Volume 45 Number 44

Just say no



HAIRY EYEBALL Summertime is supposed to be about taking it easy and soaking up good vibes. This is decidedly not the case with “Negative Space,” Steven Wolf Fine Arts’ current group show that, like an old punk rock mix-tape, delivers one lean, catchy declaration of refusal after another.

This is not to say that “Negative Space” sounds only one note. Each of the 10 featured artists offers a different enough riff on the exhibit’s title (one shared by Matt Borruso’s slim, collage-filled hardcover volume, on display here; itself a nod to the late critic Manny Farber’s classic 1971 collection of film criticism) to avoid turning an organizing principal into too much of a gimmick. There’s also enough well-delivered black humor to prevent this modest collection of deliberately difficult, critically-minded and middle-finger-waving art from becoming either overly self-serious or gratingly puerile.

Nicholas Knight, for one, is more prankster than killjoy. His Permission Slip (2010) is a pad of those very paper indulgences — free for the taking — printed with the artist’s signature (as “witness”), along with a place for the holder to sign into effect the statement, “I have permission.” “Permission to do what, exactly?” is the natural follow-up question, and one which Knight’s ludicrous contract leaves unanswered with a pithy shrug of non-commitment.

Jeffrey Augustan Songco’s Nice Body, Bro! (2011), which features the titular phrase spelled out in white three-dimensional lettering over a background of what look like rainbow-colored paillettes, becomes a sight gag about transubstantiation once one knows, courtesy of the wall card, that the large sequins are, in fact, glitter-covered communion wafers.

More clever is David Robbins’ Fuck Buttons, 1985-87, a tic-tac-toe grid of purple-and-orange hued photographs of 1″ buttons, each adorned with a different usage of the word “fuck.” The piece’s initial giddy rush of profanity gradually runs out of steam as various self-canceling dialogues emerge out of the buttons’ placements next to each other. The resulting imaginary arguments read like obscene variations on the old “who’s on first?” routine (for example, the piece’s middle row, left to right, reads: “Fuck you,” “Don’t fuck with me,” “Fuck me”).

The real stand-outs of the gallery’s front room, however, eschew the Pop-isms of Songco and Robbins. Whitney Lynn’s sculpture Animal Trap (2011), a black plexiglass cube with an open bottom propped up at an angle by a sawed-off tree branch, sits in the middle of the floor, as if lying in wait. The piece takes Minimalist sculpture’s classic forms (the cube) and materials (transparent plastic, wood) and, with its suggestive title and familiar arrangement, freights them with unexpected emotion and an implied narrative that has a decidedly unhappy ending.

Animal Trap faces down James Hayward’s Automatic Black Painting #9 (1975), perhaps the purest, if also the most traditional, interpretation of the exhibit’s title. Unlike Ad Reinhardt’s black paintings from the previous decade, which reveal embedded grids and distinct shades upon prolonged viewing, Hayward’s darkness harbors no hidden designs. In fact, the point of his early monochromatic canvases, such as this one, was to erase his hand entirely by laboriously building up thin layers of pigment to avoid any traces of brushstroke. The resulting 36 x 36 inch oil slick is all that remains of Hayward’s slow, cumulative self-exorcism.

In the gallery’s rear “lounge” area hang Christine Wong Yap’s meticulous, cartoon-like ink drawings on gridded vellum, illustrating various quotes from positive psychological studies on topics such as learned optimism and creativity as applied to the lives of artists. Despite the occasional glint of a glitter pen or iridescent foil rainbow, these selections from the series Positive Signs (2011) come off as more humorously pessimistic when presented together than they did when they originally appeared on the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s Open Space blog earlier this year as weekly posts.

Wong Yap’s charts and diagrams, to some degree, metabolize the very clinical discourses about happiness and creativity that they also satirize, making for a strange cocktail of uppers and downers when viewed alongside the lithographs of posters and texts by Guy Debord and the Situationist International — earlier and more pointedly political examples of what would later be called culture jamming — that hang opposite.

It is easy to imagine, say, Wong Yap depicting “live without dead time,” an old Situationist slogan that was scrawled by May ’68 protestors on the same Paris streets that Debord had previously cut apart and re-mapped for dreamers and drifters in his famous chart Guide Psychogeographique de Paris (1957, also hanging), as another nugget of motivational wisdom. The Spectacle for the win, folks?

Then again, maybe I’m just being pessimistic, an attitude which “Negative Space” doesn’t so much as inundate you with, like the noxious signature scent that wafts out of Abercrombie and Fitch stores, but rather involuntarily triggers, as when a stranger begins to violently cough on a crowded bus. You find yourself shrinking away, but the impulse to cough, too, is irrepressible.


Through Aug. 27

Steven Wolf Fine Arts

2747 19th Street, Ste. A, SF

(415) 293-3677


Hail to the kings


It’s that time of year, y’all: the 16th annual San Francisco Drag King Contest is here to shake up midsummer with its proud “cavalcade of sex, drag, and rock n’ roll,” per its saucy press release. Drag kings are less frequently in the spotlight than their queenly counterparts, but the two groups coexist harmoniously — former Miss Trannyshack and San Francisco Supervisor candidate Anna Conda is among the 2011 event’s judges.

Since raising one’s glamour quotient to Anna Conda levels likely ain’t easy, it seems certain that winning the coveted prize of top Drag King would also require more than throwing on a suit and drawing on a moustache. I went to the source, event producer and co-emcee Fudgie Frottage (also known as Lu Read), to find out more.

SFBG San Francisco has a long history of drag kings — can you talk a little about that and also about how you got your start performing?

Fudgie Frottage The term “drag king” didn’t really pop up here until the ’90s, when Leigh Crow was doing her Elvis Herselvis character. But prior to that, there were definitely women who were doing drag king performances. Moby Dick, who had been out here, went back to New York and started Club Casanova, and that brought a lot of publicity to the whole drag king phenomenon. I’ve been performing since I was in kindergarten — for show and tell, the teacher made me sing. When I first moved to San Francisco in the ’70s, I was in a few different bands. When Trannyshack was in its heyday, I came up with a “faux-queen” character, and Fudgie came after that. But I was doing my club DragStrip back in ’95, before TrannyShack started. I was mostly just producing at first, and then I kind of jumped back on the stage.

SFBG What are the important qualities a drag king must have?

FF Sense of humor. Stage presence!

SFBG How do performers come up with their stage names and personas?

FF I’m not really sure! Sometimes they’re suggested by other people. Other times it’s just a brainstorm. For me, the name comes first, before the actuality of getting up there and doing something. It’s just part of the creative process. It’s an art form, just like you just can’t ask a painter why they did this particular painting. It’s just what’s inside of each person.

SFBG Do many performers sing live?  

FF Everything happens! There’s been live singers, and bands, and lip-sync, of course. Sometimes there’s dancing. There was a juggler a few years back. That was pretty entertaining.

SFBG Looking at the list of special guests for 2011, including bands like Black Flag cover band Black Fag, it’s clear the contest is full-on extravaganza. What can audiences expect?

FF [In addition to Black Fag], we’ve got some performers [like D.R.E.D.] from New York and some locals — this is the first year [rapper] JenRO will perform with us. But we have burlesque chanteuse the Indra, we’ve got Leigh Crow coming back. It’s a huge show, and it’s really, really fun. There’s definitely a little bit of everything involved in it. In the press release, I say it’s a mash-up of a monster truck show, the Miss America pageant, American Idol, and the Westminster Dog Show, since our theme is “Doggone Sweet 16.” I think sometimes people might be put off by something called a drag king contest, because they’re like, “What is that?” Some people don’t even realize that there are drag kings. But we’re just a big, huge variety show, where everybody’s out to have a really good time. And there is amazing talent.

16TH ANNUAL SAN FRANCISCO DRAG KING CONTEST Fri/5, 8 p.m., $10–$35 (benefits Pets Are Wonderful Support) DNA Lounge 375 11th St., SF. www.sfdragkingcontest.com

Face time


I never regret the morning after — but sometimes the night before can stick to my face like Ragu to Tupperware, child. It’s not always pretty! OK it is, but sometimes it’s slightly less so. So when I heard that the nifty new vintage-groomin’ F.S.C. Barber in the Mission was offering something called the Hangover Treatment facial, I leaped to try it.

I mean, I’m usually about as resistant to professional beauty treatments as I am to shaved chests on porn stars or pulmonary tuberculosis. I hope. But the rituals of modern manhood are startling — one day you’re lighting up a Cuban fedora with a baseball bat you shot at par nine while building your own Playboy smoking jacket. The next you’re lying back in a beautiful vintage barber chair (complementing F.S.C.’s 120-year-old restored mahogany barber stations from the Chicago World’s Fair) while an amiable, impeccably fashionable tattooed guy named Brett massages your face. 

It was bliss, a multi-part treatment of lavender and eucalyptus hot towels with a bubbling Malin + Goetz mask that really did make me feel like “a million buckaroos.” (It costs $25.) Who wants more cocktails?

F.S.C., which is all the rage in its Manhattan homebase where there are two branches already, may put out a men’s club vibe, but it’s not really that uptight or theme-y. It has a tasty little clothing shop attached called the Freemans Sporting Club, and manager Jonah Buffa, who opened the SF outpost (his brother Sam is the F.S.C. founder), is as sweet and laid back as they come, a true Missionite raising his kid in the neighborhood.

To all you tech guys who aren’t sure what to do with your look, or aren’t even sure you should have one: please go here. They will help you! It will help all of us!

F.S.C. Barber 696 Valencia, SF. (415) 621-9000, www.fscbarber.com

T.I.M.F. T.M.I. The lineup for this year’s ever-zesty Treasure Island Music Festival (October 15 and 16, www.treasureislandfestival.com) was announced last week, and as usual it’s unofficially segregated into a “dance” day (Saturday) and a “rock” day (Sunday). On my personal “dance day” must-see list? Flying Lotus, Buraka Som Sistema, Shabazz Palaces, Battles, and — hurray for random — Death From Above 1979. There’s no over-the-top pop-dance draw this year (although grime-rapper Dizzee Rascal’s latest “Bonkers” incarnation should please any, goddess help us, Steve Aoki or LMFAO fans).

Also as usual, there’s the merest appearance of Bay Area talent — lovely local chamber-pop outfit Geographer pops in to start things off on Saturday. It seems a shame, and a failure of nerve, since we have so much worthy homegrown dance talent. Could they set up a dance tent with continuously spinning local DJs, as an alternative to the stage acts? That would be dandy.



Monthly based-goth, witch house and deathrock party 120 Minutes goes darker than ever with a live set by Nike7UP, who melts the chirpy underbelly of chart-pop into a suicidal wish-blorp. GuMMyBeAR, Nako, WhITCH, Teams, and more haunt your earholes.

Fri/5, 10 p.m., $10 ($5 before 11 p.m.). Elbo Room, 647 Valencia, SF. www.elbo.com



Huckaby was long the secret weapon of Detroit’s techno scene, a DJ’s DJ who was key in introducing a lot of the Big Names to new sounds. He’s finally getting the breakout recognition he deserves — in May, I saw him open the reconfigured garden of Berlin’s huge Berghain club, bringing a welcome dose of deep to that spring affair. (Listen to his awesome new mix for XLR8R here.) Steffi, whose hit “Yours” might as well be from Detroit in 1988, comes to us from Amsterdam via Berlin, and she’s aces.


Fri/5, 9 p.m.-4 a.m., $15 ($10 before 10 p.m.) Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com



At last, a free, all-ages, daytime dubstep and reggae festival to wobble away the summer hours. One helluvalotta DJs and performers, including Mochipet, Jah Yzer, Nebakaneza, and Johnny5, bring the blaster to two outdoor stages in the Fillmore. Look out below!

Sat/6, 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m., free, all ages. Corner of Fillmore and O’Farrell Streets, SF.



Ready for funkytime? The ESL label brings out soulfully gifted DJ Nickodemus of sunny house party Turntables on the Hudson for a throwdown with the Afrolicious boys (featuring live drums!), and Rob Garza of Thievery Corporation. Plus: two of my fave clubs, Surya Dub and Dub Mission, duke it out on the upstairs dance floor of Public Works, with DJ Sep and Kush Arora taking turns at the tables. Kush tells me he’s breaking out some rare kuduro and deep afro-house, so get ready to drop.

Sat/6, 9:30 p.m.-3 a.m., $10 advance. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com



The Dutch master of hard techno was famous in the 1990s for wigging crowds out, true to his name. He still brings the wiggy floor-stomp, but after moving to Berlin and embracing a few minimal and experimental tricks, he’s gone deeper and broader, killing it with painterly tech effects. He’ll be blowing the monthly Kontrol party away with opener M. Gervais.

Sat/6, 10 p.m.-6 a.m., $20. EndUp, 401 Sixth St., SF. www.kontrolsf.com



Last month, the nightlife community lost one of its true legends, Vicki Marlane of the Hot Boxxx Girls revue at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge. At 76, she lived an incredibly rambunctious life and was thought to be the oldest continuously appearing transgender stage performer in the country. She gave every number her all — and considering her propensity for epic numbers like “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” that was a lot of all!

Come celebrate her gorgeousness on Sat/6 at the Castro Theatre, when the awesome and informative 2010 documentary about her, Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight, screens at midnight with bonus performance footage that will bowl you over. It’s a benefit for the AIDS Emergency Fund — appropriate for Vicki’s generous spirit.

Sat/6, midnight, $10. Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF. www.castrotheatre.com

The man, the myth, the legend


LIT To comics cognoscenti, Grant Morrison is something of a superhero himself. He is the scribe behind such subversions of comics convention as the avant-garde super team adventures of Doom Patrol and the confoundingly, sinisterly cartoonish Seaguy. But he’s also taken on the heavy hitters, from Batman to the X-Men, winning new fans and pissing off purists in the process.

In his new venture into prose nonfiction, Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human, Morrison presents what he calls “a personal overview of the superhero concept from 1938 until the present day.” In some ways, it’s a mystifying text, tumbling as it does between cultish history, autobiography, and the pop philosophy suggested by its title. Undoubtedly a labor born of immense passion, Supergods gives the impression of a transcribed walking tour through the Hall of Justice, narrated by an obsessively knowledgeable fanboy-made-good.

The work is founded on the conceit that superheroes are manifestations not only of mythic principles (shades of Joseph Campbell) but of thoroughly utopian humans. Morrison posits this as a reason that the superhero genre has endured decades of changing public sentiment, and he furthermore wholeheartedly endorses it as a metaphysical truth. Stories are real in themselves, he concludes — “the paper skin of the next dimension down from our own.”

Morrison’s text is organized chronologically, taking as its starting point the blistering novelty of Superman’s first appearance in 1938’s Action Comics No. 1. Morrison dissects the subliminal symbolism of its cover with shamanic wisdom, and goes on to contrast Superman with his eternal counterpart, Batman. From there, he embarks upon a whirlwind of descriptions of the editors, artists, and writers who shaped the form, from the rough visionary mythos of Jack Kirby to the psychoanalytic preoccupations of Superman editor Mort Weisinger. Morrison’s accounts of their works are ecstatic, often deconstructing the minutiae of the comics page to get at the effects these sacred texts had on young contemporary readers; the descriptions become weirdly, repetitiously formal as Morrison details each creator’s transcendent improvement over his predecessors.

Woven throughout this historical review are anecdotal references to Morrison’s youthful encounters with superhero comics, as a child of Scottish pacifists living in constant fear of the bomb. But as the narrative catches up to his earliest work as a comics writer and artist, the content resolutely shifts towards his feverish autobiographical account of adolescent displacement and punk-influenced experimentation. Suddenly Supergods is about Grant Morrison, the writer-as-superhero-as-human. From here on out, he is inextricably bound to even the historical portions, as he becomes a major player in DC and Marvel superhero comics.

After Morrison experiences visions in Kathmandu that reveals to him the 5D nature of reality, and writes himself into a comic to become “semifictional,” his perspective changes radically. Morrison definitely gets that each reader’s mileage may vary as to the real source of his “magical” visions, but he insists on their symbolic usefulness in understanding that fictional universes are just as real as ours, and can translate into inspiration for real change.

Morrison makes no effort to separate his personal philosophy from his narration of comics history, tending towards polemic in the book’s second half. The observations about superheroes are generally brilliant, as one would expect from Morrison’s fantastic comics output, but the book’s structural inconsistency and forced New Age-y conclusions are a bit disappointing. The book works as yet another profession of Morrison’s love for superheroes as a form of life-changing magic, but it’s neither a complete history nor a coherent statement of how to make superheroes work for you, self-help style. But it makes you desperately want to read the books he describes, and perhaps that’s enough. 



Fri/5, 7 p.m.
Book Passage
51 Tamal Vista, Corte Madera

All-ages signing, Sat/6, 2-5 p.m., $28 (includes copy of Supergods) 

Supergods celebration, Sat/6, 8 p.m.-midnight, $40 (includes copy of Supergods)


326 Fell, S.F.


Class clowns


THEATER Linda Brown is a maid at the end of her tether, and tender, as the much-put-upon employee-slave of an exclusive country club. The signs are there from the moment she steps onto the stage: the circles under the young woman’s eyes, her frightened stare, the desperate swigs from a ready flask, not to mention her shameless histrionic intensity as she addresses the audience about the soul-sucking richies perpetually at her back.

But it will take the full length of playwright-director Jeff Bedillion and Back Alley Theater’s sometimes ambling, generally rowdy new farce, Country Club Catastrophe, before our lower-class heroine manages a proper escape — only it’s unclear even to her if it’s a genuine escape at all, as she stares into the eyes of her replacement with an eerie shock of recognition.

In this uneven but promising production by newcomers Back Alley Theater, performances are at times stilted and pacing might be tightened in places, and perhaps as much as 20 minutes of meandering dialogue productively lost from the second half. But Country Club Catastrophe gets laughs in part because it knows what it is about. Inspired equally by classical French farce — Molière’s five-act structure in particular — and recognizably American figures from the yawning class divide, it aims at a contemporary social crisis churned by the obscene disparities in wealth in post–middle-class America. (All glimpsed at the preview ahead of opening night.)

Thus, long before her existentially fraught exit, both Linda (played by a comically intense yet sympathetic Katharine Otis) and her handsome gold-digging coworker, the doorman Max (a winningly boisterous Joshua Rice), largely retreat from view behind an onslaught of self-absorbed club members (numbering only a handful in fact, and yet a real handful just the same).

First to arrive is Mrs. Montgomery (a sharp, coolly imperious Jennifer Lucas), her teased hair rising to just within the frame of the front door center stage (in A.J. Diggins’ spare, functional set design) and a long leash trailing from her wrist to an unseen standard poodle with an unhealthy appetite for the doorman. (Exit Max for some scenes.)

Separately from Mrs. Montgomery — who in a manipulative confessional gesture lets Linda know her first name is Tabytha, only to insist she still call her Mrs. Montgomery — arrives the rest of her small but attenuated family. There is husband Miles (Len Shaffer, dispensing affable sleaze), a jolly and salacious philanderer; and son Tristan (a humorously shrill Salvadore Mattos), Tabytha’s barely closeted Brown University brat whose constant companion is a houseplant he calls Sister.

Greater than Tristan’s fixation on foliage, however, is his unbounded lust for childhood playmate Edward (Jeremy Bardwell), the egomaniacally cocksure but increasingly put out fortunate son of club members Biff and Muffy Birmingham (played, respectively, by a buoyantly silly John Weber and a hilariously sugary yet menacingly bitchy Meaghan M. Mitchell). Biff and Miles are best friends; Muffy and Tabytha not so much. Muffy prefers the company of club member and shy post-debutante Peggy Dupont (a harried Sabrina De Mio), whom Muffy bosses and harshly abuses with an almost innocent glee.

Last and, in the opinion of the club house anyway, certainly least comes Cynthia Anniston (an amusingly oblivious and high-keyed Gloria Terese McDonald), Brown University first-year and cheerleader desperately chasing one-night-stand Edward, her lax outfit reading alternately “prostitute” and “foreign exchange student” to the club’s members and its equally indignant staff.

For the play finds stark but amusing ways to underscore the primacy of money over every other social divide, be it race or sexual orientation or education. Even the mere appearance of not having money is enough to put one squarely outside the club — or rather, squarely within its steep hierarchies of privilege and worth. As the plot gets increasingly tangled, we’re left to consider the intoxicating stench of money in everyone’s noses as the ultimate obscenity.

And yet, Linda (and the play) asks, can the greed, selfishness, backstabbing, dirty dealing, and rampant mistreatment that runs rife through these perverse excuses for families really continue without some final judgment befalling such a club and such a country?

Intonations of just such a judgment are there already in the title, in a gathering electric storm outside, in the self-consciously heightened language, and in the rumblings of piano keys from musician Mike Miraglia’s offstage upright. But the catastrophe that finally breaks in on this world isn’t exactly The Day of the Locust. It is, instead, an ironic and apt judgment on the misspent lives and deflated hopes of the present day, so semi-cozy and quietly desperate despite the raging storm outside. 2


Through Aug. 13

Thurs.—Sat., 8 p.m., $20

Exit Theatre

156 Eddy, SF



What not to M.O.O.P.



PLAYA PREP In Miranda Caroligne’s Mission District sewing studio, there is a dress dummy covered in used Carhartt remnants that are being reborn as an asymmetrical mini-dress. It’s a project that the designer, whose fanciful style has made her a popular check box on pre-Burning Man to-do lists, is working on for Margaret Long, a member of the Flaming Lotus Girls fire art collective. Please note: no fun fur or tribal accents are visible on the soon-to-be-dress.

These are the rush months for Caroligne and other burner designers, like SF-based Silver Lucy and Tammy Hulva of Tamo Design, prime time for helping burners to realize their sartorial fantasies. Caroligne makes form-fitting, whimsically-stitched fleece jackets that hang by the bundle throughout her bright creative space, and one-size-fits-all boot covers made from old suit sleeves. But she says that for her custom-made creations, she prefers a little vision in her clients. In other words, please don’t come to her for furry boots and glow sticks.

“I tend to speak out against that,” she says of trends towards the homogenization of playa culture. “I only design for people if they have a very clear vision of something they want to express. I consider myself the conduit to making that happen.” When people come in for the standard Mad Max raver treatment, she sits them down to clarify what about the look resonates with them.

Burning Man fashions have evolved over the last quarter-century, with the old emphasis on crazy DIY costumes eventually morphing into distinct burner fashion aesthetics, such as the feather-and-leather look popularized by the El Circo camp and the late designer Tiffa Novoa and featured in SF stores such as Five and Diamond.

It is perhaps indicative of the spread of Burning Man culture that Caroligne’s potential clients sometimes ask for the same style. It’s been popularized by a hundred wholesale websites — fun fur bikinis and (particularly popular in the Bay Area, according to the designer) the “dark leather and feather tribal look that’s mass produced in Bali.”

Stores from SoMa to San Rafael to New York advertise themselves as one-stop shopping venues for burner-fied fashion, and numerous expos make similar claims here in the Bay Area — Aug. 14’s second Prepare for the Playa street fair of the year being one of them.

Independent designers are at creative odds with the uniformity that is developing in some camps — but they’re also concerned with the sustainability of the designs, which are often imported and disposable. “That disgusts me,” Caroligne says. “A lot of that stuff is very M.O.O.P.-y.” (M.O.O.P. being the burner acronym for to-be-avoided-at-all-costs “matter out of place,” or any waste that could harm the playa’s natural ecosystem).

It wasn’t always this way. Before the turn of the 21st century, it would have been difficult to determine the Burning Man uniform. People made clothes for themselves and friends, or they wore regular clothing-redux in the hot Nevadan sun. Ironically nowadays, Caroligne says, “I’ve heard many people talk about walking into a Burning Man party and feeling judged (because of what they were wearing).”

She’s still a little unsure of the implications of working as a for-profit businessperson within a nonprofit culture. But Caroligne tries to mitigate the disconnect by doing pieces for busy artists that contribute to the Burning Man community (she was particularly excited to have costumed Burning Man board member Marian “Maid Marian” Goodell for the ritual burning of The Man one year, and be-suited Glitch Mob’s Justin Berreta for another).

In a previous incarnation, Caroligne was a physical therapist. When she began her fashion career, she did so with an eye toward her clothing’s effect on individual body dynamics. She created weighted coats that swung appealing when their owner strode across dusty Black Rock streets, sexy dresses made of cozy fabric that could be doubled around the face for warmth or privacy. At times, her clothing can even reflect the party philosophy of the wearer– she often asks customers whether they’d like the softest fabric of their new wardrobe item on the inside or outside. “Do you want to feel it or do you want other people to feel it?”

She believes what one wears at Burning Man can be empowering. “We’re finding your superhero self. What does your superhero look like?” is a common topic of discussion in initial consultations.

Judging from the length of her in-process dress’ skirt, Long’s superhero is sultry — but also here to get some work done. An intact overall strap has been left to speak for itself on the right shoulder, and below, grease-stained Carhart pieces have been left whole so that Long’s customary wrench loop will continue to ride comfortably on her right hip. Caroligne is attempting to create an outfit that expresses the wearer.

“During my 12 years at Burning Man, I’ve seen the change from self-made to high fashion,” says Hulva, whose Tamo Design clothes “originate from ideas about making my wardrobe more functional and fashionable on the playa.

Hulva makes luxe faux fur that doesn’t shed M.O.O.P. like the cheaper stuff you’ll find at many a mall store. Her popular “Baroness” jacket is late-night-early-morning playa crawl dream wear, with a hood to hide in, fabric that gives, deep pockets to store party essentials — and you don’t have to be so glum about covering up your LED tube top: it’s sexy, to boot.

When pumped about hot playa trends for 2011, Caroligne and Hulva were loathe to cite anything too specific (though Caroligne expressed her enthusiasm for “playful 1980s revival styles”), rooting instead for individuality.

Burning Man fashion is about “a platform for self-expression,” according to Caroligne. Clothes, she says, “are the primary way that people can express themselves,” accessible even to those that specialize in other forms of playa magic, like Long.

But they did note a general trend arch over the festival’s history. The past of Burning Man lay in DIY clothes, self-made everything. The present has brought professionally-made garb, and the mass accessibility of a certain playa “look.” The future? Hulva hopes it holds “a trend to be more sustainable and practical — in addition to keeping things light and fun.”

She’s working on it. On Sunday, Aug. 7, Hulva is organizing the Haute Pool Show, a gathering at the Phoenix Hotel of 20 local, independent designers selling their high quality, playa-ready belts, vests, and accessories. It’s a follow up to her last event — July’s Beyond the Fence at Mighty — and both cater to those preparing for their journey to Black Rock City.

Only these aren’t clothes you’ll be reserving for the desert. Sure, they’re whimsical, but Burning Man fashion — particularly here in the Bay Area — really is stepping beyond the playa fence. The festival’s recent sell-out of tickets and an expected crowd of around 52,000 underline the fact that its impact is growing, and style cues picked up from the playa may just be finding their way into year-round usage.

“Versatile styles are hot this year,” says Hulva. “Burning Man fashion has really migrated into the everyday self expression, so people are buying things they can wear on the playa and back home.”


Sun/7 2-8 p.m., free

Phoenix Hotel

601 Eddy, SF

Facebook: Haute Pool Show


Aug. 14 noon-7 p.m., free

Cafe Cocomo

650 Indiana, SF





Comfortable shoes

Cotton socks

Daytime clothes in light colors

A good shade hat and/or parasol

Silk long underwear for easy layering

A warm coat (“that you’ll have fun with”)

A thrift store cashmere sweater that you can tailor to be form-fitting

Scribe’s Guide to Playa Prep



PLAYA PREP This is a crazy time of year for burners, when they begin to realize just how overly ambitious their art projects actually are, when the August calendar seems to shrink as to-do lists grow, and when procrastination morphs into panic — all of it laced with a giddy, distracting excitement about the dusty adventures to come.

Don’t worry, fellow burners, Scribe is here to help. I’m way too busy right now to actually come help weld your art car or hot glue your costume (unless you’ve got stuff or skills that I may need, in which case we can maybe work something out) but after years of deep immersion in this culture, I do have a few tips and resources for you.



The most important thing to bring to the playa with you is the right attitude. It’s right up there with your ticket at the very top of the list. As I worked on this guide, I posed the question “What’s the most important thing you bring to the playa?” to online burner hives, and most of the answers I got back had something to do with attitude.

Whether you’re a nervous newbie or salty veteran, it’s important to leave your expectations at home and just be open to whatever experiences await you. Intention is everything out there, and if you try to always maintain an open mind, a loving heart, and a sense of humor, everything you need will just flow your way.

It isn’t always easy. When your project breaks, or the dust won’t stop blowing, or your lover squashes your heart, or some yahoo behaves in a way that strikes you as somehow un-Burning Man, it’s natural to let your anxieties creep up. But you’ve got to let it go, because it’s all going to be OK, it really is. When all else fails, just breathe.

It is the breaking through those difficult moments and coming out the other side — enduring through things that feel like they may break you — that makes Burning Man feel so transformative. It is a cauldron, and you may not come out in the same form you went it, but that’s part of why you go.



You’ll need a motorized vehicle to get to Burning Man — and art cars can be a fun way to get around when you’re there, a sort of surreal public transit system — but if you don’t have a good bicycle then you’re at a decided disadvantage in fully experiencing Black Rock City, the most bike-friendly city on the planet while it exists. And that’s never been more true than this year, when early reports indicate that the wet winter has left the playa packed solid and perfect for pedaling.

Form and function are equally important when it comes to your bike. It needs to be in good mechanical condition (and with enough tools and patch kits to keep it that way) and correctly sized to your body, ideally with a comfortable, upright position and basket for your stuff. And you also need to decorate it and make it unique, both because making art is the essence of Burning Man and so you can easily find it amid a sea of bikes. Form and function, they’re like two wheels rolling together.

Although the Borg, a.k.a. Black Rock City LLC, recommends that you bring a bike lock, I’ve personally never used one and never had a problem. Sure, bike thefts happen, but I believe they’re almost always crimes of opportunity or drunken mistakes involving nondescript bikes, not unique rides like mine that I could spot 100 yards away.

I’m convinced that half the people who think their bikes got stolen actually just lost them. The playa can be a very disorienting place, with art cars and other visible markers moving around — and even one’s own brain conspiring against locating one’s bike. So illuminate your bike well, ideally with something that sticks up high the air, and leave your lights on as you explore on foot.

Speaking of which: wear good, comfy shoes. Most costumes should stop at the ankle at Burning Man, particularly if you’re prowling the playa



In honor of the mad scramble for tickets after Burning Man sold out more than a month before the event for the first time in its 25-year history, I’m offering some thoughts on sneaking into the event. Given how many people could find themselves stuck with counterfeit tickets or otherwise unable to get in this year, it seems like something that any thorough guide should cover.

Now, before everyone jumps all over me, telling me that I’m endangering lives and undermining the spirit and the stability of the event, let me make clear the spirit in which I’m offering this advice. Just think of it like a hacker publicizing the security vulnerabilities of a beloved institution — hopefully the Borg will read this too and do what it can to either plug the holes or somehow take pity on the desperate souls stuck outside the city’s gates.

First of all, you gotta know what you’re getting yourself into. Gate crew takes this shit very seriously, thoroughly searching every car and trailer, and looking into hiding spots that you probably haven’t even thought of. Many of them take real pride in this, some thoroughly stomping on rolls of carpet that might contain a stowaway, potentially adding injury to your insult.

Here’s the worst part: It is official Burning Man policy that when stowaways are found, everyone in that vehicle gets his or her tickets torn up. And burner brass says it will beef up security this year, including more people at the gate and more people scanning the open playa with night-vision goggles and fast interceptor cars.

Every year, they catch about 30 people trying to sneak it. “We’re very confident that we catch all the stowaways,” Borg member Marian Goodell tells us. But we all know that can’t possibly be true, right? There are playa legends of a contortionist who puts herself in a packing bin and gets in every year, and I’ve met people who claim to have snuck in both at the gate and over the open playa.

So, if you gotta do it, my best advice is to find a confederate on the inside, such as someone on Gate crew who owes you or will take pity on you or a bribe from you. That’s how many coyotes do it at the US-Mexico border, and it could work here too. There aren’t any wristbands at Burning Man, so once you can weasel your way in amid the confusion at the gate, you’re in.

Skydivers also have a pretty good shot at getting in, even though they’re likely to be greeted on the ground by someone asking for their tickets. But, it’s a big city, and if you’ve got some skydiving expertise and you’re able to rapidly change directions during the final phase of your descent, you might just make it.

There are also ways to take advantage of human oversights, particularly during the early arrival period before the event begins. There are often openings in the gate briefly left unguarded in the early days, as we discovered last year after a trip to the reservoir. Or sometimes, after thoroughly searching the car, the person at the gate will forget to tear your ticket. And believe it or not, sometimes people on the inside end up with spare tickets for friends who couldn’t make it. Any untorn tickets can be spirited out by people making runs into nearby Gerlach for supplies.

But in closing, let me just reiterate that buying a ticket is part of the “radical self-reliance” principle that is central to the burner ethos, so do yourself and your community a favor and find a ticket, or accept that you may just have to sit this year out. Don’t worry, we’ll make more.



In preparing for Burning Man, it’s always helpful to remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which instructs us that we need to see to our basic needs at the bottom of the pyramid before we can even think about approaching the enlightenment at its pinnacle. And that begins with food and shelter.

Contrary to common misconceptions, you don’t need an RV or trailer on the playa — and it’s too late to get one at this point anyway. Frankly, you’ll be fine in a cheap pup tent as long as you place it under a sturdy shade structure, such as the 10-by-20-foot steel carports that are ubiquitous on the playa, or a cheaper shade structure with poles reinforced by PVC or something to help it from being flattened.

You may need to make adjustments during the course of the week, but jerry-rigging your shit is just part of the fun. Or if that’s not your cup of tea, more and more burners in recent years have been building their own yurts or turning to custom-made designs like the Playa Dome Shelters from Shelter Systems (www.shelter-systems.com/playadomes.html).

For food, just try to keep it simple, nutritious, and free of unnecessary waste. That means lots of simple snacks and easy meals, such as those you make ahead of time and reheat. There are also some good entrepreneurs out there that have perfected this approach, such as Gastronaut SF (www.gastronautsf.com/playa-provisions), which makes meals that you boil in the bag, which even allows you to reuse that water.

And don’t forget to take your vitamins because playa life can really take it out of you. Dr. Cory’s Playa Packs (www.drcory.com) are one of many good companies that understand what nutrients you’ll need and try to provide them.



Let’s face it, for all the talk about decommodification and intentional communities and all that hippie crap, you’re going to need stuff at Burning Man. Lots and lots of stuff. Luckily, San Francisco is a great place to get it, and here are some of my personal favorite spots to shop for my playa gear.

Mendels This art supply store has everything you need for your costumes and other Burning Man projects, and many things you didn’t know you needed. For example, when I was looking for a cool covering for my bike years ago, I found tubes of thick acrylic paint that dries hard (now known as 3-D Paint), which has lasted for years and drawn compliments the whole time.

1556 Haight, SF. (415) 621-1287, www.mendels.com

Fabric Outlet Fake fun fur has become a staple item for Burning Man costumes and art projects, particularly as the styles and varieties of it have gotten better. And this place has the coolest fake furs in town, as well as a huge selection of other fabrics, patterns, and sewing kits.

2109 Mission, SF. (415) 552-4525, www.fabricoutletsf.com

Multikulti This is the best place in town to find a great selection of groovy sunglasses for just $6 each — and you’ll want a good selection of shades out there to go with your costumes — as well as a variety of other accessories and costumey geegaws to accent your Burning Man ensemble.

539 Valencia, SF. (415) 437-1718

Five and Diamond If there is a store that grew directly out of the feather-and-leather fashion aesthetic that has come to take center stage on the playa, this is it. From groovy utility belts (important when your costumes lack pockets) to elaborate leather outer wear to some of the coolest custom goggles that I’ve found (mine has a built-in light and both clear and shaded lenses), this place has great — if slightly pricey — stuff.

510 Valencia, SF. (415) 255-9747, www.fiveanddiamond.com

Held Over My favorite second-hand clothing store creates special racks of Burning Man clothes this time of year, but I always prefer to assemble my own outfits from their great selection of unique vintage and specialty clothes, including an entire room of tuxedos and other retro formal wear.

1543 Haight, SF. (415) 864-0818

Distractions The oldest walk-up Burning Man ticket outlet, Distractions knows just what burners need, offering a wide variety of playa-oriented clothing and accessories that you’ll need, from goggles to EL wire strips to pipes and other smoking paraphernalia.

1552 Haight, SF. (415) 252-8751

Cool Neon This Oakland-based company specializes in electro luminescent wire, the staple item for illumination on the playa (and whether you’re walking or on a bike, you will need to be lit-up out there). Cool Neon makes the rounds at many of the fairs and trunk shows, but you can also place orders for shipment or arrange pickups at its office at 1433 Mandela Parkway in Oakland.


Discount Builders Supply Rather than spending your hard-earned money at Home Depot or some other chain store in the burbs, this locally owned business has everything you need to construct and decorate your project, or see to your sundry personal needs. They’re also used to burners with strange requests, so they give good advice.

1695 Mission, SF. (415) 621-8511, www.discoutbuilderssupplysf.com



The project. It is the essence of Burning Man, whether it’s the fun fur and EL wire you’re putting on your bike, the bar or showers your camp is building, or some ridiculously ambitious artwork that you’re creating with a crew of hundreds. Black Rock City is a series of thousands of these individual projects, all of which are coming together right now. And if you’re looking for some help finishing (or starting) yours, here are some resources you can tap.

The Crucible The Crucible is a venerable nonprofit institution that offers a wide variety of arts and crafts classes and resources in a state-of-the-art facility in West Oakland, with many burners among its staff and clients. As the longtime host of the Fire Arts Festival, this place knows its stuff.

1270 17th St., Oakl. www.thecrucible.org

CELLspace The Flaming Lotus Girls and many other key burner art collectives were born here, and his facility continues to provide the expertise and tools to bring Burning Man to life, year after year.

2050 Bryant, SF. www.cellspace.org

Techshop The new kid on the block, but one of the most technologically advanced, Techshop is a DIY workshop with amazing tools and experts on staff. Join its Aug. 15 EL wire workshop or other upcoming classes catering to burners.

926 Howard, SF. www.techshop.ws

American Steel Also known as Big Art Studios, this massive warehouse houses many of these biggest projects now bound for Burning Man. It may not have the structural support of places like the Crucible, but if you’re looking for knowledgeable burners to work through some problem, American Steel is brimming over with them.

1960 Mandela Parkway, Oakl. www.americansteelstudios.com

Burning Man costume creations If it’s sewing or other costuming help that you need, there are lots of local designers who might lend a hand (see “What not to M.O.O.P.” in this guide). Or you can stop by these Aug. 11 or Aug. 25 sewing circle meetups listed at www.meetup.com/Burning-Man-Costume-Creations



Here are a few of the major installation artworks with Bay Area connections that I’m excited to see on the playa this year:

Charon by Peter Hudson Peter Hudson and his large volunteer crews have created some of the most dynamic art pieces in Burning Man history, zoetropes that use motion and strobe lights to animate the characters they create: the swimmers of Sisyphish, the divers of Deeper, the snake and monkeys of Homouroboros, and the man reaching for the golden apple of Tantalus. This year, Charon the boatman crosses the river Styx into Hades and, well, you just really gotta see what could be his best piece yet. As the artist says, “Charon asks them to reflect on their own mortality and ponder how to give and get the most from their brief time here on earth.”

Tympani Lambada by the Flaming Lotus Girls Combining fire, steel, light, and sound on the massive scale that we’ve come to expect from the Flaming Lotus Girls, Tympani Lambada simulates the structure of our inner ears, which control not just hearing but balance and perception. As always with this crew, this project promises to be space as occupy and interact with (usually with an unbelievable sense of awe) rather just a structure to see. And as they’ve been doing for many years (see “Angels of the Apocalypse,” 8/20/05), the dynamic crew built this creation right out at the Box Shop on Hunters Point (with an assist for American Steel, where some of its longest sections are being built).

Truth and Beauty by Marco Cochrane Following up last year’s amazing Blissdance, which is now on display on Treasure Island, this crew hoped to make an even larger female nude sculpture of the same model (55 feet this time), but their fundraising fell a little short so they couldn’t complete it. But even in the abbreviated form they’re bringing to the playa this year — just the torso from knee to shoulder, but well-anchored that it’s climbable — it should still be something to see.

Temple of Transition, by International Art Megacrew The Temple is always a special place at Burning Man (see “Burners in flux,” 8/31/10), and this year promises to be as spectacular as it is spiritual. The project is headed by a pair of builders known by their nationalities, Kiwi and Irish, and built mostly in Reno by a crew of committed volunteers from more than 20 countries. It’s centerpiece tower, Gratitude, is a towering 120-feet tall, surrounded by and connected to five smaller towers: Birth, Growth, Union, Death, and Decay.

Otic Oasis Lightning (Burning Man’s attorney) and friends (including named artists Gregg Fleishman and Melissa Barron) wanted the quietest spot on the playa for this 35-foot wooden pyramid of comfy lounging compartments, a remote spot where even the music from art cars couldn’t reach. Their answer: at the very back of the walk-in camping area, a spot only reachable on foot by people intending to go there. Finally, a quiet spot to chill out.




OK, I know that many of these events are music-related, and there are an untold number of quirky, weird things to do on the playa besides just rocking out to a DJ. But exploring what the hundreds of theme camps offer each year is part of the fun, and it’s too Herculean a task to sort through the voluminous information and offer you sound predictions.

But every year the music lovers among us compile their recommendations of the stops to hit that will be going off and filled with dancing fools, so I know those lists are valuable. And mine does include some other stuff as well, so just deal with it.

The future of Burning Man The 17 board members of The Burning Man Project, the new nonprofit entity being created to take over operations of Burning Man in coming years (see “State of the burn” in this guide), will be available to discuss the future of this culture. This is your chance to weigh in on what’s important to you and how the event should be governed into the future.

Everyday, 1 p.m.-2:30 p.m. at Everywhere Lane (near Center Camp)

Lee Coombs This British-born DJ has long been a great supporter of Burning Man art projects — and he always plays fun sets — so come check him as the playa’s best daytime dance party camp starts to work it out.

Tuesday, 5 p.m.-6 p.m., Distrikt (9&F)

Unicorn Stampede

The perverts from Kinky Salon love getting horny on the playa, and this time they’re getting literal as they dress as unicorns and stampede across the playa, spreading their joy and juices onto unsuspecting burners and ending up at the Walkout Woods art piece. What does all that mean? Bring a horn, leave your inhibitions, and come find out.

Wednesday, 7-9:30 p.m., gather at The Man

Shpongle OT’s regular Wednesday night White Party — which has included many epic performances over the years, and this year include big draws EOTO, Infected Mushroom (both doing live sets on two stages OT is setting up for live music this year) and Christopher Lawrence, at midnight, 1:30 am and 3 am respectively — welcomes the dawn with pysbient music innovators Shpongle, which is already generating lots of excitement.

Thursday, 5:45 am (sunrise set), Opulent Temple (10&B)

Deep End reunion It’s like family day at Distrikt as the core San Francisco-based DJs that helped launch the original Deep End day parties play successive one-hour sets, with Syd Gris followed by Tamo, Kramer, and then Clarkie. Buckle up, everyone, because this could get ugly.

Thursday, 2-6 p.m., Distrikt (9&F)

Cuddle Ocean Upping the ante on the stereotype of ravers heaped into cuddle puddles at Burning Man, some instigators from last year’s Temple of Flux crew are seeking to create a Cuddle Ocean of thousands of burners heaped all over each other in the deep playa. Come feel the love.

Thursday, 6-8 p.m., between the Man and the Temple

Bootie BRC Adrian, Mysterious D, and the rest of the popular Bootie SF music mashup crew will be throwing a dance party specially mixed for your on-playa pleasure — with actual words!

Thusday, 8 pm-???, Fandango (Esplanade&4)

Circle of Regional Effigies burn Regional events have become an important part of the Burning Man culture, and this year 23 of them will build wooden effigies in circle around The Man. And then, as tends to happen to our effigies, they will all burn — simultaneously!

Thursday, 9 p.m., around The Man

Critical Tits This women-only topless bike ride has been a playa tradition for many years, so cruise by to cheer them on and offer your encouragement for what is a very freeing experience for many of the participants. Besides, who doesn’t like tits?

Friday, 4-5 p.m., The Man

Space Cowboys Hoedown Legendary SF-based sound collective the Space Cowboys has a tradition of driving its mobile music vehicle the Unimog out to the “biggest, baddest art piece” on the playa for a big dance party every year, which art cars with speakers and radio receivers can also relay, create a fun circle of sound. And this year, the winner is…The Flaming Lotus Girls’ Tympani Lambada.

Friday night at Tympani Lambada

Distrikt Come ride the daytime dance party train to the end of the line with DJ Kramer spinning until someone drags him off the stage to get ready for the burn.

Saturday, 4-??? at Distrikt Camp (9&F)

Scumfrog Dutch-born DJ Scumfrog has been rocking the playa every year since he first camped with us at Opulent Temple in 2004, and as readers of my book know, he’s a Burning Man true believer who just loves this culture, so he always brings his A-game. This is the place to be as the sun rises on final full day of Black Rock City.

Sunday, 4 am-sunrise, Disorient (2&Esplanade)

Tribes of Burning Man signing Yours truly, Scribe, will be on stage leading a discussion of issues raised in my book, The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert is Shaping the New American Counterculture. Study up by ordering a signed copy now from www.steventjones.com and join in the debate, or just come heckle me for this shameless plug.

Sunday 4 p.m., Center Camp Stage

Steven T. Jones, a.k.a. Scribe, is the Guardian’s city editor and the author of The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert is Shaping the New American Counterculture, which grew out of a series of stories in the Guardian that ran from 2004 through 2010.





Replacing the Concourse



In one of the few remaining San Francisco neighborhoods untouched by gentrification, there is a proposal to demolish the Concourse Exhibition Center and replace the quintessential Showplace Square building with a market-rate residential project, which the developer says will be rental apartments.

This is the first major project in the new Eastern Neighborhoods Plan that will change the light industrial neighborhood where brick and mortar meet interior design, raising questions about whether the development would be sustainable, transit-oriented, and family-friendly.

Home to annual events like the Green Festival and the KPFA Craft Fair, the Concourse is where mom and pop vendors share their wares in an affordable venue — one of the few remaining in the city.

“Since ’96,” recounted Alan Van De Kamp, director of sales for the Green Festival, “they’ve been trying to sell it, to tear it down. You never know from year to year … You imagine at some point, somebody’s gonna say it’s time.”

Though nothing has been approved, the current proposal by developer and Concourse owner Bay West Development, first introduced in 2000, has come the farthest yet. The project will be considered for approval by the Planning Commission once the environmental review process is complete, which could take up to six months. Public comments on the project will be accepted until August 8.

The proposed project contains two sites, one at 801 Brannan Street and one at 1 Henry Adams Street, which would result in a total development of up to 674 residential units, 43,037 square feet of retail space, and 673 parking spaces. Under the city’s inclusionary housing laws, 221 of those units would be affordable (71 to be built on site and 150 dedicated to the city for development). Of the total parking spaces, 166 spaces would replace existing parking spots at the site.

Bay West, developer of the San Francisco Design Center, has owned the Concourse building for 30 years and wants to demolish and rebuild as part of the Eastern Neighborhoods Rezoning and Area Plans, the blueprint for development in a part of the city dominated by working class residents.

That controversial plan was in development for years, during which there was a moratorium on approval of large projects, and it was finally adopted in 2008. It was created to redevelop The Mission, Showplace Square/Potrero Hill, East SoMa, and the Central Waterfront — 7 percent of the city’s 47 square miles — over 20 years.

“It’s our feeling that the building itself is beyond its use as an exhibit hall and we’re replacing it with housing units,” said Sean Murphy, a partner at Bay West.

The Planning Commission heard the draft Environmental Impact Report for the proposal on July 28. At the hearing, the commissioners expressed interest in seeing the progression of the development, but not all were convinced.

“There is a certain amount of vagueness,” said Commissioner Kathrin Moore. “This EIR is ultimately tempered by the strong policy issues that underlie building in the Eastern Neighborhoods and at this moment I don’t quite see that.”

The proposal has left some questions unanswered, such as, where will the small vendors go to sell their wares? Bay West has suggested exhibition halls like the Cow Palace or Moscone Center, but Green Festival organizers say that isn’t realistic for everyone. “We would lose some of our vendors if we went to Moscone,” said Van De Kamp. “There’s some people that can’t come. A lot of the green economy is about mom and pops. They can’t afford it.”

Sue Hestor, a land-use attorney who opposes the development, asked vendors who use the Concourse how important leaving the center would be. “For a lot of people,” she said, “it meant the difference for them being viable or not.”

It would be a major challenge to move, said Robbie Kowal, the co-director of Sea of Dreams, a huge party and concert that will hold its seventh annual celebration this New Years Eve at the Concourse. “There’s the Cow Palace, and the Design Center, but it’s not that big, not a place where you can put a proper concert on one side and a multitude of different kinds of spaces [on the other]. The Sea of Dreams’ success is attributable to the proper use of the Concourse.”

With 125,000 square feet of space that can be split into its west and east halls and a mezzanine, the Concourse building has catered to annual festivals and events for more than 20 years, holding as many as 6,800 people at once.

“There’s room for so many different communities in there. We love our home,” said Kowal. “It’s a really unique and wonderful space.”

The redwood frame of the Concourse, accented by glass fronts that allow for natural lighting, used to be a furniture mart and then a fashion and jewelry mart before it was an event center. The project proposal’s architect, David Baker and Partners, has already designed many of the new buildings in Showplace Square.

Bay West isn’t worried about where the Concourse shows will go. “Most of our shows use less than 20,000 square feet,” said Murphy. “The larger shows would go to the 100,000 square foot San Mateo County Event Center.”

Tony Kelly of the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association says the intention of the plan is to reduce the light industrial area by zoning more of it for residential uses, protecting only about half of it and converting the remainder.

“This is an area where we don’t have enough parks, or transit. The project would double the population, and we don’t have enough new infrastructure to handle it,” he said. “It’s essentially a ticking time bomb that the city’s going to have to get a handle on at some point, or these residents are going to be miserable.”

Though the project would create at least an acre of publicly accessible open space, some residents wonder if it’s enough, and the concern about insufficient transit remains.

“It seems to me that once again there is too much parking near a freeway entrance, inadequate transit that is not likely to improve significantly once the Transit Effectiveness Project [a city plan for improving Muni service] is implemented,” said activist Sue Vaughan, who rides her bike at least part way during her commute from the Richmond District to REI at 840 Brannan Street for work.

“This is exactly the kind of place that attracts (commuters),” said Hestor. “There’s too much parking. There’s crappy transit. It totally undermines any idea of sustainable development.”

But at the commission hearing, Commissioner Hisashi Sugaya didn’t think Hestor’s argument had merit. “Parking is not an environmental impact as far as the city is concerned,” he said.

Vaughan says that Muni managers have been absent from several development meetings in the Eastern Neighborhoods area. “No one from Muni was represented on this panel discussion about the Sustainable Communities Strategy,” she said, referring to a July 6 meeting convened by the Planning Department to discuss the importance of building housing next to accessible transit.

The Concourse is scarcely accessible by bus lines 10 and 19, but with a growing population in Showplace Square, it wouldn’t be enough, says Vaughan. “We’re moving forward with all these projects with lots of parking near freeway entrances, which makes it seems like SF is becoming a bedroom community for Silicon Valley. You have an impact on Muni when that happens. With more cars, there’s more congestion for buses.”

Bay West argues that the apartments it plans to build at the Concourse site would be “workforce housing” with less than 1:1 parking (actual parking would work out to .79:1 at the 801 Brannan site and .64:1 at the One Henry Adams site). More than 40 percent of the units would be larger two-bedroom units intended for families.

Yet Kelly says that that by offering the apartments at market rates, none are appropriate for new families. “For all the talk about keeping families here, then how come we’re not building family housing?”

It’s a max-out project, says San Francisco architect Dick Millet, of the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association. “In the end, under their breath, they’re all going to say, I wouldn’t live there myself.”

Editor’s Notes



When a crowd of less than two dozen people watched an eight-foot wooden man burn on Baker Beach during the Summer Solstice of 1986, could any of them have possibly imagined that the ritual would repeat itself 25 years later in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert before a sold-out crowd of more than 50,000 people?

Even if man-builder Larry Harvey could have dreamed that big and strangely — and, most assuredly, he did not — it’s even harder to imagine the dimensions, staying power, and creativity of the massive temporal city that has formed up around the Man, Black Rock City, or the impact that it’s had on the hundreds of thousands of people who have cycled through it.

I first attended Burning Man in 2001, when the event was half its current size and when the country’s sociopolitical landscape was about to undergo a profound and lasting change, with 9/11 and the launching of a war in Afghanistan that continues to his day. It is against that backdrop that this culture — with its core values of self-expression, communal effort, and rejection of commodification — has flourished.

I’ve had the privilege of closely covering Burning Man and its many leaders and luminaries continuously since 2004, when I launched a long series of Guardian articles that later evolved into my book, The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert is Shaping the New American Counterculture (2011, CCC Publishing), so I’ve had plenty of time to ponder what has always seemed to me the central question: Why?

Why do so many people devote so much of their time, energy, and resources to preparing for the pilgrimage to the playa? And we’re talking months worth of work, in drab workspaces around the Bay Area, sacrificing other social and economic opportunities and sometimes even their sanity. Why do they do it, and why do so many burners find that experience so transformative?

There are, of course, the obvious answers. There’s the mind-blowing art pieces, which seem to get more ambitious and innovative each year. It’s also the greatest party on the planet, a truly 24-7 city with engaged citizens exploring endless options, all offered for free. Then there’s the surreal setting, the DIY spirit, the gift economy, the experiments in urbanism and community, its smoldering sensuality, and an endless list of other appeals.

And that’s all great, but I’ve come to believe that there’s something else at the core of the question: Why do we do this? We do it because we have to, because we can’t think of any sane way to respond to the insanity of modern American life. So we pursue our mad visions, and organize our lives and social circles around that pursuit, collectively building a fake, doomed city in the desert that seems to us so much more real and authentic and purposeful than anything the default world is providing.

We do it because it’s become our home, a place that is now an important part of who we are. And we at the Guardian hope the burners among you find some useful tidbits in our first-ever playa prep guide.


Step up and save CCA


EDITORIAL Two things became abundantly clear at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission meeting July 26th: The Community Choice Aggregation program is off track — and General Manager Ed Harrington has no interest in making it work. The supervisors need to move aggressively to save CCA.

Since 2007, when a draft implementation plan was released, the goals of the program — which is supposed to offer a cleaner alternative to Pacific Gas & Electric Co. — have shifted fairly dramatically. No longer does the plan seek to meet PG&E’s rates. It won’t be aimed at the entire city to start. And the PUC is putting most of its effort into a short-term contract to buy green power from Shell Energy North America — and all-but ignoring the more important moves to build a publicly owned energy-generation infrastructure.

CCA, which allows cities to buy power in bulk and resell it to customers, is a step in the right direction. The program now before the PUC would put San Francisco in the public power business — to a degree. But as the financial projections for the program demonstrate, the real savings and the real revenue won’t come until San Francisco replaces PG&E as the owner and operator of the local grid. A full-scale public power system would allow the city to both increase renewable power and cut rates — and would bring hundreds of millions into the treasury in the process (see “Mud Money,” 6/26/08).

Still, CCA offers many benefits — including the chance for the city to build local renewable energy facilities. And that’s where the PUC’s efforts ought to be focused.

During discussion of the proposed contract July 26th, Harrington was largely negative and talked repeatedly as if he didn’t think the original program could work. He kept saying that renewable power was more costly (true, today — but not after the city starts building its own facilities). He said that the goals the “advocates” (who include a majority of the Board of Supervisors) have demanded were unrealistic. And most of the commissioners seemed clueless.

That’s a terrible way to launch one of the most important environmental and financial initiatives in modern San Francisco history. Marin County is already well on the way to creating a working CCA system. Other counties are moving forward. And San Francisco, the only city in the nation with a federal mandate for public power, can’t get its civic act together.

The supervisors need to get involved, quickly. The Local Agency Formation Commission, which is overseeing this project, should haul Harrington in for a hearing as soon as possible. Among other things, the LAFCO members should ask why Harrington is so determined that the project won’t work; why his proposal is geared to a small number of residents and businesses who would face higher rates for power; and what his plans are to create a local energy generation infrastructure that over the long run would be dramatically cheaper and greener than anything PG&E (which has been in the background here trying to undermine CCA) will be able to offer.

The problems with CCA reflect the immense challenges of putting this program in the hands of a commission a majority of whose members were appointed by a mayor who opposed public power, managed by someone who has never supported municipalization efforts. Harrington and the SFPUC appear to be setting CCA up to fail. The supervisors need to step in before that happens — and every candidate for mayor needs to be pushed to publicly support CCA and make this an important campaign issue. And they need to promise that they’ll appoint people with real public power credentials who will replace Harrington and shake up the next PUC.

is Rec-Park really broke?


By David Looman

OPINION The senior staffers at the Recreation and Park Department routinely cry that the department is poor and going broke. Is it possible they are lying?

Conspicuously lacking in discussions of Rec-Park funding is any kind of hard data about how well or poorly San Francisco Rec-Park is really funded. Whether it’s the mainstream media, the alternative press, or our elected representatives on the Board of Supervisors, nobody seems to know how our park system compares with other park systems in California or the U.S.

And nobody seems to want to check up on Rec-Park’s sad-sweet story.

This lack of real information is particularly surprising, since the data is readily available. Every year, the Trust for Public Land, a well-respected, San Francisco-based park advocacy organization, conducts a meticulous and comprehensive survey of how well recreation and park systems across the country are being funded. The survey is always available on the Web, at www.tpl.org.


In the TPL’s 2000 book, Inside City Parks, by Peter Harnik, San Francisco was among the three best-funded systems, measured either per acre or per resident. In every annual survey after that, San Francisco continued to rank in the top three, until 2006. In 2006, the TPL found San Francisco to be the best-funded park system in America.

That’s right, the best-funded department in the entire U.S.!

This year’s survey, based on the 2008 figures, has changed its methodology a bit, and expenditures are no longer calculated per acre. With the new methodology, San Francisco has slipped a bit. The city is now only the fourth-best funded park system in the country for cities with populations larger than 500,000, and the sixth best for cities over 250,000.

For operating expenditures (total budget minus capital spending) San Francisco is the fourth best funded among all cities. We don’t have as many capital expenditures as, say, Seattle, whose newer park system is still growing.

The question of where that money goes is another matter. I think I can offer a few suggestions about what happens.

Problem number one is the long and glorious history of absolutely incompetent management, particularly in the last 15 years, under the administrations of mayors Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom. Second is that longstanding Rec-Park Department practice of ignoring and rejecting any public input, including factual input, from people who actually use and know the parks. This has led to a number of costly mistakes.

The department has more ethically dubious faults too—the wages spent organizing so-called “public support” for some of its unpopular projects; more wages spent having employees testify about what a great job the department is doing, etc.

The department presently is trying to privatize everything within reach. Its poor-mouth rational for doing so is false. It’s time we all faced the fact that Rec-Park isn’t giving us the whole truth.

David Looman is a longtime San Francisco political consultant and parks user.

The foodie crackdown



Yet another blow was dealt to the San Francisco’s free-thinking food scene on June 11 when the final Underground Market was staged by ForageSF, at least for the time being. The market was shut down by the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) in a clash between small-time food businesses and city officials over permitting and regulatory issues.

“I was ready for this for a while,” ForageSF founder Iso Rabins told us. “I thought someone would show up eventually to say something about this, and now they have.”

Rabins began the Underground Market in 2009 as a monthly venue for food entrepreneurs to share their goods without financial and bureaucratic red tape. It’s basically a farmers market without the permits, fees, and commercial kitchen requirements that add thousands of dollars to the cost of staging an event. Throw in live music, drinks, a little subversive thrill, and you’ve got a gathering that has proven enormously popular.

Until now, the market has operated as a private event. It is held in a private space and attendees are required to sign a membership form and pay a $5 entrance fee. It’s become a huge draw for foodies, with 1,500 to 3,200 patrons per event, according to Rabins, so the state government got wind of its largely unregulated operations.

Alicia Saam, the temporary events coordinator with SFDPH, says her department was asked by state officials to observe the market. It’s now too big to be considered private, she says, so it must adhere to health code and public safety regulations just like any other public event.

“One of the things that differentiate private versus public events is how much advertisement goes out there,” Saam said. “Something that is advertised and has grown big enough to have a following, that becomes a concern for us as a public event.”

Without official oversight, rules are bound to be broken. As with any novice venture, mistakes are made. When officials came to the Underground Market, they saw some vendors acting more like friends at a house party than professional food vendors, which is the complicated line that the market tries to toe.

“We observed operators and vendors eating and then handling the food, and that’s a huge contamination hazard for us,” Saam said. “They weren’t washing their hands before continuing food service, nor did they have a hand-washing set-up right there at their booth. There looked to be temperature issues as far as some of the food that was being stored, such as protein foods, sausages, and dairy. Some foods were not protected but were displayed on the table uncovered. People come up and they’re excited and curious, there’s a lot of creativity there, so they’re hovering over the food and possibly contaminating it with all sorts of things. The source of food, such as the kitchen where the food is coming from, needs to be an approved space where there are no animals, or cats like in some homes. It needs to be a commercial space that is properly cleaned and sanitized.”

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, one in six Americans get sick each year from eating contaminated food. Salmonella infection is of particular concern because food can be contaminated anywhere from the fields to kitchen surfaces.

The SFDPH has already allowed the Underground Market to operate unregulated for more than a year without any reported food illnesses, but Rabins is quick to agree that these health concerns are real.

“I do believe that these issues of health are important, and although I feel that all the vendors at the market are very careful about what they make, we do want to institute some Serve-Safe classes, basic food safety,” Rabins says.

He says that on the whole, people cooking small batches pay much more attention to their ingredients and processes than industrial food companies do. Rabin said that while the country’s food safety system works pretty well, it doesn’t allow for much locally based innovation in new models for making and sharing food.

“The Health Department’s position makes sense because this is the system that has existed, this is the system that they know and that their jobs support, and it’s a system that works in a lot of ways. But it’s also a system that was really created for industrial processes,” Rabins says. “Unfortunately the way regulations work, top-down is one-size-fits-all, but that’s just not the way it is.”

That gets to the meat of the issue: whether and how much the city should get involved in people’s food habits. Where is the line between public restaurants and private homes — and are there ways of creating hybrids of the two? It’s an ongoing battle in San Francisco between regulating restaurants (and netting taxes) while still promoting an innovative food industry that attracts locals and tourists alike.

In the past few years, the mobile food truck craze has hit San Francisco with little bits of foodie culture from all over the world. Entrepreneurs say it’s too difficult and expensive to start a successful restaurant in SF, so they’re trying small-time pop-ups instead.

At first they went unregulated, but now laws define what they can sell, the permits they need, and limit their mobility. Permits are expensive too, starting at $1660 for initial basic coverage, which is why Rabins says the Underground Market provides an additional support for motivated locals. As city officials have closed big budget deficits year after year without any substantial increases in general tax revenue, fees and permit costs have risen substantially in recent years.

According to Rabins, getting the Underground Market up to code means, “getting all the vendors commercial kitchen space, making them get catering licenses, which is around $600, making them pay for vendor event permits, which is $140 per event, and then I would have to buy a sponsor permit which is another $1200 per event plus event insurance plus, plus, plus all these things that would essentially destroy the spirit of the event. It would make the bar way too high.”

Tightening the membership rules is another option, such as making people sign up weeks in advance or requiring member cards. Richard Lee, the director of environmental health regulatory programs at SFPHD, says that regardless of the vendor’s complaints, the regulations must be met.

“We think that these are reasonable options,” Lee said. “Anyone who is going to sell to the public needs to meet certain requirements, and unfortunately some of those requirements are going to be costly. They have to pay for permits and whatever those permits cost they’re going to have to pay.”

Until some agreement can be reached, the Underground Market won’t be operating, and San Franciscans will have to find their fix at the numerous above ground markets and restaurants. Lee says that he hopes that the market meets city demands, and soon, as this kind of entrepreneurial innovation is essential to a thriving food economy.

“We do encourage the micro-enterprises, and there are possible ways to have that started in San Francisco,” Lee said. “It is possible that there may be legislation in the future that might be supported by the Board [of Supervisors] to make it easier for them to get permitted, so there are things that can be done. For us, though, it is food safety and public health that are the most important things.”

But Rabins is already looking far beyond just the small market model.

“They just want to make it another farmers market,” Rabins said. “I’m not interested in running another farmers market. There are plenty of farmers markets around and people who have been doing them for years and know how to do them.”

He also isn’t interested in conforming to the pre-set expectations and sees the motivation behind the market taking it to new heights. In addition to reopening, he says that ForageSF has secured a kitchen space for helping entrepreneurs launch their small businesses and host public classes.

“We are going to hopefully have a rooftop garden with a movie screen, a retail space in front that sells products being made in the kitchen by vendors, and possibly a small-scale brewery in back,” Rabins said.

He is also reaching out to other similar market organizers, such as some in Los Angeles, to brainstorm ways to make this business model more acceptable across the country. He says they are in the initial phases of creating a model that is reproducible for others who want to start their own markets.

Once again, in the place where the organic food movement first bloomed, people are coming together to create new interactions between producers, consumers, and their food.

Whose voice?



FILM In 1981 Deborah Kaufman founded the nation’s first Jewish Film Festival in San Francisco. Thirteen years later, with similar festivals burgeoning in the wake of SFJFF’s success — there are now over a hundred around the globe — she left the festival to make documentaries of her own with life partner and veteran local TV producer Alan Snitow.

Their latest, Between Two Worlds, which opens at the Roxie this Friday while playing festival dates, could hardly be a more personal project for the duo. Both longtime activists in various Jewish, political, and media spheres, Snitow and Kaufman were struck — as were plenty of others — by the rancor that erupted over the SFJFF’s 2009 screening of Simone Bitton’s Rachel. That doc was about Rachel Corrie, a young American International Solidarity Movement member killed in 2003 by an Israeli Defense Forces bulldozer while standing between it and a Palestinian home on the Gaza Strip.

As different sides argued whether Corrie’s death was accidental or deliberate, she became a lightning rod for ever-escalating tensions between positions within and without the U.S. Jewish populace on Israeli policy, settlements, Palestinian rights, and more — with not a few commentators amplifying the conservative notion that any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, even (or especially) when it comes from Jews themselves.

People who hadn’t seen (and boasted they wouldn’t see) the strenuously even-handed Rachel called the documentary an “anti-Israeli hate fest” akin to “Holocaust denial,” its SFJFF inclusion “symptomatic of a demonic strategy” by “anti-Semites on the left.”

Stunned SFJFF executive director Peter Stein (who’s leaving the festival after its current edition) decried Jewish community “thought police” who pressured the institution and those connected to it with defunding and boycotting threats. The festival attempted damage control by inviting a public foe of the screening (Dr. Michael Harris of StandWithUs/Voice for Israel) to speak before it, which only amplified the hostile rhetoric.

Seeing the festival being used by extremists on both sides became a natural starting point for Between Two Worlds, which takes a many-sided, questioning, sometimes humorous look at culture wars in today’s American Jewish population. It touches on everything from divestment debates at UC Berkeley to the disputed site of a Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem (atop a 600-year-old Muslim cemetery), from the tradition of progressive liberalism among U.S. Jews to rising ethnic-identity worries spawned by intermarriage and declining birth rates.

The fundamental question here, as Kaufman puts it, is “Who is entitled to speak for the tribe?” For the first time, the filmmakers have made themselves part of the subject matter, exploring their own very different personal and familial experiences to illustrate the diversity of the U.S. Jewish experience. Snitow’s mother had to hide her prior Communist Party membership to remain active in social-justice movements after the 1940s, while Kaufman’s father was a devoted Zionist from his Viennese childhood who had to adjust to offspring like “Tevye’s daughters gone wild,” including one who converted to Islam.

They’re clearly in sympathy with other documentary interviewees insisting that one core of Jewish identity has been, and should remain, a stance against absolutism and injustice towards any peoples. Between their SFJFF screenings the filmmakers chatted with the Guardian.


SFBG Is the Bay Area still a bastion of Jewish liberalism, relatively speaking?

Deborah Kaufman What we saw at the festival during the Rachel uproar was a collapse of the center. It was really a moment when the extremes were at battle and the center simply disappeared. That’s what was and is so disturbing. A kind of apathy where the moderates just throw up their hands and walk away from what’s become a very toxic debate.

Alan Snitow It’s not that the Bay Area is unique to boo a so-called “pro-Israel” speaker [like Harris]. It’s that the Bay Area has maintained an open debate about Israeli policies when other Jewish communities never countenanced such debate from the get-go. Rachel was not shown in other Jewish film festivals around the country because they are already creatures of conservative donors. The aim in this power grab by the right in San Francisco was and is to silence people and institutions like the festival that oppose a McCarthyite crackdown in a remaining bastion of free speech. And this is being mirrored in Israel itself where the Knesset recently passed a law punishing anyone who publicly supports the idea of a boycott of the West Bank settlements.

I think we also have to question this claim of “pro-Israel.” All criticism of Israel’s occupation is now being branded as “anti-Israel.” “Pro-Israel” has come to mean pro the policies of the current, most right-wing government in Israeli history — a government that is now advocating the truly Orwellian position that there is no occupation at all! That’s not what pro-Israel or Zionist ever meant except to some ideologues on the far right.


SFBG Had you already been thinking about somehow addressing political rifts in the Jewish community before the SFJFF fracas?  

DK We began the film over a year before the SFJFF fracas. We were focusing more on Jewish identity than politics — looking at intermarriage, hybrid identities, a new generation of American Jews — we wanted to re-tell the Biblical story of Ruth, and we were following a fantastic feminist-queer internet discussion called “Rabbis: Out Of My Uterus!” that we thought would be fun to film. But we kept getting swept into the Israel vortex and realized we had to address the question of dissent and who speaks for the Jewish community at this historical moment for the film to be relevant.

Between Two Worlds opens Fri/5 at the Roxie.

Non-accidental tourist



CHEAP EATS It’s an interesting experience to be a tourist in one’s own town. I recommend it. And I don’t mean showing your visitors to the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, a big, good dinner, and then going home; I mean sleeping at the hotel with them. Wandering around with a confused expression on your face, asking silly questions, and wearing funny clothes are optional, but encouraged.

Hedgehog is allergic to cats and Stoplight pretty much is one. For me, the decision was easy. As much as I enjoy sleeping with my cute little kitty all tangled in my hair and trying between four and five every morning to scratch out my eyeballs, I prefer the sensation of soft, warm, human skin, along with some other advantages such as sex, intelligent conversation, and sleep.

Hedgehog being for the most part a human being, I subletted my place and puss a little earlier than I had to, and went with her.

One night we stayed at the Edwardian on Market and Gough. This is not my new favorite hotel, but on the plus side it put me in a position to eat three things I might not have otherwise eaten, including a bowl of Italian wedding soup from Caffé Trieste across the street.

As far as I know, there are no other kinds of wedding soup beside the Italian kind. It has, traditionally, escarole in it, and tiny meatballs, in a chicken broth with celery and onions. Some wedding soups also contain pastine, which is both little tiny pasta similar to orzo, and one of my cousins in Ohio.

The Leone family recipe never had pasta in it. Nor did the Rubino family recipe. Maybe because both of my Grandmas came from the same li’l village in Italy. They made, instead, these dense cheesy eggy spongey croutons we called cheesies. And if you ever are lucky enough to have a holiday dinner with any one of my siblings, but especially Maria, there will be wedding soup with cheesies.

I have never had it at a wedding.

But then again, I have never had a wedding. If I do, there will be wedding soup like this, and that will be all I need to know. I personally can’t stop eating it once I start.

Except at a restaurant because then you’re at a restaurant. And if I don’t change the subject soon, this will be a restaurant review, which won’t exactly do. So let me tell you what we watched on television at the Edwardian Hotel that night.

The San Francisco Giants, and the San Jose Giants, who were playing two different teams on two different channels — and at my apartment there isn’t even a TV, so take that, Stoplight.

Tourism 1, Stoplight 0.

I’m just kidding. Before the game(s), we went to Sushi Zone for an early dinner. We got there at 5:30, before the masses, and sat right down at the counter. The place is, of course, miniscule. Two booths and maybe six or eight seats at the bar. By six there was a waiting list, and people were bringing their knitting and pitching tents on the sidewalk.

Can I tell you how smug we felt? Sitting and eating our early-bird dinner? So smug that I almost hated us . . . but loved the worms. Truly, this is top-shelf sushi.

Hedgehog had the baked mussel appetizer, which had mayonnaise in it, so I passed on that and ate a salad. Everything sushi-y that we had was fantastic, including regular old saba, but the show stopper was tuna with mango and something else.

It was the mango and wasabi combination that caught Hedgehog’s attention, and then mine when she showed it to me. I am always looking for new taste sensations and good, ripe mango with wasabi on it — not to mention the fish and ginger and everything — really floated my boat. This carried me over, happinesswise, until our late dinner, which occurred out of nowhere on our way back to the hotel, but we’ll all have to wait until next week, cause I’m out of inches.

For at least 20 minutes, my new favorite restaurant was:


Mon.-Sat. 5-10 p.m.

1815 Market, S.F.

(415) 621-1114

Beer and wine

Cash only




DINE In the little gathering of restaurants on the 200 block of California Street deep in the Financial District, Perbacco is one of the middle children, at least physically. Mid-block positions can be awkward for restaurants, since your would-be customers are likely to have to do a bit of searching for you instead of finding you in mighty command of some conspicuous corner. On the other hand, if your nearest neighbors are Michael Mina (née Aqua) and Tadich Grill, the foot-traffic factor could tilt in your favor.

Perbacco, which turns five later this year, is relatively narrow and deep, which is not atypical of mid-block spaces. Within those friendly confines it does offer a few points of topographical interest, including a mezzanine and, at the very rear, an open kitchen that redefines “open kitchen”: a kitchen so open that it has no physical barrier or marker to separate it from the rest of the restaurant. It reminded me in an odd way of those federal prisons without fences — the so-called Club Feds — where Michael Millken and the other high-finance hucksters of the 1980s did their time. It was odd to glance back there and see young chefs just milling around. Even in a star-struck culture like ours, there can be such a thing as overexposure.

It would also be fair to say that the design scheme emphasizes earth tones.

“It’s brown in here” was a pithy observation that reached me from the pithy observer across the table. Some cream tones too, yes, but still. One imagines that the grand men’s clubs of old London, White’s, and the Atheneum, among others, must look something like this inside, not that I’ve ever managed a peek.

If you’ve been to Italy, particularly in the north, you’ll probably agree that Italians eat more meat than is generally supposed, and in this sense, chef-owner Staffan Terje’s menu does reflect a profound Italian aesthetic. (Its principal influences are from the northern regions of Piemonte and Liguria.) The kitchen turns out its own salumi, and an $18 plate of it (the small version) is most impressive in range, flavor, and sheer heft. If you open with this, you should plan accordingly for what you want to follow, because you don’t just get a couple of crostini smeared with paté and some cornichons. You get, instead, a sizable plate dizzyingly arrayed with such treats as testa in cassetta di Gavi, pancetta, several types each of lardo and salame, and — for a bit of crunchy acid — a bouquet of pickled cauliflower florets.

The passion for meat, in particular for cured meat, even insinuated itself into the salads, where we found a witty reimagining of the classic cantaloupe with prosciutto in the form of ripe peach slices ($12) set amid baby lettuces with flaps of smoked goose breast that could easily have passed for speck or pancetta affogata except for their color, which was more of a telltale red. The salad was dressed with a stone-fruit vinaigrette, but this salad was that rare thing, a salad that, laden with juicy ripe fruit and pungent flesh, would have been fine with no dressing at all.

Yet more meat turned up in the pasta courses (many interesting and unusual shapes here), in the form of short-rib ragu ladled over pappardelle ($17), the wide ribbons that look like fledgling lasagne. The ragu was intensely earthy, and horseradish shavings brought some bite, but I did question the addition of a roasted cipolline confit, whose almost jelly-like texture and sweetness seemed to me to disrupt the harmony of the dish. So much of the brilliance of Italian cooking has to do with simplicity — i.e., resisting the temptation to add ingredients and omitting them instead — and this dish would have been better with no onion confit.

Actual short ribs ($24) were also available, cooked long and slow (stracotto is the Italian word), given a bone-marrow crust (rich!), and plated with pea tendrils, chanterelle mushrooms, and more cipolline onions, which for some reason did not wreak the havoc here they did with the pasta and actually might have helped balance the richness of the bone marrow.

The dessert menu, like its savory counterpart, reflects a surprisingly friendly pricing scheme. Everything is $8, except for the sorbetti ($7) and the panforte ($3). And the preparations are complex enough so that you feel you’re actually getting more than one thing. For example, a strawberry semifreddo (a flat pink disk with the consistency of sherbet kept in a too-cold freezer) was festooned with crumbles of pistachio cake and tumbles of zabaglione, the marvelous — and marvelously simple — concoction of egg yolks whipped in a bain marie with sugar and some kind of sweet wine, usually marsala, but flat champagne works well, too. The zabaglione had a faint green sheen; had it been doctored with pistachios, like the cake? Pink plus green beats brown every time.


Dinner: Mon.-Sat., 5:30-10 p.m.

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

230 California, SF

(415) 955-0663


Full bar



Wheelchair accessible

Time served



FILM In 1983, Deborah Peagler was sentenced to 25 years to life for first-degree murder in the death of her former boyfriend Oliver Wilson, whom two local L.A. gang members had strangled — supposedly at her behest, to access Wilson’s life insurance money.

Encouraged to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty, Peagler had a juryless trial and was quickly shunted off to prison. There she was repeatedly turned down for parole despite spending the years of her incarceration as a church leader, mentor, and tutor to other inmates; a highly skilled electronics-assembly supervisor; earning two degrees; and sustaining good long-distance relationships with her two daughters. Even most of the victim’s surviving relatives had come to believe she should have been released years earlier. For her part, Peagler always claimed she intended Wilson to be beaten, but had not asked for or condoned his murder.

What was missing (or suppressed) from the original trial were the myriad reasons she’d wanted to frighten him away from herself and her family. She was a pregnant 15-year-old high schooler when she first met Wilson, a charismatic sometimes model who charmed her by taking a fatherly interest in her firstborn. But when money got tight, he abruptly insisted she turn tricks. Initial refusal brought beatings that only increased over time despite her reluctant subsequent acquiescence, stopping just briefly when she bore his own child.

Soon Wilson was dealing drugs, then taking drugs; he kept Peagler a virtual prisoner, refusing to let her speak to friends or relatives. When an eviction forced their temporary separation, he stormed into her family’s home with two armed men, threatening to kill them all. For this he was jailed exactly one night, making new death threats in retaliation for the police being called at all. At this point in 1982 she contacted the Crips members (who viewed that home invasion by an outsider in their territory as a serious offense) to frighten Wilson away before he actually killed anyone.

At the time of her trial, testimony on “battering and its effects” were not allowed as circumstantial evidence in California courts, despite — as we now know — the overwhelming majority of U.S. women being victims of domestic violence, rape, or other abuses. (In 1979 President Carter gave a huge boost to the nascent overall cause by establishing the Federal Office of Domestic Violence. Two years later, Reagan shuttered it.) In 1992 that changed, allowing new cases to benefit — although cases already tried could not be re-opened with evidence previously excluded.

A decade later that, too, changed. Walnut Creek attorneys Nadia Costa and Joshua Safran agreed to take on Peagler’s case pro bono, stepping well outside their usual land-use litigation. They launched what turned into years of effort during which her cause becomes a public cause célèbre, and indications emerge of some very ugly misconduct by the District Attorney’s office.

This battle — all the above is just a starting point — is chronicled in Bay Area filmmaker Yoav Potash’s documentary Crime After Crime. It’s a story with plenty of lurid and tragic revelations, ranging from child sexual abuse to terminal illness to hidden evidence of perjury. After a certain point it becomes clear the D.A.’s office isn’t opposing Peagler’s release because she’s guilty as charged (though nearly everyone by then agrees she should have been tried for manslaughter with a maximum sentence of six years), but because it has dirty secrets of its own to protect and deny.

Crime After Crime won’t exactly stoke your faith in the justice system. But this thoroughly engrossing document does affirm that there is hope good people can and will fight the system — even if, alas, it sometimes takes nearly three to score one bittersweet win.

Crime After Crime opens Fri/5 in Bay Area theaters.

The Guardian Guide to Burning Man


It’s a Burning Man world

Burning Man dominates August in the Bay Area. It’s everywhere, almost impossible to escape, even if you try. That’s a never-ending source of irritation to those who don’t go, particularly for those who are the rare holdouts in social circles filled with burners, where playa preparation, anticipation, and exaltation can unexpectedly snake their ways into any conversation.

So, on behalf of my Burning mates, please allow me to sympathize, even if I’m unwilling to apologize. We just can’t help ourselves. There’s just so much to do right now, so little time to do it, and so many little reminders that the playa is out there, waiting for us to come build it into the city of our own creation.

It’s important to plan your attack, and there is no shortage of resources to consult, from the official Burning Man Survival Guide that gets mailed to ticket holders to the sample packing lists that many people post online, and they’re all worth consulting. So our contribution is meant to supplement what’s out there and offer some useful tips and resources from the perspective of the Bay Area, the launching pad for more burners than any other single place on earth.

From fashion tips to food advice, from getting in to getting off, from this year’s coolest projects and events to a profile of the people who will lead this culture for years to come, we hope you find this guide a valuable addition to your playa preparations. Now get busy, because time is tick, tick, ticking away. (Steven T. Jones, a.k.a Scribe)


From art and parties to shopping and eating: a festival of tips and resources to get the most out of Burning Man


In setting up its new nonprofit, the Black Rock City LLC board is looking beyond the event


Burner designers move beyond disposable fashion


A link to our continuing blog coverage of the festival