Volume 46 Number 08

Ezio come, Ezio go



(Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft) Xbox 360, PS3, PC

GAMER Historical fiction tale and science fiction soap opera about a man who relives his ancestors’ memories through a special machine, Assassin’s Creed is a satisfying fusion of the stealth and platforming techniques pioneered by publisher Ubisoft with its Prince of Persia and Splinter Cell franchises. And each year fans cringe at the prospect that the ambitious saga is spreading its potential thin with an annual release model.

The fourth entry in as many years, Revelations has players catching up with Italian assassin Ezio Auditore. Now a much older gentleman, Ezio arrives in 16th century Istanbul in search of physical recordings of the memories of the life of Altair, the first game’s protagonist. As Ezio uncovers Altair’s memories, there’s a bit of Inception going on: you’re reliving the memories of a man reliving the memories of another man. But, in choosing to address the existing mysteries of the series rather than create new ones, Revelations manages to close Ezio’s story with grace, and legitimize Altair’s brief presence in the series.

By the fourth game, hand-holding tutorials should no longer be necessary, but Revelations is eager to introduce new gameplay elements, at the expense of the open-world exploration and colorful characters that make the series intriguing.

Topping the list of new gameplay features are bomb-crafting and a tower-defense mini-game that tasks Ezio with controlling armies of assassins against waves of attacking Templars. The tower defense is fun enough, and makes sense thematically, but it feels like a different game and the pressure to constantly protect your assassin dens is frustrating. Likewise, the constrictive spotlight on bomb-crafting is surprising considering how much less practical bombs are than sneaking and platforming.

Failed though these features are, the core of Revelations holds a technically brilliant game, and Ezio’s story is told with some nuance — an all too undervalued commodity in the game industry. If there’s a crack in the story execution it lies with present-day descendant Desmond, who is comatose and silent throughout most of the game. Collecting Animus fragments in Constantinople opens first-person puzzle levels for Desmond, which are unwieldy and — again — out of place, but at least offer a unique way to relive Desmond’s pre-Animus life.

Last year’s Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood might have been cosmetically similar to its predecessors, but it was also a showpiece for the marriage of storytelling and gameplay. Revelations’ clumsy new ideas make it a trickier sell and, ultimately, skipping it won’t make a lot of difference story-wise. If you’re invested in the travails of Ezio, the few answers in Revelations make it a must-play, but it’s the first game in the Creed series to feel inessential.

Homeland insecurity



THEATER The immigrant experience has some familiar familial dynamics across the board. Parents, for instance, can easily discover their Americanized children becoming embarrassed by the older generation’s “foreign” ways. Un-hip parents are the bane of any child’s existence, but dad walking around the mall in a gallibaya doesn’t make it any easier (as hip as that may sound to you or me). Allegiances potentially strain much further, however, when the immigrant story gets entwined with a little narrative called the “war on terror.”

That’s the volatile mixture at the center of Yussef El Guindi’s Language Rooms, a somewhat uneven but ultimately worthwhile new play that leverages absurdist comedy to interrogate the perversion of basic human sympathies post-9/11. Seattle-based playwright El Guindi (whose other Bay Area productions include Back of the Throat and the hilarious Jihad Jones and the Kalashnikov Babes) well knows that the transformation of nightmare into bureaucratic routine is a reality sometimes best broached in a comic vein, since comedy has such a ready taste for the contortions of Orwellian doublethink.

Set in 2005 (when Guantanamo and CIA “black sites” were still a Bush thing, not an enduring bipartisan shame), the play, directed by Evren Odcikin for co-producers Golden Thread and Asian American Theater Company, takes inspiration from the 2003 case of James J. Yee, the Muslim Chinese American and US Army chaplain accused (but never convicted) of espionage while ministering to Guantanamo detainees.

El Guindi centers the action on a bad day in the otherwise workaday life of Ahmed (James Asher), a second-generation Arab American working as a translator and interrogator for an unnamed department in the vast multi-agency American security state. It’s not a glamorous job. The workplace is comprised of bland rooms (courtesy of scenic designer Mikiko Uesugi): white panel walls and mismatched furniture dingy under fluorescent tubes, a metal filing cabinet in the corner, some hulking box cloaked by a sheet, and a metal rolling tray piled with the ordinarily harmless contents of your average utility drawer. The only relief to the eye comes from a plastic container of honey shaped like a bear, which sits merrily beside the other clutter atop a small wooden desk.

In a rude awakening from his somnambulant occupation, Ahmed has learned from colleague Nasser (William Dao) — the only other Muslim working in their unit — that he’s under suspicion for his failure to adequately meld with his American fellows. This suspicion apparently rests on Ahmed’s noted reluctance toward public showering as well as his failure to show up at a recent Super Bowl party. Ahmed, playing ingenuously to the cameras he knows are fixed in every corner of every room, is taken aback and increasingly worried. When he’s called into a meeting with his boss, Kevin (a winningly subtle Mujahid Abdul-Rashid), the older African American man seems to be both interrogating Ahmed and trying to relate to his nervous subordinate with a paternal regard — assuring him he’s experienced divided loyalties himself during his teeth-cutting days as a COINTELPRO provocateur among black nationalists.

Ahmed, desperate to prove himself red-white-and-blue, finally gets his chance when he’s handed a new prisoner to interrogate — a man who turns out to be his estranged father (played with agile charm by Terry Lamb). If the set-up initially feels a little neat, it’s at this stage that the play gets really interesting and the dialogue most subtle, as father and son act as mutual confessors amid the distorting input from surrogate father (and stand-in for the nation state) Kevin. As the play’s title suggests, the freighted specificity of language is at the center of it all — a theme never more poignantly conveyed than when Ahmed’s father recounts the first English words he taught Ahmed years earlier, when America was still a hopeful dream a father was instilling in his son.

Ahmed has made good on that dream, while also perverting it out of recognition. “Better to ride the lion than be eaten by it,” offers his father encouragingly. But a moment later his father is turning over in his hands the tools of Ahmed’s trade with wonder and disgust. “It is not for you to get me out of here,” his father decides. “It is for me to get you out.” *


Through Dec. 11

Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. (no show Thurs/24); Sun, 7 p.m., $20-$28

Thick House

1695 18th St., SF



Garage troubadour



MUSIC “I did something really stupid,” was pretty much the first thing Ty Segall said to me as we walked to Philz Coffee in the Mission. Originally the plan was to sit at El Metate, but that got nixed as we agreed an afternoon jolt of caffeine was more important.

I asked what he had done that was so stupid, but it wasn’t specifically clear which act he was referring to. On the defensive, he went off on a tangent about how he perceives his guitars almost as talismans. “It’s like voodoo,” he said. That’s how he explains his behavior when he gives a guitar away to somebody. Other times he goes with the more cliched rock ritual of destroying one on stage. This also led to his purchase of a 1965 sea-foam green Mustang Fender. The excitement in his voice as he described his new toy was apparent. Music is what makes him tick.

I interviewed him in 2009 when Lemons (Goner Records) came out, but that was forever ago considering his well-documented abundance of releases. Now that Goner is putting out a double LP, Singles 2007-2010 (out this week), it seemed like an appropriate time to catch up and see how constant touring may be taking its toll on the 24-year-old garage rock answer to a troubadour.

We settled at a picnic table at a nearby soccer park where Segall, clad in Ray Bans and a brown cardigan, explained his fatigue from life on the road. He had just wrapped up a slew of local gigs, including a Halloween show where he and his band performed as the Spits. There, they struggled for the spotlight as an unruly woman from the audience — who was allegedly “humping everything” — stole a purse, and had to be bounced. Then it was off to Austin for a couple of dates where he performed alongside Thee Oh Sees, who he considers the best live band San Francisco has to offer, Black Lips and the Damned at the three-day Fun Fun Fun Fest.

“We never really stop touring. I wonder how we’re still here,” he said in bewilderment of both the physical and mental drain bands endure. “Everybody hits a wall.” He was referring to breaking points, but was also responding to my prodding about a previous interview he gave to Spinner.com where he commented on the fragility of one’s mind, and how you can “lose it at any moment”.

Just as he was admitting his own sensitivity, three pugs walked over to him, as if on cue. I watched him pet the triplets in a moment of adorably comforting symbiosis. It appears he’s learning his limits, coping with an over-analytical brain and growing a thicker skin.

But that’s not to say his creative well is running dry any time soon. While the singles compilation is a retrospective, along with some unreleased material, Segall said he’s still “psyched” to record something new. 2012 promises to be fruitful as his booking agent claimed the native So Cal. surfer has three records coming out next year.

While he doesn’t see himself as being in a “party band”, he’s been given the unique opportunity to partake in the second annual Bruise Cruise. It’s a three-day cruise to the Bahamas loaded with garage bands, their fans, and 75 percent regular ol’ tourists, according to Segall. The concept seems a bit ridiculous in the sense that trash rockers will converge with such decadence. This year he’s joining a super group of sorts called the Togas with Shannon Shaw of Shannon and the Clams, Phillip Sambol from Strange Boys, and Lance Willie (drummer from the Reigning Sound).

But for now Segall can hold off and breathe for a second before setting sail. He can enjoy what he considers the vacation of just being home, doing his laundry, and all the other domestic yearnings that come with wanting a house with a yard and a basement.

Gifts with grace



HOLIDAY GUIDE 2011 It’s the gift-giving season, and each foil-wrapped bauble tells a tale. There’s the love-you-this-much of a parent’s infamous peach cobbler pie, the damn-I-just-took-your-breath-away of a winter getaway to the Bahamas. There is the who-are-you-again? of Aunt Shirley’s yearly package of black dress socks. But then there are the let’s-change-the-world gifts, the ones that are not just about the recipient but that nonetheless land in the giftee’s hands with a heft that speaks of their worth to the community. Toasty as a chestnut roasting on an open fire, no? Giving that warmth can be as simple as copping a T-shirt, book, or card from one of the do-gooder nonprofits and shops listed below. And remember, even if you’re not the thin sock-loafer type, you can always improve your own karma by snail-mailing a heartfelt thank you note to Shirley. 



Everyone seems to make the same tired New Year’s resolution: lose weight, live healthier, blah blah blah. At the Niroga Center, however, you can spring for a yoga package for that uncreative loved one that will not just help brighten their inner light, but will go to stoke the spark of others who are struggling to make ends meet. The center offers affordable, high-quality yoga instruction, and puts particular focus on at-risk and underserved individuals, teaching yoga to incarcerated youth, high school children, and cancer survivors. For the holidays, you can donate any amount of money to the center, which will fund their donation-based classes and classes that teach yoga to the underprivileged. You can also purchase yoga classes to start someone’s year anew for as low as $10.

1808 University, Berk. (510) 704-1330, www.nirogacenter.org



With a salesfloor awash in papel picado and other crafts from Chiapas, Casa Bonampak believes in preserving Mexican traditions, and that reconnecting with culture can transform and heal. All in all, it’s a feel-good (and community-building) place to do your holiday shopping. The shop’s all-woman staff works directly with Mexican and Latin American artists to sell unique jewelry, luchador masks, and handmade cards, with most items ranging from $4 to $13. The store has also been dedicated to promoting local Latin artists in the Bay Area for 15 years. With so many gorgeous handicrafts crammed into the Valencia Street storefront, Casa Bonampark is a great place to support culture on either sides of the border.

1051 Valencia, SF. (415) 642-4079, www.casabonampak.com



The Guardsmen, a group of Bay Area men who work together to help at-risk children and organize educational and outdoor activities for inner-city youth have organized this forest of fir every year since 1947. Now as way back then, the proceeds from the lot support the organization’s doing-good year-round. Post-Thanksgiving, a corner of Fort Mason is transformed into a winter wonderland with trees as tall as 15 feet decorated with ornaments and wreaths. The all-volunteer guardsmen staff can assist you in picking the perfect holiday tree with which to surprise your apartmentmates — you can even arrange to have one delivered to your home. Coupled with events like crab feeds, wine tastings, and opportunities to take photos with Santa, picking up some beautiful boughs for the family never felt so good.

Festival Pavilion, Fort Mason Center, 38 Fort Mason, SF. www.guardsmentreelot.com



Do you have a friend who has been dying for a “Brown and Proud” T-shirt ($24)? Perhaps they’re jonesing for an organic tote with a picture of Assata Shakur ($16)? Liberation Ink, an all-volunteer, worker-owned apparel printing and design collective, believes in a sustainable movement for social justice that is funded from within. It prints revolutionary faces and sayings on shirts made organically and/or without the use of sweatshop labor. All profits go directly to support grassroots social justice organizations like the May 1st Alliance for Land, Work and Power, and the Deporten a la Migra Coalition. The brand’s comfy, stylin’ T-shirts will have your lucky giftee looking fly and spreading the word of social equality in one fell swoop.




A nonprofit secondhand store, Community Thrift relies entirely upon donations of clothes, knick-knacks, kitchen supplies, and furniture to keep its doors open. And they stay open, too: the Mission District shop is open to browsing and donations from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Shopping here — and if your boyfriend’s been searching for that perfect yet affordable leather bomber jacket or snazzy armchair, this should be your first stop — supports local non-profits like the San Francisco LGBT Center and the San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center, just two of almost 200 organizations that benefit from Community Thrift’s largess.

623 Valencia, SF. (415) 861-4910, www.communitythriftsf.org



Has the kid you nanny been yapping about adopting a Magellanic penguin? Maybe your friend has always admired Chilean flamingos? You can sponsor their love of the wild by donating $50 in their name to the Adopt-an-Animal program at the San Francisco Zoo. The donation will help to provide veterinary care for the furred and feathered, not to mention support educational programs for tomorrow’s wildlife champions. Once you’ve dropped the dough your loved one will receive a certificate of adoption — very official! — as well as a fact sheet and photo of the critter they’re sponsoring. Feeling flush? Your other option is the zoo’s Guardian program, which for a minimum annual contribution of $1000 will help provide further support to the zoo. It supports high-quality animal care, and all kinds of incidentals that keep the family destination open to the public. Give the gift of Guardianship and your buddy will receive free admission, carousel rides, and free parking near their furry for an entire year.

San Francisco Zoo, 1 Zoo Road, SF. (415) 753-7080, www.sfzoo.org



Sure, the money from your holiday purchase here will go to a good cause — but it’s also the perfect place to browse and spend your lunch hour while you shop down your holiday list. The Bookmark is a non-profit that’s run by the Friends of the Oakland Public Library. It houses everything from science fiction to cooking to non-fiction, an inexpensive place where you don’t have to scour shelves to find those hard-to-find, out-of-print books your favorite bibliophile will flip to receive. Plus, all proceeds from your sale will keep libraries in Oakland with their pages open to the public.

721 Washington, Oakl. (510) 444-0473, www.thebookmarkstore.org


Holiday gift guide



HOLIDAY GUIDE 2011 We know. Between the blasts of pepper gas you sustained at the last Cal protest and all those “support needed” texts you’ve been receiving from Occupy Everything, Everywhere, All the Time you’ve barely had a spare moment to think about your holiday shopping list. Easy now, no need to get your bandanna in a twist. We’ve been trekking around the city (and that hella occupied burg on the other end of the Bay Bridge) for the very best in affordable presents this holiday season — and we found them all at locally-owned businesses. So don’t break the bank — occupy its lobby instead, conquered shopping list in hand. 




There is perhaps nothing more happy than a man with soul in his heart, as anyone who watches the YouTube video entitled “Dick Vivian cuttin’ the rug at Rooky’s!” can attest. Vivian is the owner and spiritual embodiment of the venerable Lower Haight record store, which he stocks with real-cheap 45s, vintage camera equipment, and a passel of witty lapel pins and magnets.

For real holiday majick, however, one must turn to Vivian’s lovingly-crafted mix CDs. There they sit, 10 bucks a pop with witty, retro-recreation packaging, a wonderland of ’60s soul, girl bands, and more. Many of the tracks, Vivian will attest, have never been captured in CD form before. Do you have a dad who still digs on the funky sounds of his youth? A buddy who is never more happy than when she’s doing the twist? You friend, have struck shopping list gold.

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




Half the battle of holiday shopping is remaining positive. You will find the perfect token of your affection for each and every coworker, friend, family member, and postal worker. The secret to undying enthusiasm this season is patronizing shops where retailing can make you happy — which is why a visit to Clothes Contact is essential. The Mission vintage shop is a carnival of colors and patterns, and sells most of its items by the pound ($10 per!)

Some of the shop’s most attractive items are the individually-priced accessories like its bowties and fedoras, which combine for a package that’ll make even the most sartorially uninspired chappie stoked for the office holiday party. The real steal, however, is in the shoe section, where you will find women’s kicks for a pittance. $8 gets you this pair of jewel-toned slippers, whose sexy-comfy flat heels have the power to traipse with you through much more than eight crazy nights.

473 Valencia, SF. (415) 621-3212




The average behind-the-bar adventurer knows bitters to be highly concentrated blends of herbs, spices, rinds, and roots sure to add zing to a standard cocktail. This non-alcoholic blood orange bottle lends a deep, pumpkin-y hue to your drinks — as well as a slightly sweet taste.

5620 Geary, SF. (415) 386-9463, www.blackwellswines.com




Mission Loc@l’s guidebook lives up to the neighborhood news site’s name: their pocket-sized collection of various Missionites’ (from grade-schoolers to aging boho poets) favorite places in the ‘hood could open the eyes of the most seasoned South Van Ness dweller to hidden gems amidst the murals and taco shops.

Available in various SF locations. Order online at www.missionlocal.org (search term: guidebook)




Paul’s Hat Shop has been around since 1918 — and the same goes for many of its hat styles. Check out the silky old bowties that sit seductively on a countertop. They come in patterns that haven’t seen the light of day for decades, guaranteeing that vintage fans recipients will wear them with care.

6128 Geary, SF. (415) 221-5332, www.hatworksbypaul.com




Open the door to the best kind of trouble with these dangling pasties, made from the same chalky rainbow sweets as traditional candy necklaces. Swing by Good Vibe’s newest store at 899 Mission to check out the sex toy vanguard’s downtown flavor.

Various Bay Area locations. www.goodvibes.com




Unless your recipient’s feet fall outside the size four to thirteen range, they can rest easy in the soft silken threads of Sakura’s house slippers. A jam-packed and family-run Japanese discount store, this spot stocks hundreds of the kicks, which are perfect for padding around the house or slipping on for a last-minute car-moving operation since yes, street sweeping is this morning.

936 Irving Street, SF. (415) 665-5064, www.sakurasf.com




A sweet present for a secretive soul: choose a book from your shelves that you’re done with (hardcover tends to work best), glue the pages together with super glue or epoxy leaving one cover free, and use an Exacto knife to cut out a square in the middle of the pages, creating a nook worthy of a Sherlock Holmes novel. Stick in a note that declares your end-of-2011 love and give to the super sleuth you fancy the most.

For more DIY present ideas, check out www.instructables.com




Slow Food adherent Laura Forst makes the perfect housewarming present for nutters: candied floral cashews that steer clear of holiday-heavy saccharine.





An online Etsy toybox of vintage toys and kitschy coffee cups, SF Mission Finds clearly subscribes to that old Playskool truism: “Mr. Potato Head’s other parts might get mixed up, but his heart is always in the right place.” Cop the shop’s 1985 Mr. Potato Head for the beloved misfit toy on your list.





Could Time-Life Books have imagined that their series on the paranormal — which was published between 1987 and 1991 and broke sales records for the publishing house — would find new popularity on the shelves of a Mission District vintage clothing store? Surely not, but the occult fan in your life will certainly appreciate the resurrection of such titles as Cosmic Duality and Spirit Summonings.

1360 Valencia, SF. (415) 401-7027, www.paintedbird.org




For the holidays, this cozy little shop in Potrero Hill is selling felted ornaments made by two women who live right in the neighborhood. No need to truck out to the Christmas superstore this year (sorry, Target)!

1331 18th St., Potrero Hill, SF. (415) 624-3736




Of course, you can always give them something that will, without fail, ensure that sharp intake of breath that marks the happy receipt of a caloric holiday gift-bomb. This holiday sweet from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s Vegan Pie in the Sky (DaCapo Press, 233pp, $17) should do just the trick — and will win the heart of gentle vegans and fierce omnivores alike.

Makes one nine-inch pie or one 11-inch pie


1 nine-inch pie crust


½ cup sugar

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup pure maple sugar

¼ cup nonhydrogenated margarine

6 ounces extra-firm silken tofu

¼ cup cold unsweetened plain nondairy milk

2 tablespoons cornstarch

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups pecan halves

First, we’re going to make a caramel. In a two quart saucepan, mix together the sugars and the maple syrup. Heat over medium heat, stirring often with a whisk. Once small bubbles start rapidly forming, stir pretty constantly for about 10 minutes. The mixture should become thick and syrupy. It shouldn’t be boiling too fiercely; if big bubbles start climbing the walls of the pan then lower the heat a bit.

Add the margarine and stir to melt. Turn the heat off, transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl, and let it cool for a bit. In the meantime, prepare the rest of the filling.

Crumble the tofu into a blender or food processor, along with the milk, cornstarch, and salt. Puree until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the blender to make sure you get everything.

Transfer the filling to the prepared pie crust and bake for 40 minutes. When done, the pie is going to be somewhat jiggly, but it should appear to be set. Let cool, slice, and serve! No cheating and pulling pecans off the pie.

Variation: Sprinkle ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt over the cooled pie.

For more vegan recipes from Isa Chandra Moskowitz, check out www.theppk.com





There’s just something that works about Italian feasts over the holidays. Maybe it’s the decadence of the cuisine, or perhaps the vivid hues of marinara, eggplant, and basil — wherever the allure lies, you can get your buddy rolling on a meal to remember with this cheap but classy gift: a pound or two of Lucca Foods’ housemade spinach pasta.

1100 Valencia, SF. (415) 647-5581, www.luccaravioli.com




Few might initially elect to smell like Union Square, but Roman Ruby’s handmade soaps ($10) and bath salts are redolent in the postcard-pleasure of San Francisco’s most beloved areas. Ocean Beach (coconut and sea salt), Golden Gate Park (grass and rose), Potrero Hill (goat milk and lemon verbena), and Bernal Heights (fig and brown sugar) are all represented.

1371 Ninth Ave., SF. (415) 664-4422, www.urbanbazaarsf.com




This sweet Etsy page is run by a self-proclaimed misanthrope right here in the city, and stocks a passel of darling, uber-affordable earrings. Made of polymer clay, ice cream cone earrings can be ordered in a variety of “flavors” — the mint is a lovely light green and bubblegum is a pretty pink dotted with green and blue sprinkles.





We all know the adage about quantity and quality, but what about when you can get a lot of something that also happens to be really good? Buddhism Feng Shui Supply’s incense is high quality (meant for use in shrines) and comes in a wide variety of scents. Unless your giftee is a real burner, it’s pretty much bound to last a lifetime.

907 Clement, SF. (415) 831-1987




How very adorable will it be when you take your baby to this well-loved local video store for one of its cheap-as-heck movie nights? Like, very very. Grab two of the seats near the front of the store and bring their fave candy for maximum points. Film buffs rejoice: Lost Weekend’s projection screen productions tend to involve flicks not available on Netflix (in fact, in September it hosted a film festival called just that).

1034 Valencia, SF. (415) 643-3375, www.lostweekendvideo.com




One touch and you’ll be touching: this handy little number from Oak-Town’s hottest new feminist-queer sex shop promises that it “puts the lube between your cheeks, not on the sheets.” That means the only unwanted friction between you and your lover over the holidays will be about whose family is more bizarre.

1703 Telegraph, Oakl. (510) 891-0199, www.feelmore510.com




Along one wall of this super-fly supplier of 1990s and aught-era Starter jackets, ball caps, and occasional fanny packs is the $6 t-shirt rack. Browse its hangers for tees from your giftee’s alma mater, fave sports team, or artistic nemesis: a recent trip to the store uncovered a Takashi-Murakami-designed number from Kanye West’s “Glow in the Dark” tour.

299 Guerrero, SF. (415) 624-3751, newjackcity.blogspot.com




Snag a treat from the city’s most educational chocolate factory for your holiday honey — if they’re really into the fine chocolate bathing these succulent pieces of fruit you can bring them back for one of TCHO’s Wonka-fied tours of its factory floor.

Pier 17, SF. (415) 981-0189, www.tcho.com




In our experience, all it takes to restore confidence in a would-be gardener with a track record of failed ferns is a salad green seedling. Rainbow’s got the goods in this department: stock up on a sixer of Asian mizuna greens, lemongrass, chives, and more for your budding grower.

1745 Folsom, SF. (415) 863-0620, www.rainbow.coop




What started out as an interior design studio has since evolved into a great resource for handpicked vintage goods, but hints of Room 4’s roots are visible in its selection of playing cards, which features a deck printed with the Prairie School architectural school progenitor’s greatest hits. Your giftee’s Solitaire game has never been this well-constructed.

904 Valencia, SF (415) 647-2764, www.room4.com




Candlemaking is a craft pretty much anyone can conquer — and a fragrant one at that. Hobby Co.’s beeswax comes in a variety of colors, including the standard yellow. With wicks retailing for less than fifty cents a yard, expect your giftee’s electric bill to significantly drop.

5150 Geary, SF. (415) 386-2802, www.hobbycosf.com




One of the three owners of this well-turned-out Mission boutique crafts these “air plants” in bulbous aquarium bowls. Rocks, sand, moss, and greenery coexist peacefully within the bowels of the terrariums – the perfect window sill companion for your buddy who longs for more nature in their life.

3458 18th St., SF (415) 244-7457, www.missionstatementsf.com


Dickens and drag queens and dreidels (oh my!)



HOLIDAY GUIDE 2011 You know what would be a good present to yourself this holiday season? Some ankle weights. Imagine all the almond cake and vegan eggnog you’ll have shoved into your belly by this time next month, you soon-to-be-less-svelte snowy sexpot. Not into approximating a house arrest prisoner? How about pledging to run about to as many as the Bay’s holiday hotspots as possible this year — you’ll be a Kwanzaa cutie in no time a’tall. And with such jingling gems — from costume fairs to drag queens in Union Square and free chamber orchestra performances — you’ll come out on the other side (2012) cut and cultured. 


Union Square iceskating rink Good news for nervous wall-grabbers and double axel spinners alike: the holiday ice rink is back at Union Square. Cue icicle lights, grand romantic gestures, and seizing onto strangers for suddenly-needed support.

Through Jan. 16. 10 a.m.-11:30 p.m. except for when closed for private parties, $10 for 90-minute session. Union Square, SF. www.unionsquareicerink.com


Great Dickens Fair Before Harry Potter and Kate Middleton transformed young Americans into full-blown Anglophiles, a whole different conception of Britain flourished stateside: the Dickensian version, replete with scones and hot toddies. Walk off your burgeoning middle with a jaunt through the Cow Palace’s temporary lamp-lit alleys.

Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 18, 11 a.m.-7 p.m., $25. Cow Palace, 2600 Geneva, SF. www.dickensfair.com


“The Best Time of Year” SF Symphony Christmas special concert The San Francisco Symphony and Chorus exhale classical Christmas picks and carols to a fully-bedecked Davies Symphony Hall.

Nov.30-Dec.1, 8 p.m., $25–$68. Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness, SF. (451) 864-6000, www.sfsymphony.org


Working Solutions holiday gift fair Showcasing San Francisco businesses assisted by Working Solutions’ micro loan programs, this fair lets shoppers pick up everything from Bernal Heights-wrought knives to chunks of Mission-crafted chocolate.

Dec. 1, 5-8 p.m., free. 101 Second St., SF. (415) 655-5433, www.tmcworkingsolutions.org


The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes Trannyshack takes on the blue-haired wonder that was The Golden Girls in a glitzy, raucous yearly San Francisco tradition.

Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays Dec. 1-23, 8 p.m., $25–$30. Victoria Theater, 2961 16th St., SF. www.trannyshack.com


A Christmas Carol There’s no better way to get in the mistletoe mood than to watch old Ebenezer slowly thaw out his icy, pinched heart in the Deco glory of the ACT Theatre.

Dec. 1-24, 7 p.m., $20–$75. American Conservatory Theatre, 415 Geary, SF. (415) 749-2228, www.act-sf.org


Holiday tree-lighting ceremony Jack London Square becomes a Bay-side holiday crèche two hours with live reindeer, snow, wintry tunes, and a tree-lighting to launch the flurry of the holidays.

Dec. 2, 5-7 p.m., free. Jack London Square, Oakl. www.jacklondonsquare.com

Oakland-Alameda Estuary lighted yacht parade How can yachts parade, you ask? With style, we answer — East Bay boat owners trick out their vessels with festive lights visible from the shore.

Dec. 3, 5:30 p.m., free. Visible from Jack London Square, Oakl. www.lightedyachtparade.com


Fantasy of Lights celebration ‘Tis the season for brilliant night-time lights, and Union Street will not be an exception. Stately Victorians provide the glowing background for a holiday gathering featuring everything from a monkey to Santa and his elves.

Dec. 3, 3-7 p.m., free. Union between Van Ness and Steiner, Fillmore between Union and Lombard, SF. www.sresproductions.com


San Francisco Forest Choir Imagine yourself in a snowy Narnia glen, the Forbidden Forest, or roaming through the woods with Hansel and Gretel to the music of the San Francisco Forest Choir, an all-female group who sing in Japanese and English at the Western Addition library.

Dec. 3, 3-4 p.m., free. Western Addition branch library, 1550 Scott, SF. (415) 355-5727, www.sfpl.org.


Sharon Art Studio winter pottery and craft sale Thousands of gleaming pieces are up for sale by this staple of the Bay Area craft scene; lug your loot home and get your bicep curls out of the way for a week.

Dec. 4, 11 a.m., free. Sharon Art Studio, Children’s Playground, Golden Gate Park, SF. (415) 753-7005, www.sharonartstudio.org


SF Chamber Orchestra holiday family concert Circus Bella and the SF Chamber Orchestra team up for a strangely compelling holiday pairing: clownish acrobatics set to the strains of classical music.

Dec. 4, 3-4 p.m., free with RSVP. Bayview Opera House, 4705 Third St., SF. (415) 824-0386, www.bayviewoperahouse.org


Gourmet Ghetto’s snow day For those Bay citizens unfamiliar with the bliss of a true snow day, the Gourmet Ghetto’s version provides a superior version to the rest of the country’s admittedly frigid ones: real snow, yes, but also crafting, hot cocoa and cookies, a Snow Queen, and the warmth of community.

Dec. 5 10 a.m.-3 p.m., free. Andronico’s parking lot, 1550 Shattuck, Berk.; 1-4 p.m., free. M. Lowe and Co., 1519 Shattuck, Berk.; Noon-4 p.m., free. Twig and Fig, 2110 Vine, Berk. www.gourmetghetto.org


“Winter in the Wineries” Sixteen wineries will stamp your passport for a two-month period starting December 2, enabling you to enjoy unlimited tastings, tours, and meet-and-greets throughout Napa Valley.

Various locations and times, Calistoga. www.calistogavisitors.com. $50 for one passport ticket


Palestinian Craft Fair Straight from the hands of Palestinian artists and craftspeople: olive oil-based soap, embroidery, glassware, ceramics, books, honey, and Dead Sea products sold to benefit their makers an ocean away.

Dec. 4, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., free. Live Oak Park, 1301 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 548-0542, www.mecaforpeace.org


“Songs and Harps to Celebrate the Holiday Season” Harpists of the Bay, unite! The young pluckers of the Bay Area Youth Harp Ensemble join the Triskela Celtic Harp Trio to perform holiday pieces from around the world. Singing along is not only encouraged but expected.

Dec. 6, 6 p.m., free. Main Library, 100 Larkin, SF. (415) 557-4400, www.sfpl.org


“Drag Queens on Ice” Break out your very best glitz for a night spent skating next to legions of SF’s drag personalities. A 9:30 p.m. performance by the queens in question ends the evening.

Dec. 8, 8 p.m., $10 for 90-minute session. Union Square, SF. www.unionsquareicerink.com


“A Very Shut-Ins Xmas” The vanguard leaders of the “hulabilly” sound, the Shut-Ins return with a Christmas show to benefit San Francisco’s Legal Assistance to the Elderly.

Dec. 8, 5:30-8 p.m., $20. 50 Mason Social House, 50 Mason, SF. (415) 538-3333, www.laesf.org


Golden Gate Park tree lighting Golden Gate Park’s hundred-foot Monterey cypress (shouldn’t it have a name by now?) transforms into a light-bedecked behemoth for the 82 year.

Dec. 8, 5 p.m., free. McLaren Lodge, 501 Stanyan, SF.


La Cocina gift fair Its cryptic but tasty-sounding “tamale alley” should provide enough of a draw, but La Cocina’s gift fair also promises local vendors selling organic olive oils, handmade pasta, and mushrooms nourished by recycled coffee grounds. Pretty easy to stomach.

Dec. 9, 5-9 p.m., free. Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, 2868 Mission, SF. www.lacocinasf.org


Winter Wunderkammer holiday art sale The most you can spend here on one item is 50 bucks, the least a dollar. Accompanied by spiced wine and tunes, small-format works from local artists are on sale. Proceeds from this walk-in curio cabinet benefit The Lab and participating artists.

Opening party Dec. 9, 6-11 p.m., free. Also Dec. 10, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., free. The Lab, 2948 16th St., SF. (415) 864-885, www.thelab.org


California Revels Ah, the revels. This year, the interactive period presentation will sit you smack down at the Round Table. Dance and sing, young knight — no one’s mocking you at this costume-heavy conclave.

Dec. 9-11, 16-18; Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. and Sun. 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., $19-52. Scottish Rite Theater, 2850 19th Ave., SF. (510) 452-8800, www.californiarevels.org


SF Ballet’s Nutcracker Even with its lampoonable name, the Nutcracker remains a incomparable date choice for its lush costumes, fantastical storyline, and ability to trigger childhood flashbacks.

Dec. 9-25, various times, $25–$285. War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness, SF. (415) 865-2000, www.sfballet.org


Misfit Toy Factory For one evening, artists cobble together sculptures, toys, and gifts under one roof to the beat of DJ Yukon Cornelius. Items are sold at the end of the evening for a fixed price of forty dollars.

Dec. 10, 7-10 p.m., free. Root Division, 3175 17th St., SF. (415) 863-7668, www.rootdivision.org


The Revolutionary Nutcracker Sweetie A radical alternative to the holiday classic, Dance Brigade’s version features Clara, an undocumented worker, a homeless Sugar Plum Fairy, and an angel of resistance.

Dec. 10, 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.; Dec. 11, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., $15–$17. Brava Theater, 2781 24th St., SF. www.dancemission.com


Hanukah festival of light Geared towards the younger set and their handlers, the JCC East Bay’s festival of light features storytelling, menorah making, dreidel games, and a concert by Isaac Zones, a mainstay in the Bay’s Jewish music scene.

Dec. 11, 10 a.m-2 p.m., $5. JCC East Bay, 1414 Walnut, Berk. www.jcceastbay.org.


“Holidays: Christmas, Chanukah, and Other Festive Celebrations” lecture Library docents present an examination of paintings from around the world dealing with everyone’s favorite subject: the giving, feasting, and receiving endemic to the holiday season.

Dec. 14, 6:30-7:30 p.m., free. Glen Park branch library, 2825 Diamond, SF. (415) 355-2858, www.sfpl.org


Mechanics’ Institute holiday gift and poster sale The staggeringly lovely Mechanics’ Institute hosts a large sale of hard-cover and paperback books, gifts, and posters straight from its library.

Dec. 15, 4:30-6:30 p.m., free. Mechanics’ Institute, 57 Post, SF. (415) 393-0100, www.milibrary.org


Holiday youth mariachi concert Three zestful youth mariachi bands perform traditional Mexican holiday music, providing an energizing segue into a sometimes exhausting season.

Dec. 16, 7:30 p.m., $10. Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, 2868 Mission, SF. (415) 643-2785, www.missionculturalcenter.org


Holiday Memories double feature Head back to the times of toboggans and candle-lit windows with two short films recounting rural winters of yesteryear. A Child’s Christmas in Wales visualizes Dylan Thomas’ Welsh childhood; The Sweater animatedly recounts Roch Carrier’s Quebecois, hockey-centered upbringing.

Dec. 17, 2 p.m., free with $15 museum admission. The Exploratorium, 3601 Lyon, SF. (415) 561-0360, www.exploratorium.edu


Renegade Craft Fair holiday market For the third year and showcasing more than 250 makers and craftspeople, the Renegade Craft Fair’s holiday happening can be a bit overwhelming. But it’s an undeniably great answer to gifting woes: pick up jewelry, body products, paper goods, clothing, and way, way more, all DIY enough to satisfy your most loca-ttired friend.

Dec. 17-18, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., free. Concourse Exhibition Center, 635 Eighth St., SF. www.renegadecraft.com


Reclaiming Yule ritual It may be chilly outside, but Sebastapol’s midwinter celebration (led by Starhawk, a leader in Bay Area earth-based spirituality) is indoors and full of warmth-inducing activities, namely dancing in honor of the Earth and Sun.

Dec. 18, 6:30 p.m., $7. Sebastopol Community Center, 390 Morris, Sebastapol. www.reclaiming.org


Solstice Eve celebration With a bonfire and roles doled out to participants (rocks, trees and mists), celebrating the longest night of the year on Ocean Beach is actually rather toasty. Bring items to release into the transformative fire — love letters are just the starting point.

Dec. 20, 3:30 p.m., free. Ocean Beach at Taraval, SF. www.reclaiming.org


Bill Graham menorah lighting The lighting itself takes place at 5 p.m., but the hours-long run-up is by no means lacking: traditional Jewish music, arts and crafts, and menorahs for every child fill Union Square starting at 3 p.m.

Dec. 20, 5 p.m., free. Union Square, SF. www.chabadsf.org


Kujichagulia celebration Kwanzaa’s day of personal definition and expression comes to City Hall, followed by a candle-lighting ceremony and dinner at Gussie’s, known for its fried tasties, red velvet cake, and Southern sweet tea.

Dec. 27, noon, City Hall, SF., 6 p.m., Gussies Chicken and Waffles, 1521 Eddy, SF. www.kwanzaasanfrancisco.com


Ujima celebration On Ujima, the third day of the week-long Kwanzaa holiday, community members gather to celebrate a collective spirit of responsibility and work.

Dec. 28, 3-6 p.m., free. Bayview Hunters Point YMCA, 1601 Lane, SF. www.sfpl.org


Keeping Score: Ives Holiday Symphony screening Unrecognized at the time of his death, experimentalist composer Charles Ives labored over his Holiday Symphony, which now gets fitting recognition by the San Francisco Symphony in a library concert that follows an hour-long documentary on the man.

Dec. 29, noon, free. Main Library, 100 Larkin, SF. (415) 557-4400, www.sfpl.org


Kuumba celebration Fittingly, the main San Francisco celebration of Kwanzaa’s Kuumba (day of creativity) occurs in the Jazz Heritage Center, a space shared by musical hotspot Yoshi’s. Celebrate the Fillmore’s manifold musical virtuosos on the last day of the year.

Dec. 31, 1-5 p.m., free. Jazz Heritage Center, 1330 Fillmore, SF. www.jazzheritagecenter.org

Dear Obama



HERBWISE Dear Obama,

Hey, how are you? You haven’t responded to my tweets, so I though I’d get at you on here. We have some things to discuss.

In all of the hubbub surrounding Occupy, the nationally-coordinated strikes on encampments, the general unrest, and the inspirational organizing taking place during this dour period of history our country is now experiencing, you’ve made next to no response.

But your federal agencies have managed to find time in the middle of said havoc to attack marijuana dispensaries and grow-ops that are legal under state law. Last week, they raided (way too much of that word going around these days) 15 of them in Washington State.

Weird, why?

On a related note, we need to talk about Sativex. Oh what, you thought we didn’t know? Don’t make this turn into a Beyonce video.

Let me tell you what I’m for sure about, and then we can talk about what I don’t understand.

I know for sure that Sativex is a drug developed by British company GW Pharmaceuticals, which declined to answer any of my phone calls while researching this letter so it’s a little unclear where exactly the drug stands on its path to legality in the US (it’s already being prescribed in Europe and Canada). Sativex is used to treat multiple sclerosis spasticity, or muscle tightness. Currently, it is in Stage III trials in the United States for use in the treatment of cancer patients, trials that are being conducted by Otsuka Pharmaceuticals, the company handling the drug’s development in the US.

Sativex (and this really gets to the heart about why I’m writing to you via the Guardian cannabis column) is made from marijuana. It has been tinctured and refined into a mouth spray that contains both THC, and — unlike the synthetically engineered Marinol, which is currently being prescribed in the United States to deal with nausea and lack of appetite in cancer patients — cannabidiol, or CBD, the other cannabinoid in marijuana. It doesn’t work as fast as smoking the stuff though, in a doobie say, or bong.

But it is still cannabis albeit in an adulterated form and if things proceed as they have been, doctors will be able to legally prescribe it. Of course, it’ll be way more expensive than Humboldt’s finest — estimates for cost of treatment are pegged around $16 a day.

Now. The other day, as I wrote in this selfsame column (“Some joy in Mudville”, 10/16/11) I ran into a one Lynette Shaw, who runs the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana. She’s a patient herself and has been fighting for safe, comprehensive access to medical cannabis for over two decades. Her Fairfax dispensary, which sits on land the city specifically zoned for the purpose, is in danger of being closed because federal agents have threatened her landlord with jail time for allowing his property to host illegal drug trafficking.

Marin County, for whatever reason, has one of the highest incidents of breast cancer in the country. Is this where Sativex will be marketed?

We’ve all been wondering, Prez, why on Earth your administration would choose this moment in time to make moves on state-legal growing operations. We’ve been told that it’s election year maneuvering, but even that’s not cynical enough for me.

Here is what is not: you’ve received more than $1.6 million from the health sector — doctor’s associations, health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies — since the beginning of the year. That’s more than any other candidate, in fact you edged out the next runner-up Mitt Romney by over $700,000. It would appear that Big Pharma has identified its horse in this race.

So that’s it on my end. From you, I’m just looking for some answers. Why processed drugs over plants? Why does cannabis have to be passed through a lab and profit the pharmaceutical industry to get fair clinical trial testing? Must all of our medicine be corporatized to be deemed beneficial to us?

My email’s up there.



A Concerned Citizen

Rare and juicy


FILM Longtime San Francisco resident George Kuchar’s death this September was a reminder of how many had been influenced by his loveably eccentric movies, from famous early fans like Andy Warhol and John Waters to the hundreds of students who passed through his San Francisco Art Institute courses over the decades. Among the latter, for a long time his most famous protégé — at least locally — was Curt McDowell, who started out as a teacher’s pet, moved on to heavy petting with teacher, and remained close to Kuchar as both friend and collaborator until his own AIDS-related demise in 1987.

George Kuchar’s half-century-plus output was always joyfully accessible “avant-garde” cinema, its mixture of the personal and the purple drawing on the conventions of those Hollywood melodramas he and brother Mike (who’s taking over George’s teaching responsibilities at SFAI) grew up watching in the 1950s Bronx. His films’ popularity was perhaps most hindered by the simple fact that he only felt moved to direct something in the more marketable feature length form once — 1973’s The Devil’s Cleavage.

McDowell’s films, often heavily influenced by George Kuchar’s (even when the latter wasn’t operating as scenarist and actor on them), also had a wide streak of camp parody, a Warholian mini-constellation of “stars,” a vivid aesthetic, and impulse toward autobiography. They were much more aggressively sexual, and ambitious — during his much-too-short career he made no less than four features, two of which were porn in the graphic-content if not commercial sense. The hour-long Peed in the Wind (1972), the same year’s Lunch, and 1985’s very-long-in-the-making Sparkle’s Tavern are basically forgotten now, the last not screened in the Bay Area for at least a decade, the others possibly unseen since the 1970s.

Thundercrack! (1975) — an even more daft shot at “adult” cinema than the experimental-minded Lunch — is better known, having had at least the beginnings of a midnight movie cult following. But with all its baroque, still-singular The Old Dark House (1932) meets Tennessee Williams charms (there is surely no other porn flick remotely like it), why isn’t it now as well known as, say, Pink Flamingos (1972) or Eraserhead (1977)? Part of that doubtless has to do with the disarray McDowell’s body of work has been in, access-wise, for nearly 25 years now. Some of his films are distributed by (but seldom rented from) Canyon Cinema. Others are in storage, or presumed lost. Nothing is available on DVD, and any videotapes have long gone out of print. Whether this is due to strife, disorganization, or financial limitations among the guardians of his trust remains as murky as it was in the 1990s, when the last, brief issue of Thundercrack! and some shorts on VHS occurred.

Thus, it’s sadly rare to get a McDowell program even here in SF, where his memory should flourish rather than be slowly slipping from public awareness. Just such an occasion arrives this week at the Roxie — co-founded by his longtime creative and domestic partner, Robert Evans — as two shows spread over three days reprise some (relatively) familiar as well as barely-seen material.

The main attraction, as well as the scarcest, is 1980’s 55-minute Taboo (The Single and the LP), which will be shown on projected VHS due to a typical bad-luck hurdle: its original materials, plus those for other films, were sent to New York’s Museum of Modern Art years ago, only to go missing in transit.

While McDowell often echoed George Kuchar’s use of narrative more as an erratic reference point than a rule to follow, Taboo has an unusually abstract relation to story even by his standards, at least those of his longer works. Purportedly crafted over four years — his output slowed considerably after Evans had replaced the incredibly prolific Kuchar as boyfriend — it has buxom, blonde-bewigged sis Melinda McDowell, recently departed Thundercrack! mad diva Marion Eaton, and a glowering Kuchar as three parts of a tempestuous two-couple marital equation variously simmering with unmet desire and boiling over with orgiastic excess.

But it’s the fourth player who dominates the filmmaker’s attention. One of his numerous onscreen Joe Dallesandros, but evidently a source of particular longtime obsession, Fahed (a.k.a. David) Martha hailed from a Palestinian family that owned the grocery store next to the Roxie; his petite yet muscle-bound Sal Mineo-like appeal piqued McDowell, who didn’t mind the frequent presence of an equally young girlfriend. (In fact, he freely admitted “really getting turned on by straight men.”) Throughout Taboo‘s mix of the poetical and camp, the black and white camera salivates over this nearly-naked Adonis’ body and cocky attitude; in turn, he displays an exhibitionist zeal he probably didn’t know he had in him. A producer here and close friend, former Castro Theatre programmer and current San Francisco Silent Film Festival artistic director Anita Monga says McDowell “just saw the deep sexual beauty in everyone,” turning them on with the sheer voracity of his admiring gaze.

In one of the shorts the Roxie is showing in a separate program, 1972’s Confessions, McDowell interviews friends and lovers, asking them to describe his best and worst qualities. Perhaps straddling both, one confides “You’ve always had this energy, it’s like an explosion. I think when people see your films they have to understand, like, sex. It seems like you need so much more sex than other people.” A satyr-like omnivorous seduction and insatiability still sweats off many of his films as if through pores, most notoriously 1985’s Loads (a Dionysian compilation of guys he’d lured up to masturbate and service in his Mission studio).

McDowell was a happily self-corrupted transplant from the Heartland (with typical alliterative flair, Kuchar called him “curt, cute, controversial, and not celibate … poet of the plebeian and perverse”); he enjoyed shocking the staid society left behind — 1970’s A Visit to Indiana is his amusingly sulky chronicle of a most reluctant trip home.

Also on the Roxie bill are such examples of pure, impish silliness as 1972’s Siamese Twin Pin Heads, a short perhaps dated by a “look ma, we’re naked!” glee that looked a lot more rebellious back then. But 1973’s Boggy Depot is a homemade musical anticipating Thundercrack!‘s puppet theater-Gothic look. Its variously scheming and schemed-against protagonists trill their ridiculous operetta-style lyrics to found orchestral tracks. This is one McDowell film in which people keep their pants on, but these 17 sublime minutes are orgasmically pleasurable nonetheless.


Sat/26-Sun/17, 1 p.m.; Mon/28, 10 p.m., $5-9.75


3117 16th St., SF

(415) 863-1087



No bombshell



FILM There’s a new movie built around a performer’s brilliant evocation of a Golden Age Hollywood star’s charisma, ebullience, and vulnerability. And it’s not My Week With Marilyn — it’s The Artist, the forthcoming French “silent” feature in which Jean Dujardin (of the OSS 117 spy spoofs) miraculously channels the Brylcreem’d charm of pre-sound swashbuckler Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. (with a bit of John Gilbert thrown in). It’s a wonderful performance, but a) who’s ever heard of Dujardin outside France, and b) Oscar is seldom impressed by mere comedy.

Statuette-clutching odds are higher for Michelle Williams, as her impersonation of another famous dead celebrity is “well-rounded” in the sense that we get to see her drunk, disorderly, depressed, and so forth. (Never mind that Dujardin does all these things too, albeit in a pastiche homage rather than a drippily conventional, sentimental biopic.)

Her Monroe is a conscientious performance. But when the movie isn’t rolling in the expected pathos, it’s having other characters point out how instinctive and “magical” Monroe is onscreen — and Williams doesn’t have that in her. Who could? (Actually, Theresa Russell came closer despite a much looser physical-vocal resemblance 26 years ago in Insignificance, but then that movie eschewed historical literalism for a fantasia wherein Love Goddess, Einstein, and Joes DiMaggio and McCarthy meet one night.) Williams is remarkable playing figures so ordinary you might look right through them on the street, in Wendy and Lucy (2008), Blue Valentine (2010), Brokeback Mountain (2005), etc. But as Monroe, all she can do is play the little-lost girl behind the sizzle. Without the sizzle.

Which is, admittedly, exactly what My Week — based on a dubious true story — asks of her. It is true that in 1956 the Hollywood icon traveled to England to co-star with director Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) in a fluff romance, The Prince and the Showgirl; and that she drove him crazy with her tardiness, mood swings, and crises. It’s debatable whether she really got so chummy with young production gofer Colin Clark, our wistful guide down memory lane. He’s played with simpering wide-eyed adoration by Eddie Redmayne, and his suitably same-aged secondary romantic interest (Emma Watson) is even duller.

This conceit could have made for a sly semi-factual comedy of egos, neurosis, and miscommunication. But in a rare big-screen foray, U.K. TV staples director Simon Curtis and scenarist Adrian Hodges play it all with formulaic earnestness — Marilyn is the wounded angel who turns a starstruck boy into a brokenhearted but wiser man as the inevitable atrocious score orders our eyes to mist over.

Meanwhile, a roll call of wasted A-list British acting talent includes Dame Judi Dench, Dougray Scott, Dominic Cooper, and Toby Jones, wringing their hands in the background. Branagh is good and Williams works admirably hard, but it’s his Sir Larry who unintentionally nails the pandering movie’s relationship to real life when he snipes that coaxing Monroe to act is “like teaching Urdu to a badger.”


MY WEEK WITH MARILYN opens Wed/23 in Bay Area theaters.

Small-screen hero



FILM While he’s always kept a fairly low profile doing it, probably no director who calls the Bay Area home has balanced our penchant for documentary work and independence with a successful commercial (meaning Hollywood) career as gracefully, or as long, as John Korty. Now 75, the Marin resident is in the midst of a major retrospective — incredibly, his first — at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, which runs through December 4.

You’ve already missed his first feature (whimsical 1966 indie The Crazy-Quilt), his latest (veteran rock ‘n’ roller portrait John Allair Digs In!), and one of the most popular broadcast documentaries ever: 1977’s Who Are The DeBolts (And Where Did They Get 19 Kids?), about a Piedmont, Calif. couple and their huge clan of mostly adopted children, many disabled war orphans. But there’s still plenty left that conveys the diversity of Korty’s output, even if it just scratches the surface of his nearly 50-year career — which began auspiciously enough with an Oscar nomination for 1964’s short anti-smoking satire Breaking the Habit.

That same year the native Hoosier moved with his Bolex to Stinson Beach. Filled with the era’s infinite youthful ambition, he made three features in fast succession, though despite all awards and admiring reviews, they took much longer actually getting released at a time when art house meant foreign films. The Crazy-Quilt mixed Chaplin-esque pathos with the antic and existential in its charting a dedicated cynic and a “girl who believed in everything” from meet-cute to shared grumpy old age. Likewise shot all over SF and Marin, 1967’s Funnyman had influential improv group the Committee member (and future sitcom staple) Peter Bonerz as a gifted comedian who’s a petulant boy-man offstage. Barely theatrically released in 1971, four years after its festival debut, its Rafael showing was probably its first local appearance in decades.

Korty had resisted Hollywood overtures since Crazy-Quilt, though he did work for Francis Ford Coppola’s then-fledgling American Zoetrope for a couple of years. In 1972, however, he commenced a prolific 26-year run of major-network TV movies, starting on a high note with odd utopian sci-fi fantasy The People (in which William Shatner restrains himself) and permanently-scarring teen cautionary tale Go Ask Alice.

Sometimes the material was a little schlocky (like 1991’s Suzanne Somers autobiographical dramatization Keeping Secrets, not to mention a little thing from 1984 called The Ewok Adventure), but more often his sights were set unusually high, with results sometimes among the very finest in the much disparaged telepic genre. Certainly considered such were two landmark films the Rafael shows for free over the next couple weeks: 1974’s The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, with Cicely Tyson as the ex-slave whose 100 years take her all the way to a 1960s civil rights march; and 1976’s Farewell to Manzanar, depicting America’s internment camps for Japanese-heritage citizens during World War II.

Once he’d crossed into broadcast, Korty had relatively few big-screen opportunities; the drippy 1978 Love Story sequel Oliver’s Story probably made him wish for even fewer. Getting a very rare revival at the Rafael is the more indie-sensibility ’76 Alex and the Gypsy, an offbeat if uneven comic romance between delightful Geneviève Bujold’s Roma woman and Jack Lemmon (basically playing Jack Lemmon) as her bail bondsman.

Korty’s longtime animation jones has rarely won much attention, despite its scattered presence in his filmography (like Funnyman‘s brief cartoon interludes). But it found full expression in 1983’s feature Twice Upon a Time, which closes the Rafael series. Regrettably underseen even by professed animation fanatics, a theatrical nonstarter, and DVD (let alone Blu-ray) holdout, it utilizes cut-out techniques Korty devised himself to follow “all purpose animal” Lorenzo, his sidekick Mum (who “speaks” in foley effects), and their fight to prevent evil Synonamess Botch from dropping “nightmare bombs” into the subconscious minds of sleepers worldwide. It’s a charming odyssey that recalls 1968’s Yellow Submarine in applying adult wit and design imagination to child-friendly ‘toonery.

As if all this weren’t rangy enough, a November 27 shorts program traverses ground from a 1961 documentary (The Language of Faces, chronicling a Quaker peace vigil at the Pentagon) to brief Sesame Street animations and 1974’s The Music School, a half-hour John Updike miniature from PBS’ American Short Stories series. *


Through Dec. 4, $6.75–<\d>$10.25

Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center

1118 Fourth St., San Rafael

(415) 454-1222



Standing room only



DANCE We go to dance performances to be entranced, or at least intrigued, by well-physicalized movement ideas. But it helps if choreographers work with collaborators who not only enhance basic concepts but also bring their own perspectives to the dance-making process. Two programs last weekend, Liss Fain Dance’s playfully evocative The False and True Are One and LEVYdance’s delicious ROMP, showed just how successful the result of that kind of cooperation can be. Interestingly, Liss Fain and Benjamin Levy also contributed to the recent trend of abandoning the proscenium theater — too expensive? Too hierarchical? Too restrictive? — in favor of “installations” in which audiences move around the performance space.

Choreographers seem to feel that nudging audiences out of their seats will engage them more actively because they can choose when they want to focus on something. Personally, I am not convinced that this process involves a viewer more intently. However, the format’s informality, its sense of being invited in, suggests a welcoming atmosphere that can make dance watching, at least for a time, a lot of fun.

Perhaps the greatest gain that the installation format offers is the closeness it offers between audience and dancers. To observe muscles stretching less than a foot away, to hear the breathing that accompanies a strenuous lift, and to see a tiny adjustment to balance and gravity that a dancer makes is a gift that a traditional theater cannot provide. What you loose in overall perspective is compensated for by the intimacy between observer and performer.

For that to happen, choreographers need designers who can create the appropriate environment. False and True‘s Matthew Antaky and ROMP‘s Jack Beuttler chose the square as a basic format. Both modulated the idea to support the choreography to excellent effect.

Antaky’s transparent fiberglass panels made for muted perspectives on the four squares within the bigger square that the dancers inhabited. The design looked a little like a board game and was airy enough to allow for a number of pathways for the dancers. Into the absolute center he placed a slightly raised podium — suggesting a private writing and thinking space — for narrator Nancy Shelby, whose reading of Lydia Davis’ musings set False and True‘s tone. Fain’s controlled yet free-flowing choreography for nine dancers — the uneven number was most refreshing given Antaky’s strict geometry — constantly shifted between all the available spaces and groupings. Dancers picked up and modified sequences in a game of unstated rules, but they also became part of the audience, watching their colleagues or listening intently to Shelby.

Beuttler’s square for the rambunctious ROMP at first suggested a town plaza in which people, i.e. the audience, had pulled chairs around into an informal café setting. In the latter part of the work, tables around the periphery reseated the audience banquet-style; they both framed a central performing area and then became the platform for a moving menu of passing delicacies as dancers slithered, cavorted, and leapt in close-up. The audience ate it up, laughing, talking, and taking pictures. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had tried tip the artists.

Levy’s fast-paced and exuberant choreography for himself, Mélodie Casta, and Scott Marlowe pulled in a group of nine auxiliary dancers — some of them still students — who raced and dove between the seated audience without a single misstep. Their energy was that of kids released at the end of the school year, but their discipline and exactitude was that of professionals. An intricately structured trio for Levy’s own dancers highlighted their eccentric individuality but gradually deepened into cheek-to-cheek slow dancing.

As for that audience participation that both choreographers wanted, Levy’s public lustily participated. But a funny thing happened during False and True. Despite the exhortation to move around, the audience mostly stood and sat. Seeing those dancers be so vigorous and intent and yet so quiet — Dan Wool’s score was a modicum of discreteness — cast a spell that you didn’t want to break.

The faces and voices of Occupy


Who are the 99 percent — and what are they saying? It’s not what you read in the daily papers

To read some of the accounts in the daily papers in San Francisco, and hear some of the national critics, you’d think the people in the local Occupy movement were mostly filthy, drunk, violent social outcasts just looking for a place to party. Or that they’re mad-eyed anarchists who can’t wait to break windows and throw bottles at the police. Or that they’re a confused and leaderless band that can’t figure out what it wants.

When you actually go and spend time at Occupy SF and Occupy Cal and Occupy Oakland, as our reporters have done, you get a very different picture.

The Occupy movement is diverse, complex and powerful. It’s full of people with different backgrounds and perspectives. And they all agree that economic injustice and inequality are at the root of the major problems facing the United States today.

Here are some of those people, the faces and the voices of Occupy — and a celebration of the lives they’re living and the work they’re doing.


The student

Jessica Martin reflects on the First Amendment

Guardian photo by Rebecca Bowe

Jessica Martin stood and held her sign high on the steps of Sproul Hall, at the University of California at Berkeley, while a jubilant crowd of students jammed to classic dance party tunes and set up tents. They were invigorated by a general assembly that had attracted thousands following a Nov. 15 student strike and Day of Action called as part of the Occupy movement. (Their tents were cleared in a police raid two days later, yet students responded with flair, suspending tents high in the air with balloons.)

Martin’s sign proclaimed, “Remember the First Amendment,” and she’d written the text of the Constitutional right to free speech on the other side.

“My mother stood on the steps [of the Lincoln Memorial] in D.C. with Martin Luther King as part of the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,” said the graduating senior, who’s majoring in Japanese and Linguistics. “And now I stand on the steps of Sproul Hall,” — the birthplace of Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement — “in front of the Martin Luther King Student Union, to defend my First Amendment rights.”

She expressed solidarity with students who were brutalized by police Nov. 9 following their first attempt to establish an occupation.

“Part of what [police] are here to serve and protect is the First Amendment,” Martin said. But on that day, “They met the First Amendment with violence.” (Rebecca Bowe)


The artist

Ernest Doty responds to police brutality

Guardian photo by Rebecca Bowe

In Oakland, a young veteran named Scott Olsen suffered a fractured skull and brain injuries after being hit with a police projectile at an Oct. 25 Occupy Oakland protest. Ernest Doty was one of several who ran to Olsen’s aid and carried him to safety.

“Immediately after I saw Scott go down … I knew I had to get him, and get him out of there,” Doty recounted. “I whistled at another guy, and we both ran in. The cops were shooting at us with rubber bullets.” As they ran up, he said, a flash grenade blew up next to Olsen’s face, just inches from his head injury.

Doty, 32, recently moved to the Bay Area from Albuquerque, New Mexico. An artist who also does spoken word performances, he’s camped overnight at Occupy Oakland and has incorporated words and images from the Occupy movement into his artwork and poetry.

He’s also been personally impacted by tragedies arising from police interactions: Both his stepbrother and his cousin — a veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder — were shot and killed by police in New Mexico.

Occupy Oakland “has managed to create a community out of chaos,” Doty said. “I think that this movement is going to continue to grow. It’s the 1960s all over again, but it’s broader. It’s going to be a long road. I think encampments, marches, and protests are going to continue into the next year.”(Bowe)

Ernest Doty’s next art show is Dec. 2 from 7 to 11 p.m. at Sticks + Stones Gallery, 815 Broadway, in Oakland.


The peacekeeper

Nate Paluga deals with camp conflict

Guardian photo by Mirissa Neff

Does this man look like he’s an occupier? Depends on your perception of the movement. He’s not homeless — he’s a bike mechanic who lives in Nob Hill and whose girlfriend only tentatively accepts that he’s camping in Justin Herman Plaza. He is young, blunt, and possesses the intense gaze of an activist, belied by a snug red-white-and-blue biker’s cap with “USA” emblazoned on the underbelly of its brim.

Paluga, a self-proclaimed philosopher, has grabbed upon the concepts of “fairness and equality” as the core values of Occupy. “This movement means something different to different people, but I haven’t found anyone that disagrees with those being some core values,” he said as he showed off the bike he uses to move as much as 100 pounds of food and equipment for the camp.

His core values are his guidelines in his other role at Occupy SF: peacekeeper. Paluga said he and others often intervene in the disagreements that can arise in a group-run housing situation populated by diverse socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds.

He said that with aggressive individuals it’s important to reinforce why they’re all there. “They’re coming from places where there wasn’t a lot of equality and justice and they’re bringing that with them. You gotta step in and tell them it’s gonna be okay.” (Caitlin Donohue)


The nester

Two Horses’ permanent protest

Guardian photo by Mirissa Neff

Two Horses might have the most welcoming tent at Occupy SF. Brightly stocked flowerboxes and a welcome mat are outside; inside, the one-time property manager and current homeless man has arranged an air mattress, carpet, and princess accommodations for his 12-year-old blind white cat Luna. There’s even a four-foot tall kitty tower.

The agile feline moves toward the sound of his hand tapping on the floor. “I like the idea of a 24-hour protest,” said Two Horses. He came to the camp a few weeks ago and was impressed by the quality and availability of food available in the encampment’s kitchen, where he said donations come from all over (“it comes from the 99 percent”) at all hours of the day and night.

“I knew I had to do something, so I started volunteering.” He now works the late shift, a core kitchen staffer.

When Michael Moore came by the plaza, Two Horses was impressed. “It wasn’t so much what he said but how he came shuffling up with no entourage, no security, no assistant with a clipboard.” He would, however, like to see more communication between Occupy camps, maybe a livestream video screen to see other cities.

He seems quite at home in his surroundings. “My goal is to look as permanent as I can,” he said, the corners of his mouth turning up crookedly, happily. (Donohue)


The healers

Med tent volunteers from the nurses’ union do it for the patients

Guardian photo by Mirissa Neff

Melissa Thompson has a kid who’s looking at college options; she hopes her family can figure out a way to afford education in a state where public university tuition continues to rise.

But that’s not the only reason she’s at Occupy SF. On a cloudy Friday morning, Thompson sat outside the encampment’s med tent, where she tended to cuts, changed the dressing on wounds, and provided socks, blankets, and tools for basic hygiene. It’s her trade — she’s a nurse, one of the many California Nurses Association members sick of cuts to the country’s public and private health options who were eager to lend their services to the movement.

She’s also one of the determined crew that enlivens Occupy Walnut Creek. What’s it like out there? “It’s been good,” she assured us, brightly. “We’re on the corner, by the Bank of America? We’ve had great reactions at Walnut Creek.”

Thompson said she got involved because “I love being a nurse, number one.” Corporate greed, she said, has led to cuts in her patients’ insurance, leaving them to make tough decisions between feeding their family and filling the prescription for their post-dialysis medications.

She said he hopes the politicians are listening to Occupy. “I don’t understand what the problem is. They need to open up their eyes and see how they’ve damaged us.” (Donohue)

The fabulous

Li Morales and Molly Goldberg talk about Queer Occupy

Queers have long been resisting the ravages of the one percent on the 99 percent. Resistance has looked like coming together on our own, on our own terms, with our own names, genders, and chosen families. Like the (decolonize) occupations in San Francisco, Oakland, around the country and world, our resistance is made out of a stubborn imagination, and can be messy. We are a menagerie of magnificent beasts, with all of our struggles and limitations firmly at the center of the fabulous and fucked-up world we make for ourselves.

In HAVOQ/ SF Pride at Work, we imagine queerness not as a What, an identity whose boundaries we seek to police, a platform from which to put forth our One Demand. Rather, we imagine it as a How: a way of being with one another. We call it Fabulosity. And Fabulosity means drawing on queer histories of re-imagining family as a way of expanding circles of care and responsibility. Fabulosity is to affirm the self-determination of every queer to do queer just exactly how they do. It affirms that under the banner of the 99 percent, we are all uniquely impacted by the ravages of the 1 percent and we come with a diversity of strategies and tactics to resist and survive.

In the gray areas lives our emerging autonomy and interdependence — an autonomy not contingent on capitalism’s insistence on utility. We are not useful. We are not legible. And in that lack of utility and that illegibility, we are not controllable. Because we do not have one demand, but rather a cornucopia of desire. We’re making our fabulous fucked-up world for ourselves, with each other. We always have. (Morales and Goldberg)

Li Morales and Molly Goldberg are members of SF Pride at Work/HAVOQ, a San Francisco-based collective of queers organizing for social and economic justice.


The mechanic

reZz keeps Occupy’s tires filled

Photo by David Martinez

On a Sunday afternoon at Occupy SF, Bike Kitchen volunteer reZz exported the education-oriented bike shop’s mission — and its tools — to Justin Herman Plaza. There he stood, fixing alignment on the wheels of passers-by and occupiers — for free. “Occupy Bike Shop,” as he and other volunteers have come to call the service, has been tinkering out in the plaza two to three times a week.

“It’s been lovely,” he said later in a phone interview with the Guardian. “I’ve purposefully been in a place where it’s open to people in the encampment and people who are passing by. People who stop want to see the occupation in it’s most positive light.” reZz wouldn’t consider camping out at Occupy, but that’s not to say that he doesn’t truck with the movement’s message that public space can — and should — be repurposed.

An avid biker himself, he thinks public bike repair is a great re-envisioning tactic. And fixing poor people’s bikes sends its own message. “This year’s junk is an invented need,” he said. “We’re falling into debt because we think we need a new car every year. Part of the idea of fixing people’s bikes and showing them how to do it brings us away from the artificial scarcity whereby the robber barons and capitalists insist we have to struggle against each other instead of working with each other.” (Donohue)

The medic

Miran Istina has cancer — and helps others

Guardian photo by Yael Chanoff

It had grown dark, and the OccupySF camp was restless as many signs pointed to a raid that night at 101 Market Street. But 18-year-old Miran Istina sat calmly on the sidewalk, medical supplies spread over her lap. “As a medic for OccupySF,” said Istina, “It’s my job to have a well-supplied, well-organized medical kit.”

The tall, wide-eyed teenager, who spends some of the time in a wheelchair, is not just a medic at camp. She has done police liaison and media work as well. And she has a remarkable story.

When she was 14, Istina was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia. Her family had purchased her health insurance only three months before, and the cancer was in stage two, indicating that she had been sick for at least one year. So the company denied her treatment, which would include a bone-marrow transplant, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, on the basis of a pre-existing condition.

Her family bought a van, left Sisters, Oregon, and started searching for somebody who would treat her. They traveled around the country three years, desperate for the life-saving treatment but unable to pay for it.

Just after her 17th birthday, Istina left her parents in New York and began hitchhiking back to Oregon. “That was my way of saying, I’m done looking for treatment. I’m going to do what makes my heart happy.”

After a little over a year of traveling and exploring her interests, Istina made her way to San Francisco. She was sleeping in Buena Vista Park when she “heard some protesters walking by, going ‘occupy San Francisco! Occupy San Francisco. I figured they were a bunch of radicals and that a street kid like me really wouldn’t be welcome.'”

A few nights later, she did go check it out, looking for a safe place to sleep. “They explained to me what it’s about, and why we’re here, and my story directly sat inside of that.”

She has been living and organizing with OccupySF ever since. She got involved with the medic team after spending a night in the hospital for kidney failure, then being treated for nine days, free, in the camp’s medical tent. “They realized I had a lot of skill as a medic, and gave me a kit.”

In the midst of recent media attacks on the OccupySF community, Istina is defensive: “Every community has its assholes. Every community has that pit that no one goes into because it’s just yucky. For some people in San Francisco it’s the Haight, for the the Haightians- you know, the Haight people- it’s the financial district. For other people it’ll be somewhere else. But I love the community here. “I’ve been hurt by a lot of people in my life,” said Istina. “But I think I can make that right by holding to this pure-hearted motto of universal and unconditional love, for everyone. No exceptions.” (Yael Chanoff)

A pitch and a swing



CHEAP EATS We went to see Moneyball. You know: We have soft spots in our hearts for baseball. Additionally, Hedgehog has a wet spot in her panties for Brad Pitt; and I in mine, truth be told, for Jonah Hill.

Before he lost the weight, mind you — although he’s pretty funny after, too.

Anyway, it was a good movie, and Jonah Hill was fat, and the popcorn was quite good, but still I had a nervous breakdown afterwards. No idea why. I think it had something to do with a shot near the end of the movie. Brad Pitt, as Billy Beane, driving on I-880 I believe, and through his window the stacks and stacks of cargo containers down the harbor. Maybe the familiarity was too familiar for comfort (I once had a panic attack on that exact stretch of freeway) or the bounce of the frame or the camera angle. Something. Something took the fight right out of me.

I tried to compose myself in the ladies room after. “I exist, therefore I am,” I wrote, on toilet paper. “Now,” I continued, plagiarizing shamelessly: “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life …”

No. I composed and composed. I stole, I borrowed, I begged, I vandalized, I unraveled and unraveled, but could not find the little bouncy rubber ball at the center of things. Not even for the life of me. So, after a fairly normal amount of time had passed, I flushed and washed and walked back out into the lobby, all dry-eyed and dignified-like. Hedgehog smiled. We rode down the escalator together.

Nervous breakdowns are hard to explain.

“Sushi, or ramen?” she said. (We were after all in Japantown.)

I would have jumped at either, normally. I love the sushi. I love the ramen. But to give me a choice, at a time like this, was cruel and unusual. Or would have been, if she only knew what I was going through.

Nevertheless, I thought I would have something by the time we reached the bottom. If not an answer, a word. A question. A rubber ball. A look. Anything. But I could not, would not, Sam-I-Am. I was nothing but fear . . . of absolutely nothing. So paralyzed, so empty, that I could not lift my feet and was sucked like a stick-figured cutout into the machinery of it all, the gear and grind, sending me back up, undersided and undecided, crinkle, fold, and rip.

Hedgehog does not have patience for indecision, let alone cartoonery. “Ramen?” she said. “Or sushi.” As if changing the order of things would fix it for me.

I managed to say something. We were standing at the foot of the escalator, by the door. “I’m having a panic attack,” I said.

And — for those of you who can relate, so you know, there is something about calling your panic attack a panic attack, out loud and in the middle of it, that kind of diffuses the situation. Try it.

I was still scared and empty, but I could step again, at least, and think, and imagine food.

“Ramen,” I said. And say.

And we walked very slowly to Suzu. Probably for the best, we had to sit outside, which doesn’t mean outside outside. It means out in Japantown Center, instead of in the small, cozy, bustling restaurant. But at least we could sit right away and have a glass of water.

I had of course warned Hedgehog that anxiety and panic were possible parts of the package, although neither had really attacked me, as such, in a year or two. Now, while we waited on our spicy ramen (me) and Tokyo ramen (her), I tried to gauge whether she still loved me or not, or the same. And all the while I still wasn’t totally convinced that I wasn’t about to drop dead, either.

Love and life notwithstanding, what we learned that day was that, yo, we kinda needed each other. My ramen was so insanely spicy, and hers so ridiculously bland, that the only way either one of us could be quite satisfactorily nourished was to mix the two together.

And as we did, spoon by spoon, we relished the weirdness of eating outside of an indoor restaurant, in a mall, and gradually my heart beat, breathing, and dimensionality came back to me.

New favorite restaurant:


Daily: 11:30 a.m.- 9 p.m

1825 Post St., SF.

(415) 346-5083


Beer & wine





MUSIC Row after row of sentimental — sometimes kitschy, sometimes renowned — vinyl albums are lining pristine white walls in a small storefront, waiting for the opening of a record store that will exist for just one month.

Quite possibly the world’s first Jewish pop-up record shop, it’s in San Francisco on the edge of Mission and Bernal, in rotating art-music space, Queens Nails.

Like flashes of nostalgic dreams, each cardboard cover at the shop is its own piece of art: there’s the colorful impressionist style square enclosing Fred Katz’s trippy 1958 klezmer-meets-folk record Folk Songs for Far Out Folk, the shelf above holds Johnny Mathis’ breathtaking Kol Nidre, along with the campy Mickey Katz album, Mish Mosh — the cover of which depicts the artist as a (hopefully kosher) butcher posing with both meat-links and brass instruments.

There also are brand new copies of the recently released Songs for the Jewish American Jet Set, a compilation of wildly varying tracks (surf rock from the Sabras, deep soul Morrocan-born singer Jo Amar doing “Ani Ladodi”) culled from the archives of now-defunct Tikva Records, a Jewish label that was around from 1950 through 1973.

The Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation released Songs for the Jewish American Jet Set, and is hosting the pop-up store, also dubbed Tikva Records. The group, whose mission focuses on preserving the 20th century Jewish experience through recorded sound, also has put out a number of reissues and hosted live music events in the past — this store will encompass both.

“When we initially did the reissues, we went out and found a lot of the artists on these records and we realized we really wanted to tell the stories of the music,” explains David Katznelson, the music biz veteran behind Birdman Records, president of the San Francisco Appreciation Society, and one of four Idelsohn Society co-founders.

So, in addition to selling vintage records and reissues, the store also will play host to a series of Jewish and Hebraic-themed live acts. Beginning Dec. 1 with the official opening party, artists will drop by for free, by donation performances: on Dec. 2, founding Los Lobos member Steve Berlin will original score a silent film, Los Angeles band Fool’s Gold will celebrate the release of its second LP with an in-store performance Dec. 7, classic duo the Burton Sisters will perform live for only the second time in the past five decades on Dec. 8, members of Dengue Fever will play live Dec. 10. And plenty more follow.

The Chanukah candle lighting ceremonies will begin with a performance by Zach Rogue — the leader of Oakland’s Rogue Wave who recently released Come Back To Us under the name Release the Sunbird. While some of the others acts were a natural fit in the Tikva lineup, Rogue was one that surprised me — his music has always seemed rather secular to me, so I asked him about it. Turns out, it will be his first time playing a Chanukah event. So will he play Rogue Waves songs, Release the Sunbird jams, or traditional Chanukah melodies? “I’m trying to figure that out now. I wouldn’t say that Chanukah songs are necessarily the top my repertoire.”

He explained his reasoning for participating in the event, “When I think back in terms of what got me into wanting to play the guitar, my parents raised me on psychedelic, ’60s British invasion stuff, but in terms of the actual acoustic guitar, a lot of it was Jewish summer camp — Camp Swig in Saratoga,” adding, “I was fascinated with the song leaders and the cadence of Jewish folk songs and Eastern European sound.”

Weaving around the ’50s epoch furniture (solid hand carved shelves and credenzas that look like wet bars, record players) of the newly constructed pop-up shop with “Tikva Records” in red lettering on the window front, I got a sense of a cozy, hangout for record lovers, Jewish or not, which lead me to again question: what exactly makes music Jewish?

Vibrant, and clearly enamored with these albums, Katznelson was on hand with some helpful thoughts. “I think, like all music, it’s open to interpretation. What we do is use this music to look at Jewish history — it’s beyond Jewish music, it’s music that has affected the Jewish experience.”

Jewlia Eisenberg, leader of SF group Charming Hostess, was also previewing the store — it was her first time taking a peek around too, and she seemed ecstatic, slipping records out of the shelves and commenting, “oh my god, look at this one!” Along with the help of a few volunteers, Eisenberg will be running the shop during the month of December.

Katznelson and Eisenberg pulled out records to examine, including the classic Fiddler on the Roof, but more so albums that recently came back to light, like the Latin-tinged Bagels and Bongos — another album the Idelsohn Society reissued. Says Katznelson, “Hybrids happened, and it created new sounds — so what are those new sounds called?”

An example of the modern Jewish hybrid: Jeremiah Lockwood, New York-based bandleader of the Sway Machinery and grandson of legendary cantor Jacob Konigsberg, who will light the final two nights of Chanukah candles at the store, and perform live.

During his second appearance, Ethan Miller of Howling Rain and Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi All Stars will join Lockwood in performance. He met Dickinson back in 1998 when they worked on a friend’s album together. Says Lockwood. “It was my first trip to the South after spending my adolescence obsessed with country blues and it made a big impression on me.”

The rest of his performances will be a mixed bag, reflecting decades of the Jewish — and American — music experience. “I’m most comfortable playing blues-oriented material when I play solo, but I definitely plan to hit some tunes from the new Sway Machinery album,” he says, “I will certainly dig out some of my family’s Chanukah standards…very beautiful bits of Jewish folklore I grew up on and that were a part of the family Chanukah lighting ceremony.”

And just like that, after a month of record-selling and live performances culminating with holiday revelry, the pop-up will end, and it’ll be on to the next great idea for the Idelsohn Society. Like it was all some nostalgic, far-out folk dream. 


Dec. 1-Dec. 28, times vary, free (donations suggested)

3191 Mission, SF




Lessons of the Avalos campaign


By N’Tanya Lee

It’s the middle of the night. His two kids and wife are home in bed. Supervisor John Avalos, candidate for mayor, heads downtown in his beat-up family car. He parks and walks over to 101 Market Street, and casually starts talking to members of OccupySF. He’s a city official, but folks camped out are appreciative when they see he’s there to stand with them, to try to stop the cops from harassing them, even though its 1 a.m. and he should be in bed.

John Avalos was the first elected official to personally visit Occupy SF. It wasn’t a publicity stunt — his campaign staff didn’t even know he was going until it was over. He arrived and left without an entourage or TV cameras. This kind of moment — defined by John’s personal integrity and the strength of his personal convictions — was repeated week after week, and provides a much-needed model of progressive political leadership in the city.

John Avalos is more than “a progressive standard bearer,” as the Chronicle likes to call him. He’s also a Spanish-speaking progressive Latino, rooted in community and labor organizing, with a racial justice analysis and real relationships with hundreds of organizers and everyday people outside of City Hall. He’s demonstrated an authentic accountability to the disenfranchised of the city, to communities of color and working people, and he knows that ultimately the future of the city is in our hands.

Some accomplishments of John’s campaign for mayor are already clear: He consolidated the progressive-left with 19%, or nearly 40,000, first-place votes, despite the confusion of a crowded field; he came in a strong second to incumbent Ed Lee despite being considered a long shot even weeks before the election; after RCV tallies, he finished with an incredible 40% of the vote, demonstrating a much wider base of support across the city than he began with, and much broader than former frontrunners Leland Yee and David Chiu, who outspent him 3-1. He won the Castro, placed third in Chinatown (ahead of Yee), and actually won the election-day citywide vote. Not bad. In fact, remarkable, for a progressive Latino from a working class district in the southern part of town, running in his first citywide race.

I believe John Avalos demonstrated what can be accomplished with a new kind of progressive leadership — and suggests the elements of a new progressive coalition that can be created to win races in 2012, and again, in 2015.

It’s Monday afternoon, 1:35pm, time for our weekly Campaign Board meeting. John rushes in, after a dozen appointments already that day. The rest of us file into the ‘cave’ — the one private room in Campaign headquarters, with no windows, a makeshift wall and furniture that looks to be third-hand. The board makes the key strategy, message, and financial decisions. There are no high paid political consultants here. Most of us are, or have been, organizers. Today, we need to approve the campaign platform. Finally. We’ve decided to get people excited about our ideas, an agenda for change. We leave the meeting excited and nervous, wondering if anyone will get excited about the city creating its own Municipal Bank.

We were an unlikely crew to lead a candidate campaign — even a progressive one in San Francisco. We come from membership based community and labor organizations, and share a critique of white progressive political players and electeds who spend too few resources on building power through organizing and operate without accountability to any base. We are policy and politics nerds, but we hate traditional politics. Seventy percent of us are people of color — Black, Filipina, Latino, and Chinese. We are all women except John, the candidate, and nearly half of us are balancing politics with parenting.

The campaign board — including John himself—shared a vision for building progressive power. The campaign plan was explicit and specific about achieving outcomes that included winning room 200 but went beyond that central goal. We set out to strengthen progressive forces, to build towards the 2012 Supervisor races, and increase the capacity of the community-based progressive electoral infrastructure so we can keep building our collective power year-round, for the long-term.

We hope these victories will shape progressive strategy moving forward:

1. In just a few months, Team Avalos consolidated a new and unique progressive bloc. We brought together people and organizations who’d never worked together before — white bike riders and Latino anti-gentrification organizers, queer activists and African American advocates for Local Hire. The Avalos coalition was largely community forces: SF Rising’s base in working class Black, Latino, Filipino and Chinese communities; the Bike Coalition’s growing base of mostly white bike riders; affinity groups like Filipinos, Queers, Latinos and Arabs for Avalos; progressive Democrats; social networks of creative, young progressive activists affiliated with the League of Young Voters; and loyal families and neighborhood leaders from John’s own District 11. The campaign prioritized communicating to voters in four languages, and according to the Chinese press, John Avalos was the only non-Chinese candidate with a significant Chinese outreach program. There were stalwarts from progressive labor unions (most notably SEIU 1021 and USWW) who threw down — but overall, labor played it safe and invested resources in other guys. And then, in the great surprise development of the race, supporters of the new national occupy movement came to be a strong part of the Team Avalos base because the campaign was so well positioned to resonate with the call to take on the one percent.

2) Team Avalos built popular support for key progressive ideas. We used the campaign to build popular support for a citywide progressive agenda. Instead of leading with our candidate we led with bold, distinctive issues that provided a positive alternative vision to the economic crisis: Progressive taxation, municipal banking, and corporate accountability for living wage jobs instead of corporate tax breaks. By the end of the campaign, at least three other candidates came to support the creation of a city-owned bank, and the idea had enough traction that even the San Francisco Business Times was forced to take a position against it.

3) Team Avalos built the electoral capacity of grassroots organizations whose members have the most at stake if progressives gain or lose power in SF: poor and working-class communities of color. We developed the electoral organizing skills of a large new cohort of grassroots leaders and organizers of color with no previous leadership experience in a candidate campaign. They are ready for the next election.

For the last few months, I had the privilege of working with an unusual but extraordinary Avalos campaign team, who were exactly the right people for the right moment in history, to lead a long shot campaign to an unlikely, remarkable and inspiring outcome. Let’s build on these gains. In the coming weeks and months, we must be thorough in our analysis of this election, engage and expand the Avalos coalition base, and build unity around one or more collective demands of Mayor Lee from the left. And in time, we will have a progressive voting majority and a governing bloc in City Hall. We will win, with the mass base necessary to defend gains, hold our own electeds accountable, and truly take on the city’s one percent.

NTanya Lee was the Executive Director of Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth, and served as a volunteer chair of the Avalos for Mayor campaign board. You can find her now at USF or working on her new project about a long-term vision for left governance called Project 2040.


The one percent on the waterfront


EDITORIAL While Mayor Ed Lee struggles with the OccupySF encampment, another, very different group has its eyes on the city’s waterfront. On the edges of the ground where protesters are talking about the one percent of Americans that control the vast majority of the nation’s wealth, two major development projects aimed entirely at that very wealthy sliver are starting to move forward.

At 8 Washington and 75 Howard, developers want to build a total of 365 condominiums aimed at people with incomes that place them in the top sliver of the richest Americans. It will be a key test for the Ed Lee administration: Will he evict the Occupy protesters and allow the One Percent to claim choice property on the waterfront?

The 8 Washington project calls for 165 of what developer Simon Snellgrove says will be the most expensive condos ever built in San Francisco. The 12-story building, sitting on the edge of the Embarcadero, would include units selling for as much as $10 million, and even the low-end places would go for $2.5 million or more.

At 75 Howard, the Paramount Group and Morgan Stanley want to demolish a parking garage and erect a 284-foot tower with units that the San Francisco Business Times predicts would sell for at least $1,000 a square foot.

Just to be clear what we’re talking about here, a $2.5 million condo, according to real estate experts, would require that a buyer have $625,000 cash to put down and an income of more than $450,000 a year. Either that or millions in spare cash to plunk down.

That, needless to say, is not the majority of the working people in San Francisco.

There’s no conceivable planning or housing-policy rationale for either of these projects. They offer nothing that the city needs; there is absolutely no shortage of housing for people with that kind of income. In fact, allowing these two projects to proceed would directly violate the city’s own General Plan and every regional planning proposal for San Francisco’s housing mix. The General Plan states that some 60 percent of all the new housing built in San Francisco should be below market rate. Environmental sanity suggests that the city ought to be building housing for people who work here — high housing costs have driven thousands of local workers to live in the East Bay or further out, leading to long, energy-intensive commutes. And the more of this ultra-luxury housing the city builds, the more the housing balance gets disrupted — and the more rapidly San Francisco becomes a city of, by and for the One Percent.

The two projects have powerful support — among other things, Lee’s friend and ally Rose Pak is promoting 8 Washington, as is lobbyist Marcia Smolens. If Lee has any scrap of independence he’ll make it clear that both of these projects are dead on arrival.