Open city



There could hardly be a more welcoming name for a restaurant than aperto — "open" in Italian, and Aperto is an Italian restaurant — except, possibly, Welcome. The north face of Potrero Hill is home to lots of restaurants, but Welcome isn’t one of them, at least not yet. While we wait, we can wait at Aperto, which offers a handsome wooden bench outside the front door for the convenience of those whose tables aren’t yet available and are too weary to stand. Aperto is small, and it is busy, and everyone seems to know about it. This is fitting, because it’s been there since 1992 and over its 15 years of life has become the jewellike Italian restaurant every urban neighborhood should have at least one of.

For some or no reason, Aperto is a place I’d never been to until recently. Regular reports, most of them favorable, did reach me from friends who seemed to go all the time, and these debriefings perhaps soothed my curiosity. I had noticed that the restaurant, after reaching a crest of sorts in the mid-1990s as one of the San Francisco Chronicle‘s top 100 restaurants, seemed to have receded in later years from public awareness. This could be due to fatigue, but it is certainly not due to the focaccia, which flows from the open kitchen to the dining room in a steady stream and is just exemplary: soft (though with a hint of crust), warm, and gently scented with olive oil. It’s the bread equivalent of the perfect hotel pillow and is at least as good as the focaccia at Blue Plate. And that means it’s awesome.

When you are dishing out complementary focaccia of this quality and keeping water glasses full and prices modest for well-executed, lovable Italian dishes, you are likely to be a successful restaurant. Aperto isn’t up to anything radical; its look and food are classical and timeless, and the restaurant, as an experience, presents itself unobtrusively. It’s like a favorite coat, well made and warming, you might wrap around yourself on a chilly night.

Few cuisines can match the Italian for inventive frugality. Despite a public image of flamboyance, Italians tend not to waste food. Stale bread finds a home in panzanella or ribollita, while grape pomace (the mush left over from the wine crush) is fermented and distilled into grappa. (Then exported and resold to us at a tidy profit.) Because Aperto’s menu is pasta-rich and pasta is among the most flexible of starches, the restaurant’s recycling program uses it to impressive effect. One (chilly!) evening I found myself staring into a broad white bowl of papardelle ($13.50) sauced with a sugo of osso buco. Osso buco, also known as braised veal shank, is a tine-intensive production, not ordinarily to be undertaken just to come up with a pasta sauce. But, should there be surplus from the night before, the leftover meat makes a lovely pairing with pasta, rich and just hinting of the beefiness that makes veal so attractive. Throw in some spinach for color, add some grana shavings on top, and you have a dish of elegant simplicity.

Glancing slightly upmarket, we find striped sea bass ($17.75), coated with arugula pesto, roasted, then plopped into a beanbag chair of lemon mashed potatoes, with an encirclement of ratatouille and a hairpiece of microgreens. This was a handsomely composed, colorful plate of food whose lemon mashed potatoes actually carried a distinct whiff of the advertised ingredient and whose seafood star (as I learned ex post facto from Seafood Watch) is in the "best" category. I give Aperto a big gold star for this alone. If a smallish neighborhood restaurant can keep itself within the boundaries of sustainability without making a huge fuss or overcharging, then everybody can.

The restaurant doesn’t give short shrift to seasonality either. On one late-winter menu we found crab cakes ($9.75 for a crottin-shaped pair), presented on a bed of shaved fennel and radicchio, with pomegranate seeds scattered around the plate like rubies and squirts of spicy aioli atop the cakes themselves. The same menu yielded strands of fat spaghetti ($11.50) tossed with shelled fava beans, leeks, sun-dried tomatoes, and goat cheese — a distinctively NorCal when-seasons-collide moment.

Given the limitless focaccia, which produces a filling effect similar to that of chips and salsa in Mexican restaurants, the first courses are in some danger of superfluousness. Among the best of the lot is the platter of oven-roasted mussels ($9.50), swimming in a buttery shellfish broth perfumed with fennel and garlic. The broth is nicely soppable with the accompanying spears of well-grilled levain (topped with the customary rouille), and when that was gone, we picked up the slack with focaccia.

Only the soups seemed flat: good, but a little slow out of bed in the morning. Lentil ($4.50) did feature shreds of crispy pancetta, but the floating chunks of celery seemed slightly clumsy, like flotsam after some sort of accident. And cream of roasted tomato ($5) was creamy — and cheesy! — but might have been made more interesting, visually, at least, by an addition as simple as minced parsley.

If the overhead chalkboard listing the day’s specials includes the mascarpone brownie ($6), you won’t be sorry if you ignore your diet and have it. Brownies sound juvenile, but this one isn’t; it’s marbled, moist, and just sweet enough, like homemade cake. Whipped cream? Yes, but not too much; same with the hot fudge sauce piped around the edges of the plate. The brownie might not be authentically Italian, but I suspect even a lot of authentic Italians would be open to its charms. *


Lunch: Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Dinner: Mon.–Sat., 5:30–10 p.m.; Sun., 5–9 p.m.

1434 18th St., SF

(415) 252-1625

Beer and wine



Wheelchair accessible


Worth a shot


› a&

Sam Small (Jud Williford) is an unemployed man in a fraying bathrobe with a limp Jimmy Dean sausage in his pocket, living off the bacon brought (literally snuck) home by his wife, Mary (Beth Wilmurt), a waitress. Sam’s situation, aggravated by his well-thumbed copy of Hamlet, has led him to contemplate suicide.

Albert (Marty Pistone) — right across the hall from Sam and Mary’s apartment 86 in number 69 — is sympathetic. He’s on the rebound from a dot-bomb himself (not to mention a dead wife) but is rebuilding his future by recycling the detritus of a lavish consumer society on eBay and shooting Web-ready video with a well-worn vixen named Margaret (Denise Balthrop Cassidy). Joblessness need be no impediment, Albert proclaims. "Nobody has to hire you, Sam. It’s the 21st century!"

And then the brainstorm: Albert’s entrepreneurial instincts latch on to Sam’s suicidal tendencies to conjure a Web-based raffle for the right to Sam’s martyrdom. Soon various people-cum-causes come calling, and Sam and Mary’s fortunes are on the rise. This is the story of American Suicide, presented by Z Plays and the Encore Theatre Company.

It is also the story of American can-do despair in its most contemporary form: breathing the Internet ether of a post-postindustrial economy and the giddy dreams of the self-unemployed. That the play feels so effortlessly precise makes one appreciate even more the achievement of writer-director Mark Jackson, whose brilliantly staged adaptation of Nikolai Erdman’s The Suicide turns the Soviet playwright’s banned 1929 tragifarce into a piercingly funny satire on the American way of death.

For every individual fantasy in this country rests on the bones of some victim or other. In this case, it’s Sam, the classic American little guy, whose iconic aspects Williford expertly underscores to comic but also telling effect with a Depression-era clip to his speech. Sam’s gotta die, or no dice. But the deal is so sweet even he gets caught up in it.

Our hapless hero even finds himself pursuing a lifelong dream of becoming an actor (lifelong — ay, there’s the rub), which pitches him into the middle of another squalid little tale of diminished lives and desperate schemes. This one involves a washed-up film director (Michael Patrick Gaffney) and a 22-year-old Norma Desmond named Chloe Banks (Jody Flader), who’s bent on a comeback via a torrid suicide note from a leading man–slash–lover. Both are played, like all the characters in American Suicide, as delightfully precise caricatures by a very fine cast. This includes Delia MacDougall, whose larger-than-life turn as major thespian Gigi Bolt, a representative of the embattled American theater living down the street from Sam’s apartment building in her car, effortlessly projects to the back rows and back several times over.

The histrionic theme is one of the more self-referential of Jackson’s many original contributions to Erdman’s story line, and he clearly has fun with it. So bright is the suicide scheme’s promise to all involved that not even the scandal-starved Chloe’s willful intrusion into the conjugal poverty of Sam and Mary’s water-stained studio apartment (a principle component of James Faerron’s slick and versatile set design) throws a wrench into the works. Indeed, the hard-bitten note in Mary’s natural sweetness at the outset of the play drops away completely by the time worldly fortune and a life of leisure appear on the horizon. Wilmurt’s excellent and endearing play on the supportive wifey adopts something of the wide-eyed, guileless, endlessly grateful manner of a game show contestant.

Liam Vincent rounds out the terrific cast in the roles of two mysterious men who together push the play’s social critique a notch higher, or lower, into the realm of politics and an ever-encroaching state power.

The issue of martyrdom naturally calls forth from among the other eager suicide opportunists a certain bearded fellow (played with wonderfully dignified comic assurance by Vincent) in Middle Eastern garb. Jackson eschews cheap shots here, instead going for the jugular with some of the play’s funniest dialogue as Sam’s political ignorance (a classic American virtue never too far from an equally classic rapaciousness) before the jihadist prompts the latter to narrate a kind of preschool allegory of anti-imperialism — a story later used for cross-purposes by a shadowy government trench coat (Vincent again) who’d like to use Sam to do something about the dearth of Americans willing to die for ideas. *


Through March 11

Thurs.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; $25–$30

Thick House

1695 18th St., SF

(415) 437-6775


Jesse Hawthorne Ficks’s Sundance picks (so far)


Manufactured Landscapes (Jennifer Baichwal, Canada). Easily the best film at Sundance, this moving portrait of Edward Burtynsky’s photographs shakes your views on the progress of humanity to the point of speechlessness. While the photos show how humans have drastically altered the earth through their obstructions — ranging from massive recycling landfills to factory lines with thousands of workers creating millions of tiny plastic objects — Baichwal’s film brings these conflicts to life in a complete, breathtaking manner. The opening shot (filmed by infamous Canadian director Peter Mettler) evokes Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend and is one of the most powerful sequences I have ever witnessed.

Snow Angels (David Gordon Green, US). In a film that’s purposefully more mainstream than his recent masterpieces, Green (George Washington, All the Real Girls) brings his never-ending compassion to stories about a struggling divorced couple and their young child and two high school teenagers whose awkwardly sincere attempts at first love are just about the closest thing to the real thing. Hopefully, he’ll consider condensing the ending sequence; it screams while the rest of the film simply soothes.

It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. (David Brothers and Crispin Glover, US). After viewing Glover’s embarrassingly transparent and ultimately boring debut, What Is It?, I was pretty damn skeptical of the second in his It trilogy. Surprise, surprise — he’s made perhaps one of the most progressive films for physically disabled people to date. Lead actor Steven C. Stewart also scripted the film; the late disabled-rights activist, in a wheelchair most of his life due to cerebral palsy, plays a man whose fantasy is to make love with the long-haired beauties in his nursing home. The film is definitely flawed, and its mixed messages drew uncomfortable laughter from audience members. But though It Is Fine! could be viewed as a Make-a-Wish Foundation film, it genuinely confronts issues untouched by most filmmakers.

Enemies of Happiness (Anja Al-Erhayem and Eva Mulvad, Denmark). With an immediacy similar to that of My Country, My Country, this sensitive documentary about Afghanistan’s first parliamentary elections in 35 years follows 27-year-old candidate Malalai Joya, who speaks out for women’s rights and democracy. It’s a real-life Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to inspire even the most jaded.

And one from Slamdance:

Cold Prey (Roar Uthaug, Norway). How about a group of five Norwegian snowboarders who get stranded up in the mountains, where someone starts hunting them down one by one? OK, so the film doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen before, but it’s fun, terrifying, and part of the new wave of mean-spirited stalker films that thrive on the slaughter of privileged white people. Also, it stars two of the hottest ladies you ever did see. *

Jesse Hawthorne Ficks teaches film history at the Academy of Art University and programs "Midnites for Maniacs" at the Castro Theatre.

Burning Man goes green


Burning Man founder Larry Harvey chooses the theme for each year’s event — such as 2002’s the Floating World and last year’s Hope and Fear — but it usually doesn’t have much impact on the basic character of the event. This year’s theme, Green Man, is different.

"It’s the first theme that has any kind of practical, political character," Harvey told the Guardian, noting that Green Man has sparked big changes in how the event will be staged, a campaign to improve burners’ environmental practices, and a new way of reutf8g to the outside world.

"We’re looking at every aspect of the event: solid waste, energy, and materials," said Tom Price, who has filled the newly created full-time position of environmental director, which was a natural offshoot from his previous work as Burning Man’s lobbyist and the founder of Burners Without Borders, which formed to do Gulf Coast cleanup after Hurricane Katrina hit (see "From Here to Katrina," 2/22/06).

Harvey said it was the good that burners did in Mississippi that started him thinking about the green theme and the idea that Burning Man needed to start turning its energies outward at a time when global warming and other environmental problems are growing public concerns.

"We’re working our way back into the world. Maybe not the mainstream but certainly onto Main Street," Harvey said. "There’s a lot out there that needs reform. The time of the reformer is at hand, I believe."

Among the projects Price is now working on are expanding the already large recycling effort at the event, finding ways to use more solar panels and fewer generators, coordinating theme camps to share power sources, using the purchase of emissions credits to offset the greenhouse gases created by Burning Man, and creating incentives for art projects to use alternative fuels.

"The whole process is being driven by the community," Price said.

Ramping up Burning Man’s environmental activism and commitment has been the goal of several movements within the larger event, such as Cooling Man ( and Greening the Burn (, as well as being a priority for many Burning Man employees, such as technology dominatrix Heather Gallagher, a.k.a. Camera Girl, and facilities manager Paul Schreer, a.k.a. Mr. Blue.

"We’ve been hippie busybodies pushing for this on the inside," Gallagher told us. "And when [Harvey] announced the theme, I was, like, ‘Yesss!’ "

"What’s exciting about the Green Man theme and this year’s event is it’s a perfect illustration of the power of community," Price said, noting that networking and experimentation have always been hallmarks of the event. "Going back 10 years, Burning Man has been a place for early adopters who are on the cutting edges of a lot of disciplines."

That makes it a good place to experiment with new technologies and evangelize those that work well.

"I’ve always believed Burning Man would eventually partner in some way with the environmental movement," Harvey said. "It’s almost a historic inevitability."

Since the theme was announced, the organization has been overwhelmed with offers from individuals and groups that want to help green the event, from someone who donated $350,000 worth of solar panels to power the eponymous man and surrounding activities this year to artists such as Jim Mason, who has developed a gasification system he wants to use to turn center camp coffee grounds and other waste into fuel that would in turn power his machine (and probably shoot fire as well).

"So I’m proposing drag racing to a more responsible environmental future. As usual, the ravers are not going to save the world. But at least they can power their indulgent disasters with the fuel the local gearheads turned reluctant environmentalists have made for them," Mason, the controversial artist who helped spearhead the Borg2 revolt a couple years ago, wrote by e-mail to the Guardian.

Price said he’s excited by the implications of Mason’s project, noting that it simultaneously addresses energy issues and waste disposal.

"If he can do this, he will have solved two problems," Price said. "Our relationship to nature on the playa is very intimate. Just being at the event, we’ve learned in a way those in the city haven’t what it means to deal with your garbage and to provide your energy."

Harvey sees this year’s theme as a turning point.

"In some ways, we hope this year will be an environmental and alternative energy expo," he said, although he expects it to resonate on an even deeper level that participants will carry back into their communities. "It’s a much broader thing than environmental politics. It’s about our relationship to nature." (STJ)

Silex Appeal


As the recycling truck hauls away the last of the year’s emptied wine bottles, we pause briefly to reflect. Winter is supposed to be the season of red wine, and this year’s red wines were good — from a fine St. Emilion with the New Year’s Eve rack of lamb to an excellent Groth cabernet with the New Year’s night cassoulet — but the whites, I thought, were at least as distinguished. A Hafner Reserve chardonnay held up to the cassoulet as well as the cab did and maybe, with its clarifying acid, was even a little better as a strong but cooperative accompanist. And a throaty Vouvray (Domaine d’Orfeuilles Silex, 2004) went beautifully with a plate of canapés (guacamole and blue cheese on crostini — but not at the same time) devoured en route to one last blowout at Harris’ Restaurant.

Vouvray wines are made from chenin blanc, and silex indicates flinty soil, and so we are talking here about a dry white wine whose composed intensity compares favorably with that of its Loire cousins (of sauvignon blanc extraction), the Sancerres and Quincys, and its nearest Burgundian relations (made from chardonnay), the Chablises. It might be that someday our own viticulturalists will figure out how to do right by an impressive grape that has been largely misused here, grown in bulk for jug wines. I like Husch’s chenin blanc, though it tends toward sweet and, lacking the French wine’s bass notes, the sense of feet planted firmly on the ground, can seem a little untethered. The Vouvray, incidentally, was far more impressive than another French chenin blanc wine I served at Thanksgiving, a savennières called La Jalousie. I brought it forth with considerable fanfare, but it tasted rather watery and got lost amid the other big guns at the table.

The unexpected ability of a white wine to cope with cassoulet struck me as notable. Of course, cassoulet is something of a hybrid in a wine pairer’s eyes, a light-but-heavy blend of white beans and various kinds of meat. Conventional wisdom says you should choose a robust red with good acid, maybe a tempranillo or pinot noir. Conventional wisdom also says that oaky California chardonnays are too much for many foods, at least the sorts of foods (such as fish) conventionally paired with white wines. Conventional wisdom says a lot of things, and sometimes we do better not to listen.

Paul Reidinger


The final frontier


Regrets? I’ve had a few. At the top of the list is that, due to circumstances beyond our control, I will never get to see Beethoven play the piano — unless we have misunderstood the time-space continuum. This seems more likely than not, given the reliable arrogance of human science, and I do retain a shred of hope.
The also-rans run well behind. I do not expect my idea for a sport-tuned, high-performance Prius — the Priapus, a Prius for men! — to make it onto a Toyota production line any time soon, alas and alack. And I am sorry I can’t remember what many areas of the city looked like a decade ago, before the Great Bulldozing. What was it like to sail down the Third Street corridor? I remember doing it at least once, in the middle 1990s, on a mission to take some moribund computer equipment to a recycling facility near the foot of 23rd Street. There was a certain ominous, video-game facelessness to the buildings, and I was glad when the errand was over.
As for restaurants: once you’d passed south of 16th Street, where 42° sat at the back of the rather dingy Esprit Center (since demolished), you were in a different world. You had passed through border control, a kind of Checkpoint Charlie of culture, and you were on your own. But … change was not far off. Soon the development tide would flow south: there would be a new baseball park, a new UCSF campus, a new Muni light-rail line. And the neighborhood’s obvious virtues — nearness to the city center and the bay, flat streets, warm weather, gorgeous old industrial buildings (many of brick), sweeping views — would begin to be noticed.
Today, Third Street is lined with new live-work and other lofty-looking buildings, and people must be living and working in them (or working nearby), because if you step into the New Spot, a new spot serving Mexican and Salvadoran food, you are likely to run into a wall of these people, at least if it’s around lunchtime on a weekday. They all look to be about 30 years old, give or take, and are dressed with that studied scruffiness I associate with the late, great dot-com boom. Are we now surfing some wave in the space-time continuum back to 1999? Certainly, the traffic and parking situations are horrendous in the area, as they were elsewhere in the city at the close of the last millennium — and the crush is all the more shocking in what I had long thought to be a kind of ghost town, a deserted neighborhood that was fun to bike through on a hot autumn Saturday.
The New Spot is to Salvadoran and Mexican cooking what Chutney (on lower Nob Hill) is to Indian and Pakistani cooking. The look is minimalist clean, prices are low, and the food is fresh and meticulously prepared. My only cavil on freshness concerns the chips, which twice seemed stale to me, though the spicy-smooth red salsa ($1.40 for a half pint, if you want or need that much) covered up much of the weariness. The guacamole ($2.25) is good too, though I would have liked bigger avocado chunks and maybe a bit less lime juice.
The Salvadoran-style dishes dominate the menu and include those old standbys, pupusas (just $1.60 each, but you have to order at least two). These are disks like small pita breads, and they can be stuffed in a variety of meaty and meatless ways. We found the queso con frijoles version — with a good packing of refried beans and oozy queso blanco — to do very nicely, especially with some pico de gallo and shredded, pickled cabbage (curtido) on the side.
Pasteles ($5.50 for a plate of three) turned out to be lightly deep-fried corn pies filled with more queso. (I’d ordered chicken but was pleased with the cheese.) Generally, I stay out of the deep-fried end of the pool, but these pasteles were of a delicate crispness that made me think of golden clouds. The menu lists chile relleno ($7.50) — a fire-roasted poblano stuffed with cheese (or choice of meat) and served with salsa, beans, and rice — as a Salvadoran specialty, and perhaps that’s because it isn’t dipped in batter and fried, as in the more typical preparation you find in Mexican restaurants around town.
The fish tacos ($3.15) are exemplary. I always try a place’s fish tacos, since the range of possible outcomes is so great. Good ones are unforgettable; bad ones are … forgettable. Bland, usually. The New Spot’s menu doesn’t say what kind of fish is used — some kind of cod or pollack, I would guess, or possibly tilapia, judging from the bits of soft, white flesh — but the grill imparts some appealing smoke, and the crispy tacos are filled out with shredded lettuce (instead of the more usual shredded cabbage), diced tomato, refrijoles, salsa, and guacamole. Like a regular taco, really, and the better for it.
The food, it must be said, doesn’t exactly fly out of the kitchen, in part because the dishes are made to order and also because the crunch-time crowds are thick. At the moment, alternatives in the neighborhood are few. But the New Spot is flanked by signs of yesterday and tomorrow; on one side is a faded old-school Chinese restaurant on its way out, while on the other is a café, Sundance Coffee, that could easily be associated with a museum of modern art. The times, they are a-changin’. SFBG
Mon.–Fri., 6 a.m.–7 p.m.; Sat., 7 a.m.–5 p.m.
632 20th St., SF
(415) 558-0556
No alcohol
Noisy if busy
Wheelchair accessible

Don’t block the box


In the Thousand Years’ War between beer and wine, beer has long enjoyed an advantage on the party battlefield, mostly because of the keg, the bunker buster of party drink delivery. Oh yes, kegs do run dry, they must, but has anyone actually seen it happen?
Wine, on the other hand, comes in bottles, and while some of these bottles are, in theory, party sized — the jeroboams and nebuchadnezzars that hold massive amounts of champagne spring to mind — they are unwieldy, lacking the keg’s convenient tap. Could wine’s secret weapon in the struggle for party preeminence be the box? “I drink boxed wine!” is not necessarily an announcement to be shouted from the rooftops in San Francisco, but lately I have had occasion to sample some boxed wines (from Black Box), a cab and a pinot grigio, and I am here to say they are not bad — are, in fact, quite quaffable, though not better than the better Two-Buck Chucks, while costing about twice as much. (A three-liter box of Black Box is the equivalent of four standard-size bottles of wine and retails for about $18, or about $4.50 per bottle.)
It is the box format, of all things, that aggravates. Making the boxes operational is slightly arduous, involving the punching out of stubbornly uncooperative paperboard tabs and the pulling forth of the fugitive spigot, but once all that is accomplished, you have a smart little keg — full of wine. The issue is that the spigot is almost at the bottom of the box, which is fine for flow but does make getting a glass under there a challenge. The solution with a keg is often to set it on some kind of a stool or low table, with plenty of open space under the tap, but the wine boxes aren’t as big and stable as kegs. Little fold-down legs might be helpful, as on Kramer’s coffee-table book about coffee tables.
Also, I did not like the spectacle of white wine gushing downward from the spigot. A little too reminiscent of wee-hours micturition for more delicate sensibilities. And I’m not sure about the recycling; wine bottles are easy, but the wine box would first need some postmortem surgery to get rid of the plastic bladder inside the paperboard shell, and who is going to do that when besotted with party wine and maybe even a blast or two from a competing keg?



Sept. 22


San Francisco Symphony

How ’bout a little Antonín Dvorák with your donut? The SF Symphony, led by every girlie boy’s dreamboat conductor, Michael Tilson Thomas, will be tuning up for lunchtime at Yerba Buena Gardens, with a free recap of some of the selections played at its recent hoity-toity gala opening – but this time it’s us poor schlubs who’ll be hooting and hollering for more. On the menu: Glinka’s rousing overture from Ruslan and Ludmila, Dvorák’s heartrending Symphony no. 8, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s wondrous Scheherazade, with concertmaster Alexander Barantschik generously ladling arpeggios from his magic violin. (Marke B.)

Yerba Buena Gardens
Mission and Third St., SF
(415) 978-ARTS

Visual Art

“Art at the Dump”: Noah Wilson and Kim Weller

Pop art on the melancholy and funny skids or curiosities that lead to even more questions: thanks to SF Recycling and Disposal’s two-headed manner of showing artist-in-residence work, anyone smart and hardy enough to trek out to the dump has both options today and tomorrow. In Perfectly Good, Noah Wilson has responded to the creative setting by exploring the overwhelming confusion and rare flashes of insight only a mass repository of garbage can conjure. In Friendly Fire, Kim Weller checks in on Disney icons, comic book characters, celebrities, and even pop art masterpieces someplace other than a gala opening. (Johnny Ray Huston)

5-9 p.m. (also Sat/23, 1-5 p.m.)
SF Recycling and Disposal
503 Tunnel, SF
(415) 330-1415

This ain’t no Artforum


KIMBERLY CHUN 1. “Binh Danh” Questions of history, identity, and collective and individual memory are probed via the Stanford MFA graduate’s spectral “chlorophyll prints,” created through a process he invented in which found photos are reproduced on the surface of fragile leaves. Sept. 7–Oct. 14. Haines Gallery, 49 Geary, SF. (415) 397-8114, 2. “Counter Culture” Several generations of hipsters, freaks, and freethinkers have been documented by Bay Area photographer Larry Keenan, who snapped Brian Jones, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, and countless beautiful people back in the day. The onetime Concord High School art teacher’s work appeared in the Whitney’s “Beat Culture and the New America: 1950–1965.” Sept. 6–30. Micaela Gallery, 333 Hayes, SF. (415) 551-8118, 3. “Howard Finster: Image + Words = God” The late REM album art poster boy and ironclad, gilded-winged folk art visionary made more than 46,000 images limned with text during his lifetime — quite a feat, since he began to paint “sacred art” in 1976 under orders of an angelic vision. Expect works on loan from the collection of local artist and Finster friend Eleanor Dickinson. Nov. 11, 2006–May 13, 2007. California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park (near 34th Ave. and Clement), SF. (415) 863-3330, 4. “Home Ec: New Work by Sarah Applebaum, Elide Endreson, Sherry Koyama, Christina La Sala, Julia Petho, and Allen Stickel” What qualifies as women’s work when the faces of celebrity fry cooks tend toward the studly and knitting has acquired a cool cachet? Local artists such as California College of the Arts faculty member La Sala and the Lab staffer Koyama explore the seismic shifts in home economics. Sept. 8–28. Michelle O’Connor Gallery, 2111 Mission, SF. (415) 990-7148 5. “Packard Jennings: Lottery Ticket” Those forever dreaming about what they’d do if they won the lottery will get an unexpected bonus when they lay their money down at select stores in four SF districts: a faux scratcher created by Jennings, hiding an unusual local treasure in the community. Nov. 1, 2006–Jan. 31, 2007. Southern Exposure, 2901 Mission, SF. (415) 863-2141, 6. “Charles Linder: Crazy Horse” Horses — broken, thieved, and gimped out — are the leitmotif when the SF artist transforms a target-practice 1965 Mustang into a gallery thoroughbred … of sorts. Sept. 8–Oct. 14. Gallery 16, 501 Third St., SF. (415) 626-7495, 7. “Particulate Matter” For the Mills College Art Museum’s new wing, Guardian critic Glen Helfand curates a debut exhibit composed of many parts and informed by political consciousness. LA artist Karl Haendel, known for dramatic installations of drawings culled from media images, makes his Bay Area debut, as does German photographer Florian Maier-Aichen, who exhibits digitally enhanced and tension-wracked landscapes. Sept. 9–Dec. 10. 5000 MacArthur, Oakl. (510) 430-2164, 8. “Perfectly Good; Friendly Fire” No dumping on artists-in-residence Noah Wilson and Kim Weller. The former photographs rediscovered found objects; the latter dreams up a 3-D installation of life-size Archie Comics icons for this teenage — and industrial — wasteland. Sept. 22–23. SF Recycling and Disposal, 503 Tunnel, SF. (415) 330-1415, 9. “Donald Urquhart: No Axe to Grind” Camp icons like Dors, Dusty, and Davis, refigured as “Aubrey Beardsley doodles through high school algebra” scrawls, are part of the London artist’s past as a King’s Cross club owner. Sept. 9–30. Jack Hanley Gallery, 395 Valencia, SF. (415) 522-1623, 10. “We All Live Paper Nest: The Paper Nest Project” Paper hoarders celebrate the messes they call nests, those baby blankets of ephemera that they turn to for security, inspiration, and creativity. Curators Tan Khanh Cao and D. Scott Miller make a seven-foot-diameter paper nest shot through with meaning, while writers and musicians such as Kwan Booth of Black Futurist Movement and Walter Kitundu perform at the Sept. 16 reception. Sept. 15–17. Luggage Store Annex, 509 Ellis, SF. SFBG

Learning from leaks


Brace yourself. What you are about to read might go against what you think is the general wisdom of conservationists: if it’s pee, don’t let it be. Now, I’m not advocating that you should flush. What I’m about to suggest emerges from the world of permaculture, and you’re about to find out all about it.
Permaculture is an approach to sustainable living that entails close, spiritual observation of nature and its inherent patterns and rhythms. Through contemplation of the land — a backyard, an entire city, Yosemite’s wilderness — humans can learn how to interact with the environment in a balanced and harmonious way. According to its adherents, permaculture design can integrate the vast spectrum of biological diversity into a functional system that naturally replenishes what it depletes. It seems fundamental that imitating the cycles of nature would produce a less wasteful way of living, but permaculturists insist that we’ve strayed so far from that course (for example, by farming miles and miles of wheat and using limited sources of energy) that it’s time for a full-on return to basics.
But permaculture is more than just a lesson on the how-tos of composting. And it’s more than simply a call to turn back the clock of industrialization. As Guillermo Vásquez, a Mayan from Central America who has been running the Indigenous Permaculture design course around the Bay Area since 2002, puts it, “It’s about how local communities can use their resources in the city in a sustainable way.”
Though geared to the urban environment, Vásquez’s classes use farming techniques drawn from native rural communities in El Salvador, South Dakota, and Guatemala. As a demonstration of how some of these techniques can be applied to everyday situations for the typical city dweller, he talked to me about the patch of bereft soil that is my backyard. Local permaculture courses such as the one Vásquez teaches introduce students to a holistic way of gardening that goes beyond throwing down some dirt, plugging a tomato seedling into the ground, and then turning on the hose. I mentioned that I should probably wait until winter to plant, in order to take advantage of the spring rains, so that I don’t have to wastefully water the yard so much, to which he responded, “you’re right, but first you have to find out what’s in your soil.” His classes give practical lessons in such things as testing the soil for lead and rotating crops and adding trees that retain water and recycle nutrients.
Vásquez’s class is taught on a shoestring budget. He organizes the course with elders from native communities in Central America and the United States. The staff includes specialists in water, soil, and green business. Employees of local nonprofits and people from underserved communities are invited to take the course for free, so long as they make a solemn commitment to do permaculture work in their communities for at least a year after the training. “We have a really teeny budget. Sometimes we work with nothing. We do this because we believe in hard work. We don’t get a salary. We organize the students to work with no money. We prove to them and show them that we can do positive things in our community with no money.”
Permaculture courses were developed in Australia in the mid-’70s when it first became obvious to environmentalists that the planet was in serious trouble due to monoculture farming. These environmentalists believed that we should value the earth’s bounty and endeavor to not hog all of its resources. Then they looked for ways to draw upon the interconnection between earth, water, and sky. One should meditate upon a site for as long as a year before farming, permaculturists advise, making note of all the connections observed. You might notice the sun’s path through the area or how water is leaking away from the site instead of being absorbed into it.
Besides ecological sustainability and environmental relationships, most permaculturists focus on creating social sustainability, recognizing cultural and bioregional identity, and building creative activist networks to implement “placemaking” and “paradigm reconstruction practices.” Not surprisingly for such an interactive philosophy, permaculture has found a huge following on the Web — sites such as and host lively online forums.
Permaculturists also believe that humans should not interfere with the wilderness and that our only interaction with it should be to observe and learn from its ecological systems. The permacultural interactivity of humans and the environment is usually organized and described graphically as a system of concentric zones, like a mandala, beginning with “home” and extending toward “community,” so that the patterns of our social worlds can be put into balance.
Permaculture instructor Kat Steele of the Urban Permaculture Guild got into this kind of holistic approach because she wanted to combine her graphic design background with what she learned about sustainable living while traveling. She took a permaculture design course and started a landscaping business, then moved on to teaching certification courses. (In most cases, permaculture certification allows graduates to teach and participate in larger projects). The Urban Permaculture Guild uses “nonheirarchical decision-making” as one of its principles, and its members, in between contributing to the guild’s operations, have been involved in such large-scale projects as working with Jordanians to green their heavily salted deserts and transforming water recycling policies in Australia.
Steele discussed the guild’s training course with me while on a break from a six-week course conducted at the education facility of Golden Gate Park’s botanical garden. (It’s the first time the park has offered the course; the educational director hopes to develop the program further with Steele.) As in Vásquez’s class, students learn about the principles and concepts of permaculture and put them into practice in gardens. They learn from guest lecturers about soil enrichment and gray water (any water except toilet water that’s been used in the home). Both Vásquez’s and Steele’s classes follow the guidelines of the Permaculture Institute of Northern California and offer certification to students who successfully complete the course. They can be beneficial to yard gardeners like me, architects who wants to consider the best way to orient a building in order to make use of the sun and shade, and civil engineers looking for different approaches to water use and recycling.
During my conversation with Steele, she indicated how the concepts of permaculture could translate to social systems. “In our social landscape, we want to look at where energy is leaking. Typically in most businesses there is an organizational structure that is sort of top-down, and we can create feedback loops from energy or information that might be stored in areas that aren’t being used, so that it all can come back to decision makers. So creating flows that mimic cycles in nature in our business structures can help that.”
So learning from leaks is a key practice of permaculture design. Before we finished our interview, Steele got me thinking about how much I leak at home and that flushing isn’t just a gross misuse of water, it’s a waste to send all that pee down the drain. Turns out pee, when diluted in, say, a backyard pond fed by rain runoff from your roof, is excellent for your garden. SFBG
Aug. 26–Sept. 13
20 hours a week, dates subject to change after first class session
Free with one-year commitment to community work
Ecology Center
2530 San Pablo, Berkeley
Check Web site for upcoming sessions in the Bay Area

Rabid rabbi


“You are my rabbi,” said the caller who claimed to be a Methodist. “Good,” said the talk show host, “Everybody needs a rabbi.”
This is no shock jock being irreverent — he’s a real rabbi. But make no mistake, this is no jolly rebbe kvetching about marrying a nice Jewish boy, nor a lefty Jew talking about justice, diversity, and the Holocaust. He’s Daniel Lapin, dubbed “the show rabbi of the Christian right” by the New York Times. And now he’s a San Francisco talker, Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. on right-wing radio station KSFO.
But Lapin’s more than a front man. He’s a faith-based political operative who was deeply implicated in the Jack Abramoff scandals when Lapin’s nonprofit, Toward Tradition, was exposed as one of a cluster of tax-exempt organizations through which Abramoff secretly routed tribal Indian and other gambling clients’ funds to an aide to Rep. Tom DeLay in return for favorable legislation.
According to news reports published as recently as last month, Abramoff’s nonprofit money-laundering operations are still under investigation. “It’s not a tax-exempt activity to act as a bagman for Jack Abramoff,” Marcus S. Owens, a tax lawyer and former IRS official, told the Washington Post in June.
The Post piece claims Lapin introduced Abramoff to deposed GOP House leader Tom DeLay, a social feat of epic political proportions. Lapin wrote in a letter to supporters after the scandal broke, “Although I have no clear recollection of having formally introduced them, it is certainly possible.”
Former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has called Lapin his “spiritual adviser,” and white supremacist David Duke wrote, “There are so few honest voices like that of Rabbi Lapin.”
A rabbi without a congregation, the 59-year-old Lapin gave up his Seattle talk show in February. He’d been filling in for other KSFO hosts and began his show in April, broadcasting from a Seattle studio. Although Lapin denies it, observers opine that he moved to the Bay Area for a fresh start after national publicity about the Abramoff scandals made him radioactive in Seattle.
Toward Tradition has reportedly fallen on hard times after postscandal donations tanked. Lapin has given up his offices, laid off staff, and works out of his home on Mercer Island, a wealthy suburban enclave outside Seattle. He founded Toward Tradition with film critic and neocon radio talker Michael Medved and Abramoff in the early 1990s. The disgraced lobbyist joined the board and served a few terms as chairman. Lapin calls his organization a coalition of Jews and conservative Christians dedicated to faith-based American principles of constitutional and limited government, the rule of law, representative democracy, free markets, a strong military, and a moral public culture.
Until his recent problems, Toward Tradition allowed Lapin to pay himself a $165,000 annual salary, according to a 2003 IRS filing. He also fetched high speaker’s fees and right-wing Christian street cred that’s taken him to the George W. Bush White House for Shabbat dinners and the speaker’s podium at the 1996 Republican National Convention.
Lapin has been a conduit between the GOP and the fundamentalist “values” crowd, but was also directly involved in Republican fundraising. Newsweek reported last year, “When fundraising began for Bush’s re-election effort, Rabbi Daniel Lapin . . . urged friends and colleagues to steer campaign checks to Bush via Abramoff.” For his loyalty, Bush appointed Lapin to the US Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, which helps protect cemeteries, monuments, and historic buildings in eastern and central Europe. He recently resigned from this post.
Although Lapin can be tedious on the radio, he’s charismatic one-on-one and on the stump. A striking figure in expensive dark suits, bright ties, meticulous ear-to-ear rabbinical beard, and bald pate usually covered with a yarmulke, he is a tall, lanky, ascetic presence.
His mission, as stated on his Web site, is “standing astride America’s secular path to decline, decadence, and depravity.” But his version of Judeo-Christianity looks like a right-wing Republican wish list. Lapin believes that currency and capital markets are revelations granted by God to the Jews and passed on to Christians.
As a man of God, he not only supports stable marriages, family life, faithfulness, and integrity, but (along, he says, with God) favors tax cuts, property rights, sodomy laws, school prayers, school vouchers, arranged marriages, and elimination of government social programs. He opposes promiscuity, abortion, homosexuality, welfare, crime, funding for the arts, gun control, environmental laws, and black people giving their kids “funny” names.
“Recycling,” Lapin told the Guardian, “is the sacred sacrament of secularism.” He told KSFO listeners recently that saying a prayer over your dead pets is sick and bizarre.
According to Lapin’s writings, Terri Schiavo’s death was a “premeditated murder-plot,” and he’s said on the radio that living wills are “suicide notes.” Tattoos, birth control, piercings, abortions, and assisted suicide are all sinful because, as he told the Guardian, it’s not your body, thank you very much, you’re only a tenant. And tenants, in Lapin’s view, have no rights, especially when it comes to moving or evictions.
Lapin also crusades against homosexuality and is a headliner and co-organizer, with virulent Seattle homophobe Rev. Ken Hutcherson, of the effective, antigay Mayday for Marriage rallies, one of which drew some 150,000 supporters to the Mall in Washington, DC, just before the 2004 elections. He makes appearances on the pulpit of Hutcherson’s megachurch near Seattle and they’re jointly involved in other political activities. (Hutcherson is the evangelical who bullied Microsoft in 2005 into withdrawing support for a gay rights bill before the Washington State Legislature, which effectively killed it.)
There was comic relief at hearings last year before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee provided by e-mails between Lapin and Abramoff, and read by North Dakota senator Byron Dorgan. Abramoff asked Lapin to help him sex up a résumé to help him get into Washington’s exclusive Cosmos Club, whose membership includes Nobel Prize winners and establishment elites.
“Most prospective members have received awards and I have received none,” Abramoff complained, going on to say, “It would be even better, if it were possible, that I received these in years past, if you know what I mean.”
Lapin apparently knew what he meant, writing, “Yes, I just need to know what needs to be produced . . . letters? Plaques? Neither?”
Lapin wrote in a letter to supporters that it was merely a “jocular interchange” that he regrets, but Abramoff later used Toward Tradition’s award of “Scholar of Talmudic Studies” in serious applications, according to investigators.
Lapin also leads an organization called the American Alliance of Jews and Christians, which seems to exist only as a page on his Web site. Its board of advisers shows the company he keeps, such far-right luminaries as James Dobson, the current Christian right’s front man; the scandal-tainted Gary Bauer, a failed 2000 presidential candidate; the came-to-Jesus Watergate convict Charles “Tex” Colson; Michael Medved; and preachers Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, whose wacky prophecies and laughable gaffes of the last few years have rendered them useless as national spokesmen for the evangelical right. It also includes hard-right orthodox rabbis like Barry Freundel, David Novak, and Meir Soloveichik.
Many Jews are nervous about such lovey-dovey political alliances with the Christian fundamentalists, considering many evangelicals don’t believe God even answers Jewish prayers. To born-agains, Jews will burn in hell if they don’t accept Jesus as their personal savior. Their support of Israel is not born of Christian love, but of Book of Revelation end-world myths that say Jews must control Israel for Christ to come back.
Lapin reassures Jews that despite evangelicals’ having been some of the most persistent anti-Semites in the past, they are the Jews’ natural allies. “I do not fear a Christian America,” he was quoted as saying in an Eastside Weekly article. “I fear a post-Christian America.”
So why does David Duke — the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard turned Republican congressional candidate — like Lapin? Good question, since Duke’s Christian Identity beliefs hold that Jews are “the children of Satan.” This does not look good on a Judeo-Christian résumé.
In an essay that ran in the Orthodox paper Jewish Press in January, Lapin denounced the silly 2004 movie Meet the Fockers, which starred his old friend Barbra Streisand. He compared its Jewish producers (and such Jews as Howard Stern) with the Jews producing Berlin theater in Weimar Germany, with their “deviant sexuality in all its sordid manifestations.” Lapin quoted Adolf Hitler (the leading voice on “values” of his day) charging that these Jews were responsible for “nine-tenths of all literary filth, artistic trash, and theatrical idiocy.” Apparently, Jews were practically begging to be hauled off to the ovens.
Duke, on his Web site, heartily agreed with Lapin and Hitler, and added that anti-Semitism isn’t just blind hatred, it’s for a darn good reason: “It is revulsion to the actions of the Jewish overseers of our mass media.”
Although he spent time growing up in Britain, Lapin was born and raised in and around white supremacist South Africa in the 1950s. Alongside his Afrikaner accent, it’s easy to detect in Lapin a sense of superiority reflecting the mid-20th-century South African Dutch Reformed Church, whose retributive, racist, and self-righteous worldview justified the apartheid system and provided a sociopolitical framework for his formative years.
Lapin often says non-Judeo-Christian cultures and secular liberalism are more of animals than of God and holds historically contentious theories that Western scientific superiority was developed directly from Judeo-Christianity. “Why didn’t the periodic table surface among the Eskimos?” he asked in a 1996 Eastside Week article. “It doesn’t make sense that Africa hadn’t figured out the wheel by the time England was at the end of the Industrial Revolution.”
The reason, Lapin said in that article, is because they never had the opening lines of the Bible, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and earth.”
And that’s not just for third world heathens — it goes for the rest of us who don’t share the rabbi’s opinions. “Modern American liberalism,” he was quoted as saying, “is unquestionably at odds with everything Judeo-Christianity stands for.”
Strange worldview for a Bay Area audience? Maybe, but not for the station that launched Michael Savage and other angry right-wingers. However, the didactic Lapin has never had real broadcasting success, with short stints at Seattle stations and a stab at national syndication that was short lived. He says he’s doing well in the liberal Bay Area, but time will tell. SFBG
For Lapin’s denunciation of Meet the Fockers, see For David Duke on Lapin and anti-Semitism, see



April 5–11


March 21-April 19

Aries, everyone’s got a little bit of the people-pleaser in them, even you. You might annoy the shit out of yourself this week as you notice all the ways you refine your personality to suit what other people want or need from you. Pay attention to which of your closest relationships provoke such chameleonesque activity.


April 20-May 20

Your dramas actually have a higher purpose, Taurus. They’re not just happening because the earth deities are pissed at you for your lackluster recycling habits. Nope. Frustration offers you the opportunity to ground your ass in such a way that you coast through your stress with unbelievable balance and authenticity.


May 21-June 21

Gemini, you’re going to have to take a risk. May we suggest that such a risk be taken from your happy place, as opposed to your crazy place, where you’re currently renting a room. We shouldn’t have to tell a weird-ass sign like yourself not to be scared of doing things unconventionally, but fear can make even the zaniest of the zodiac turn overly prudent.


June 22-July 22

Every time you encounter crap, Cancer, (and you will encounter crap in fact, you might want to check the bottoms of your shoes right now), we want you to seize the opportunity to use the stanky muck as compost and hustle yourself some flowers out of the situation.


July 23-Aug. 22

Awwww, finally, someone has a nice horoscope. You deserve it, Leo. You people have truly been putting the horror in horoscopes lately. But not this week! You should be beaming with pride at how open you are to cultivating a new level of understanding what love and passion actually mean to you.


Aug. 23-Sept. 22

Welcome to our crash course in how much you can and cannot control things, Virgo. We think you’ve been enrolled in this particular program before, but hey, sometimes it takes a few tries for information to really sink in. Your homework: cultivating humility in a way that doesn’t diminish your vitality.


Sept. 23-Oct. 22

Libra, it’s going to be tricky to not compulsively submerge yourself in the society swirl. While it may be enticing to throw your cares to the wind and take up a regimen of partying, frankly, your self-esteem can’t handle such immersion in humanity. Have a bath, a cry, or a primal scream instead.


Oct. 23-Nov. 21

Sometimes, Scorpio, all you’ve got is your little personal truth. Your point of view. Your slice of life. And it looks like you’re on a Slice of Life Sandwich diet. The meat in your sandwich this week is (a) you can and should totally trust your needs, and (b) you seriously need to assert some frigging boundaries.


Nov. 22-Dec. 21

Sagittarius, there is such a thing as too much push and not enough yield. And you are all about that thing right now. Yes, we’re saying you’re being pushy and uncompromising. While we are fans of asserting your individuality, and of assertiveness in general, you have officially gone overboard in pursuing what you want.


Dec. 22-Jan. 19

Education isn’t always about acquiring information, Capricorn. Sometimes the most crucial lessons are those that teach us to unlearn what we thought we knew — and undo the damage such mistaken smarts have created. Such knowledge brings loss. Nothing catastrophic, you’re just learning to let go.


Jan. 20-Feb. 18

Ah, it’s another pupil in this week’s School of Hard Knocks! Your specially tailored curriculum concerns ambiguity. How do you achieve some level of comfort when murky situations make you want to scratch your eyes out? How do you ground your intentions and pursue what you want while trapped in enigmatic circumstances?


Feb. 19-March 20

Pisces, you’re coming from such an emotionally funky place it’s getting to be wicked hard to ride good vibes. Just try to stay checked in with yourself and take special pains to make sure you’re not behaving in a way that’s reactionary. Let your behavior reflect what you truly want, not just your tantrums.