaw-on-sheet-metal riffs that characterizes its medium. Come watch bodies collide in the space of one of the Bay Area’s most culturally significant venues at what promises to be one of the most thrillingly merciless shows of the year. BLAST! *

SHORT, FAST, AND LOUD

Jan. 21

Brutal Truth, Lack of Interest, Plutocracy, Voëtsek, Iron Lung, D.H.C.

Jan. 22

Flagitious Idiosyncrasy in Dilapidation, Capitalist Casualties, Bastard Noise, Despise You, P.L.F.

Population Reduction

7 p.m. both nights, $12 each

924 Gilman, Berk.

(510) 525-9926

924gilman.org

www.924gilman.org

‘Too Much’ — and more

0

arts@sfbg.com

THEATER/DANCE/PERFORMANCE Too much of a good thing can be a good thing. That became clear to artist/curators Julie Phelps and Keith Hennessy last year with the unexpected success of “Too Much!,” a no-holds-barred marathon of contemporary queer performance originally conceived as a cheeky 20th anniversary celebration of Hennessy’s lauded yet uncompromising career as performer, choreographer, and activist.

The idea of a “queer 20th anniversary” only got the conversation started, says Hennessy, whose company Zero Performance produced last year’s event. “I’m in a really different space than I was 20 years ago. I’m now 50. I made [my breakthrough] piece when I was in my late 20s. Who are those people now? And where is queer performance at? That sort of launched our thinking about putting on a festival, and [the idea] that the thing in itself should be excessive or ‘too much.’ So we crammed everything into 10 hours.”

This spirit of polymorphous plenitude launched a one-off “queer marathon” so momentous it turns into a second annual this Sunday, over the course of another 10 hours. Between 2 p.m. and midnight, three rooms at Dance Mission Theater are given over to the work of more than 50 artists — a mix of performance, installation, video, public discussion, workshops (in street art and queer games), and dinner. It promises to complicate all the usual expectations around identity-based art and politics. The only thing not overflowing is the price: 10 bucks.

This year’s “Too Much!” is more than a reprise, though. Co-curator Phelps — a young artist who recently cofounded queer performance incubator TheOffCenter, which comes on board as coproducer — explains that she and Hennessy have broadened the program. “Last year we only had performance, live installations, or full-length shows,” she says. “This year we were interested in adding this symposium element to it. While we’re all together, we might as well talk to each other, you know? So we’ve added a few workshops. Irina Contreras, for instance, is doing a stenciling workshop aimed at reminding people of the fully accessible tools they can use to express themselves as political beings, people of action.”

The symposia quotient includes a discussion of the controversial use of blackface as a subversive performance tool, a subject both Hennessy and Phelps see as particularly contentious in local identity-based art and academic discourse.

Among some notable returns from last year are Jesse Hewit, Laura Arrington, and Mica Sigourney, who as drag persona VyvvyAnne ForeverMore returns with another installment of her “Work MORE” series. Phelps describes the series, now in its third iteration, as “decentralizing drag out of nightlife bar culture and putting it into a contemporary art scene where it can be questioned and be challenged.” In this edition, Sigourney pairs drag queens with contemporary performance artists and challenges them to come up with a collaborative piece.

Of course, San Francisco has more than the average share of venues and platforms for queer art, so why is “Too Much!” not (despite the suggestion in the name) overkill?

“The Bay Area, obviously, is one of the gayest places on earth,” acknowledges Hennessy. “There are a number of different contexts for LGBT performers to work in. We looked at those and we tried to think of what doesn’t happen there? What if we did something, in a sense, more DIY? We don’t give a fuck what happens — we’re not going to pay anyone anyway. We’re just going to do this one day, organize it all ourselves, and if you want something different you can go somewhere else.”

Hennessy says they got a small grant this year that allows artists a modest remuneration. But the lack of institutional support or control, not to mention profit motive, combines neatly with a desire to include work that slips through the usual categories. “If we’re not beholden to anything, how much could we queer even the idea of an event?” he asks. “I think we’ve pulled [“Too Much!”] even further in the direction of messing with a simple theatrical structure. That means introducing people doing time-based work, or work that doesn’t fit into theatrical contexts for a variety of reasons.”

TOO MUCH!

Sun./23, 2 p.m.–midnight; $10

Dance Mission Theater

3316 24th St., SF

(800) 838-3006

www.brownpapertickets.com

Here, kitty kitty

0

VINTAGE SEXY CINEMA “Ooh-la-la!” For decades this nonsense phrase personified “Continental” knowingness of a nature heavily suggestive to Yanks and yoinks raised under the buzz-kill shadow of a nation founded by Puritans. Just what did it mean? Oral knowledge unbeknownst to Oral Roberts? Sneaky-Pete glimpses of furry minx? Houses of ill repute and burgundy upholstery? Whatever: for long decades, Americans figured Old Europe knew sensual pleasures we were too nouveau to grasp, let alone grapple with.

Hollywood evinced salacious interest in exotic European sirens from early days — seminal silent vamp Theda Bara was credited with all kinds of exotic origin, though her actual city of birth was not-so-decadent Cincinnati. Soulful exported sensuality spanned subsequent decades from Garbo and Dietrich to “heady” Hedy Lamarr and driven-snow Scandinavian (till she got pregnant and left her husband for Rossellini) Ingrid Bergman.

These celluloid goddesses were afforded regal glamour and mystique, as if the Atlantic crossing kept foreign emotions remote. But after World War II, something happened. For one thing, Silvana Mangano exposed substantial melons in the florid post-neorealist melodrama of 1949’s agricultural potboiler Bitter Rice. She ignited a craze for voluptuous Euro-babes that lasted at least two decades, until censorship’s downfall rendered merely-hinted nudity as chaste as Mary Poppins.

Those glory days of international starlet innuendo are commemorated in “Love Kittens,” a new First Run Features DVD box comprising four vintage features of maximum retro spiciness. Two-star Agnès Laurent, which the sage L.A. Times then proclaimed had “a better figure than Mademoiselle Bardot!” Form-fitting duds notwithstanding, she now seems as merely cute as squeaky-clean contemporary Sandra Dee. Her first exported sensation was 1957’s The Nude Set, a.k.a. Mademoiselle Striptease, in which she’s a provincial student pressed to impress her fiancé by practicing the ecdysiast art form in a Parisian basement jazz club. Fear not: this delicious dunce is soon ushered safe back to bourgeois complacency by her stalwart if questionably faithful betrothed.

That same year, she guest-starred in Les Collegiennes, released in the U.S. as The Twilight Girls. The real star is Chanel model and Life magazine cover girl Marie-Hélène Arnaud, playing a newly arrived teacher at a girls academy. One of her charges is Catherine Deneuve — a barely recognizable 13-year-old making her screen debut in scenes restored from their originally cut U.S. release. Laurent is the high-born adolescent whose arrival at the school triggers scandalous entanglements.

Defined by another girl’s line “Please stop crying … whatever it is you’re thinking of now!” this melodramatic curio is like 1969’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie meets 1931’s Mädchen in Uniform meets you-name-it. (Lesbian sentiments are signaled by theremin noodling. Why? Because they’re weird!) Yet it’s largely a smart, sophisticated, just-sporadically-lurid tale that might’ve been better appreciated had it not been billed as “sexy, secretive, seductive” exploitation. It probably didn’t help that scenes crudely inserted after principal photography added two dormitory dwellers much inclined to shed bras and bounce a lot.

Laurent’s vogue was brief — she retired from the screen a half-century ago, dying just last year at age 74 — in contrast to “Teutonic temptress” Elke Sommer, who still occasionally acts in one of her purported seven language fluencies. She had planned, in fact, on becoming a diplomatic translator when modeling called instead. Winning a pageant on vacation in Italy, she got discovered by neorealist pioneer Vittorio De Sica and was soon hopping around the continent as the latest blonde bombshell dropped in Bardot’s wake. By 1963 she’d hit Hollywood, prettying up increasingly dismal mainstream dreck like Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! (1966) and Deadlier Than the Male (1967).

But first she impersonated a Frenchwoman in her two “Love Kittens” opuses, both directed by semi-forgotten Gallic sexploitation expert Max Pecas. She was just 21 — though already very worldly, not to mention curvy — in 1961’s Daniella by Night, playing a model whose work travel sinks her in a Roman potboiler of espionage, blackmail, and murder. (This intrigue’s gist is summed up by one character’s great line: “Apparently, everyone’s jealous of everyone else.”) Our heroine’s virtue is mortally endangered in several circumstances that threaten to separate her from clothing. It would take too long here to explain the pretzel logic by which Danielle must strip before a nightclub audience, then exit with horny American sailors, in order to escape assassination.

In Pecas’ 1963 Sommer vehicle Sweet Ecstasy — one should note certain territories saw it as Sweet Violence — she’s a crass seductress willing to play free-trade merchandise amid a yachtload of quasi-beatnik spoiled rich kids. Eventually she’s redeemed by caring enough to discourage a boy from participating in the craziest variation ever on a chicken contest, involving blindfolded leaps from construction-site cranes.

The difference between these European “sex” flicks and those coming just a few years later is remarkable. There’s so much plot, so many name actors (at least ones familiar to arthouse audiences at the time), and so much production gloss floating the tame exploitation elements, with their ludicrous excuses for toplessness. When heavily painted Sommer was steaming up screens as still import-only Eurobabe (“Nudest Elke Sommer is filmdom’s friskiest frisk!” Playboy exhaled), her movies weren’t exactly classy, but they weren’t Z-grade trash, either.

Her Pecas films remain treasure troves for Francopop enthusiasts: the first was co-scored by Charles Anzavour, the second featured songs by Johnny Halladay. By 1968 — still well before hardcore’s advent — collapsing censorship standards meant racy stuff could predominate, with only a slender g-string of narrative coverage required. Sommer might have been cheesecake — but she was too famous to give it up that freely.

SF’s new political era

31

news@sfbg.com

You can argue about what the word “progressive” means, and you can argue about the process and the politics that put Ed Lee in the Mayor’s Office. And you can talk forever about which group or faction has how much of a majority on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, but you have to admit: this city has just undergone a significant political realignment.

Some of that was inevitable. The last members of the class of 2000, the supervisors who were elected in a rebellion against the sleaze, corruption, and runaway development policies of the Willie Brown administration, have left office. Gavin Newsom, the mayor who was often at war with the board and who encouraged a spirit of rancor and partisanship, is finally off to Sacramento. For the first time since 1978, the supervisors will be working with a mayor they chose themselves.

For much of the past 15 years, progressive politics was as much about stopping bad things — preventing Brown and then Newsom from wrecking the city — as it was about promoting good things. But the “politics of anti,” as San Francisco State political scientist Rich DeLeon describes is, wasn’t a central theme in the November elections, and this generation of supervisors comes into office with a different agenda.

Besides, one of the clear divisions on the board the past seven years was the Newsom allies against the progressives — something that dissipated instantly when Lee took over.

But the realignment goes deeper.

Until recently, the progressives on the board had a working majority — a caucus, so to speak — and they tended to vote together much of the time. The lines on the board were drawn almost entirely by what Newsom disparagingly calls ideology but could more accurately be described as a shared set of political values, a shared urban agenda.

There are still six supervisors who call themselves progressives, but the idea that they’ll stick together was shattered in the battle over a new mayor — and the notion that there’s anything like a progressive caucus died with Board President David Chiu’s election (his majority came in part from the conservative side, with three progressives opposing him) and with Chiu’s new committee assignments, which for the first time in a decade put control of key assignments in the hands of the fiscal conservatives.

 

A PROGRESSIVE MAJORITY?

The progressive bloc on the board was never monolithic. There were always disagreements and fractures. And, thanks to the Brown Act, the progressives don’t actually meet outside of the formal board sessions. But it was fair and accurate to say that, most of the time, the six members of the board majority functioned almost as a political party, working together on issues and counting on each other for key votes. There was, for example, a dispute two years ago over the board presidency — but in the end, Chiu was elected with exactly six votes, all from the progressive majority that came together in the end.

That all started to fall apart the minute the board was faced with the prospect of choosing a new mayor. For one thing, the progressives couldn’t agree on a strategy — should they look for someone who would seek reelection in November, or try to find an acceptable interim mayor? The rules that barred supervisors from voting for themselves made it more tricky; six votes were not enough to elect any of the existing members. And, not surprisingly, some of the progressives had mayoral ambitions themselves.

When state Assemblymember Tom Ammiano — who would have had six votes easily — took himself out of the running, there was no other obvious progressive candidate. And with no other obvious candidate, and little opportunity for open discussion, the progressives couldn’t come to an agreement.

But by the Jan. 4 board meeting, five of the six had coalesced around Sheriff Mike Hennessey. Chiu, however, was supporting Ed Lee, someone he had known and worked with in the Asian community and whom he considered a progressive candidate. And once it became clear that Lee was headed toward victory, Sup. Eric Mar announced that he, too, would be in Lee’s camp.

A few days later, when the new board convened to choose a president, the progressive solidarity was gone. Sups. David Campos, John Avalos, and Ross Mirkarimi, now the solid left wing of the board, voted for Avalos. Chiu won with the support of Mar, Sup. Jane Kim, and the moderate-to-conservative flank.

Now the Budget Committee — long controlled by a progressive chair and a progressive majority — will be led by Carmen Chu, who is among the most fiscally conservative board members. The Land Use and Development Committee will be chaired by Mar, but two of the three members are from the moderate side. Same goes for Rules, where Sup. Sean Elsbernd, for years the most conservative board member, will work with ideological ally Sup. Mark Farrell on confirming mayoral appointments, redrawing supervisorial districts, and promoting or blocking charter amendments as Kim, the chair, does her best to contain the damage.

You can argue that having independent-minded supervisors who don’t vote as a caucus is a good thing. You can also argue that a fractured left will never win against a united downtown. And both arguments have merit.

But you can’t argue any more that the board has the same sort of progressive majority it’s had for the past 10 years. That’s over. It’s a new — and different — political era.

What happens now? Will the progressives hold enough votes to have an influence on the city budget (and ensure that the deficit solutions include new revenue and not just cuts)? What legislative priorities will the supervisors be pushing in the next year? How will the votes shake out on difficult new proposals (and ongoing issues like community choice aggregation)?

Mayor Lee has pledged to work with the board and will show up for monthly questions. How will he respond to the sorts of progressive legislation — like tenant protections, transit-first policies, immigrant rights measures, and stronger affordable housing standards — that Newsom routinely vetoed?

How will this all play out in a year when the city will also be electing a new mayor?

 

IDENTITY POLITICS?

When Sups. Chiu, Mar, and Kim broke with their three progressive colleagues to support Chiu for board president — just as Chiu and Mar helped clear the path for Ed Lee to become mayor days earlier — it seemed to many political observers that identity had trumped ideology on the board. There’s some truth to that observation, but it’s too simple an explanation. There’s also the fact that Chiu strongly supported Kim, who is a personal friend and former roommate, in her election, so it’s no surprise she went with him for board president.

And the phrase itself is so laden with baggage and problems that it’s hard to talk about. It has come to signify a wide range of political activity and theorizing founded in the shared experiences of injustice of members of certain social groups. “Rather than organizing solely around belief systems, programmatic manifestoes, or party affiliation, identity political formations typically aim to secure the political freedom of a specific constituency marginalized within its larger context,” says the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, an ongoing research project by the students and faculty at Stanford University.

Although the notion of identity politics took hold during the social movements of the 1960s and ’70s — when liberation and organizing movements among women and various ethic and other identity groups fed a larger liberal democratic surge that targeted war, economic inequity, social injustice, and other issues — it’s also a political approach that has divided the populace.

“One of the central charges against identity politics by liberals, among others, has been its alleged reliance on notions of sameness to justify political mobilization,” says the Stanford Encyclopedia. “Looking for people who are like you rather than who share your political values as allies runs the risk of sidelining critical political analysis of complex social locations and ghettoizing members of social groups as the only persons capable of making or understanding claims to justice.”

Mar explains that the reality of identity politics and whether it’s a factor in the current politics at City Hall is far more complex.

“With me, David Chiu, and Jane Kim as a block of three progressive Asians — and I still define David Chiu as a progressive though I think some are questioning that — we all come out of what I would call a pro-housing justice, transit-first, and environmental sustainability [mindset],” Mar told us. “But I think because of our ethnic background and experiences, we may have different perspectives at times than other progressives.”

For example, Mar said, many working class families of color need to drive a car so they’ll differ from progressives who want to limit parking spaces to discourage driving. He also has reservations about the proposed congestion pricing fee and how it might affect low-income drivers.\

“I think often when progressive people of color come into office — Jane Kim might be one of the best examples — that sometimes there’s an assumption that her issues are going to be the same as a white progressive or a Latino progressive,” he said. “But I think kind of the different identities that we all have mean that we’re more complex.”

Campos, a Latino immigrant who is openly gay, noted that “as a progressive person of color, I have at times felt that the progressive movement didn’t recognize the importance of identity politics and what it means for me to have another person of color in power.”

But, he added, “I don’t think identity politics alone should guide what happens. A progressive agenda isn’t just about race but class, sexual orientation, and other things. It’s not enough to say that identity politics justifies everything.”

University of San Francisco political science professor Corey Cook told the Guardian that identity has always been a strong factor in San Francisco politics, even if it was overshadowed by the political realignment around progressive ideology that occurred in 2000, mostly as a reaction to an economic agenda based on rapid development and political cronyism.

“I’m not sure that identity wasn’t relevant, but it was swamped by ideology,” Cook told the Guardian. Now, he said, another political realignment seems to be occurring, one that downplays ideology compared to the position it has held for the last 10 years. “I’m not sure that ideology is dead. But the dynamics have definitely changed.”

Cook sees what may be a more important change reflected in Chiu’s decision to put the political moderates in control of key board committees. But he said that shift was probably inevitable given the difficulties of unifying the diverse progressive constituencies.

“It’s hard to hold a progressive coalition together, and it’s amazing that it has lasted this long,” he said.

There’s another kind of identity politics at play as well — that of native San Franciscans, who often express resentment at progressive newcomers talking about what kind of city this is, versus those who see San Francisco as a city of immigrants and ideas, a place being shaped by a wider constituency than the old-timers like to acknowledge.

“I’m honored to join Sups. Elsbernd and Cohen in representing the neighborhoods they grew up in,” Sup. Mark Farrell said during his opening remarks after being sworn in Jan. 8., sobbing when he thanked his parents for their support.

As he continued, he fed the criticism of the notion of ideology-based politics that has been a popular trope with Gavin Newsom and other fiscal conservatives in recent years, telling the crowd he wanted “to turn City Hall into a place based on issues and ideas, not ideology.”

Cohen also placed more importance on her birthright than on her political philosophy, telling stories about entering board chambers through the back door at age 16 when she was part of a youth program created by then-Mayor Frank Jordan, and with former Mayor Dianne Feinstein coming to speak at Cohen’s third-grade class. “I am a San Francisco native, and that is a responsibility I take seriously,” said Cohen, who graduated from the Emerge Program, which grooms women for political office,

“We will have another woman as president of the Board of Supervisors, and we will have a woman as mayor of San Francisco,” she added. And as the sole African American on the board, she also pledged, “I will be working to add more members of the African American community to the elected family of San Francisco.”

But what issues she plans to focus on and what values she’ll represent were unclear in her comments — as they were throughout her campaign, despite the efforts of journalists and activists to discern her political philosophy. In her public comments, her only stated goal was to build bridges between the community and City Hall and let decisions be guided by the people “not political ideologies.”

Oftentimes in recent San Francisco history, identity and ideology have worked in concert, as they did with former Sup. Harvey Milk, who broke barriers as the first openly gay elected official, but who also championed a broad progressive agenda that included tenants rights, protecting civil liberties, and creating more parks and public spaces.

Sup. Scott Wiener, shortly after being sworn into office, acknowledged the legacy of his district, which was once represented by Milk and fellow gay progressive leader Harry Britt, telling the crowd: “I’m keenly aware of the leadership that has come through this district and I have huge shoes to fill.”

Yet Wiener, a moderate, comes from a different ideological camp than Milk and Britt and he echoed the board’s new mantra of collaboration and compromise. “I will always try to find common ground. There is always common ground,” he said.

 

GETTING THINGS DONE?

Chiu is making a clear effort to break with the past, and has been critical of some progressive leaders. “I think it’s important that we do not have a small group of progressive leaders who are dictating to the rest of the progressive community what is progressive,” he said.

While he didn’t single out former Sup. Chris Daly by name, he does seem to be trying to repudiate Daly’s leadership style. “I think that while the progressive left and the progressive community leaders have had very significant accomplishments over the past 10 years, I do think that there are many times when our oppositional tactics have set us back.”

When Chiu was reelected board president, he told the crowd that “none of us were voted into office to take positions. We were voted into office to get things done.”

Some progressives were not at all happy with that comment. “I thought that was a terrible thing to say,” Avalos told the Guardian, arguing the positions that elected officials take shape the legislation that follows. As an example, he cited the positions that progressive members of Congress took in favor of the public option during the health care reform debate.

Talking about getting things done is “a sanctimonious talking point that fits well with what the Chronicle and big papers want to hear,” Avalos said. He said the Chronicle and other downtown interests are more interested in preserving the status quo and blocking progressive reforms. “It’s what they want to see not get done.”

Campos even challenged the comment publicly during the Jan. 11 board meeting when he said, “It’s important to get things done, but I don’t think getting things done is enough. We have to ask ourselves: what is it that we’re getting done? How is it that we’re getting things done? And for whom is it that we’re doing what we’re doing? Is it for the people, or the downtown corporate interests? I hope it’s not getting things done behind closed doors.”

Chiu said that, for him, getting things done is about expanding the progressive movement and consolidating its recent gains. “I think we all share a political goal. As progressives, we all share a political goal of getting things done and growing mainstream support for our shared progressive principles so that they really become the values of our entire city.”

To do that, he said, progressives are going to need to be more conciliatory and cooperative than they’ve been in the past. “I think it’s easy to slip into a more oppositional way of discussing progressive values, but I’m really pushing to move beyond that.”

The biggest single issue this spring will be the budget — and it’s hard to know exactly where the board president will draw his lines. “I have spoken to Mayor Lee about the need for open, transparent, and community-based budget processes and he’s open to that,” Chiu told us — and that alone would be a huge change. But the key progressive priority for the spring will be finding ways to avoid brutal budget cuts — and that means looking for new revenue.

When asked whether new general revenue will be a part of the budget solution, instead of Newsom’s Republican-style cuts-only approaches, Chiu was cautious. “I am open to considering revenues as part of the overall set of solutions to close the budget deficit,” he said. “I am willing to be one elected here that will try to make that argument.” But with his political clout and connections right now, he can do a lot more than be one person making an argument.

Chiu has always been open to new revenue solutions and even led the way in challenging the cuts-only approach to both the city budget and MTA budget two years in a row, only to back down in the end and cut a deal with Newsom. When asked whether things will be better this year given his closer relationship to Lee, Chiu replied, “I think things are going to be different in the coming months.”

During the board’s Jan. 7 deliberation on Lee, Sup. Eric Mar also said that based on his communications with Lee, Mar believed that the Mayor’s Office is open to supporting new revenue measures. He echoed the point later to us.

In addition to supporting the open, inclusive budget process, Mar called for “a humane budget that protects the safety net and services to the most vulnerable people in San Francisco is kind of the critical, top priority.

“I think it’s going to be difficult working with the different forces in the budget process,” he added. “That’s why I wish it could have been a progressive who was chairing the budget process.”

Mar said progressive activism on the budget process is needed now more than ever. “The Budget Justice Coalition from last year I think has to be reenergized so that so many groups are not competing for their own piece of the pie, but that it’s more of a for-all, share-the-pain budget with as many people communicating from outside as possible, putting the pressure on the mayor and the board to make sure that the critical safety net’s protected.”

 

CUTS WILL BE CENTER STAGE

But major cuts — and the issue of city employees pay and benefits — will also be center stage.

At the board’s Jan. 11 meeting, before the supervisors voted unanimously to nominate Lee as interim mayor, Sup. Elsbernd signaled that city workers’ retirement and health benefits will once again be at the center of the fight to balance the budget.

Elsbernd noted that in past years he was accused of exaggerating the negative impacts that city employees’ benefits have on the city’s budget. “But rather than being inflated, they were deflated,” Elsbernd said, noting that benefits will soon consume 18.14 percent of payroll and will account for 26 percent in three years.

“Does the budget deficit include this amount?” he asked.

And at the after-party that followed Lee’s swearing-in, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who caused a furor last fall when he launched the ill-considered Measure B, which sought to reform workers’ benefits packages, told us he is not one to give up lightly.

“We learned a lot from that,” Adachi said. “This is still the huge elephant in City Hall. The city’s pension liability just went up another 1 percent, which is another $30 million”

Chu agreed that worker benefits would be a central part of the budget-balancing debate. “Any conversation about the long-term future of San Francisco’s budget has to look at the reality of where the bulk of our spending is,” she said.

Avalos noted that he plans to talk to labor and community based organizations about ways to increase city revenue. “I’m going to work behind the scene on the budget to make sure the communities are well-spoken for,” Avalos said, later adding, “But it’s hard, given that we need a two-thirds majority to pass stuff on the ballot.”

Last year, Avalos helped put two measures on the ballot to increase revenue: Prop. J, which sought to close loopholes in the city’s current hotel tax and asked visitors to pay a slightly higher hotel tax (about $3 a night) for three years, and Prop. N, the real property transfer tax that slightly increased the tax charged by the city on the sale of property worth more than $5 million.

Prop. N should raise $45 million, Avalos said. “I’ve always had my sights set on raising revenue, but making cuts is inevitable.”

 

THE IDEOLOGY ARGUMENT

Newsom and his allies loved to use “ideology” as a term of disparagement, a way to paint progressives as crazies driven by some sort of Commie-plot secret agenda. But there’s nothing wrong with ideology; Newsom’s fiscal conservative stance and his vow not to raise taxes were ideologies, too. The moderate positions some of the more centrist board members take stem from a basic ideology. Wiener, for example, told us that he thinks that in tough economic times, local government should do less but do it better. That’s a clear, consistent ideology.

For much of the past decade, the defining characteristic of the progressives on the board has been a loosely shared urban ideology supported by tenants, immigrant-rights groups, queer and labor activists, environmentalists, preservationists, supporters of public power and sunshine and foes of big corporate consolidation and economic power. Diversity and inclusiveness was part of that ideology, but it went beyond any one political interest or identity group.

It was often about fighting — against corruption and big-business hegemony and for economic and social equality. The progressive agenda started from the position that city government under Brown and Newsom had been going in the wrong direction and that substantive change was necessary. And sometimes, up against powerful mayors and their well-heeled backers, being polite and accommodating and seeking common ground didn’t work.

As outgoing Sup. Daly put it at his final meeting: “I’ve seen go-along to get along. If you want to do more than that, if you think there’s a fundamental problem with the way things are in this world, then go-along to get along doesn’t do it.” When Chiu announced that the new progressive politics is one of pragmatism, he was making a break from that ideology. He was signaling a different kind of politics. He has urged us to be optimistic about the new year — but we still don’t know what the new agenda will look like, how it will be defined, or at what point Chiu and his allies will say they’ve compromised and reached out enough and are ready to take a strong, even oppositional, stand. We do know the outcome will affect the lives of a lot of San Franciscans. And when the budget decisions start rolling down the pike, the political lines will be drawn fairly clearly. Because reaching across the aisle and working together sounds great in theory — but in practice, there is nothing even resembling a consensus on the board about how the city’s most serious problems should be resolved. And there are some ugly battles ahead.