Volume 46 Number 50
When Mayor Ed Lee appointed engineer and pro-development activist Rodrigo Santos to fill a vacant seat on the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees, both men talked about the urgent need to save this troubled but vitally important institution.
“Our economic future is directly tied to the success of City College,” Lee said at a press conference, touting the school’s critical job-training role.
But when you cut through all the politics and hyperbole, the school’s biggest single problem is a lack of money — and the mayor and his new trustee aren’t doing much to help.
Neither Lee nor Santos have yet endorsed or publicly supported Proposition A, the $79-per-parcel tax that would stave off deep cuts to a district whose accreditation has been threatened over its anemic cash reserves and reluctance to scale back its course offerings (see “City College fights back,” July 17).
Nor have they appealed for support from their deep-pocketed allies in the business community, which City College supporters say should be doing more to support the district.
And while some say Lee is finally getting ready to endorse Prop. A, he’s done nothing to help the campaign.
“It’s a shame because [the mayor] has pledged to support City College,” John Rizzo, president of the Board of Trustees and a supervisorial candidate from District 5.
Lee also refused a request the trustees made last year to ease the more than $2.5 million in rent and fees that the district pays annually to the city. That’s a stark contrast to the city’s generous support of the San Francisco Unified School District, which gets an annual subsidy from the city of around $25 million, thanks to a ballot measure pushed by city officials of various ideological stripes.
“K-12 is important, but when we try to get help from the city, it falls on deaf ears and I don’t know why. Maybe little kids are cuter,” Rizzo told us.
Sup. Eric Mar said that dichotomy is a real problem, particularly given City College’s current challenges and the important role it plays in providing low-cost training to local workers. Mar has called for a hearing this month before the Joint City and School District Select Committee, which oversees SFUSD’s relationship with the city.
“I support stronger city support for City College,” Mar told us.
Asked about Lee’s unwillingness to help with City College’s fiscal situation, mayoral Press Secretary Christine Falvey said Lee has offered logistical support from city officials to help City College overcome the threats to its accreditation and has been carefully monitoring the situation, but she didn’t directly address why he has withheld financial support or endorsed Prop. A.
“The mayor has not taken a position on the parcel tax and is focusing his efforts on supporting the college’s need for serious fiscal and management changes and protecting its accreditation,” she told us by email Sept. 7. “The mayor knows it is more important than ever that the City support City College to make sure they get back on their feet for the sake of current and future City College students and for all San Francisco residents.”
But City College officials aren’t buying it. “Talk and nice words don’t mean anything anymore,” Rizzo said.
Other Prop. A supporters agree.
“The mayor needs to step up and support this,” Trustee Chris Jackson told the Guardian, arguing that most of the district’s problems stem from steadily declining financial support from the state. “We have a revenue problem.”
“It is the workforce training vehicle for the city,” said Rafael Mandelman, a candidate for trustee who has been actively supporting Prop. A. “Maybe now is the time when the city shouldn’t say no to that.”
Falvey responded by saying, “The City supports all of our public education institutions in some capacity. Each public education institution also pays the city for some of the required services it is provided.”
Other Prop. A supporters say they are hopeful that Lee may still come around. Alisa Messer, president of American Federation of Teachers Local 2121, which represents City College faculty, told us, “The mayor says he supports City College and we’re hoping he will support the measure soon.”
Gabriel Haaland, who has been working on the measure for SEIU Local 1021, also told us as we were going to press on Sept. 10, that Lee seems to be coming around: “From what I understand, the mayor is about to endorse it.”
PROMISE OF SUPPORT
When Lee appointed Santos — who has raised an unprecedented amount of money for his race, $113,153 as for July 1, mostly from the real estate and development interests he represents as president of Coalition for Responsible Growth — some argued that it would bring needed financial support for the district and the Prop. A campaign.
“He is expected to bring his allies in these fields into the fight to save City College, which faces a critical 2/3 vote on a parcel tax this November,” Tenderloin Housing Clinic Director Randy Shaw wrote on his Beyond Chron blog on Aug. 22, a day after telling the Guardian how the parcel tax was essential to City College’s future and Santos was uniquely positioned to support it.
But Santos, whose campaign didn’t return Guardian calls on the issue, hasn’t appeared at any Yes on A campaign events or offered any discernible support for the measure, whose supporters had only raised a little over $20,000 as of July 1. While there is little organized opposition to Prop. A, the fact that it needs approval by two-thirds of voters is a challenge that requires strong support.
Rizzo said Shaw’s argument doesn’t hold up. “It’s a nice theory,” he said, “but I haven’t seen evidence of that, and I haven’t seen Rodrigo at any Prop. A events.”
Santos hadn’t been involved with City College or educational issues before deciding to run for trustee, and he’s widely perceived as an ambitious politico setting himself up to run for the Board of Supervisors. At his press conference, Santos pledged to aggressively fight for City College.
“I join an institution that must be saved, and I’m absolutely committed to that goal,” Santos said.
Lee assembled a variety of representatives from “the city family” at his press conference, including trustees Natalie Berg and Anita Grier, Interim Chancellor Pamila Fisher, representatives from the Controller’s Office, Board of Education, Department of Children Youth and their Families, and the Mayor’s Budget Office.
“They, after all, need our help, need our support and they will not be able to accomplish it all by themselves,” said Lee, who pointedly didn’t say anything about the parcel tax at the event, even though he sang the praises of the district. “It empowers those economic sectors that we consider most valuable to our future, especially in the area of health care, hospitality, biotech, and now technology in general. We have become dependent on City College for their ability to prepare future workforces.”
Lee also sounded a tough love theme, saying “any improvement means a change from the status quo” and praising Santos as “someone who shares my vision of reform and will support the tough decisions ahead.”
Indeed, the board members face a number of tough decisions in the coming weeks, from whether to abdicate some of their authority to a special trustee empowered to make unilateral decisions about what programs to cut or campuses to close. The college is responding to a threat from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges to live within its means or lose its accreditation.
Santos didn’t mention Prop. A during the press conference that followed his swearing in, instead offering vague platitudes and promises that he’s willing to work hard and make tough decisions, while also making some puzzling statements about the district’s current situation.
“We must support the interim chancellor, Pamila Fisher,” he said. “Our primary duty is to ensure she enjoys the support and tools needed to implement difficult reforms. At the same time, we will hold her accountable, we will help her, we will challenge her.”
He appeared unaware that Fisher’s tenure ends in just a few weeks, well before any reforms could possibly be approved or implemented.
Some Prop. A supporters are hoping Santos will also challenge his allies in the business community to open their wallets and support both Prop. A and ongoing operations at City College.
“It would be great for the businesses to step up in a big way because they are really benefiting from our workforce training programs,” Messer said. “It’s clear to me the business community understands how important City College is to this city.”
Now, City College’s biggest supporters say it’s time for the city and the business community to put their money where their mouths are.
“City College certainly gives back to the people of San Francisco,” Rizzo said, “and it’s time for the city to give back to City College.”
TRASH Get ready, Damon Packard fans — the mad genius behind underground cult sensations Reflections of Evil (2002) and SpaceDisco One (2007) unfurls his latest, Foxfur, at Other Cinema’s fall season kickoff (also on the bill: Marcy Saude with a slideshow on ufologist George Van Tassel, free champagne and VHS tapes, and more). I spoke with the Los Angeles-based Packard, who hopes to attend in person, ahead of the event.
San Francisco Bay Guardian How long did it take you to make Foxfur?
Damon Packard A little less than two years. I mean, it should have taken a week, because there were so few shooting days. It just took that long because it’s so difficult when you’re working with no money. I was adding little bits right up to the last minute [before the film’s July 21 premiere in SoCal]. Shots of cats, stuff like that.
SFBG Is that why you have something like six different women playing the lead role?
DP Yes. There were always these short windows of time when we had to shoot, and I had to get whoever was available. It became an experiment in the end, with the multiple actresses.
SFBG When people ask you what Foxfur is about, how do you explain it?
DP It’s difficult to sum it up. I would say it’s a UFO sci-fi fantasy, mostly about the Billy Meier Pleiadian contacts of the 1970s. That was the inspiration.
SFBG Many of your previous films made use of non-original footage, like Carpenters videos and old commercials, but Foxfur is all original, isn’t it?
DP Well, I do use music from Tangerine Dream scores: Firestarter, Wavelength (both 1984), things like that. Also some ambient tracks by Steve Roach and Michael Stearns.
SFBG In addition to Foxfur‘s Billy Meier references, the film also has actors portraying David Icke and Bob Lazar. Why conspiracy theorists?
DP Well, they’re part of the Foxfur universe — I like taking real-life characters and incorporating them into a story. Foxfur is obsessed with New Age elements — crystals, dolphins, the Pleiadians — which includes people like David Icke and Richard Hoagland. She’s an avid Coast to Coast AM listener. So yeah, it was supposed to be about her disillusionment. She’s so devastated when she discovers that it’s not real.
SFBG There’s a line in Foxfur about how “everyone is operating in their own vacuum of reality,” and scenes depicting people zoned out on their phones, unhelpful store clerks, and so on. Were those your 21st century frustrations coming out?
DP It happens a lot in real life — everywhere you go, you sort of run into that. Nobody knows anything about anything and nobody wants to help anyone. It’s a kind of apathetic, clueless, state of mind. Or if you need to call your bank, for example, you’re gonna get transferred to all these different worthless departments where people won’t be able to help you. There are always problems, errors, computer systems going down. You can’t get any answers to anything.
SFBG You’ve said in the past that you’re anti-CGI, and Foxfur (which contains the line “I hate Peter Jackson!”) suggests you still feel this way.
DP I do think there’s room for a good balance between practical and digital effects — there’s no reason not to use modern technology. For the most part, though, I hate it. It usually looks awful. I don’t know why other filmmakers, including veteran filmmakers, don’t see that.
I think practical effects are better and always will be, but there aren’t any companies set up to do practical effects anymore. It’s incredibly difficult to do and there aren’t any filmmakers pushing for it. But real explosions, real pyro, always looks better than any kind of digital explosion.
SFBG Is there any hope for the future of film? Or — since Foxfur takes place on the eve of the apocalypse — of humanity?
DP One of the themes of Foxfur is about the “dead zone” — in the film, it’s the time we’re in now, where everything is revolving in circles. It’s a time that wasn’t meant to exist. We’re in the end of the world already.
To me, it feels like music, fashion, it’s all reaching to the past. There’s no new movements going on. It’s a strange time. And movies feel that way too; it seems like everything’s been done already. Everything is an updated variation. I wanted Foxfur to be really pressing in that sense: that there’s no hope, there’s no point in anything. I can’t imagine there’s any future to cinema, or what movies will be like in even five to ten years from now. Are we going to see reboots of reboots? How many reboots can they keep going on with? If it’s not a reboot or a sequel, it’s a reboot or a sequel in disguise.
Sat/15, 8:30pm (reception at 8pm), $6
Artists’ Television Access
992 Valencia, SF
MUSIC By now, Antwon’s mug has probably nestled somewhere in your brain. It’s hard to take your eyes off him in the Brandon Tauszik-directed video for Antwon’s song “Helicopter,” slowly spitting rhymes over a screaming alarm of a beat, wandering Oakland, drinking on porches, pouring hot sauce on breakfast in between scenes from the classic film, Bullit (1968). Or as one media outlet breathlessly noted, “Malt liquor, Steve McQueen, and Sriracha!”
There he is in the Mission District, in the flesh, taking time out to chat with me; the San Jose-based rapper (who’s more often found in Oakland) travels to the city twice a week to work at vintage clothing shop New Jack City, an eye-popping gem of a store, stuffed with letterman’s jackets, button-downs, and gently worn Mickey Mouse sweatshirts, mostly plucked from the 1980s and ’90s.
Now here’s his sturdy frame — which, along with his voice, has inspired not-inaccurate comparisons to Biggie — in a warped movie clip run through a VHS player in yet another music video, this time looking straight out of a ’90s positive hip-hop video for his song “Living Every Dream.”
The track, produced by witch house term-coiner Pictureplane, is on Antwon’s newest mixtape, End of Earth. It’s his third since last September’s Fantasy Beds, which produced “Helicopter.”
“Living Every Dream,” the wobbly reworking of Suzanne Vega’s a capella cinematic earworm, “Tom’s Diner” (Christian Slater with the baboon heart!) is doubtless one of the standout tracks on End of Earth, an album frankly full of surprising turns.
“I had been wanting to sample that song to make a hip-hop song for really as long as I can remember, [since] high school maybe,” says Travis Egady a.k.a Pictureplane. “It is just a great tempo and loop. I wanted to hear Antwon’s voice on it.”
“He is really relatable… no bullshit artist,” Pictureplane says of Antwon. “[He’s] a rapper you want to be friends with. He is a hip-hop everyman.”
Another side of the everyman comes out on End of Earth‘s more playful “Diamond and Pearls,” produced by his longtime DJ Sex Play (formerly Bad Slorp), who produced all of Antwon’s December 2011 release, My Westside Horizon.
Other tracks on End of Earth such as “Laugh Now,” produced by Wounderaser, and Rpldghsts-produced “Cold Sweat” more recall the hardcore scene Antwon grew up in. A scene he credits with teaching him how to perform. “I learned how to play shows by going to hardcore shows,” he says from his post in New Jack City. There are indeed mosh pits and sweaty dogpiles at his shows, which is unexpected at traditional hip-hop club nights, though those lines seem to be blurring across the board.
In particular “Laugh Now” blurs genre and scene, with themes of isolation, anxiety, and personal demons, tethered by actual howls and dragged out vocals growling “La-a-a-gh now,” and lyrics like “This for the people that talk shit about you/But when they see you they walk around you.”
Antown grew up in Sunnyvale — his mom’s from the Philippines and his dad is from Fresno. In middle school he recorded mixtapes with a friend through a karaoke machine, and sold them at school.
He later performed as his own one-man noise act, warping sound on a SP-303 and running his vocals through distortion pedals. In 2009 he traveled to Philadelphia to join the punk band Leather, but he then returned to his roots. He had rapped before, but really got started again when he came back to California. “It really kind of like, took on a life of its own.”
While for now he’s still based in San Jose, he’s most often found in Oakland, where he hangs out with Trill Team 6 (a loose crew of Oakland DJs, producers, and musicians, including figurehead Mike Melero) who rifle through jackets at New Jack City as we talk. He points to the shoppers and says he’s a part of the East Bay scene, “because of those dudes.”
“I played shows in San Jose, but it was really boring,” he adds, eyes widening. “I like the energy more in Oakland. It feels like when I was younger and just threw parties and it was about having fun and shit. It seems like that same energy is in Oakland now.”
While he’s clearly more connected to the East Bay, some of his biggest and most memorable shows yet have been in San Francisco — he opened last month for Theophilus London at the Mezzanine (flashiest) and played in the sandy Sutro Baths caves earlier this summer (unforgettable) as part of the Ormolycka Cave Series.
“That was my favorite,” he says of the beach cave show. “It was real crazy.”
Up next is his first ever show with Pictureplane — the two will play a Future | Perfect and #Y3K-presented show at Public Works. (The first time they met in person was at a massive EDM fest in the Bay Area, says Pictureplane: “We walked around and took pictures of all the teenage ravers. We watched David Guetta along with like, 50 thousand people together”).
After that Public Works date, a Mission Creek show at the Uptown in Oakland with Cities Aviv, Friendzone, and Chippy Nonstop. But then he may go back underground, or at least, play less frequently in the Bay Area for a bit. His mug might be less on your radar for a hot minute, while he gathers tracks for another full-length, just him and DJ Sexplay this time around.
With Pictureplane, Chippy Nonstop
Fri/14, 9pm, $15-$20
161 Erie, SF (415) 932-0955
HERBWISE In 1992, Donald Abrams was in an Amsterdam hotel room watching the arrest of a volunteer at his hospital, SF General, on TV. 73-year old Mary Jane “Brownie Mary” Rathburn was being taken to jail for providing AIDS patients with THC-infused pastries.
The fact that Abrams, an oncologist who had turned his attention to HIV/AIDS in the midst of the virus’ attack on San Francisco, learned of Rathburn’s plight via international news was particularly biting, given the circumstances. He was in the Netherlands attending the International AIDS Conference, which was originally slated to be held in Boston. The conference had to be moved when it became apparent that many of its most important participants would be unable to attend — in 1987, the US Senate unanimously passed a ban that prevented HIV-positive people from getting into the country. (Kudos to the government, by the way, for lifting that ban. Ahem, last year.)
One can imagine the questions that arose for Abrams regarding his country’s commitment to fighting the disease.
So later, when Rick Doblin of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) wrote to General’s AIDS program suggesting that “Brownie Mary’s institution” take the lead in researching the effect of cannabis on AIDS wasting syndrome, Abrams swung into action.
He was watching his community waste away from the disease. And he wasn’t happy with existing treatments. The data supporting AZT’s efficacy was faulty, he thought, a quick fix by a government under pressure to come up with a solution to an epidemic.
In the pre-Proposition 215 era, large numbers of AIDS patients were getting pot from illegal cannabis clubs to combat the nausea and vomiting caused by AIDS wasting syndrome. The substance had to be studied, reasoned Abrams.
But organizing investigations into a federally-controlled substance is no easy matter. Since marijuana is a Schedule I drug with no officially-acknowledged medicinal use, research facilities have to get the go-ahead from several different government agencies (which focus on preventing drug abuse, not finding ways to use them to medical advantage) to be able to run experiments that use the stuff.
The process was interminable, though finally Abrams managed to complete important experiments with the drug which suggest marijuana is a useful tool in counteracting painful nerve damage, and that vaporization is just as effective a way to consume THC as smoking, among other findings.
After taking a break from researching pot for years, Abrams has once again submitted grant proposals for a few cannabis-related studies. He’s one half of a pot power couple — his husband, cannabis activist Clint Werner, is the author of 2011’s Marijuana: Gateway to Health and suggested at a June Commonwealth Club lecture that cannabis be as prevalent as ice packs in NFL locker rooms, so useful is the drug in ameliorating brain damage.
Of course, regardless of whether Abrams — who has since stepped down from AIDS research to focus on oncology — secures funding and permission for these new studies, and regardless of his findings thereafter, he hardly thinks his work will convince the government to legalize marijuana. He’s been a little disappointed with our elected officials lack of “backbone” in standing up to federal agencies that are making it harder for his older patients to access dispensaries.
Because see, the War on Drugs isn’t about the drugs at all, but politics. The man who has been researching the power of pot for decades is, sadly, resigned to the fact. Says Abrams one Thursday afternoon, sitting in his office in the SF General oncology ward: “It’s clear to me after doing this for 15 years that science is not driving the train.”
Even if the general public is of the 215-supporting sort — after all, he quips, “more people [in California] voted for marijuana than Meg Whitman.”
FILM In Ira Sachs’ intensely discomfiting Keep the Lights On, Erik (Thure Lindhardt) is a Danish documentarian in late-1990s New York City, prodding his career along, spending time with friends, having casual sex with strangers. One of the latter is Paul (Zachary Booth), a publishing-house lawyer who first tells him “I have a girlfriend, so don’t get your hopes up.” Yet some time later they’ve become a tentative couple, then a live-in one.
Erik is patient and easygoing, but Paul has secrets and problems all the more difficult to deal with because he denies, hides, or lies about them. He disappears for days at a time, then turns up wrecked. Crack is just the addiction we see; there are evidently others. Erik tries everything — group interventions, rehab, endless attempts at frank conversation that invariably turn into Paul accusing him of being unreasonable — but nothing sticks. On some level, Paul doesn’t want to be saved; drugs are like a bad old boyfriend he can’t help keep going back to, when not crawling back to the current one for forgiveness.
It takes Erik a decade to come to terms with, and extricate himself from, a relationship in which all his best efforts only bring torment, grief, and exasperation. “I have no idea who you are, I have no idea what you’re doing,” he cries during one argument. “I don’t know why you’re focusing on me,” Paul snaps, instinctively trying to shift the blame. Near the end, he questions out loud if Erik ever loved him — the fact that he isn’t doing what Paul wants that very second somehow negating years of sacrifice and worry that could only have been sustained by love.
Keep the Lights On is the kind of excellent movie a lot of people don’t like: it’s not just depressing in the sense of having downbeat, difficult subject matter, it actually sets out to be unpleasant and succeeds. There is a point to that. Leaping forward a couple years at a time, leaving us to figure out how things have shifted in the interim, Sachs’ script (co-written with Mauricio Zacharias) induces in the viewer the disoriented helplessness of dealing with a loved one who can’t or won’t tell the full truth — it’s his best defense.
The film’s somewhat squirm-inducing intimacy comes naturally, as the writer-director lived this story, however much it’s been tweaked into fictive dramatic form. “Paul” is a stand-in for a long-term boyfriend who wrestled with similar demons while somehow sustaining a high-profile career in the publishing industry. (He’s also since written a couple of memoirs about his addiction struggles, though despite that public self-exposure, the film still “created a wedge” between them, according to Sachs.)
“I think all of my films are autobiographical — I only feel excited to tell a story when I’ve lived an experience and have some analytical understanding of what took place,” Sachs said while in San Francisco for the movie’s screening at Frameline 2012.
Still, Lights is clearly a more jarringly personal project than his unsettling coming-out tale debut The Delta (1996) or the Sundance prize winner Forty Shades of Blue (2005), let alone 1950s heterosexual infidelity seriocomedy Married Life (2007). Nonetheless he now “sees them all as the same film — they’re all about people arriving at a point where they’re comfortable with who they are.”
Saying that he himself was “uncomfortable with who I [was, up] until the events in this film,” he now lives “an open life” with husband Boris Torres, a painter whose work is seen under the opening titles. “That’s a consequence of work I’ve done on my own,” Sachs said. “I really feel that secrets almost killed me. It’s very empowering to claim your secrets. I intended to make a film about shame and to do so shamelessly.”
In some ways, “this film is less about addiction than obsession, which is a very comfortable place for many of us to be — it cuts out the rest of the world and narrows the challenges. It’s very addicting to engage in this kind of relationship.” Some nonexploitative but explicit sexual content made Lights hard to cast (one major agency told him not a single one of their actors were “available”), but wound up with bilingual rising star Lindhardt. It’s an extraordinary performance that carries the whole film; by contrast Booth, to the frustration of some reviewers, plays a character deliberately kept somewhat furtive and unknowable.
While making Keep the Lights On afforded Sachs a cathartic way to “free myself from inhibitions around the story itself,” the consequence has been that “in the aftermath of these events I chose to live an honest life, and the result is that the dishonest and illicit is less interesting to me. So having made four films about deceit within a romantic relationship, that is no longer how I live or a story I’m interested in telling.”
He says his next project will be “about a 30-year relationship based on love and complexity between two men who decide to get married at ages 60 and 70.” Lights also pays homage to gay elders: Erik is working on a documentary about real-life photographer and filmmaker Avery Willard (whose still little-known work comprises “a visual anthropology of gay life in New York from the ’40s to the ’90s”), and the score consists of slippery songs by Arthur Russell, the enigmatic cult cellist-composer who died of AIDS 20 years ago. *
KEEP THE LIGHTS ON opens Fri/14 in Bay Area theaters.
FILM They’re baaack — and in 3D. Director Mark Lewis returns to the subject that made him famous, or notorious, in Cane Toads: The Conquest. Lewis’ 1988 short doc Cane Toads: An Unnatural History — about the warty critters’ population explosion after being imported to Australia as part of an unsuccessful pest-control experiment, after which they became pests themselves — is by now a cult hit, thanks to its droll tone, quirky interview subjects, and toad’s-eye-view P.O.V. shots.
These days, Australia’s toad situation has, predictably, gotten worse — and weirder, thanks in part to the popularity of the first film, as Lewis chats up a mix of scientists, government officials, and everyday folk on the subject. High points: a man whose “traveling toad show” includes dioramas of costumed, taxidermied toads (there’s a wrestling match, a nightclub scene, a highway accident, and an Aussie rules football game); advanced production values, which render our bulging-eyed buddies in lush detail; and fun 3D flourishes, as when a squeezed poison gland splatters the lens. The film has its U.S. premiere this week at San Rafael’s Smith Rafael Film Center.
You may not recognize the name Wayne White offhand, but you will know his work: he designed and operated many of the puppets on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, including Randy (the blockheaded bully) and Dirty Dog (the canine jazzbo). Neil Berkeley’s Beauty Is Embarrassing — named for a mural White painted on the side of a Miami building for Art Basel 2009 — charts the life of an artist whose motto is both “I want to try everything I can!” and “Fuck you!” The Southern-born oddball, who came of age in the early-1980s East Village scene, is currently styling himself as a visual artist (his métier: painting non-sequitur phrases into landscapes bought from thrift stores), but Beauty offers a complex portrait of creativity balanced between the need to be subversive and the desire to entertain. White appears in person Fri/14 in Berkeley at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood; Sat/15 at the Roxie in San Francisco; and Sun/16 at the Camera Theatres in San Jose.
The Bay Area’s fall film festival season is ramping up, with Cine+Mas, the San Francisco Latino Film Festival, leading the charge this week. The two-week event includes short films, narratives, and documentaries. Among the latter, highlights include Kimberly Bautista’s Justice for My Sister, a devastating study of the widespread, oft-unpunished violence against women in Guatemala, framed by one family’s fight for justice against a system powered by corruption and victim-blaming; María Teresa Rodríguez’s Children of Memory, about an organization seeking to reunite families torn apart by El Salvador’s decades-long civil war; Bernard Ruiz’s El Reportero, a PBS production about the bold journalists who risk their lives reporting on Mexico’s growing drug violence for Tijuana’s Zeta Weekly; and The Invisible Line, Lisa Díez Gracia’s short doc about a park run by the Hñahñu community of El Alberto, Mexico. There, visitors can camp, kayak, zip line, and be screamed at by faux-border patrol cops as part of a (hugely popular) illegal border crossing “experience.”
But it’s not all serious — those looking for uplift should seek out Mexican director Andrés Pardo Piccone’s Looking for Larisa, about the filmmaker’s quest to identify the charismatic child starring in 1970s home movies he bought at a flea market. The search enfolds film-restoration experts, anthropologists, archivists, Google, Facebook, in-person interviews, and more, and the doc that emerges is both engaging mystery and fascinating look at the interplay between home movies and memories.
Cane Toads: The Conquest opens Fri/14 at the Smith Rafael Film Center; Beauty Is Embarrassing opens Fri/14 at Bay Area theaters. Cine+Mas runs 13-28 at various Bay Area venues; more info at www.sflatinofilmfestival.com.
FILM How might filmmaker Nicholas Jarecki measure the success of Arbitrage, his debut feature about a hedge fund honcho’s attempt to sell his way out of desperate circumstances? Perhaps a gauge can be found in the response the writer-director received at a recent East Hampton screening for a roomful of magnates such as John Paulson, figures who provided some of the initial inspiration for Arbitrage.
"I think the net worth of the room was somewhere around $20 or $30 billion," recalls Jarecki on recent visit to San Francisco. "They came up to me after the screening and said, ‘You know, we really liked the film and we just have to tell you it made us uneasy from beginning to end. Really, what you put up there is our nightmare.’ I said, ‘Well, thank you.’"
The boyish Jarecki looks as pleased as a high-roller who has just bought low and sold high; he’s crafted a capitalist all-American horror story of sorts, for billionaires as well as the fascinated and repulsed 99 percent. As Arbitrage opens, its slick protagonist, Robert Miller (Richard Gere), is trying to close the sale of his life, on his 60th birthday: the purchase of his company by a banking goliath. The trick is completing the deal before his fraud, involving hundreds of millions of dollars, is uncovered, though the whip-smart daughter who works for him (Brit Marling) might soon be onto him.
Meanwhile, Miller’s gaming his personal affairs as well, juggling time between a model wife (Susan Sarandon) and a Gallic gallerist mistress (Laetitia Casta), when sudden-death circumstances threaten to destroy everything, and the power broker’s livelihood and very existence ends up in the hands of a young man (Nate Parker) with ambitions of his own.
It’s a realm that Jarecki is all too familiar with. Though like brothers Andrew (2003’s Capturing the Friedmans) and Eugene (2005’s Why We Fight), Jarecki’s first love is documentaries (his first film, 2006’s The Outsider, covered auteur James Toback), his family is steeped in the business world. Both his parents were commodities traders, and Jarecki, who describes himself as a "computer geek in my youth," once owned his own web development firm and internet access provider, among other ventures. Nonetheless, the filmmaker who graduated from New York University film school at 19, served as a technical adviser on the 1995 film Hackers, and co-wrote the script 2008’s The Informers continued to hear the siren call of feature film.
"I had knowledge of venture capital and the markets, but at the same time it was, what’s a credit default? What is this?" he remembers of the time he started writing Arbitrage‘s script in 2008. Bernard Madoff interested him less than "someone who was a good guy but who became corrupted along the way and started to believe in his own invincibility and his own press releases."
Jarecki found his "King Lear-esque" nouveau robber baron in Richard Gere, after convincing the actor to take a chance on a first-time director. He ended up digging in deep with Gere and the rest of the cast during a month of rehearsals, research, and rewrites. "I was doing my own mad arbitrage and putting the film together the voluminous amounts of documents they make you sign, and I borrowed many millions of dollars from a major bank," Jarecki explains. "So it was rehearsing in one room and calling the wire desk on the other."
As a result, the moviemaker found himself understanding Miller’s part only too well: "When I was writing and the characters had to do something, the person I modeled the decision on was myself. What would I do? And the more surprising and frightening the answers, the more I felt I was onto something."
There’s a memorable moment when Miller’s daughter confronts him on his transgressions and he explains, in a moment of startling, almost lamely ineffectual self-consciousness, that he’s a patriarch simply playing his part. Still, Miller doesn’t believe it’s the end of days for those men gathering in East Hampton screening rooms.
"There was a joke I had with the distributor, ‘Will this still be relevant when it comes out?’" he muses. "Yet every week there’s a new revelation of a new fraud: MF Global losing billions of dollars in customer funds in unauthorized trading. A Knight Financial computer glitch and they lose $420 million I think that’s the exact number lost in the movie and it just happened two weeks ago. And now it’s, ‘Where’s my morning coffee?’"
ARBITRAGE opens Fri/14 in Bay Area theaters.
SUPER EGO I’m not one to gossip, but …. Story of the month, courtesy of weekly Friday drag extravaganza Some Thing at the Stud: a giant party limo parked outside the club. Blah blah Kirsten Dunst, blah blah Alexander Wang, blah blah a dozen hangers-on blah. (I was inside chilling with the true star of the evening, OG NYC clubkid Desi Monster.) Formidable doorperson Dean Disaster: “Seven dollars each, please.” Wang hanger-on, clutching pearls: “But we’ve never paid cover before!” Disaster: “Here, let me guide you through it. Give me seven dollars. And then I’ll let you in the club.” They paid. We’re all VIPs in this house, henty.
The Detroit-Chicago master was integral to the early techno scene (he co-owned the world’s first techno club, the Music Institute) and has produced a vast catalogue of beautiful, grown-up deep house grooves rooted in African drumming’s expansive rhythms and personal tech flourishes — see lovely 2010 album Light Years Away. He also happens to be one of my favorite people ever. (Sorry, journalistic bias!) Join him at fantastic weekly Housepitality for a trip to the stratosphere and some sophisticated magic alongside locals DJ Said of the Fatsouls label and Ivan Ruiz of the just-launched Moulton Music label.
Wed/12, 9pm, $5 before 11pm, $10 after (free before 11pm with RSVP at www.housepitalitysf.com), Icon, 1192 Folsom, SF.
L O S T • C ? T
Weird biweekly dance party. Recommended.
Thu/13, 10pm, $3. Showdown, 10 Sixth St., SF. www.tinyurl.com/lostcatsf
BODY + SPACE
The bi-annual, summer-long Soundwave sonic festival is still in full effect, and this special event sounds experimental-awesome. Example? “Genesis,” a work by Polly Moller “explores 11 dimensions of the universe and the magical creation of a new 12th dimension.” Also: mechanical tone poems, anxiety dances, sonic wombs.
Fri/14, doors 7:30pm, show at 8, $15. Intersection for the Arts, 925 Mission, SF. www.projectsoundwave.com/5/
MADE IN DETROIT
For the past little while, you could actually almost hear the Detroit techno torch being passed to young’uns Kyle Hall and Jay Daniel. It sounded like a butterfly exploding in a Model T factory. Kaychunk! But it actually sounded like an ingenious melding of deep bass sounds and post-glitch effects applied to classic cosmic techno ambiance. Seeing the duo tagteam classic vinyl at this year’s Movement festival cemented my love for them. This As You Like It party may do yours the same.
Fri/14, 9pm-4am, $10 before 10pm, $20 after. Beatbox, 314 11th St., SF. www.ayli-sf.com
Adore the laser-cut future bass gems that Rustie the Scot has hewn from his sparkling imagination. He’ll be warping 1015 with another great, Kode9, along with sublime electro-stoner Elliot Lipp and locals DJ Dials, Slayers Club, tons more.
Fri/14, 10pm-5am, $20–$25. 1015 Folsom, www.1015.com
BRING YOUR OWN QUEER
Bring Your Own Queer self (not in a paper bag, please!) to this annual free outdoor daytime funfest, filling the Golden Gate park bandshell with hot pick dance party craziness! DJs Carrie Morrison and Steve Fabus, live sets by Adonisaurus and Darling Gunsel, and, like, zillions more. Plus the Jiggalicious Dance Babes. Gotta love the Jiggalicious Dance Babes. Double rainbow part two!
Sat/15, noon-6pm, free. Music Concourse Bandshell, Golden Gate park. www.byoq.org
ANNA CONDA’S BIRTHDAY
She’s 45 alive! SF’s favorite queer-activist drag queen won’t exactly be roasted at this fundraising event for the Harvey Milk Club, but she will be toasted — something like 45 other queens will take the stage at this killer rock ‘n roll dance party (DJs Dirty Knees and Jon Ginoli) and tribute to her royal lowness.
Sat/15, 9pm, suggested donation $5–$10. The Edge, 4149 18th St., SFF. www.tinyurl.com/annaconda45
DANCE The newest entry into the arena of collective self-producing is Colin Epstein’s “Constants & Variables” at Dance Mission Theater. None of the six choreographers he presented at its debut (Sept. 7-9) are new, though some of them were, previously, just barely on my radar screen. Epstein has a good eye; he put together a well-balanced program in which the pieces complemented each other in size, genres, and thematic material. They made for an evening of sometimes challenging, sometimes hilarious, never less than competent dance. If Epstein wants an additional career, he just might have one percolating in the back of his head.
As a choreographer-performer Epstein has one foot in the circus world. In A Musement he deftly used a small chair as a prop that acquires its own life to become a contentious partner. The joke is old among clowns, as is the inclusion of a willing audience member. For this to work the timing has to be immaculate. Epstein’s was good but the overall arc could have been tighter.
However, there was nothing wrong in They were already here‘s timing, a splendidly funny courting duet on trapeze for Epstein and the lovely Cat Bodnar (as an ingénue who gets involved with a bumbling suitor). The intricate giving and taking of weight excellently expressed the ebb and flow of their charming relationship.
Venture Dance Project’s smartly designed Wholeding used Laurie Anderson’s whispered “From the Air” as a sonic carpet on top of which the five dancers —all of similar sizes and looks — coalesced into and escaped out of focus. At one moment you saw them as one person and then, in something approximating split screen technique, they divided into different segments. A wafting head, a side bend, or a rocking knee would initiate a scattering and recombination into smaller units without ever disturbing a thrust towards oneness. The evenness of the tone, the excellent use of space, and the small variations within strict parameters made this a pattern dance that breathed with life.
Wasteland: Journey to a New Home paired Derek Harris and the easy-on-her-feet Meegan Hertensteiner in a work that that did exactly what its title suggested. Drawing for some of its funnier imagery on jungle adventure movies, Wasteland‘s morphing identities also suggested a darker underbelly. Though clever and smoothly performed, some of its meandering trajectory could profit from clarification.
Hilary Palanza’s fine duet little heart, out of reach, most recently seen at RAWdance’s CONCEPT series, stood up well in Dance Mission’s larger venue. Here the work developed an elastic sense of breath that expanded its dream-like scale. The contentiousness, the ruptures, and the give and take of aggression popped up like bubbles from a still pond. The dancers slipped out of each other’s embraces and into confrontations, but it was the sensuous physicality of bodily contact that resonated most strongly. What remained was the tactile memory of skin on skin, whether lushly cherished, barely perceived, or roughly rejected.
Jochelle Elise Pereña and Ashley Trottier’s Coat Check started out on a note of high comedy with Trottier dragging what looked like Winnie the Pooh‘s Heffalumps out of a pile of clothes. Then the dancer (who has some of the best-looking gams around) engaged in a hilarious seduction of a spread-out coat, ending in a copulation which fused her with the object of her lust. Unfortunately, the rest of the work didn’t hold nearly as well. My suspicion is that the punch line would have worked better if the “Heffalumps”‘ genders had not been so clearly identifiable from the beginning.
Kelly Kemp’s fascinating excerpt from her new Confessions of a White Girl offered a glimpse of what is to come. Six women in various shades and shapes of white quietly stood one behind one another. Heather Arnett finally stepped out in front. The others followed, each addressing us with mouthed words and tiny gestures. Was this a prisoner line-up, or did we watch the peeling away of layers of Arnett’s identity? Fanning out across the space in overlapping sections, they finally combined into a group shouting answers to an unasked question. The complete Confessions will be seen at the Garage October 5-13.
CHEAP EATS Hedgehog got me this Groupon for a fancy pantsy mani-pedi at a place in San Mateo puts flower petals and orange slices in your feet water! It’s hard for me to hold a grudge, however, because at the time-of-purchase we were living in New Orleans. For all she knew, San Mateo was a suburb of San Fran, like the Sunset or the Richmond.
Nope. You have to drive.
So I was driving back, all relaxed and pretty and shit, and there was Candlestick … and it was very nearly (at the time) football season … and the only thing I don’t like about getting my nails done is the way you smell for the rest of that day. I mean, I am, at heart, a chicken farmer. Lookswise, I can handle being beautiful, but it’s my nature to smell like hay. Not mimosas.
It takes about 30 minutes to drive from San Mateo to the Mission.
Around about Candlestick, I’m saying, enough became enough. Deciding finally to change the smell of my fingernails, I swerved off the freeway in search of barbecue. In search, specifically, of Franks, where I had eaten once recently on account of another goddamn groupon, this one courtesy of Earl Butter. Who, to his credit, did apologize for eating all the brisket off our three-way-combo before Hedgehog and me ever even knew what hit us.
Turns out the brisket is Frank’s best meat! It’s tender, smoky, and doused in a really good, hot (if you ask for it) basic barbecue sauce, I now know. I got it to go, and they gave me a fork.
But I used my fingers….
Sunday’s baseball was Mission vs. Mission at Balboa. In my copious notes I dubbed the home team the Good Guys and the away team the Better Guys. Chicken Farmer and our friend Long Tall Phil were playing for the Better Guys, hence that side’s upgrade.
Unfortunately, I don’t know many of the other players’ names and resorted to nicknaming them mostly based on what they were wearing, who they reminded me of, and the few scattered facts I remembered about them from previous games. For example, there was Big Blue, Hairdo, Walnut Creek, Old Timey, Lost Horizons, and In’N’Out. After a while, my play-by-play reads more like I’m calling a horse race.
Anyway, I don’t know how many folks are interested in rec league games, but I think more are probably into Fantasy Baseball. Then again, I don’t know which side of the fence the readership of Cheap Eats falls into demographically so I’ll cover both bases with one bird and say that in my opinion, Fantasy Baseball should allow for at least one Rec League player per team. My reasoning is as follows:
1) Rec Leaguers steal a ton of bases. I am in a Stolen Bases race in my Fantasy League right now and if I had In’N’Out or Gray Shirt Tony, or even Chicken Farmer herself, I wouldn’t need to put all this imaginary pressure on Michael Bourn to do what I’m pretend-paying him for.
2) Rec Leaguers are almost all multi-positional and thus, very useful when setting your lineup. I mean someone who plays left field, short, third, second, catcher and pitcher? And steals three bases in one game?! I mean come on…
3) Major league starting pitchers don’t hold a candle to Rec League pitchers. Unless you count speed, accuracy, or variety of pitches. But the Good Guys starter pitched a complete game! And the Better Guys pitcher went seven innings. Colorado Rockies: take note.
Better Guys, 4. Good Guys, 7.
After the game we went to my new favorite barbecue, which isn’t Franks, but only because you can’t walk to it from our house. You can walk to Southpaw. What my beloved and bristly sportswriter couldn’t have known from the press box was that the whole game in the dugout we were talking about barbecue.
The box score for the Mission’s new smoke house reads: weak, weak ‘cue. At least the ribs and brisket. Go for the sides, which are awesome. Pulled pork with beans and (get this) bechemel over warm potato chips, brussels sprouts with bacon, and my favorite: smoked goat served with fry bread. For that, I will be back.
Mon, Wed-Fri 5-11:30pm; Sat 3-11:30pm; Sun 11:30am-11:30pm
2170 Mission, SF
THEATER Aficionados of the San Francisco Fringe Festival, now in its 21st year, know that sorting out the clowns, puppets, relationships, rock operas, and foreskin on display or under consideration across 12 days and roughly 40 shows can be a real crapshoot. But that’s the deal and at least part of the appeal with a curator-free, lottery-based program in which anybody with an act and the luck of the draw can set up shop for an hour on one of the handful of stages in operation at the Exit Theatre complex and participating venues.
Invariably ranging widely across (to borrow a title from this year’s lineup) "the good, the bad, and the stupid," the whole usually proves greater than the sum of the parts, private or otherwise. There’s just no event quite like the Fringe. And a really good show can make up for a lot of boredom and horrified silence.
Take, for instance, that title just borrowed above: the Pi Clowns’ latest show may not be perfect in every respect, but you can’t help respecting their perfect portrayal of our general fallibility. The Bay Areabased six-clown physical comedy troupe wowed in 2008 at their Fringe debut (After-Party), and they wow again in The Good, the Bad, and the Stupid, with expert chops, serious smarts, and an undiminished instinct for the ridiculous. Highlights of said lowlights include a horse race on broomstick stallions, a feast of acrobatic juggling, and another delicious slo-mo melee. (Meanwhile, on the significantly darker end of the clown spectrum, there’s Naked Empire Bouffon Company, raucous devotees of the grotesque, whose You Killed Hamlet, or Guilty Creatures Sitting at a Play was not caught in time for review but remains on the must-see list.)
Moving right down the alphabet from clowns, one will find several Christian-themed plays among this year’s offerings. Granted, most of these involve an ironic or satirical approach like San Franciscobased David Caggiano’s deft and witty solo play, Jurassic Ark, which I caught in an earlier version elsewhere and which concerns an evangelical preacher Hollywood-bound with an idea for a major motion picture selling Creationism to the heathen evolution-swilling masses.
Then there’s Bible-Not: Stories for Grown Ups, which sounds like it sports a subversive edge to its advertised retellings of popular Bible stories, from Adam and Eve to Noah and the Flood. In fact, the play, written by retired journalist and clergyman Charley Lerrigo, is a lifeless resuscitation of ye old adages in a flatfooted comedic-dramatic vein, wherein, for instance, God appears to Noah as a beautiful woman in a silk gown but still carries out the genocidal flood because she loves people. The last of the proselytizing play’s four dreary episodes (bridged by overtly thoughtful narration from a "showgirl" played by Karen Biscopink) is the second coming of Christ (Tristan Cunningham) to a San Francisco pastor named Bob (Charlie Shoemaker), who is naturally converted from disbelief to rapturous wonder in the face of the ingenuous, miracle-wielding stranger. Overall decently acted by a dutiful cast, the preachy play nevertheless reaches only the choir at best.
In the realm of puppetry, The Collector, by San Diego’s Animal Cracker Conspiracy, begins promisingly, with delicately designed maquette sets featuring a humble debt collector overseen by a tyrannical monkey-manager, simultaneous video projections and animations on a screen above, and a dreamy, clinking, wistful musical soundscape. But the wordless plot is sometimes challenging to decipher, the pace sluggish, and the action repetitive enough that, by the end, you realize it’s just a nifty installation that thought it was a play.
Meanwhile, Legacy of the Tiger Mother, by Las Vegasbased Angela Chan and Michael Manley, manages to pack a very clear, funny, and compellingly heartfelt storyline about intergenerational tensions between a Chinese American mother and daughter succinctly into a very agreeable hour with music and witty lyrics for good measure. Chan’s semi-autobiographical musical may have formulaic elements, but they’re executed with winning skill and verve by a smart team fronted by the fine duo of Satomi Hofmann and Lynn Craig, accompanied by Chan on a piano that segues slyly between erratic keyboard exercises, controlled classical recitals, and expressive Broadway-style outbursts. (Meanwhile, on the darker and definitely weirder end of the cabaret spectrum, there’s SF’s Dan Carbone and Andrew Goldfarb in The Wounded Stag & Other Cloven-Footed Tales of Enchantment, whose archness is so arch as to be uncomfortably sincere.)
915 Cayuga’s SF Fringe Fest Extravaganza is a more promising title than show, but the radio-style variety piece, recorded as a podcast before its "live" Fringe audience, has a low-key charm despite often clunky or corny writing thanks to a fairly personable and adroit cast.
Among the more misleading titles is Aerial Allusions at least if, like me, you picture some serious acrobatic work happening on and/or over the stage at some point. True, there’s a little able and lithesome wriggling around a ladder near the outset, but this meandering and semi-inept duet by a Canadian couple is lopsided in talent and altogether rambling. It took only a few seconds for one gentleman at the back to clear a path through some empty chairs and burst out of the theater. My date followed him a few minutes later. *
SAN FRANCISCO FRINGE FESTIVAL
Through Sun/16, most shows $10 or less
156 Eddy, SF
OPINION Big business interests in California are waging a full-scale assault on the California Environmental Quality Act, known as CEQA, which has been loudly blamed for the slowdown in new construction in recent years.
But sluggish construction has been problematic nationwide and is far beyond CEQA’s reach. The exaggerated attacks on CEQA parallel extreme Tea Party politics, where facts don’t seem to matter and well-funded voices drown out reason. Attackers unfairly scapegoat a law that instead deserves great credit for far-reaching good.
The truth is that while environmental review takes time and costs money, the CEQA process usually moves quickly. In terms of litigation, a recent report recounted 11 CEQA lawsuits filed against San Francisco last year, while many hundreds of projects were approved in the city without CEQA challenges. A Natural Resources Defense Council study in Los Angeles similarly found 18 cases filed after 1182 approvals. A more in-depth analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California found that only one CEQA lawsuit is filed per 354 projects, a fraction of a percent.
So — what good does CEQA do? It assures citizens that they can participate in identifying and solving environmental problems alongside self–interested project applicants and City Hall insiders. The concept is simple and results in tangible benefits to California’s environment via better, smarter projects. The Planning and Conservation League, in a publication aptly entitled “Everyday Heroes,” assembled more than 70 examples of CEQA success. If space permitted I could describe scores of happy endings attributable to CEQA review that I have personally seen and celebrated.
CEQA assures environmental quality for present and future generations. Californians count on being informed about projects with environmental impacts — before their approval. In every California community, citizens organize and volunteer their time to offer comments and problem-solving suggestions. Applicants in turn know that their projects’ environmental impacts must be both disclosed and mitigated.
Attempts to weaken CEQA have also been around for decades. They always fail as Californians continue to champion their unique neighborhoods, cities, farmland, beaches, and wilderness areas. Most developers, even if preferring that their own projects not be subjected to CEQA review, do not want the law waived for all other projects.
Still, the national economic slowdown has given new life to the overblown claims of CEQA critics. A few weeks ago in Sacramento, a last-minute “gut and amend” bill would have taken away key protections. The public responded and the effort, again, failed. But the push to gut CEQA continues in cynical barrage.
What should happen? While well-orchestrated attacks on CEQA in the press and in Sacramento are largely opportunistic and misdirected, there is room for improvement. Over the past five years CEQA has been revised to prevent alleged abuses — including a $10,000 penalty for anyone filing a frivolous suit — and to streamline environmental review. Other positive changes are now being discussed among experts — without sacrificing citizen participation or substantial environmental protections.
Any CEQA amendments should occur only after a broad-based public process with full review by the Senate and Assembly Committees on Natural Resources.
Surely we do not want to regress to back-room planning and development without accountability. Benefiting all Californians in the long run, this profound law must itself be protected. As we continue to welcome millions to our beautiful state, we need CEQA’s protections more than ever.
Attorney Susan Brandt-Hawley represents public-interest environmental preservation groups statewide. In the last 15 years her work has been recognized with state and national awards and her cases have contributed to CEQA precedent in all six districts of the California Court of Appeal and in the Supreme Court.
“I was 18 years old the first time they locked me up in a psych ward.”
So begins “The Bipolar World,” an article published in the Bay Guardian‘s literature section 10 years ago, on September 18, 2002. The writer, Sascha Altman DuBrul, tells the story of his life. He’d been arrested walking on New York subway tracks after the year he first experienced what would later be diagnosed as bipolar disorder.
In the article, DuBrul wrote that the ideas shooting through his head were like a pinball game and he was convinced the radio was talking to him and that the CIA was recording his thoughts via secret neurotransmitters under his skin. But when he was diagnosed and told that he would need to take daily pills for the rest of his life, he wrote, “I wasn’t convinced, to say the least, that gulping down a handful of pills every day would make me sane.”
“I think it’s really about time we start carving some more of the middle ground with stories from outside the mainstream and creating a new language for ourselves that reflects all the complexity and brilliance that we hold inside,” the article concludes.
DuBrul was right—the time was ripe.
“Within a couple of days of it being out on the street, I got about 40 emails from strangers,” DuBrul told me. “And it wasn’t just one or two line emails that were,’ hey, great article.’ It was people pouring out their stories to me.”
One of those people was Oakland artist Jacks McNamara, and the two instantly connected.
“You know the myth of Icarus, right? It’s the boy who flies too close to the sun. It’s from Greek mythology. So we were two people who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and we were like, instead of seeing ourselves as diseased or disordered, we see ourselves as having dangerous gifts, like having wings,” DuBrul said. “And so, we put up a website that said, ‘The Icarus Project, navigating the space between brilliance and madness.'”
The Icarus Project began as a website, whose forums quickly filled with discussions as more people shared their stories and connected. Today, The Icarus Project has published three books, including a guide to starting support groups, dozens of which have sprung up around the country. More than 14,000 people have registered on the website.
The Bay Area-born radical mental health project celebrates its 10 year anniversary this year. An art show, concerts, spoken word, film screening, and skill share will take place this coming week. “Icaristas” will do what they do best: share their stories in language that feels right, building connections and community.
“When Sascha and I started it, we’d never seen anything written about bipolar that we could relate to. Everything was sterile and clinical and very mainstream, and didn’t really situate these sort of struggles within a larger political context,” McNamara recalls.
Now, there are Icarus Project books translated into six languages, and a huge collection of writing and art in what one zine editor, Jonah Bossewitch, calls the Icarus “sphere of influence and inspiration.”
“Our lives are made of fleeting moments, and to create documentation — whether in print or online or on canvas — is to make a fleeting moment into something to be shared. The Icarus Project and others who share similar ideas of liberation need to live our lives of beautiful fleeting moments, but also need to create documentation so that we can be heard,” said Laura-Marie Taylor, creator of Functionally Ill, an Icarus-inspired mental health zine now in its 13th edition.
“We’re in competition with the loud voices of psychiatry, advertising, governments, and other forces that want to tell us who we are. We need to broadcast our stories far and wide in order to counteract the forces that want to tell us who we are,” Taylor said.
That was also the view of Ken Paul Rosenthal, whose film, Crooked Beauty, will be screened at the 10-year anniversary celebration.
“She who does not write is written upon,” Rosenthal told me. “Society’s narratives will overwrite your authentic self.”
“I think more than anything, Icarus is about hearing stories,” he said.
And that story telling is intimately connected to the building of community and networks.
Rosenthal first got acquainted with Icarus when he read a line Mcnamara had written: “The world seemed to hit me so much harder and fill me so much fuller than anyone else I knew. Slanted sunlight could make me dizzy with its beauty and witnessing unkindness filled me with physical pain.”
“We really wanted to create materials that were beautiful and inspiring and that people actually wanted to read,” said McNamara. “And that they could relate to if they came from more of a subcultural perspective or just had suspicions about the mental health industry and the ways that it diagnoses people and treats them. “
Icarus concepts also spread through means other than their support groups and publications.
“A lot of long-term Icarus members have gone on to become social workers, or to become therapists, or in various ways to have careers that are based in mental health and are bringing alternative perspectives,” McNamara said.
One such Icarista is Kathy Rose. She met McNamara at a screening of Crooked Beauty in 2010, and began participating in support groups and volunteering with Icarus. A teacher at Five Keys Charter School, which operates in San Francisco county jails, Rose said that the understanding and language of mental health she got from Icarus have been useful in her classroom.
“I see how many of my students are struggling with their own mental health, how they are treated, and how so much is related to the trauma they’ve experienced in their lives and lack of support,” said Rose. She said that she has used Icarus materials in the classroom and screened Crooked Beauty.
Those materials explore questions of over-medication and independence and autonomy in decision-making and question the role of institutions like psychiatric hospitals and prisons.
“Institutionalization in prisons and mental hospitals isn’t helping anyone and isn’t getting us anywhere,” Rose said.
The Icarus Project isn’t the first effort to resist the mental health establishment. The Mental Patients Liberation Front, and the larger Psychiatric Survivors movement grew out of civil rights efforts of the 1960s and 70s, as patients demanded an end to coerced and forced psychiatric interventions like electroshock. Today, Mind Freedom International and other groups continue that pressure; most recently, hundreds protested an American Psychiatric Associations meeting discussing new definitions for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition on May 5.
The Icarus Project is also intimately connected to activist movements, but plays a unique role.
“There’s support networks that get started in activist communities, but there’s a lot of ways that people have a really hard time being supportive of each other if they haven’t done the work themselves to be able to be supportive of themselves,” said DuBrul. “What happens in activist communities is that people burn out, which is kind of the ultimate Icarus project. I mean, that’s the Icarus myth.”
He called the Occupy movement, with its distinctive tent cities packed with people, many of whom were hurting financially and emotionally, a “test case” for implementing Icarus concepts.
In fact, Occupy has led to yet another Icarus-inspired book, Mindful Occupation, due to be released this year. The book “aims to address the need for attention to mental health, healing, and emotional first aid within Occupy and other movement groups.”
Mental health professionals, along with other non-professionals who were a part of Occupy Wall Street, formed the Support working group to intervene when people seemed to be in crisis and patrol the park at night. But Jonah Bossewitch, a member of the working group and one of the editors of Mindful Occupation, said that the broad critique of society and authority present in most of Occupy didn’t always extend to Support.
“Nobody was going to go to the cops after people got into a fight. Yet people were getting forced treatment and psych evaluations, ” Bossewitch said. “Folks are ready to critique the outside world — capitalism, banks — but it’s way harder to look in at their own profession.”
For DuBrul, the emotional tensions that played out at Occupy, as well as the trauma of police beatings, jail, and exposure to chemicals, proved the need to continue and grow The Icarus Project.
“If you know how you are when you’re well, it’s much easier to get back there,” said DuBrul said. “I’m telling you, a movement full of people, an Occupy movement full of people that have a sense of how they are when they’re well, then it’s much easier to work towards what it is that you want. If you’re operating from a place where you’re having a really hard time, it’s much harder to get to where you’re going.”
So where is Icarus going? They hope to formalize the mentorship and education that has already happened, borrowing in some ways from the “sponsorship” approach that groups like Alcoholics Anonymous take.
“We started with a vision of creating a new language and culture about what gets considered mental illness,” DuBrul said. “It’s alright to be ‘mad’ and still be brilliant.”
The schedule of Icarus anniversary events is available at www.theicarusproject.net/10thanniversary
EDITORIAL Yeah, the shared economy. Yeah, high tech. Yeah, there’s an app for that. Yeah, the San Francisco cab industry is screwed up and you can never get a cab when you need one.
But that’s not an excuse for the city to stand by and allow a whole cottage industry of unregulated, unlicensed cabs hit the streets, using a business model that everyone knows is fake and undermining decades of painstakingly crafted rules that govern this critical part of the city’s transportation infrastructure.
Over the past year, at least five new companies have opened that offer what the taxi industry offers — rides around the city for money. They do it in a cool new way — you send a message from your phone requesting a ride, you follow where the driver is with a GPS app, and when you get to the destination, you make a “voluntary” payment through a Pal-Pal-style system.
It sounds great: Fast service that the existing industry can’t always offer, an easier way to pay (a lot of drivers still demand cash only, in part because the cab companies charge drivers an extraordinary fee for credit-card transactions) and — more important to a lot of us — a way to know exactly when your ride will arrive. (Ever call a major cab dispatcher to ask when the car will be there? “As soon as he gets there,” is the usual gruff response. Sorry we asked.)
But there’s a reason that the city regulates taxis. Drivers are in constant contact with the public — with vulnerable people who may be tourists with limited English, seniors or others who could easily be exploited, or in the worst case scenario, harmed — so a background check is required for anyone who gets behind the wheel of a cab. Cabs have to carry extra insurance to cover passengers. There’s a city office where you can file complaints against unethical drivers. Companies won’t hire anyone with a serious infraction on his or her license.
There’s nothing, not a single rule or regulation, to protect customers of the new startups.
The city also controls the number of cabs on the streets — in part because too many cabs chasing too few fares leads to problems. You can’t legally drive a cab in the city — that is, pick up and discharge passengers for hire — without a city medallion.
The new companies, like Lyft and Sidecar, get around that rule by claiming the fare is just a “suggested donation” — which everyone knows is bogus. The companies would have no business model without charging money for rides.
The emergence of these new companies demonstrates how far behind the city and the taxi industry is — easier payment and more reliable service is such a mandate that customers are willing to go elsewhere when they don’t get it. But the idea that the free market and tech-savvy entrepreneurs will solve every problem clashes with the longtime, demonstrated need for regulations in the taxi industry.
City officials need to make it clear that they won’t allow these rogue cabs to keep operating. If the new outfits want to offer their services, they need to do what every other cab company does — line up medallions, follow the rules, get the proper insurance and operate within the law.
OPINION In a new book, Bay Area journalist Seth Rosenfeld publicly names longtime Asian American leftist Richard Aoki as an FBI informant during his time as a leader of the Third World Liberation Front movement and as a founding member of the Black Panther Party. As Asian American activists in the movement today, we denounce these claims as baseless and false and are shocked at the way Rosenfeld makes such unsubstantiated claims while promoting his book release. His allegations damage the movement and reinforce trite “yellow peril” stereotypes of Asian Americans.
The allegations against Richard come without any credible evidence. Rosenfeld provides one incomplete document that he claims identifies Richard as an informant called “SF T-2.” It reads: “SF T-2 was designated for [redacted] (Richard M. Aoki) for the limited purposes of describing his connections with the organization and characterizing him.” The FBI cover sheet associates names of informants with their “T” codes. All informants’ names have been redacted.
It is astounding to us that Rosenfeld concluded Richard was an informant from that scrap of evidence. Later in this document, Aoki’s name is used again in order to name an FBI file location. In the few pages available under his FBI file, the informant “SF T-2” goes on to inform about the readings, political thought, and organizational/party membership of Richard Aoki. It appears to us that an informant named “SF T-2” was assigned to inform about Richard.
Rosenfeld also cites a former agent named Burney Threadgill, who claims Richard was an informant; before his death in 2009, Richard denied that in an interview. Threadgill is hardly a credible source and was a major player at the height of COINTELPRO, implementing FBI policy that was designed to deter and divide the movement. Unfortunately, both men are now deceased and cannot defend their claims.
He also uses testimony of a former FBI agent, M. Wesley Swearington, who had no relation to Richard Aoki. Despite this, Swearington claims that Richard was a “perfect informant” because he was a Japanese person in an organization of Black Americans. That makes no sense because Richard stuck out while in the Black Panther Party, and again feeds into the divisive stereotypes of Asian Americans.
Rosenfeld implies that Richard worked as an instigator, pushing people toward violent action. In fact, Richard was cautious about the use of violence and was vigilant about it during mass actions. It’s true that Richard armed the Black Panthers; however, he did so in the name of self-defense and protecting the people against police brutality.
All in all, Seth Rosenfeld’s news story on Richard Aoki was poorly researched and only a small fraction of his new book. His public accusations are unfounded and sensationalist.
Richard’s advanced leftist political thought, mentored and developed new leaders, educated his working-class sisters and brothers, and built black and Asian solidarity — and this was invaluable. Richard and other movement veterans inspired us and a new generation of young leaders to carry forward the work today. We are stronger because of them — and that is how people should be judged and remembered.
Steve Woo is an organizer in the Tenderloin and steering committee member of the Richard Aoki Fund. Alex T. Tom is the executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association.
NORTHERN CALIFORNIA RENAISSANCE FAIR
What better pairing for your mug of ale than a feisty joust? Oct. 6-7 at the NorCal Ren Fair means the arrival of the St. Hubertus German mercenaries, costumed troops-for-hire who wear tight colored pants. That weekend is also Oktoberfest at the fair — though of course mead, beer, and four types of cider are available throughout the four-week entirety of the bodice-busting. Just make sure you dodge the roving pack of Puritans who will be roaming ye olde paths and pubs.
Saturdays and Sundays, Sat/15 through Oct.1. 10am-6pm, $25/day, $35/weekend, $150/10-day pass. 10021 Pacheco Pass Hwy 152, Gate 6, Hollister. (408) 847-FAIR, www.norcalrenfaire.com
BREWS ON THE BAY
Because if anywhere is a good place to get drunk on nice beer, a World War II liberty ship is a fantastic place to get drunk on nice beer. After all, the S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien is too large to succumb to the rocking waves of the Bay. Even if it bobbed like a dinghy, this is worth getting wet for: 15 member breweries of the SF Brewer’s Guild pouring all-you-can-drink allotments of over 50 beers, from the companies’ best-sellers to seldom-seen seasonals. Plus live music and food trucks. Ahoy, well-worth-it hangover!
Sat/15, noon-5pm, $50. S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien, Pier 45, SF. www.sfbrewersguild.org
SF COCKTAIL WEEK
Ask anyone –- this town has serious cocktailian chops. That’s why (if you’ve got the cash, admission for most events starts around $45) it’s worth checking out this week of artisan tastings, bartender contests, and classes that’ll leave you shaking like a star.
Mon/17-Sun/23, various SF venues. www.sfcocktailweek.com
In the 1980s, a group of NorCal wine producers got together to celebrate the excellency of varietals from France’s Rhone Valley. They called themselves the Rhone Rangers, and set about recreating the wines’ majesty here in the Golden State. Today, they celebrate work well done on internationally-celebrated Grenache Day. Check out the special vino in its red, white, and rose forms through free tastings at 15 wineries in Paso Robles, Santa Cruz’s Bonny Doon Vineyard, Santa Rosa’s Sheldon Wines, and Sacramento’s Caverna 57.
Sept. 21, various venues, free. www.rhonerangers.org
EAT REAL FESTIVAL
You know you can nosh away at this fest, which celebrates the best in local, sustainable nourishment — but be sure you wash it down in style. Eat Real offers a chance to sample 20 Bay beers, like sustainable Berkeley pourers Bison Brewing and its beer garden co-curator Adam Lamoreaux’s Oakland-born Linden Street Brewery. 15 NorCal wineries will be represented as well. And no festival markups here — all adult beverages go for $5 per cup.
Sept. 21 1-9pm; Sept. 22, 10:30am-9pm; Sept. 23, 10:30am-5pm; free. Jack London Square, First St. and Broadway, Oakl. www.eatrealfest.com
TOUR DE FAT
The beer and bike carnival of the year is back, with all its usual circus magic and a costumed bike parade under the trees of GGP. Onstage, Fat Tire beer has another full musical line-up planned: Los Amigos Invisibles, He’s My Brother She’s My Sister, Yo-Yo People, and more. Sip the Colorado brand’s brews, and stick around for the end, when a lucky car owner trades their wheels in for a bike during a elaborate yearly ritual.
Sept. 22, 10:30-5pm, free. Lindley Meadow, Golden Gate Park, SF. www.newbelgium.com/events/tour-de-fat
LAGUNITAS DAYTIME PARTY
Retire to the sunny patio of downtown Oakland’s best beer store-pub to meet the masterminds behind Marin’s Lagunitas Brewing Co. They’re not coming empty-handed, either — the label’s new session IPA, named for the time in which such things are best drunk (Daytime) will be on the pour, lubricating what is sure to be a fascinating conversation with local beer greats.
Sept. 22, 1-6pm, free. Beer Revolution, 464 Third St., Oakl. (510) 452-2337, www.beer-revolution.com
OKTOBERFEST BY THE BAY
Snap them lederhosen and rub your belly — you’ll need all the digestive help you can get after this perfectly pleasant weekend of steins, sausages, and oompah. Now with two sessions on Saturday to avoid beer gut overcrowding!
Sept.28, 5pm-midnight; Sept. 29, 11am-5pm and 6pm-midnight; Sept. 30, 11am-6pm, $25-75/session. Pier 49, SF. (888) 746-7522, www.oktoberfestbythebay.com
DRINK GREAT BEERS TASTING PARTY
Beer Connoisseur magazine sponsors this all-you-can-taste Saturday extravaganza in the swanky climes of Blu Restaurant. Taste little-known brews against old favorites, and discover which flavor ways really fill your pint.
Sept. 29, 3-6pm, $60-85. Blu Restaurant, 747 Market, fourth floor, SF. www.drinkgreatbeers.com
Because the Blue Angels will be less (?) terrifying with a bellyful of California wine in you, head out to this Bay Area exploration of the wines of Lodi, a small town tucked just between Sacramento and Stockton that is flush with wine producers. Your admission gets you tastes of 200 (!) Lodi wines, tons of snacks, and a front row seat for Fleet Week’s aerial shenanigans.
Oct. 6, 1-5pm, $55-65. 291 Avenue of the Palms, Treasure Island, SF. www.locauncorked.com
AIR Know that for this article I just spent an ungodly amount of time popping the Youtube replay button on Biggie’s 1995 30-second TV spot for St. Ides malt liquor, “Big Poppa” shoutouts from passing flygirls and all. Why besides the fashion tips, you ask? Turns out St. Ides is from good ol’ San Francisco, created by the McKenzie River Corporation, a somewhat overlooked party beverage marketing powerhouse that also brought us Steele Reserve, Black Star, and the one, the only Sparks, truly the hipster runoff off the ’00s.
But this is about the future, not the past — and what could be more “future is now” than McKenzie’s new product, Air (www.drinkair.com), the “alcohol inspired beverage” that’s started popping up in cuter nightclubs and sublebrity paws. A clear, carbonated, deflavored, de-aromatized malt product with 95 calories and four percent alcohol content per can, and available in berry and citrus flavors, Air is packaged in sleek, thin silver cans, and has variously been described to me as “sparkling alcohol water,” “flavored alcoholic club soda,” “diet vodka,” and “Not Redbull, more like clearbuzz.” All of those are kind of true — and we’re obviously through the cocktail-in-a-can looking class, people.
“We like to describe Air as a more healthy, less filling alternative to regular cocktails — although it tastes pretty great when mixed with vodka like club soda,” McKenzie’s marketing director, Ashley Garver told me over the phone. “It’s for people who want to keep the party going without all the sugar highs and lows or, shall we say, any overestimation of their own limits.”
Air had a pretty auspicious launch — thousands of San Francisco sports fans may remember the dude in the hydraulic jet pack zooming up over McCovey Cove this summer during a particularly iconic moment. “Here we were all excited to try out this brand new jetpack technology,” Garver said with a laugh, “and it turned out to be right when Matt Cain pitches a perfect game for the Giants.
Word’s still out on whether sports fans, notoriously fussy about their beverages, will take to Air. One target audience, smartly, is the electronic dance music crowd, whose booze buzz is a little tricker to uphold than that of the average couch potato’s. “I just got back from the Video Music Awards in LA where we had some great interactions with EDM stars,” Ashley told me. “I got to hang out with Kaskade.” An avowed Mormon, Kaskade might abstain, but his legions of complexly inebriated fans may appreciate Air’s quick refreshment. Probably, too, will the more discerning and diverse crowds at local venues like Mezzanine, 222 Hyde, and 1015 Folsom, where Air is now served. And a team up with the awesome Lights Down Low party at Public Works on September 22 should spread more indie and underground dance-fan Air.
Which brings us to the legendary Sparks saga, which McKenzie marketed to indie and hardcore electro types so well that it pretty much branded a generation and was snapped up by Miller for hundreds of millions of dollars — only to be pulled from shelves due to objections over its deliciously killer combo of sugar, caffeine, taurine, and alcohol. What could possibly ever go wrong with that?
Garver laughs at the memory of Sparks, but stays positively on message: “The country came back to us looking for something lighter, more refreshing, less high octane and more innovative. We’d honestly been wanting to do something like Air for a while, but the technology wasn’t yet available to completely take the taste and smell out of malt liquor and leave something lighter.” (For the record, there still is a very, very slight beery mouth-feel of malt that’s not quite covered up by the carbonation or natural flavoring, but if you’ve ever woken up on a 40 oz. pillow, this mouth-feel is of infinitely minuscule concern.)
And what about that effete forerunner of Air, the clear malt liquor drink of the ’90s that became a famous running joke? Is Air just a zombie Zima? Or is it zomething different?
Garver laughs again. “I can certainly see where that comes from, but Air has like one third the calories and alcohol content of Zima, and it’s much more versatile. We have no added sugar so we’re a lot more healthy.
“Well, I guess I don’t know if you can ever get healthy drinking an alcoholic product. But we’re certainly aiming to make you feel lighter.”
WINE Recommended bottles, fall events in Sonoma, urban wine classes … here are a few wine tips for true autumn flight. Check out my online Appetite column on the Pixel Vision blog at SFBG.com this week for restaurants making some of Napa’s best cocktails, a family vineyards wine-tasting report, and more Wine Country dining reviews.
An in-house wine club with storage facilities and a wine school launched in April, SF Wine Center (757 Bryant, SF. 415-655-7300, www.sfwinecenter.com) hosts intimate classes, held in owners Brian and Hillary McGonigle’s inviting City Room. With kitchen, library, and comfy leather chairs, it feels more like a friend’s home than a classroom. This room is available for private parties, as is a wood-lined, speakeasy-like room tucked away above the wine storage area — it feels ready for a cigar, a glass of Pinot, and a round of cards and good friends.
Recently, a class led by James Beard award-winning writer and Burgundy expert Jordan Mackay was a walk through regions and wines of Burgundy in the best way possible: by tasting a wide range side-by-side. We discussed styles and regions as we sipped nine different wines — a steal considering class price (generally $60-75) vs. costs of wines poured. Tastes ranged from a meaty 2009 Dujac Fils & Pere Cambolle Musigny ($65 a bottle) boasting excellent acidity and earthiness, to a rare 1976 Domaine Leroy Romanee St. Vivant Grand Cru ($500), with sediment and funkiness (it’s a whole cluster wine, after all), and notes of black tea, mushroom, leather, smoke, moss, tart cherry. Fall classes start up September 25th and sell out quickly. Watch the website for the fall schedule.
Bluxome Street Winery (53 Bluxome, SF. 415-543-5353, www.bluxomewinery.com) wins cool points just for being an urban winery whose product is actually made right here in the city with grapes from various Sonoma plots. It’s already a wine-tasting respite, and some change is afoot with new winemaker Web Marquez, who is also one of three winemakers at Anthill Farms and one of two at C. Donatiello. His early days interning at the excellent Williams Selyem — and in New Zealand and France — give him a balanced perspective on Old and New World wine styles.
While we have to wait until next year’s bottling to see the results of his approach with Bluxome’s wines, in the meantime we can enjoy a tart 2011 Rose of Pinot Noir, or the acidic, balanced 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, or a Chardonnay and three Pinots (all bottles under $45). Taste in the candlelit space while watching winemaking through glass windows under a projected movie (shining on a brick wall) showcasing San Francisco in pre-1906 quake days when winemaking in the city was common — there were no less than 120 wineries and commercial cellars in SoMa alone. Here’s to Bluxome reviving our rich urban wine history.
SUNNY SONOMA EVENTS
A foodie’s dream event: Slow Food’s Fresh Food Picnic (Sun/15, 11am-6pm, $40–$125. Rancho Mark West, Santa Rosa, www.slowfoodrr.org) is a picnic and then some. Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food himself, flies out from Italy for a rare appearance, while Alice Waters and Nikki Henderson (of Oakland’s People’s Grocery) join him as speakers for the event. Then there’s the chef line-up. A family-style picnic will be served by Christopher Kostow (Meadowood), Dennis Lee (Namu Gaji), Ryan Farr (4505 Meats), Christopher Kronner (formerly Bar Tartine, Slow Club), Thomas McNaughton (flour+water, Central Kitchen), Christopher Thompson (A16), and more There will be tastes from farmers, food artisans and winemakers, local bands, a petting zoo, guided hikes and tours of Rancho Mark West, the event’s farm setting. Proceeds benefit A Thousand Gardens in Africa, a Slow Food International project, and California-based Slow Food initiatives focused on food and farm education. As a zero waste event, bring your own plates, flatware, and napkins — provide glassware will be provided.
Jordan Winery (1474 Alexander Valley Road, Healdsburg. www.jordanwinery.com) is a pioneer in Sonoma’s wine history, started by Tom and Sally Jordan in 1972. These Bordeaux wine lovers built a Bordelais inspired chateau on their 275-acre Alexander Valley vineyard in 1976, a gorgeous structure overseeing the winery’s soothing grounds (tastings by appointment only). With spectacular chateau apartments reserved for overnight guests, the 1100 acre grounds go beyond winery to full working ranch with cattle, chickens, gardens, olive oil groves, and fishing lake with Tiki bar and hammock. As from the beginning, Jordan stays refreshingly focused on only two varietals, a green apple-inflected Chardonnay ($29) and elegant Cabernet ($52 for a bold but balanced 2008 Cab). It’s a family business with son John as CFO, while Rob Davis has been Jordan’s head winemaker for 35 years, since the inaugural vintage in 1976.
Now is the time to shop for your holiday wine with them to earn a fabulous Jordan Winery harvest lunch. You must sign up for their email newsletter and purchase wines to earn the points which can be used towards winemaker tours, Christmas library tastings, and the coveted harvest lunches, which begin this week and run through mid-October. Harvest season is the most enchanting time in Wine Country, ideal for a family-style, weekday feast alongside winemaking staff and a tour of the grounds during crush season.
FALL BOTTLE RECOMMENDS
Where to shop for the below? K&L Wines, Jug Shop, Bi-Rite, Arlequin, Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, SF Wine Trading Co., and D&M offer excellent wine selections in the city.
Au Bon Climat “Hildegard” White Table Wine, Santa Maria Valley
Au Bon Climat’s is one of the state’s great, small wineries, and Hildegard ($35) is one of my top California whites. A blend of 55 percent Pinot Gris, 40 percent Pinot Blanc, 5 percent Aligoté, it’s layered and complex, unfolding with apple, almond, violet.
Heitz Cellar Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc, St. Helena
Heitz Cellar is one of my longtime Napa favorites for a beautifully balanced, lively Sauvignon Blanc ($19.75), and splurge-worthy Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($110-200) — the far more affordable 2007 Napa Valley Cab ($45) is a worthy substitution. This family-run winery has been going strong since 1964 with Old World balance, one of Napa’s true gems.
Lucia Vineyards LUCY, Santa Lucia Highlands
Lucia Vineyards’ LUCY ($18) is a a beauty of a rosé boasting zippy acidity pairs well with a wide range of dishes — another Santa Lucia treasure.
Tatomer Riesling Vandenberg, Santa Barbara
2008 Tatomer Riesling Vandenberg ($24.99), named for the neighboring air force base, is easily one of the best wines in the Santa Barbara region. Maintaining an Old World ethos, dry, crisp, it still boasts a New World uniqueness. Incredibly balanced, pear and apple skins shine with minerality that’s gorgeous with food.
Amapola Creek’s 2009 Cuvee Alis, Sonoma Valley
Glen Ellen’s Amapola Creek, from Richard Arrowood (who founded Arrowood Winery), is a small, boutique winery. Cuvee Alis ($48) is named after Richard’s wife, a hand-harvested, unfined and unfiltered blend of 55 percent Syrah, 45 percent Grenache, organically grown on a slope of the Mayacamas Mountains on the Arrowood’s 100-acre ranch. The wine gives of a nose of cherry pie, gentle pepper, smoke, tasting of dark berries, spicy meat, with silky tannins and acidic balance.
Viña Tondonia Rosé Gran Reserva Rosado, Rioja, Spain One of the best rosés I’ve ever had, 2000 Viña Tondonia Rosé Gran Reserva ($30) is not for novices. At 12 years of age, this blend of 60 percent Garnacha, 30 percent Tempranillo, 10 percent Viura exhibits a velvety, rosy hue, unfolding with damp, funky, mushroom notes dancing alongside bright blood orange, berries, hazelnuts, rhubarb. It’s so unusual, it pairs beautifully with spicy foods from a range of cuisines. Thanks to sommelier Ted Glennon of Restaurant 1833 in Monterey for introducing me to this stunner, available through K&L Wines. Every time I have it, it’s a pleasure.
Vidal-Fleury Saint Joseph & Muscat, Rhone Valley, France
Vidal-Fleury is produced by winemaker and managing director Guy Sarton du Jonchay, who understands the balance between New and Old World having made wine in France, Chile, Argentina and Australia. “Old world is terroir… New World is winemakers”, he says, as he pursues a balance of both. Stand-outs are a 2007 Vidal-Fleury Saint Joseph Syrah ($28.99), full, bright, earthy, with dark berry, black tea, pepper, and meaty notes (he only releases best vintages so there will not be a 2008 — 2009 releases next); and 2009 Vidal-Fleury Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise ($18.99), tasting of elderflower, dried apricot, lychee, nuts, with a balanced sweetness and minerality.
BEER I’m addicted to strong beer.
In a less confessional mood, I might just leave it at the fact that I love strong, malty, hoppy India pale ales, the nectar of the gods. That weak-tasting lagers and pilsners just don’t quite do it for me. But the truth is that I’ve begun to think of my taste for strong beer as something closer to an addiction, one that I’m increasingly powerless to resist.
It doesn’t matter what time it is — or what my intention, mood, or level of sobriety. When the bartender asks what I want, my mouth almost involuntarily forms the words “Racer 5” or “Lagunitas IPA” or some other strong beer, as if it has a mind of its own and knows what it wants. I find it difficult to argue with my own mouth.
Even at a superb beer spot like Magnolia Pub and Brewery, with its wide variety of great and tasty beers — many of which I’ll taste from time to time, just to remind myself of what I’m missing — I’ll always wish that I’d ordered one of its house-brewed Proving Ground IPAs instead, and get that on my next round. Never mind the consequences of several 7 percent alcohol beers, it’s just what I have to have.
I seek out bars like Toronado Pub and Murio’s Trophy House that carry Pliny the Elder, Russian River Brewing Company’s decadent double IPA, with its chart-topping 8 percent alcohol content. And on the special occasions when they’re privileged to carry a keg of Pliny the Younger — the rarely-released triple IPA with 10.5 percent alcohol, the malty hops oozing from each pint — I’ll be there with my fellow addicts at any hour of the day, staying until that keg is dead (which usually happens within an hour or so.)
Peer pressure may have something to do with it, because increasingly it seems as if my closest mates share and help enforce my addiction. I’ve been heckled mercilessly when I try to mix things up with a different, lighter pitcher during our long sessions at Zeitgeist, or when we’re taking advantage of the $3 happy hour pints at Dalva and I stray from ordering Green Flash or Bombay by Boat.
Addictions need reinforcement, and we all seem to be part of cultural moment when strong beer — the stronger the better, as befits our maturing constitutions — is king. It’s our birthright and our expectation. When Southern Pacific Brewing Company opened in my Mission District neighborhood last year, it surprised nobody that it brewed a strong pale ale, a stronger India pale ale, and an even stronger extra India pale ale.
As a Northern Californian in his mid-40s, I’m a child of the microbrew revolution, the first generation that rebelled against watery, mass-produced “beer,” rejecting the Coors and Budweiser cans favored by the Baby Boomers in favor of the stronger, tastier ales hatched in bottles and kegs by California craft brewers.
That’s when it began, simply enough, with beers like Anchor Steam and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale that would find themselves fermenting in ever-larger vats due to their popularity with my people.
But pretty soon, they weren’t cutting it anymore, particularly after I began to experiment with homebrewing and developed a taste for the sweet malts and hops that I mixed into my wort, spurred on by watching my yeast consume carbs and expel strength into my bubbling concoction.
Maybe there’s a cure for what ails me, or what ales my buds crave. Frankly, I’m not looking for one. I’ve embraced the fate that strength is my weakness, and I’ll drink it in by the pitcher. Cheers.
BEER Over the past 30 years, California microbrew has conquered niche markets and infiltrated the mainstream. Arguably, no individual is more responsible for this spirit of innovation than Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing Company, based in Santa Rosa.
Possessing a cult following with Trekkie-like fervor for his generously hoppy beers, Cilurzo is credited with inventing the double IPA early in his career; and Russian River’s elusive, seasonally-released Pliny the Younger was recently determined by BeerAdovocate.com to be the best beer in the world.
But his maverick side is perhaps best reflected in his sour ales: a highly specialized range of Belgian-derived brews, revered in beer-geek circles for their complexity. Aged in wine barrels for years at a time, with the addition of fruit like sour cherries and currants, and often subjected to the risky practice of spontaneous fermentation, sours are as temperamental as they are inefficient in respect to time, cost-effectiveness, and space preservation. Often called “wild ales,” these beers require a knowledgeable, experienced brewer to tame them.
I spoke with Cilurzo over the phone recently about his approach to the lip-smacking sour. Beer lovers, and novices alike, read on:
SFBG: “Sour” is a pretty popular umbrella term for a whole range of beers. Do you accept that term? Reject that term? How do you classify them?
Vinnie Cilurzo: I’m fine if someone wants to call them sour, or barrel-aged, or whatever they want to call them. I think for the most part the beer connoisseurs know what they are. You know, on occasion a non-beer-enthusiast will buy a bottle and be surprised when they find it is sour in flavor. It doesn’t say it on the front of the label, but we don’t make a huge deal out of it, either way. Barrel-aged funky beers… is the term we tend to go with.
SFBG: These sours, you’ve been making them for a while. Do you feel like you’ve kind of gotten the variables down, and know how to control it, pretty much every step of the way?
VC: We have a good handle on it, but the beer is always in control. The time when you start feeling that you know what you’re doing, the yeast and the bacteria will throw a curveball at you, that’s for sure. So, the beer really does tell you when it’s ready. It’s weather-dependent; it’s temperature-dependent; it’s seasonally-dependent; it’s what was in the barrel before; it’s how long you clean the barrel. For the spontaneous beers, specifically, it’s how long we leave the wort in the koelship, which is the open fermenter. There’s so many variables. So, you have to be very, very pliable, and be able to go with the flow, if you will.
SFBG: Is there a glass that you feel that your sours are particularly well served in?
VC: If you’re at home drinking Belgians or sour, barrel-aged beers, I’d say: try a pint glass with half the beer and put the other half in a wine glass, if you don’t have a stemmed, beer-type glass, and see if you can tell the difference. I think you can tell a big difference, particularly in aroma, and obviously some flavor, as well, by using a non-pint glass.
BEER I will not re-enter the one-sided debate of whether the East Bay is cooler than San Francisco (we covered that in our much hullabalooed April 11 cover story, helpfully titled “San Francisco’s loss”) But I will tell you this: one side of the Bay Bridge has less hills. Less hills being a boon for the drunk biker in us all.
If that is not enough motivation to embark upon a self-guided cycling tour of the East Bay beer scene, then I don’t know what is. Let me tell you about a recent, successfully-completed jaunt from which my team and I emerged with double IPA paunches, and a newfound appreciation for the San Francisco Bay Trail (of which you can find maps here: baytrail.abag.ca.gov).
Hook up your handlebars for a pleasant BART ride out to this north-of-Berkeley, family-friendly area, where a cruise of mere blocks will take you to the airy brewpub of Elevation 66 (10082 San Pablo, El Cerrito. (510) 525-4800, www.elevation66.com). Stainless steel fermentation tanks make for tasty eye candy from the bar, where we wound up setting our messenger bags and ordering a sampler flight of seven beers. For such a tiny operation, Elevation 66 offers a swath of pours: on tap the day we visited were seven of its in-house brews, including a heavenly Contra Costa kölsch, the perfect light beverage with which to begin a day of exercising and drinking, and five guest pours, of which we tried a bubbly, sweet Two Rivers blood orange cider. Important matters settled, we tackled the extensive food menu, which stocks homemade potato chips, a Peruvian causa made with poached prawns, avocados, Yukon potatoes, and habanero, and more.
Now, leave the brewery (I know, but there’s lots to see.) Take the beautiful, wetlands-lined Bay Trail south, feeling free to jump off at the overpass when you see the Golden Gate Fields (1100 Eastshore Frontage Road, Berk. (510) 559-7300, www.goldengatefields.com). If it’s Sunday, all the better — $1 entry, $1 beers, $1 hot dogs.
Note the USDA community garden that will zip by on your right (at 800 Buchanan, Berk.) as you emerge from the Bay Trail into the Albany-Berkeley area, home to some of the largest breweries in the East Bay, besides of course the mega-fermenters at the Budweiser factory in Fairfield.
Your first stop will be at Pyramid Alehouse (91 Gillman, Berk. (510) 528-9880, www.pyramidbrew.com), and though you may find the quality of some of the beers at this Seattle-born chain brewery to be just about what you’d expect from a space tinged with notes of T.G.I. Friday’s, you can make a game of counting the pyramids incorporated into the décor for extra stimulation. If you dare, embark upon a 40-minute free tour given every day at 4pm by a bartender who may or may not include gems like: “if you like metaphors, you’ll love this one.” At any rate, it’s a good primer for people who have no idea how beer is made and it includes tons of free booze at the end. Check out Trumer Pils Braueri (1404 Fourth St., Berk. (510) 526-1160, www.trumer-international.com) a few blocks away for another free tour that runs daily at 3:45pm.
Head back to the Bay Trail, unless you feel like a trip further inland to Berkeley’s two fun brewpubs Jupiter (2181 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 843-8277, www.jupiterbeer.com) and Triple Rock Brewery (1920 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 843-2739, www.triplerock.com). Between Berkeley and Oakland you have three lovely miles of trail ride, and if I’m not mistaken we are in the thick of blackberry season, which means the indigo clumps you’ll see on your right just past Sea Breeze Market and Deli (598 University, Berk.) are ripe for picking.
You could while away a day within just a few blocks in downtown Oakland, such a prime sitting-out-with-a-microbrew kinda neighborhood it is.
In terms of places that make their own brew, there is none better than the 1890s warehouse building that houses Linden Street Brewery (95 Linden, SF. (510) 812-1264, www.lindenbeer.com), the little brewery that could. There’s only a few meters in between tank and tap here, and on weekdays you can sit in the joint’s tap room and suck down golden pints of its Urban Peoples’ Common Lager, while hearing the story from the bartender of how it came to the forefront of Oakland’s craft beer scene.
You may not even guess, right off the bat, that Pacific Coast Brewing Company (906 Washington, Oakl. (510) 836-2739, www.pacificcoastbrewing.com) is brewing the suds that wind up in your $9/five beer sampler — but it is. The charming brick pub has all the fried pickles one has come to expect from a solid bar menu, and a latticed patio that provides a little privacy from the Oakland cityscape. Out front, you can park your steed and walk it out — the rest of your stops are within stumbling distance, unless you’re trying to really make a day of it and head south to Drake’s Brewing (1933 Davis, San Leandro. (510) 568-2739, www.drinkdrakes.com) and its tucked-away pint parlor.
You may just have saved the best for last. The Trappist (460 Eighth St., Oakl. (510) 238-8900, www.thetrappist.com) and Beer Revolution (464 Third St., SF. (510) 452-2337, www.beer-revolution.com) are two of my favorite Bay beer bars, regardless of area code. Both have superlative selection and cute, sunny patios, but considerably different vibes.
The Trappist is a classy, under-lit place with two bars and an elegant rotating list of beers at each, some local and some from far-flung locales. On our visit, we tried a trio of superb sour beers, including the transcendent red-brown Belgian Rodenbach Grand Cru. Trappist’s food menu is full of elegantly spare, small plates packed with big flavors, like a recent Mahon Reserva cheese platter with truffled almonds and shisito peppers. I’m no meat eater, but I heard rave reviews of the comparatively proletarian Trappist dog, which was studded with bacon and seemed an apt pairing for a beer that may out-class you.
Beer Revolution, as the name would imply, is a populist place — local brewers regularly roll through to share their fermentation philosophies. Though their draft menu is impressively large, the beauty of this place is variety. Inside the bar there is a vast refrigerator land where bottles await for your to-go/for-here fancy. We vote for-here, because you’ll want to savor every drop of your East Bay booze cruise.
BEER + WINE Craft beers are in their heyday, alongside craft everything else — it only makes sense that they would begin to take prominence on local menus next to intricately prepared and finely sourced dishes. San Francisco beer luminary Dave McLean has been brewing Magnolia beers, among my favorites anywhere, at his Upper Haight brewpub for nearly 15 years, now expanding to a new Dogpatch location. Like Magnolia, modern classic Monk’s Kettle in the Mission has focused since its 2007 opening on serving food to match its beer offerings, and new Maven in Lower Haight is innovative in its extensive beer-food pairings menu. (And we haven’t forgotten more casual beer-and-sausage options like Gestalt and Toronado-Rosamunde.) Now, two new restaurants arrive where food is equally important to beverage, with exciting beer slants.
Opened in May with great wine world buzz, St. Vincent is owned by sommelier David Lynch, known for his impeccable wine list at Quince. Accordingly, the wine list at St. Vincent (named not for the popular indie musician but for a third-century Spanish deacon known as the patron saint of winemakers) is global and excellent, with many bottles in the $30–$50 range, plus affordable by-the-glass pours like a crisp, floral 2011 Domaine de Guillemarine Picpoul de Pinet.
Wisely, Lynch brought on beer director (and certified cicerone) Sayre Piotrkowski, whose brings his beer knowledge and keen eye for the unusual from his former position at Monk’s Kettle. Piotrkowski has made spot-on drink recommendations on every visit, and the friendly staff are well-versed on the menu. I’ve tasted many of the eight rotating beers on draft, like those from Oakland’s Linden Street and Dying Vines breweries, or delightful beers from tiny Pasadena micro-brewery Craftsman Brewing Co., including a Triple White Sage Belgian-Style Tripel or a 1903 Lager, pre-Prohibition style. Splurge for a $22 bottle of fascinating Birrificio del Ducato’s Verdi Russian Imperial Stout, spicy with hot chile from Parma, Italy. ($11 if you can find it at liquor store extraordinaire Healthy Spirits, btw.)
New Jersey native Chef Bill Niles (most recently of Bar Tartine) exhibits a strong dose of New Southern in his California cooking. Although dishes like she-crab soup ($14), utilizing sea urchin, sugar snap peas and Carolina gold rice in a corn-lobster chowder, or rabbit burgoo ($24), a mélange of white turnips, baby green okra, white corn grits, and rabbit loin sausage with unusual lamb’s quarter herb, are nothing like the she-crab soups I’ve loved in South Carolina or the burgoo stews I’ve dined on in Kentucky, Niles has reinterpreted the regional dishes with care — and a distinctly West Coast ethos.
Beet-horseradish or curry pickled eggs ($3 each) are a predictably a good time, while a hand-rolled pretzel with mustard and butter ($5) is a bit small and forlorn. I searched for the listed clothbound cheddar in the baked Vidalia onion soup ($9), where even onions didn’t impart the hoped-for flavor intensity. Rarely-seen, ultra-salty Welsh laverbread ($18) is a hunk of Tartine wheat bread lathered in Pacific sea laver (seaweed), Manila clams, and hen of the woods mushrooms, ideal with beer. Entrees like roasted duck leg ($22), surrounded by buttered rye berries, griddled stonefruit, celery, and pickled mustard are heartier, but, unexpectedly, I preferred a vegetarian entree: an herb-laden spring succotash ($18) of butter beans, white corn, and dandelion, perfected with padron peppers.
Though St. Vincent’s food voice feels like it’s still finding itself, I appreciate that it is not the same iteration of gastropub food we’ve seen a thousand times over.
1270 Valencia, SF. 415-285-1200, www.stvincentsf.com
THE ABBOT’S CELLAR
Abbot’s Cellar opened in July and is Monk’s Kettle sister restaurant. The Lundberg Design (Moss Room, Quince, Slanted Door) space immediately impresses with 24-foot ceilings illuminated by skylights, and a long, 3000-square-foot dining room marked by reclaimed woods for a rustic, urban barn feel. A two-story stone cellar houses beer at proper temperatures, listed in a book that pulls out from the side of each table.
The volume lists more than 120 rotating beers — curated by co-owner and cellarmaster Christian Albertson with co-beer director Mike Reis — grouped by style (sours, saisons, etc.), with two pages dedicated to drafts. There’s a wall of glassware suited to every type of beer served, whether Jolly Pumpkin’s Madrugada Obscura Sour Stout from Dexter, MI, or Italian 2004 Xyauyu Etichetta Rame. A pricey ($14.50 for a six-ounce pour) Belgian Brouwerij De Landtsheer Malheur Brut is a dry, elegant Champagne-style beer served on the stem, one of ten offerings in a by-the-glass selection from large beer bottles rarely available by the pour.
As a temple dedicated to beer, the Cellar succeeds immediately. The bar and chef’s counter are ideal perches from which to sip, accompanied by hand-pump cask engines (sample Firestone Walker’s Unfiltered Double Barrel Ale from these classic pumps), and a reading shelf lined with Dulye’s collection of cookbooks.
Chef, co-owner, and experienced craft beer restaurateur Adam Dulye explores flavors optimal to brews. Dishes — a la carte options or tasting menus: three course $45, $60 with pairing; 5 course $65, $90 with pairing — are well-crafted and artful. As at St. Vincent, some dishes stand well above others, although there’s generally promising possibility. A coon-striped shrimp salad ($11) makes a dramatic presentation but, similar to crawfish, you’ll struggle to pull a tiny bite of meat from the shrimp. Cumin-roasted heirloom carrots ($11), elegantly displayed with quinoa, oyster mushrooms and sprouts, lack distinctive flavor.
Alternately, braised rabbit on tender handkerchief pasta ($23), dotted with English peas and hen of the woods mushrooms, is heartwarming, particularly with beer. “Wow factor” is in play with a unique beef bone marrow ($12) dish. The bone is topped with crispy house pastrami, alongside spicy greens, more pastrami, pickled mustard seeds, and rye croutons — one of the more exciting of countless bone marrow dishes I’ve had. While roast pheasant ($24) with lacinato kale and non-existent (but listed) cauliflower puree was too dry, a generous pork chop ($25) is insanely juicy and satisfying over chewy caraway spaetzle, topped with grilled peaches. A dessert of warm, roasted parsnip cake ($9), co-mingling with whipped cream cheese and a ginger molasses cookie, is a homey highlight, lovely with the coffee-almond malt of Great Divide’s Yeti Imperial Stout.
742 Valencia, SF. 415-626-8700, www.abbotscellar.com
UPCIDER: SF’S FIRST CIDER BAR
Ever since savoring a fantastic New England cider pairing with each course of a fall dinner at NYC’s Gramercy Tavern years ago, I’ve wondered when we might witness the arrival of urban cider bars. SF’s new Upcider and Bushwhacker in Portland are it thus far.
Two aspects of Upcider jump out immediately: Ozgun (Ozzie) Gundogdu and his sister’s warm welcome — Ozzie opened the bar with former roommate and co-worker Omer Cengiz — and a second story upstairs space with floor to ceiling windows overlooking Polk Street. One can sit at the windows, gazing below at a busy street scene, enveloped by low-ceilings and a cozy glow, transported to a European bar or maybe even one in Turkey, Ozzie and Omer’s homeland.
The bar, lined with rustic, reclaimed wood, houses a range of bottled ciders — 19 producers, 40 varieties of cider (and growing) at $5–$26 a bottle, the most expensive being a 750ml of Etienne Dupont Brut De Normandie from Victot-Pontfol, France. You’ll find big brands like Magners or ones we’ve seen often in SF like Fox Barrel, Crispin, and Two Rivers. But you’ll also discover three ciders from Wandering Aengus Ciderworks in Salem, OR, or J.K. Scrumpy Organic, a sweeter cider from Flushing, MI. On the dry side (there’s also a medium-dry option), I liked Hogan’s Cider from Worcestershire, England. A new discovery was Julian Hard Cider from Julian, CA, a small Gold Rush town inland from Escondido and San Diego.
Its tart, dry Cherry Bomb ($11 for 22 oz. bottle) is a fascinating cider with a funky finish. There are Basque ciders, mead, wines, and beers, and bar food from chef Tony Carracci (Cha Cha Cha). For the time being there are no ciders on tap, but that is due to the intensive plumbing rebuild necessary to meet city requirements. Hopefully, there will be a way to provide draft ciders in the future.
Whiling away summer evenings in Upcider feels like traveling. I noticed the neighborhood’s Middle Eastern community gathering below for friendly banter, a refreshing alternative side of a street lined with raucous partiers and bar-hoppers.
1160 Polk, SF. 415-931-1797, www.upcidersf.com
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