Volume 48 Number 52

Pedaling and feasting

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FEAST: COAST BY BIKE I spent my vacations on my bicycle this summer, pedaling from southern Oregon to San Luis Obispo and looping through the Santa Cruz Mountains on three separate bike tours, covering almost 1,000 miles over three weeks, fully loaded with camping and other gear.

It was as healthy, athletic, and adventurous as it sounds — but it also involved some serious feasting along the way. We were often ravenously hungry when we would stop for meals, eager to splurge on whatever struck our fancy on the menus, or just feel an almost irrational appreciation for simple snacks.

After all, we had earned it. And with hiker-biker campsites costing just $5 per night, we could spend our vacation money on good food and drink to fill our internal fuel tanks and feed our taste for decadent delights.

There’s a certain ethos to eating on a bike tour, as I learned from my friend Jason Henderson (the SF State geography professor who writes the Guardian’s Street Fight column) and other veteran bike tourers along the way. Some young cyclists on long trips go for austerity, eating simple meals out of cans or jars to keep their costs down, but we were going for maximum enjoyment.

We cooked about half our meals, mapping out the last place to shop for fresh food before our camping destination for the night. That sometimes meant schlepping heavy groceries — fruits and vegetables, pasta and sauce, rice and beans, beer and wine — up to 10 miles.

We didn’t always use perfect judgment, such as on the long day’s ride from Humboldt Redwoods State Park to the Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area, an otherwise remote site along the Redwood Highway that nonetheless had an awesome restaurant and store, The Peg House, right outside the campground entrance.

In the mornings before breaking camp and hitting the road, usually by 8am, we made coffee and top-quality oatmeal mixed with fresh berries (occasionally picked ourselves from the roadside), brown sugar, and walnuts. This was known as the “first breakfast.”

Two or three hours into the ride, depending on the route, we would stop at some random restaurant for the second breakfast, and it was always such a treat, anything from surprisingly awesome fried chicken from a little market to the best Hangtown Fry (mmm, oysters and eggs!) I’ve ever had.

Later, we’d stop for lunch, usually famished by then, a meal that sometimes included a beer or two if we were close to our destination for the night. Occasionally, there would be a second lunch, and on a few rare occasions when there was a restaurant at the campground, a big, fat dinner feast.

That element of randomness on a slow road trip, when hunger or whims pulled us into some funky little roadside restaurant or store along California’s epic coastline, was one of the great and unexpected joys of my summer bike tours. And while there were many awesome spots we hit along the way, here’s a representative sampling, north-to-south, of a dozen meals that lingered with me:

Fried chicken at Fort Dick Market, Fort Dick
Riding from Harris Beach, Ore. toward Crescent City, that mid-morning hunger pulled us into a little roadside market, and the smell of fried chicken propelled us from there. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and coleslaw for a second breakfast? Por que no? Well worth it.

Hangtown Fry at Seascape Restaurant, Trinidad
We rolled through beautiful Trinidad on one of our shortest ride days, under 30 miles, so we didn’t mind lingering down by the harbor during a long wait for a table at Seascape Restaurant. And when I put that first bite of my Hangtown Fry in my mouth, the oysters’ vital juice mixing with the cheesy eggs, I believed I reach culinary nirvana.

Sushi room service at Hotel Arcata
My riding partners had traveled all the way from Portland, so they needed a Laundromat and a night in a bed by the time we reached Arcata. The quaint and historic Hotel Arcata was great spot right on the town square, and better yet, it offered room service from Tomo Japanese Restaurant. Fat specialty sushi rolls were a decadent treat after a long ride while my friends washed their skivvies.

BBQ Oysters at The Peg House
Oh, how I wished we had known about this place before we arrived at Standish-Hickey State Park near Leggett. The store was filled with gourmet goodies and a great beer and wine selection, and the adjacent restaurant had a huge outdoor patio, a stage for live music on weekends, and a wonderfully full menu, including some of the most amazing BBQ oysters I’ve ever had, bathed in some secret sauce that I wanted to drink from a pint glass. So that night, I had two dinners.

Ribs at Bones Roadhouse in Gualala
Entering the lovely coastal town of Gualala, past the large dinosaur-shaped topiary on the edge of town, I was immediately charmed. And starving after arriving in our destination town well ahead of my traveling companions. So I hit Bones Roadhouse, a groovy spot with an ocean view and autographed dollar bills covering the walls and ceiling, and ordered a huge plate of smoked pork ribs and two local IPAs on tap. Ah, life is good.

Burger and beers at Pescadero Country Store
After a long day’s ride from San Francisco on Labor Day weekend, with only a few more miles until our Butano State Park campsite under the redwoods, this place not only had awesome gourmet burgers and two fine IPAs on tap, it also had a great little jam band playing on the sunny patio.

Pulled pork sandwich at Big Basin Store
Big Basin Redwoods State Park is a beautiful, popular spot that doesn’t seem to have a restaurant, only a little camp store. Ah, but it has recently added a little restaurant in the back, something visitors would hardly notice. And even though the menu is small, it did have some super yummy pulled pork panini sandwiches that hit the spot after a dusty ride on a dirt trail from Butano.

Coffee and Mocha at Surf City Coffee, Moss Landing
Sometime, between our first and second breakfasts, we’d stop for coffee drinks, which I’d drink as I rode from a Contigo cup that fit perfectly in one of my water bottle holders. At this cute and colorful little spot, I got one of the best mochas of the trip and picked up a bag of fresh ground coffee to go with our first breakfasts.

Whole cracked crab at Liberty Fish, Monterey
It was a big ride from Sunset State Beach all the way to Big Sur, more than 70 miles, with Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey the lunch spot at the halfway point. To mark the spot and fuel up for a big afternoon ride, I devoured a whole cracked Dungeness crab and cup of clam chowder. Then I was good to go.

Steak at Big Sur Lodge
Halfway through our first tour from SF to SLO, we decided to spend two nights under the redwoods at beautiful Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, which also had a fancy restaurant, Big Sur Lodge, right at the campground. We did some serious feasting both nights, short ribs the first night and a thick, perfectly cooked steak the second. Totally decadent, totally worth it.

Smoked albacore tacos at Ruddell’s Smokehouse, Cayucos
This tiny spot by the beach doesn’t look like much, offering mostly just smoked meat and fish tacos and sandwiches, but that’s all you need. It was so good that we even bought a pound of smoked albacore to go.

Lamb burritos at The Wild Donkey Cafe, San Luis Obispo
Offering the uniquely compelling combination of “Greek and Mexican Cuisine” (as well as a table that allowed us to keep an eye on our loaded bikes, which sometimes influenced our restaurant choices), this was a great little spot with an interesting menu, friendly service, and yummy grilled lamb burritos.

Volume 48 Number 52 Flip-through Edition

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Hands off

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culture@sfbg.com

THE WEEKNIGHTER I have no idea why we were out in the Inner Sunset that night. I’m pretty sure we all lived in the Mission, but I could be wrong, it was at least 10 years ago. I just know there were like seven of us and just as we were about to leave the bar, another group of five of our friends, including Bhi Bhiman, randomly walked in. These kinds of things don’t really happen any more once you’re in your thirties in San Francisco. The tightknit group of people who you spent all your time with in your twenties are now scattered across the world and wrapped up in things like babies, and mortgages, and careers, and have better things to do than drag themselves through the city’s dive bars in the 1am darkness.

“Out of all the gin joints in all the world,” Bhi said, and I thought he was clever because, even though I hadn’t seen Casablanca yet, I knew it was something that people said and this was the perfect situation for it. We said our hellos and all shared a shot and when Tia, my girlfriend at the time, said she had to pee, I told her we’d meet her outside.

Five or six of us stood outside bullshitting as two really trashed guys walked swerving down the sidewalk. Just as they turned to head into the bar, Tia was walking out. One of them said something, threw his arms around her, and began pushing her towards the wall. She yelped “STU!” and those of us outside turned around immediately. When I threw him off her, the creep hit the door with a bang just as the rest of our large group was walking out. The other guy got in my face just as all 11 of my friends from both inside and outside the bar, surrounded the two of them. “The smartest thing you and Rapey Hands over here can do is leave right now,” I said, and they quickly scuttled the fuck away. I was glad for that, I didn’t want a 12-on-two beat down on my conscious.

This obviously has bears no reflection on Yancy’s (724 Irving, SF. 415-665-6551), the story just popped into my head. In fact, I fucking love Yancy’s. It’s got cheap drinks and smart-mouthed bartenders.

It’s also decorated with weird memorabilia, stained glass, and hanging potted plants. It’s got a great darts set up, and it’s big enough to accommodate any sized party. Hell, I’ve even brought my 40+ person pub crawl here a number of times. Yancy’s is always a great time.

But for some reason my mind keeps coming back to that story. Maybe it’s because I’m tired of all the shit that the women I love have to deal with. Maybe it’s because I wish there always happened to be a group of 12 guys around to intimidate anyone who tries to sexually assault someone.

Maybe it’s just because certain things will always trigger certain memories and Yancy’s just happens to trigger this one in me. All I know is that the world is a fucked up place and that we have to look out for each other. If you see someone who looks like they might be in trouble, stop and ask if they are OK. If they aren’t, call the cops. If your friends are actually catcalling women, tell them that they are fucking creeps. When things go wrong don’t put the blame on the women involved.

And most importantly: Guys, stop being Rapey Hands.

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, and TV host. You can find his online shenanigans at www.brokeassstuart.com.

TBA TBD

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arts@sfbg.com

THEATER The sunny skies over Portland, Ore. were added incentive to bask in the summer coda offered by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Art Festival, which ran Sept. 11-21. But the pretty green sheen that appeared one day on the surface of the Willamette River turned out to be a toxic species of blue-green algae. Scientists called it unprecedented for the river but an increasingly common problem in the Northwest due to the warming environment. And this unwelcome intrusion was like the best work seen in the final weekend of the festival, rousing one from a complacent slumber into something resembling a world out of balance.

One work in particular: Ground and Floor by chelfitsch, the brilliant Japanese company led by playwright-director Toshiki Okada. And, with limitations and reservations, the much-talked-about theater offering from France’s Halory Georger and Antoine Defoort, Germinal.

Germinal, which has been making the festival rounds, proved a deftly executed and designed work as well as a crowd-pleaser. The piece begins with supine bodies motionless on a darkened stage. Then the houselights begin to dim in a teasing back-and-forth pattern, and a dim orange pool of light collects on the stage with a similar coming and going, both calling attention to the mechanical artifice of the stage.

The four performers gradually sit up or stand, fiddling in silence with some portable consoles. Their manner is affectless, emotionally muted, like freshly shaped clay figures. Still, each has a distinct personality. One, Halory, discovers that by a certain manipulation of his console he can cast his thoughts (as supertitles) on the back wall of the stage. Soon the others are trying it. Soon one is doing it without the console. How about that? They think. They throw the consoles away. They can all do it!

They explore further. Who is whom, exactly, among these cartoon-like thought bubbles appearing on the back wall? It’s confusing, until Halory suggests they put their names before any thought. The question of being naturally follows for Arnaud, who ponders his name and its meaning. “It’s just that it raises a few questions about identity,” he explains. He, Halory, and the other male, Antoine, all sit and think on this as the woman, Odine, takes a pick-ax to the stage and unearths a live microphone. “I found something,” she tells her companions.

In this fashion, half-detached confusion and excitement intermingle with the humorous unfolding of dawn — the beginnings, it turns out, of a new world circumscribed by the physical and technological limits of the theater — as the characters not only explore and expand the possibilities for communication, but begin the process of classifying their world and its terms in what becomes an elaborate, evolving Venn diagram projected on the back wall.

This is a charming and intriguing beginning, and its elaboration over the course of the play offers more laughs and surprises, as the four continue to manipulate the elements of their world. But the conceit recapitulates philosophical and scientific categories without doing much more. This parallel universe might have been more interesting had it chosen to be truly different. But it starts to feel too familiar, without the critical distance that might have made the trip worthwhile. The play’s affirmative key rings out literally at points (as the four characters discover music as another “tool for communication”). But in the final crescendo, a chorus of affirmations grounded in an old-fashioned celebration of Reason, even the multiverse starts to feel a bit cramped.

If the optimism in Germinal came to feel like a retreat into comfortable certitudes, the brooding misgivings in Ground and Floor felt more in touch with the spirit of the times. Even playwright Okada’s setting of the play in some “future Japan” was riddled with a kind of ambivalence — the supertitle was followed by an afterthought that made it the “near future” instead. Ambivalence is the key of this piece of “musical theater with ghostly apparitions,” and it’s just for that reason that it remains rigorously, confidently, defiantly of this time and place.

The play concerns a family in which the living, the dead, and the unborn are all in an uneasy, imperfect relation to one another. A woman resists acknowledging the ghost of her mother in an attempt to shield her soon-to-be-born son from — what? “I am not going to see anything unpleasant,” she insists. Her husband gives a her weak encouragement as if from some distant place she barely registers. Her brother meanwhile announces he has at long last secured a job, and is restoring himself to a respectable position. But what is his job? No one asks, and he is wary of saying.

A wood stage raises the actors slightly, and a screen cut into the shape of a wide, squat cross acts as a screen for Japanese and English supertitles. The cast establishes a gentle, contemplative pace, delivering its performances with a kind of melancholy that resonates like a dream or the stunned aftermath of a disaster. The six scenes comprising the play are carefully juxtaposed to a shimmering, musing prerecorded score by Tokyo instrumental band Sangatsu.

The characters barely interact with one another, but are comfortable addressing the audience and commenting on the subtitles, pointing out the untranslatable gaps attendant on translation. These are maybe analogous to that gap between the living and the dead expressed here. The social fabric, covering time and space, is rife with holes. And the production succeeds by limning them quietly, pensively, even mysteriously, without any firm answers or blunt messages. Unlike the prototype-universe in Germinal, this weary place may be winding down but it does not feel yet like a closed system. *

http://pica.org/programs/tba-festival/

 

Ruinous beauty

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esilvers@sfbg.com

LEFT OF THE DIAL Bob Mould seems like a good multi-tasker. The legendary singer-guitarist is just signing out of a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session as he answers the phone in New York for our interview Sept. 9; he’ll play at the Bowery Ballroom the following night.

“Sorry, we went a little over because there were technical difficulties at the beginning,” he says, when I explain that I’ve been watching for the last hour in real time as his superfans — as well as guitar nerds of all stripes, from all over the world — ask him questions.

These queries range in topic from pleas for his explosively influential punk band Hüsker Dü to get back together (“Some things can’t be replicated, and those eight years are best left untarnished”) to interest in his diet and exercise regimens (little to no starches, lots of running staircases when he’s home in SF), wrestling opinions (Mould at one point wrote music for the professional wrestling industry) to “what positions were your guitar pedal knobs at when I saw you play this one particular show?” (generally, 3pm for both).

If the fans seem all over the place, it’s for good reason: Mould’s career is as varied as the people who count him among their heroes. After fronting Hüsker Dü in the early ’80s; he ushered in a higher standard for hard-hitting alt-rock in the ’90s with a new band, Sugar. His solo career has taken him into melancholy singer-songwriter territory, then back to all-consuming wall-of-deafening-sound guitar rock, with forays into the aforementioned wrestling business. In 2011, after decades of being known for his intense love of privacy, he penned an acclaimed memoir about his life thus far, including his tortured early years spent closeted, at times using meth and cocaine to cope.

After that 180, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Mould’s most recent work, Beauty and Ruin (which came out June 3 on Merge), grapples with highly personal territory.

In the first half of 2012, Mould was riding high off the book’s success. He’d just been honored by dozens of younger rock titans who consider him a god — Dave Grohl, Spoon, Ryan Adams — at a tribute performance in LA. He had a new record out, the critically acclaimed, harder-than-he’d-rocked-in-a-while Silver Age, and was celebrating the 20th anniversary of Sugar’s much-loved Copper Blue. And then, in October, Mould’s father died.

“It was not unexpected, but it was still tough nonetheless,” says Mould, who has written candidly about his complicated relationship with his father — an alcoholic who was physically abusive at times, but also introduced him to rock ‘n’ roll, and acted as one of Hüsker Dü’s biggest supporters in the band’s early years.

“[Losing a parent] is something most of us go through, but I don’t think I’d realize how a loss of the size really shifts your perspective…it was an emotional time. And that became the marker for the next 12 months of touring, dealing with my relationship with my family and my work.”

The record takes on four key themes or acts, says Mould: “There’s the loss, and the reflection, and then acceptance. And then there’s moving on to the future, which is how the album closes out. It’s a work about a really confusing experience.”

Backed by Jason Narducy on bass and the tireless Jon Wurster on drums (Mould shares Wurster’s time with Superchunk and the Mountain Goats), Mould channels that confusion into a something like a condensed, theatrical rock ‘n’ roll epic. (His tour for the record brings him to The Fillmore this Fri/26.)

Considering its subject matter, it’s hardly a downer of a record. “I’m sure it confuses some of the longtime fellow miserablists [to hear the bright, upbeat tunes],” says Mould with a laugh. “It’s a heavy record; it’s got its own darkness, but it has an equal amount of light to keep it balanced out.”

Beauty and Ruin also demands to be heard as an album: As a listener, even if you were to shut off the part of your brain that comprehends lyrics, it’s the cathartic, hook-driven guitar thrum throughout these missives — which builds to unrelentingly passionate levels on “The War,” marking the end of side 1 on the record, if it were an LP, before sliding into the naked clarity of “Forgiveness” — that engages your full body, that makes you question whether or not aging affects Bob Mould the way it affects regular humans, because the man honestly sounds like he could sing and play electric guitar and run a marathon at the same time.

Not so, Mould says. On days off when he’s on tour, he tries to talk as little as possible to protect his voice. “I sing really hard, probably too hard for my own good, and naturally it gets a little tougher to recover from that each night.”

When he’s not on tour, of course, he’s home in San Francisco — he’s lived in the Castro for the past five years. And yes, as a guy who made $12 playing Mabuhay Gardens in 1981 with Hüsker Dü, he’s noticed that the scene here has changed in the last few years. But it’s not all doom and gloom.

“I’ll still go to the Independent, Bottom of the Hill, Great American to see shows. I like the Chapel. There are still great clubs. But yeah, historically, when there’s been development — especially these big condo developments — when that’s on the rise in the city, at first, the neighbors are going ‘Oh, we love living next to the nightclub!'” says Mould. “Then they have their first kid, and the nightclub keeps them up at night. And they start fighting the nightclub, and if they get it closed down the neighborhood turns into a really boring place, and they don’t know it until it’s too late. I’ve seen it happen in so many cities around the world.”

“…I’m not certain how anybody can live in San Francisco, with the cost of living and the rents. It’s just such a massive change,” he continues. “Cities change. And we can fight City Hall, fight the developers…but cities evolve. And people who make art for their living are leaving for other places, which is tough because San Francisco has such an amazing history with music and how it’s affected world cultures. I’ve honestly just learned to deal with it.

“Because you never know what’s going to happen. Things change. Maybe it’ll change back.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNuR5KPCn0M

BOB MOULD

With Cymbals Eat Guitars

Fri/26, 9pm, $25

The Fillmore

1805 Geary, SF

www.thefillmore.com

Good things, small packages

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arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC In 2004, shortly following the Napster-fueled revolution of file-sharing, the preeminence of the album as popular music’s default narrative device was endangered. And forget vinyl; the medium had been left for dead a generation earlier. That year, though, David Barker had an idea.

In his capacity as an editor at Continuum, a modestly sized academic publisher in London, Barker launched 33 1/3: a proposed series of portable, novella-sized volumes, named for the speed of a record album, with the purpose of giving writers of all stripes an outlet with which to ruminate on an LP of personal significance, allowing plenty of room for experimentation and creative freedom.

Fast-forward to 2014, and Bloomsbury — the imprint that bought Continuum in 2011 — is celebrating 33 1/3’s 10th anniversary. Coinciding with the publication of its 100th volume, Susan Fast’s take on Dangerous by Michael Jackson, a big party at Brooklyn’s Powerhouse Arena on Oct. 2 will feature discussions with past writers, all to commemorate the series’ now-sweeping archive of critical analyses, making-of’s, memoirs, and even fiction.

In a musical landscape that has learned to embrace vinyl all over again (sales have more than quadrupled in the last decade), the series has single-handedly built a market for long-form music journalism that hadn’t existed before its arrival.

The impetus for 33 1/3’s creation came shortly after Barker, who “grew up in the 1980s on a hardcore diet of the NME and Melody Maker,” moved to NYC from London, and found himself deeply underwhelmed by the music sections at even the most world-class independent bookstores.

“There seemed to be such a lack of anything approaching interesting analysis,” Barker told the Bay Guardian. “Lots of decent biographies, lots of mediocre ones, and not much else. So the series was really an attempt to create a space where writers and readers who love music could meet to express and share opinions and try out different ways of writing about music.”

Reaching far beyond the dry, biographical style of most music-oriented bookstore fare, and mass-market publishers’ tendencies towards major artists like U2 and Jimi Hendrix, Barker set out to address canonized albums (The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds; James Brown’s Live at the Apollo) and niche classics (Van Dyke Parks’ Song Cycle, Throbbing Gristle’s 20 Jazz Funk Greats) alike, written with a rabid fervor that the record-collector contingency could get behind.

It’s worth noting that although Continuum and now Bloomsbury have thrived on a scholarly reputation, the selection process for new volumes in the 33 1/3 series — an annual, monthlong open call for proposals — is quite egalitarian in its approach.

“It’s just amazing to read proposals from such a massive range of people,” Barker said. “High school students in the US, scholars in Australia, musicians in Scotland, journalists in Canada, and so on.”

Encompassing critics, superfans, and musicians such as The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy (who dissected the Replacements’ Let It Be) and John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats (who took on Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality), 33 1/3’s base of writers has come to resemble a group of music-lovers more than a pack of scholars. In addition to producing some first-rate accounts of crucial albums and their respective recording processes, this approach has resulted in some volumes that’ve ventured off the deep-end of “criticism” into something else entirely.

Kevin Dettmar used Gang of Four’s Entertainment! as a springboard from which to explore Marxist theory, while Darnielle took his favorite Black Sabbath album into fictional territory, with the account of a 15-year-old boy trapped in a mental institution. LD Beghtol responded to the Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs with an encyclopedic, alphabetical rundown of paragraph-long snippets, while Douglas Wolk framed James Brown’s Live at the Apollo with Cold War politics, flipping between that legendary night in Harlem, and the peak of the Cuban Missle Crisis.

“It was always intended to be experimental,” Barker said, “and for the pool of writers to include journalists, novelists, musicians, broadcasters, and anyone else who had a story to tell about a record they loved.”

However, according to Ally Jane Grossan, who assumed the duty of series editor after Barker moved back across the pond, the 33 1/3 series is set to take on its first non-album entry, opening the door for a whole new set of possibilities.

“Andrew Schartmann proposed a volume on the ‘Super Mario Bros.’ soundtrack (yes, the video game) during the last open call,” Grossan said, “and my first thought was ‘That’s not exactly an album.’ I quickly banished that thought and replaced it with, ‘Actually, this book is going to be amazing. Here’s a musicologist and passionate composer writing about one of the most important and revolutionary pieces of music in the 20th century.’ If that’s not a ’33 1/3,’ I don’t know what is!”

Thanks to the relative success of independent booksellers (with large chains disappearing), and the new resurgence of vinyl heightening the cult appeal of small record stores, the 33 1/3 series has found a proprietary niche in between the musical and literary worlds over the past 10 years, delivering a level of in-depth analysis and reflection that Internet-based writing has mostly failed to reach.

Just as Barker and now Grossan have approached the series as a love letter to the ritual of record collecting, and to the narrative cohesion of the album format, a certain breed of music-lover has come to fetishize the 33 1/3 brand in a similar way — stacking the sleekly packaged volumes on his or her bookshelf with the same care and sentimentality that defines a lovingly curated record collection. In a culture of music driven by the immediate, if ultimately insubstantial, delivery system of the Internet, 33 1/3’s arrival at the 10-year mark is a testament to the collector in us all.

Go west

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joe@sfbg.com

FEAST: WESTERN NEIGHBORHOODS Vacations are expensive. But if you’re a Bay Area cat hankering for new eats to explore, check out a magical, far-off foggy place many call the Outerlands: San Francisco’s oft-ignored Inner and Outer Richmond and Sunset neighborhoods. (And yes, there’s even a restaurant called Outerlands at 4001 Judah, serving local, organic food.)

For our staycation food tour, stretch and saunter sleepily down Clement Street. The sun is rising and the fog is low, but Toy Boat Dessert Café (401 Clement) is open early. Your creamy cup of coffee is accompanied by a cavalcade of toys, from Pee-wee Herman’s Chairy to Buzz Lightyear. The joint is a people-watching feast, as elderly couples canoodle and tiny tykes buck on the café’s mechanical horse.

Perhaps you’re a bang-flipping Missionite. For the trendy at heart, coast your fixie to the Outer Sunset’s Andytown Coffee Roasters. (3655 Lawton) The wood panel-meets-Apple Store look appeals to laptop-workers, but delish plum mint scones crumble tastily and the signature Snowy Plover (coffee soda mix) will furiously spin anyone’s bike legs ’round.

Duly caffeinated, jitter on to breakfast. The fancy route leads to Eats (50 Clement). Chomp the fluffiest waffles in the Richmond, or order any skillet-bound breakfast and chew slowly, savoring every spicy sensation.

Should your stomach growl for bigger portions, the Irving Street Café (716 Irving) serves up mighty omelets and keeps the coffee pouring. It’s tastier than most greasy-spoon diners, and one’s hunger is easily conquered for under ten greenbacks. The old-school atmosphere (and signed Chris Isaak poster) encourages one to hum rock ‘n’ roll.

As the morning fog burns off and that lunch bell clangs, head to Uncle Boy’s (245 Balboa). Any ’80s-’90s hip-hoppers will bop right at home here, as the chefs flip their heads with a well-met “yo.” Check out the cool Niners schwag as your Pool Boy burger juicily bursts under the slatherings of chipotle sauce. The garden patties handily convert die-hard meat lovers.

Not feelin’ burgers? Drown your tortilla desires in the Taco Shop at Underdogs (1824 Irving), where the fish tacos — imported from Nick’s on Polk — perfectly complement all the beer you’re about to chug.

Snacky lunch alternatives await at Wing Lee Bakery (503 Clement) and Good Luck Dim Sum (736 Clement), which offer perfect contrasting su bao options. Wing Lee’s savory pork bun sports some BBQ tang, whereas Good Luck’s buns are fluffy and sweet.

As evening hits, Karl the Fog slowly caresses the ‘hood again. Hop the 31 Balboa to 19th Avenue, where the unassuming Han Il Kwan (1802 Balboa) awaits. Mind your drool as the waitress slices succulent beef from its bone for your stew. Hankering for Russian fare? Head to Cinderella Bakery & Café, though the delicious stuffed Chicken Cutlet a la Kiev isn’t the star (the side of freshly baked rye bread steals the show).

The chill late night begs for warm dessert. Follow the intoxicating sweet scent to Genki Ramen (3944 Clement) for crepes, or nurse an after dinner drink at Tee Off Bar (3129 Clement) and play Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. With a wee bit o’luck, perhaps you’ll find an Irish band furiously fiddling at Plough & Stars (116 Clement), where Kilkenny cream ale offers a lighter alternative to heavy stouts.

This tour is only a sampling, and many local favorites await (we didn’t even get to any sushi!). But for non-Richmond or Sunset dwellers, sailing into the misty sea-soaked western neighborhoods can be like landing in an entirely different city where hundreds of new tasty eateries await. Just remember to wear your hoodie. *

 

Making a splash

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culture@sfbg.com

FEAST: PARIS Our first night in Paris was the stuff of foodie dreams: digging into steak tartare and downing natural wines with Autour d’un Verre restaurant co-owners and chefs Vikki Perry and Kevin Blackwell — at another well-known restaurant, Les Fines Gueules, where the conversation flowed freely, and the couple’s young daughter and pet dog under the table rounded out the comfortable, friendly atmosphere.

Though this was the first time I had met Perry, Blackwell, Perry’s mum, and everyone else working at and/or dining in the restaurant, the meal resembled a close family gathering. My husband and I traveled to Paris because I had been reading A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway’s memoir of the city in the 1920s. We were in the middle of a two-week European vacation with extended family, and a spontaneous two-and-a-half days of love and adventure in the City of Light was enticing. Knowing there was no way we could adequately see all of the sights in two days and manage to enjoy ourselves, we decided to forgo the tours and the queues altogether. Like Hemingway, we nestled our memories in Parisian cafés. And Blackwell and Perry, whose brother happens to be married to my husband’s sister, were the perfect guides.

The couple’s philosophy at Autour d’un Verre — simple cooking that highlights the quality of locally sourced organic ingredients — paired well with our own philosophy on good eating. A surprise to us, though: this minimalist ideology extended to Paris’ natural wine movement as well. Perry and Blackwell swear by natural wines, which are made without added chemicals, and hark back to ancient days, when wine was made merely of fermented crushed grapes, no yeast, enzymes, or extraneous tannins added. These kinds of wine are becoming ubiquitous in California, but in France — where experimentation can often be limited by cultural and economic concerns — they’ve really started to take off in the past few years. “Once you get into natural wines you won’t want anything else,” Perry said. “They are crisper with a stronger sense of fruit; there’s a freshness to natural wines. The character of the grapes and the nature and essence of the terroir are able to come through due to the lack of chemicals used, that can often hide these natural qualities in industrial wines.”

Some experts argue that natural wines are healthier because your liver is spared from processing chemicals and sulfites (which can exacerbate certain allergies and health conditions). Others argue that natural wines are no healthier than industrial wines — and that natural wine-lovers forgive a lot of flaws in flavor and execution, thus drinking inferior wines.

Perry and Blackwell regularly attend natural wine tastings at Parisian restaurants (sometimes their own) and throughout France, where they discover new winemakers or choose which wines to carry from their existing French suppliers.

“We’ve developed strong friendships with almost all the winemakers we work with,” Perry said.

And people are paying attention. According to Perry, French food critics now almost exclusively drink natural wines, leading more and more Parisian restaurants to stock at least a few bottles in hopes of getting good reviews.

“Natural wine is a little bit everywhere,” Perry said. “Whereas before, natural wines in a restaurant were a sure sign that the food you would get would be of high quality, locally sourced and generally cared about, this is no longer the case.”

Perry and Blackwell directed us to the Michelin-star L’Agapé, where dining room manager Shawn Joyeux helped us pick out a wonderful French wine — which just happened to be natural — to accompany our fresh, delicious, prix-fixe seven-course meal.

The wine — a white blend, though colored an unusual dark amber — was unlike any we had ever tasted. When we struggled to come up with a description, and asked if it contained a hint of apple, Joyeux confirmed.

“But it’s like an apple that has ripened on the branch, fallen to the ground, laid there for a few days, and someone picked it up and mashed it between their hands,” Joyeux said.

We were impressed: His colorful description perfectly captured the taste. “The flavor is magnificent,” he said. (Joyeux spoke the truth — although many friends I’ve repeated his description to have recoiled.)

Perry confirmed that there can be a lack of understanding toward unique natural wines. “Customers who are used to industrial wines sometimes have difficulties adjusting their tastes to natural wines that are very different,” she said. “They will sometimes mistake the differences as faults.”

On our last night in Paris, we found L’Etiquette — a wine shop on Ile Saint Louis specializing in organic wines from small French producers. After a quick interrogation regarding our preferences (a crisp white) and exactly when we would be imbibing (post haste), the proprietor was more than happy to help us pick out a natural wine, uncork it, and make us promise to let it breathe for no longer than 10 minutes.

Bottle in hand, we traveled to the Champ de Mars where we joined groups of families, friends, and couples of all ages on picnic blankets in front of the Eiffel Tower. At exactly 10pm, the iconic landmark began to sparkle.

Maybe it was the light show (which repeats hourly between 8pm and 1am), or the happy picnicking families, or, as Perry described, maybe it was “that happy, ‘life’s not so bad’ feeling you get from natural wines.” Whatever the reason, we fell in love with Paris, wine and all.

Southern light

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marke@sfbg.com

FEAST: ITALY There are 22 Caravaggio paintings in southern mainland Italy, and we were determined to feast our eyes on every last one of them this past May. (We got up all the way up to 21: one was on loan to the Dallas Museum of Art.) As important: We would eat and drink a wide path to each painting, leaving no plate unlicked in that famously delicious part of the world. Here are some highlights.

 

ROME

While you’re basically tripping over ancient ruins and gorgeous people everywhere you turn, Rome’s chic bistro and cute street food scene will have your head in the culinary clouds. Several experiences really stood out: relaxing in the super old-school family feel of Trattoria di Carmine (squid casserole, insanely layered eggplant parmagiana, gorgeous citrusy anchovies); wandering through the Jewish ghetto devouring as many traditional fried artichokes as we could; scooping up all the gelato at Giolitti; dropping into the trendy spots of the Pigneto neighborhood (kind of like the Mission, gentrification woes and all); drinking and dancing all night at one of the best clubs I’ve been to, Frutta e Verdura.

But there are three I keep coming back to. One is the fantastic, kind-of-hidden lunch treasure Coso near the Spanish Steps, with its lovely takes on classics like hefty but somehow delicate polpette (meatballs) and cacio e vaniglia (a sweet twist on Rome’s eternal pasta dish, spaghetti with cheese and ground pepper). Another was the almost too-hip, yet still laid-back, scene at Barzilai — how those fashionable scruffy models could eat all that rich, irresistible sfumato de artichoke and asparagus flan, we couldn’t figure. But the top of it all was a trip out to the suburbs to visit the fabled Betto e Mary, which serves pretty much what the gladiators ate, but in a family atmosphere, its walls lined with socialist memorabilia. Here we had a vast assortment of interestingly prepared sweetbreads (thymus in lemon, fried pancreas), pasta sauce with more unfamiliar animal parts, and calf’s brain in a zingy orange tomato sauce. Those gladiators sure loved their organs!

 

NAPLES

Probably my favorite city in the world right now — brimming with chaotic energy, street art, and strange corners and ancient alleyways, which often overflow with music and partying until 4am. The city was bombed heavily in World War II, and it looks like instead of rebuilding all those Renaissance-era monastic buildings and 17th century armories, they just graffitied them with abandon. Pizza, pizza, pizza is what you’ll get here — who’s complaining? — and a lot of bold, full-bodied wines from the surrounding Campagnia region: Taurasi red and Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo whites. Fried balls of dough and zucchini make excellent street bites. Pasta with beans and pan-fried rabbit break up the pizza routine. But perfectly blistered thin-crust pies will make you weep with joy (especially if you’ve spent all day exploring the vast ruins of Pompeii. Hopping, affordable, late-night Pizzeria I Decumani is definitely a top choice.

 

AMALFI COAST

The thin, winding cliff roads of this region are terrifying — but you’ll gladly risk death (preferably on a motorbike) for stunning views of pastel-colored towns sprawling up mountains, imposing 1,000-year-old Saracen towers left over from the coast’s Arab occupiers, and fantastic seafood galore. Every town boasts quaint delights, but my husband and I were really taken with tiny Atrani, with its staircase streets, large clock tower, and main plaza lined with good restaurants. Here we dived into octopus, sardines, squid, every kind of fish imaginable, and bright chartreuse glasses of limoncello liquor alongside the sparkling Mediterranean.

 

MATERA

The sprawling, ancient cave city of Matera, in the central south, is a home base for cucina povera, peasant cooking that serves as some of the best comfort food in the world. Among the moonlit, picturesque stone buildings jutting from their original cave bases, warm dining spots serve orecchiette (ear-shaped pasta) or cavatelli (rolled up orecchiette) cooked with the region’s leafy species of broccoli rabe and sprinkled with lard-fried breadcrumbs. Sometimes they drown the whole plate in melted mozzarella. Paired with a local primitivo wine — the Basilicata region has been producing grapes since 1300 BC — it’s pure hog heaven. “You will never have orecchiette as good as this,” said our waiter at incredible neighborhood favorite Trattoria Due Sassi as he dropped off a giant bowl to share. Why? “Because my mother makes it.”

 

TRANI

Trani is a seaside resort town on the east coast with some serious maritime history, and a cathedral — Cattedrale di San Nicola Pellegrino — that dates back to the fourth century. When we were there, it was windy and cold. No beach weekend for us, but we took necessary solace in a magical little wine shop called Enoteca de Toma Mauro. Octogenarian owner Francesco was a perfect guide to the wines of Lucania, Salento, and Puglia (the heel of Italy’s boot) in general. He also carried some killer Amaro, the favored digestif of the region — herbal and bittersweet, but with an exceptionally smooth finish, I couldn’t get enough of it. *

 

Keys of life

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cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM The music biopic is a tricky beast. Very few directors are able to compellingly compress true-life tales into films that actually have some interest beyond “Hey, that famous/infamous thing you already knew about happened like this!” — though superior performances (recent Oscar-winning examples: 2004’s Ray, 2005’s Walk the Line) can help buoy the results. Far rarer are more artistically daring films that unfold more like docu-dramas than glossovers, like Control (2007) and Sid and Nancy (1986).

As with any based-on-truth film, there’s also the question of whose version of the truth is being told. In music biographies, that’s especially important, because if whoever owns the song rights doesn’t like the portrayal of the subject — or if he or she doesn’t have a finger in the box-office pie — you just might end up with a musical story that contains very limited music. This is a problem facing Jimi: All Is By My Side, written and directed by John Ridley, who won an Oscar for scripting 2013’s 12 Years a Slave. The Hendrix family noped any song permissions, so you won’t be seeing star André Benjamin, aka OutKast’s André 3000, wail through “Foxy Lady” or any other songs that hit big during the film’s time frame (it ends just before Hendrix’s stateside breakout at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival). He does get to noodle on some blues riffs, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s notorious cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” — played days after its release in front of a crowd that included astonished Beatles — is one of Jimi‘s few exhilarating moments.

However, the absence of any signature tunes is just one of the film’s problems. Controversy has already swirled around the script’s portrayal of Hendrix as a violent drunk. Former girlfriend Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell) has publicly objected to the film’s depiction of her relationship with Hendrix. Faring marginally better is Linda Keith (Imogen Poots), who famously used her connections as Keith Richards’ girlfriend to help Hendrix break into the music biz. Both women come across as bossy and needy, though Jimi also spends a lot of time making Hendrix out to be an aimless drifter who probably wouldn’t have made much of himself, despite his talent, were it not for people like Keith or his manager, Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley).

Most of Jimi takes place in swingin’ London, and Ridley conveys the cultural mood with collage snippets (the Who performs! A monk sets himself on fire!), costumes heavy on the go-go boots, and a lot of non-Hendrix tunes. The film addresses racial issues in a few scenes that don’t otherwise fit into its flow, making them feel like afterthoughts: Jimi and Kathy are harassed by the police; Jimi meets a pot-smoking activist named Michael X who encourages him to politicize his music. Stripped of his guitar, Hendrix’s preferred mode of communication is soft-spoken hippie patter (“I’m in a constant struggle against the color gray…”); he’s also fond of thrusting scribbled lyrics at the women he’s wronged as a matter of apology.

Without those electrifying songs to punctuate Hendrix’s day-to-day drama, Jimi‘s narrative is meandering at best. We already know he’s going to become a star. We know he’s going to die young. (Ridley might not know we know, however; for an Oscar-winning screenwriter, he’s sure quick to violate the “Show me, don’t tell me” rule by using onscreen text to ID such obscure characters as “George Harrison.”) Sure, maybe we don’t know how Hendrix wrote “Purple Haze,” but this movie, which contains precious few insights into his creative process, isn’t going to tell us.

 

CAVE OF WONDERS

Fortunately, the music-movie genre isn’t limited as Hollywood would like audiences to believe. Also, it helps with the authenticity factor when one’s subject is a living, willing participant. Lushly filmed by artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, 20,000 Days on Earth purports to be a day in the life of moody Aussie troubadour-screenwriter-novelist Nick Cave — but is really an experimental docudrama in disguise.

It opens with Cave, now in his mid-50s, getting out of bed and admitting in voice-over, that he “cannibalizes” everything that happens in his life for his songs. Thus begins an intimate look into Cave’s songwriting, a rambling adventure that includes studio sessions for 2013’s Push the Sky Away (including some goofing off — yes, he smiles!); a chat about his childhood with psychoanalyst Darian Leader; a meal with bandmate Warren Ellis; sorting through his career archives; and scenes of Cave driving around his adopted hometown of Brighton, visiting with cohorts (Kylie Minogue, Blixa Bargeld, Ray Winstone) who appear and disappear in perfect cadence with 20,000 Days‘ themes of memory, the art of performance, and storytelling.

“Who knows their own story? Certainly it makes no sense when we’re living in the midst of it,” Cave muses. “It only becomes a story when we tell it and re-tell it.” Jimi may have lacked the catharsis from a scene depicting its subject’s triumph in Monterey, but 20,000 Days builds to a Sydney Opera House gig in which Cave croons the songs we’ve seen him create, interspersed with footage of a younger Cave thrashing around the stage in pursuit of what the film vividly captures: “this shimmering space where reality and imagination intersect.” *

 

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE and 20,000 DAYS ON EARTH open Fri/26 in San Francisco.

Georgian rhapsody

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM Spanning nine months of programs and a full century of cinema, “Discovering Georgian Cinema” is the kind of ambitious exhibition that reminds us how much of film history is yet to be written. The series, presented by the Pacific Film Archive, represents a remarkable feat of coordination: Its opening weeks feature prints from Toulouse, Berlin, New York, Tbilisi, and, most delicately given recent history, Moscow.

Building upon a core collection of Soviet-era Georgian films held by the PFA, curator Susan Oxtoby organized the program around three periods: the silent era, the art cinema explosion of the 1950s through the 1980s, and the contemporary scene. While many titles will be unfamiliar even to dyed-in-the-wool cinephiles, echoes and premonitions of broader trends in international cinema abound. To take only one example, series opener Blue Mountains (1984) seems to draw upon Jacques Tati while at the same time anticipating the New Romanian Cinema in its elegant formalist satire of state bureaucracy. But then perhaps the ultimate lesson of a series like “Discovering Georgian Cinema” is that every New Wave renews some earlier illumination.

SF Bay Guardian What was the genesis of your work on “Discovering Georgian Cinema”?

Susan Oxtoby The genesis for the project really comes from the fact that BAM/PFA holds an important collection of Soviet Georgian films — 37 prints in total. Individual films have shown in different contexts, but we haven’t done a major Georgian series in many years. In 2011 I received a curatorial research grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts to travel to other archives with significant holdings, and then we raised funds for a touring series from the National Endowment for the Arts. We invited Nino Dzandzava, who is currently working at the National Archives of Georgia, to visit Berkeley to examine our collection. Viewing prints with her was a wonderful experience because she could supply me a sense of the history behind these films and the connections between them. There was also my visit to the Tbilisi International Film Festival, which was extraordinary in terms of getting a sense of the current film scene in Georgia and having an opportunity to meet with contemporary filmmakers.

SFBG Was it always your intention to be linking the historical films to more contemporary work?

Oxtoby Absolutely, I think it is very important to see the contemporary era in light of the history of Georgian cinema. It’s quite evident that young filmmakers working in Georgia today are aware of their country’s film heritage.

SFBG Can you talk about some of your priorities in trying to create a context for a national cinema?

Oxtoby My priority is to show strong examples of what has been created in Georgia within an art cinema tradition. Over the course of the retrospective we will spotlight numerous directors and have a chance to examine their individual film styles. We launch the series with two guests from Tbilisi, veteran filmmaker Eldar Shengelaia (The Blue Mountains, 1963’s The White Caravan, 1968’s An Unusual Exhibition), who will present his own films plus his father Nikoloz Shengelaia’s Twenty-Six Commissars (1928); and Nana Janelidze, the executive director of the Georgian National Film Center, who is herself a filmmaker (2011’s Will There Be A Theater Up There?!, 1985’s The Family) and screenwriter (1984/1987’s Repentance). In October, film historian Peter Rollberg will join us to speak about Georgian films from the silent era, and archivist Nino Dzandzava will present a program of Georgian Kulturfilms from the early 1930s. In mid-November, Levan Koguashvili (2010’s Street Days, 2013’s Blind Dates) will be our guest.

SFBG The silent films in the series that I’ve seen are quite striking in the way they refigure elements of Soviet filmmaking. A film like Eliso (1928) has such strong elements of montage.

Oxtoby Yes, that’s true. We will present Eliso with a newly commissioned score adapted from traditional Georgian folk songs by Carl Linich and performed by Trio Kavkasia on October 25 and 26; this will be a truly unique way to experience this beautiful silent era classic presented with choral accompaniment. The silent era films by Ivan Perestiani, Mikhail Kalatozov, Nikoloz Shengelaia, Lev Push, and others are absolutely wonderful. There’s also an interesting short 40-minute silent film called Buba (1930) by Noutsa Gogoberidze, which we will screen on November 8. She was traveling in the same circles with Dovzhenko and Eisenstein and collaborated with the avant-garde painter David Kakabadze, but her work was not endorsed by the Stalin regime and so she was more or less written out of film history. Her film is a bit like Buñuel’s Las Hurdes (1933), made a few years later.

SFBG Were there any other films that were especially surprising to you in terms of style or theme?

Oxtoby Oh yes, many. Little Red Devils (1923) could be a Douglas Fairbanks film; My Grandmother (1929) is Dadaist in character and very fresh stylistically. Then there’s a film like Nikolai Shengelaia’s Twenty Six Commissars (1932), which deals with the geopolitics of the oil fields in Baku — its political concerns might have been pulled out of today’s news headlines. I’m intrigued to see the influence of Italian neorealism on such films as Magdana’s Donkey (1955), Our Courtyard (1956) or even the contemporary work Susa (2010), as well as the influence of the French New Wave on Otar Iosseliani’s films from the 1960s. I want to hear more from the filmmakers and historians as to how much back and forth there was during the Soviet era. How much world cinema was being seen in Tbilisi? How much were filmmakers traveling abroad and seeing things at festivals? One definitely senses a strong connection with international cinema when you watch these films from Georgia. *

DISCOVERING GEORGIAN CINEMA

Sept 26-April 19

Pacific Film Archive

2575 Bancroft, Berk

bampfa.berkeley.edu

 

Soaring to the heights

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arts@sfbg.com

DANCE While watching Garrett + Moulton Productions’ exhilarating The Luminous Edge, the dramaturgical concept of “a well-made piece” kept popping up in my mind. At a time when “process-oriented” and “in progress” work seem to be the currency of the day, seeing structurally rigorous dance, in which ingredients are impeccably integrated into something akin to a universe of its own, seemed almost antediluvian. The accomplishment is all the more impressive, given the fact that until a few years ago, co-choreographers (and real-life couple) Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton kept their professional careers strictly apart. I can’t think of any other partnership like this one.

With no rough edges or tentative moments, each of Luminous’ elements — music, dance, design — contributed to the work’s confident trajectory. After 70 minutes, it curled in on itself, and instead of its final moments feeling predictable, they felt right. We emerge from a void, and we return to it, Garrett and Moulton appeared to tell us.

There is no narrative, but individually distinct episodes suggest a story, perhaps embodied by three ever-so-different couples: company dancers Carolina Czechowska and Michael Galloway, Tegan Schwab and Dudley Flores, and Vivian Aragon and Nol Simonse. Throughout they engaged with each other and in solos that built on their special abilities. Except for one small duet between Flores and Simonse, as couples they stayed put.

Luminous looked at the joys and pains of being alive — the intimacy and struggles of relationships, but also a profound sense of being at the mercy of forces beyond our understanding. The sheer brilliance of the interweaving between the black-clad movement choir and the dancers — the women in Mary Domenico’s crimson skirts with just a trace of a misplaced train, the men in simple dark blue — set into the relief how the personal exists within something larger.

As originally developed some 30 years ago, Moulton’s “movement choir” choreography (small, precise gestures in overlapping unison, performed sitting in tiers) always looked vaguely threatening. The discipline involved had something militaristic about it. Those elements are still there, but the choir has become an infinitely more expressive instrument, on par with the soloists. It envelops, protects, and constrains, but it also welcomes and opens vistas. Fingers can be claws, but filigreed they promise a gentler way of being.

In Luminous’ opening, the choir formed a fluid honor guard through which the three couples traveled, as if entering a new world. When the larger group reshaped itself into circles around them, I thought of the many cultures in which round dances are integral to wedding rituals — except here, their speed seemed more ominous than welcoming.

Later on, in one of the work’s more chilling moments, the soloists stood in brilliant separate spotlights (the first-rate lighting design throughout was by David Robertson). Staring impassively at us, disembodied hands caressed, measured, and examined their bodies. The dancers looked like pieces of meat for sale. In another section, the choir bunched into a tight group of fist-shaking arms as one of the dancers disappeared among them, swallowed up by a mob.

But these dark moments were balanced by those in which folkloric exuberance broke through as if from an almost forgotten memory. The company dancers spoke most powerfully about triumphs and tragedies of life. In their roles they celebrated, they struggled, and they also buried each other.

Almost shyly partnered by Galloway, Czechowska could appear impassive and self-absorbed until her long limbs fiercely tore into and claimed the space around her. Aragon is a firecracker of athletic exuberance, but when crumpled over Simonse’s leg, she became a different person. Schwab’s grounded physicality looked particularly open to being partnered on equal footing with the liquidly dancing Flores. Again and again, they reached for each other’s hands in a tug of war that never seemed to end.

Luminous wouldn’t exist without the extraordinary contribution of composer-musical director Jonathan Russell, his six musicians, and guest singer Karen Clark, all performing live upstage left. The choreographers had first intended to work with Mahler’s unbearably anguished Kindertotenlieder. I am glad they didn’t. Instead, Russell chose rich selections from his own and Marc Mellits’ music. They set the tone for each of Luminous’ parts. Brilliantly, however, he also chose three songs from Mahler’s masterful score and arranged them for Clark’s rich voice.

But Russell and the two choreographers gave an 11th century woman, Hildegard von Bingen, first say:

O strength of Wisdom

who, circling, circled,

enclosing all

in one lifegiving path,

three wings you have:

one soars to the heights,

one distils its essence upon the earth,

and the third is everywhere.

Praise to you, as is fitting,

O Wisdom. *

http://garrettmoulton.org/

 

Money for Muni

0

news@sfbg.com

STREET FIGHT San Francisco’s November ballot is crowded. With 12 local measures and seven state measures, sifting through them can be daunting. Three local measures, Propositions A, B, and L, involve transportation and have great bearing on the city’s future.

Not to belittle the other ballot measures, some of which address critical health and housing problems, these three transit-related measures say a lot of how the city is addressing — and failing to address — the need for a sustainable transportation system.

 

TRANSPORTATION BOND

Prop. A is the most important of the three transportation measures on the ballot, but also the most difficult to pass because it requires approval from two-thirds of voters.

It would provide $500 million for Muni, street repaving, and pedestrian and bicycle safety projects. That’s a modest sum compared to the $10 billion the city should really be spending, but it would help make 15 of the city’s busiest transit routes 20 percent faster and more reliable.

Portions of the funds would go to modernizing Muni’s maintenance shops, which need upgraded ventilation, fueling, and washing facilities and to new elevators and passenger platforms to make Muni more accessible to the elderly and disabled. Prop. A’s campaign also touts $142 million going towards pedestrian, bicycle, and motorist safety in corridors where the most death and injury have occurred.

Prop. A should really be thought of as two parts, one good, one not so good. The first part involves up to $55 million in annual revenue coming from property assessments. Since Prop. A simply replaces retiring city debt, it does not raise property taxes, but rather it sustains existing rates.

This links property values to what makes property valuable in the first place — public investment in infrastructure. As long as Prop. A is used for those 15 Muni corridors and safer streets, it is sound public policy.

The second part of Prop. A involves bonds, or borrowing money and paying interest to financiers. This is a long-used method of infrastructure finance, and was in fact how Muni got started in 1909 when voters approved creating public transit. The taxation will pay off the capital debt.

But bonds are a funding scheme that involves interest and fees that go to Wall Street — not the most progressive approach to infrastructure finance. While no one can say for sure, some critics suggest up to $350 million in debt would be incurred over the life of the bond scheme, which means Prop. A is really an $850 million package.

Ultimately, this is a regressive approach to transport finance and needs to be replaced by a more pay-as-you-go approach.

We are stuck between a rock and a hard place on Prop. A. Floating this bond now would bring in money very quickly, improving everyone’s commute, especially lower- and middle-income transit passengers. If approved it will also leverage state and federal matching funds, such as new cap-and-trade funding, hastening shovel-ready projects that many San Franciscans are clamoring to get done.

Getting transportation projects going now is less expensive than waiting while construction costs climb. Prop. A funds vitally important transportation infrastructure projects and it deserves support.

 

GROWTH AND MUNI

While Prop. A deals with streets and capital projects for Muni, it can’t be used to fund acquisition of new vehicles or Muni operations. This is where Prop. B comes in because it specifically involves an annual set-aside of about $22 million from the city’s General Fund to provide new vehicles and operating funds.

Prop. B is a well-intentioned linkage of population growth to transit capacity. The money goes towards Muni capacity expansion, based on population growth over the past decade, would increase with population growth in future years, about $1.5 million per year based on past trends.

There’s no doubt that transportation is failing to keep up with San Francisco’s boom. New housing and offices are coming into neighborhoods where buses are already jam-packed and streets saturated with traffic. But there are a couple of problems with Prop. B.

First, Prop. B is promised as a short-term measure because the mayor can end this general fund set-aside if a local increase in the vehicle license fee is approved by voters in 2016. The VLF, which was gutted by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003, would bring in about $75 million to the city annually.

That the mayor would voluntarily (and it is the mayor’s discretion) sunset B in two years is a big “if” and voters are notoriously forgetful.

In the meantime, Prop. B does not come with a revenue source to account for this increasing set-aside for Muni, so something else in the General Fund must give. What that would be, nobody can say, but advocates for social service and affordable housing fear more vulnerable San Franciscans will be hurt in the 2015 city budget.

Given the incredibly slow city response to the gentrification and displacement crisis, their fears may be warranted.

 

GLOOMY REALITY

My hesitation about Prop. B and tepid support for Prop. A stem from a gloomy reality in San Francisco’s politics of mobility. Today, it is easier for politicians to raise transit fares on the working poor, divert funds from social services and housing, or incur massive debt through bonds than it is to raise taxes on downtown commercial real estate and charge wealthier motorists for their detrimental impact to the city and society — both of which would be fairer ways to finance transportation.

Twenty years ago, it was estimated that a modest tax assessment on downtown offices and their impact to the transportation system would bring in $54 million a year. Today, that would likely be well over $100 million annually. But with land-owning elites and tech barons calling the shots in City Hall, there is a de facto gag order on what would be the most progressive approach to Muni finance.

Meanwhile, had Mayor Ed Lee not pandered to wealthier motorists, Sunday metering would be providing millions annually in Muni operating fees. Sup. Scott Wiener, the author of Prop. B, and his colleagues on the board, were shamefully silent about blowing that $10 million hole in Muni’s budget. They were also silent or complicit in stopping expansion of SF Park, which is smart management of our streets and would provide millions more in operations funding for Muni without needing to dip into the city General Fund to plug gaps.

Meanwhile, congestion pricing — or charging drivers to access the most traffic-snarled portions of the city during peak hours — could bring in up to $80 million annually. Together with a reestablished VLF, that would simultaneously erase the need to do Prop. B and reduce our need to incur more wasteful debt.

Instead of bonds, Prop. A’s $55 million could be coupled with an annual downtown property assessment, an annual VLF, a congestion charging zone, and revenue from an expanded SF Park, the city could borrow less, manage traffic wisely, and keep transit capacity at pace with population growth. We could avoid raiding the General Fund to subsidize Muni operations and could reduce debt simultaneously.

Transit advocates are right to cry foul when other revenue sources have been removed from consideration, mostly because of gutless reluctance to challenge wealthy landowners and motorists. This is the crux of why transit advocates, backed into a corner by Mayor Lee’s repeal of Sunday meters and the VLF, are supporting Prop. B. The “B” in Prop. B basically stands for backfilling broken promises.

But ultimately, all of the supervisors, including Wiener, are complicit in the mayor’s mess. Why didn’t the supervisors speak up when Sunday metering was repealed? Why didn’t the supervisors insist on placing the VLF on this year’s ballot? With a two-thirds vote of the board, it would be on the ballot now. And unlike Prop. A, the VLF only needs a simple majority to pass.

And now, because the mayor and supervisors have pandered to motorists to the umpteenth degree, a small group of them feel even more emboldened and entitled to grab more. That takes us to Prop. L.

 

TRANSIT-LAST

Prop. L, which seeks to reorder transportation priorities in San Francisco, is awful. It comes from an angry, spiteful, ill-informed, knee-jerk lack of understanding of the benefits of parking management (which makes parking easier and more sensible for drivers). It is a purely emotional backlash that seeks to tap into anyone angry about getting a parking ticket.

Although a nonbinding policy statement, the basic demand of Prop. L is that the city change transportation priorities to a regressive cars-first orientation. It calls for freezing parking meter rates for five years while also using parking revenue to build more parking garages. The costs of these garages would dwarf parking revenue, and these pro-car zealots don’t say where these garages would be built, or that it would ultimately siphon more money from Muni.

Prop. L demands “smoother flowing streets,” which is a deceitful way of saying that buses, bikes, and pedestrians need to get out of the way of speeding car drivers who believe they are entitled to cross the city fast as they want and park for free. It conjures up a fantasy orgy of cars and freeways long ago rejected as foolish and destructive to cities.

Proponents on this so-called Restore Transportation Balance initiative don’t really care about “transportation balance.” When you consider the origins and backers of Prop L, it’s mainly well-to-do motorists with a conservative ideology about the car. These are the very same people who have opposed bicycle lanes on Polk, Masonic, Oak, and Fell streets, and throughout the city.

These are the very same people who decried expansion of SF Park, thus making it harder, to find parking, not easier. These are the same people who complain about Muni but offer zero ideas about how to make it better. These disparate reactionaries have banded together around their animosity toward cyclists and Muni.

In the 1950s, when the love affair with cars was on the rise, San Francisco had about 5,000 motor vehicles per square mile. To accommodate more cars, planners required all new housing to have parking, made it easy to deface Victorians to insert garages, and proposed a massive freeway system that would have eviscerated much of the city.

Thankfully, neighborhood and environmental activists fended off most of the freeways, but San Franciscans failed to really take on the car. So by 1970, despite the freeway revolts and commitment to BART, automobile density rose to over 6,000 cars per square mile.

By 1990, San Francisco had almost 7,000 motor vehicles per square mile, even as population leveled off.

The current density of cars and trucks — now approaching 10,000 per square mile — is one of the highest in the nation and in the world. To put that into context, Los Angeles has less than 4,000 cars per square mile, and Houston less than 2,000 per square mile, but these are largely unwalkable cities with notorious environmental problems.

Do San Franciscans want to tear apart their beautiful city to be able to drive and park like Houstonians?

If proponents of Prop. L were truthful about “restoring balance” they would instead advocate a return to the car density of the 1950s, when San Francisco had just under 5,000 motor vehicles per square mile, Muni was more stable due to fairer taxes, and many of the streets in the city had yet to be widened, their sidewalks yet to be cut back.

Prop. L is tantamount to hammering square pegs into round holes. Jamming more cars into San Francisco would be a disaster for everyone. Don’t be misled, Prop. L would make the city too dumb to move. It would deepen and confuse already vitriolic political fissures on our streets and it would do nothing to make it easier to drive or park, despite its intention.

Prop. L must not only lose at the ballot, it must lose big, so that maybe our politicians will get the message that we want a sustainable, equitable, and transit-first city.

Changing the climate in SF

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EDITORIAL As hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets of New York City and other cities around the world for a Global Climate Convergence on Sept. 21, demanding that our political and business leaders finally get serious about global warming (see “Flooding the streets“), there was no such gathering in San Francisco.

Sure, there were a few thousand Bay Area activists who gathered for the climate change event along Lake Merritt in Oakland, which included many groups and individuals from San Francisco. But we found it telling symbolism that San Francisco, as a city, was absent from this important political moment.

A city that was once a trailblazing leader on environmental issues such as solid waste reduction, transit-first policies, and adopting the precautionary principle — which calls on city officials to avoid policies and purchases that have the potential to cause environmental harm — has instead become a city guided by the logic and imperatives of capitalism, eager to grow and consume at any cost.

Speaker after speaker in New York City, Oakland, and other cities called for humanity to wake up to the realities of global climate change, slow down the wasteful economic churn and rapid depletion of important natural resources, and pursue fundamental changes to the system.

But in San Francisco, we appear to be headed in the opposite direction. The Mayor’s Office unceremoniously killed CleanPowerSF, the city’s only plan for offering more renewable energy to city residents. And it has pandered to motorists in ways that have taken millions of dollars away from public transit (see “Money for Muni“), encouraging more driving in the process even though we know that adds to global warming.

It isn’t just the neoliberals in City Hall, but the entire institutional structure of the city. Even SEIU Local 1021, long a stalwart supporter of progressive causes, has strangely endorsed the pro-automobile Prop. L and is aggressively supporting BART Board member James Fang, a Republican who supports costly extensions of the system rather than projects that promote more intensive transit uses in the urban core.

Finally, there’s this city’s monomaniacal promotion of the energy-intensive technology industry. Americans emit more greenhouse gases per capita than anyone, and recent reports show that reality is compounded by massive increases in China’s greenhouse gas emissions — which is partly because Bay Area companies produce their tech gadgets and other toys in China, which we then consume here.

San Franciscans need to stop being such voracious consumers and strive to be true innovators who accept our responsibilities and work to disrupt the rapid descent into a dangerously warming world.

 

Flooding the streets

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news@sfbg.com

In New York City’s Times Square on a muggy, gray Sunday afternoon at the historic People’s Climate March, everything went silent for a minute as a massive crowd, led by indigenous people from around the world, raised fists in the air to support communities suffering the harshest effects of climate change.

In this canyon of glittering commerce, surrounded by corporate icons such as Chase Bank, Bank of America, Gap, McDonald’s, and Dow Jones, the silent coalition then burst into a thunderous crescendo meant to symbolize action and demand climate justice.

On Sept. 21, a veritable ocean of humanity, estimated at up to half a million people — a diverse global tapestry hailing from South Bronx to South Dakota, Kenya to the Philippines — flooded Manhattan’s streets with calls for climate change action two days before a major United Nations Climate Summit that few expected to produce much, if any, change. The next day [Mon/22], a more confrontational “Flood Wall Street” civil disobedience action drew thousands.

The New York march, part of a worldwide day of action spanning more than 2,700 rallies in 159 countries, represented the largest, loudest sign yet that the world is waking up en masse to the climate crisis. Stretching for miles through Manhattan’s mid-section, wave after wave of contingents illustrated the crisis’ universal effects and broadening response: Indigenous people’s groups from around the world, labor unions, faith and LGBTQ groups, low-income communities of color. More than 1,400 organizations endorsed the march.

The People’s Climate March also reflected the urgency and rising response from communities of color and indigenous people who bear the brunt of climate disasters. As many attested, these climate-hammered communities are bringing economic and ecological justice issues to the forefront of a movement often criticized for being predominantly white.

“I’m here because I have a chronically asthmatic daughter,” said Tanya Fields, a 34-year-old mother of five and executive director of the Bronx-based Black Project. In poor waterfront communities from New York’s Far Rockaway and the Bronx, to New Orleans, “communities are not being prepared for the inevitable repercussions” of climate change, Fields said. “When you look at the intersection of climate change and capitalism, those who are have-nots clearly are much more vulnerable. When we talk about creating a more resilient world, we’re also talking about protecting the most marginalized.”

Iya’falolah Omobola, marching with a Mississippi environmental justice group called Cooperation Jackson, said her community has been hit hard by a confluence of climate change, poverty, and health struggles.

“We have a lot of issues directly related to climate, but also to the fact that there are no jobs, there’s no public transportation to get people to jobs,” she said. “There has to be a community-led solution as opposed to the system that keeps compounding the problem.”

Behind a banner stating, “Climate affects us the most,” 300 or so marched from the Brooklyn-based El Puente Leadership for Peace and Justice, including many youth.

“Many of our young people are from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. We know what’s happening to our people there in terms of climate change, so we’re coming together,” said El Puente Executive Director Frances Lucerna. “The connection between what happened here when Hurricane Sandy hit and what’s happening in our islands, in terms of beach erosion and extinction of species, is devastating.”

Marchers from Africa, Latin America, South Asia, and beyond highlighted the underlying “first world” causes behind the climate crisis. Marifel Macalanda, of the Asian Pacific Indigenous Youth Network in the Philippines, said she was in New York “in solidarity with indigenous peoples worldwide,” urging corporations to “stop plundering our resources. They are the primary reasons we are having this climate crisis right now.”

Meima Mpoke, who traveled from Kenya along with 20 of his compatriots, added, “We are here to say to the industrialized world, you are the cause of this.” The UN Summit, Mpoke said, “should produce some action, particularly to show who is causing the climate change.”

Marching with a large Bronx contingent of Percent for Green, Alicia Grullon emphasized similar struggles in poor US communities. The South Bronx is “a dumping ground” for New York’s toxins, and “the asthma capital of the country,” she said. The UN summit presented “an unusual gift for policymakers to do something new … and we’re afraid they’re not going to do that and we’re here to remind them of that great opportunity they have.” However, she added, the Summit gave corporations a big seat at the table: “That’s not representing needs of the people.”

Mychal Johnson, co-founder of South Bronx Unite, was one of just 38 civil society representatives invited to attend the UN Summit. “I won’t have a speaking role,” he said, but “our presence hopefully will speak volumes.” The gulf between the massive public march and the closed-doors UN summit was “a grave contrast,” Johnson said. “A great deal of corporations have been invited, but for so long, the voices of the many have not been heard. We know what corporations are doing to cause harm to the planet, and hopefully this [march] will show people coming together all over world to make sure that legally binding agreements come out of these climate talks.”

 

DIM HOPES FOR UN SUMMIT

Billing itself as “catalyzing action,” Tuesday’s UN Climate Summit issued bold pronouncements ahead of its proceedings — but social justice groups from around the world were not buying it.

“The Climate Summit will be about action and solutions that are focused on accelerating progress in areas that can significantly contribute to reducing emissions and strengthening resilience,” the Summit website promoted. “Eradicating poverty and restructuring the global economy to hold global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius are goals that — acted on together — can provide prosperity and security for this and future generations.”

But critics blasted the UN climate agenda for emphasizing voluntary reforms and “partnerships” with businesses and industries that are fundamentally part of the problem. One week before the People’s Climate March, global social movements including La Via Campesina, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, and Indigenous Environmental Network — representing a total of more than 200 million people — issued a statement decrying the “corporate takeover of the UN and the climate negotiations process,” Common Dreams reported.

“The Summit has been surrounded by a lot of fanfare but proposes voluntary pledges for emissions cuts, market-based and destructive public-private partnership initiatives such as REDD+, Climate-Smart Agriculture and the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative,” according to the statement. “These are all false solutions of the green economy that seeks to further commodify life and nature and further capitalist profit.”

 

BIGGER TENT, SMALLER MESSAGE?

Despite concerns about the Summit, the People’s Climate March drew criticism from some activists for not making any demands, and for spending big on public relations while opting for a nonconfrontational “big tent” that some said diluted the movement’s message and impact.

A “Flood Wall Street” direct action Monday drew thousands for civil disobedience, issuing a strong message: “Stop Capitalism. End the Climate Crisis. Flood, blockade, sit-in, and shut down the institutions that are profiting from the climate crisis,” the event’s website urged. “After the People’s Climate March, wearing blue, we will bring the crisis to its cause with a mass sit-in at the heart of capital.”

Flood Wall Street’s more confrontational approach and its naming of capital illustrates unresolved differences about where the movement should focus its energy: Will it work for market reforms, such as 350.org’s popular fossil fuels divestment campaign, or press for larger systemic change? As it erects a big political tent drawing broad mainstream support, will the climate movement be able or willing to push bold demands that may confront capital and corporate power?

In a widely read critique for Counterpunch, writer Arun Gupta argued that the focus on drawing a big crowd came at the expense of a sharper message and impact. “[W]hen the overriding demand is for numbers, which is about visuals, which is about PR and marketing, everything becomes lowest common denominator. The lack of politics is a political decision.”

In an e-mail comment, Bobby Wengronowitz, who helped organize for the Flood Wall Street actions, said he supported the big march, but added, “We need to match the scale of the crisis. We need to get the US and other rich countries on a 10 percent emissions reductions per year plan. That requires white privileged folks to do what indigenous people have been doing for 500 years — to put their bodies on the line … I’m all for big tent, but this march, even if the final tally is 500K does NOT do it.”

A three-day Climate Convergence, featuring talks, films, and teach-ins, offered protesters a dose of critical thinking, urging, “Demand an end to fossil fuels, mobilize for system change, living wage jobs now!” At an event on climate change and the public sector, a panel of organizers and authors raised questions about the focus on market-driven approaches, discussing the potential for addressing climate change through a revitalized public sector.

 

NEW COALITIONS AND HOPE

On the day of the big march, the sheer immensity of the gathering and the expressions of hope were palpable.

“Today I marched peacefully alongside humans of all class and race, of all gender and sexuality, among anarchist, indigenous, labor unions, different political parties and so many more,” said Patrick Collins, who rode the People’s Climate Train from San Francisco. “[S]eeing the over 1,000 different groups come together in the march who all have different ideologies but are willing to look past differences and agree on common ground does give me some sort of hope.”

Many marchers also expressed hope for new coalitions to pack a potent punch in the fight for climate justice. Labor unions were out in force — teachers, nurses, janitors, food workers, and farmworkers — marching for economic justice, green jobs, and more.

Erin Carrera, a registered nurse and member of National Nurses United, said it was “a monumental moment to be here today with all these labor organizations, because labor and environmentalists have not always been on same page—but I think everyone’s coming to realize that there are no jobs on a dead planet.” Organized labor, Carrera said, “needs skin in the game, because it’s the working class that’s going to be most vulnerable … today gives me so much hope that we have turned a corner in people waking up and working together.”

 

 

 

Aboard the People’s Climate Train

As our cross-country People’s Climate Train passed through Azure, Colo., above a stunning crimson and white rock gorge under a deep-blue sky, James Blakely delivered a presentation on the ecological crisis in the Alberta Tar Sands. Blakely, an activist with 350.org in Idaho, described toxic tailing ponds filled with mining refuse, polluted waterways, dust clouds, and buffalo die-offs. Aboard the train, one of two ferrying hundreds from California to New York’s mass mobilization, our group — ranging in age from 19 to 68 — alternated between snapping photos of the awe-inspiring beauty outside, to probing conversations about rescuing our imperiled planet. Through the Amtrak window, California’s drought-withered cornfields stood wilted and barren, skeleton-like. In the Sierras, forest fires blurred the horizon with smoky haze. Late at night in the Nevada desert, huge factories and refineries churned away. Coal trains traversed the land, spewing fossil fuels. There were reminders of beauty, too. At about 5am, my sleepless eyes took in an ethereal pre-dawn scene. Gnarled sandstone rock formations rose near the tracks in Utah like moon faces; followed by a salmon-hued sunrise splashing across mesas tufted with sage and juniper. Liz Lamar, an activist with the Sierra Club and the Climate Reality Project in Oxnard said the cross-country passage made her “even more passionate about going on the march, by passing through such beautiful scenery.” The People’s Climate Train provided an apt backdrop for workshops and conversations about the causes and victims of climate crisis, and the prodigious challenges ahead. Sonny Lawrence Alea, a recent environmental studies graduate from San Francisco State University, said the ride offered “a great reminder of what we’re going to New York for. This land is full of opportunities, and we get to connect with the environment, take in the beauty, and reflect on the history of the land.” (Christopher D. Cook)