Volume 45 Number 24

Appetite: Dark and lovely Weavers Coffee

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Weaver’s Coffee: if you aren’t drinking it, you should be. Based in San Rafael, Weaver’s  has a chill, little shop serving and selling their coffee and teas. The shop fronts their roasting facility and offices, which I had the privilege of touring recently.

John Weaver, master roaster and founder, was Peet‘s master roaster for more than 20 years, working directly with the late Alfred Peet. He brings a masterful perfection to Weaver’s coffees and teas, with a refined eye and palate for sourcing the best beans internationally. He returns to his roots with Weaver’s (under his parent company, Wild Card Roasters), able to once again create small batch, individualized blends.

During my visit, I sifted through burlap bags of raw beans from many countries, witnessing the different look and feel of each. Watching the roasting process in a massive Probat machine, divine aromas encompass. Weaver and crew manually and continuously check the beans as they turn from light green/brown tones to a dark, chocolate-ly brown. Similar to craft distilling, they smell and examine beans through various stages to ascertain the exact moment when roasting is complete. It’s an art requiring expertise and timing.

There are many beans to recommend, from the rich, wine notes of Aged Mocha Java (also used in the current batch of St. George’s Firelit Liqueur, to the current special Astral Blend: smooth, sweet, earthy (bonus: purchasing this one supports breast cancer research).

I’ve been drinking Weaver’s since last Fall and it is the best new coffee I’ve had in awhile… as it begins to gain popularity, I’m proud to call it another local great.

**Purchase Weaver’s at Rainbow Grocery, to name just one local vendor. Here’s a full listing.

**Drink Weaver’s at Curbside Coffee‘s street cart, found at Off the Grid and parked weekdays in SoMa (they also specialize in Vietnamese coffee).

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

Looking glass love

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FILM Abbas Kiarostami’s beguiling new feature signals “relationship movie” with every cobblestone step, but it’s manifestly a film of ideas — one in which disillusionment is as much a formal concern as a dramatic one. Typical of Kiarostami’s dialogic narratives, Certified Copy is both the name of the film and an entity within the film: a book written against the ideal of originality in art by James Miller (William Shimell), an English pedant fond of dissembling. After a lecture in Tuscany, he meets an apparent admirer (Juliette Binoche) in her antique shop. She remains nameless (and is referred to in the credits as “She”) even as she steers them toward their day in the country, though he doesn’t seem to notice.

Their dialogues really begin in the car (a prominent setting in many of Kiarostami’s films). We watch them talk for several minutes in an unbroken two-shot, amiably distracted by the windshield’s scrolling reflection of the street. They gauge each other’s values using her sister as a test case — a woman who, according to the Binoche character, is the living embodiment of James’ book. Do their relative opinions of this off-screen cipher constitute characterization? Or are they themselves ciphers of the film’s recursive structure? Kiarostami makes us wonder.

They begin to act as if they were married midway through the film, though the switch is not so out of the blue: Kiarostami’s narrative has already turned a few figure-eights, and the role-playing initially comes of a café matron’s unremarkable misunderstanding. What’s strange — and pointedly wearying — is how little this shift alters their quarrelsome dynamic. Experience bears this much out: in intimate conversation, hypothetical premises are no safeguard from genuine emotions; to the contrary, we often invent them precisely to uncap recrimination. If Certified Copy‘s game resembles an acting exercise, that makes sense too given that actors like Binoche are garlanded for channeling authentic-seeming emotions in contrived scenarios. The mismatched casting of Shimell (an opera singer, blocky as an actor) and Binoche (overreaching) underlines this reflective aspect of the film, as does Kiarostami’s deliberate compositional strategies (marked especially by recessional staging and doublings within the frame).

We’re not exempt from the character’s misconceptions, starting with the fact that Kiarostami plainly wants us to mistake Certified Copy for another kind of movie. Tellingly, two rare POV shots in the film turn on misperception and illusion. In the first, James watches a couple in a piazza. The husband appears to be shouting at his wife, but when he turns the cell phone is revealed. (After a brief introduction, the stranger, played by Buñuel regular Jean-Claude Carrière, tells James in confidence he thinks that all She really needs is a tender gesture — succinctly expressing our own desires as an audience). Later, She looks out the window of an empty trattoria on an idyllic wedding scene. Kiarostami cuts back to her brightened face, giving a little object lesson in romantic projection. (Earlier the café matron warns her, “It’d be stupid of us to ruin our lives for an ideal.”)

Taking Kiarostami’s bait, several critics have already deemed Certified Copy derivative of many other elliptical romances. The strongest case for an “original” comes of Roberto Rossellini’s Voyage to Italy (1954). Rossellini also makes use of his leads’ contrasting nationalities and acting styles; the car enclosure is similarly emphasized in both films; and Kiarostami cleverly plays on Ingrid Bergman’s emotionally resonant walks through museums and ruins throughout Certified Copy. Of course Voyage to Italy‘s premise is reversed — a married couple acts as if strangers — but the real difference is that while Rossellini’s masterpiece realizes first-person feelings in a third-person approach, Kiarostami stays in the shadow of doubt to the end.

CERTIFIED COPY opens Fri/18 in Bay Area theaters.

 

Volume 45 Number 24 Flip-through Edition

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Fantastic fantasy

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GAMER When they first announced a new game called Dragon Age: Origins, the prizewinning developers at BioWare were enjoying the success of Mass Effect, their wildly popular space opera, which had just introduced the public to the intergalactic potential of the studio’s imagination by creating an entire sci-fi universe from scratch. If Mass Effect was all about the future of role-playing games, Origins was all about their past. Almost defiantly traditional, even down to its title, the game embraced shopworn role-playing game tropes like dwarfs, elves, rogues, and locked chests with the tender respect of a closet-cleaning teenager encountering a childhood toy.

Set in a world of high fantasy that simultaneously revered and reinvented the genre’s many archetypes, the series also resurrected the company’s most popular play style: players control one hero and three companions, switching between them at will. The fighting can be paused at any time to better coordinate your party’s actions.

Despite having many virtues, Origins was marred by its imperfections. Its art directors woefully misinterpreted their retro mandate (the loading screen featured what was effectively a giant, rotating tribal tattoo). The scope of the game world, along with the geographic and interspecies conflicts that underpinned it, was unevenly developed. An overabundance of meaningless dialogue meant that the urgency of the plot was often lost amid the ramblings of boring NPCs. Most damningly, the combat felt strangely weightless — allies and adversaries seemed to stand there swinging mightily at each other until someone fell down.

Dragon Age II is as elaborately polished and stage-managed as its predecessor was rough-hewn and idiosyncratic. The game’s opening sequence drops you right onto the battlefield, showing off a redesigned game engine that makes combat at once visceral, gory, and kinetic. Even while playing as a mage, zapping enemies at range with your staff, you feel as if your avatar is breaking a sweat. The characters’ special abilities look legitimately powerful, sending foes flying or julienning them into a shower of immaculately rendered giblets.

The story follows a family of refugees called the Hawkes, whose flight from their homeland of Ferelden parallels the events of the first game. Arriving in the city of Kirkwall, they are quickly confronted with the game’s major theme: dystopia. Founded centuries ago by an unpleasant-sounding empire of slave-owning magicians, Kirkwall is marked by strife, xenophobia, and violence.

Much of the conflict centers around BioWare’s carefully crafted axes of enmity. The city’s human residents resent the influx of Fereldean refugees. The local elves are considered second-class citizens, and summarily abused. The series’ treatment of magic is particularly fascinating, pitting a self-righteous order of Templars (who think that the magic-adept are dangerous and should be controlled by force) against the mages themselves (who bridle at the Templar’s pious enthrallment).

Players will experience Kirkwall’s vicissitudes both through their own story and through their relationships with a fascinating cast of characters. Rich or poor, straight or gay, insouciant she-pirate or revenge-hungry ex-slave, the city’s inhabitants spring to vibrant life from the pen of BioWare’s inimitable writing team. The entire narrative is even structured around an ingenious frame story.

Try too hard to scratch beneath the game’s admittedly pretty surface, however, and you’ll be dealt a stinging rebuke. Though its appearance is universally stunning, Dragon Age II compensates for Origins’ excessive ambition by limiting itself to a narrow range of environments, enemy types, and mission structures. In 12 hours with the game, a player will clear out the same identical cave five or six times. Though the cut scene and conversation dialogue is excellent, game play is too often comprised of “travel here, travel there,” with the occasional ambush thrown in just to whet your appetite, your sword, and, thanks to the series’ distinctive blood-spatter graphical effect, pretty much everything else you have on.

If you can ignore some repetition (you want me to save another wayward, magic-addled youth?) and concentrate on the game’s positive qualities (there are many), Dragon Age II will provide some 40 hours of enjoyment. BioWare has taken an old role-playing dog and taught it a number of impressive number of new tricks. Unfortunately, “roll over” and “shake” are often overshadowed by “fetch,” and sometimes, “play dead.”

Dragon Age II

Bioware/Electronic Arts

(PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3)

Songs of flesh and faith

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arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC Some cowboy angels have been crying into their beer for salvation; meantime, some of us singing cowgirls who are also in struggle push onward to save ourselves. Texan-in-exile Josh T. Pearson’s new Last of the Country Gentlemen (Mute) is very much the answer record for that divide, its harrowing, beautiful 60 minutes transmuting into a sonic angel and devil’s advocate for both sides.

On hearing the disc’s seven songs — or, as when seeing Pearson live a few weeks past at Brooklyn’s Bell House, where he opened with the one-two punch of “Sweetheart I Ain’t Your Christ” and “Thou Art Loosed” — you might be inclined to label the work mere post-breakup bittersweets, or worse, sexist. Yet you would be woefully wrong, akin to those scene-making hipsters at the Bell House who refused to pocket their cell phones and thus did not respect the artist or the hush required to truly hear the songs. You would not be awake to the fact that Brother Pearson’s preaching the (female) listener toward empowerment. He fled Sam the Sham, crossing the pond for refuge, solace, and space, but did not find old world streets paved with gold, and ultimately he was stalked by heartache, firewater, and despair. No one else can love you into wholeness. Reckon I don’t know if Jesus saves; down here, it appears nobody can save your soul but you — savior self.

In my recent long seasons of darkness, this is the hardest life lesson I was forced to learn. And so the acute sadness of Josh T. Pearson the artist — once weighted with the spoils and pressures of one anointed as sonic savior, courtesy of his prior trio Lift to Experience and its lone apocalyptic recording The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads (2001) — and his seven devastating accounts of love gone wrong, about the chains of dissipation and loss of mind and self, resonate with me in ways that cannot be reduced to printed matter nor speech. After a decade of inner turbulence and music’s collective loss of grace, here, at last, is a recording made by a grown-ass man.

With their length and delicate, unvarnished instrumentation — chiefly, Pearson’s voice and guitar, recorded over two days in Berlin with strings added a few months later — the songs of Last of the Country Gentlemen will doubtless cause some to resist, too cowardly to engage with pain. They need to recognize that Pearson is strong enough to balance (gallows) wit with generous depth and unflinching honesty. See “Honeymoon is Great, I Wish You Were Her,” or even the tortured meshes of “Sorry With A Song,” with its “Last time you left I got my drunk ass whupped in a fight/ My whole life’s been one clichéd country unfinished line after line after line after line.” On stage at the Bell House, he joked about expecting to see more beards in the Brooklyn crowd, and noted that the 10-year length of his own mirrored his “absence.” Awake, awake…know his embodiment of the divine.

The portrait Pearson is gentlemanly enough to present: a young Ugly American seeking detachment abroad, unraveling, and painstakingly slaying dragons to evolve and become a better human. Yes, there are ghost notes between his being the son of a Southern preacher man and myself being the granddaughter, niece, cousin of same; a shared lore of traditions and the Word communicates beneath the surface of this record (and I nigh passed out when he seamlessly recuperated the Melodians-minted “Rivers of Babylon” into his oeuvre live last week).

It matters not that Pearson focused on busking and drifting across western Europe and the isles, surfacing only once in the past decade with a (fitting) cover of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and continuing to sit on a trove of unreleased material. In fleeing the horrors of Bush America, he reconnected with the traditions of his own soil and kinfolk (as slyly/sadly limned on the single, “Country Dumb”) and went through them changes to fiercely mature as songcatcher and man. When he opens his record keening, crying that he is “off to save the world,” he may be earnest and he might be clowning himself. It could just be the bravado of wishful drinkin’, but it sho’nuff ain’t purty aesthetic insincerity. I am bone-weary of Pan’s musical sons capering in the glades, and the ever-cloning manchildren of indie-ana. Give me Brother Pearson’s testimony and its rare, precious ability to trigger the full spectrum of human feeling.

The inevitable forthcoming hooptedoodle that results from Pearson’s appearance at Austin’s annual South by Southwest festival next week will determine how much of his vault comes to light and whether or not the amorphous-but-fervent digital cult that enshrined Lift to Experience and has awaited any new music with bated breath expands to a mass. However, I neither require consensus nor further laurels determining its future reception to claim that Last of the Country Gentlemen is a masterpiece. Especially when it seems possible that Brother Pearson could well disappear into Texas, never to record again. Or feel beckoned anew by the boomtown Berlin of our master satirist Californian bard Stew, and Pearson’s fellow quester, the noted East Village African performance artist Krylon Superstar (a “breathaholic,” as we all should be). He could pull a Josephine-with-her-leopards rather than remain here to help rebuild America(na) from the ashes.

I, the Indian watching from the deep dark woods as the settlers clash and struggle to resurrect themselves and their ideals from the heaven/hell of Bush’s infinitely twisted New Jerusalem, am very grateful that Josh T. Pearson has boldly called himself out an American dreamer. He reminds me that I could be one, too, if I am brave enough to bleed. This is worth so much more than letter grades and lazy crit comparisons to this act or that, so expect none. Due to powers of inner vision and commitment, Pearson conjures the two other maverick artists who framed the past decade for me: my most-beloved white chocolate master, Lewis Taylor, from the United Kingdom, and still-undersung, Carolina-to-canyon folk visionary Jonathan Wilson. But he is virtually without peer. It takes a great deal now to summon me from the abyss. Truth alone.

Myself, still too blue to fly — yet there is great remedy and mystery to be gained from Josh the Revelator’s Wild West revolution of the mind. I know you have heard the sounds of red, white, and blue footsteps scrawling in fear. You know intimately the disintegration of this earth. If only you have the ears to hear both the low lonesome and glory of “Sweetheart I Ain’t Your Christ,” wherein Pearson wrenches out, through rippling guitar, “You don’t need a lover or a friend/ You need a savior/ And I am not him.” Don’t flinch when he sings from a land you’re stranger to. Do not escape into the sunset — the brother needs you to openly and humbly step up as his amen corner, and welcome holy breath. 

Josh T. Pearson will be making his solo debut at South by Southwest at three official performances — the first, Wed., March 16 at the Central Presbyterian Church in downtown Austin, should be the hot ticket

Dolphin double

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arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC San Francisco’s Mi Ami was a trio when it released the spazz-punk albums Steal Watersports (2009) and Steal Your Face (2010) on Thrill Jockey. Then bassist Jacob Long announced that he was going to leave the group. After Long made that decision, Mi Ami played a few Bay Area shows at El Rio, Rickshaw Stop, and the Knockout. They were full-throttle performances — high in energy, as always. But they also revealed a ripping-at-the-seams that would soon be complete.

Mi Ami’s Daniel Martin-McCormick explains that he and remaining bandmate Damon Palermo believed that “the music we’d written as trio was specific to that dynamic.” Rather than recruit a new bassist, the remaining two Mi Ami members spent the past year experimenting with different arrangements to make the band work as a duo. “We tried different combinations with guitar and drum,” says Martin-McCormick. “Then we tried with me playing keyboards and Damon playing drums.” What they settled on — “Damon playing a drum machine and a sampler, and me doing stuff on top of it” — is even more surprising.

Dolphins, a 12-inch EP released on Thrill Jockey, is a first taste of the band’s new approach, which includes a vintage 707 drum machine, a sampler, keys, and of course Martin-McCormick’s trademark squall-vocals. In its new manifestation, Mi Ami ditches any resemblance to a traditional rock band. At the same time, the ideas behind the music are similar to those the band has always been traveling along. The influences are the same; then again, they’ve always been eclectic: post-punk to Italo-disco, dubstep to krautrock. The emphasis remains on being (and feeling) very live.

Mi Ami is bicoastal now that Martin-McCormick has relocated to New York City. But before the big move, the pair recorded Dolphins with Phil Manley. “We were puzzling over how to do the recording because the way we do it live is pretty bootleg,” Martin-McCormick says. “It’s pretty raw.” Manley suggested that Mi Ami just record the album live. So they did.

There are, of course, a few touch-ups. Even so, Dolphins is essentially a live performance, and one that encapsulates the quintessential give-and-take of the band’s music. “There’s a lot of interplay, and a lot of focus on creating, and jamming that out, and building on top of it,” Martin-McCormick said.

Mi Ami layers sounds, as on “Sunrise.” As the song emerges, there are undulating synth sounds and kraut beats. Next, steady keys slowly become awash with samples and the song transitions into jungle dub. Once the mood and atmosphere has evolved into a very different space, the track returns to the steady keys. Each song is given time to grow, build — even overflow — then fade away. And no two songs abide by the same rules. Each creates a unique evolution.

The EP’s opener, “Hard Up,” is chock-full of hypnotic beats and heavy bass, making it a perfect party starter. Its follow-up, “Dolphins,” begins where “Hard Up” leaves off — with dance-ready beats. As it unravels, however, it reveals something altogether different: ecstatic sounds turn into twisted grooves and anguished beats as Martin-McCormick’s apocalyptic cries create a juxtaposition of dolphins washing ashore while “Your wife in capris/ Drinking Hi-C and eating lima beans.” Through the sampler and keyboard, Martin-McCormick creates dying dolphin sounds, pushing his voice to an even higher register to sound dolphin-like. The track is a response, he explains, to “humanity’s assault on the environment.”

A final, poignant reinvention of the band is revealed on Dolphins‘ final song “Echo,” which has appeared in different forms and with slightly different titles (such as “Echoonoecho”) on two earlier releases. The sole through-line is Martin-McCormick’s vocal track. “We didn’t want to use Jacob Long’s bassline, but the vocal part could go over anything — it’s so repetitive,” he said.

Dolphins is proof that, although challenging, change isn’t always bad. In conjunction with the EP’s release, Palermo is traveling to New York to tour with Martin-McCormick as a duo for the first time. They’ll play a handful of shows in New York, moving on to the Midwest, and then to Europe. If we’re lucky, this journey will eventually include a return to the Bay Area.

Cult fiction

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arts@sfbg.com


LIT I read a lot of thrillers. Mysteries, murder, international intrigue, weird pulp crime … I’ve been addicted since I was in high school and discovered John D. McDonald, Alistair McLean, and Trevanian. These days, I live by James Patterson, Michael Connolly, Robert B. Parker, Janet Evanovich, Lee Child, and John Lescroart.


And I just found the best new thriller writer, and the best new character, to come along since Mr. Child invented Jack Reacher. The writer’s name is Taylor Stevens, her character is Vanessa Michael Munroe, and the first book of what I hope will be a continuing series is called The Informationist (Crown, 307 pages, $23).


Buy it. It’s amazing. And when Stevens is as big as Patterson, you can say you helped discover her.


V. M. Munroe is an awesome protagonist. She ran away from her missionary parents as a teen to sign on with one of Africa’s most notorious gunrunners, and now she deals in information — secrets somebody wants but almost nobody can find.


The book’s set in Central Africa, where Munroe has been hired to find the kidnapped daughter of a Texas oil billionaire.


By the way: she’s skinny, slight, and a total fucking badass who rides a Ducati and effortlessly beats the shit out of the poor losers who try to accost her at a gas station. She speaks 22 languages. She’s the first trans thriller lead, too, a person who slips effortlessly from female to male. Of course, she’s got personal demons, and part of the back story is her battle to silence them. By the end of the second chapter, I had written this in my notes: “I love Vanessa already. Nobody else like her on the literary scene. Nobody.”


The plot is tight, the characters come alive, the sex is fun and intense sometimes but not overdone. The scene at the end involving a sniper, a knife fight, and a stunning decapitation (tell you more and I’ll ruin a gut-wrenching chapter) as good as anything I’ve read in years.


Unlike a lot of thriller authors, Stevens can write. Check it out:


The details of the case ran through her head, and with them came the memories. It was another life, another world, untamed and vast, where stretches of two-lane tarmac ran vein-like through sub-Saharan emptiness, and buses — old, rusting, belching black smoke — pumped the blood of humanity along the way.


And this from a woman who has a sixth-grade education.


Seriously. One of the most amazing things about Stevens is that she grew up in a cult in Central Africa, wasn’t allowed to go beyond basic education, and wasn’t allowed to read books.


I caught up with her in February; here are some excerpts from our talk.


SFBG Tell me a little about your background and how you came to write this book.


Taylor Stevens I was born into and raised in the Children of God, an apocalyptic religious cult. That’s the only world I knew. It was very secluded; all our interactions with what went on outside the community were accompanied by an adult cult member. We didn’t have access to TV; books were almost nonexistent; we didn’t listen to the radio. My entire world was framed within the context of the cult.


SFBG When did you get out?


TS I didn’t get out until I was in my late 20s. I was quite afraid to leave, not of what the cult would do to me, but of what God would do to me. My ex husband — then my husband — and I took a long time to plan how to get out because we didn’t want to end up like some other cult members who had left with no education, no money, no career, on the streets. We had a baby at the time. The group didn’t believe in education. The standard acceptance was sixth-grade education.


SFBG So where did you learn to write?


TS It’s a big mystery, huh? Like my main character, I guess, I absorb languages — at least I absorbed English. I had to teach myself.


The ultimate inspiration came from reading Robert Ludlum, one of the first authors I read, and it was quite by accident. After we made it to the United States, we were so broke, we were living — a family of four — on $13 an hour. I would buy books at garage sales because it was so cheap, then I would sell them again and use the money to buy more books. The first book I read was The Holcroft Covenant. It was so much beyond anything I’d seen before in reading, so I started reading Ludlum voraciously. I found The Bourne Identity and started reading it, and when I was reading The Bourne Ultimatum I was amazed by these places and people. I said to myself, “I wish I could write about all these exotic settings.” And then I thought, “Wait a minute, I’ve lived in places far more exotic than this.”


I’ve always wanted to write, but the cult would never let me write. I got in horrible trouble growing up and trying to write.


SFBG So did you just sit down and start working on The Informationist?


TS That was the first thing I wrote. I had dabbled when I was 15, but I had all my stuff taken and burned. I figured that if I’m going to write, I’d


better learn something about writing. So I bought a couple of used books on writing fiction and I learned from those.


SFBG In this genre of thriller fiction, there aren’t a lot of female protagonists. Was that something you were thinking about?


TS No, because I had no idea. I didn’t know what was out there at all. Even to this day, I’m not very widely read. I’ve read maybe 250 books. I just wrote what made sense to me.


SFBG One of the interesting things about Vanessa is that she has something of a trans element to her. Sometimes she’s Vanessa and sometimes she’s Michael. How did you come up with that?


TS When I first started writing this book, it didn’t have any plot. I just wanted to use Africa as my setting. Jason Bourne was my ideal because I wanted a character who was tormented — not the ideal good guy or good girl, because life doesn’t work like that. Right while I was reading the Ludlum books, I saw the Tomb Raider movies, back to back, and what I loved about Lara Croft was that, while she was a bit of a caricature, she was very sexual, very feminine on every level. I didn’t want my character to lose her femininity in her badassery.


As far as playing the role of a male, in my experience in having lived in some of these countries, it’s completely implausible that you would have a woman be able to go in there and root around and get what she needed. It wouldn’t happen. So the only way she could do it is if she could pull herself off as a man.


SFBG I’m not going to give away too much of the plot, but the subplot of her coming from of a background where she was living at 14 with a gunrunner, there is a certain parallel with you.


TS Her life and my life are not at all similar. But to understand her pain and the frustrations she went through — there’s no way to create that without living with it. I did draw on the sense of emotions my friends and I grew up with. We didn’t have a happy childhood, so it wasn’t difficult to conjure that emotional torment, because it’s very real.


SFBG They’re going to make a movie out of this book, and I’m thinking if they stay true to the scene at the end with the decapitation, you’re going to have a hard time getting even an R rating. I read a lot of thrillers, and I’ve rarely seen such a graphically brutal thing. It’s brilliant, and it’s gut-wrenching. Where did that come from?


TS It just made sense. This person already straddles a fine line between brilliance and insanity. And for her to lose the only one person who loves her for what she was, in such an arbitrary manner, there was no other way she could respond.


SFBG I hope there’s a sequel.


TS It’s already written. And I use my background in a more direct way — and there’s a third book I’m working on now. And if I’m given an opportunity, I hope there will be much more of Michael Munroe.

Touching from a distance

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arts@sfbg.com

HAIRY EYEBALL “Art enables us to meet my parents again after they have departed,” the contemporary Chinese artist Song Dong says in a statement that introduces his current show at Yerba Buena Center of the Arts. “In my art, they have never been away, and will live with us forever. I think they might still be worrying about our children and us. I wanted to have an exhibition where we would bring them back to us and tell them, ‘Dad and Mom, don’t worry about us, we are all well.’ “

Taking its title from that final reassurance of filial piety, this deeply personal and truly monumental exhibit is a testimony to Song’s sincere belief in the power of art as a means to connect. And you will likely leave a believer too. Art, as Song elaborates in the two decades of work collected here along with accompanying explanatory texts commissioned for the exhibit, allowed him to rebuild his once-strained relationship with his parents while they were still alive. It also allowed him to create a record of their lives together as a family who weathered the worst years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), and to help himself and his young daughter connect to the stories and the struggles of his parents’ generation.

Making daily life the stuff of creative practice has its art historical precedents in conceptual art, a label that has often been attached to Song’s output. But such contextualization is largely beside the point in the face of the electric current of emotions — sadness, longing, remorse, gratitude — that it’s hard not to feel while watching the earlier video pieces Song made with and about his father, or surveying the massive installation piece, titled Waste Not, that he collaborated on with his mother.

The video works, the first pieces viewers encounter, offer variations on a simple yet effective technique: Song films himself or someone else sitting in front of a projection of an earlier recorded interview (usually with his father), continually having the person align their face with the face of whoever is speaking in the projected video. Sometimes it is Song aligning himself with his father; sometimes with his father and mother. And in one piece, a viewer can put himself in a Song family portrait via a similar process (the resulting snapshots are uploaded to YBCA’s Flickr account). The effect is ghostly, blurring the projected subject and the filmed subject into a new, purely virtual being.

The sprawling Waste Not is undoubtedly the heart of “Dad and Mom,” which displays the entire contents of the house Song’s mother lived in for 60 years, and where she married and raised Song and his younger sister. Here, organized into neat piles that fill up YBCA’s entire large gallery, are the contents of a life: clothes, kitchen utensils, toiletries, school supplies, shopping bags, toys, shoes, furniture. At the center of the space hang the remains of the house’s walls and room, a skeleton of beams that seems an impossible vessel given the sheer volume of its former contents.

Having grown up amid the lean years of the Great Leap Forward, Song’s mother subscribed to the belief that nothing should go to waste (from which the installation takes it title), so she recycled and saved everything she could, from plastic bottles and fabric scraps to gasoline canisters and balls of string. Song, in turn, saw creating the installation with her as a way to continue this practice. By turning her accumulated junk into a traveling archive, nothing would have to be discarded and everything would be meaningfully preserved.

Originally conceived by Song in 2005 as a way to help his mother cope with the grief over her husband’s sudden death three years earlier, the work has now become a memorial to her memory as well. SONG DONG: DAD AND MOM, DON’T WORRY ABOUT US, WE ARE ALL WELL

Through June 12 Yerba Buena Center for the Arts 701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2787

ww.ybca.org

Xavier university

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM “I’m not stupid.”

For most filmmakers, that goes without saying, but Xavier Dolan is careful to acknowledge both his talents and limitations. The 21-year-old French Canadian auteur, who wrote, directed, and starred in 2009’s I Killed My Mother, returns with the romantic farce Heartbeats. “I honestly did the film knowing that I would obviously not invent anything,” Dolan admits. “This is not revolutionary directing or writing.”

He is not, as he maintains, stupid: Dolan insists that only an ignorant filmmaker would write a story of unrequited love and label it unique. While the style of Heartbeats is very much Dolan’s creation, the film and its director are conscious of their influences.

“Everything in cinema, for me, has been done before the ’30s,” Dolan says. “And everything since has been repeated or recycled or renewed in some way. I’m not going to pretend to invent anything.”

Rather than run from the comparisons, Dolan embraces them, peppering Heartbeats with homages to the films, art, and literature that have inspired him. While the story is simple — friends Francis (Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri) both fall for stunning stranger Nicolas (Niels Schneider) — Dolan’s visual references give his film weight. As with his first movie, he draws from personal experience. But Heartbeats is more an amalgamation of stories than Dolan’s singular experience.

I Killed My Mother is, like, 97 percent autobiographical,” he notes. “The three percent is just to please my mother, because she doesn’t want me to say it’s 100 percent true. Heartbeats is not as autobiographical in the sense that it’s inspired from various love stories that I have recycled for the film.”

In some ways, Heartbeats is familiar territory — and not only because Dolan once again takes on writing, directing, and acting duties. The filmmaker made sure it was different enough to show his progress but still within his sensibilities.

“I didn’t want to go over this mother-and-son-bond-thing again, so that people would say I was repeating myself,” Dolan explains. “But I still had the feeling that I had to stay close to my skin in order to interest people and not look like I was talking about shit I didn’t know.”

As for taking on multiple roles, Dolan concedes a love of creative control, but he also notes that Canadian cinema is more open to a singular vision than America’s collaborative model. Though he is quick to commend those who helped him on Heartbeats, the end result is the film he wanted to make.

Sometimes, multitasking is a matter of necessity. “It’s a pleasure for me to act,” Dolan says. “It’s my first job and my first passion, but I’m not acting anymore. People won’t employ me. I’m the only person who will give myself a job as an actor.”

In talking to Dolan, one finds a fascinating blend of humility and ego, both linked by his sincerity. The filmmaker speaks with a rare openness, an honesty that infuses his films and elevates them past typical reflections of 20-something angst. I’d argue that the success of Dolan’s efforts is thanks, in part, to his persistent self-awareness.

“People are saying that any other student could do as well with an HD cam, and yeah, sure, I guess they could,” he says. “What can I do? My goal in life is not to convince and seduce and be loved by everyone — I’m not a fascist. I just want to do my films, and if people follow, I will be pleased.”

Which is not to say Dolan suffers from a lack of pride or ambition. “I’m a very narcissistic person,” he continues, “and I think that even if everybody hated my films, I would keep doing them.” * HEARTBEATS opens Fri/18 in Bay Area theaters.

Frances

0

paulr@sfbg.com

DINE What is the difference between Frances, Melissa Perello’s wonderful, 15-month-old restaurant in the Castro, and Palencia, whose place it took? The interior design? This seems to have changed little, if at all. Frances’ food is different, of course, an expertly sown patchwork quilt of influences and ingredients, whereas Palencia had given a stylish bistro treatment to the underrepresented and, to me, underappreciated foods of the Philippines.

But the most obvious difference is that Frances exists — and is packed — while Palencia is no more, and this has to do, I believe, with Perello herself. She brought her star power to a faceless block of 17th Street, and in so doing, she managed to put this handsome little space on the map. People had heard her name and the gilded words associated with it — Fifth Floor, Ron Siegel, Michael Mina, Charles Nob Hill — and this reputation has been enough, apparently, to induce patrons to seek a restaurant where they wouldn’t necessarily expect to find one, on a residential, tree-lined stretch of pavement far from other restaurants and, for that matter, other businesses.

When you step into Frances, from the lonely street into the lively dining room, long and narrow with lots of wood and cream tones, you have stepped from black to white, chilly to warm, and you are reminded of how commercial establishments tend to huddle together. It’s unusual to find a business isolated in this way; it’s like a secret, a great private party no one knows about, except that everyone seems to know about it. Thankfully, they’ve left their stretch limos at home.

If good things come in threes, then Frances completes a trifecta that also includes Firefly (opened 1993) and Delfina (1998). Three of the best restaurants in the city are neighborhood spots within walking distance of one another. They’re also run by pedigreed chefs who’ve chosen (wisely) to invest themselves in ventures of a manageable, human scale, where details small and large can be controlled and the restaurant can actually be what the chef means it to be.

But our trifecta is more of an isosceles triangle, because — at least food-wise — Frances is nearer Firefly than Delfina: a wonderful Californian arabesque of this and that, with a deep root in a rustic Franco-Italian tradition. The menu shows few to no Asian influences, and it also suggests that Perello loves smoky, earthy effects, as in the beignets ($6.50), crisp doughnut balls flavored with applewood-smoked bacon and easy to dip in maple crème fraiche, though they didn’t need to be dipped in anything.

Other whispers of smoke turned up in a soup ($10) of puréed white beans and roasted fennel root with caramelized garlic, shreds of Tuscan kale, and chunks of chicken confit, and in the ragout of toasted farro accompanying the grilled bavette steak ($25). As the steak aficionado put it, “the beef is fine” — a gorgeous rosy color that made up for its not-quite-tenderness, which we’d been advised of beforehand — “but this stuff is great!” Meaning the farro, enhanced by maitake mushrooms and baby fava microgreens; it was practically a meal in itself.

A proper seasonal menu for winter would naturally include mushrooms and citrus, and so we found black trumpet mushrooms contributing to a bowl of spugnole pasta ($13) along with long coins of cotechino sausage and plenty of pecorino cheese: a marvelous little quartet of tang and earth. Citrus, meanwhile, assumed the form of Meyer lemon, whose juice electrified a salad of lovingly tender grilled calamari ($6.50) on a bed of wild arugula, shaved fennel, and radish. It also appeared as bits of satsuma mandarin orange in a salad of little-gems spears ($12) laden with Dungeness crab meat and dressed with a tarragon vinaigrette.

The panisses ($6.50) were extraordinary, and only in part because you rarely find them offered. They are a slight pain to make, but Frances’ were beautifully formed and expertly fried to produce a good knobbly crust around a creamy interior. These, too, like the beignets, needed no dipping condiment, but the condiment presented with them, an aioli of calabrese peppers, was good enough (with a definite garlic-acid kick) to be taken straight up. This I did, discreetly I hope, with a spoon. And if the duck leg ($23), braised in red wine and served atop a medley of butter beans, escarole, and pitted Sicilian olives, seemed slightly less extraordinary — less smokin’ — that was only because there was more of it.

FRANCES

Dinner: Sun., Tues.–Thurs., 5–10 p.m.;

Fri.–Sat., 5–10:30 p.m.

3870 17th St., SF

(415) 621-3870

www.frances-sf.com

Wine and beer

AE/MC/V

Moderately noisy

Wheelchair accessible

Body talk

0

arts@sfbg.com

DANCE Forty is the time when the midlife crisis is supposed to hit, but there’s no sign that ODC is even close. At its short but sweet gala performance on March 11, which opened this year’s three-week “Dance That Matters” program, the artists looked stunning, the choreography fresh and fun, and the audience thoroughly pleased. What more would you want? A home that is paid for? ODC has it. Some money in the bank? ODC has enough to stay alive. Plans for the future? Yes: more dance, and something called the ODC Campus that might include housing for dancers and perhaps even college degrees.

The gala featured new works by Brenda Way and Kimi Okada. (KT Nelson’s Listening Last, a collaboration with Shinichi Iova-Koga, premieres this week.) For the celebratory yet pensive Speaking Volumes: Architecture of Light II, Way reworked the installation piece that ODC’s company reopened its theater with last year. Speaking is linear and therefore allows for a different trajectory. Way takes stock of a dancer’s life, from the working individual to the end of a career that gets absorbed into a mass of humanity. Thirty-five current, former, and recreational dancers flooded the stage for a communal celebration of dance. Along the way, they regaled us with aphorisms along the lines of “Art gives shape to life,” and “Don’t be afraid of people seeing your ideas.” Their energetic optimism is characteristic of Way.

Speaking opened with Jeremy Smith following a voice-over instruction for a new piece. (For example: “Make a triangle with your arm … stick your head through it.”) His responses, sometimes literal, other times imagistic, were fascinating. Then flashlights began to search, a little too long, for potent ideas among dancers half-hidden in the dark.

The lights found, among other treasures, a quintet that reminded me of frolicking dogs and a fluidly stretched give-and-take trio for Dennis Adams, Quilet Rarang, and Vanessa Thiessen that allowed sparks to fly between friendly moments of repose. Fierceness and volatility without rancor propelled Elizabeth Farotte Heenan and Daniel Santos’s duet. At the end of Speaking, they embraced. (Farotte Heenan is retiring.)

Associate choreographer Okada runs ODC’s school and its mentorship program, so she choreographs little these days. That’s why I look vacantly at the Pacific … though regret — a humorous look at misunderstandings, erroneous assumptions, and long-held behavioral patterns — was so welcome. Good intentions won’t keep you from making faux pas in a world that values “diversity.” Yet Okada’s take is so witty and good-natured that it would take a real curmudgeon of political correctness to take offense at this light-hearted consideration of a serious subject.

Look moves speedily through awkward encounters; it presents a world that’s a merry-go-round from which there is no escape. Anne Zivolich, hair flying, skipped through the chaos. The English language can yield rich images, and Okada’s choreography also presents more than a few. Two men literally bite the bullet; Yayoi Kambara points a Medusa finger and everyone freezes. Jerky, fragmented movement illustrates the topsy-turvy results of linguistic maneuvering to oft-comic effect.

But there is more to the piece, namely its navigation of culture gaps. In a smartly-timed encounter, two couples try to greet each other. One bows, the other outstretches hands. Each attempt to connect only drives them further apart. During one of Look‘s funniest moments, Jay Cloidt introduces a section of Japanese classical music. The dancers freeze in terror and embarrassment. Rubbery-limbed Santos, clad in a business suit, tries to toe the line — here we go with an image — but falls all over himself. He had my sympathy. *

ODC/DANCE DOWNTOWN: A FORCE AT 40

Through March 27; $20

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Novellus Theater

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2787

www.ybca.org

 

Holy paint rollers

0

caitlin@sfbg.com

CULTURE In the Mission there are few things more — and less — sacred than a mural. Every day in the neighborhood a communion is performed: new street art is produced, and in exchange, other street art is mangled, marred by tags scrawled by unimpressed or jealous (depends on who you ask) hands. But some wall pieces in this storied land of concrete canvases are holy in more than just the figurative sense. Two neighborhood mural projects in particular fit this frame, one blessed by priests and one possessing clues about the earliest days of the Mission Dolores.

Caledonia Alley runs alongside St. John the Evangelist’s Episcopal Church. Jesus looks down on the narrow street, which was once so thoroughly covered in needles that Elaine Lew, who was born and raised in a house on Caledonia, says, “You couldn’t drive your car down it because you’d pop your tires.” Every Sunday, families lined up for the free food the church distributed, sharing the space with people openly selling and using drugs.

But since Jesus came to the alley, things have been different. Street artist Dan Plasma happened upon Caledonia looking for fresh wall space to paint, and proposed to the church that he cover their heavily-tagged alley wall with something space-specific. St. John’s acquiesced, so Plasma and his friends, respected artists Mike Giant and Mark Bode, went to work on a spray paint tableau of the crucifixion, with St. John and other biblical figures in supporting roles.

“It really made a big difference in the alley,” says Lew, who notes that the blatant drug activity has subsided in the year since the crew completed the piece. The church recognized the change, and the rector let Plasma know that it would be officially blessing the mural in a ceremony. “I called up Mark and Mike and told them, ‘It’s going to get sprinkled with holy water. We gotta put on some clean shirts,’ ” says Plasma. A year later, the wall is still utterly free of the tags that go on so many other works.

Funds allowing, a miracle of a different sort will soon be watching over the neighborhood’s only weekly farmers market. Artist Ben Wood has made a habit of finding our city’s little-known historical perspectives and presenting them to the San Francisco of today. In 2004, he spent the Fourth of July projecting images of the Ohlone onto Coit Tower and Andrew Galvan, Mission Dolores’ curator — and direct descendent of Ohlone who converted at the church — told Wood there was an original Ohlone mural hidden behind the mission’s central reredos, or altar.

“It’s been hidden for 200 years,” Wood says in a phone interview. “The possibility of recreating the mural for the public — it would allow people to ask questions about life back then.” He and a Presidio historian set to work documenting the piece, dropping a camera into the crawl space between mural and altar and eventually coming up with a composite image of a spiraling, curving design of purple lines and dagger-pierced hearts they hope to recreate on a wall of the historic Mission Market that abuts the relatively new, open-air Mission Community Market.

“The mural is really telling about the tradition of being a muralist in San Francisco,” says [CORRECTION: Jet Martinez clarifies that this is a misquote. The Guardian regrets the error.]

Jet Martinez, street artist and central figure in the Clarion Alley collective, was selected by Wood to work on the piece because of his mastery of intricate patterns in past murals of Oaxacan embroidery and prehistoric plant life. Their team created a Kickstarter account (www.kickstarter.com/profile/missiondoloresmural) for the project and hope to collect the majority of the $8,000 needed for the work by the end of the month. If they succeed, it will add another dimension to the canonization of street art in one of muralismo‘s most well-known neighborhood of galleries.

Man w/ parking

0

le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS Dear Earl Butter,

Really??? Really, Earl? Really? Do you really think the source of your romantical problems is lack of parking? If so, by buying a motorcycle, a car, and a parking space, won’t you be setting yourself up for the opposite sort of problem: too much love.

As it is, almost every straight lady in San Francisco wants a piece of you, except for most of them. Still, that’s a good 10 or 12 good women who don’t need no parking spots or a motorcycle helmet to come see you, see?

So … and don’t forget, exactly one year ago the other day I myself proposed marriage to you in this very column because I thought it would make good copy. My being the consummate journalist aside, did I care if you had a parking spot, or wheels of any kind? No. I live downstairs.

Granted, not all women live downstairs from you. I’m just saying. The other night Hedgehog and me went out dancing to Cajun music. Technically, she didn’t dance; she played the washboard, and I danced.

In short, we had the time of our lives and in the process got what would best be described as drunk. I invited the 87-year-old man I was dancing with to come home with us, just in case his last remaining unfulfilled fantasy was to watch two highly carnivorous wimmins in bed together, but he just wanted to keep dancing.

Hedgehog and me went to a grocery store across the street and we bought, among other things we might like to later lick off of each other’s bodies, a bottle of wine. Being already sloppy, as soon as we got outside the store, I accidentally dropped the bag with the wine bottle in it. Her graceful little flower, Hedgehog calls me, mostly for throwing silverware around restaurants. Now this.

She wanted to just leave it, which is kind of a uniquely New Orleans approach to problem-solving. I hailed a cart collector and showed him the mess we’d made so at least they could clean up the glass. “No problem,” he said. “Go get another bottle.”

Not thinking enough to leave the soggy plastic bag there, I dripped purple back into the store to customer service. They said, “No problem. Go get another bottle.”

Never even checked the receipt. Hedgehog could have gotten something twice as expensive, while I stood there bathing in fluorescence watching the mopper mop up my mess and thinking: “What a unique approach to public drunkenness.”

But she didn’t.

Yours,

Me

Dear Mrs. Butter,

That is great. Mod and Kat said you guys tried to go to the Brown Sugar Kitchen before, but could not get in. The thing being that it is always so crowded. We had to wait a little while at noonish on a Tuesday. But then we did get in and got to eat.

Kat had the chicken and waffles ($15), Mod had the BBQ pork sandwich ($9.50) and I got the blackened catfish ($15). We all got the biscuit made with bacon, although I do not remember it being bacony, but it was good.

Kat was very excited about some football league she’s joined and says she’s never looked more forward to getting slaughtered on the field. She says she plays with gals who have never played football before, and it is the most fun she has ever had.

Mod learned how to do some weirdo therapy that brought all my knotted synapse packages to the fore before the food came. It also made my eyes tired and got me interested in the sidestep, like in gym class.

Kat thought the waffles were a little less than substantial, but I found them to be light and delightful. The pork sandwich seemed delicious, but Mod ho-hummed it a little. And I found the catfish to be very subtle, and in need of hot-sauce. We all agreed, good. But maybe not worth the wait.

Yers,

Earl

BROWN SUGAR KITCHEN

Tue.–Sat. 7 a.m.–3 p.m.; Sun. 8 a.m.–3 p.m.

2534 Mandela, Oakl.

(510) 839-7685

MC/V

Beer and wine

Anticlimax

1

Dear Andrea:

I’m living with my first “serious” girlfriend and everything is great except the sex. As far as I can tell, she is having orgasms but I’m not. When we have sex I have to finish myself off with my hand. I don’t think it’s supposed to go this way.

Love,

Disappointed

Dear Dis:

You don’t say whether you’ve ever had intercourse with anyone else before Serious, but I’m going to guess not.

So anyway. A little self-stim never hurt anyone. I don’t think that part is, in and of itself, a problem. Technically, it’s actually a solution. It could be a bit grim, though, to always have to rely on your own devices despite having gone to all the trouble to acquire and keep a partner.

Typically, anorgasmia and, uh, semi-orgasmia are usually a girl problem, with guy problems tending to run to the can’t-get-it-up, can’t-keep-it-up, and “whoops!” varieties. Or maybe you’re on SSRI antidepressants, which I’m kind of hoping you are, because that can be fixed.

No? And no blood pressure meds either, right? Or any scarring or neuropathy or … no, you’re like 20 years old. So it’s almost certainly not some physical thing. Probably you are entirely capable of reaching orgasm easily but you’re not letting yourself.

Do you think you might be going kind of out-of-body and are watching yourself perform instead of feeling yourself feel? Are you wondering if she really likes having sex with you or is just pretending? All this falls under the clunky-sounding rubric of “specatatoring,” and you can get out of the habit but it does take some work.

Are you anxious? Worried about keeping it up? Judging yourself? Raised to believe that sex is bad — or that premarital sex is bad? Or are you fine with sex but terribly worried you’ll get her pregnant and ruin everybody’s life?

Obviously that last one can be addressed with technology. And other anxieties can be salved through other technologies, be they drugs or meditation or talking to each other so you can stop wondering and worrying about what she might be thinking.

But maybe what’s wrong is the intercourse itself. An old instructor of mine used to teach that sex is nothing but fantasy plus friction, and if you’re OK in the fantasy department, maybe you need more friction. Move! Put her on top. Try it from behind. I don’t care, just try something else. And try more lube while you’re at it, and also, less.

Or maybe you are one of those men, not rare but rarely spoken of, who just don’t like intercourse much. You didn’t have this problem back while you were still letting yourselves have teenage sex before you moved in together. If this is the case, all you have to do is add back the stuff you like to the stuff she (presumably) likes and boom, everybody’s happy.

Final possibility? You two are not very good at this. This, too, is OK — lack of knowledge and lack of skill are entirely curable conditions.

Love,

Andrea

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

Seven for spring

1

marke@sfbg.com

FASHION/SHOPPING Everything seems so chill in men’s street wear lately, no? The harsh electro neons and jittery MySpace fabrics of the past few years have gone the way of shutter shades and full-print tees. Flashiness — on the dance floor, on the streets, online — is fading into a style of subtle sparks, complex yet unfussy, mixing high-tech winks with a comfy, endlessly expandable base. Menswear is going deep on us, and taking our sensibilities with it: if you’re still using irony to justify your outfit, then you need to back slowly away from your Tumblr and take a look around.

This makes it harder to binge shop for your wardrobe at thrift stores, of course, unless you’ve got a great connection to a super-hip tailor who won’t go overboard. And I fear that by jettisoning the devil-may-care attitude of WTF bricolage ensembles, we’re quaffing any sense of humor altogether. Still, the burst of, dare I say, modesty after a decade of gaudy attention-whoring comes as a relief. It feels like menswear in 2011 just totally deleted the comments section and moved on.

Another worry, though: how much does all this cost? It’s true that the new look and feel hearkens back to the old model of class, taste, and, yes, accounts. Fortunately, you can get by just fine matching neutral-leaning thrift and vintage finds — some holes or split seams, no problem — with newer touches. Yay for casual deconstruction! Lately San Francisco, previously by no means an oasis of menswear shopping, has opened up in the cool men’s streetwear department, adding to its handful of staples (Nomads, Upper Playground, Density, Unionmade, Azalea, Brooklyn Circus, etc.) a batch of new places and sites to search for spring inspiration. Below are some of my faves.

 

SUI GENERIS “ILLE”

This is the coolest place to vintage shop in the city right now. Castro men’s designer consignment boutique Sui Generis isn’t new, but it just moved, doubling its size as well as its offerings, and adding “Ille,” a Latin masculine declension, after its name. (Owners Miguel Lopez and Gabriel Yanez have turned the old location, at 2265 Market St., into “Illa,” a gorgeous upscale women’s consignment shop.) I’m far from a label whore, but I can appreciate when my friends gush over the selection of repriced Prada, etc. on offer here, all of it chosen with an excellent eye. Beyond the brand worship, you’ll find everything you need to construct a look here — just add your own futuristic flourishes — and the prices aren’t too shabby.

2265 Market, SF. (415) 437-2231, www.suigenerisconsignment.com

 

NICE COLLECTIVE MSU

Just down the street from Sui Generis is this rad pop-up shop from the boys at the fantastic local Nice Collective label, showcasing their particular genius for deconstructed clothing that radiates raffish gentility. (I’m living for their anarcho-utopian push-up cargo pants.) The tech details in most of their designs are fascinating, and the interior of this shop, with its disassembled drop ceiling, billowing canvas tunnel entrance, and digital projections, is a work of art in itself. Nice Collective is a real, big time design house, though, so expect related price points and quality.

2111 Market, SF. (415) 200-5322, www.nicecollective.com

 

HANGR 16

Go to this just-opened Mission District store if only to bask in the incredible friendliness, not pushiness, of the people who work there. As well as carrying unique items from local design wunderkinds Turk + Taylor — I’m still drooling over this one heavy felt Army jacket there — Hangr 16 offers an array of super-affordable button-ups, western shirts, plaid flannels, jeans, and nifty tees in its immaculate little white hangar of a space. More shopping options in the Mission? Oh yeah.

3128 16th St., SF. (415) 626-5522. www.faceboook.com/hangr16

 

BUSH + LEAVENWORTH

A smooth take on classic Americana from this online design house, founded by Neth Nom at his apartment guess where. Light plaid button-ups and some mouthwatering tee designs based on chess pieces (queen for me!) are highlights, as is the ultra-sporty nylon Fillmore windbreaker, combining Members Only stylishness with team jacket masculinity.

www.bushandleavenworth.com

 

MISSION WORKSHOP

Bike enthusiasts with chronic Chrome fatigue should fixie-fly to this hidden little warehouse outlet immediately. Beautifully crafted messenger bags and backpacks in unique styles are the draw, but the supplementary Quoc Pham, DZR, and house footwear, plus a good selection of outerwear, transcend utility to style bliss.

40 Rondel Place, SF. (415) 864-7225, www.missionworkshop.com

 

REVOLVER

I am crying, weeping with want, over this kickass pair of Yuketen Maine Guide OX Red shoes that look like Docksides on steroids. They are $440 at Revolver, a cute little joint that just opened in Lower Haight, and, alas, I sold my first-born for a baggie in the 1990s. But I am going to try them on with a pair of $199 Denham Mohawk chinos and a post-prepster $160 ecru Vassan 2-Tone jacket and yacht rock the fuck out for a few minutes.

136 Fillmore, SF. (415) 871-0665, www.revolversf.com

 

ALLSAINTS SPITALFIELDS

I really hate to recommend a chain, even one from Britain that’s just launching on these shores. But hey, I can’t afford anything here anyway (basic shirts start at around $140), so I’m going to tell you to go and check it out, if only because of the stunning interior that mixes steampunk accents with actual Victoriana. The clothes represent the complete yet fascinating gentrification of a certain postapocalyptic Burning Man aesthetic (the one without the sex clowns and fun fur). Everything is perfectly distressed — work boots, for instance, that gleam vermilion in certain slants of light.

140 Geary, SF. (415) 762-0702, www.allsaints.com

The song of Ghetto Girl

0

OPINION Editor’s note: POOR Magazine, one of my favorite publications, holds an annual benefit on Valentine’s Day featuring a “Battle of ALL the Sexes” poetry slam. This year’s event, hosted by Alexandra Byerly, had a mixed-martial arts theme and was held in an eight-foot cage built by artist Will Steel in the Submission Gallery in the Mission District. Judges were La Mesha Irizarry, Devorah Major and Laure McElroy. I agreed to publish the first- place winner, which follows. Find the second and third place winners on sfbg.com on the Politics blog. (Tim Redmond)

By Jewnbug

(this Battle came from the battle: Educated Ghetto Gurl vs. The Society)

Educated ghetto gurrl

born in a place

conditioned for death

raised on government cheese

parents targeted to be dope feens

houseless n hungry

society wants me to be ignorant

but ain’t no dummy

got wize to tha mizeducation

of yo surveillance

projects

public skools

prizions

U.S. military enlistings

never assimilating or listening

stay thug life

resisting

rising to tha top

singing ghetto supastar!

Consciousness

cultivated underground

can’t afford yo brand name labels

making my fashion talk of tha town

rebel with a cause

speaking out against

yo policies, protocalls, laws

prohibited my native tongue

pigeon

slang

Ebonics

U ain’t my god

n I ain’t yo son

speaking too loud too fast

causing lyrical whiplash

I smash on u

U thinking u more dignified

cuz I rock a shoelace fo a belt on sum jeans

please!

U put me down

then capitalize on my swagger

like, “that’s hella ghetto”

I don’t play tho

no diplomatic tactful rage

straight up in yo face

u label me

trouble maker

that’s code for

truth teller

fo real for real

no faker

I know tru essence of success

despite the mess

of yo civilized vest

my interest to do more then survive

manifest

came when I held my head high

with no shame

yea I’m from the ghetto

n I’m doing big thangs

educated ghetto gurrl

she was kung fu fighting

she was always writing

educated ghetto gurrl

puttin’ whole society on trial

n bringing them to their knees

Unregistered lobbyist

0

tredmond@sfbg.com

In 2007 and 2008, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. paid former Mayor Willie Brown a total of $480,000 for consulting work. Since Brown has never been utility lawyer, it’s almost certain that money has bought political advice and access.

Brown is also working for the owners of the Fairmont Hotel, which wants to tear down one of its towers and build as many as 180 luxury condos.

His public affairs institute shares office space with one of the most powerful lobbying firms in town. He meets with or talks regularly with the mayor and members of the Board of Supervisors.

Yet unlike dozens of others who seek to influence public policy for hire, Brown is not registered as a lobbyist at City Hall.

On the surface, it’s a fairly modest issue — all Brown would have to do to comply with the letter and spirit of the city’s law is to fill out a form, list his clients, and reveal which officials he’s been talking to. It would take him 10 minutes.

But the fact that someone who is widely acknowledged to be among the most influential power brokers in San Francisco refuses to disclose whom he’s working for leaves city officials and the public in the dark — and raises a long list of questions about the effectiveness of the city’s ethics laws.

There’s a reason city law requires people who seek to influence city officials for money to disclose what they’re up to. When elected officials, commissioners, or department heads meet with advocates, they need to know who’s paying the bills. If, for example, Sup. Jane Kim has breakfast with Brown (which Brown himself reported on in a recent column in the San Francisco Chronicle), she needs to know: Does he have a client with an agenda? If he asks her to meet with someone, is he just looking out for the interests of the city — or is he pushing a paid special interest?

When Brown has dinner with Mayor Ed Lee (as he did several weeks ago) the voters need to know: Is this dinner companion pushing the mayor to make policy decisions that might help a private interest?

 

THE RULES

The definition of “lobbyist” in city law is designed to avoid putting special requirements on advocates who push issues on their own or for purely political reasons. A neighborhood activist pushing for a stop sign or better police patrols doesn’t have to register. Neither does a restaurant owner looking for a permit to put tables on the street. The only people who have to register are those who represent a client who pays them more than $3,000 in any given three-month period.

Lawyers are exempt if they’re contacting city officials purely about specific pending litigation or claims. Labor leaders are exempt if they’re talking about wages or benefits for their union members.

The requirements aren’t onerous. Lobbyists simply disclose their clients, the issues they’re working on, the city officials they have contacted, and any campaign contributions they’ve made.

There’s no doubt Brown meets the financial threshold in at least one instance. Documents on file with the state Public Utilities Commission show that PG&E paid him $280,000 in 2007 and almost $200,000 in 2008. And although Brown is a lawyer, there’s no indication that he is representing PG&E in any litigation against the city.

On the other hand, PG&E is fighting hard to derail the city’s community choice aggregation program. Is Brown part of that effort? There’s no way to know.

It’s clear he talks to local officials regularly. Most members of the Board of Supervisors we contacted said they had talked to Brown at some point in the past year. “He called me to ask how he could help with the local hire legislation,” Sup. John Avalos told us. “I told him he could call (then-Sup.) Bevan Dufty. He said he would, but I don’t know if it ever happened.” Sup. Sean Elsbernd told us he speaks to Brown about “the state of local political dynamics,” but said he can’t remember being lobbied on any particular issue.

Insiders say that’s typical — Brown rarely lets anyone know exactly what his interests are. “The talent of Willie is his ability to create plausible deniability,” one city official, who asked not to be named, told us.

But when Brown is involved, things have a funny way of happening. Take the Fairmont Hotel.

 

FRONT OF THE LINE

The Fairmont’s owners, who include the Saudi royal family and a group of American investors, want to tear down one of the hotel’s towers, eliminate several hundred hotel rooms, and replace them with high-end condominiums. That requires a city permit — legislation by former Sup. Aaron Peskin limits the number of hotel rooms that can be converted to condos and requires applicants to submit to a lottery for the right to convert.

The Fairmont applied for a permit in 2009, and won tentative approval. But in October 2010, the Planning Commission refused to certify the project’s environmental impact report. With no valid EIR, the permits expired, meaning the hotel would have to go back and reenter the lottery, with no guarantee of success.

So the Fairmont owners are seeking special legislation that would allow them to submit a new EIR without going to the back of the line — in essence, an exemption from the lottery. So far there’s no champion on the Board of Supervisors, and the hotel workers union has been dubious about the project, fearing it will cost union jobs in the long run.

But early in March, Mayor Lee quietly submitted his own legislation to the board, offering the Fairmont everything the owners want.

Who’s working for the owners? Willie Brown.

Bill Oberndorf, part of the local ownership group, told us Brown was an “advisor” to the project. “Nobody in the city has more knowledge about how to get things done than Mayor Brown,” he said.

So did Brown talk to Lee before the mayor introduced his Fairmont bill? And isn’t that a valid question? At press time, Lee’s office hadn’t responded to my questions. But if Brown was a registered lobbyist, he’d have to report that information.

Who else are Brown’s clients? Since he doesn’t register, there’s no list. But there are some clues.

For example, the headquarters of the Willie Brown Institute is situated at One Market Plaza, Suite 2250. That’s the same address as Platinum Advisors, the high-powered lobbying firm founded by Darius Anderson. Among the firm’s clients: AECOM, the engineering and construction giant, which has a $147 million contract on the Chinatown subway project; PG&E; and Sutter Health, which wants to build a $1 billion hospital on Van Ness Avenue.

Others who lobby regularly at City Hall don’t always register. Rob Black, who works for the Chamber of Commerce, is a constant presence.

Black told us the chamber used to be considered a “registered lobby entity” that was required to report all contacts with public officials and the issue involved. But the Board of Supervisors changed that law last year, requiring lobbyist registration only from individuals who are paid at least $3,000 per quarter for lobbying. Furthermore, the definition of lobbying doesn’t include attending or speaking at public hearings or writing letters. So while the SF Chamber’s Black, Steve Falk, and Jim Lazarus all lobby city officials, Black said, none have exceeded that threshold. “If we hit the monetary threshold, we’ll start filing individually,” he said.

The fact that Brown is a lawyer doesn’t excuse him from registering, said Ethics Commission director John St. Croix “If someone is paid specifically to lobby government, they should register,” St. Croix said.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi told us that the city needs to take a look at the lobbyist registration law to make sure that everyone who has private interests is properly registered.

Elsbernd said that others — particularly labor leaders and union staffers — also regularly lobby but don’t register. And while the law may allow them to skate underneath (like Black), there’s a huge difference between, say, Labor Council Executive Director Tim Paulson appearing at City Hall and Brown meeting with city officials.

When Paulson appears, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind whom he represents. The same could be said of Black. Although the chamber has many members, it’s clear that he’s pushing the interests of the big-business community.

On the other hand, Ken Cleaveland, public affairs director of the Building Owners and Managers Association, is duly registered with the Ethics Commission.

Brown — as is his typical practice — didn’t return my calls seeking comment. But by flouting the rules, he’s able to operate completely behind the scenes, influencing policy decisions in secrecy, with no accountability whatsoever. That’s a violation of the exact reason the lobbyist registration laws exist.

The lobbyist loophole

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EDITORIAL As the stories in this issue show, open government laws are critical to democracy. Without the city’s sunshine law, we wouldn’t know how the proposal to give Twitter a tax break ballooned into a major giveaway. Without the sunshine laws, Tim Crews, the embattled publisher of the Sacramento Valley Mirror, wouldn’t have been able to use his small paper to hold public officials accountable.

That’s why the laws on the books need to be enforced — and sometimes strengthened. One example in San Francisco is the lobbyist registration requirement.

Here’s the problem: Former Mayor Willie Brown, who now works for at least two major outfits with business before City Hall. As Tim Redmond reports on page 10, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. paid Brown some $480,000 in 2007 and 2008. And although Brown is a lawyer, nobody can honestly believe that was for legal work. He was clearly paid to give the embattled utility political advice and to pull political strings. And PG&E has major interests at City Hall — San Francisco is trying to set up a community choice aggregation system that PG&E opposes, and (of course) the utility has spent almost 90 years trying to block public power in this town. There are dozens of other city issues, from facility safety to the franchise fee, that affect PG&E’s bottom line.

Has Brown tried to influence city officials on behalf of the utility? The public has no way to know. By law, any individual who lobbies for a private client (and earns more than $3,000 a quarter doing so) has to register with the Ethics Commission, reveal his or her clients, and report on all contacts with city officials. Brown has never done that.

Brown also works for the owners of the Fairmont Hotel, who want the right to convert hotel rooms to condos. Mayor Ed Lee just submitted legislation giving the hoteliers what they want, and Brown is Lee’s political mentor. Connection?

The public has a right to know who’s trying to do what deals behind closed doors; that’s why the city has a lobbyist registration law. The voters have a right to know whether lobbyists are giving money to elected officials; that’s why the law requires registered lobbyists to itemize those contributions. But it’s not always honored — and as Brown shows, it can be openly defied. And nothing happens.

Part of the problem is that the Ethics Commission has been far too lax in pursuing enforcement of the laws. The agency lacks the resources to do serious investigations. As a result, its director John St. Croix told us, all the staff can do is respond to complaints. But even with the limited money it has, the commission can do a lot more. Public hearings on the failures of lobbyist registration and campaign contribution reporting would be a good first step. And how hard would it be to cross-check campaign filings with lobbyist filings to see which lobbyists don’t properly report their contributions? A simple computer program could do that in a few minutes.

The commission also needs to do a better job making its funding case to the supervisors. The utter lack of serious enforcement of laws involving powerful interests doesn’t instill confidence in the agency.

But the law is also vague in parts, and the supervisors need to fix it. A clearer definition of “lobbyist” is a clear mandate. And enforcement needs to be increased. Willful violation of the state’s Political Reform Act is a misdemeanor crime. Violating the city’s lobbyist law should be too.

2 unusual destinations for cocktails in Los Angeles

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Due to proximity, many of us find ourselves in LA often. Though the cocktail scene finally began to mature there a couple years ago, it’s difficult to find something different than what we’ve long seen in our own city. Here are two cocktail stops (one bar, one Mexican restaurant) offering something memorable for your next jaunt down to the City of Angels. Tlapazola is a humble, mid-range Mexican restaurant in West LA, with a second location in Venice. The food is stand-out on its own, prepared with care, a step above with Oaxacan moles and French cooking technique.

I was particularly impressed with the cocktails, which I didn’t even come here for. I heard they had a broad tequila selection (they do), but their cocktails are shockingly creative. There’s a tiny bar with no seating at the front of the restaurant, hardly a showcase for their drinks.

Ron-Chata ($9) is creamy with Whalers white rum, Kraken spiced rum, and Tres Leches triple-cream liqueur. A house cinnamon syrup adds spice, fruity notes come from prickly pear puree, and caramelized walnut delivers contrasting crunch.

Tlapazola ($10), the house drink, is made with Joya azul mezcal reposado, agave nectar, lime juice and old fashioned bitters. Cilantro adds an herbal tinge, while their own black mole adds heat, texture and meatiness. Further intrigue is added with a spritz of Pechuga mezcal mist, a favorite mezcal from Del Maguey.

I only regret not being able to try more Tlapazola cocktails.

Elsewhere in the metropolis — and not to be confused with downtown LA’s Library Bar (a pleasantly casual, book-lined hang-out, though not memorable on the drink front) — the Library Bar, hidden off the back of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel’s lobby, makes about the best cocktails I’ve ever had in LA (alongside the molecular creativity of The Bazaar).

A surprising respite off the jarring, touristy Hollywood Boulevard across from Grauman’s Chinese Theater, it’s a one-bartender show on any given night. This means you will wait for a drink, but it is worth it.

A farmers’ market spread of fruits, herbs and vegetables, selected daily, hints at the delights in store. There’s no menu. Tell bartender Matt Biancaniello your preferences or mood, trusting him to concoct a winner. And he will.

Though I love faux zebra bar stools and chairs, paired with sultry, brown leather couches in the mellow room, the one sour note is common in my experience at LA bars: the clientele.

Only one of a handful of people that night seemed to actually be any kind of cocktail appreciator. And he was driving home the point fairly loudly to the girls he was trying to flirt with. These women asked for a vodka tonic or some variation thereof… I couldn’t help but wish that these types would go to any of the hundreds of bars nearby that would happily serve them just such a flavorless drink, leaving this a quiet haven for cocktail aficionados and adventurous palates.

But it’s to Biancaniello’s credit that he cheerfully asked these women questions, pushing their boundaries using various herbs and white rum or gin instead of vodka. Stretching them a bit, but not too far, he did what a great bartender should do: educate and enlighten, without condescension.

For those with expanded taste, delights await. Tastes run savory with vegetables or spices, lush with foams or house-infused liqueurs, tart with an array of citrus. As Biancaniello will say, he’s clearly inspired by the likes of Scott Beattie. If not reaching that level of artistry, he pursues it.

On my visit, Biancaniello made cocktails with white raspberries and sage, or hops-infused gin. After asking for something savory and different, I was a little disappointed to get a drink with gin and strawberries, Last Tango in Modena (which Jonathan Gold calls one of the best cocktails in LA as of 3/3). It was expertly made, though not my favorite of the night. Hendricks gin gave it a cucumber crispness, married with strawberries, topped with St. Germain foam, brown with a sweet, 25yr balsamic vinegar. I have had the aged vinegar and strawberry combo before, from drinks to ice cream, though this was certainly a superior version.

He mixed rum with California’s Winter bounty: blood oranges, Meyer lemons and satsumas. St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram imparted a Wintery spice. A crisped orange slice exhibited a Beattie-like touch.

I especially took to Kentucky Bubble Bath, a bourbon cocktail (Bulleit, in this case), brightened with lemon. Gently floral with house lavender syrup (hence the bubble bath), Cynar artichoke liqueur adds a layer of gentle bitterness.

Cocktail lovers should make a beeline for this bar whenever they’re in LA. It’s not typical for that city, or anywhere, really. The skillful one-man-show, California farmers market bounty, and intimate setting (minus a bit of clientele douchebaggery) make it a drink destination.

But please, if you want a vodka tonic, just go to the perfectly nice-looking bar at the front of the hotel instead.

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