Volume 45 Number 18

Appetite: A tale of two (French) bistros

0

On a cozy winter’s night (admittedly not forefront in anyone’s mind given the weekend we just had), French bistro fare becomes supreme comfort food. Whether it’s a cassoulet of duck confit, white beans, and sausage or a steaming bowl of les moules with a side of frites, the French are masters of satiation. While my favorite bistros in the city remain Chapeau and L’Ardoise, recent visits to two provided gourmet sustenance with authentic French cheer. P.S. They are both taking Valentine’s Day reservations…

 

CHEZ PAPA BISTROT

On a corner space atop Potrero Hill, with views of our fair city twinkling below, the French bistro vibe here borders on magical when the friendly staff and owner welcome you in. I used to dine here years back when my then-to-be husband lived in the neighborhood. We especially enjoyed going for mussels ($14) and frites ($5) with a glass of wine, even if general dishes were not overly memorable. I’d still say the highlight of the place is its French joie de vivre. With new chef Shawn Paul on board – veteran of everywhere from The French Laundry to 1300 on Fillmore ), French classics and Chez Papa stand-bys remain strong. Les moules come in four classic interpretations, including garlic, parsley, and white wine, or perked up by Spanish chorizo with roasted bell pepper and parsley. Chef Paul sweetens seared Sonoma foie gras ($17) with blackberry-ginger compote and blackberry gastrique. Where I best witnessed his promise was in an amuse bouche of plump shrimp on celery root puree. Pesto, tomato, and truffle oil imbued it with a spirit reminiscent of classic shrimp remoulade in New Orleans.

1401 18th St., SF. (415) 824-8205, www.chezpapasf.com


BISTRO CENTRAL PARC

Bistro Central Parc opened at the beginning of 2010 and swiftly became NoPa and Western Addition’s favorite French bistro. Owner Jacques Manuera transports the relaxed spirit of his home in Strasbourg, France (on the Eastern border of the country) to this straightforward space — he also ran the kitchen in SF’s Baker Street Bistro for 18 years. Bistro Central Parc maintains a similar feel with classic French menu of escargots, French onion soup, mussels, cassoulet, and duck confit. Chef de cuisine Nicolas Jardin experiments with entrees like risotto in a lobster sauce ($19), which he forms into a circle with four seared scallops on top. A beef tournedos rossini special ($28), high-priced for a neighborhood bistro, is decadantly rich layered with foie gras and crispy parsnips atop potato gratin, swimming in a dessert-like port wine sauce. But not every dish is high on the fat quotient. Salads are full of fresh greens — or in the case of the frisee, housing a poached egg. Pair with a glass of Pouilly-Fuissé and call it a night.

560 Central, SF. (415) 931-7272, www.bistrocentralparc.com

 

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

 

Love, Gainsbarre

0

FILM/INDIEFEST “Oh, it’s a problem with women,” Serge Gainsbourg says in an interview clip only a few seconds into Pascal Forneri’s entertaining and energetic made-for-TV documentary Gainsbourg, The Man Who Loved Women. For Gainsbourg, the problem was a rewarding one — women were the vehicle by which he moved from a brooding writer of chanson into a national and international provocateur and icon. On an artistic front, Gainsbourg arranged and delivered one musical bouquet after another for a multitude of female singers, to a degree that Forneri’s movie has to adopt a breakneck pace just to include some of his best songs. As time goes on, his accomplishment seems equal to, if not greater than, that of the Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys, and other English-language rock icons.

Opening with over-the-top Gallic narration and arranged into a series of commercial-ready chapters, Gainsbourg, The Man Who Loved Women isn’t pretentious, and it takes care to deliver some of Gainsbourg’s most infamous televised moments, such as a talk show where he — by that time fully and fatalistically given over to his messy, dissolute Gainsbarre mode — informed a young and imperial Whitney Houston he’d like to fuck her. We also get to enjoy young France Gall naively telling an amused and appreciative Gainsbourg that his latest hit song for her, “Les sucettes,” is about “a young girl named Annie who loves lollipops.”

But Forneri’s movie also reveals the sensitivity beneath Gainsbourg the provocative “women’s tailor” of French songwriting. After all, it was Gainsbourg who had Gall sing of herself as “a lonely singing doll.” In one interview excerpt, Gainsbourg says that he prefers writing songs for actresses because they are “more spontaneous than your typical moron,” then criticizes a market that celebrates and throws away young starlets as inherently “fucked.” “It’s very hard to find work, and they don’t do it for the money,” he says bluntly.

Aside from the bombastic narration, Gainsbourg, The Man Who Loved Women‘s primary commentary comes from the women who worked with and knew Gainsbourg, an illustrious group that includes Brigitte Bardot, Jane Birkin, Juliette Greco, Francoise Hardy, and Vanessa Paradis. One of Forneri’s chief stylistic gambits is to leave these interviews off-screen — aside from appearances within archival footage, Gainsbourg’s women are present only as voices. In one sense this sharpens a critical view of Gainsbourg the man, but it also masks the individuality of the women’s perspectives, turning them all into a single femme.

Nonetheless, there are numerous moments where the likes of Birkin assert their personality. Hardy states that writing for women allowed Gainsbourg to express his “sensitivity” and “sentimentality,” an idea that might not be as true when applied to the partnership of Christopher Wallace and Lil’ Kim half a decade after Gainsbourg’s death. Hip-hop’s Bonnie and Clyde duos only follow in the footsteps of Gainsbourg and Bardot, even if Bardot would rather think of herself as George Sand to his Chopin.

Gainsbourg, The Man Who Loved Women is a story that tells itself. There’s an epic’s worth of turbulent romanticism in the still photos of a blissful and radiant Gainsbourg and Bardot recording the original, suppressed version of “Je t’aime … moi non plus,” and the television footage of a cynical Gainsbourg and a brash, irrepressibly coltish Birkin discussing their version of the song. The man himself says that he came up with both “Je t’aime” and “Bonnie and Clyde” in a single night after Bardot said (commanded?), “Write me the most beautiful song you can imagine.” Thanks to “Je t’aime,” Gainsbourg’s name is irrevocably associated with sex. But as anecdotes from Greco and Birkin make clear, he’d just as soon stay up all night talking and drinking with a woman. Instead of orgiastic pleasures, Gainsbourg and Birkin’s first night in a hotel concluded with her gifting a 45 of Ohio Express’ “Yummy Yummy Yummy” (as in “I got love in my tummy”) to Gainsbourg as he slept.

In focusing on Gainsbourg’s relationships with female singers, Gainsbourg, The Man Who Loved Women ignores his musical partnerships with men, most notably Jean-Claude Vannier, with whom he composed and arranged many of his greatest works. But Forneri’s movie arrives at a time when another wave of interest in Gainsbourg is growing in the U.S. and other countries outside France. The past few years have seen Light in the Attic reissue some of Gainsbourg’s greatest recordings, such as 1971’s Histoire de Melody Nelson, the 1969 album version of Je t’aime (which contains Birkin’s “Jane B,” the model for vocals by Blonde Redhead, Deerhoof, and countless others), and Birkin’s 1973 solo debut, Di Doo Dah. This month, a new compilation of Gainsbourg’s pre-starlet compositions, Discograph’s Le claquer de mots, shines light on the big-eared outsider right before he hit the pop jackpot. If the 1990s saw a surface-level revival of Gainsbourg the cult icon, today, his eternal return runs deeper.

GAINSBOURG, THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN

Sat/5, 2:30 p.m., Roxie;

Sun/6, 9:15 p.m., Roxie

www.sfindie.com

 

Two’s a crowd?

0

The Companion Piece is a charmingly inventive new work of devised theater conceived by actor Beth Wilmurt and directed by Mark Jackson for Z Space. It unfolds as a series of arch “meta” vaudevillian routines by a frustrated long-time duo (played with uncommon chemistry and comedic finesse by Wilmurt and Christopher Kuckenbaker).

Companion is less a narrative-driven tale than a clever, frequently hilarious, and gently moving set of variations on certain themes. These include the need for companionship, the nature of artistic creation, and the fragile balance between egos desperate to assert themselves yet just as desperately bound to the support and sympathy of others. Wilmurt’s initial inspiration for the show was a scientific treatise on the nature of human connection, the 2000 bestseller A General Theory of Love, by psychiatrists Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon. It’s appropriate that this world premiere runs to the very cusp of dreaded Valentine’s Day.

As often as not, Companion‘s themes develop through telling contrasts. The central one juxtaposes the two needy, half-bumbling performers — as they set about trying to forge their second-string act — with the deft, supremely self-confident solo headliner (played with a flawless, period-flavored, almost animatronic showbiz intensity by Jake Rodriguez). The headliner lives with a manic force exclusively for the few minutes he’s onstage — in a bizarre and well-honed routine delivered at the outset of the play and again at the end — shutting down into an enervated, shell-shocked state in between. The duo, whose high jinx account for the bulk of what we see, meanwhile remains most alive in the give-and-take of their zany, agonized creative process. That process may be forever incomplete, but it produces one captivating scene after another, often with the simplest of means: a sly sock-and-shoe puppet show inside a giant trunk is just one of many winning moments.

All this takes place on a cavernous, shadow-filled stage (courtesy of scenic designer Nina Ball), largely bare but for a grab bag of props — trampolines, musical instruments, toilet plungers, rubber chickens, and the like — and a large olio drop featuring a magnificent vintage-style portrait of the headliner, “the sensation of the stage.” There are also a set of doors in the far wall at the back of the stage, one conspicuously set about 10 feet off the ground, sort of Winchester Mystery House style, with a gold star painted on it. This door, it turns out, is accessible by one of two rolling metal staircases, which both become the inspiration for a gorgeously solemn, oddball waltz between the couple. The deceptively spare environment comes filled with other small surprises, as when Wilmurt’s character swings out from the wing on an industrial crane that slowly glides over the front rows of the audience.

There’s an eerie beauty to this theatrical undress, and the capacious sense of possibility mingling there in the shuffle and tussle of the performers. As they tirelessly ply their shtick and clamber for turf in the enveloping darkness (moodily broken up by Gabe Maxson’s lighting and poignantly underscored by Rodriguez’s evocative sound design), it comes to seem like their environment is no less than the muffling expanse of time and space itself.

In the end, the bracketing of the play’s action with a precise repetition of the headliner’s act does not diminish this impression of infinite negotiation. The headliner himself boasts, paradoxically, “I don’t open no shows, I don’t close no shows.” The lack of a strong narrative works to advantage here, as a way of further demystifying the theatrical conceit itself. As director Jackson suggests in his program note, the arc of a storyline is far too neat a device to contain all the indeterminacy and subtleties of this slipstream existence. The show goes on, as the headliner quips, “one night only — every night,” even if, as my companion that night suggested, we all ultimately “open” and “close” alone. 

THE COMPANION PIECE

Through Feb. 13; $20–$40

Z Space

450 Florida, SF

(800) 838-3006

www.zspace.org

 

Fried

0

I don’t have a lot of pet peeves — that would break my lease. Other than, say, invading a country for no reason, making fun of people with mental illnesses and addictions, refusing to pay taxes because you think people of color are moochers, or ordering Uggs online, still, not much reliably gets my goat, ties it down with friendship bracelets and Danish dreadlocks, and forces it to listen to Ke$ha remixed by Tiësto while wearing Juicy Couture or Pink by Victoria’s Secret.  

Baaa.

I do however have an eensy beensy problem with fried food in bars. It may be because I recently quit smoking — farewell, dear Marlboro Man, please moisturize — but lately the combined and pungent waft of cheese-smothered freedom fries, bleachy bar-cleaning solution, and, heaven forfend, deep fried pickles (they have these at Truck in SoMa, they’re frickin’ delicious) makes me want to hurl rainbow Santorum. Could it be that I’m finally pregnant? We’ve tried so hard!

Alas, clouds of steamy trans fat, the unerotic kind, are what one must brave to enjoy Buck Tavern on Market Street, notorious for its new owner, former supervisor and mercurial rabble-rouser Chris Daly. It offers a full menu of yummily evil things whose scent can overpower the atmosphere. But other than that, and perhaps a slight overbrightness of lighting, I have no beef with the place. I’d been there before, when it was a sparsely occupied pool haunt (population: one large drag queen with a pool cue and a frightened-looking bartender) which served only beer and soju cocktails. Now, crowded with cute, diverse folks deep in interesting conversations, full call liquor bottles lining the wall, and the sound of cheerleaders screeching on the flatscreens, it feels downright cozy.

Others may fear clouds of a different sort — and yes this is a progressive wonk’s paradise. Daly can be found behind the bar many nights, and you’ll usually see some political player like John Avalos or Ross Mirkarimi or David Campos or “who the hell knows cuz they’re all slightly brown dudes with the same goatee-hair-tiny glasses thing going on” downing a well-priced pint. There’s even a spread-eagle copy of the Guardian to read over the urinal. (Aim high, haters.) But don’t worry, there’s no ideological purity check at the door, just a friendly sense of come-what-may. In fact, I think we may be witnessing the sudden materialization of some boisterous and idyllic parallel universe City Hall. With cheeseburgers, even!

BUCK TAVERN 1655 Market, SF. (415) 874-9183

 

PUPPY PILE

With newish monthly parties like Beatpig, Chickenbear, and OH! the Powerhouse is rapidly erasing its rep among queer youth as a bland haven for desperate cruisers into carnival techno and so-so blowjobs. This special benefit for Pets Are Wonderful Support brings together two of those parties, Chickenbear and OH! for a night of flying feathers (i.e., a bachelor auction) and rock ‘n’ roll hijinx.

Sat/5, 10 p.m., $5. Powerhouse, 1347 Folsom, SF. www.powerhouse-sf.com

 

PINK MAMMOTH SEVEN-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

I smell Burning Man! And it smells expensive. Luckily, I can enjoy some of the nuttier crews right now, for less than the price of one of the actual mammoths that scientists are hoping to clone this summer. (Imagine riding an actual mammoth onto the Playa. Imagine it with your mind!) So much glitch-funk, chunky techno, zen dubstep fun galore at the fuzzy pink tribe’s seventh hootenanny. Oh goddess, they have their own iPhone app and a hot dog bar. Nothing can stop them now.

Sat/5, 9 p.m.-late, $10–$15. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. www.pinkmammoth.org

 

EGYPTIAN LOVER

I don’t know if this is timely or not? Current events electro, people. The pioneer of electronic funk puts on one hell of a show, and has been jamming the box and rocking Planet Rock for like three decades now. He’ll be joined by Jaime Jupiter for a journey through the Electric Kingdom.

Sat/5, 10 p.m.-late, $20. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com

 

MISS HONEY

Fashion-addict club kids, runway voguing, hip-hop DJs in the stripper pole room, and NYC’s Miss Honey Dijon on the main turntables. Work it out.

Sat/5, 10 p.m., $10. Supperclub, 647 Harrison, SF. www.supperclub.com

Volume 45 Number 18 Flip-through Edition

0

Saving Lyon-Martin

0

rebeccab@sfbg.com

When word got out that the Lyon-Martin Health Services clinic faced imminent closure, Luette Chavez’s cell phone started ringing off the hook. Her friends were going into panic mode.

“It’s shocking to think that something that’s so important to so many people could just be lost so easily,” Chavez told us. The clinic serves nearly 2,500 patients, regardless of their ability to pay for health care. It offers specialized services for queer women and transgender people, providing everything from primary care to mental health services to hormone treatment. A Hurricane Katrina survivor, medical school student, and part-time sex worker, Chavez volunteers at the clinic and relies on it for health care. Her dream is to someday start a free clinic in New Orleans that is cast in the mold of Lyon-Martin. But for now, all of her energy is consumed with the widespread effort to raise enough money to keep the clinic afloat. To survive, Lyon-Martin must pay off a $250,000 debt immediately.

 

CASH FLOW PROBLEM

As one volunteer among many, Chavez has adopted the mindset that failure is not an option. “I have absolutely every confidence that we will be able to save it ourselves because we’re running ourselves into the ground doing it,” she said.

Lyon-Martin’s board of directors initially voted to shut down the clinic at the close of business Jan. 27, citing insurmountable financial problems. That decision was rescinded, however, following an emergency meeting held at the LGBT Center shortly after news of its pending closure went viral. By Jan. 28, an emergency fund drive had netted close to $100,000 in pledges and cash donations. A fundraiser held Jan. 30 at El Rio drew nearly 700 supporters and roped in another $28,000.

Despite the outpouring of support, the long-term future of the 30-year-old clinic remains uncertain. Lyon-Martin can restructure and avoid shutdown if it manages to clear the $250,000 urgently owed, but it must find $500,000 to continue operating in the same capacity as it has. It has stopped accepting new patients, but will likely be able to serve current patients until at least the end of February.

“Without Lyon-Martin, a community that is historically marginalized won’t have anywhere to turn,” stated an open letter to supporters from Board Chair Lauren Winter, who was unavailable for comment.

A combination of state funding cuts, increased demand, and poor financial management created a perfect storm for Lyon-Martin. A key source of the trouble was that the clinic had not been keeping up with its billing, and after a certain amount of time, it could no longer claim reimbursements from Medi-Cal. Yet external factors such as state and local budget cuts contributed to the problem, too, and Lyon-Martin is not alone in that respect.

All across San Francisco, community clinics that serve low-income and uninsured people are struggling to do more with less. Jim Illig, president of the San Francisco Health Commission, told us that he knows of several other clinics in dire financial straits.

“There are a lot of clinics on the edge because they have dedicated their mission to serving the uninsured,” he said. “Any nonprofit clinic that you see — they’re struggling.” The Haight Ashbury Free Clinics, another nonprofit healthcare organization serving the uninsured, recently announced a merger with Walden House, a substance-abuse treatment center. The merger allowed the venerable health-care nonprofit to continue offering services after its budget was slashed by 50 percent due to reduced support from the city’s General Fund. Even as the cuts took effect, demand for the free clinic’s services rose 10 percent from 2009 to 2010.

“Every time I look into the waiting room, it’s full,” said Jeff Schindler, chief development officer.

If Lyon-Martin closes, its patients will have to be transferred to other clinics, but there’s high demand everywhere. Such an outcome might evoke a sense of dèjá vu for some. Last fall, when an LGBT-focused clinic called New Leaf shut down due to crippling financial problems, many of its clients were transferred to Lyon-Martin.

 

COMMUNITY SURPRISED, UPSET

The front office manager at Lyon-Martin, who wished to be identified only as Braz, said she’d had no warning that closure was imminent. “Just closing down like that seemed impossible. We couldn’t ethically do that,” she said. “Our patients are freaking out right now.”

Once people became aware that the clinic was on the brink of closure, some aired the criticism that the board should have been more forthright about financial troubles. The Bay Area Reporter, a San Francisco publication covering LGBT issues, published an editorial calling for the resignation of the six-member board, and several sources told the Guardian they expected the board members to step down.

Meanwhile, health officials and elected representatives have stepped into the mix, but no promises of governmental financial assistance had been secured by the time the Guardian went to press.

Department of Public Health Director Barbara Garcia was unavailable for comment, but released a prepared statement: “The Department of Public Health has been in close discussions with Lyon-Martin and the pressing need to make immediate changes to the way they conduct their financial affairs. We value the important health care services they deliver and will continue to work with them to find the best long-term outcome for the clinic and the patients.”

Sup. Scott Wiener told the Guardian that he’d been in discussions about Lyon-Martin with Garcia and Sup. David Campos. Sups. Ross Mirkarimi and Jane Kim also attended the emergency meeting, and California Sen. Mark Leno was said to be attempting to secure some state funding for the clinic. As the push to save the clinic continues, a parallel effort is moving forward to craft a contingency plan for how Lyon-Martin’s nearly 2,500 patients can access care in the event that it doesn’t survive.

 

COMPETENT CARE

Lyon-Martin patients and others familiar with its services stressed that the women’s clinic is a critical resource for lesbians and the transgender population, because medical staff are trained in that specialized area of care.

“The service there is incredible,” noted Cheryl Simas, who has been a patient there for three years. “They explain everything to you, you’re listened to, and you’re treated with care and respect.” Simas said it was a dramatic difference from an experience she’d had in the mid-1990s, when her healthcare provider was barely comfortable pronouncing the word “lesbian.”

Lyon-Martin medical staffers receive training on transgender patient care, and it even offers training in that realm for medical professionals from cities throughout the United States. “They are internationally renowned as a model for what it means to offer transgender care,” noted labor organizer Gabriel Haaland, who said he was once denied health care due to his transgender identity. “The healthcare system is a fairly traumatic experience for most transgender people,” he added.

If Lyon-Martin closed, “it’d be pretty tragic,” noted Carlina Hansen, executive director of the Women’s Community Clinic, which works closely with Lyon-Martin. When it comes to health care, “We live in an unusual city, in that there is a lot of need among low-income people, due in part to a high cost of living. “Every clinic in San Francisco provides an integral part of that network,” and each clinic fills a specific need, Hansen noted. “The diversity of the clinics matches the diversity of our community.”

Editor’s Notes

1

You want a really bleak picture of the politics of California today? Check out the recent comments of Dan Schnur, GOP political consultant and director of the Jesse Unrush Institute for Politics at the University of Southern California.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Schnur discussed the disconnect between image and reality in this state: "Cut $1 billion out of Medi-Cal and most voters won’t notice," he said. "Take away some cell phones and make legislators sit on a picnic bench, and they pay attention."

Yeah, he’s a Republican who worked for the likes of George W. Bush and John McCain, but his point, while politically sick and wrong, is also sadly accurate. How much money will the state save by getting rid of 48,000 cell phones? About $20 million a year. That’s 0.08 percent of the state’s budget shortfall. What did Brown save by replacing a boardroom-style conference table in his office with a glorified picnic table? Probably a few thousand dollars. How much does the state continue to lose every year to the utter waste of corporate tax breaks? How much could we bring in with an oil-severance tax? Well into the multiple billions.

What got all the press? Jerry’s picnic table and cell phone crackdown.

I’m not against either of those moves. In tough times, it’s important to set the standards at the top, and living cheap and avoiding the imperial trappings of public office is a great way to instill voter confidence. And anything Brown can do to convince the voters that he’s serious about cutting waste — and that they can trust him enough with their money that they should vote yes on his tax plan — can only be good.

But it all seems so silly and shallow.

The truth is, when you cut Medi-Cal, people die. You can’t prove that any specific cut killed any individual, and most of them are poor anyway and the major media don’t make a big fuss every time a poor person dies. It’s not as sexy as some Caltrans worker having to give up a cell phone.

I think I’m going to throw up now.

Division of labor

0

sarah@sfbg.com


In the wake of a three-day protest by unemployed workers outside UCSF’s Mission Bay hospital construction site — and under pressure from city leaders — UC officials have announced voluntary local hiring targets at the $1.5 billion complex.


Targets start at hiring 20 percent of the project’s workers in San Francisco during 2011 and increase that by 5 percent each year until the hospital complex is completed, UCSF news director Amy Pyle told us. But she denies that UC was pressured into its decision. UC is a state agency that is exempt from local rules when it builds facilities for UCSF and other campuses.


“Our voluntary goals are not a result of their protest,” Pyle insisted. “We have been aware of the local hire concerns since before they were protesting.”


The protests have focused on the need to hire workers for southeast San Francisco, where unemployment rates are the highest in the city, particularly among the city’s African American population.


“Of course we are looking to be good neighbors and hire people from an area we know has been hard hit,” Pyle said, clarifying that under the University of California’s hiring program, “local residents mean people who live in San Francisco generally.”


Mission Bay Hospitals Projects executive director Cindy Lima said uproar at the site stemmed in part from perceptions that lots of work is available now, but she said that isn’t true.


“Job opportunities should ramp up in May, but right now, they are installing structural piles,” Lima said. “So if there is an opportunity for a carpenter or a laborer to get decks built, we call the union.” UC’s voluntary local hire announcement came after Mayor Ed Lee urged UC officials to formalize a community hiring plan for Mission Bay, and Aboriginal Blackmen United (ABU) president James Richards agreed to call off his group’s protest outside UC’s Mission Bay hospital complex, at least for now.


ABU member Fred Green, an unemployed construction worker who has lived in the Bayview for 50 years and has five children, said the protesters tried to remain peaceful. “But an empty belly makes you do strange things,” Green said. “If there’s enough work for everybody, why should we be stuck at home while someone comes into my community and takes food out of my kids’ mouths?”


Troy Moor, who has lived in the Bayview for 47 years and has two kids, speculated that if ABU blocked both gates to the project, it would cost UC thousands of dollars a day in lost productivity. “Here at the front gates, we are visible. But we figure that if by next week, nothing is happening, we’ll start making them lose money,” he said.


Michelle Carrington is a 58-year-old flagger and operating engineer from the Bayview who has been unemployed for 10 years. She said Dwayne Jones, who worked in the Mayor’s Office and helped her graduate from Young Community Developers, was “working to try and get us jobs.”


Jones, who is now with Platinum Advisors as a consultant to DPR Construction, UC’s prime contractor at its Mission Bay site, put in an appearance on day three of ABU’s protest. But he said his work with DPR had nothing to do with the ABU protest.


“UC is very committed to maximizing local hire where we can,” Lima told the Guardian. “It’s unfortunate there is a protest because it gives the sense we haven’t been working with the community when in fact we have been working with the Mayor’s Office, CityBuild, and every stakeholder interested in this project, including ABU.”


Richards said ABU mounted its protest to challenge UC’s claims that it has hired more local residents at the site. They were also angry over a flyer that encouraged residents interested in working at the site to sign up with the San Francisco Workforce Collaborative, in partnership with Rev. Arelious Walker’s BayView Hope Community Development Corporation, feeling as if the UC was trying to divide their community. Walker did not return our calls for comment.


“We were with Walker when he was fighting the Nation of Islam’s attempt to stop development at the shipyard, so it hurts so bad to see this,” Richards said. “Never again will we stand by and let people come into the southeast community and take our jobs. We’re going to fight until the end. If the community doesn’t work, no one works.”


But even as UC announced its voluntary Mission Bay goals, community advocates pressed UCSF to set higher targets, citing the city’s failure to attain 50 percent local hire goals under San Francisco’s decade-long policy of seeking to hit that goal.


Joshua Arce of the Brightline Defense Project said he is glad Lee expressed support for Sup. John Avalos’ local hire legislation, “but we are waiting to see if he implements the law as written or a watered-down version.”


Then-Mayor Gavin Newsom allowed Avalos’ legislation to become law without signing it, bowing to the veto-proof 8-3 majority that approved it. But in a 12/23/10 letter explaining his position, Newsom recommended modifications to accommodate the concerns of the building trades, whose members come from across the Bay Area.


“I know the passage of this policy has created high expectations among some residents of San Francisco,” Newsom wrote. “The city owes it to them to implement this policy in a way that will result in a successful program that is fiscally responsible and reflects the best thinking of the many stakeholders invested in San Francisco.”


But with Newsom moving to Sacramento, California Assembly member Tom Ammiano and Sens. Mark Leno and Leland Yee are urging legislators to support San Francisco’s newly approved local hire law as approved.


In a Jan. 25 letter that Leno and Yee signed, Ammiano encouraged Bay Area officials to work with the city to explore mutually beneficial “reciprocity agreements” in which local cities would support one another’s programs “aimed at providing disadvantaged job seekers opportunities in the construction sector.”


“In neighborhoods like the Bayview, the Mission, and the Western Addition, the promise of jobs — particularly living wage construction jobs — has been an unfulfilled promise for generations,” Ammiano wrote.


But in a Jan. 28 press release, UC officials clarified that “as one of 10 campuses of a statewide constitutional corporation and public trust,” UCSF is not subject to Avalos’ mandatory requirement and is prohibited from adopting mandatory requirements based upon residency.


Instead, UC promised to do more community outreach and try to carve out financial incentives to encourage contractors to hit UC’s targets at Mission Bay.


Lima said the hospital complex is a historic opportunity to put as many San Franciscans to work as possible. “We have set an ambitious hiring target but we recognize that the economic activity generated by the project can significantly benefit our neighbors and local residents,” she said


After his Jan. 27 meeting with UC, Richards told ABU members that “when DPR needs someone for a job, they’re gonna call Dwayne Jones, and then Dwayne will let us know. There are hundreds of jobs, but I don’t know if they are in every trade. So, I feel good. But not so good that I can say that 10 carpenters will be hired tomorrow. There’s not enough need for that right now. But the work that’s there, when they call, you’re going to know it.”


Lima said UC’s meeting with Richards was “positive”.


“We clarified some misunderstandings and made some progress,” Lima said, noting that work at the site will become increasingly available starting in May. “Our goal is still to create jobs for San Francisco residents and make this project happen. We are continuing to try and match people who need to go to work with available job opportunities. The bottom line is that there are a lot of people in this city who are out of work and a lot of groups with different intentions in mind and we get tangled in that process.”


Lima vowed to work closely with DPR Construction and major subcontractors to ensure qualified local residents — including those from neighborhoods closest to the site — can access the construction jobs. And she promised that results will be reported regularly and the size of the workforce will increase steadily, peaking with 1,000 workers in 2012.


“We are mindful that while these goals challenge us, they are also within reach,” Lima said, noting that UCSF has been engaged in creating job opportunities in the construction trades for San Franciscans since 1993. “Our success will depend on the participation and commitment of the broader community and the trade unions.”


UC’s move comes less than two weeks after Lee announced at the annual San Francisco Labor Council Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast that one of his top priorities is implementing Avalos’ mandatory local hire policy.


Lee’s comments suggest a different approach from Newsom’s, but it’s still not clear whether Lee intends to follow the “critical steps” that Newsom felt the city should take “to ensure the responsible and successful implementation of Avalos’ legislation.”


Arce said he was happy to see Lee address the issue at the MLK Day event. “Lee said that if we are using local dollars to create local jobs, those jobs should go to local workers,” Arce recalled, noting that the following week Lee started to coordinate with the Office of Economic and Workforce Development and CityBuild to engage community stakeholders and lay out a road map to implement Avalos’ legislation.


“They set a deadline of March 25 as the target date by which the language of Avalos’ mandatory legislation must be included in all public bids and contracts,” Arce said. “And it’s our understanding that Mayor Lee called UC Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann directly on the morning of Jan. 27 [before ABU’s Richards met with UC officials] to ask that UCSF formalize a community hiring plan for Mission Bay as soon as possible.”


Avalos said he was “very encouraged” by Lee’s remarks. “To say that at the Martin Luther King Labor Breakfast was a big deal,” Avalos said, noting that the building trades were also in the room. “I feel Ed Lee wants to implement the legislation how it is written. He needs help doing that. He needs to create a process to make it happen, and I believe the folks who helped draft the legislation will be ready to do that. That’s not to say that this couldn’t go wrong, but I feel pretty confident that he will implement as strong a local hire model as possible.”

The price of mental health cuts

0

By Hetty Beth Eisenberg

OPINION The massacre in Tucson is a tragic wake-up call for the public mental health system of our own county. Among the many pressing angles to the story, it is vital to consider the severe cuts to mental health services in Pima County last year.

Although only a small fraction of the mentally ill commit acts of violence, we must contemplate the larger issue of what happens when a community fails to prioritize mental health. Acute mental health services are such an essential tool for caring for the severely mentally ill that one is staggered by the low priority they’ve been given by our forward-thinking community in San Francisco.

Throughout the nation, the mentally ill are among our most disenfranchised constituents. In San Francisco, a considerable fraction of our severely mentally ill populations are indigent, homeless, and without health insurance. Acute care services for the mentally ill therefore lose money. In these hard financial times, city officials, like those in Pima County, are making painful decisions. Over the past three years, mental health services in San Francisco have been cut to austerity levels.

To see the short-sightedness of these cuts, one must consider not only the most drastic scenarios. For every Jared Loughner, there are thousands of individuals whose profound burdens could be alleviated with the help of these services. Inpatient psychiatry at San Francisco General Hospital provides the highest level of mental health care in our county. Unlike private hospitals, SFGH takes all patients, regardless of their insurance, and regardless of the risk of violence. The inpatient service at SFGH provides the only safety net for those patients who are the most extreme danger to themselves and others.

From 2008 to 2010, the number of acute psychiatry beds at SFGH was cut from 84 to 42. The consequences of the cuts were palpable. They led to the disintegration of the Cultural Focus Program, a nationally-recognized model of ethical inpatient psychiatric care. The most ill patients were crowded onto two remaining acute units. The staff was then put in the position of having to move patients to understaffed units, so-called subacute, before they were clinically ready.

In January, one of two remaining acute psychiatry units at SFGH was cut. This leaves 21 acute beds available to the entire city. It’s now impossible to separate the most violent patients. The unit has become hyperacute, with an increasingly agitated population amplifying itself. Staff feel unsafe and cannot provide adequate care for their patients. As they grapple with understaffing, many cite what happened at Napa State Hospital recently when a psychiatric worker was murdered — an incident attributed to understaffing.

Meanwhile, there is considerable pressure to discharge these patients quickly. A vast number end up on the streets, in jails, overwhelming outpatient programs, or bouncing back to the emergency room — racking up even higher costs.

Due to budgetary pressures, the Department of Public Health insists that our unstable patients should be funneled into outpatient services. While outpatient programs provide vital means for supporting the chronically mentally ill when they are stable, they are also being cut — and are insufficient to protect acute patients.

These budget cuts make it plain that we are dealing with a clumsy model of mental health — one that lacks essential mechanisms. Such a model reflects a poor understanding of mental illness.

Arizona provides a clarion call to California: we must hear the implicit warning. These cuts to acute mental health services in San Francisco, a city with a large mentally ill population, must be reversed. Each day that they persist heightens the very real tragedy for our patients, our healthcare workers, and our entire community. *

Hetty Beth Eisenberg, MD, MPH, is a resident physician in psychiatry at San Francisco General Hospital.

Early indicators

13

Land use politics and the way development decisions are made at City Hall fed San Francisco’s ascendant progressive movement over the last decade. So in the wake of a still-unfolding political realignment, an early key vote is making some preservationists and developer foes nervous.

At the center of that concern is Sup. Jane Kim, who broke with her progressive colleagues Jan. 25 to be the swing vote in the board’s 6-5 approval of attorney Richard Johns to the historian’s seat on the Historic Preservation Commission. Progressives and preservationists opposed the nomination on the grounds that Johns isn’t a historian and that he has close ties to former Mayor Willie Brown, a friend of developers whose longtime chief of staff was Johns’ wife, Eleanor.

And they’re suspicious of Brown’s support – both overt and stealthy – for Kim’s supervisorial campaign (see “Willie Brown and the accusations of machine politics in D6,” 10/16/10, Guardian Politics blog).

Kim didn’t explain her vote at the full board meeting, and her comments at the Rules Committee (which she chairs) and to the Guardian that Johns “was qualified” and she could “see no reason not to support his nomination” irked many of her progressive supporters who consider development the big issue.

Feeding concerns about the potential blunting of historic preservation and other tools used to scrutinize development projects was the Jan. 25 announcement by Sup. Scott Wiener that he is calling for hearings into whether the commission is improperly hindering development and other policy priorities.

“The Historic Preservation Commission — and I supported the creation of the Historic Preservation Commission — has become an increasingly powerful commission reaching into a lot of different areas of policy in the city,” Wiener said during the discussion of Johns’ nomination, citing housing, parks, and libraries as areas the commission has affected. “It’s important to have a diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints on this commission, and if we’re going to have a committee made up exclusively of advocates for historic preservation, only advocates, that is a problem.”

Former board President Aaron Peskin, who led the effort to create the commission through the voter-approved Proposition J in 2008, disputes the allegation that the commission has become too powerful, as well as the claim that Johns is qualified to serve in the historian’s seat, one of six seats on the commission that now requires professional qualifications.

“The facts do not support Sup. Wiener’s allegations,” Peskin told us, noting that the Board of Supervisors and the mayor retain the authority to decide what is and isn’t historically significant. Yet Wiener said that even commission- and staff-level actions affect other city goals. “The conducting of a survey does have legal impact,” Wiener told us.

But Peskin said San Francisco has very few protected buildings compared with other major U.S. cities, something voters sought to change through Prop. J, and Peskin said he was disappointed that Kim didn’t support the law’s dictates. “This is the second time in 2011 when the slim alleged progressive majority has not stayed together,” he said, referring also to the election of David Chiu as board president.

Peskin and others who fight land-use battles say they don’t yet want to jump to the conclusion that developers might have an easier time with this board. “It’s my profound hope is that this is a learning experience,” Peskin said of Kim’s vote.

Veteran land use attorney Sue Hestor noted that neither Kim nor Wiener has a record on land use issues by which to judge them and she didn’t want to make a big deal of their Jan. 25 actions. Yet she said that development is a huge issue in the Tenderloin, SoMa, and Rincon Hill areas that Kim represents, so there are major tests of her progressive values coming soon.

“In District 6, it’s the defining issue because it’s the most explosive district in terms of growth,” Hestor said. “Land use is about who gets to live in the city.”

 

WHOSE CITY?

While most of the discussion about the Johns nomination focused on his qualifications as a historian — indeed, that was the basis of most of the opposition to his nomination, by both activists and progressive supervisors — there was some telling subtext focused on Hestor’s point that land use is the most fundamental progressive issue.

At the Jan. 20 Rules Committee meeting, Kim even asked Johns about his “vision for affordable housing as it related to preservation.” But the answer she received wasn’t terribly reassuring to those who see the lack of affordable housing for low-income city residents as a serious problem that the city is failing to address (see “Dollars or sense?” 9/29/10).

“San Francisco is made up of lots of different groups of people with lots of different backgrounds,” Johns said at the hearing, noting that it is important to “preserve the culture and the past that have brought us to where we are. But part of that past is the ability to grow.”

In an interview with the Guardian, Johns expanded on the point, sounding a more pro-growth point-of-view than many of his colleagues on the commission are likely to share. “Development and preservation can go hand-in-hand,” Johns said. “Maybe it’s the development that allows what might be a slowly deteriorating building to be fixed up properly.”

As an example, he cited his 20 years of work on preserving the Old Mint Building — his main claim to expertise as a historian — which was ultimately accomplished as part of the development project that included office and commercial development and the Mint Plaza public space.

“People of all income levels have a right to live in San Francisco,” Johns said, adding, “The real need some people would say is the need for middle class housing.” When we noted that it’s often the low-income residents who are ousted when old buildings get modernized, he said, “You have to think about the desirability of people to live in crummy housing.”

Chiu and Kim both downplayed the importance of the Johns vote. “People are trying to read too much into this,” Chiu said, explaining that he opposed the nomination because he simply felt Johns didn’t meet the criteria as a historian. “What was relevant is what city law says.”

Kim told us that it wasn’t until the full board meeting that she learned how her progressive colleagues felt about the matter, and that she didn’t want to change how she voted in committee. “It was not important enough for me to change my vote based on my verbal commitments,” Kim said later.

Yet on the evening of the vote, Kim told the Guardian that she felt “pressure” to support Johns, although she wouldn’t say from whom. “I was put in a bad position on this issue,” she said. Many progressives have speculated that pressure came from Brown, which Kim denies. “We didn’t talk about this, not once,” she said.

But in his Jan. 30 column in the San Francisco Chronicle, Brown crowed about the victory by “my friend Richard Johns” and called Chiu’s opposition to him “a mistake that could haunt him for some time,” saying Chiu has set up Sups. Malia Cohen and Kim “to be the swing votes on every issue where moderates and progressives split.”

Rebecca Bowe contributed to this report.

Panabay rising

4

MUSIC Last year was a big one for Los Rakas. The Oakland-by-way-of-Panama duo, Raka Rich and Raka Dun, have been hustling their frenetic Panabay stylings since they banded together as high school students in 2005. But on the cusp of their second mixtape, La Tanda Del Bus, the arresting diversity of their influences and musical ideas began to coalesce. The far reaches of the blogosphere and the streets took notice.

Los Rakas’ “Abrazame” — a song reworked from Gyptian’s crossover hit “Hold You” and remixed into sure shot form by Brooklyn producer Uproot Andy — overcrowded year-end lists as the pinnacle summer jam of 2010. In the video, parallel love stories unfold and collapse over the backdrop of San Francisco’s Carnaval Festival. Shuffling polyrhythms swarm underneath simple Casio chords as Raka Rich moves effortlessly from trading syrupy verses with guest songstress Faviola to bursts of rapid-fire lyricism.

Meanwhile, the video for Los Rakas’ “Soy Raka” — a youthful ode to turfin’ in the streets of Oakland — has surpassed 250,000 hits on YouTube. What other rap groups spit a chorus like “Tengo mi pistola y diente de oro” on the same playlist as a sweltering love ballad? The video not only helped spawn the syncopated dance movement in Panama, but also inspired kids to prefix their names with Raka — “you know, like Raka Miguel” — Dun tells me excitedly in a thick Spanish accent. “In Panama, ‘That’s raka’ or ‘We’re from raka’ means ‘that’s ghetto’ or ‘we’re from the ghetto.’ But it’s an empowering term. It means that we’re proud of who we are and where we come from.”

This sort of community-centered spirit has inspired Los Rakas since the beginning of its rhapsodic ventures. In 2006, Rich and Dun released their first Panabay Twist mixtape with the help and studio support of local outreach organizations Youth Uprising, BUMP (Bay Unity Music Project), and Youth Movement Records. Its single, “Mi Barrio,” in many ways a precursor to the anthemic “Soy Raka,” is driven by the standard hip-hop commandment to represent where you’re from. But the song also honors a more difficult and subtle hip-hop ideal: one love. Los Rakas might boast about Oakland and Panama stomping grounds, but the duo also calls out for us to be “orgulloso and put your flag in the air.” Which flag, exactly?

“Oakland influenced us,” says Dun, who moved to the Bay when he was 14. “It didn’t just shape our instrumentals and lyrical style, from Zion I to E-40—Oakland has the history of the Black Panthers and politicism, so we naturally put that content in our music too.”

Los Rakas sound a bit different from, say, any other Bay Area rapper, because Rich and Dun’s music is informed by the infectious rhythms and punctuated Spanish flows heard in Panama’s pop music of the day, plena. A sprawling folk genre that originated in the Caribbean and related regions of Central America, plena has recently been digitized for a new generation, becoming a Panamanian spin on reggaeton.

But the influences don’t stop there. “In Panama we listen to all types of music: reggae, dancehall, salsa, meringue,” says Dun. “When I met Rico, he was listening to Tupac and we traded music. Hip-hop caught my attention fast. I found out about Tribe [Called Quest], Lil Kim, Nas. I researched where it came from, and how it evolved, and just fell in love with it.” Although the connections aren’t obvious at first, hip-hop and plena have a lot in common. They’re both hybrid genres, forms of pastiche that draw from a wide range of sonic traditions and background, computerizing folk and funk for the bass-hungry children of the always-evolving soundsystem.

Unsurprisingly, Los Rakas garnered attention from an emerging scene of enthusiasts, producers, DJs, writers, and musicians concerned with the musical diaspora of the Afro-Caribbean, or more acutely, what British sociologist Paul Gilroy has called the Black Atlantic. The term denotes the webbed network of the African diaspora culture that is not so much organized by a clear conception of roots but by a rhizomatic set of exchanges and networks: migrations, ships, trade, Creole, European miscegenation, flights, origin myths, stories of repatriation, and now the most diffusive cross-cultural exchange device of them all, the Internet.

Keep in mind that 2010 was the year that Diplo and Switch’s over-the-top dancehall project, Major Lazer, took clubs by storm, and even Rihanna finally started reppin’ roots, rhythm, and wires with “Rude Boy” and multicolored neon booty shorts. Even if MIA’s third full-length was lackluster, something of her world-town swagger has penetrated our times, while her “Bird Flu” call to arms has circulated through our quickly multiplying musical economies. Check the formula: add world genre to rap and uptempo dancehall/Bmore/house/techno; reconfigure percussion patterns in a drum machine; loop melodic fragments of a regional instrument; add inner-city noise, gunshots, chants, or field recordings of aggressive animal life; manipulate with a swill of static, fuzz, and a heavy dose of low end. Bump loud. Call it third world democracy.

Los Rakas, without even asking for it, has popped up in countless mixes and blog posts loosely labeled under the category of tropical bass. Rich and Dun contributed the steady banger “Afro Latino” to the recent Banana Clipz EP, produced by tropical harbingers Chief Boima and Ora 11 of Bersa Discos, and released on their Ghetto Bassquake blog and upstart. Speaking of Bersa, it hosts the crazy monthly Tormenta Tropical, which spotlights new sounds of electro-cumbia and related frontiers arising from the Black Atlantic. “That movement, I’m not sure what to call it, embraced us,” says Dun. It only makes sense that Los Rakas — navigating Oakland and Panama, turfin’ and plena, hiphop and digital polyrhythms, the new and the old — has returned the favor.

AUDYSSEY PRESENTS THE NEIGHBORHOOD: LOS RAKAS

with Roach Gigz

Wed/2, 9 p.m.–-2 a.m.; free

111 Minna Gallery

111 Minna, SF

(415) 974-1719

www.111minnagallery.com

alt.sex.column: Flash dance

1

Dear Readers:

In the high and far off times, there were these smeary newsprint tabloid “lifestyle” papers that had a few columns in the front and then the rest was nothing but tiny, poorly-printed personals ads looking, for kinky sex, right now, very few questions asked. Most were illustrated with what might have been part of a cartoon of an elephant, shot head on, but were actually close-ups of the advertiser’s no longer private private parts.

No matter how ready and eager to go RIGHT NOW you might be feeling some particular evening, would you pick a sex partner based entirely upon a blurry photo of his junk? No? I mean, even while looking for, say, a penis, don’t you need more than a picture of a penis on which to base your decision?

Let’s say you’re not looking for a penis. I mean, you are, but you’re hoping it arrives attached to a person. So you place or answer an ad (online this time) and eagerly open the e-mail that arrives in response and — SURPRISE — out jumps … the weenus. You shriek and hit, appropriately, the “junk” button and remove the person from your list of possible persons of interest, and maybe are a little less keen to open the next one.

This may have been the right response — if what they’re looking for is the same reaction your old-fashioned dark-alley flasher is usually after: shock and fear. Most purveyors of nonconsensual exhibition are seeking a sense of power over their startled (almost invariably female)witnesses. It’s an act of (small, pathetic) aggression, penis mightier than the sword, that sort of thing. If it happens to you, remember to laugh.

But what of those who are not hoping to frighten, but to woo? On the odd chance that anyone’s reading this who actually has sent out an unsolicited dick-shot while trying to get girl to like him, I offer a friend’s description of how she reacts when she would like to be your friend and then you go do something stupid like send her a big unsolicited picture of your wang: “I was chatting with someone from OKCupid and he asked if I wanted a more recent picture and I said sure and bam! full-frontal nudity.

My feeling when this first happened was gross-out. Other feelings I’ve had other times: anger, jadedness, shame-on-me-they-got-me-again-ness, and finally, “Hey, well, maybe that turns them on to send nakey pics to a stranger, so I hope they got something out of it because I certainly didn’t. I don’t walk up to someone in a pub and introduce myself just so he can whip his cock out right there and then, and so that same thing turns me off when it happens online.”

This has been a public service announcement.

Love,

Andrea

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

Po’ girl

0

le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS It was minus two in Boston when I got on the airplane. I was all bundled up in borrowed and stolen clothing, trying to tap what was left of the warmth from our show there. Between 200 and 300 bodies, and, no, I didn’t get laid, but on the other hand I never felt more loved. There may have been one or two dry eyes in the house, but there were not a lot of dry pairs of underpants. Myself, I was completely creamed by the whole thing. I’m still a little shaken.

At the airport, on the weather on the news on TV, they showed a live shot of San Francisco, just before dawn, and said that it was 60 there, that San Franciscans would wake up to a clear, beautiful day.

But that wasn’t where I was going. I was going to New Orleans. New Orleans is where I am, and I intend to have a lot to say about the food scene here. Crawdad de la Cooter, who grew up in this neck of the swamp, thinks I’m not going to want to come home. I think it’s going to take more than red beans and rice and gumbo to change my life at this point.

Now Kayday, she gave us all a scare. After nine months of not finding a job in San Francisco, she found a job in L.A., and on the day before the big move, she got a call from her new employer saying that she’d been, in effect, laid off. Talk about cutting it close! She called me right afterward.

“I have good news,” she said. Then she told me the bad news.

“How are you feeling about this?” I asked.

She was shocked, she said, and also euphoric.

I said, “I’m sorry.” I said, “Congratulations!”

This was, unequivocally, bacon for my own musical future. When I come home now, my new band will be all in one piece and place, which is important for things like bands and chandeliers.

Last night while I was sleeping, a curtain rod did not fall on my head. However, almost the whole rest of my household here was of the opinion that one had. New Orleans is like that. It’s a haunted city. Things go bump in the night, and clang and crack and “Ow! Goddamn it!”

So far I am charmed. My first meal was a fried oyster po’ boy, and the first thing I saw when I left the house this morning was three giraffes — real, live, leafy-toothed giraffes that were not in any way a figment of my imagination, because it turns out there’s a zoo just across the park.

Tell you why I’m here: one of the families whose cute little nine-month-old childern I care for just moved from Berkeley to New Orleans, just for the semester. This childern, both his moms are perfessers, one at State, and one — uh oh — at Tulane. I’m here to help, but also to eat myself silly and have scary adventures to write home to you and/or Earl Butter about.

Since the fried oyster po’ boy I imbibed last night was, as the saying goes, nothing to write home to you and/or Earl Butter about, I will instead regale you with misinformation about a meal I ate with Kayday before I even left San Fran.

On a cold, cold and windy, windy night, the likes of which you haven’t seen and are not likely to see in some time, according to The Weather Channel, Kayday and I ventured our way over to Bernal Heights around dinner time. We were going to squeeze in one last practice at Bambam’s house before Kayday moved to the city of Angels and I to the city of Saints.

It all seemed like Not A Bad Idea at the time. To get something to eat first. So we wound up at Blue Elephant on Cortland Avenue. And we ordered imperial rolls, duck curry, and something else that I have forgotten. But the imperial rolls were not forgettable. They were great. And the duck curry, which is of course a red coconut milk curry with tomato, pineapple, and roasted duck, was fantastic.

Kayday told me she was going to make a blog about living in L.A. called “My Year of Living Los Angelesly,” and I thought that that was a fairly brilliant idea.

I still think so, but now someone else is going to have to do it.

BLUE ELEPHANT

Daily, Lunch: 10:30 a.m.–3 p.m.;

Dinner: 5 p.m.–10 p.m.

803 Cortland, SF

(415) 642-9900

AE/D/MC/V

Beer and wine

Viva Goa

4

DINE In a nondescript space on Lombard Street — itself one of the more nondescript of the city’s thoroughfares, a faded remnant of 1950s automotive delirium — a succession of south Asian restaurants has come and gone over the past decade or so. The latest arrival is Viva Goa, which opened late last summer and, as the name reveals, features the cooking of Goa, a region on India’s west coast south of Mumbai where once there was a colony of Portuguese.

The best-known contribution of Goa to the world’s experience of Indian food is almost certainly vindaloo, a spicy sauce of garlic, chilis, and vinegar — vinegar being derived from wine and wine pointing in the direction of the Portuguese. The Portuguese also, according to actress and cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey, “introduced chiles to India” — having brought them from their New World colonies — “in the late 15th century. Indians, already familiar with their own black pepper, took to them with a passion.” Jaffrey’s recent book, At Home with Madhur Jaffrey (Knopf, $35, 320 pages) is a trove of straightforward recipes, many of them Goan, that rely on a few readily available ingredients to produce stunning results. If you have space on your shelves for only one Indian cookbook, let it be this one.

Viva Goa offers vindaloo in a number of guises, along with dishes that tend to turn up in Indian restaurants of every stripe, including saag paneer ($8.99), ground spinach mixed with spices and cooked with cubes of fresh white cheese. Due to a circumstance beyond my control, this old standby seems to get ordered every time I find myself in an Indian restaurant, and, despite the utter predictability of the pattern, it never disappoints — and didn’t here.

Viva Goa’s vindaloos are made with ginger, garlic, potatoes, cardamom, fenugreek, cinnamon, black peppercorns, chilies, and vinegar, along with some form of flesh — beef, pork, lamb, chicken, shrimp — or no flesh. Lamb ($10.99) was fine, though the distinctive gaminess of the meat vanished in the fragrant blaze of the sauce. The sauce had a reddish thickness I would have guessed was the result of stewed or reduced tomatoes, but the menu made no mention of tomatoes. So perhaps this effect was achieved through some combination of the vinegar, chilies, and potato.

Although most of the Goan recipes in Madhur Jaffrey’s book are rich in chili peppers, black peppercorns, cayenne, turmeric, and ginger, the evidence flowing from Viva Goa’s kitchen suggests that Goan cuisine has a mild-mannered side too. A nice example would be the vegetable caldin ($8.99), with bits of broccoli, carrot, cauliflower, and zucchini stewed in coconut milk with coriander, turmeric, garlic, and cumin seeds. The coconut milk brought an element of buffering creaminess, and although the seasonings were formidable, it was as if someone had discreetly dimmed some harsh overhead lighting.

And at least one item from the menu is neither spicy nor mild: the chicken cafreal ($11.99), a half-bird slathered with a pesto-looking sauce of fresh cilantro and green chilies then simmered in a pot. No complaints about the meat, which was juicy and tender, but the coating did not quite convince. Because the bird wasn’t cooked in the tandoor, the enveloping sauce neither reduced itself to a glaze nor firmed up into a crust or shell. Instead, it remained gloppy, like slowly melting spring snow. It wasn’t quite as satisfying as tandoori chicken ($10.99), but, with its African heritage, it was different enough to justify a place on the menu.

Did I say Madhur Jaffrey’s recipes rely on easily-got ingredients? They do, with one exception: fresh curry leaves. These are not easy to find (she recommends basil or kaffir lime leaves as substitutes), but they somehow turned up in Viva Goa’s malabar jinga ($7.99), an arrangement of shelled, sautéed prawns napped with a spicy red sauce that looked like caponata but with a much stronger kick, aromatic and exotic.

To round out the proceedings, starch-wise, are many of the usual suspects, from basmati rice to naan ($1.99, made with whole-wheat flour) and paratha ($2.50, basically buttered naan). There are also (for $1.50) fine pappadum. These would be excellent for cleaning up any leftover sauce, except they lose so much of their magic when cool. Luckily, they’re almost sure to be gone long before then.

VIVA GOA

Dinner: nightly, 5–10 p.m.

Lunch: Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Sun., noon–3 p.m.

2420 Lombard, SF

(415) 440-2600

www.vivagoaindiancuisine.com

Beer and wine

AE/MC/V

Not noisy

Wheelchair accessible

Bless this mess

0

arts@sfbg.com

FILM One of the most famous Korean films of its era — and notorious for its near-horror catalog of shocking behaviors — Kim Ki-young’s original 1960 The Housemaid took a caustic view of the new middle class emerging in a nation still crawling out from under the wreckage of war.

Its titular figure is not the sole but the third in a series of young women who bedevil an imperious yet apparently irresistible music professor, this one a smoker (gasp!) and thief hired as a domestic. When she succeeds where the others failed by seducing her employer, all further hell breaks loose. This lurid, recently restored wonder can’t quite make up its mind which is worse: the coldly exploitative bourgeoisie (even their children are obnoxious), or the specimens of youthful femininity who forever seem a heartbeat away from romantic hysteria manifesting itself in blackmail or stab wounds.

By contrast, Im Sang-soo’s extremely loose new remake — more of a complete rethink — has no doubt which side to blame. Its sole titular figure Eun-yi (Jeon Do-yeon) is pure innocent victim, a simple soul who can’t believe her luck at first in finding employment at what might easily be mistaken for a royal palace. But it’s just the humble home for Hoon (Lee Jung-jae), hard-bodied captain of politics and industry, and trophy wife Hera (Seo Woo), who is heavily pregnant with their second child. This job is not unlike being asked to dust at the Louvre, but our awed heroine is relieved to discover that her bosses are cultured and kind; their first child is a little angel; and even the stern chief housekeeper (Yun Yeo-jong, who gets a hilarious drunk scene) is made of softer stuff than she initially lets on.

But all this changes when Eun-yi lets herself be seduced by the master and gets pregnant. This triggers a series of acts (encouraged by Hoon’s particularly fearsome mother-in-law) that grow to encompass near-fatal “accidents,” poisonings, and lines like “How could that bastard do this to me? With the bitch who washes my underwear?!?”

Even farther from genre horror that its predecessor, this Housemaid is a glacially reserved black comedy that regards its characters as figures in a gorgeously expensive Architectural Digest landscape. As such it’s witty and entertaining until the very end, when the urge to go overboard can no longer be resisted (apparently), and an unconvincing final atrocity is followed by some sort of dream sequence that simply, ham-fistedly underlines what we already knew: the filthy rich are, well, in need of a moral wash. *

THE HOUSEMAID opens Fri/2 in Bay Area theaters.

 

Love, Gainsbarre

0

FILM/INDIEFEST “Oh, it’s a problem with women,” Serge Gainsbourg says in an interview clip only a few seconds into Pascal Forneri’s entertaining and energetic made-for-TV documentary Gainsbourg, The Man Who Loved Women. For Gainsbourg, the problem was a rewarding one — women were the vehicle by which he moved from a brooding writer of chanson into a national and international provocateur and icon. On an artistic front, Gainsbourg arranged and delivered one musical bouquet after another for a multitude of female singers, to a degree that Forneri’s movie has to adopt a breakneck pace just to include some of his best songs. As time goes on, his accomplishment seems equal to, if not greater than, that of the Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys, and other English-language rock icons.

Opening with over-the-top Gallic narration and arranged into a series of commercial-ready chapters, Gainsbourg, The Man Who Loved Women isn’t pretentious, and it takes care to deliver some of Gainsbourg’s most infamous televised moments, such as a talk show where he — by that time fully and fatalistically given over to his messy, dissolute evil “Gainsbarre” mode — informed a young and imperial Whitney Houston he’d like to fuck her. We also get to enjoy young France Gall naively telling an amused and appreciative Gainsbourg that his latest hit song for her, “Les sucettes,” is about “a young girl named Annie who loves lollipops.”

But Forneri’s movie also reveals the sensitivity beneath Gainsbourg the provocative “women’s tailor” of French songwriting. After all, it was Gainsbourg who had Gall sing of herself as “a lonely singing doll.” In one interview excerpt, Gainsbourg says that he prefers writing songs for actresses because they are “more spontaneous than your typical moron,” then criticizes a market that celebrates and throws away young starlets as inherently “fucked.” “It’s very hard to find work, and they don’t do it for the money,” he says bluntly.

Aside from the bombastic narration, Gainsbourg, The Man Who Loved Women‘s primary commentary comes from the women who worked with and knew Gainsbourg, an illustrious group that includes Brigitte Bardot, Jane Birkin, Juliette Greco, Francoise Hardy, and Vanessa Paradis. One of Forneri’s chief stylistic gambits is to leave these interviews off-screen — aside from appearances within archival footage, Gainsbourg’s women are present only as voices. In one sense this sharpens a critical view of Gainsbourg the man, but it also masks the individuality of the women’s perspectives, turning them all into a single femme.

Nonetheless, there are numerous moments where the likes of Birkin assert their personality. Hardy states that writing for women allowed Gainsbourg to express his “sensitivity” and “sentimentality,” an idea that might not be as true when applied to the partnership of Christopher Wallace and Lil’ Kim half a decade after Gainsbourg’s death. Hip-hop’s Bonnie and Clyde duos only follow in the footsteps of Gainsbourg and Bardot, even if Bardot would rather think of herself as George Sand to his Chopin.

Gainsbourg, The Man Who Loved Women is a story that tells itself. There’s an epic’s worth of turbulent romanticism in the still photos of a blissful and radiant Gainsbourg and Bardot recording the original, suppressed version of “Je t’aime … moi non plus,” and the television footage of a cynical Gainsbourg and a brash, irrepressibly coltish Birkin discussing their version of the song. The man himself says that he came up with both “Je t’aime” and “Bonnie and Clyde” in a single night after Bardot said (commanded?), “Write me the most beautiful song you can imagine.” Thanks to “Je t’aime,” Gainsbourg’s name is irrevocably associated with sex. But as anecdotes from Greco and Birkin make clear, he’d just as soon stay up all night talking and drinking with a woman. Instead of orgiastic pleasures, Gainsbourg and Birkin’s first night in a hotel concluded with her gifting a 45 of Ohio Express’ “Yummy Yummy Yummy” (as in “I got love in my tummy”) to Gainsbourg as he slept.

In focusing on Gainsbourg’s relationships with female singers, Gainsbourg, The Man Who Loved Women ignores his musical partnerships with men, most notably Jean-Claude Vannier, with whom he composed and arranged many of his greatest works. But Forneri’s movie arrives at a time when another wave of interest in Gainsbourg is growing in the U.S. and other countries outside France. The past few years have seen Light in the Attic reissue some of Gainsbourg’s greatest recordings, such as 1971’s Histoire de Melody Nelson, the 1969 album version of Je t’aime (which contains Birkin’s “Jane B,” the model for vocals by Blonde Redhead, Deerhoof, and countless others), and Birkin’s 1973 solo debut, Di Doo Dah. This month, a new compilation of Gainsbourg’s pre-starlet compositions, Discograph’s Le claquer de mots, shines light on the big-eared outsider right before he hit the pop jackpot. If the 1990s saw a surface-level revival of Gainsbourg the cult icon, today, his eternal return runs deeper.

GAINSBOURG, THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN

Sat/5, 2:30 p.m., Roxie;

Sun/6, 9:15 p.m., Roxie

www.sfindie.com

 

Short takes on Indiefest ’11

1

So much to see, independently! Below are some quick reviews of flicks that caught our attention …

SAN FRANCISCO INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL Feb 3–17, most shows $11. Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., SF. 1-800-838-3006, www.sfindie.com

Bloodied but Unbowed (Susanne Tabata, Canada, 2010) “Nobody tells you that by the time you’re 25 half your friends will be gone” is just one of the memorable lines in Bloodied but Unbowed, director-writer Susanne Tabata’s affectionate and probing doc on the Vancouver punk-hardcore scene. It could have been any scene from around the U.S. in the early 1980s — except most weren’t as politicized and didn’t birth bands like the perpetually touring D.O.A., with speed-demon-in-the-pocket drummer Chuck Biscuits, who the Clash called the best, and the Subhumans, who made an impact with such songs as “Slave to My Dick” and whose vocalist Gerry “Useless” Hannah ended up serving five years in the pen for his involvement in the anarchist group Direct Action. Culling telling quotes from the musicians, managers, and knowledgeable onlookers like Jello Biafra, Henry Rollins, and Duff McKagen, Tabata contextualizes the scene up north, while also capturing the moment with the still-vital music, genuine-article photos and footage from Dennis Hopper’s Out of the Blue (1980), and those ironclad anecdotes, ending with the images of a road-worn D.O.A. and an encounter with the vanquished hope of the punk scene, Art Bergmann. What came after hardcore? Heroin is the bittersweet, inevitable punch line. But as narrator Billy Hopeless of the Black Halos offers at Bloodied but Unbowed‘s close, the memories and the music survive — and continue to inspire others to write their own chapters. Feb. 11 and 14, 7 p.m. (Kimberly Chun)

We Are What We Are (Jorge Michel Grau, Mexico, 2010) Hewn from the same downbeat, horror-in-the-cruddy-apartment-next-door fabric as 2008’s Let the Right One In, Mexican import We Are What We Are is a disturbing, well-crafted peek into the grubby goings-on of a family of urban cannibals. In the opening minutes, the patriarch collapses and dies in a shopping center; the rest of writer-director Jorge Michel Grau’s film follows the frantic actions of his widow and three kids, notably oldest son and apparent heir-to-the-hunt Alfredo (Francisco Barreiro), who seems way to timid to become the resident Leatherface. With Lady MacBeth-ish sis Sabina (Paulina Gaitán) urging him on — and volatile younger brother Julián (Alan Chávez) doing his best to blow the family’s tenuously-held cover — Alfredo grapples with the gory task at hand. (And I do mean gory.) If you miss this must-see at IndieFest (it’s sure to be a hot ticket), stay tuned for a theatrical release later in 2011. Fri/4, 7 p.m. (Eddy)

The Drummond Will (Alan Butterworth, U.K., 2010) For a quirky, fast-paced comedy, The Drummond Will has a high body count. It’s a mystery in the vein of Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz (2007), but it’s a much more subtle enterprise overall. Straight-laced Marcus (Mark Oosterveen) and charming Danny (Phillip James) travel from the city to the country for their father’s funeral. They soon learn that they stand to inherit his house, which — as it turns out — comes with a set of bizarre complications. Shot in black-and-white, The Drummond Will transitions seamlessly from fish-out-of-water comedy to bloody whodunit. As the deaths escalate, so do the laughs. Because, yes, sometimes it’s funny when people keep dying. I don’t know why the English seem to have a particular talent for gallows humor — the aforementioned Hot Fuzz, 2008’s In Bruges, the original Death at a Funeral (2007) — but let’s be glad they do. And here’s hoping first-time director Alan Butterworth (who co-wrote the film with Sam Forster) has more farce up his sleeve. Fri/4, 7 p.m.; Sun/6, 2:30 p.m. (Louis Peitzman)

Food Stamped (Shira Potash and Yoav Potash, U.S., 2010) Indeed, this is a doc by and about a Berkeley couple who temporarily set aside their Whole Foods-y ways and take the “food stamp challenge,” spending no more than $50 on a week’s worth of groceries (roughly $1 per meal, they figure). And they’re gonna eat only healthy meals, dammit, if they have to dumpster-dive to do it. But Food Stamped is, thankfully, not a self-righteous yuppie safari into po’ town — the Potashs’ experiment provides the framework for an investigation into ways diets could be improved among lower-income families, including visits to farmers’ markets and a farm in Maryland where food is grown for an entire school system. At a slim 60 minutes, Food Stamped is the ideal length to make its point succinctly, without getting preachy — though (and the filmmakers acknowledge this) their food-stamp project is merely a temporary stunt designed to open the eyes of those who’ve never actually needed food stamps to survive. These IndieFest screenings are copresented by the San Francisco Food Bank, which will be accepting donations on-site. Feb. 13, 4:45 p.m.; Feb. 15, 7 p.m. (Cheryl Eddy)

Free Radicals (Pip Chodorov, France, 2010) There’s a paradox at the core of Pip Chodorov’s feature, in that it employs perhaps the most commonplace and programmatic form of contemporary commercial moviemaking — documentary — to explore perhaps the most unique and expressive manifestation of film: experimental cinema. Free Radicals takes its title from a film by Len Lye, and one of the best aspects of Chodorov’s approach is that it doesn’t mercilessly chop up avant-garde works in the service of generic contemporary montage. He’s willing to show a work such as Lye’s film in its entirety, without intrusive voice-over. Chodorov is the son of filmmaker Stephan Chodorov, and his familiar and familial “home movie” approach to presentation is both an asset and a liability. It’s helpful in terms of firsthand and sometimes casual access to his subjects — he largely draws from and focuses on a formidable, if orthodox male, canon: Stan Brakhage, Robert Breer, Peter Kubelka. But it also opens the door for a folksy first-person approach to narration that can err on the side of too-cute. It’s subtitle — A History of Experimental Cinema — to the contrary, Free Radicals functions best as a celebration or appreciation of some notable and vanguard filmmakers and their efforts, rather than as an overview of experimental film. Feb. 13, 8:30 p.m.; Feb. 17, 7 p.m. (Johnny Ray Huston)

Kaboom (Gregg Araki, U.S.-France, 2010) Gregg Araki’s crackerjack teen sex romp is pure verve — a return to devil-may-care form for fans of The Doom Generation (1995) and Nowhere (1997). Kaboom is right: besides sneaking under the blue velvet rope for a classical mindfuck death trip (there’s even a good part for Jennifer Lynch), Araki and his winning cast let loose a fusillade of dorm-room chatter that runs metaphorical language to its limits. The cult-bidden mystery is too squarely accounted for, but then Kaboom is really as much The Palm Beach Story (1942) as Twin Peaks. Our coed heroes are Stella (Haley Bennett) and Smith (Thomas Dekker), and they’re the only platonic thing in the movie. Taken with Araki’s lasting affection for 1990s culture jamming, this rock-solid friendship is actually quite touching, but Kaboom works best when sliding up and down the Kinsey scale, huffing comic book paranoia for the fun of it. Thurs/3, 7 p.m. (Max Goldberg)

Mars (Geoff Marslett, U.S., 2010) Thanks to Mars, the question “Can mumblecore survive in outer space?” has been answered. (And it’s actually less annoying out there than it is on Earth!) Austin, Texas, writer-director Geoff Marslett’s rotoscope-animated tale follows three astronauts (including m-core heavy Mark Duplass) on a Mars mission, two of whom(Duplass and Zoe Simpson) spark romantically en route. Meanwhile, a solo robot delegation lands ahead of them, discovering new life forms and new emotions, as it sparks romantically, á la Wall-E (2008), with a Mars explorer thought lost a decade before. All the squee gets a little dippy toward the end, but the contrast between slacker and sci-fi genres mostly works. Added points for casting Texas hero Kinky Friedman as the POTUS; Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb did the film’s music and plays the sarcastic head of mission control. Fri/4, 9:15 p.m.; Mon/7, 7 p.m. (Eddy)

Special Treatment (Jeanne Labrune, France, 2010) Let’s get this out of the way first: Isabelle Huppert can do no wrong. That’s not to say she doesn’t occasionally pick terrible projects — she’s just never the thing that’s wrong with them. Special Treatment isn’t so much terrible as it is terribly misguided, contrasting the worlds of psychiatry and prostitution with broad, cartoonish strokes. Huppert plays Alice, a lady of the night who’s thinking about giving up the trade. I don’t blame her; the clients Special Treatment presents her with are the dullest of perverts. One wants her to dress up like a Japanese schoolgirl with a teddy bear and a giant lolly. Another goes the collar and dog bowl route. It’s 2011 — can’t we be a bit more creative with our fetishes? On the opposite end, there’s disenchanted therapist Xavier (Bouli Lanners). And wouldn’t you know it? His patients are photocopies from psychiatry textbooks. There’s a point to be made about the link between paying for sex and paying for someone to listen, but Special Treatment lacks the depth to drive it home. Sat/5 and Feb. 9, 7 p.m. (Peitzman)

Superstonic Sound: The Rebel Dread (Raphael Erichsen, U.K., 2010) “Everything I am came out of music,” says Don Letts — the second-generation Jamaican British DJ, director, and entrepreneur credited with turning punks on to reggae in the late 1970s — in this documentary about his life and work. Much like his contemporary, the late Malcolm McLaren, Letts was a cultural cross-pollinator, working in different mediums while encouraging subcultures to feedback into and off of each other to create something explosive and new. While this serviceable doc lets Letts himself retrace ground that’s been extensively covered elsewhere (it’s worth noting, though, that nearly all the archival footage used was shot by Letts himself), the scenes with his formerly estranged son, who’s also a DJ, are tender and unexpected. Feb. 12, 7 p.m.; Feb. 16, 9:15 p.m. (Matt Sussman)

Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard (Robyn Symon, U.S., 2010) The last thank you in the end credits of this documentary, in bold, is for Werner Erhard. The exiled former est leader and “personal growth” preacher or pioneer should thank director Robyn Symon — I think? – for Transformation, since it’s a 77-minute advertisement for him. Certainly, Erhard is a potentially rich choice in terms of subject matter, but very early on, it’s clear that Symon is out to paint a romantic, positive portrait: testimonials on his behalf are coupled with a low-volume acoustic guitar musical backdrop, and Erhard is even interviewed on the beach. Every once in a while an offhand moment — such as a brief mention of Scientology figurehead L. Ron Hubbard’s predatory view of Erhard — disrupts the soothing flow and opens the possibility of a broader, critical look at the “personal growth” phenomenon. (For the most part, it’s only been dramatized, usually through parody, in films such as 1999’s Magnolia and 1995’s Safe.) As a cultural and even historical figure, Erhard is worthy of an appraisal that’s neither enraptured nor utterly damning. This isn’t it. Thurs/3, 9:15 p.m.; Sat/5, 7 p.m.; Tues/8, 9:15 p.m. (Huston)

Worst in Show (Don Lewis, U.S., 2010) All films about animals in the competitive arena must acknowledge the fundamental truth that the animals themselves are nowhere near as entertaining as their owners. A dog just wants to play, eat, crap, sleep, and maybe have its belly rubbed. The dog’s owner, on the other hand, wants other things — titles, media attention, perhaps an endorsement deal — because they have convinced themselves (as they must convince the judges, and to some degree, the public) that their dog does not just want to play, eat, crap, sleep, and maybe have its belly rubbed. No! Their dog is special. Doc Worst in Show understands this basic drama and finds plenty of eager players in the canine and bipedal contenders, both new and returning, at Petaluma’s annual Ugliest Dog in the World Competition. Amid all the patchy fur, bad eyes, underbites, and malformed legs, it’s the big hearts and outsized egos that truly stand out in this portrait of pageant motherhood at its most extreme. Feb. 9, 9:15 p.m.; Feb. 13, 2:30 p.m. (Sussman)

Je T’aime, I Love You Terminal (Dani Mankin, Israel, 2010) It’s unfair to judge a film by its title, but Je t’aime, I Love You Terminal lets you know exactly what you’re in for. This twee indie romance is Before Sunrise (1995) meets Once (2006) meets every other twee indie romance you’ve ever seen. The film is more mediocre than it is bad, exploring the single-day love affair between two strangers stranded in Prague. Ben is moving from Israel to New York to marry the one that got away. Naturally, he also sings and plays guitar. Emily, an impulsive free spirit, teaches Ben a valuable lesson about living in the moment. Saying this story has been done before is an understatement: Je t’aime packs on indie cliché after indie cliché, without really bothering to develop Ben or Emily into interesting characters on their own. This is a retread without anything to distinguish it from the rest, dragging it down from shrug-worthy to eye-rolling. Feb. 12, 4:45 p.m.; Feb. 14, 9:15 p.m. (Louis Peitzman)

Every little star

0

HAIRY EYEBALL In 1979, the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive received a generous and somewhat unusual gift from the sister of the late German-born, pioneering American sculptor Eva Hesse: an assortment of small experimental works, made by Hesse herself, in materials such as latex, cloth, wax, fiberglass, wire mesh, and masking tape. What made these objects so unusual was their very indeterminacy. Should they be thought of as proper Hesse pieces? Were they studies for the large-scale sculptures that came to define Hesse’s output throughout the 1960s, or standalone technical experiments with different materials and processes? Alternately, were they intended to simply be as is — Hesse had given away similar objects as gifts and kept others arranged throughout her studio.

Hesse, who tragically died of a brain tumor in May 1970 at 34, left little to no indication. “Eva Hesse: Studiowork,” the stunner of an exhibit currently up at the Berkeley Art Museum, is then a homecoming of sorts for many of the pieces on display. Originally curated by Hesse scholar Briony Fer and Barry Rosen of the Hesse Estate for Edinburgh’s Fruit Market Gallery in 2009, this testament to the benefits of gutsy scholarship and cross-institutional support boldly embraces the precariousness of Hesse’s curious objects head-on and encourages us to see them on their own terms.

Entering the gallery space, you immediately encounter a group of previously unseen paper works arranged out in the open on a low plinth, like scattered autumn leaves. The forms vary in thicknesses and degrees of curvature: a worked shape of adhesive-enforced cheesecloth resembles a sunken pumpkin; a crinkled piece of tissue thin papier-mâché a bowl or shard of skull. The slightest breeze could send it flying. Hesse purposefully used fragile or impermanent substances — much to the bane of conservators — as a way to imbue her sculpture with a self-sustaining mutability, a means to continue the processes her initial crafting set into motion. In this sense, time is also one of her materials, as evinced by the caved-in latex bricks and box-like containers that have oxidized over the decades to a rich mahogany color.

The delicacy of the paper works is offset by the three large vitrines in the adjacent room each filled with a variety of objects that alternately read as: replicas of exotic coral or dried chili peppers; dirty jokes; rudimentary toy prototypes; or, more directly, obstinate lumps, variously crafted from latex, wax, painted wood and rubber tubing. The soft, round, protuberant forms of our bodies are evoked everywhere, and yet to call a fold of latex “vaginal” or a coil of tubing “intestinal” somehow feels inadequate to conveying the uncanny physicality of these pieces. It’s as if someone had made you a model of your own hand to hold.

“There is no wishing away the fact that it is hard to know what to make of these things because they are intractable in some way,” cautions Fer at the start of her warm and deeply perceptive catalog essay. Rather than function as a limitation, this interpretive resistance posed by the studio works invites us to un-see them as sculpture and to view Hesse’s careful making and undoing of material as posing a perhaps unnameable but immanently enriching possibility.

 

DOWN ON THE STREET

My first glimpse of Katy Grannan’s street photography was a startling color photo included in Fraenkel Gallery’s 30th anniversary show “Furthermore.” The picture was of an elderly woman wrapped in a mink stole, her face obscured by windswept gray hair as she walked down a sun-bleached street. When viewing it next to the other portraits in “Boulevard,” Grannan’s third solo show at Fraenkel, I realized it wasn’t so much the woman’s “odd” outward appearance that attracted the photographer, but the sense of purposefulness conveyed in her frozen stride.

It would be quite easy to dismiss the pictures in “Boulevard” on the grounds that Grannan is a latter-day Diane Arbus, inherently exploiting her “singular” subjects in the act of photographing them. Many appear to be regular denizens of the street — the homeless, addicts, hustlers — or are folks whose self-presentation defies established norms: an aging Marilyn Monroe impersonator, a trans woman with a 100-yard stare, an extremely hirsute biker-type.

Such a charge is unfair, and I suspect, likely the work of our own unease at looking at people who we would normally turn away from, or perhaps stare at furtively, if encountered on the street. Grannan, though, seems to want to give them their moment without overextending the encounter. Hence, a photograph. She doesn’t pose her subjects and none look directly at the camera. It’s as if, as with the fur-wrapped crone, she stopped them midstride, got her shot, and they went on their way. She respects their anonymity as well (each photo is titled after the city, Los Angeles or San Francisco, where it was taken). The discomfort in looking at Grannan’s work — she extends her gaze in The Believers, a related solo film installation at 1453 Valencia — partly comes from how technically accomplished and flawless it is: she shoots midday to capture her subject’s every wrinkle, blemish, and faded tattoo.

It feels off and disingenuous to call Grannan’s work “beautiful,” but it’s hard not to look and keep looking at the people in her neighborhood, some of whom are our neighbors as well.

EVA HESSE: STUDIOWORK

Through April 10, $5

Berkeley Art Museum

2626 Bancroft Way, Berk.

www.bampfa.berkeley.edu

KATY GRANNAN: BOULEVARD

Through Feb. 19, free

Fraenkel Galley

49 Geary, SF

www.fraenkelgallery.com

arts@sfbg.com

Landmark to loudness

0

MUSIC Happy Sanchez’s office is above the cafe, by the entrance. There are only a couple of windows. One opens onto the parking lot, where a car alarm blares during our interview. The other is dark; below it are the building’s two hourly rehearsal rooms. Aside from the vibration of a double bass revving, we’re cut off from the activity going on at Secret Studios. As the owner, Happy makes up for this isolation with a wall of closed-circuit TVs showing the hallways and common areas tying the Studio’s 130 monthly rehearsal spaces together.

“Mostly it’s just about dealing with the headaches of running a business,” Sanchez says. The headaches, when your clients are all musicians, can be numerous. Bands arrive at 2 a.m., fresh from a gig, and decide to toss utility carts down the stairs. People try to smoke inside, piss in the parking lot, live in their units. Watch out for speed freaks. Make sure women aren’t being harassed. “Sometimes I feel like I’m the principal of the school,” Sanchez says.

Sometimes it’s just plain traumatic. “The one thing that upset me the most, this fucking guy was pissed at his girlfriend, took her cat, put it in the [rehearsal] room, and left it for weeks. Fucking poor cat was skin and bones by the time the girlfriend came and asked me to look for it. Most I’ve ever been upset at anyone. He was banned.”

“But most of the time people are pretty cool,” Sanchez is quick to add. “The people who are on the lease are level-headed. It’s always the friend or the guy that’s just hanging out that makes problems.” There is reason for me to doubt this statement, having just heard Sanchez tell another story about being held up at gunpoint by a rapper who wants his demo tape. But I’m still inclined to believe him, given the sheer number of clients he’s come in contact with in the 25 years since he took a job as a studio manager at Secret Studios, back when it was a small two-room operation.

At the time, Secret, like most of the studios in town, was about hourly rehearsal and recording space. The two units of Secret Studios were originally at Third St., before a mid-1980s move to 215 Napoleon St. in a building with lots of neighbors. “Mostly we did a lot of punk rock recordings, back in ’87,” Sanchez remembers. “This guy David [Pollack], who I later bought the studio from, at the time I was just working for him and he set me up with all these gigs.” They’d rent the place out for parties, for extra money. “Metallica rented it, back in the days when I guess they were big in Europe but they weren’t really that big, yet. Before the Black Album [1991’s Metallica] came out, when they blew up.”

Those involved in Secret during the Napoleon Street era attempted to confine major sessions to nighttime, but it eventually became clear — as the neighbors bitched — that a different location was needed. After the owner sold the business to Sanchez (“Basically, he gave it to me at minimal cost”), he was able to expand and then move into 50 units at the current location on 2200 Cesar Chavez St. The large warehouse with a single floor of small rooms was previously the sound stage for the talk radio TV drama Midnight Caller.

Sanchez credits some of his success to timing. “I got in at the right time. It’s just more expensive to build nowadays. People have tried to build big studios like this and it’s just not affordable anymore. They see it as easy money, but it’s not easy to pull off.”

One person who tried — and succeeded — was Greg Koch, who developed the nearly 180-unit Downtown Rehearsal in 1992. Earlier, Sanchez had passed on its Third Street location. “It was shady at night when most of my clients would be around,” he says. “That building was cheap, though. They couldn’t give it away.”

Downtown was a major competitor until the summer of 2000, when Koch attempted to evict all of his tenants without notice in an attempt to flip the property for a huge profit. In the process, he instigated a musical community revolt, resulting in a large cash settlement and the formation of a then-hopeful, now apparently stagnant nonprofit, SoundSafe. At the time of the turmoil, Secret Studios was still expanding to its current size of 130 units. “I basically opened my units and saw a huge influx of bands,” Sanchez says.

Sanchez has had many models for what Secret Studios should — and shouldn’t — be. He recalls that Francisco Studios, a Turk Street basement space, had a bathroom out of Trainspotting. He’s quick to admit that since he’s taken over the business, there have been mistakes and failures. A plan to start the International DJ Academy in the front offices of the building, with a partner who managed Invisibl Skratch Piklz, fizzled. “They never could quite get it off the ground,” he says. “It was a good concept, but I think they needed someone to run it as a business.” Along with a rap studio that was going at the time, the academy devolved into something that included a barber shop and a night club before Sanchez had to shut it down.

Which, technically, makes two rap studios Sanchez had to end. Back in the late 1980s, at Secret’s old location, there was a lot of money to be made from hip-hop. “These rappers were coming in and you could pretty much just charge them anything,” Sanchez says. “I think there was always the drug dealer in the background financing it. I swear, we had like three clients over time that got murdered. The first time it was kind of a shock. They found the guy in a trunk in Oakland. The second guy got murdered on the night of the earthquake in 1989. The scene just got too crazy. Gangster rap came out, and the whole vibe changed. It got really hardcore.” After a hold-up occurred at the studio and an expensive keyboard was stolen, Sanchez stepped away from the rap game in 1991.

Many artists have come through Secret Studios, but it’s not something Sanchez brags about. In part this stems from his respect for overall security, a high priority when theft is a concern. But it also has to do with his respect for confidentiality. The music business exposed him to a lot of drugs in the ’80s, and he himself struggled with addiction. From 1989 until 1992, he hosted a Narcotics Anonymous gathering — the Straight Edge Rockers meeting — in the studio on Sunday nights. “There were a couple people there that you would definitely know their names,” he says. “I’m actually thinking about getting it going again. It’s not as easy to pull off, but I always thought that meeting was so cool. There are a lot of people in the music industry that need that.”

Sanchez is desensitized to stardom. He’ll say that no one really big has ever been at Secret Studios, then rattle off a long list of names: the Dead Kennedys, Michael Franti, the Go-Gos, EPMD, Romeo Void, Chris Isaak, Mike Pistel, Toots Hibbert. Some of these connections are long relationships, some are incidental. MC Hammer rehearsed at Secret before he was big (but had the parachute pants). Gene Simmons came down in a limo.

Sanchez is happy with his success so far and grateful for the freedom to be a musician with a stable business. With another 10 years on the lease (which he hopes to extend to when his two-and-a-half-year-old son reaches adulthood), he’s satisfied with assuming a more administrative role at Secret. He does the books, handles the day-to-day issues, and makes his own music, composing for movies and television as the Latin Soul Syndicate.

For a lot less drama, Sanchez is a little less in the know about his clients and their role in the scene of the moment. A while ago, for example, he needed to contact a band about a bill. But the band was on tour, and he was referred to its business manager. He went online to look it up. He had no idea who the band was until he Googled “The Dodos” and a video popped up showing the band playing on The Late Show with David Letterman.

www.secretstudios.com

arts@sfbg.com

Ollie beats

0

caitlin@sfbg.com

MUSIC Tommy Guerrero likes to skate down Potrero Hill. He’s been doing it since he was a young pup street boarder — one of the first to go pro, in fact — cruising down those steep residential declines that, looking south from SoMa, resemble like nothing so much as that scene from Inception where the dream city folds on top of itself. Guerrero skates smoothly from one legendary SF career to another, a shape-shift neatly illustrated by the release party for his eighth solo album Lifeboats and Follies at Cafe Du Nord Saturday, Feb. 5.

Despite the requests for autographs that he still gets; the occasional cravings his beat-up body experiences for skating (“It’s so raw and the energy is so fucking gnarly. Once you’ve had a taste of it, there’s no turning back.”); and a job that most ex-skate rats would kill for — he’s the art director for Krooked, a subset of Potrero Hill skate company Deluxe — he’s really more into music these days. “I would love to have all that time to work in the studio. I want to retire [from skate design] in a year,” he says, half-jokingly — but still longingly.

Maybe it’s a grass-is-always-greener thing, but until now he’s done a good job of balancing his various passions. Even in the 1980s and ’90s when Guerrero was grinding out his signature moves on the driveways and suicide hills of the city, back when he was popularizing Public Enemy in Japan by skating to the group’s tracks during competitions, music was always playing a supporting role. He and brother Tony played in punk bands, including Free Beer (a name that made for alluring concert flyers).

Nowadays Guerrero makes layered instrumental music that’s appropriately enough a mix of many different elements: chill jazz with electronic crescendos, a little Latin percussion, maybe a horn solo easefully inserted. Guerrero has a DJ-like impulse to play with genres. “I just hear so much shit in my head, this is what comes out.” Apparently his albums cause havoc in the Amoeba cataloging system. “I’ve seen it in electronic, rock, alternative, even experimental or some shit,” he laughs, sitting cross-legged in a patio booth at Thee Parkside, black leather Vans (his own signature design) on his feet.

He’s in the middle of doing some promotional work for Lifeboats and Follies, but like the rest of his projects, you get the feeling that Guerrero would be doing the same thing even if he never got paid a dime. After failing to resolve differences with his old label, Quannum, Guerrero bought the entire stock of his last album, From the Soul to the Soul, back from the company. He’s mulling over what to do with it — maybe give CDs away at Saturday’s show?

Guerrero never gained the Thrasher notoriety he got from skating in his musical career. But he casually mentions that he is, as the saying goes, big in Japan. He performs there a lot and gets off on being able to take risks with in his live performances that wouldn’t go over well with American audiences looking to hear the same old thing. “They can love J-pop and, at the same time, they can love John Zorn,” he says of his Japanese fans. It makes sense that Guerrero would gravitate toward an audience looking for a more diverse experience, one that trusts that whatever he’s popping off with — on the skateboard or mixing board — is gonna turn heads. 

TOMMY GUERRERO: LIFEBOATS AND FOLLIES RELEASE PARTY

Sat/5 9:30 p.m., $12

Cafe Du Nord

2170 Market, SF

(415) 861-5016

www.cafedunord.com>

The road, Thorrior

1

arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC There’s no easy way to describe Valient Thorr. Hailing from Chapel Hill, N.C., the quintet has labored throughout its career under the strain of countless casual characterizations, each less accurate than the one before it. Reached by phone in Raleigh, N.C., as he prepared for the band’s impending tour with Motorhead, singer Valient Himself gives the wry rundown.

“Forever, in The Onion, it said ‘Kiss-like band, biker band’ or some shit. None of us ride motorcycles!” he scoffs. Nor, for that matter, does the band wear elaborate makeup or sell branded coffins. The mistakes, however, continued. “People would say something like ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd-esque’ or some shit like that,” complains Valient. “We don’t play Southern rock. We have accents from the South because those are the colloquialisms that we have been accustomed to since we crash-landed here. Or they look at ‘Thorr’ and they say, ‘Oh, they’re Vikings.’ If you could pick three adjectives that we get called the most that are totally wrong, they’d be Southern, Viking, biker metal.”

Now, if you’ve been paying attention so far, you’ll have noticed that the singer goes by an outlandish pseudonym and makes offhand references to things like “crash landing.” By “here,” in the previous paragraph, he means “planet Earth.” This is because the band Valient Thorr claims, with a straight face, to be from the inside of the planet Venus. Valient Himself, a former sixth-grade teacher, sticks to his story throughout the interview, even when gently prodded to discourse on non-Venusian topics.

The band’s beginnings can be traced to East Carolina University, where the five Thorrs (Valient Himself, Eidan, Lucian, Sadat, and Dr. Professor Nitewolf Strangees Thorr) were masquerading as undergraduates. Nurtured by the college radio culture that defined their adopted home state for much of the 1990s, the band soon discovered the geographic advantages of hailing from the Tar Heel State, which features nine midsized cities along the axis of Highway 40, which neatly bisects it into northern and southern halves.

Before long, Valient Thorr was traveling nationwide, hitting 47 cities in 52 days on its first trip out. This relentless dedication to touring would come to define the band, which has effectively been on tour since Valient’s career in the classroom ended in 2005. That event also marked the last time he cut his beard, a fiery red thatch that has since attained truly epic proportions.

Though Valient Thorr’s music — a combination of the rabid, breakneck pace of punk rock and the precision guitar work of classic Thin Lizzy — produces some infectious, exultant tunes, the onstage charisma of the band in general and the singer in particular forms the most important part of its appeal. Clad in impossibly tight pants, cherry-red wrestling shoes, and little else, Valient prowls the stage soaked in sweat, striking mock-muscleman poses and exhorting the audience with the inexhaustible, manic energy of a true rock ‘n’ roll evangelist.

The power of Valient Thorr’s proselytizing can be seen at any show. A growing legion of die-hard fans, called Thorriors, pledge allegiance to the band above all others, often sporting customized jean jackets as emblems of their dedication. In that sense, at least, the band is like Kiss. One Thorrior, a Kansas City native, has even been granted an honorary Venusian surname; “Tim Thorr,” as he is known, “has more Thorrior tattoos than anyone else” explains Valient. “We call him the True Believer.”

Touring with a band as well-known as Motorhead, Valient Thorr is sure to win more converts to its cause. But whether people like it or not, or whether they believe it or not, the Thorrs will be out there. “I think performing is in your blood,” Valient says. “I think everyone was born to do something. We didn’t go to school to be rock ‘n’ rollers — it’s just something that came out of us. It’s an idea that started and it just had to happen.” *

VALIENT THORR with Motorhead, Clutch

Wed/2, 8 p.m.; $35

The Warfield

982 Market, SF

(415) 345-0900

www.thewarfieldtheatre.com

 

Dreadfully fun

0

Dead Space 2

(Visceral Games/Electronic Arts), Xbox 360, PS3, PC

GAMER Survival horror might be the game genre most affected by the environment it’s played in. You’ll see the best results when a player agrees to meet the title halfway: turning out the lights and turning up the volume. Then it’s up to the developers to deliver on their half of the equation. Though generally lauded when it released in 2008, the original Dead Space launched with promise but ultimately was content to repeat itself for the majority of its playtime.

Dead Space 2 delivers. An homage to movies like 1979’s Alien and 1997’s Event Horizon (which it most closely resembles), the Dead Space series is set in a future where space travel allows humans to embark on “planet cracking” missions, wherein all celestial bodies of the galaxy are prime meat for resource-exhausting expeditions. On one such expedition the shuttle finds an alien artifact, contagion, blah blah blah … zombies. A pretty first-rate “previously on” feature in the main menu will catch anyone up to speed.

As engineer Isaac Clarke, it’s up to you to survive this “necromorph” outbreak, this time aboard a space station named the Sprawl. Armed with a ton of weaponry and a little kinetic energy module, you’ll have to escape another apocalypse of the undead, as always by dismembering their arms and legs (and tentacles).

Perhaps taking a cue from last year’s Mass Effect 2‘s streamlining successes, Dead Space 2 is far more linear and cinematic than its predecessor. But unlike that other similarly space-themed sequel, the divide between what is lost and what is gained in the transition is far less apparent. In embracing the hallmarks of any good survival horror series — jump scares, the feeling of dread around each corner, and limited supplies — this sequel is less about innovation than it is about refinement.

Contrary to the drab shuttle hallways of the first game, the Sprawl was once a bustling metropolis and the environments you encounter are much more varied. From a church to a mall to zero-gravity space walks, the freshness in each area keeps it exciting. While the scares range from terrifyingly atmospheric (a bloodstained and deserted daycare center is especially eerie) to inelegant “monster closets” where enemies pop out of vents as you walk past, the game is never boring.

After a promising debut and a bit of a misstep with the God of War-aping Dante’s Inferno (2010), with Dead Space 2 developer Visceral Games has crafted an adventure that begs to be played more than once. Aspects remain overly familiar but, like the best franchises, the Sprawl provides players with a compelling setting and sense of dread that they’ll happily return to.