Volume 46 Number 12

December 21-27, 2011

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On nostalgia

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arts@sfbg.com

YEAR IN FILM I haven’t laughed so hard or so deeply in a movie theater as I did watching The Muppets after a languorous Thanksgiving dinner. Perhaps it was as much due to the tryptophan, sugar, and booze coursing through my system as to the welcomely familiar zaniness transpiring onscreen, but more and more my chuckling was subtended by the throaty chokes that presage a good, deep cry. And when I caught the pointedly placed photo of Jim Henson in the background of an interior shot, it finally hit me: that warm lump in my chest was nostalgia.

For a movie as universally praised as The Muppets has been (and let it be said, its 97 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes is totally deserved), most of the nitpicking I’ve noticed has centered around whether the film pours on the sentiment too thickly, spoiling the fun with too much maudlin self-awareness about the Muppets’ past. “Nostalgia and reverence are anti-Muppet,” wrote one reviewer. But I don’t know if Jason Segal — who, aside from co-writing and starring in the film, was also the project’s greatest proselytizer — could have made The Muppets any other way.

For starters, the Muppets, for all their “let’s put on a show” tenacity and plain old absurdity, are like many professional entertainers, a vulnerable bunch. Think of Gonzo or Fozzie’s frequent moments of self-doubt, or Kermit’s periodic disillusionment with his role as ringmaster. The crestfallen wistfulness he displays at the start of The Muppets isn’t too far removed from the mid-career crisis he underwent in The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984). After all, it’s not easy being green.

The Muppets is also startlingly self-reflexive about the disjuncture between the Muppets’ status as Disney-owned intellectual property (acquired from Henson’s family in 2004) and their legacy as beloved cultural icons. The movie’s climax dramatizes this situation, effectively condensing the entire operation of emotional rescue that the film is premised on: having failed to raise enough money through their spirited telethon to buy back the rights to their name, Kermit and company nevertheless exit the old Muppet theater to an adoring public who, like much of the audience watching the film, never forgot them in the first place.

The drama at heart of the Muppets, what gives their wacky antics such emotional heft, and what necessarily makes The Muppets a reconnaissance mission and not just another franchise reboot, is this: becoming aware of one’s vulnerability is a huge and unavoidable part of growing up. Life can’t always be fun or fair. Eventually, we put away our stuffed animals and frayed blankets and take bigger risks, only to return to those objects as adults when we want to retreat from putting ourselves on the line again and again. But we can’t go back; not really. We can only move forward. The show must go on.

10 places to eat and drink on Christmas Day

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Because you and yours might be itching for something other than ham, sweet potatoes, and intense family time, we here present a list of restaurants that will be open Christmas Day providing non-holiday-oriented dinners and desserts. Relish in the savory bite-sized flavors of dim sum, or skip the solid food entirely and head to a downtown lounge for a cocktail with friends or solo.

 

Chouchou

Now this French restaurant is just plain cute. Perfect for dinner, or if you just want to grab a glass of wine and a chocolate pear tart while everyone else is doing the presents thing. Start off with an organic salad of mixed greens, red chard, tomatoes, goat cheese, apples, and pistachios. Then, enjoy the spot’s infamous homemade French onion soup. Still hungry? Request the Camembert apple tart, caramelized with honey.

Open Sun/25 5:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m.

400 Dewey, SF

(415) 242-0960

www.chouchoubistro.com


Mangia Tutti Ristorante

For over a decade Mangia Tutti Ristorante has been a local favorite offering a comfortable, casual atmosphere for inexpensive homestyle Italian food. Located in the Financial District, Mangia Tutti Ristorante serves garlic pastas with Italian sausage and prawns, homemade ravioli, and spaghetti. Even the bread is too good for words. And of course there are a wide variety of red wines to choose from — how else are you suppose to enjoy Italian food?

Open Sun/25 5:00-9:30 p.m.

635 Clay, SF

(415) 788-2088

www.mangiatuttisf.com


PPQ Dungeness Island

Although its often very busy for dinner, the cuisine here is worth the wait. Garlic noodles, peppercorn crab, and crab-fried rice are just a few of this Vietnamese restaurant’s mouth-watering selections. Its prices are very reasonable, and after all that holiday shopping you did it will be nice to eat on a budget.

Open Sun/25 1:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.

2332 Clement, SF

(415) 386-8266


Top of the Mark

Feeling fancy? Feeling romantic? Take your love to Top of the Mark for that breathtaking view and fawning service. Top of the Mark has been a San Francisco landmark since the late 1930s, when the 19th floor penthouse apartment of the Mark Hopkins Hotel was converted into a cocktail lounge. With over 100 cocktails to choose from you can get a little holiday buzz and wonder at the gorgeous views of downtown San Francisco.

Open Sun/25 10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.

Mark Hopkins San Francisco

1 Nob Hill, SF

(415) 616-6916

www.topofthemark.com


Boboquivari’s

Yes, there is a restaurant in the city where there is free valet service. After handing over your keys you can bite into a savory steak and a twice-baked baked potato. Boboquivari’s has been mentioned in over a dozen “top restaurants in San Francisco” lists, so you should definitely treat yourself to a wonderful Christmas Day dinner. Wash down your filet mignon with its Basil Hayden’s bourbon martini, the “bohattan,” because an unconventional Christmas meal calls for a cocktail. 

Open Sun/25 5:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.

1450 Lombard, SF.

(415) 441-8880

www.boboquivaris.com


M’s Café

It’s Christmas Day and you’re in a pickle. You shouldn’t have taken those last shots of tequila the night before at the Christmas Eve party and now you’re in desperate need of a cure-my-hangover-quick breakfast before heading to Mom and Dad’s house. When it comes to breakfast and brunch, M’s Café has got you covered. Try its corned beef hash (to die for!), its French toast (amazing!), and its black and white pudding (yum!). Mom will never know of the debauchery that took place the night before.

Open Sun/25 7:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.

1376 Ninth Ave., SF

(415) 665-1821


Chabaa Thai Cuisine

Celebrate Christmas Day with the rich flavors of the Far East. Its colorful curries and Thai spices make its feasts succulent and tender. You have the option of spicy or veggie dishes, red, yellow, and green curry, and of course panaeng. This Outer Sunset restaurant will even deliver to your home, so if you really can’t step away from that basketball or football game before halftime, no worries, just order online.

Open Sun/25 11:00 a.m.-1:00 a.m.

2123 Irving, SF

(415) 753-3347

420 Geary, SF

(415) 346-3121

www.chabaathaicuisine.com 


Great Eastern Restaurant

What’s better than dim sum on a Sunday? Dim sum on Christmas Day. Located in the heart of Chinatown, this Chinese restaurant’s food will make you want to return every Christmas just for their Peking spareribs, clams with black bean sauce, and variety of dumplings. Invite the gang to a filling and tasty meal (for cheap).

Open Sun/25 9:00 a.m.-nidnight

649 Jackson, SF

(415) 986-2500


Waterfront Restaurant

Pier 7 houses an elegant seafood restaurant perfect for groups on this holiday. With dishes like crab mashed potatoes and lobster risotto, everyone’s tastebuds will be pleased. If you have relatives visiting from out-of-town they will love the beautiful view of the Bay Bridge through the restaurant windows. For dessert, order the sticky pudding with caramel ice cream that has a perfect cake-to-ice cream ratio.

Open Sun/25 11:30 a.m.-10: 00 p.m.

Pier 7, SF

(415) 391-2696

www.waterfrontsf.com


Aslam’s Rasoi

Probably one of the best Pakistani and Indian restaurants in the city, Aslam’s is open every day, every holiday. This Mission spot has a staff that is friendly and engaging, so don’t be afraid to ask questions or for recommendations. Its most popular dishes are the goat cheese naan, lamb korma, and chicken tikka masala. With a broad palette of Pakistani flavors, the chef and owner — Aslam himself — blends cuisines for a healthy dining meal.

Open Sun/25 5-11 p.m.

1037 Valencia, SF

(415) 695-0599

www.aslamsrasoi.com

Occupying the future

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It was a funny feeling, seeing so many faces from Occupy San Francisco and Occupy Oakland in the bright, clean “Gold Room” of San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club, particularly after spending so many nights camping with them and covering the movement.

But they were there on Dec. 15, just up Market Street from their old campsites, along with a couple hundred supporters and interested community members, attending a forum on “Occupy: What now? What’s next?” Facilitator Caroline Moriarty Sacks announced that she “expected a civic conversation.” What she got was a very Occupy answer to the question of the evening which, in typical style, redefined the very concept of “civic” conversation.

The forum involved voices from many different parts of the left. Jean Quan, the Oakland mayor with a progressive activist past. George Lakoff, an outspoken liberal professor of linguistics at UC Berkeley. In the audience, dozens of people who support or are interested in Occupy, the mostly leftist San Francisco political milieu. And, of course, representing most of the panel and a good chunk of the audience were the active occupiers: anarchists, peace activists, labor organizers, and everything in between.

During the panels, their perspectives clashed. Yet Occupy strives to be a coalition of everyone, and all of these voices will be important as it progresses. Sacks had planned a 90-minute forum, featuring a panel to answer both moderator and audience questions, a break-out session, and summary reports back.

In their quest to practice participatory democracy, Occupy protesters have become used to long meetings that strive for non-hierarchical structure and a platform to hear the voice of anyone who would like to speak. If there’s one thing they can all agree upon, it’s that they’re a little tired of waiting patiently for their voices to be heard.

During the panel discussion, a few Occupiers started a Peoples Mic, interrupting Mayor Quan. They were escorted out. This fazed no one, and by the time she left the panel, chants demanding her recall rang in the hall. At each disruption, some Occupy-involved folks would object, “Listen to her! I want to hear all viewpoints!”

The tone was rowdy, but not aggressive. Minutes after disrupting the forum, protesters were back on schedule, sitting in small groups engaged in dialogue with other audience members. Even Quan was fine with it; she told the Oakland Tribune, “It was a chance to talk and have dialogue…We fostered a debate.”

This event was a microcosm of the thorny but crucial way that Occupy is uniting the left. The people in the room had something in common: belief in the visions and goals of Occupy. They just disagreed on how to get there.

Discussing, debating, and creatively bridging these differences has been one of the movement’s greatest struggles. But the more Occupy succeeds on the thorny path to unity, the more its strength builds.

Misrepresenting anarchism

Civil disobedience, peace, non-violence—all of these are critical concepts for the Occupy movement, and wrestling with them frankly has been part of the long road towards unification.

This has been done through the application of what’s originally an anarchist concept: embracing a diversity of tactics.

This is what the Occupy protesters did at the Commonwealth Club Forum. Some disapproved of disruptions, others thought them necessary. Individuals acted as they felt was right.

The Occupy supporters who turned their backs on Quan and interrupted her didn’t do it because they are inexplicably rude. They gave their reasons, including still being hurt and angry after Quan unleashed police using tear gas, rubber bullets, and aggression to break up their encampment on Oct. 25.

Quan also was displeased about that night’s events, saying that “No one is happy about what happened around the tear gas and mutual aid.”

The second reason for the reactions was what an Occupy Oakland protester who mic-checked Quan called her “misrepresentation of anarchism.” This has been dismissed and mocked by many press outlets, as if to say: What’s the point of bothering to understand anarchism?

Many people who identify with anarchist principles and tactics are involved with Occupy groups. This has contributed to the growth and development of autonomous communities at camps, as many anarchists have extensive knowledge and practice in building alternative communities based on horizontalism and collective management of resources. Occupy’s anarchist roots go deep.

This has also created controversy when tactics like property destruction and the black bloc, both associated with anarchism, become a part of Occupy. One example was the bank windows smashed and vacant building occupied during Occupy Oakland’s General Strike on Nov. 2, and riot police again responded with tear gas that night. The next day, 700 attended a General Assembly meeting to focus on discussing violence, its nature, and the ethics surrounding it.

Many have been quick to characterize this ongoing debate as a division in the movement. But if unity is to be achieved, these tough conversations are necessary.

Bringing it home

Occupy has been criticized for its lack of leaders, but that has left it open to exciting possibilities. To start a new Occupy project, you just have to convince some people to help you out—you must gain approval from no one. Some have described the organization as a “do-ocracy.” Don’t ask for permission, they say, just do it.

As such, the ideas for moving forward span from handfuls of people on street corners to millions converging on Washington.

Lakoff presented one of these concepts to the group at the Commonwealth Club, what he called “Occupy Elections.” Lakoff said, “Join Democratic clubs, and insist on supporting those people with your general moral principles. If you join Democratic clubs soon, you decide who gets to run. This is how the Tea Party took over.”

Like most ideas floating around in Occupy, there’s already something similar underway. Berkeley resident Joshua Green started the Occupy the Congress initiative, which hopes to organize and fund efforts for candidates “who support the declaration of the occupation of Wall Street.” Congressional candidates such as Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Norman Solomon here in California have expressed support for and goals similar to the Occupy movement.

Occupy Washington DC has taken the message to Congress in other ways. In an open forum with supporters and renowned economists, they developed their Budget Proposal for the 99 Percent and are coordinating with Occupy groups throughout the country to call for a National Occupation of Washington DC starting March 30.

A call to action like that has a chance of being huge. With the West Coast Port Shutdown on Dec. 12, Occupy has demonstrated an ability to coordinate nationally. Those actions also showed Occupy’s growing unity with labor groups, as ILWU members worked closely with Occupy to plan those actions.

On Dec. 6, Occupy demonstrated its dedication to yet another new frontier—occupying foreclosed homes. That was a national day of action called by Occupy Our Homes and Occupy groups in over two dozen cities participated, defending homeowners threatened with eviction and moving the homeless into empty properties.

Hibernation

By the time moderator Melissa Griffin asked her final question to the panel, it was clear that the “civic conversation” had not gone as planned. Two Occupy protesters had been escorted out for interrupting Jean Quan. A handful of others had stood and turned their backs when she spoke. The crowd was restless for their own chance to grill the panelists, and there were only a few minutes left. With a faint look of dismay and hopelessness, Griffin asked the question that had no chance of being quickly answered: What’s next for occupy?

She quoted Kalle Lasn, co-founder of Adbusters, the “culture-jamming” organization credited with prompting Occupy Wall Street. In a recent interview with NPR, Lasn said: “I think that we should hibernate for the winter. We should brainstorm with each other. We should network with each other and then come out swinging next spring.” Griffin asked the panelists if they agreed with that statement.

Of course, some did and some didn’t. In fact, some form of “hibernation” is what many plan to do. In San Francisco, Occupy reading groups, workshops, and educational circles are on the rise. Small actions happen almost daily, ranging from workshops to meetings to marches to pop-up occupations.

Occupiers who were kicked out of camps are sleeping in networks of squats, safe-houses, and what one long-time camper described as “little homeless encampments around the city. We don’t put up an Occupy banner, and police don’t arrest us.”

The forum was a microcosm of the debates and plans brewing within Occupy, and it ended like most Occupy events. New connections had been made. Most people trickled out while several Occupy campers stayed to help stack chairs and clean up from the event. They all eventually exited the warm building, with its empty lobby that could have slept at least 50 people. OccupySF and Oakland activists chatted and advised each other on where to go.

Occupy is a resurgence in the spirit and power of protest and peoples movements, a recognition that the personal is political, that individuals losing their jobs and their homes can have more power in numbers. Organizing and protest has become a lifestyle.

As the Occupiers left the Commonwealth Club building, the future seemed thrilling, although many still needed a place to sleep for the night while those possibilities continue to percolate.

Last-minute gift guide

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HOLIDAY GUIDE Look at it this way: you’re not a procrastinator, you’ve just been resisting the pull of the holiday commercial machine.. until you’re on the way to spin the dreidel — or it’s dusk, Saturday, and the thought of tomorrow’s Christmas festivities with your clan is giving you sweaty palms. Will your lack of giftage imply a cold heart? If you lose your anti-consumerist stubborn, last minute shopping that a. supports your local businesses and b. won’t make you look like you left it all for the last minute is available to you. Here’s our list, complete with the final hour the shop is open on Christmas Eve (which doesn’t mean these stores won’t serve just as well for Chanukers, Kwanzelles, and Festiv-ites).

Z. CIOCCOLATO

Every once in awhile you come across a future giftee like a brick wall. Maybe you don’t know the person all that well (boyfriend’s as-yet un-met mom), you’re having issues getting them something they don’t have already (your too-cool tech-glich neighbor). May we suggest candy? This North Beach sweet spot is open really late on Saturday and stocks the finest in fudge, caramel popcorn, and retro throwbacks. Abba Zabba? Indeed.

Open until midnight, 474 Columbus, SF. (415) 395-9116, www.zcioccolato.com

COLLAGE GALLERY

A store full of knick-knacks is a great bet for finding unique gifts for your loved ones. From loose typewriter keys and scrabble pieces to jewelry by local artists and vintage purses, this Potrero Hill shop is a super stop when you’ve got a femme artistic type in mind. Have a friend who is decorating their new apartment? Sis just had a baby? Collage Gallery is known for having the most eclectic collections of vintage wall letters, numbers, and clocks. So tick-tock, get over there.

Open until 5 p.m., 1345 18th St., SF. (415) 282-4401, www.collage-gallery.com

AMOEBA MUSIC

This music store is godsend on Christmas Eve. With a large selection of new and used CDs, 45s, concert posters, and out-of-print albums, you already know Amoeba Music is a music lover’s dream. You can buy gifts for the whole family: a Grateful Dead album for Dad, Common’s just-released The Dreamer, the Believer for your brother and something vinyl for your “we’ve only been dating a few months, what the hell do I buy them?” partner. Treat yourself to the new Snoop Dogg-Wiz Khalifa collab album when your list is all checked off.

Open until 7:30 p.m., 2455 Telegraph, Berk. (510) 549-1125, www.amoeba.com

GG’S

The place to last-minute shop for mom is clearly GG’s, although you can probably find gifts for just about anyone in this West Portal shop. GG’s is a specialty store with a product selection that traverses from the creative to the elegant to the witty. Selling jewelry, candles, lotions, perfumes, and soaps, pretty little things will catch your eye, almost guaranteed. And GG’s does do giftwrap — a Christmas lifesaver.

Open until 6 p.m., 11 West Portal, SF. (415) 731-1108

THE FRUIT GUYS

For the super-last minute, nothing beats a solid online purchase. The Fruit Guys is a local farm delivery service that was started out of South San Francisco. It’s burgeoned dramatically and now has centers in Phoenix, Philadelphia, and Chicago — so if you have relatives in the Mid-West and East Coast that “don’t get” the whole local food thing, give ’em a little goose. Fruit boxes run as little as $26 per month, and you can cease delivery whenever you wish. (Note: If your rels don’t live in one of those cities, the food might come from a little further away, but the Fruit Guys try to utilize local farms wherever they can.)

(877) 378-4863, www.fruitguys.com

 

>>STORES ALSO OPEN LATE ON CHRISTMAS EVE:

FOOD

Shufat Market Open until 2 a.m., 3807 24th St., SF. (415) 826-6207

17th and Noe Groceteria Open until 11 p.m., 3900 17th St., SF. (415) 863-6337

ART/BOOKSTORES

Green Apple Books Open until 11:30 p.m., 506 Clement, SF. (415) 387-2272, www.greenapplebooks.com

SF MOMA Museum Store Open until 6:30 p.m., 151 Third St., SF. (415) 357-4000, www.sfmoma.org/museumstore

Alexander Book Company Open until 5 p.m., 50 Second St., SF. (415) 495-2992, www.alexanderbook.com

TOY/HOBBY STORES

The Ark Toy Store Open until 5 p.m., 3845 24th St., SF. (415) 821-1257, www.thearktoys.com

Jeffrey’s Toys Open until 6 p.m., 685 Market, SF. (415) 243-8697

Mission Skateboards Open until 5 p.m., 3045 24th St., SF. (415) 647-7888, www.missionsk8boards.com

CLOTHING/ACCESSORIES

Gravel and Gold Open until 4 p.m., 3266 21st St., SF. (415) 552-0112, www.gravelandgold.com

Therapy Open until 7:30 p.m., 545 Valencia, SF. (415) 865-0981, www.shopattherapy.com

Unionmade Open until 4:30 p.m., 493 Sanchez, SF. (415) 861-3373, www.unionmadegoods.com

FLORAL SHOPS

Verde SF Open until 6 p.m., 1265 Fell, SF. (415) 796-3890, www.verdesf.com

Utsuwa Floral Design Open until 7 p.m., 1339 Polk, SF. (415) 447-8476, www.utsuwafd.com

 

The reluctant soloist

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MUSIC Michael Beach is not the conventional — or, cliché — singer-songwriter. Granted, he writes stripped down folk rock, but he’s not locked in the style. He can swallow the comparisons to Nick Drake or Mason Jennings, but he hasn’t modeled himself after those (or any other) singer-songwriters really. “I think that I would get bored if that’s all I listened to,” he says. It explains why there’s more to his bare bones sound — the dude simply doesn’t fit the mold.

“It’s not like I sit at home and read Greek mythology,” Beach tells me over the phone. Yet, in answer to a question about his newest record, Mountains + Valleys, released on Spectacular Commodity/Twin Lake Records, he evokes narratives and characters from biblical text and classical myths.

“You take something,” he explains, “a character from a myth, a religious tradition, or a historical figure and that symbolizes an idea. And then you manipulate those ideas by explaining it through the characters.”

“So you make it your own in other words,” I counter.

“I mean I’m certainly not under the impression that nothing like this has ever been done before.”

Beach is quick to pass on credit to others, whether it’s his predecessors or the musicians who’ve lent him a hand in the studio. It makes you think he’s still vaguely uncomfortable as a solo artist. First and foremost, Beach is the guitarist and lead singer of Electric Jellyfish, a rock band based out of Melbourne, Australia. Beach, who’s from Merced, attended La Trobe University in the suburbs of Melbourne and formed the band with Peter Warden and Adam Camilleri roughly seven years back.

It was when Electric Jellyfish took a short break that Beach started recording on his own. “I didn’t want to be idle, so I recorded an album.” It was as simple as that — Blood Courses was released in 2008. However, two years later, Beach’s visa expired. He was forced back to the states and made his home in San Francisco.

Now the members of Jellyfish take turns touring their respective countries. They have a forthcoming seven-inch entitled Trouble Coming Down, and are on the bill to play Austin, Texas’ SXSW in March. In the meantime, Beach is left to his own devices.

Mountains + Valleys shares similarities with Beach’s previous album, but with some notable differences. “[Blood Courses] was really, really sparse and brittle; purposefully one guitar track and one vocal track. I wanted to stretch my legs a little bit and incorporate some other instruments for a whole band sound. But I still wanted to keep things sparse and basic.”

Mountains + Valleys is sparse. However, as the title indicates, it ascends in dramatic directions too. Beach may hold back at times, but he can yank those chains off and embrace a devil-may-care attitude. It’s painstaking calculation as much as pure impulse. If Beach is fairly abstruse with his words, he’s clearly vulnerable in his vocal delivery. If “So Said the Birds” has elements you might ascribe to folk, “Straight Spines” gushes with enough drive to call straight indie-rock.

Interspersed throughout the album are brief instrumentals that vary from the electric rock collage of “Central San Joaquin” to the more subtle and dissonant “Shasta.” Beach says the inspiration for the instrumentals was Chris Smith’s Bad Orchestra, which wasn’t widely released outside of Australia.

“I think [the instrumentals] made me less one-dimensional, less like ‘I’m a guy who writes songs and strums my guitar.’ There’s more than one way of conveying meaning in music.”

MICHAEL BEACH

Wed/21

With Brian Smith, and the Same

9 p.m., $6

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

(415) 596-7777

www.hemlocktavern.com

 

Volume 46 Number 12

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Are we green yet?

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rebeccab@sfbg.com

A contract agreement for San Francisco’s innovative clean energy program, CleanPowerSF, could be approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors as soon as January, representing a major milestone for efforts to put the city in the retail electricity business.

CleanPowerSF, which stands out as one of California’s most ambitious community choice aggregation (CCA) municipal energy programs, would offer San Francisco customers the option of powering their homes with 100 percent renewable energy instead of the standard mix of predominantly gas and nuclear-generated power supplied by PG&E.

According to a draft contract introduced at the board, energy would be purchased on the open market by Shell Energy North America and delivered to residential customers, who would pay a modest premium for the service. The first phase would target a narrow customer base, with plans for expansion.

In the long run, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) has committed to constructing city-owned wind farms, solar arrays, and combined-heat-and-power systems to generate green power locally, which would ultimately lock in lower electricity rates — but this remains in an early assessment phase. Energy consultant Paul Fenn of Local Power Inc. is conducting the study.

 

HURRY UP AND WAIT?

The fact that a draft contract agreement is under consideration signifies a breakthrough for a program that for years crept along at a snail’s pace, as tension simmered between SFPUC officials and members of the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), the body overseeing CleanPowerSF implementation.

“We have been waiting for this for so many years,” remarked Sup. David Campos, who chairs LAFCo. “We pushed the [SFPUC] really hard.”

Yet longtime advocates of San Francisco’s CCA, like Eric Brooks and other environmentalists affiliated with the Local Clean Energy Alliance, worry that CleanPowerSF will never hit its stride because it won’t be accessible to customers who want to go green but can’t afford the higher price tag. In an ironic twist, he and others who previously excoriated the SFPUC for its sluggish progress are now urging the lead agency to pause instead of steamrolling ahead.

“We did not want things to go the way they did,” Brooks said. “We’re saying, you should not finalize the contract with Shell until we have the build-out information. It enables us to get better rates,” he added. With detailed, shovel-ready plans in place, Brooks said, arrangements with Shell could hinge on plans for city-owned generation.

Early plans for city-generated power call for enough projects and retrofits to account for 360 megawatts of efficient and renewable energy capacity, including 31 MW of solar panels and 150 MW from a wind farm, plus a combination of weatherization and other efficiency measures. The Local Clean Energy Alliance estimates that more than 1,000 jobs associated with these projects could be created within the first three years.

SFPUC officials and Campos remain unconvinced that it’s a good idea to hold off on finalizing the Shell contract.

“We’re all kind of moving toward the same goal,” SFPUC spokesperson Charles Sheehan said. “If we wait a year or two years, you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. We have to seize the moment.”

Campos and Sheehan both said advocates’ concerns would be addressed by a contract provision allowing the city to swap green power purchased by Shell with green power produced locally, once the electricity becomes available. The SFPUC also agreed to a provision committing to the build-out program, on a separate track from the Shell contract.

“We’re not going to be able to [start building] unless we have the customer base to begin with,” Campos pointed out. “I have a different perspective in terms of why it’s important to move forward,” he acknowledged, but said he was looking forward to a “healthy debate” at the board.

For all its complications, CleanPowerSF is a quintessential example of that progressive adage “think globally, act locally.” In early November, the International Energy Agency issued a warning calling for dramatic changes in power generation. With so many coal-fired power plants under construction worldwide, the agency noted, the opportunity to avert the worst impacts of global climate change will have passed completely by 2017.

 

ULTRA GREEN, FOR A FEE

San Franciscans will be able to reduce personal energy usage and perhaps shed some consumer guilt by participating in the CCA program. Under the plan, Shell will purchase electricity from carbon-free sources and sell it to the SFPUC for distribution to CleanPowerSF customers. The shift will green the power mix on the grid while sending market signals that the demand for renewable power is on the rise.

At the start of the program, which the SFPUC pegs as July or August of 2012, up to 270,000 residential customers will be automatically enrolled. Targeted customers will also receive notices asking them to choose whether to stay with the program, or opt out and continue receiving power from PG&E.

Exact rates won’t be hammered down until February or March of 2012, but preliminary estimates suggest most customers will pay roughly $7 a month more for the green power, though a few (those who use a lot of electricity) could wind up paying as much as $50 more.

The price tag could prove to be a tough sell, even in affluent San Francisco. “We’ve done extensive market research,” explained Sheehan. “And we have taken into account PG&E’s opposition campaign,” an all-but-guaranteed response to the program which the utility giant unleashed in full force when neighboring Marin County undertook its own CCA.

Based on the research, “We are forecasting a two-thirds opt-out rate,” Sheehan explained. Initially, this means only around 10 percent of San Francisco residents — a population likely limited to those in higher income brackets — are expected to enroll. From there, new rounds of enrollment and opt-out noticing would follow.

The draft contract includes a $19.5 million appropriation, which includes operating reserves plus a $15 million escrow account. That’s the maximum payout Shell could receive if the city terminated the contract before the agreed-upon date and left the company stuck with unused power.

“It’s one way of showing we have some skin in the game,” Sheehan explained. Shell would only be eligible for $15 million at the start of the 4.5 year contract, he added, and even then it would only take effect if Shell was forced to sell the excess power at a lower price than it paid.

The Shell contract cannot go into effect until several steps have been accomplished. First, the board must give its stamp of approval for the contract and the $19.5 million appropriation. The SFPUC must then finalize program rates.

The SFPUC is also awaiting a ruling from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) determining a bond amount required for all CCA programs. The bond is “kind of a mechanism to make PG&E whole, if in the very unlikely circumstance, this program would cease,” and PG&E had to absorb all CCA customers immediately, Sheehan explained. He said a ruling is expected in February.

The plan to offer ultra green power at a higher price is a departure from the original program goals, which were to offer greener-than-average power at or below PG&E electricity rates. That concept was jettisoned after SFPUC staff determined the objective wouldn’t pencil out in the short term.

Whether or not the supervisors will sign off on the contract as it stands remains to be seen, though Sheehan was optimistic. Campos said it would be important to educate members of the board of supervisors and the public about the program. “It’s going to be investment that’s going to pay for itself,” he said, “many years down the road.”

The unlikely sheriff

1

Michael Hennessey has served as San Francisco’s sheriff for half of his life, the longest such career in California history — and by all accounts the most progressive. Since taking office in 1980, Hennessey has been an island of liberal enlightenment in a political climate and law enforcement culture where tough-talking conservatism has been ascendant.

Yet in that era, Hennessey pioneered the creation of innovative programs to compassionately deal with drug abuse, violence, recidivism, and lack of education among jail inmates. He proactively brought unprecedented numbers of minorities, women, LGBT employees, and ex-convicts onto his staff. And he sometimes resisted carrying out evictions or honoring federal immigration hold orders, bold and risky social-justice stands.

His stances drew scorn from the local law enforcement community, which never endorsed him in contested elections, and criticism from political moderates and national media outlets. But San Francisco voters reelected him again and again, until he finally decided to retire as his current term ends next month.

He credits his success and longevity to the people of San Francisco, who have also bucked the harsh national attitude toward criminals and the poor. “San Francisco is still largely a liberal voting town,” he told us in his well-worn office at City Hall, “and not many liberals run for sheriff.”

That logic held up in this year’s election when progressive Sup. Ross Mirkarimi — Hennessey’s hand-picked successor — was elected to the post. Mirkarimi, who led a tribute to Hennessey at the Dec. 13 Board of Supervisors meeting, said he’s honored to be able to continue the legacy of someone he called “the most innovative sheriff in the United States.”

 

LONG RECORD

Hennessey was a 32-year-old Prisoner Legal Services attorney for the Sheriff’s Department in 1979 as he watched then-Sheriff Eugene Brown letting go of reform-minded staffers and ending his predecessor Dick Hongisto’s early experiment with a school in the jail. So Hennessey quit his job and focused on running for the office.

“I said to myself that I’m not sure if I’ll be a good sheriff or not, but I know I’m better than anyone else running,” he told us, later adding, “I certainly never expected to be sheriff for 32 years.”

Rank-and-file deputies — with whom Hennessey has periodically clashed throughout his career — always preferred one of their own in the job. “As seen in this election, they would like to see someone coming from their ranks,” said Hennessey, even though he notes that at this point, he has hired all but three of the department’s nearly 1,000 employees.

But Hennessey’s outsider status allowed him to deal with the inmate population in a way that the average San Franciscan appreciated, even if the average cop didn’t. “When you’re in law enforcement, all you see are criminals, victims, and people in law enforcement. But I would talk to all kinds of people in the community,” Hennessey said, noting that his experience as a jailhouse attorney gave him a holistic view of his job. “I worked in the jail and I got to know prisoners as people.”

They were people who had certain needs and problems, such as substance abuse, a common problem among criminals. And they were people who would be returning to society at some point, as Hennessey constantly reminded those who expected prisoners to be treated harshly or simply warehoused.

So he broke down the wall between the jail and the community, bringing the city’s social service providers and educators to work programs in the jails, and developing anti-recidivism and vocational programs that allowed ex-offenders to re-engage with the local community.

“Take the bold step of inviting the public in, not all the public, but those who can provide services and help address people’s problems,” Hennessey said. “Then we took the same concept and applied it to violent offenders, which is a little riskier.”

But it was a risk that has paid off as recidivism rates among jail inmates has dropped, and it’s been without any serious cases of inmates harming outsiders. Hennessey is particularly proud of the high school he created in the jail, which will graduate its next class on Jan. 3.

He said the school can truly transform those who end up behind bars. “It gives them a leg up and it’s like a booster shot,” Hennessey said. “They’re at the lowest point in their lives when the come to jail, and then they’re given an opportunity to accomplish something they haven’t been able to on the outside.”

One of many controversial moves during Hennessey’s storied career was his decision to allow female inmates to leave the jails and perform in theaters around San Francisco with the Medea Project, which was created by Rhodessa Jones and the Culture Odyssey art collective to turn the stories of female inmates into plays.

“Rhodessa is a very persuasive person who talked me into letting these women out of jail to perform,” Hennessey said, smiling at the memory. “It was very controversial.”

 

HIRING REFORMERS

Hennessey’s mentor in the Sheriff’s Department — the man who hired him, ran his first campaign, and then became his longtime chief-of-staff — was the late Ray Towbis, a tough activist whose social justice stands on behalf of tenants, prisoners, and other marginalized members of society would sometimes put Hennessey into difficult positions.

“Ray caused me aggravation many times,” said Hennessey, who nonetheless kept a life-sized cutout photo of Towbis in his office long after he was gone, a reminder to fight for the values he believed in.

There was the time when Towbis angrily flipped over a table and cursed at a panel of parole commissioners after failing to win the release of a model inmate, triggering a demand from the presiding judge that Hennessey fire Towbis, which the sheriff ignored.

Later, Towbis adopted a compassionate approach to the evictions that sheriff’s deputies are forced to perform, allowing deputies to spare tenants who were disabled or elderly and personally calling journalists to help publicize cases in which the parties bringing the eviction action might back off. That sensitivity stays with Hennessey today.

“That’s one of the tough spots I’m in is doing these foreclosure evictions,” Hennessey said, clearly troubled by his duty but also aware that it is one that he is required to perform, despite pressure from progressive groups urging him to refuse to carry them out.

As a lawyer, Hennessey said he must respect court orders and avoid being held in contempt of court, as Hongisto was in the mid-1970s for refusing to carry out evictions against tenants in the International Hotel.

Hennessey and his staff have always been willing to help tenants resist eviction. His office has an eviction assistance program, and Towbis would sometimes tip off the media to publicize certain unjust evictions. One time, Hennessey said Towbis even called hotel magnate Leona Helmsley and talked her out of allowing her company to evict an elderly ParkMerced resident. Instead, Helmsley allowed the woman to live rent-free for the rest of her life, an unlikely gesture of kindness from the “queen of mean” that Towbis helped publicize.

Hennessey draws the line at outright refusal to carry out a judge’s eviction order. “The sheriff shouldn’t be a law-breaker,” he says. Yet Hennessey’s lawyerly approach to complex issues also resulted in his recent policy of not honoring federal detention holds on undocumented immigrants in the jail, after discovering that the holds are administrative — different than arrest warrants — so defying them isn’t a crime.

The policy Hennessey created last year was to ignore ICE requests for prisoners who aren’t charged with felonies or domestic violence charges, noting that the latter charges are often brought but eventually dropped against people who are the victims of domestic violence.

Hennessey tapped federal and foundation grant money to fund his new treatment and educational programs, hiring an ex-convict to write his grant proposals, something that particularly irked many of his deputies.

But Hennessey believed that ex-offenders had something to offer the department so he didn’t back down in hiring them, going so far as to elevate Michael Marcum, who had gone to prison for killing his own abusive father, to the top position of undersheriff in 1993.

Police groups were outraged, but Hennessey said he had known Marcum for many years and valued his counsel and perspective on the criminal justice system. “It wasn’t hard because I knew him and I know of his integrity and loyalty,” Hennessey said.

Hennessy also irked conservative cop culture for aggressive efforts to make the department more diverse. “We wanted more minorities, we wanted more women, and we wanted gay people,” said Hennessey, who initiated outreach efforts to each of those communities.

In 1984, when he approved of an outreach event in Chaps, a gay leather bar in the Castro — complete with flyers around the Castro publicizing the event — it generated a furor that made headlines not just locally in the San Francisco Chronicle, but the National Enquirer tabloid as well.

Yet Hennessey was able to ride out each of the controversies, many of which happened to fall years away from his next reelection campaign. “Those are good times to make dramatic changes,” Hennessey said.

And because he also saw to some neglected basics in the Sheriff’s Department — such as improving training and the jails’ physical structures to prevent escapes and instituting policies to reduce violence between inmates and guards — Hennessey endured and became a beloved sheriff.

 

VICTORY OF PERSISTENCE

“I’ve always felt somewhat isolated in these beliefs,” said Hennessey, who said that the biggest failure of his career was not proselytizing those beliefs to a statewide and national audience more aggressively. Instead, he has focused on San Francisco, quietly turning the city into a national model for a different kind of policing.

Despite his progressive record, Hennessey has won plaudits and respect from across the political spectrum. In the last election, even the cops who sought to replace him and to undermine his endorsement of Mirkarimi — Chris Cunnie, Paul Miyamoto, and David Wong — all praised Hennessey and promised to continue his programs.

During the Dec. 13 board meeting, Sup. Mark Farrell — consistently one of the most conservative votes on the board — said he has known Hennessey almost his entire life (the sheriff and Farrell’s dad were law school classmates). “I cannot think of anyone with more integrity, a more trustworthy and honest person, than I’ve ever know in my life,” Farrell said.

Sup. David Campos said the immigrant community owes Hennessey a tremendous debt of gratitude. “You have been a tremendous champion for civil rights,” Campos said. “For that, history will judge you very kindly.”

It is a history that Mirkarimi pledges to continue. “Who’s going to fill his shoes? It’s impossible,” Mirkarimi said at the board meeting. “But we certainly have an incredible standard to try to live up to.”

As for Hennessey, he has a fairly clear idea of what he plans to do now that his long and unlikely run as one of the city’s top cops is over: “I’m going to goof around.” *

Top flight

0

arts@sfbg.com

YEAR IN DANCE If you are a trend spotter, you will have noticed two changes within the local dance ecology that probably will influence how we see dance in the foreseeable future.

First, not only have dancers been foregoing the proscenium theater — after all, there aren’t that many around here — but they’ve also been sidestepping theaters altogether. They find spaces in museums, bars, parks, and streets, even former newspaper offices. Or they perform in studios which become informal community gatherings where audiences, in addition to seeing work, get a sense of participating in something being created. Dancers’ Group and CounterPULSE’s “2nd Sundays,” the RAWDance’s “CONCEPT Series,” and Kunst-Stoff Arts are among the most prominent examples of this.

The second change relates to funding. No need to spell out how dire the financial picture has become for big organizations that have infrastructures to support. But for the small and medium-sized companies, it’s been just about catastrophic. So how to get the cash to put on a show or take advantage of a touring opportunity? In the commercial world it’s called “direct marketing.” Dancers are nothing if not entrepreneurial. They are taking to the internet, asking for small donations and keeping people informed about the progress of the “campaign.”

Trying to rethink the past 12 months of dance viewing is mind-boggling; coming up with a “best-of list” is no less so. Take the following ten as one observer’s bouquet to all the dancers who have enriched our lives in 2011. They are listed chronologically by the date of when they were seen.

In its third program (Feb. 24, War Memorial Opera House), San Francisco Ballet showcased the classical language as infinitely pliable and capable of contemporary expressiveness. Yet Yuri Possokhov and William Forsythe could not have done it more differently. Possokhov’s 2010 small-scaled Classical Symphony — three couples and a corps of eight — seduced with its speed, wit, and exuberance. Forsythe’s 1984 tour de force Artifact Suite challenged a huge ensemble with gale-force attacks, imploding unisons, and ever-changing designs. In this context even Helgi Tomasson’s 1993 Nanna’s Lied looked decent.

Spanning 55 years of work, the Merce Cunningham Company (Feb. 3, Cal Performances/Zellerbach Hall) bid its farewell with three pieces that beautifully showcased the late choreographer’s extraordinary range. Antic Meet (1958) showed him young and clever; in the lyrical Pond Way (1998) we saw Cunningham’s affinity for the natural world, and in Sounddance (1975) the backdrop swallowed his dancers one by one. It was a good-bye from artist who had the guts to pull the curtain on himself.

Zaccho Dance Theatre‘s The Monkey and the Devil (April 17, Novellus Theater) didn’t pull any punches about the persistence of racism. A tough show to watch, it was low on “entertainment” values but chock-full of convincingly painful confrontations in which two couples, one white, one black, mirrored each others’ anguish and anger.

In 1979, audiences were taken aback by Lucinda ChildsDance (April 28, San Francisco Performances/Novellus Theater) which incorporated a film by Sol LeWitt and a score by Philip Glass. Its rigor, aesthetic purity, and pedestrian vocabulary alienated many. Yet Dance is a gorgeous piece of choreographic architecture. How fun it was to watch, in 2011, dancers doing the exact same steps so differently as those caught on the film more than 30 years ago.

The Polish Teatr Zar‘s stunningly original and impeccably realized The Gospels of Childhood Triptych, (May 25, St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church and Potrero Hill Neighborhood House) is one of the reasons that the San Francisco International Arts Festival has to exist. With its ritualistic pacing and its fusion of music, movement, and language (“Zar” means “funeral song”), Gospels attempted to suggest something approaching the divine and the restrictions of the self.

Pooling resources is today’s mantra. But few go to the depth of intellectual and emotional sharing that Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton do. They co-choreographed the exhilarating The Experience of Flight in Dreams (June 9, ODC Theater) and came up with a soloists-ensemble format rarely seen in modern dance. To have such a unified and well-realized perspective from such different artists was thrilling.

Science, or writers such Maxine Hong Kingston or Gary Snyder, often inspire Kathryn Roszak‘s work. The reprise of the fine Pensive Spring (Sept. 25, Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley), based on the works by Emily Dickinson, proved to be a thoroughly intelligent and finely crafted dance theater piece that illuminated a great creative mind through music, dance, and language.

AXIS Dance Company (Oct. 7, Malonga Casquelourd Theater) commissioned the Australian choreographer Marc Brew to give the company its first story-ballet. Taking a bow to dance history and soap operas, Brew’s slyly voyeuristic Full of Words moved through knotted entanglements with insight, humor, and compassion. It was a fine vehicle for the company and should be around for a long time.

José Limón is a giant of early modern dance, yet few practitioners have ever seen his work live. So for tiny San Jose’s sjDANCEco (Oct. 15, California Theatre, San Jose) to attempt Missa Brevis, a major Limon choreography, just about amounted to hubris. But former Limón dancer and sjDANCEco’s artistic director, Gary Masters, scoured the community and trained the dancers — some of them college and high school students — in the requisite combination of strength and restraint. The performance of this jewel of modernism became a minor miracle.

Finally, Deborah Slater and Julie Hébert‘s Night Falls (Oct. 21, ODC Theater) looked at the process of aging from a “three ages of man” perspective, except that this was a woman’s life crisis. Most intriguing was the way language and dance — much of it gestural — bounced off each other, creating the vibrant environment in which the performers could fully extend themselves.

Toasts with the most

0

virginia@sfbg.com

APPETITE We seek wine recommends the year ’round, but never more than the during the holiday season. Here’s some affordable sipping assistance for ringing in the new year or decking the halls with friends. (Key local shops like K&L Wine Merchants, Jug Shop, Arlequin, Bi-Rite, or SF Wine Trading Co., may stock these bottles or can likely get them for you).

 

GOING BUBBLY

Nothing says New Year’s Eve like champagne, and at a recent Bubble Lounge industry tasting my palate was piqued by a few. I cannot afford Armand de Brignac champagne, but if you can splurge, by all means, be my guest. Offered in elaborate, hand-carved bottles marked by pewter labels, attention to detail is paramount. Thankfully, the champagne is as elevated as the package. The Blanc de Blanc is buttery with oak, balanced by a chardonnay crispness; the Rose is a gently flushed beauty; Brut Gold is a showcase blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Menuier. I may never be able to stock my wine cabinet with a bottle — it’s often priced at more than $300 a bottle — but I anticipate the joy of tasting it again.

However, at a ridiculously reasonable $7.99 per bottle, Spain’s Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut earned my kudos with earthy, citrus notes and bone-dry finish. The Cristalino Rose was also lovely, redolent of mushroom and tart cherry, made with Pinot Noir and the less common Trepat grape.

Cloverhill Sparkling from Tasmania, priced around $30, is bready and crisp, balanced with honey. Zardetto Rose Raboso Veronese and Zeta Prosecco are both real values: the Rose is laden with strawberry and vanilla cream, while the acidic Prosecco is food friendly. (Both around $15).

 

CIDER SIPPING

With a long American history, cider is low in alcohol and a happy food companion… a welcome change of pace from wine and champagne. I received a few samples this fall, my pick being an upstate New York duo. Newton Pippin Original Sin Cider, is made from single heirloom Pippin varietals, known as “the prince of apples”. Uber dry and crisp, it pairs well with a wide range of foods (I rather like it with pretzels and mustard). Cherry Tree Original Sin Cider is a winning combo of tart cherries combined with crisp heirloom apples. (Both come at around $12 per bottle.)

 

VALUE WINES

A few recent favorites that won’t break your bank:

Lasseter Enjoué, Sonoma — This $24 rose from the just-opened Lasseter Family Winery (you may know John Lasseter as Pixar-Disney’s CFO and director of films like Toy Story) is a dry Rhone-style rose, whispering with Mediterranean breezes and flower gardens. It’s a Syrah, Mourvedre, and Grenache blend, (enjoué, means “joyful, playful”). Although winter might not seem ideal, I’d sip this softly acidic beauty for a winter escape or hold onto it until the days lengthen … my favorite of the four wines at the elegantly understated winery. John, his wife Nancy, and winemaker Julia Iantosca have a love of Bordeaux and Rhone wines, apparent in their blended wines representing varietals from both regions. Purchase online at www.lasseterfamilywinery.com or at the winery (tastings by appointment).

Gerard Bertrand Chateau L’Hospitalet, France — 2007 Gerard Bertrand Chateau L’Hospitalet Reserve is one of the better French bargain reds. At a mere $8.99 per bottle, this wine from the La Clape region of the Languedoc is fruit-forward, begging to partner with a hearty cassoulet or coq au vin. A blend of 30 percent Grenache, 40 percent Syrah, and percent Mourvedre, its soft spice is balanced by minerality and subtle oak.

Landmark 2009 Grand Detour Pinot Noir, Sonoma — At $40, this is Landmark winery’s lower-priced Pinot which I actually prefer to its $65 Kanzler Pinot. It’s robust for a Pinot with earthy cherry and minimal oak, but offers enough acidity to be food friendly, unfolding as it sits. This casual, comfortable winery (with bocce ball and small lake) offers tastings and bottles to purchase or online at www.landmarkwine.com.

Mapema Sauvignon Blanc and Malbec, Argentina — Mapema’s 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($14) and 2009 Malbec ($19) are both affordable winners. The Sauv Blanc claims 90 percent stainless steel fermentation (10 percent aged in new French oak), allowing the grape’s zesty, acidic properties to dominate. Lemongrass hints and a well-rounded finish go nicely with seafood. The Malbec offers hints of cherry and cocoa, with solid tannins from 50 percent new and 50 percent one-year French oak, pairing well with pork, lamb, or hearty grains.

Huge Bear Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma — The name Huge Bear might not be poetic (though I dig the old world, Wild West California label), but the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc ($25) offers floral melon and citrus notes, soothing with Asian take-out. The 2009 Chardonnay ($40) is pricey but showcases crisp apple, pear and mineral notes, followed by a butter cream finish. These are small production at merely 150 cases each, fine local retailers at www.hugebearwines.com

Kracher’s Cuvee Beernauslese (pronounced bear-en-ow-SCHLAY-zuh) — I adore Austrian wines and this $27 blend of Chardonnay and Welschriesling grapes is much more than a sweet finish to a meal. It’s a layered, acidic dessert wine, dripping with vanilla honey balanced by mineral pineapple and lemon zest.

Subscribe to Virgina’s twice-monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot, at www.theperfectspotsf.com

 

Tough mustard

2

le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS Zeni said she’d been cooking for three days. But the shopping was the hardest part. She had to go all over town, she said, to get the right sausages and other meat … things.

Such as knuckles.

I have a new favorite butcher shop, but first I have to tell you about Zeni’s feijoada. Her man Nutmeg, who plays soccer with me and Alice Shaw the Person (and some other people) has been talking up Zeni’s feijoada for many, many seasons. Most often after the game, when all of us are hungry. But since our team conducts its games in Portuguese, a language I don’t understand, it’s all pretty much feijoada to me.

There’s always all this hollering on the field: feijoada, feijoada.

"I’m trying," I say, whenever it seems like they might be talking to me.

Generally speaking, we win.

But now Nutmeg and Zeni are moving back to Brazil, and as soon as we learned this our post-game chatter shifted from feijoada to feijoada-with-a-sense-of-urgency.

Then the next thing I knew I had died and gone to heaven. Which I readily identified by the smell of it, and then by this steaming plate of rice and black beans with sausage, pork, and everything but the chicken sink. The dish was sided by finely chopped collard greens, or couve, garnished with orange slices, and sprinkled with farofa — which is cassava flour toasted with butter and bacon.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I could have gone straight from that meal to the firing squad, uncomplainingly, but as it was I got to go to Berkeley, instead, and make some kitchen noodle soup with Crawdad’s kids.

Now, my friend Papa is learning to be a butcher, which is about as admirable and honest a line of work as is out there, to my way of thinking. So every time I saw her I would ask about her career and she would say, among other things, "Steak sandwich!" with the same kind of reverence with which Brazilians say feijoada.

I pictured raw, sawed beef on a roll, which made me happy. Then one day, eventually, we climbed that hill to Avedano’s, on Cortland St. in Bernal. Or Holly Park. In any case, Avedano’s is a butcherer of local grass-fed beef and other responsibly-raised animals, and they don’t only just saw and hack them for you to take home; they’ll also make you a nice (and entirely cooked) samwich. If you want.

Hedgehog had the Tuscan pork sandwich, with pickled onions and tomato. I got the steak with pecorino, arugula, and pickled tomatoes.

And these things did we eat on a bench. Outside. There, in the sunlight and warmth of mid-day, San Francisco, my love and I got in a huge fight over mustard. I won’t bore you with the details, cause I don’t remember them. But suffice to say that I loved my sandwich, and Hedgehog loved hers.

I’m not a very experienced sandwich eater, though. With my first bite, I lost a big juicy piece of steak to the sidewalk. It landed right between my feet, where other people’s dogs sit on their asses, between other people’s feet, and stare at other people’s sandwiches, panting and trying to make just the right face.

"Pick it up and eat it," Hedgehog said.

So I did.

I might have pushed the limit of the five-second rule, but it’s the spirit of the rule that matters.

And the steak was that good, I’m saying. Slightly rare, succulent … I couldn’t let some dumbass Bernal dog come and lap it up. It was mine!

And it was delicious, even with residual sidewalk all over it. Anyway, I didn’t get any dog ass cooties, or other exotic diseases. That I know of. Yet.

Although: a big dumb dog did come along, only moments later, and sniff and lick a little at the spot, before it’s owner tugged him away. "Ha," I said.

I am not, as you know, a dog lover.

AVEDANO’S

Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sat. 9 a.m.-8 p.m; Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

235 Cortland, SF.

(415) 285-6328

AE/D/MC/V

No alcohol

The unbearable triteness of being

0

arts@sfbg.com

FILM A lamentation frequently heard is that men don’t know how to express their feelings. At least not the theoretically less "manly" ones of vulnerability, self-doubt, weepiness, affection, "do these board shorts make me look fat?," etc. Every once in a while, however, there comes an entertainment that makes you think: better to keep those feelings unexpressed, bud.

"Entertainment" is a term pretty loosely applied to I Melt With You, which careens drunkenly between the obnoxious, embarrassing, and unintentionally hilarious before really jumping off a cliff of unearned, fatal self importance. Seldom has a potential camp classic induced such strong desire to plug in the slapping machine and subject all its principal participants to some aversion therapy.

Amusingly programmed for year-end release well after its heavily hooted Sundance Film Festival premiere — did Magnolia really think it might figure in top ten lists or award races? — its largest potential audience might be snark-seeking Occupy-sympathetic feminists who could treat it as their very own Showgirls (1995). Apart, of course, from ex-golden boys in the upper income percentiles who have "everything" and feel an existential nothing. They will likely be the only folks to grok I Melt as intended, as a mirror held up to My Pain, My Self. The rest of us will be experiencing quite a different sort of pain, in a different location.

Richard (Thomas Jane) is a once-promising novelist whose printed output stalled short of the sophomore slump, and who’s now reduced to teaching actual sophomores. Jonathan (Rob Lowe) has blown his marriage, child custody, and Hippocratic Oath playing Dr. Feelgood to prescription-addicted socialites. Ron (Jeremy Piven) is a symptom of high-flying Wall Street corruption whose lush life is about to collapse under a hailstorm of federal fraud investigation. Tim (Christian McKay) is depressed — hey, somebody has to be fourth-billed and most expendable plot-wise.

They’re gathering at shared age 44 — the horror — for their annual week long bacchanal at an impressive cliffside Monterey manse. They do the conversational equivalent of extended ball-scratching, as well as a whole lotta booze, coke, weed, and miscellaneous pills provided by walking pharmacy Jon. Eventually they invite over some local youth, baiting the dudes with old-fart slurrings of "You don’t know anything!", slo-mo moshing, and sad sex-having with the chicks (including actual porn star Sasha Grey — membership really does have its privileges!)

The sole woman here who’s roughly their age is, naturally, way off the sexual radar. That would be Carla Gugino, stuck with possibly the year’s most thankless female part as a local cop who notices these asshole interlopers and, rather than keeping a nose-pinching distance, becomes increasingly concerned that something bad is about to happen to them.

Of course she’s right. Because it turns out these big swinging dicks made a pact when they were 18 that if adult life didn’t turn out to be as exciting and limitless and whatnot as it seemed then, they’d … well, make like Ian Curtis or Sid Vicious or any other punk-rock flameout they trivialize with their self-pitying, worshipful sense of personal identification. (The soundtrack is packed with punk and New Wave oldies meant to affirm that our protagonists remain rebels — but then, every mid-80s frat boy thought liking the Clash made them cool, too.)

Faced with the unbearable triteness of their being, these quixotically arrogant self-loathers implode in terms just as meaningful as you’d expect from four reasonably privileged grown white men whose primary source of angst is the fact that life didn’t turn out to be as easy or fun as imagined in their freshman dorm.

Credit is due to director Mark Pellington (1999’s Arlington Road) and first-time (possibly last-time) scenarist Glenn Porter for their resolute belief that such crybaby bathos merits tragic grandeur. They take the term "epic fail" seriously, making I Melt the Götterdämmerung of male menopause movies. Seldom has a vanity project (right down to producer Jane’s incessant showcasing of furry abs) backfired so badly, so personally on everyone involved. Because every scorching revelation here falls into the category of stereotypical rich-people’s-problems most Hollywood success stories are smart enough to bare only on their analyst’s couch.

Said therapist is well-paid to at least pretend empathy. That Pellington and co. actually expect us to pay cash money for the privilege of watching them bellow like the arrow-felled Last Buffalo is about as ridiculously far as the Peter Pan syndrome can possibly stretch.


I MELT WITH YOU opens Fri/23 in Bay Area theaters.

Pre-Occupied

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arts@sfbg.com

YEAR IN VISUAL ART “Occupy the Empty,” Amanda Curerri’s 2010 solo show at Ping Pong Gallery (now Romer Young Gallery), seems about as appropriate a tag line as any for this past year. It’s not just Curerri’s prescient title that resonated with the occupations at Zucotti Park, Frank Ogawa Plaza, and the Mario Savio steps at U.C. Berkeley’s Sproul Hall, as well as the populist expressions of protest seen throughout the Arab Spring that many involved with the Occupy movement looked to, not always unproblematically, as sympathetic precedents.

“Occupy the Empty” took seriously the question of how art and aesthetics can create a more democratic society, testing the tensions inherent within the question’s very terms by asking viewers who entered Curerri’s deconstructed courtroom to become witnesses. The efficacy of the entire enterprise was predicated on individuals taking the stand, but also placing their testimony against and alongside those who had spoken before about a form of speech no less personal and performative: last words.

Similarly, the tension of the individual voice in relation to the collective it contributed to has been the engine motor of the Occupy movement. At the encampments no one could speak for anyone else and yet everyone was, at the very least, in agreement on the necessity of being present, a message often relayed (without an apparent sense of irony) back to the assembled, via a re-presentational strategy known as “the human microphone.”

One could also point to the whimsical criers and peddlers of Allison Smith’s “Market Day,” a public performance event held on and around Market Street in June as part of her Southern Exposure exhibit “The Cries of San Francisco,” or Stephanie Syjuco’s “Shadow Shop,” a mom-and-pop-style art market that resided for five months at SFMOMA, as other examples of participatory artistic practice that aimed to insert alternative forms of democratic exchange into public life, in some ways anticipating much of the discussions around aesthetics and politics that Occupy generated.

Whether this exploratory, incessantly present dynamic will — or can — continue to “trickle up” further through the art world remains to be seen. Major museums largely played it safe this year going with tried and true blockbusters (locally, Picasso and Impressionism) or spectacular spectaculars that had critics alternately swooning or pointing at the naked emperor’s relentless march, as in the recent retrospectives of Mauricio Catalan and Carsten Höller in New York.

Certainly, the likes of Charles Saatchi grumpily lecturing about cultural capital and the “vulgarity” of new super-elite art collectors in the pages of the UK Guardian doesn’t make the one percent look necessarily any more “in touch.” (Not that any of the moneyed gawkers I encountered at Art Basel Miami would care.) On the other hand, Alice Walton’s recently opened Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas, funded with Wal-Mart cash, can be seen as presenting both a possible new model and a grim augury about how art’s public future will rely even more transparently but no less troublingly on private beneficence. Why must we travel to a major urban center to see outstanding art? Then again, why donate to a museum when you can build you own?

ADDENDA

Although I don’t do regrets, I believe that putting out something “for the record” should still count as as a positive — despite constant abuse of the phrase by those publicly scandalized for their private moral failings. So, following in the tradition of last year’s “year in art” column, here is an incomplete rundown of art, exhibits, and, institutions that didn’t entirely make it in for myriad reasons, none of which had to do with the work itself.

 

KATHYRN VANDYKE “PAINT” AT STEPHEN WIRTZ GALLERY, MAR. 16-APRIL 23

Who said non-representational collage was done for? VanDyke’s colorful, mixed media mash-ups of paint and paper flaunted the grain of their materials and the elegance of their compositional logics with the disciplined flourish of a master flamenco dancer.

 

SFMOMA PUBLIC PROGRAMMING

Whereas SFMOMA’s track record in regard to exhibitions has been mixed this year (cheers to the recent Richard Serra and Francesa Woodman retrospectives; good riddance to the slog that was “Exposed”), its public programming has brought an invigorating mix of poets, musicians, performers, and audiences to the institution, making that word seem an awfully staid descriptor for a venue that has consistently hosted such unexpectedly engaging and fun events.

 

“BALENCIAGA AND SPAIN” AT THE DE YOUNG MUSEUM OF FINE ART, MAR. 26-JULY 4

The sculptural, late 1960s pieces in this quiet stunner of a show highlighted the influence of Spain’s many forms of national costume upon its most gifted native sons, couturier Cristobal Balenciaga — and should shush the grousing of anyone upset over the rise of fashion and textile exhibits at major art institutions. To appropriate a nugget of praise once paid to Yves Saint Laurent, we can debate whether or not fashion is art until the cows come home, but there is no doubt that Balenciaga was an artist. Bring on the Gaultier!

 

DAVID IRELAND AT GALLERY PAULE ANGLIM, NOV. 2-26

Ireland’s early ’70s canvases of cement, dirt, and rock are slices of time, fragments of place. They are numinous, fragile reminders of being, as well one piece of the legacy of this late, great Bay Area artist.

 

PACIFIC STANDARD TIME, VARIOUS VENUES, LOS ANGELES

If you haven’t already planned a weekend around the Getty’s massive, multi-institution survey of postwar California art (www.pacificstandardtime.org), you owe it to yourself to head south ASAP. Many of the participating exhibits close in late January, so get!

Curtain calls

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arts@sfbg.com

YEAR IN THEATER With a grateful nod to former colleague Brad Rosenstein, we re-inaugurate a system of accolades and nah-ccolades celebrating some memorable highs and lows of the rapidly closing year in theater and performance.

 

Most Memorable Food Fight

A Three Little Dumplings Adventure

Within seconds of the appearance of the three titular protagonists of Megan Cohen’s A Three Little Dumplings Adventure — a hot pink and powder blue hurricane wreaking havoc on the subdued prison of a suburban living room — it was impossible not to get sucked into their chaotic orbit. Alternating between being patently obnoxious, emotionally unanchored, and frankly homicidal, the “three little dumplings” played by Sarah Moser, Molly Holcomb, and Megan Trout teased, baited, jabbed, and wrestled each other across the stage, culminating in Moser pinning Trout to the floor threatening to eat her (“dumpling” being no tidy euphemism here, but a physiological condition). Presented at the Bay One Acts Festival, it was definitely the year’s best meta-cannibalistic food frenzy, and it whetted our appetite for more. (Nicole Gluckstern)

 

Best Drug Story

Greg Proops at “Previously Secret Information”

Admittedly the best highs are often hard to remember. Kudos to the seemingly rock-hard memory of otherwise mellow-ab’d comedian Greg Proops, who recalled prodigious intake and takeout as a Chicken Delite delivery boy in 1970s San Carlos for an edition of Joe Klocek’s storytelling series, “Previously Secret Information.” (Robert Avila)

 

Best Political-Historical Thesis Disguised as a Wildly Funny and Louche “Songplay”

Beardo

Their own prior hit, 2008’s Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage, was going to be a hard act to follow. But Banana Bag & Bodice and producers Shotgun Players made playwright Jason Craig and composer Dave Malloy’s take on Rasputin look like child’s play — very precocious child’s play — where performances, music, costumes, mise-en-scène, themes, and dialogue all contributed to another hirsute masterpiece. (Avila)

 

Most Inscrutable Triumvirate

Mimu Tsujimura, Lily Tung Crystal, and Katie Chan in Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven

Speaking of frankly homicidal, the otherwise nameless characters “Korean 1, 2, and 3” in the joint Crowded Fire/Asian American Theater Company production of Young Jean Lee’s Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven were as outrageously bloodthirsty a collection of countertypical characters as ever graced the Thick House stage. By turns violent, ecstatic, girlish, and demented, the eclectic trio played by Mimu Tsujimura, Lily Tung Crystal, and Katie Chan skewered every tradition-bound Asian stereotype in the book. Clad in the dazzle camouflage of their flowing silk dresses, rendering their monologues in their respective “mother” tongues, not spoken by this or many other audience members, the fiercely energetic characters expertly revealed themselves by not revealing a thing. (Gluckstern)

 

Best Lighting Design

Allen Willner for inkBoat’s The Line Between

Willner’s worked wonders before, not least with longtime collaborators inkBoat (Heaven’s Radio), but he outdoes himself in this wild and excellent production, making the lighting design a full member of the ensemble with a world of shifting moods and ideas. (Avila)

 

Best Tentative Revival of a Theatrical Artform

Puppetry

Where have all the puppets gone? It seemed like for a few years there they all went into hiding, perhaps barricading themselves in little puppet bunkers, awaiting the end times. But a modest slew of puppet-driven performances resurfaced over the course of 2011, reigniting our hopes for a full-blown revival in the future. A shortlist of memorable puppets encountered this year include Lone Wolf Tribe’s dark circus of clowns and war veterans in Hobo Grunt Cycle; a beleaguered Orson Welles puppet manipulated by Nathanial Justiniano’s sociopathic Naked Empire Bouffon Company alter ego Cousin Cruelty; Thomas John’s “hard-boiled” egg puppets who populated his Humpty Dumpty noir thriller The Lady on the Wall; the over-the-top awesomeness of a trio of Audrey Jrs. in Boxcar Theatre’s Little Shop of Horrors, and the silently suffering soldier of Aurora Theatre’s A Soldier’s Tale. Here’s hoping this miscellany foreshadows the triumphal return of the missing puppets, to as opposed to their last hurrah. (Gluckstern)

 

Nicest timing

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

Just before public figures across the spectrum wailed their approval of a fallen business idol, Seattle-based monologist Mike Daisey, at Berkeley Rep, not-so-quietly reminded people of what a corporation is. Then Occupy Wall Street happened. (Avila)

 

Most Polarizing Descent Into the Reptilian Complex

Chekhov Lizardbrain

Whether you loved it or loathed it, Pig Iron’s touring production of Chekhov Lizardbrain was certainly one of the year’s most striking. Performing as part of foolsFURY’s Fury Factory, the Philadelphia-based Pig Iron spearheaded an expedition into the inner workings of one man’s brain beset by shifting vagaries of memory and truth. Combining a series of pompously-referenced “rules” of drama, stock Chekhovian alter-egos, and the dual personalities — internal and external — of an undersocialized protagonist (James Sugg) struggling to shape his memories into a recognizable narrative, Chekhov Lizardbrain elicited the most polarized reaction from its sold-out houses I saw all year. From a standing ovation to a fair number of disgruntled walk-outs, this dark-edged exploration inspired a panorama of strong responses in its audience, a solid sign of success in my book. (Gluckstern)

 

Best Labor of Love

The Companion Piece

Inspired by a concept by Beth Wilmurt, who was inspired by a book about the biological roots of human emotions (A General Theory of Love), Mark Jackson directed Wilmurt and fellow “vaudevillians” Christopher Kuckenbaker and Jake Rodriguez at Z Space in one of the most inspired pieces of devised theater all year (with a close second going to Jackson’s own SF State production of the blissful Wallflower). (Avila)

 

Best Conversation Starter

The closure of a “remixed” Little Shop of Horrors

Another polarizing moment in Bay Area theater occurred this summer when Boxcar Theatre’s ambitious remix of the cultish Alan Menken and Howard Ashman musical Little Shop of Horrors was shut down by Music Theatre International due to admitted violations of its licensing agreement. The debate inspired by both the violations and the show’s subsequent closure was as passionate and considered as the production that inspired it, from both perspectives of the situation. Without taking sides, I found the conversation about artistic freedom vs. artists’ rights to their own works to be as stimulating and thought-provoking as any night in the theater could strive to be. It seems unlikely that Boxcar Theatre knowingly set out to become the vanguard for open-source theater-making, but here’s hoping it’s a banner they are willing to carry a little longer. (Gluckstern)

 

Best Part of Getting Old

Geezer at the Marsh

I’m glad I lived long enough to see Geoff Hoyle live long enough to produce this solo piece extraordinaire. (Avila)

 

Best Couch-Surfing Opportunity

“Home Theater Festival”

Sometimes it’s hard to leave the comfort of one’s home to gamble on the capricious vicissitudes of a theater outing. Gambling in the comfort of someone else’s home was, on the other hand, really easy. (Avila)

 

Best Ostentatious Design Overload

The Lily’s Revenge

Watching the four-and-a-half-hour epic performance mash-up that was Taylor Mac’s The Lily’s Revenge at the Magic Theatre was in parts harrowing, exhausting, and transcendentally fabulous, but what stuck with me long after the vague twists of plot and character had mostly faded from my memory were indelible images of the seriously overwhelming design. From dazzling, sequined flower costumes by Lindsay W. Davis, to four complete sets built to accommodate five acts designed by Andrew Boyce, to the extravagant lighting by Sarah Sidman, The Lily’s Revenge could have been subtitled The Tech Crew’s Revenge, which would have been a fitting description of the glorious fantasia created by the uniformly top-notch production team. (Gluckstern)

 

Best Jump on George Clooney

Farragut North

North is better known to multiplex crowds as The Ides of March. But Bay Area theatergoers were first to get a former Howard Dean speechwriter’s fictionalized story of real-deal electoral politics in a so called democracy — and in a nimble low-budge production from OpenTab Productions at Noh Space that made it all the sweeter for not being Hollywooden. (Avila)

 

Best Planned Revitalization of a Theater District Linchpin

PianoFight at Original Joe’s

When the venerable, family-run Original Joe’s at 144 Taylor burned down in 2007 it was a catastrophic blow to the neighborhood — especially to all the theaters in the area who had adopted it over the years as a go-to post-show hang-out. It even served as a San Francisco Fringe Festival off-site venue for several years, hosting the likes of RIPE Theatre and Dan Carbone. So it was wonderful news on many levels when the turbo-charged PianoFight theater company signed a ten-year lease with the Duggan family to turn the old Original Joe’s into the new home of PianoFight. In addition to rebuilding the restaurant and bar, PianoFight plans to house two theaters, offices, and rehearsal spaces under the same roof — a huge boost to the neighborhood and greater theatrical community both. (Gluckstern)

 

Worst-Attended Theatrical Gem

Hobo Grunt Cycle at the Exit Theater

I’m not sure why there were so few people in the audience for this stunning cri de coeur against warfare by Kevin Augustine’s rightly acclaimed New York–based puppet theater ensemble, Lone Wolf Tribe. As hard as it can be to look at the real face of war, this piece brilliantly insisted on the need to do just that: manipulated with consummate grace by one or more black-clad puppeteers, Augustine’s life-sized puppets remained strikingly sentient, heartbreakingly damaged beings you absolutely could not take your eyes off. (Avila)

 

Classiest Beginning to a Final Bow

In the Maze of Our Own Lives

Playwright-director Corey Fischer’s sleekly staged, prescient take on the radically influential Group Theatre ensemble of the thoroughly agitated 1930s, In the Maze of Our Own Lives, which lead off the Jewish Theatre’s 34th and last season. (Avila)

Best Reason to Cross the Bridge: SQUART at Headlands Center for the Arts This 24-hour, all-stops-pulled-out version of choreographer Laura Arrington’s shrewd experimental series in collaborative performance-making capped a residency at the Headlands with a well-attended set of four sneaky, astonishing pieces by a multi-talented ensemble of harried sleep-deprived creator-conspirators. Why isn’t art always made this way? (Avila)

Worst Gas-to-Show Ratio Lolita Roadtrip at San Jose Stage A surprisingly unmoving outing from otherwise quick playwright Trevor Allen, who indeed quickly bounced back with a remounting of his popular solo, Working for the Mouse. (Avila)  

Strangest Encounter Between “Performer” and “Audience” Robert Steijn Steijn questioned everything, including what the hell he was doing onstage in front of the people assembled to see the famed Dutch performer at Joe Goode’s new annex in the Mission. They were all good questions, and the micro-choreography of physical and psychic states to which they pointed charged the room with a delicate intensity that encouraged many thoughtful beers afterward. (Avila)

Short takes: Biggest Dick: Kevin Spacey as Richard III. With balls and chops to match.  

Best Beefcake Ham and Cheese on Wry for under $100: Hugh Jackman at the Curran.

Best use of salvia: Philip Huang at “Too Much!”  

Best medicine for complacency: Cancer Cells, selections from late works and words by Harold Pinter by Performers Under Stress.  

Biggest site-specific punch (with gloves on or off): Peter Griggs’ one-man show, Killer Queen: The Story of Paco the Pink Pounder, at Michael the Boxer Gym and Barbershop.

Most intellectually stimulating drag lecture: David Greenspan reading Gertrude Stein’s Plays at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. (Avila)

The bottom of the top

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YEAR IN GAMER One of the most exciting release windows in recent memory, this year’s fall gaming onslaught is officially behind us. And while most gamers are quick to rank the marquee experiences — battling dragons (The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim), thwarting diabolical clowns (Batman: Arkham City), and riding giant birds in a green tunic (The Legend of Zelda: The Skyward Sword), it’s only when you approach the bottom half of a critic’s top 10 that the real debate begins.

So let’s skip ahead, past Uncharted 3 and Portal 2, which round out the established top five games of the year, and delve into the bottom half of the top 10. Any one of the following games might have taken home top honors in years past. As it stands, you may have overlooked one or two. And that’s what Christmas is for.

6. Rayman Origins

2D platforming in 2011 takes place in one of two venues: the games marketplace, like PSN or XBLA, or on your phone. Rayman Origins‘ greatest disadvantage is that it looks like something you can get on your phone for a buck but it costs full price. Don’t be fooled, a dollar will never get you as much content as you’ll find in Rayman, with its more than 60 levels of hand-drawn animation, four-player co-op, and star limbless thingamajig. Rayman isn’t just a re-skinned Mario; it’s a brighter, sillier and more rhythm-based experience than the Italian plumber, with a similar level of polish.

7. Dark Souls

It feels strange to be recommending a game that I’m often too afraid to play. Dark Souls is a brutal action RPG wherein you play a sort of zombie that most enemies can kill with a single hit. Save points are sparse and taking a break respawns any enemies that you might have killed already. (If you’re an old-school gamer, you’re screaming “all games used to be like this!”) Dark Souls employs an amazing level design that intricately connects its diverse dungeons and features a unique multiplayer system that allows other players to either leave tips for you or invade your game and make life even harder. You know that snotty friend who says today’s games are too easy or too much like movies? Get him this game.

8. L.A. Noire

Dismissed by some as a hackneyed attempt to marry Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto with a point and click adventure, L.A. Noire may not be the perfect joining of genres we all hoped it would be, but it’s a wonderful homage for aficionados of 1940s crime movies. A sordid tale of an ex-Marine turned policeman rising through the ranks of the LAPD, L.A. Noire is well paced and acted, with a fully fleshed-out story — which can be hard to find in video games. Though it ultimately made more headlines for the developers’ harsh working environment, L.A. Noire remains a unique and expansive take on an under-represented genre.

9. Driver San Francisco Do you like driving fast cars but find yourself overwhelmed with the intricacies of real-life simulations? More racing games are contextualizing their in-game courses with a bit of drama and back story, and Driver San Francisco takes the cake when it comes to unique storytelling. You play an SF cop in a coma who can enter the bodies of other drivers on the road and drive like a maniac without consequence. He uses this amazing power to help teenagers win street races, freak out driver’s ed instructors and save the city from a terrorist attack that may or may not exist at all. Driver SF is less than polished, and local residents will notice some discrepancies in the city’s geography, but for pure entertainment few games take risks like these.

10. Super Mario 3D Land

After a bit of an embarrassing year for Nintendo, and the 3DS in particular, Super Mario 3D Land marks the first game to make the troubled console truly worth owning. A jump-in-and-play good time, Mario 3D highlights both the 2D platforming of New Super Mario Bros. and the fluid 3D exploration of Mario Galaxy, creating something that’s more than a throwback, it’s a refinement of everything that makes the 25-year franchise so popular. It’s not innovative enough to be worth buying a 3DS for, but early adopters finally have a game to call their own.

The new (open) world order

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YEAR IN GAMER In 2010, year-end awards were dominated by one game: Red Dead Redemption. Published by Rockstar Games, the title was a sweeping, epic Western in the best American tradition. Using a proprietary game engine, Rockstar stitched together a giant swath of imaginary frontier, a teeming open world that seems to leap straight from the imagination of John Ford or Sergio Leone.

Now that 2011 is nearly done, it’s clear that Red Dead Redemption‘s success was merely a sign of things to come. Rival publishers must have watched contentedly as the game’s accolades stacked up. They were about to make 2011 the year of the open world game, ushering in a glut of go-where-you-want, do-what-you-want, slay-who-you-want titles that would dominate both discourse and sales.

Rockstar themselves were the first to get in on the action, taking a second bite at the apple in May with L.A. Noire. Developed by now-shuttered Australian studio Team Bondi, the game takes place in a meticulously recreated version of late-40s Los Angeles. Like Red Dead Redemption, Team Bondi’s title is an engrossing pastiche of classic cinema, drawing on the tropes, mopes, and molls of vintage noir. While critics rightly complained that the game’s open world offered little except the opportunity to drive around and sightsee, the simulated city’s presence added atmosphere and heft to an already immersive game.

Explore L.A. Noire‘s carefully art-directed metropolis, and the most dangerous thing you’re likely to encounter is fast-talking dame with nothing to lose. Not so in Dark Souls, an October release by iconoclastic Japanese studio From Software. From’s open world is a foreboding, twisted take on fantasy gothic, full of decaying grandeur, uncanny creatures, and fetid environs. Players must creep forward against their better judgment, dreading whatever horror lurks around the next corner. Though the game’s uncompromising difficulty acts as a deterrent, Dark Souls‘ labyrinthine, deadly world and endless creativity are well worth the frustration.

In Batman: Arkham City, British developers Rocksteady Games put Batman in his place: perched on the roof of some crumbling Gotham pile. The game’s titular open world is a vast outdoor prison, an entire urban zip code done up in hyperbolic neon-noir, then filled with psychopaths and super-villains. While he’s not using Rocksteady’s impressive, flowing combat system to put the hurt on Gotham’s criminal underclass, Batman can deploy gadgets like the Batclaw to swoop around. Though Arkham City mostly serves as a backdrop for a fairly linear narrative, but there are also dozens of collectible, lime-green “Riddler Trophies” scattered around, giving gamers an incentive to explore every inch of the game’s open world.

For sheer size and scope, you can’t top The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, released in November by Maryland-based Bethesda Game Studios. Bethesda have made open worlds something of a specialty in recent years, and Skyrim is the company’s most ambitious effort to date. Set in a frigid, arctic landscape, the game showcases natural beauty on a grand scale, rendering icy peaks, swampy tundras, and furtive wildlife darting among snow-dappled pines. Players will spend hours completing hundreds of quests, scaling the world’s highest heights and descending into the bowels of its darkest dungeons. Though the game makes it easy to follow a floating arrow directly to you current goal, Skyrim’s best moments are often the product of getting hopelessly lost.

When it comes to the sheer joy of exploring an open world, Minecraft reigns supreme. Created on a lark by Swedish programmer Markus Persson, the game randomly generates a gargantuan new environment every time you tell it to. Comprised entirely of chunky, Lego-like blocks, the world can be altered at will — dedicated players have spent hours moving blocks one-by-one to create replicas of things like the USS Enterprise. Minecraft is an impressive indie success story — first released in its alpha version in 2009, the game now boasts nearly 242 million logins per month.

What lessons will open world games learn from the class of 2011? Will 2012’s vast gaming environments be welcoming or forbidding? Will players be given long lists of collectibles to hunt, or simply asked to explore for its own sake? Dec. 20, thousands of people logged into Star Wars: The Old Republic for the first time, a big-budget MMORPG from local publishers LucasArts and Electronic Arts. Not content with the vast worlds already available to them, these intrepid gamers opted for an entire galaxy — a galaxy far, far away.

Small town values

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caitlin@sfbg.com

HERBWISE When we arranged to meet Fairfax (population 7,500) councilperson Larry Bragman, he suggested a rendezvous at “the coffeeshop.” When asked to be more specific, he clarified he meant Fairfax Coffee Roastery. “But you’ll see it, it’s right there.”

Bragman is a San Francisco-educated attorney who began coming to the small Marin County town decades ago. He’s been on town council — whose members pass around the title of mayor every year — since 2003. He was mayor in November, when the four-member council passed Resolution No. 11-58.

Bragman’s voice clogs a little with emotion when asked why the resolution was passed. “I don’t understand how you can justify a policy that denies help for patients that are going through that kind of hardship and suffering.”

The only medical marijuana dispensary in Fairfax, which is located in the county with the breast cancer rate in women is nearly 50 percent — closed its doors last weekend. The Department of Justice’s Melinda Haag sent a letter to the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana’s landlord, the likes of which are all too familiar to the medical cannabis industry nowadays.

The dispensary was located in a school zone. Landlord Fred Ezazi had 45 days to evict the dispensary, it said, or he would face up to 45 years in prison or civil forfeiture. (See 12/14/11’s Herbwise column “For the kids?” about an SF dispensary that received a similar notice)

“It feels like a violation,” says Bragman when asked how it feels to be a small town politician being railroaded by federal agencies. Resolution No. 11-58 supports the Alliance and other California dispensaries’ right to continue business. San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors passed a similar resolution in October.

Bragman insists that the policies his city developed to regulate the Alliance were exemplary. When the dispensary was founded by longtime marijuana activist Lynette Shaw shortly after Proposition 215 passed, Fairfax “had the foresight and courage to create the first use permit in the state of California [for a marijuana dispensary],” says Bragman. When called for comment, the city’s finance director Michael Vivrette said the Alliance was one of the top ten sales tax contributors in a town struggling with budgetary woes.

Later, we walk the three blocks to the Alliance, which is (was) located on a quiet street next to a Little League field in a non-descript office building. You have to walk up a flight of stairs and peer inside its windows to even know what it is.

A few despondent marijuana patients lingered in the waiting room, sadfaced and bewildered that the space would soon be gone. “I thought that a press blackout meant that we wouldn’t talk to press,” a woman spits at me when I ask the man at the front desk when they would be closing. It was hard to be frustrated with her truculence.

Bragman went so far as to call Haag to try to reason with her letter’s logic. “I said ‘you’re going to encourage the black market traffickers which we all know are a threat to the community. It’s unbelievable. It’s just so stupid.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article identified the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana as Marin County’s only cannabis dispensary. It is not, and we regret the error

The right way to rebuild CPMC

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OPINION As 2011 comes to an end, San Francisco witnesses yet another year with community stakeholders and city officials mired in conflict over Sutter Health’s plans to rebuild its massive CPMC hospital system. In what has proven over the years to be an intensely complicated, politicized, and polarizing issue, one important point has been left out of the public dialogue — this conflict is entirely resolvable.

Very few parties have stated outright opposition to Sutter’s CPMC project. In fact, the unifying demand of a city-wide coalition with nearly 60 community and labor organizations is to “Rebuild CPMC, the Right Way.”

What exactly is the “right way?”

It’s simple: There’s a proven tool used in cities across America known to resolve complex standoffs such as this one — a community benefits agreement (CBA).

A CBA would bring this project to a resolution in two ways. First, it would provide direct accountability between the community and CPMC. A CBA is a legally binding contract between a developer and community and labor organizations that can be enforced on an ongoing basis without city involvement. And a CBA gives valuable assurances to developers that community and labor organizations will not politically or legally oppose the project — and in many cases, results in these groups providing public support.

Community stakeholders are often positioned to negotiate a stronger agreement than the city. They best understand the needs that have to be met in their neighborhoods and the adverse consequences that have to be avoided. And the city isn’t legally allowed to address any labor issue subject to a collective bargaining agreement — but a CBA is an independent agreement that can bring unions to the table in a meaningful way to resolve basic workers’ rights issues.

A recently released study by Hastings College of the Law cites the enormous profits made by CPMC ($744 million from 2006 to 2010), yet points out that the organization spends proportionally far less on charity care for poor residents than other private nonprofit hospitals. At a time when the 99 percent are standing up to corporate profiteering, a strong CBA can be a tool to help address the growing inequality in this city.

Among other things, a strong CBA should include:

Appropriate mitigation fees to address the full impact CPMC’s new workforce will have on one of the nation’s most expensive housing markets. CPMC estimates the project will increase demand for San Francisco housing by 1,440 new households.

More job opportunities for San Franciscans. CPMC is projecting an increase of over 4,100 new jobs by 2030, but the city has only negotiated a promise that 40 permanent jobs a year for the first five years will go to San Francisco residents.

Basic worker’s rights, including the right for current CPMC employees who are displaced to transfer to comparable jobs at new facilities and the right for workers at the new Cathedral Hill campus to join a union of their choosing without management intimidation.

Stipulation of key community clinics for CPMC to partner with. Although CPMC says it will increase its Medi-Cal service, it currently refuses to link its new hospital to any of the major clinics Medi-Cal patients use to access services.

A stronger guarantee to operate St. Luke’s Hospital over the long term. CPMC has agreed to a 20-year guarantee but has insisted on a “trigger” clause that will release it from this obligation, of which the details are unknown right now.

Without a CBA, the ongoing struggle between CPMC and affected communities across San Francisco will continue to delay this project. CPMC should meet with community stakeholders before any development agreement is approved and negotiate a community benefits agreement.

Steve Woo is a Community Organizer with Tenderloin Neighborhood Development, Emily Lee is a Lead Organizer at Chinese Progressive Association, and Gordon Mar is Executive Director of Jobs with Justice.

Making CleanPowerSF work

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EDITORIAL The way the San Francisco Chronicle describes it, the city’s new green power program “won’t come cheap.” That’s a line that Pacific Gas and Electric Co. will use over and over again in the next few months as the city finally prepares to get into the retail electricity business, 98 years after Congress mandated public power for San Francisco. Clean Power SF will offer 100 percent clean energy — and yes, right now, this spring, it will cost a little bit more than buying nuclear and coal power from PG&E.

But that price differential will change dramatically in the next few years — if the city goes forward not just with buying and aggregating power from the commercial market but developing renewable energy on its own.

That’s the key to the future of CleanPowerSF — and as a proposed contract to get the system up and running comes to the Board of Supervisors, the need for a city build-out of at least 210 megawatts of energy generation capacity is, and must be, an essential part of the plan.

The fact that the city, at long last, is moving toward implementing this program is a testament to the work of Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who pushed it for years, and Sup. David Campos, who more recently took over the lead role. Both deserve immense credit for their work.

As Rebecca Bowe reports in this week’s issue, there’s some disagreement about the contract proposed by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. The deal with Shell Energy North America would have the energy giant buy green power wherever it can, deliver it to San Francisco customers along PG&E’s lines — and charge enough to pay for the power and overhead expenses. That, initial reports say, could raise the bill of an average customer somewhere between $7 and $50 a month, depending on use. For most residential customers, the increase is going to be on the low end.

The problem is that the PUC estimates from the start that two-thirds of the potential customers will drop out of the program and stick with PG&E. That’s an abysmal projection, reflecting in part the PUC’s long reluctance to take the program seriously, in part a failure to plan an aggressive marketing campaign — and in part the lack of a long-term vision for the program.

The bottom line is simple: As long as the city is buying energy from somebody else, there are going to be problems. Right now, renewable energy demand exceeds supply, so prices are high. That’s going to fluctuate over the next decade.

But it’s entirely possible for the city to build its own renewable infrastructure and generate power that will beat PG&E’s prices in the short-term future — and will be far, far less expensive a decade down the road. Clean Power SF will never work to its full potential unless the city owns a significant part of the generation system. (Ultimately, the city will never see the full economic benefits of public power until it buys out PG&E or builds its own delivery system.)

The PUC included — at the demand of public-power advocates — a clause in the contract stating that a city build-out was part of the plan. The proposal before the board only includes the contract with Shell — but the final deal should include specific plans for how much local power will be generated, how it will be funded — and how it will ultimately replace the power Shell is providing. The city should start right now looking for sites (there’s lots of surplus city land) and seeking bids for construction, and if the PUC can’t come up with enough revenue-bonding money, the board should put a comprehensive clean energy bond on the November ballot.

The Local Clean Energy Alliance estimates that building 210 megawatts of clean power in San Francisco would generate nearly 1,000 direct jobs and as many as 4,300 indirect jobs. That sort of program would be a boost to the economy and guarantee the city stable energy sources for the future. And it would allow the PUC to market Clean Power SF not as a plan that will cost consumers more today — but as a plan that the city can all-but guarantee will save you money, substantial amounts of money, over the next 10 years.

Editor’s notes

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steve@sfbg.com

Hugely influential political figures died in the last week: Czech playwright-turned-president Vaclav Havel, North Korea’s “dear leader” Kim Jong-Il, and writer Christopher Hitchens, who shaped perceptions of war and religion. But it was the death of investment banker Warren Hellman that has most affected me and the rest of San Francisco.

It wasn’t just because I knew and greatly respected the man, but it was how I came to know Warren and the unique role that he played in this polarized city. Up until 2007, I saw Hellman as just another wealthy Republican power broker pumping money into conservative campaigns that the Bay Guardian and progressives were constantly fighting.

Even before Occupy coined that new paradigm, I saw him as part of the one percent working to keep the 99 percent down, and I bitterly resented what the very rich were doing to San Francisco. But increasingly, Hellman began to break with his downtown allies, partnering with bicyclists, burners, and music lovers on various pursuits. So I decided to do an in-depth profile of this courageously independent man (see “Out of downtown,” 5/19/07) and that evolved into an ongoing relationship.

Like everyone else, I appreciate what Warren has done for San Francisco, particularly his creation of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, the Bay Citizen, the San Francisco Foundation, and other important institutions. He felt an obligation to use his wealth for the common good.

But even more striking was his humble and cooperative approach. He believed luck matters more than ability in people’s socioeconomic status. So Warren brought goodwill and real curiosity to all his interactions — he wanted to learn from San Franciscans of all kinds, to let them shape him and this city. I can think of no better example to follow during this holiday season and the fraught political year that follows.