Artsfest 2007 Arts Expo Attendees To Create Gaint Peace Sign
Collaborative Art Project Sponsored by MySpace.com
MySpace.com and the Bay Area’s Create Peace Project have teamed up with Artsfest to offer attendees of all ages at the Artsfest 2007 Arts Expo the opportunity to create a giant peace sign made from individually created peace cards.
Based on the idea that ‘what you create will change the world,’ this collaborative community art project is part of a daylong celebration of the arts on Saturday, May 19 from 11am to 6pm in front of San Francisco City Hall (Polk Street at McAllister).
The 32 foot by 32 foot peace sign engages participants to become ‘culture catalysts’ for peace. Furthermore, the sign is designed to travel to peace and community events throughout the summer and Artsfest 2007 organizers are arranging a location for its permanent display in the Bay Area thereafter. In addition to the on-site creation of this artwork, MySpacers can also create online video cards that will be uploaded to a peace card gallery at www.myspace.com/artsfest.
Artsfest 2007 Arts Expo is a free, family-friendly, multi-cultural event that features daylong entertainment including music, dance, theatre, spoken word, visual arts, fashion, food, a beer and wine garden and more. Headliners include the hot alt rock band RubberSideDown, Hot Pink Feathers, Blue Bone Express, Lutsinga Musical Ensemble, Youth Speaks and many others.
As a unifying non-profit organization in the San Francisco Bay Area, Artsfest is a culture catalyst that engages and connects people in the arts, business, media, non-profit, government and the public sectors by producing and promoting art events and services that inspire cooperation, creativity, commerce and a culturally vibrant community.
Visit Artsfest at www.Artsfestsf.org or Create Peace Project at www.createpeaceproject.org.
By Molly Freedenberg
It’s rare that a youth orchestra performs Beethoven’s monumental Symphony No. 9, the one famous for being created after he went deaf (and also for being considered one of mankind’s greatest artistic achievements.) But the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, who will present the symphony on Sunday, May 20, is no ordinary youth orchestra.
No, this ensemble of 100 culturally diverse musicians ranging in age from 12 to 21 is considered one of the finest of its kind in the world. And that’s not just because it’s been providing tuition-free orchestral experience to youth for 25 years. It’s because the experience these kids are getting is a world-class, pre-professional caliber musical education. (After all, how often do you think youth orchestras get to work with Yo-Yo Ma and Isaac Stern the way SFSYO has? Answer: almost never.)
It’s basically a guarantee then, that Sunday’s 25th Anniversary concert will amaze and impress – especially considering the performance will include Grammy Award-winning San Francisco Symphony Chorus and four San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows as soloists. Oh yeah, and Colin McPhee’s Tabuh-Tabuhan, a work inspired by Indonesian gamelan music (you know, more of the usual youth orchestra fare…)
SFS YOUTH ORCHESTRA 25TH ANNIVERSARY CONCERT (including post-concert reception and anniversary exhibit)
May 20, 2 p.m.
$10 general, $75 reserved
Davies Symphony Hall
201 Van Ness, SF
Z marks the spot, whether that spot is the television, cinema screen, museum installation, or the memories of millions of people who’ve borne even cursory witness to the career of Zinedine Zidane, especially its instantly mythic as opposed to merely controversial final athletic moments. All of the above spots are touched on by the masterful Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, a multiformat work at the crest of a current fascination with athletic documentary. Shadowed by Verónica Chen’s undersung swimmer drama Agua (2006), Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno’s project reveals sports’ potential as a source for pure cinematic dynamism. Moreover, it taps into a famous athlete’s tremendous resonance as a subject of artistic portraiture.
The presence of the word Portrait in Zidane‘s English title is an important one. The film’s codirectors (the latter of whose recent installation The Boy from Mars is a favorite of filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul) shot only one match, from Real Madrid’s 2005 season. But they are portraying both Zidane and this century. If ever there was a solitary if team-playing figure up to the task of embodying or at least evoking a universe, Gordon and Parreno have chosen him. To use the vintage words of ABC’s Wide World of Sports, Zidane’s actions have transcended the thrill of victory and agony of defeat.
Zidane makes its public SF debut at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, thanks to film curator Joel Shepard. (One can always dream of a future screening at the Metreon, where its Kevin Shields and Bay Areainfluenced sound design, Mogwai score, and panoramic scope would be ideally realized.) Because I’ve only seen it on DVD, in lieu of writing a review, I recently spoke with Gordon. The Turner Prizewinning native of Glasgow, Scotland, began our talk while looking at a Neil Young record in a bookstore, before grabbing a cup of tea, and maintained his casual good humor whatever the topic.
GUARDIAN What led you to choose Zidane as the film’s subject? Were you a fan?
DOUGLAS GORDON Yeah. The first time we met Zidane, it was difficult to try and behave like adults. I can speak French OK, but I tried to introduce myself and sounded like a girl meeting John Lennon in 1960. I fell to pieces.
SFBG The George Best movie Football as Never Before (1971; directed by Hellmuth Costard) has been cited in relation to Zidane. But it comes from a different era, and Best is a different kind of subject or icon, and you’re using different equipment.
DG We developed our idea in blissful ignorance of Costard’s movie. But when we were having trouble figuring out how to deal with portraying the halftime period, someone mentioned [it] to us. At that point it wasn’t available on DVD, so Philippe actually flew from Paris to Berlin to go to the National Film Archive in Germany.
Later, we watched it together and looked into Costard’s practice. Obviously, he didn’t want to engage with the industry of cinema or the vocabulary of cinema it was almost antithetical to his practice whereas we wanted to play with the idea of a star and how a star is mediated, to see if we could get under the skin rather than stay on the surface.
SFBG Can you tell me about your tactics in using 17 cameras within one game to capture Zidane? To me, television hasn’t figured out how to present soccer. Some sports translate intimately to television, but soccer is often held at a distance.
DG Most televisual representations of football are based on a kind of theatrical convention of only shooting from one side you have an entrance-left-exit-right type of motion. By breaking that down, you actually break up the architecture of the stadium. It’s no longer rectangular; it’s become circular in a way.
We wanted to make a portrait of a man: a working man who happens to be Zinedine Zidane, and the work happens to be football. It wasn’t a particularly good day at the office for him he didn’t score any goals, and he got red-carded. But we wanted what we did to be along the lines of a Robert Bresson picture; to capture the honesty of the everyday.
Kon Ichikawa’s 1965 Tokyo Olympiad was a reference, and more for me than for Philippe the NFL. I wasted my youth watching 16mm, fantastically well-photographed NFL [footage]. Beautiful stuff, [shot by] cameramen who’d just come back from the war [in Vietnam]. Seagulls might flap by in front of them, and it wouldn’t be edited out. There was something rough about the NFL stuff that we wanted. There’s a couple of scenes in Zidane where the camera drifts up. That was deliberate, but it’s a reference to the sort of accidental beauty that can happen in that type of footage.
SFBG One thing that the film brings across is that there are long periods of the game when Zidane is meditative and literally just standing. Then when he does move, it’s incredibly sudden and really focused.
DG Some people have said that it’s a little reminiscent of nature programming. He’s definitely on the hunting side of things rather than the hunted.
It’s an exercise in one man’s solitude, though. There happen to be 80,000 people in the stadium, and he’s part of a team of 11, but there are huge periods where he’s completely alone.
Before shooting, we went to about 15 or 16 games and sat on the pitch. One of the big differences about the way we shot the film is that, apart from one camera, everything was on his level. There’s only one aerial camera that we used very sparingly as a backup. We knew the way he would walk around and that he’d pace himself during the game, so when we talked to the [project’s] producers, another reference we used was the corrida. You just don’t know if he’s the bull or the bullfighter.
If you were inside the head of Zinedine Zidane, you wouldn’t see him at all, which would sort of defeat the purpose of the film. But we did want to give his point of view, and there are specific passages where you see him move his head as if he’s a little disoriented. At points like those you don’t really know if you’re looking at the world through his eyes or looking at him.
SFBG What was his response to your portrait?
DG He’s not a man of many words, but he got pretty animated [when he saw it].
We kept him informed. We knew it was going to be a fairly hardcore exercise and that it was better to tell him how we were approaching it step-by-step rather than just turn up after a year’s worth of editing and hit him with [the finished work].
There were a couple of times [during the process] where he was really surprised and said, "That doesn’t look like me, this is not how I look on TV, this is not how I look in a newspaper this is how my brother looks late at night talking to my mother."
We were nervous about how he felt he was portrayed because of the red card and the violence [in the match]. But he said, "I would do it again. The guy was an asshole."
SFBG That brings me to an inevitable question: what was it like to see things play out somewhat similarly in the final match of the 2006 World Cup?
DG I was in the stadium, and I couldn’t believe it. Of course, you couldn’t see what was going on because as usual there were another couple of Italians lying down feigning injury.
I knew we’d obviously stumbled upon something when, even before I’d seen the incident, people in the English press were quoting our film to make Zidane out to be a baddie.
SFBG Was that frustrating?
DG I think [Zidane]’s been sent out [of matches] more times than anyone else who wore the number 5 in the history of football. He’s a real person; he’s volatile.
It doesn’t really matter what [Italian player Marco] Materazzi said to him; what matters is that he said something to one of the greatest footballers of this generation. There’s five minutes left to go in [Zidane]’s career, and you want to taunt him about his wife?
SFBG How did you come to collaborate with Parreno?
DG Philippe and I have had mutual friends since the early ’90s. We’d pop up in the same group exhibitions around 1990 and 1991. He made a film with Rirkrit Tiravanija and Carsten Höller in 1994 called Vicinato, and then I got involved along with Liam Gillick and Pierre Huyghe in [1996’s] Vicinato 2. We’d spent a long time together talking about the script, and we shot it together down in Monaco. We watched a lot of football during that period as well.
But the genesis for the project really happened in Jerusalem, of all places. Philippe and I happened to be in a group exhibition ["Hide and Seek," curated by Ami Barak] there in 1996, and it just so happened the exhibition was under a football stadium, the Teddy Kollek Stadium. We finished our installations very early, and since Jerusalem isn’t a place to go idly wandering, we bought a football and played Keepy Uppy for about a week. During that time we spoke of what we remembered about being kids playing football, watching football, and what we aspired to [achieve]. Then we spoke about cinema and the fact that people had been waiting for us both to make a movie.
We chose Zidane partly because and I think it’s the same after our film he’s an incredibly enigmatic character. He has this absolutely impenetrable facade. He’s Zinedine Zidane.
Every time we met him, there was some other family member with him, and they’re all bigger than him. When he’s off the pitch, he’s not as big as he seems when he’s on the field. It’s incredible what happens to his physiognomy and physicality when he’s playing.
He was won over because during the first meeting we had with him, we said, "We want to work with you because, looking back over the past few generations, you represent something more than just another football star, something deeper than [Diego] Maradona or more complex than [David] Beckham." We had reedited some footage of [Manuel dos Santos] Garrincha, the old South American player, from a beautiful film [Garrincha, Joy of the People, directed by cinema novo pioneer Joaquim Pedro de Andrade] shot in the early ’60s. I think the fact that we’d chosen Garrincha and not Pele or Maradona, for example, really struck a chord with [Zidane].
SFBG What you’re saying goes back to the fact that Zidane both triggers and reframes issues of race and nationalism because he’s so powerful as an athlete and individual.
DG Someone told me that in France during the recent election there was a lot of graffiti over campaign billboards for [Nicolas] Sarkozy and Ségolène Royale saying, "Zidane, Zidane." I wish someone had taken a fucking photograph for me, but I could probably restage it somewhere.
Sometimes I think it even comes down to the Z. There’s something about it, like the mark of Zorro.
SFBG What have you thought about the art world response to Zidane?
DG We’ve spoken to a lot of people about sports, and about cinema. People have had a tendency to forget that Philippe and I used to say that we’re trying to drag people from the white cube [of art spaces] to the black box and from the black box to the white cube.
We didn’t lose sight of this, but it got lost along the way that Philippe and I knew [that] by choosing a subject or model like Zidane, we had the opportunity to really mix things up in terms of the audience. Kids could, in years to come, in turn take their kids to see it at the National Gallery in Scotland or the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris. For kids who have the DVD, that can work the same way that it does when kids who maybe have a postcard of a painting can see the real thing they’ll have an affiliation with it.
SFBG How does the installation version of Zidane differ from the cinematic presentation?
DG It’s two projections the cinematic one, plus one of the cameras. It seems like a glib deconstruction, but when you see it, it’s a different experience, much more demanding. It’s almost a forensic detail of how we made [it]; if you troll around to 17 different museums all over the world, you’ll see there are 17 different points of view.
Of course, when the one camera is the camera used in the cinematic version, you get this bifocal effect.
SFBG For you to have mentioned Bresson earlier while discussing Zidane is interesting, because the setting and subject matter are not what one would connect to Bresson. Usually when film directors mention him, their work is stylistically aping or imitating him.
DG The cinematography of [1966’s Au Hasard] Balthazar was influential. But more so, there’s a book Philippe sent to me [Bresson’s Notes on the Cinematographer, most recently published in English by Green Integer] that had an impact, in the way he talks about the difference between the model and the actor. This was really clear to us when we were trying to speak about Zidane. People would say he’s an actor, and we’d say, "No, he’s not, he’s a model." He’s not playing a role. He’s doing his job, but with the awareness of being looked at, and that’s very different from the way the actor performs. Some of what Bresson says in his notes almost could have been written specifically for the Zidane film. It’s nice to quote Bresson, because he’s so unfashionable.
SFBG And so great! Some of the best current movie directors also produce work for art spaces. You’ve given a lot of thought to the specificity of DVDs and cinemas and gallery or museum installations, so I wanted to ask you about those distinctions.
DG One of the things that Philippe and I were constantly asked [at Zidane‘s film premiere] was "Were you excited to be working in the cinema?" We weren’t more excited than we would be [working] anywhere else. If there’s anything that would identify a certain practice of our generation of artists, it is that most of us are working with the exhibition as a format, and the context informs the format while the format interferes with the context. A lot of people don’t get that at all. I’m not trying to blow an intellectual trumpet here, but there is a certain amount of practice necessary to understand that. This is why when someone like David Lynch tries to move out of the cinema or TV screen into the gallery, it doesn’t work sometimes. The filmmaker might not do enough with the gallery or the museum. *
ZIDANE: A 21ST CENTURY PORTRAIT
Thurs/17Sun/19, 7 p.m.; Sun/20, 2 and 7 p.m. (all screenings sold out except for Sun/20, 2 p.m.)
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Screening Room
701 Mission, SF
OPINION Do you dream of a city where housing is affordable, where the diversity of our heritage is celebrated, where there are good schools in every neighborhood, where all children are safe, and where the next generation reaps the rewards of their families’ hard work?
This dream for San Francisco is possible. But it will require our determination to claim San Francisco as a city of opportunity for all. And it starts with our children the 100,000 children who call this city their home today. They deserve the opportunity to see this dream come to life.
But the future being built before our eyes threatens these dreams and the values that have made San Francisco great. With 25,000 luxury condos on the way and very little housing planned that low- and middle-income families can afford, San Francisco may become a city only for the wealthy, with all its neighborhoods sold to the highest bidders.
And without affordable family housing or quality education, the children of today will be shut out of the city’s prosperity, unable to afford to stay in the city they call home.
We have called on the mayor, the Board of Supervisors, the superintendent of schools, and the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education to commit to Next Generation SF a broad and long-term agenda developed by our parent and youth leaders to claim San Francisco as a city of opportunity for all.
The Next Generation SF agenda has three priorities:
•More affordable family housing. Double the city’s current affordable family housing pipeline of 1,500 units (recently revised to 1,700) to 3,000 units by 2011. This seems modest when two-thirds of the city’s families (about 39,000 families) are currently in a housing crisis, according to the city’s own data.
•Good schools for all. Increase the opportunity for all students to go on to college or living-wage work, with an emphasis on students who are currently being left behind. Make the racial achievement gap in the SFUSD public schools (the most alarming gap in the state) the number one priority for the soon to be hired superintendent of schools. Raise the achievement of all students so that at least 60 percent of students in all racial groups have the opportunity to go to college by 2011.
•Safety and security for all. Increase city budget investments in the safety and economic security of SF families, above the legal requirements. After running last year’s successful $10 million Budget 4 Families campaign, we are supporting this year’s Family Budget Coalition $20 million campaign for high-quality child care, violence prevention and alternatives to incarceration, youth employment, family support services, and health and after-school services.
But in order to create hope and opportunity for all San Franciscans, it will take the whole city to raise the next generation. Join Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth and more than 80 labor and community organizations May 12 at the Rally for the Next Generation at the Civic Center from 11 a.m.1 p.m. *
NTanya Lee is executive director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth.
COSTUME One gray Garfield sweatshirt; a blue wool sleeveless sweater with little birds and a white sheep stitched on it; clean Chuck Taylor high-tops; an orange Kawasaki motorcycle T-shirt; a little red hoodie; a beige suede vest with tassels. These are some of the clothes sported by Logan (Malcolm Stumpf), the gender-jumping cusp-of-teens boy at the center of Cam Archer’s debut feature, Wild Tigers I Have Known.
"At that age you aren’t concerned with what other people think. You choose what [clothing] appeals to you – you’re just going for it," says Stephanie Volkmar, the film’s costume designer, as cars whiz by on Guerrero Street. "Logan’s outfits are sometimes outrageous, or some might say a little risque. Cam has an obsession with short-shorts and tank tops. He’ll be mad if that makes it into print, but it does help express the character’s vulnerability. We wanted Logan to wear things that would make him seem awkward and different."
One reason I’m asking Volkmar about her no-budget costume work for Wild Tigers is that she works at the store we’re sitting next to, Painted Bird. Over the past two years, I’ve assembled a Painted Bird wardrobe about as expansive as Logan’s, though riddled with the occasional label (Dior, Gucci, Adidas – all cheap), thus proving Volkmar’s point that in comparison to adults, kids just don’t care.
It turns out that Painted Bird’s connection to Archer’s movie – which, after debuting last year at the Sundance Film Festival, plays as part of the Mission Creek festivities – is also familial. The director’s brother, Nate, who did the movie’s layered, impressionistic sound design, is (along with Sonny Walker) one of the shop’s co-owners. "Nate is good at finding [music] that blows me away," Volkmar says. He certainly succeeds in Wild Tigers, braiding everything from the hand claps and "oo-oowoh" ‘s of the Michael Zager Band’s disco classic "Let’s All Chant" to the drowsy, faraway loneliness of Laura Nyro’s "Desiree" and the Langley Schools Music Project around Logan’s daydreams.
According to Volkmar, both Wild Tigers and Painted Bird emerged from family or familylike bonds formed in Santa Clara, where she met Cam Archer and worked on about 10 other short projects with him. Judging by the many five-star reviews for Painted Bird on sites such as Yelp, I’m not the only one who wants to rave about Walker and Nate Archer’s shop while also being protective of it. Why? It avoids the kitsch pitfalls and the overdressed look favored by SF vintage and secondhand places, and most important, its low prices correspond with a friendly atmosphere. Keeping an eye out for quality moderate vintage labels as much as typical high-end names, the Painted Bird folks are in the clothing biz because they like clothes, and they have a definite, yet easygoing, sensibility.
In Wild Tigers, Logan has a unique sensibility too, but his run through lust is a mostly solitary one. Though its conflation of the titular animals with desire might be a nod to Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady (as well as drawn from Santa Clara’s untamed suburban terrain), Archer’s movie emerges from the still too-small genre of US queer kids’ films that includes Todd Haynes’s Dottie Gets Spanked, Jonathan Caouette’s Tarnation, Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin, and SF director Justin Kelly’s new Cannes-bound short, Front. (Also, one of Wild Tigers‘ executive producers, Darren Stein, was behind the pre-Tarnation queer childhood doc Keep the Camera on Me.) Without a doubt, Volkmar’s costumes have a role in some of the movie’s best scenes, such as when Logan’s friend Joey (Max Paradise) – complete with a golden bowl cut and a striped shirt buttoned all the way up to its collar – tries to get him to contribute to a "ways to be cool" list.
A cynic might point out that there isn’t a huge gap between the outfits sported by the children of Wild Tigers and the clothes favored by San Francisco’s eternal youth of today. (I stand semiconvicted.) In fact, Volkmar drew extensively from the shop where she works while dressing the movie’s primarily preteen and teen characters. But the spirit of Painted Bird’s staff is a lot like Logan from Wild Tigers: not too cool for school, just – as Volkmar says – going for it. (Johnny Ray Huston)
WILD TIGERS I HAVE KNOWN
Wed/16, call or see Web site for time, $4-$8
Roxie Film Center
3117 and 3125 16th St., SF
The oldest film festival in the United States and Canada, the San Francisco International Film Festival reaches its golden anniversary this year. That’s half a century of bringing movies from all over the world to one area of America that doesn’t assume America is the world.
At this moment a solo videomaker has to kill at least a few dozen people to storm the multinational media palace. Yeah, this thought crashes the SFIFF’s party. But it adds context to the fest’s contents. One Guardian contributor recently forwarded me a news story that drew specious links between the Virginia Tech tragedy and Park Chan-wook’s 2003 movie Old Boy. The presence of The Bridge (a documentary that uses images of death in a problematic manner) at last year’s SFIFF proves that film festivals also face ethical dilemmas about what they present. Does increasingly pervasive digital imagery correspond with a decrease, rather than an increase, in imagination? Does it prompt a lazy way of seeing and corrupt the meaning of an image?
The SFIFF offers a chance to enjoy – not just ponder or ignore – such questions. As a major progenitor of the festival model that has come to dominate cinema outside of Hollywood, this event often celebrates and represents the establishment, as Sam Green and Christian Bruno’s 2000 short film Pie Fight ’69 makes clear. But unlike many younger festivals, the SFIFF’s programming favors substance over sensation.
George Lucas, Robin Williams, and Spike Lee will be feted this year, but the Guardian‘s SFIFF 50 coverage has an eye for diamonds in the rough: great, quiet films such as Heddy Honigmann’s Forever; a definitely maddening but possibly classic work of art, Pedro Costa’s Colossal Youth; and digital animator Kelly Sears’s hilarious short works – in step with hallucinatory digital mind-blowers and eye-blinders such as Paper Rad – which feature in the type of one-time-only SFIFF collaborative event that can yield a memorable night.
I’d like to draw attention to the SFIFF’s two entries from the New Crowned Hope series recently curated by Peter Sellars (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s Daratt and Garin Nugroho’s dazzling Opera Jawa) and to close by freestyling the praises of Veronica Chen’s gorgeous Agua. In its regard of two generations of men, of male physicality and psychology, it is a pleasurable, less-austere improvement on Claire Denis’s highly acclaimed Beau Travail and part of a possible new wave of cinema – led by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno’s Zidane – that trailblazes the cinematic potential of contemporary sports performance and its portraiture. Dive into it and SFIFF 50. *
The San Francisco International Film Festival is offering a rare treat this year with its presentation of Otar Iosseliani’s latest film, Gardens in Autumn, and Julie Bertuccelli’s documentary about Iosseliani, Otar Iosseliani, The Whistling Blackbird. The director of 2003’s Since Otar Left, Bertuccelli has worked as Iosseliani’s assistant director, so her portrait goes well beyond a primer on his body of work, which began in Soviet Georgia in the late ’50s and continued through his relocation to France in 1982.
After a shaky beginning that has Iosseliani quoting Aleksandr Pushkin at length without translation, the doc moves quickly into the meat and potatoes of Gardens in Autumn‘s construction, such as a poetic demonstration of the transition from storyboarding to shooting. The sisterly abuse Iosseliani endures from his producer, though, is probably the best stuff in the film ("You took that idea from another screenplay"; "You’re not Rivette! Cut it down!"; "This ending is stupid"). Bertuccelli’s document of the bumpy road to a final product is a fascinating counterpoint to the sensuous languor of Iosseliani’s film.
Gardens in Autumn starts as unpromisingly as the doc, as a broadly Bunuelian satire of the bourgeoisie (a comic wife buys expensive junk, a bureaucrat quietly smokes a cigarette as a labor demonstration swells), but the story almost immediately makes a welcome 180-degree turn. As if our hero Vincent (Severin Blanchet) can sense the satire in progress, he abruptly resigns his post as a government minister and returns to the town of his youth, where his mother (Michel Piccoli, a fixture in Luis Bunuel’s French work, in convincing drag) holds court in an extravagant mansion and drunken clergymen with frat boy temperaments roam the streets. The film fans out into a thinly plotted waltz through the good life, where even the occasional bursts of violence look like they might be fun. It’s the type of film in which a man can shrug off the squatter inundation of his apartment and move into the secret back room behind the bookcase.
The critic J. Hoberman described one of Iosseliani’s recent ensemble films somewhat dismissively as a "genteel circus," but the tag can also serve as an affectionate characterization of his best work. His latest exercise in modulated hedonism may not have much to say on the politics of happiness, but sometimes that can be a blessing. (Jason Shamai)
GARDENS IN AUTUMN (Otar Iosseliani, France/Russia/Italy, 2006). Sun/29, 6:30 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 6, 8 p.m., Kabuki; May 8, 9:15 p.m., Kabuki
OTAR IOSSELIANI, THE WHISTLING BLACKBIRD (Julie Bertuccelli, France, 2006). Fri/27, 4 p.m., Kabuki. Also May 3, 8:45 p.m., Kabuki; May 9, 6:30 p.m., Kabuki
In his recent book Poor People, William T. Vollmann writes, "For me, poverty is not mere deprivation; for people may possess fewer things than I and be richer; poverty is wretchedness. It must then be an experience more than an economic state. It therefore remains somewhat immeasurable." Despite the enormity of such a disclaimer, Vollmann attempts to calibrate a calculus of misery. Portuguese director Pedro Costa seems motivated by a similarly conflicted impetus. Over the past decade, Costa has made a trilogy of films with the working poor of Fontainhas, a sprawling slum outside Lisbon. Trading Vollmann’s pained self-consciousness for a meticulous formalism that favors rehearsal over reportage, Costa’s remove sets into relief the humanity of his subjects, rather than objectifying or patronizing them.
Many of Fontainhas’s residents are of Cape Verdean descent. That country’s wretched history – as an exploited colony and the center of the Portuguese slave trade – looms large in the collective memory of Fontainhas, as if stained into the walls of its dilapidated tenements and etched across the beaten visages of its inhabitants. It is a legacy of continual disenfranchisement, displacement, and enforced invisibility, which tentatively approaches a terminus with the trilogy’s final installment, Colossal Youth.
Whittled down from roughly 300 hours of footage to just over two, Colossal Youth is a desultory, snail-paced compilation of everyday interactions and fragmentary conversations that skirts the edges of documentary. Costa’s long, static shots mirror the rhythms of the characters’ daily lives – getting high (or taking drugs to get off drugs), scavenging, day laboring, and speaking in perpetuum of possibilities that will forever remain unfulfilled. It is an existence made all the more precarious by the fact that Fontainhas is being razed and its inhabitants relocated to a new, antiseptic public housing complex that’s even farther removed from Lisbon, a process that was happening as Costa filmed.
At the center of this dispossessed community is Ventura, a retired laborer who, like many of Costa’s leads, is presumably playing a variation of himself. Recently abandoned by his wife – an event that forms Colossal Youth‘s haunting, elliptical two-shot prologue – Ventura spends the rest of the film alternately airing his grief and acting as a father figure to a succession of interlopers: old neighborhood friends, former colleagues, acquaintances, and extended family members both biological and adopted.
These include Vanda, a recovering drug addict (the titular character of Costa’s 2000 film, In Vanda’s Room) who ambivalently calls Ventura "Papa" and awkwardly approaches her new role as mother with a fidgety uncertainty; an estranged daughter still living amid the rubble of Fontainhas; a government housing agent equally amused and annoyed by Ventura’s vague requirements for his new home (when asked how many children will be accompanying him, Ventura replies, "I don’t know yet"); and an illiterate migrant worker who enlists Ventura to write a letter to his beloved, which he continually recites as though it were scripture.
With his shock of gray hair, threadbare suit, and stoic gaze that seems perpetually transfixed by something beyond our vantage point, Ventura shuffles between the crepuscular ruins of Fontainhas and the blindingly white interiors of his future residence like an ineffectual ghost, reluctant to admit that he has to some extent become a spectral remainder of the very past that haunts him.
Costa’s architectonic framing of Ventura – which favors low angles and makes startling use of the play of natural light across the film’s many mottled surfaces – no less contributes to this impression. Costa fully exploits digital video’s ability to capture extremes of contrast, flattening exterior landscapes and the people within them into intersecting planes of light and shadow and discovering new inky variegations of black within the darkest of interiors. Some of the film’s most stunning moments come when Costa lets more vivid hues intrude on the mostly washed-out palette of sickly greens and dirtied off-whites, as in a scene in which Ventura seeks a moment of respite amid the cloistered cool of a gallery hung with the paintings of Spanish old master Diego Velazquez.
Colossal Youth is at times as interminable (Vanda’s extensive improvised monologue about giving birth) as it is bleak and oblique. Above all, though, it is brave. Although the word might seem odd, I put it out there not simply because Costa’s film so flagrantly tests the patience of its audience (since its divisive premiere at Cannes last year, walkouts have become a routine part of its screenings) but because it never solicits our pity or invites our disapproval of the people whose lives it so doggedly follows.
For Costa, the aesthetic’s promise of succor – whether found in the rough-hewn lines of a love poem that will never reach its intended addressee, the supposedly democratized space of a museum, or that other dimly lit image reservoir, the movie theater, in which we yearn to be relieved of ourselves – is an illusion, which, however sustaining, can never be made good on.
There is simply no rest for the weary or for the filmmaker who trails alongside them. On the razed grounds of a home that was never really one to begin with, Costa clears a place for the impoverished to testify about their lives. It is a space that, as Vollmann’s problematic volume attests, can perhaps only be realized on film – an expanded freeze-frame on the pause between the two halves of Samuel Beckett’s famous couplet: "I can’t go on, I’ll go on." *
COLOSSAL YOUTH (Pedro Costa, Portugal/France/Switzerland) Sat/28, 1:15 p.m., Kabuki. Also Tues/1, 3:15 p.m., Kabuki; May 5, 8:15 p.m., PFA
The oldest film festival in the United States and Canada, the San Francisco International Film Festival reaches its golden anniversary this year. Click below for our picks and previews.
The 50th annual San Francisco International Film Festival runs April 26-May 10 at Sundance Cinemas Kabuki, 1881 Post, SF; Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, SF; Landmark’s Aquarius Theatre, 430 Emerson, Palo Alto; Landmark’s Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore, SF; SFMOMA, 151 Third St., SF; McBean Theater, Exploratorium, 3601 Lyon, SF; and El Rio, 3158 Mission, SF. For tickets (most regular programs $8-$12) and additional information, go to www.sffs.org.
PARTIES, EVENTS, AND BENEFITS
"Arcadia: 2007" California Modern Gallery, 1035 Market; 821-9693, www.fuf.net. Mon/23, 6pm, $125-$350. This soiree and art auction featuring work by more than 100 artists and hosted by Jeffrey Fraenkel, Gretchen Bergruen, and Thomas Reynolds will benefit Friends of the Urban Forest, a nonprofit organization that provides financial, technical, and practical assistance to individuals and neighborhood groups that want to plant and care for trees.
"Away Ride Celebrating Earth Day" Meet at McLaren Lodge, Golden Gate Park; (510) 849-4663, www.borp.org. Sun/22, 1:30pm, free with preregistration. The SF Bike Coalition and the Bay Area Outdoor Recreation Program join forces to host this moderately paced ride open to all levels of riders. They provide a helmet and a handcycle or tandem bike. You bring a sack lunch and water. Kids also get to decorate their wheels bike, wheelchair, or skate.
"Biomimicry: The 2007 Digital Be-In" Mezzanine, 444 Jessie; www.be-in.com. Sat/22, 7pm-3am, $15 presale, $20 door, $100 VIP. Turn on, tune in, log out. In the spirit of the 1967 human be-in that epitomized San Francisco’s hippie generation and made Haight Ashbury famous, counterculture artists and activists have been hosting "The Digital Be-In" for 15 years. This year’s combination symposium-exhibition-multimedia-entertainment extravaganza focuses on Biomimicry as it relates to technology, urban development, and sustainability. There’ll be no Timothy Leary here, but the event will feature live music, DJs, projections, and appearances by modern hippie celebs such as Free Will astrologer Rob Brezsny and Burning Man founder Larry Harvey. Or join in the simultaneous virtual be-in in the Second Life online world. The revolution will be digitized.
"Earth Day Fair" Ram Plaza, City College of San Francisco, 50 Phelan; 239-3580, www.ccsf.edu. Thurs/19, 11am-1:30pm, free. View information tables set up by the CCSF and citywide environmental organizations, as well as a display of alternative fuel vehicles.
"EarthFest" Aquarium of the Bay, 39 Pier; 623-5300, www.aquariumofthebay.com. Sun/22, 12-4pm, free. View presentations and engage in activities provided by 20 organizations all dedicated to conservation and environmental protection, with activities including live children’s music, a scavenger hunt, and giveaways.
"McLaren Park Earth Day" John McLaren Park’s Jerry Garcia Amphitheater, 40 John F. Shelley; www.natureinthecity.org. Sun/22, 11am-7pm, free. What would Jerry do? Commemorate the park’s 80th anniversary with an all-day festival featuring birding hikes, habitat restoration projects, wildflower walks, tree planting, an ecostewardship fair, food booths, a live reptile classroom, puppetry, performance, music, storytelling, and chances to make art.
"$1 Makes the World a Greener Place" Buffalo Exchange local stores; 1-866-235-8255, www.buffaloexchange.com. Sat/21, all day, free. Buy something, change the world. During this special sale at all Buffalo Exchange stores, proceeds will benefit the Center for Environmental Health, which promotes greener practices in major industries. Many sale items will be offered for $1.
"People’s Earth Day" India Basin, Shoreline Park, Hunters Point Boulevard at Hawes, SF. Sat/21,10am-3pm. What better place to celebrate Earth Day than with a community of victorious ecowarriors? Help sound the death knell for the PG&E Hunters Point power plant with events and activities including a community restoration project at Heron’s Head Park, the presentation of the East Side Story Literacy for Environmental Justice theater production, and a display about Living Classroom, an educational and all-green facility expected to break ground this year. Want to get there the green way? Take the no. 19 Muni bus or the T-Third Street line.
"Berkeley Earth Day" Civic Center Park, Berk; www.hesternet.net. Sat/21, 12-5pm, free. Earth Day may not have been born in Berkeley (it was actually the idea of a senator from Wisconsin), but it sure lives here happily. Celebrate at this community-sponsored event, which features a climbing wall, vegetarian food, craft and community booths, valet bike parking, and performances by Friends of Shawl-Anderson Youth Ensemble, Alice DiMicele Band, and Amandla Poets.
"Earth Day Celebration" Bay Area Discovery Museum, 557 McReynolds, Sausalito; 339-3900, www.baykidsmuseum.org. Sat/21, 10am-5pm, free with museum admission. Happy birthday, dear planet. This Earth Day connect your family to the wonders of &ldots; well &ldots; you know, with a variety of special activities, including seed planting and worm composting, birdhouse building, a bay walk and cleanup, and presentations about insects from around the planet. For a small fee, also enjoy a birthday party for Mother Earth with games, face painting, crafts, and cake.
"Earth Day on the Bay" Marine Science Institute, 500 Discovery Parkway, Redwood City; (650) 364-2760, sfbayvirtualvoyage.com/earthday.html. Sat/21, 8am-4pm, $5 suggested donation. This is the one time of year the institute opens its doors to the public, so don’t miss your chance for music, mud, and sea creatures the Banana Slug String Band, the Sippy Cups, fish and shark feeding, and programs with tide pool animals, to be exact. You can also take a two-hour trip aboard an MSI ship for an additional $10.
"Earth Day Restoration and Cleanup Program" California State Parks; 258-9975 for one near you, www.calparks.org. Sat/21, times vary, free. The best way to celebrate Earth Day is to get involved. Volunteers are needed at California State Parks throughout the area for everything from planting trees and community gardens to restoring trails and wildlife habitats, and from installing recycling bins to removing trash and debris. All ages welcome.
"E-Waste Recycling Event" Alameda County Fairgrounds, 4501 Pleasanton, Pleasanton; 1-866-335-3373, www.noewaste.com. Fri/20-Sun/22, 9am-3pm, free. The city of Pleasanton teams up with Electronic Waste Management to collect TVs, computers, monitors, computer components, power supplies, telephone equipment, scrap metal, wire, and much more. There is no limit to how much you can donate, and everything will be recycled.
"The Oceans Festival" UC Berkeley, Upper Sproul Plaza (near Bancroft and Telegraph), Berk; Fri/20, 5pm-7pm, donations accepted. This event, sponsored by CALPIRG, Bright Antenna Entertainment, and West Coast Performer magazine, is meant to bring awareness to the problem of plastic in our oceans and to raise money, through donations and food sales, for the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. Featuring music and dance performances, as well as presentations by a variety of environmental organizations.
"People’s Park 38th Anniversary Celebration" People’s Park, Berk; www.peoplespark.org. Sun/22, 12-6pm, free. Celebrate the park with poetry, speakers, music, art and revolution theater, political tables, a Food Not Bombs lunch, clowns, puppets, and activities for children.
LECTURES, DISCUSSIONS, AND WORKSHOPS
"Green Capital: Profit and the Planet?" Club Office, 595 Market; 597-6705. Wed/18, 6:30pm, $8-15. Can sustainable business renew our economy and save the planet? Can activists ethically exploit market systems? Environmental pioneers, from corporate reps to conservationists, will bust the myths and reveal realities of profitable environmental solutions at this panel discussion cosponsored by INFORUM; featuring Peter Liu of the National Resource Bank, author Hunter Lovins (Natural Capitalism), Steven Pinetti of Kimpton Hotels, and Will Rogers of the Trust for Public Land; and moderated by Christie Dames.
"An Inconvenient Truth 2.0 A Call to Action" California State Bldg, 455 Golden Gate. Thurs/19, 6:30-9pm, $5 suggested donation. An updated version of Al Gore’s PowerPoint presentation will be screened by Sierra Club director Rafael Reyes, then followed by a discussion of the impact of global warming and a progress report on national legislation by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.
"The Physics of Toys: Green Gadgets for a Blue Planet" Exploratorium, 3601 Lyon; 561-0399, www.exploratorium.edu. Sat/21,11am-3pm, free with admission. The monthly event focuses on the earth this time around, giving children and adults an opportunity to build pinwheel turbines and other green gadgets. Materials provided.
"Agroecology in Latin America: Social Movements and the Struggle for a Sustainable Environment" La Peña Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck, Berk; (510) 847-1262, www.mstbrazil.org. Wed/18, 7:30pm, donations accepted. Get an update on Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, the alliance between environmental and social justice movements in the Americas, struggles for Food Sovereignty, organized peasant response to global agribusiness, opposition to genetically engineered crops, and more. Featuring guest speaker Eric Holt-Gimernez, executive director of Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy.
ART, MUSIC, AND PERFORMANCE
"Bio-Mapping" Southern Exposure Gallery, 2901 Mission, SF; (415) 863-2141, www.sf.biomapping.net. Sat/21, 6:30pm, $8-15. Everyone says going green feels good here’s the chance to prove it. Participate in Christian Nold’s social-art project by strapping into a GPS device and skin censors. Then take a walk or a bike ride while the sensors record your feelings and location. Nold uses the data to make an "Emotion Map" of the city, which you can check out online. (Can’t make Saturday? Nold’s also there Thursdays and Fridays through April 28).
"ReCycle Ryoanji" San Francisco Civic Center Plaza; blog.greenmuseum.org/recycle-ryoanji. Thurs/19, 4-6pm, free. Judith Selby Lang, local students, and visitors to the Asian Art Museum have sewn together thousands of white shopping bags to make their own version of Japan’s most famous and celebrated garden as both an art exhibition and community education project. The 18-foot-by-48-foot scale replica of the raked sand and rock garden can be seen at this reception for the project and on display across from City Hall until Tues/24. (Take that, American Beauty.)
"Green Apple Music and Arts Festival" Venues vary; www.greenapplefestival.com. Fri/20-Sun/22, prices vary. Green Apple combines fun and education with a three-day, ecofriendly music festival in cities across the country. San Francisco’s festival includes shows by Yonder Mountain String Band, New Mastersounds, Electric Six, Trans Am, and others at venues across the city, as well as a free concert at Golden Gate Park. Green Apple provides venues with environmentally friendly cups, straws, napkins, paper towels, and compostable garbage bags, as well as doing its best to make the entire festival carbon neutral.
"San Francisco New Living Expo" Concourse Exhibition Center, Eighth Street at Brannan; 382-8300, www.newlivingexpo.com. April 27-29, admission varies according to day and event. Touting 275 exhibitors and 150 speakers (including Starhawk, Marianne Williamson, Rabbi Michael Lerner, and ganja-guru Ed Rosenthal), the sixth annual version of this event promises to energize, educate, awaken, and expand consciousness. You won’t want to miss the environmental activism panel discussion April 28 at 3pm or the exhibition hall’s special crystal area.
"Harmony Festival" Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Santa Rosa; www.harmonyfestival.com. June 8-10, $125 plus $50 per car camping pass. This festival is so green it’s almost blue in fact, its tagline is "promoting global cooling." There’s a waste diversion effort, a whole Green Team monitoring the EcoStation, compost cans, and tips on how to be an ecofriendly attendee. Plus, it just looks like fun. With Brian Wilson, the Roots, and Common performing and Amy Goodman and Ariana Huffington speaking, how can you miss it?
"Lightning in a Bottle" Live Oak Campground, Santa Barbara; 1-866-55-TICKET, www.lightninginabottle.org. May 11-13. $95-120. It ain’t just a party. It’s a green-minded, art-and-music-focused campout in a forest wonderland. Organized by Los Angeles’s the Do Lab with participation from tons of SF artists, this three-day event is powered by alternative energy, offers ecoworkshops in everything from permaculture to raw foods, and encourages rideshares including a participant-organized bus trip from San Francisco. Also featuring performances by Freq Nasty, Bassnectar, Vau de Vire Society, El Circo, and other DJs and artists from San Francisco and elsewhere, LIB attempts to change the precedent that festival fun has to be ecologically disastrous.
"Sierra Nevada World Music Festival" Mendocino County Fairgrounds, Boonville; www.snwmf.com. June 22-24, $125 plus $50 per car camping pass. Peace is green, right? I mean, what about Greenpeace? And peace is what this festival, which promotes "conscious" music, is all about. Plus, a range of representatives of environmental and social issues will be tabling at the festival and registering voters.
"Burning Man" Black Rock City, Nev.; (415) TO-FLAME, www.burningman.com. Aug 27-Sept 3, $250-$280. With its Leave No Trace philosophy and its hippie roots, Burning Man has always been greener than most. But this year it’s getting even more explicitly so with the theme the Green Man, focusing on humanity’s relationship to nature (even though there is no nature on the dry lakebed surface). A pessimist might suggest this year’s theme is just another excuse to waste resources on leaf-themed art cars and that "Leave No Trace" usually translates to "Leave Your Trash in Reno." But an optimist might say this is Burning Man acknowledging and trying to address such issues. Either way, air out your dust-filled tent and pack some chartreuse body paint it’s going to be an interesting year in Black Rock. *
A couple dozen of San Francisco’s best young graffiti artists, many dressed in black hooded sweatshirts and baseball hats, huddle around long tables littered with markers, blank books, pens, and stickers. The artists crowded around the white paperdraped tables do a little talking and joking, but mainly they’re drawing and writing, some at a fever pitch. Bright colors and stylish lettering abound. There is a sense of concentrated creativity in this large studio space something rare in classrooms these days. But this not your run-of-the-mill art class. This is Streetstyles, a free course that focuses on the misunderstood medium of graffiti and street art. Its aim is multifaceted, concentrating on the production and repercussions of urban art. The class attempts, as instructor Dave Warnke explains, "to separate the art from the act." He is interested in what motivates these artists: Why are they writing graffiti? What do they want people to see? What do they want people to feel?
Some kids, Warnke admits, "get into [graffiti] for the criminal mystique." But inclusion has been a key principle for Warnke and his art lessons. Although Streetstyles does not turn away any young artists, new students to the course are always pulled aside for a little one-on-one. "I ask them, ‘Do you do it for the crime? Or do you do it for the art?’ " he says. "If you don’t want to do art, then you might as well go piss on the sidewalk." The number one rule in Warnke’s class is respect. Respect for the art. Respect for one another. And respect for oneself.
"I try to give them the respect that I don’t think they get other places," he says. "I engage them, let them know that this is art. I’ve had some of these kids for years. I can help them by exposing them to different styles and by challenging them. I push them, and I’m not sure how many other people in their lives are doing that."
Originally from New Jersey, Warnke has two art degrees from Dún Laoghaire College of Art and Design in Dublin, Ireland, but he says his early experiences in art education were a bit rough, as he bounced around art schools before finally settling in the Bay Area. "I had no skills except drawing silly faces," says Warnke, who’s been an active street artist for more than 10 years. "My art didn’t have a place. It’s kind of like propaganda."
He figured he’d become an art teacher, then quickly realized that schools in the area were firing not hiring art teachers. He finally applied for a position at James Lick Middle School in Noe Valley, carefully leaving his street art out of his portfolio, which was composed of mainstream art and design work.
"I wanted to get the job," Warnke admits. "I thought I was going to teach watercolors or something. You know, bowls of fruit and stuff." But faculty members had already heard about Warnke’s back-alley and rooftop endeavors, and they were not offended. As a matter of fact, they were impressed. They offered him an opportunity to teach a class on his kind of art, street art. Thus, the first Streetstyles program was born.
After a stint at City Arts and Tech High School, Warnke decided to take Streetstyles out on its own. Starting last October thanks to financial backing from Youth Speaks and Mark Dwight, CEO of Timbuk2 Warnke started teaching his independent class twice a week at Root Division, a 7,200 square foot building founded in 2002 where resident artists receive subsidized studio space in exchange for their service as art instructors.
"Root Division is a great place to do it," Warnke says. "They are very accommodating." In addition to hosting Streetstyles, Root Division provides San Francisco youth with free art classes and after-school programs, hosts events, and has adult programs designed to make art more accessible to the community at large.
Streetstyles was rounded out by the addition of San Francisco graffiti legend and Root Division resident artist Carlos Castillo. Castillo, under the alias Cast, is a first-generation West Coast graffiti artist who started writing on the streets of San Francisco around 1983. Now a professional artist, sculptor, California College of the Arts graduate, and occasional graffiti art teacher for his son, Castillo edifies students about old-school styles and the history of the movement. "We balance each other out," Warnke says.
The core curriculum doesn’t stray far from that of a conventional art class. Every session starts with a stealthy lesson plan in which Warnke and his staff attempt to sneak in a little formal education. There is study of color, composition, and form. The students study typography, entertain guest speakers, and examine street art from around the world. At Streetstyles purpose, placement, and permission replace reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Warnke is aware of the criminal aspect of his passion and understands how some, particularly opponents of street art at large, might think his work empowers vandalism. There are students in his class who have been arrested, suspended from school, and even jumped for their love of graffiti. Many are doing community service for vandalism, and some have prior records for crimes unrelated to street art. Warnke counters, "I’m not a cop, and no, I’m not going to snitch. I understand [these kids’] passion, and when you compare writing graffiti to what’s going on in the schools these days and in the streets with the violence and drugs, I just want to give them even more markers. Some of these kids don’t know about anything much past 23rd Street. I provide these kids with a place that’s safe. And yeah, I let them get up. For four hours a week, they are not getting in trouble, getting in fights, doing drugs, or whatever. While they are in my class, they will all be safe, creative, and respectful."
Many of the students’ parents are supportive of the class. Warnke boasts, "I got my first ever real fruit basket from a parent, and it was a damn nice one too." He adds, "I want these kids to do something they can be proud of. Something they can take home to mom."
"You can have street art hanging at the [Yerba Buena Center for the Arts], but if you go outside and start writing on a wall, you’ll be arrested," he says. It’s an interesting paradox in his class, just as it is in the larger world of street art.
As for Warnke’s own urban artwork, these days he focuses mainly on trading homemade stickers his and his students’ with other street artists from around the world. "What I like about it is that it’s a different form of getting up. Some people claim all-city well, we’re trying to claim all-world," he says. "I’m up more in Brazil and Portugal than I am here in the States."
But is Warnke still writing on walls?
"I’m semiretired," he says, smiling shyly. "I used to be invisible. Now it’s too easy to find me." *
For information on Streetstyles, visit www.rootdivision.org. Check out Dave Warnke’s professional art and design work at www.davewarnke.com.
Don’t miss "New Growth: An Exhibition of Artwork from the Root Division," part of Root Division’s Second Saturday series, which will feature work by students from Buena Vista Elementary, Fairmont Elementary, and Hoover Middle School and youth from the Streetstyles class. The event will feature free interactive art projects and musical performances by Paul Green’s School of Rock (including tributes to the Grateful Dead, Southern rock, and Frank Zappa).
May 12, 48 p.m., $5 suggested donation. Root Division, Gallery 3175, 3175 17th St., SF. (415) 863-7668, www.rootdivision.org
Omar Fekeiki sits alertly at a café table on the terrace of International House, his dorm at UC Berkeley. His straight posture belies his relative ease. It’s the only sign that he may not be entirely at home.
Like any other 28-year-old graduate student, he’s wearing jeans not the pressed slacks necessary for a meeting with Iraqi officials. His hands are resting on his knees, rather than poised with a pen and a reporter’s notepad, scribbling Arabic words from an informed source. His smooth, tan face, with just a hint of unshorn shadow, is turned up toward a mild afternoon sun, not away from the heat of a Baghdad noon. The dark stubble on his head is no longer covered by a helmet. His slim chest is free to breathe without the pressure of a flak jacket. His heart may or may not be racing, but it’s definitely beating.
It’s difficult to believe that the quiet cell phone on the table in front of him once rang regularly with field reports of car bombings, kidnappings, and execution-style shootings. It’s unsettling to think it could ring now, that something irrevocable could be happening at home, 7,500 miles away, as he sits in this idle sunshine.
What does Fekeiki find unbelievable? That he’s in the United States, that he’s finally on his way toward a real life, studying journalism at one of the best universities in the world.
"It was not even a dream," he told the Guardian with the careful pronunciation that can sound like a proclamation often heard in the voices of nonnative English speakers. "It’s something beyond a dream. It was such an impossible thing to do. Now I flash back memories of when I spent hours on the phone with my best friend. We would say, ‘Could you imagine if we could go to the States and find work and live there?’ I always think about this and say, ‘Wow, I’m lucky.’ "
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at least 3.9 million Iraqis have fled their homes since the US invasion. Half are displaced within their country, and the other two million have crossed borders, with 700,000 in nearby Jordan, 100,000 in Egypt, and 60,000 finding a sort of solace in Sweden.
By contrast, in four years only 692 Iraqis have been resettled in the United States. Despite the danger at home and a flood of applications, the State Department routinely denies Iraqi visa applications, apparently believing Iraqis need to stay home to rebuild their tattered country. Of the record 591,000 student visas given last year, only 112 went to Iraqis, an increase from 46 in 2005.
"I waited months," said Fekeiki, who thinks his affiliation as a special correspondent with the Washington Post is what got him the necessary piece of paper in the nick of time.
But his status here is temporary, and even though a civil war rages in the streets of his hometown and no US, UN, or Iraqi politician has yet to forcefully present a viable solution to the quagmire, he has no plans to apply for citizenship.
"Every Iraqi I know in the States now doesn’t want to go back. I don’t blame them," he said. But staying here is not for him. And that’s the other unbelievable thing about Fekeiki: he can’t wait to return to Baghdad.
"I belong in Iraq."
FINDING HIS POST
Fekeiki says he’s always been lucky, and April 2003 was no exception. The day after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government, Fekeiki was hoping to track down a BBC reporter at the Palestine Hotel who might lend him a phone to make a "we’re alive" call to his uncle in London. He noticed a Washington Post reporter struggling to interview a civilian and stopped to lend a hand. The reporter was impressed with Fekeiki’s translation and suggested he go to the paper’s offices and see about a job.
He did and was temporarily hired by bureau chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran, but after a week he was let go. The Post had enough translators. "He was pretty young, just out of school," Chandrasekaran told the Guardian. The Post did, however, make a point of noting the directions to the young man’s house in case it ever needed him. In a matter of days the paper was knocking on his door.
Initially, Fekeiki continued working as a translator but quickly graduated to fixer, a sort of guide to the Post journalists scouting out stories, digging up contacts, arranging transportation and interviews. Within weeks he was the bureau’s office manager, overseeing a busy newsroom of 42 American and Iraqi journalists who were all older than him and vastly more experienced.
Chandrasekaran says one thing he always told his Post colleagues was to listen to the Iraqi staff. "They have a better sense of when something is going bad. I empowered people like Omar to put their foot down, to say no."
That empowerment, coupled with the important tasks of monitoring news wires and Iraqi and American television stations, dispatching staff to daily disasters, and maintaining order in the office, suited Fekeiki. He rose to the challenge and fell in love with his job. Pretty soon he was contributing to stories, then writing his own and, to his surprise, really enjoying the work.
Raised by a family of journalists and writers, Fekeiki never thought he’d be one. His father, a former politician and vocal critic of Hussein, had lived the nomadic life of an exile as a punishment for his writing. Fekeiki grew up with wiretapped phones, regular house searches, and a father with his neck in a threatened noose. He was taught that if you wrote what the government approved, you’d be wasting your time. If you didn’t, you’d be killed.
The motives have changed, but the risk remains. Life was always dicey. Fekeiki was raised with the fear that he would "disappear" if he weren’t carrying the proper card identifying him as a student, not a soldier. Censorship was part of life.
"If you repeat what we say in this house, you will get killed," he was told by his parents. "Imagine saying that to a five-year-old?" he asks. "I had to live with fear all the time."
He could never slip it would put his family in grave risk. But now, taking up the family tradition and being a journalist in his native country is almost like asking to die.
Targeted violence toward news gatherers is on the rise everywhere, and 2006 was the deadliest year for journalists since 1994, mostly because of Iraq. Though statistics vary depending on the definition of journalist, Reporters Without Borders says 155 journalists and media staff have been killed during the four years of Iraq War coverage. The Committee to Protect Journalists, which investigates every claim and only counts confirmed deaths of credentialed reporters, puts the figure at 97. Both counts already lap the Vietnam War’s 20-year tally of 66, and both organizations say the fallen are overwhelmingly Iraqi.
"I’m hard-pressed to think of a more dangerous profession in the world today than being an Iraqi journalist in Iraq," said Chandrasekaran, who was bureau chief there for 18 months and has covered past conflicts in Afghanistan, Indonesia, and the Philippines. "By spring of 2004 it was too dangerous for Western reporters out in the street."
So journalists came to depend even more on the Iraqis, who were about the only ones able to do on-the-ground reporting after anti-American sentiments and violence took hold.
"You cannot stand in a Baghdad street and do a piece for camera," Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, told us. "An Iraqi journalist can blend in with the local population. They’re the only ones that can literally move around…. I think the only good news is we’re getting any news at all."
Iraqis are the only bridge for any respectable news organization attempting to gain access to what’s going on, but alliances with Americans paint clear targets on their backs. "One of the things that distinguishes this war from others is that most journalists are not being caught in cross fire. They are being murdered," Mahoney said. Murders account for about two-thirds of the Iraqi journalist deaths, and without those reporters, he said, the American public "doesn’t have all the information it should have at their fingertips to make informed decisions."
One wonders if the military and the administration do either. Camille Evans, an Army intelligence sergeant, said during a March 20, 2007, panel of Iraq war veterans at the Commonwealth Club, "For most of our intelligence, we did use CNN."
Though affiliations with Americans put all Iraqi journalists in peril, other risks lie along the sectarian divides. If they work for an independent Iraqi newspaper attempting unbiased journalism, they’re just as bad as Americans. If they spin for one side, they’re targeted by the other. In short, the only agreement between Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias could be their shared attitude toward journalists: work for us or you’re dead.
There were many times Fekeiki believed he would die when he was covering the November 2004 assault in Fallujah as mortars hummed over his tent, or when he was kidnapped by Mahdi Army fighters who told him, "You will disappear behind the sun," before he managed to escape into a passing ambulance. And then there were the straight-up death threats.
"I was threatened three times," he told us. "The first time, my bureau chief was Karl Vick, and he said, ‘We’ll fly you out to any place you want. We’ll take care of you,’ and I said no. He said, ‘We have to do something. We can’t risk your life.’ I said, ‘OK, I’ll go embed with the Marines in Fallujah, to cover the assault.’ "
Fekeiki saw this as a way to disappear from his neighborhood for a little while but still be involved at the Post and give the paper something he thought it needed an Iraqi to cover the Iraqi side of the story. "They didn’t have one. The Iraqis in our office didn’t want to do it."
Fekeiki didn’t tell a soul about the second death threat, a letter on his doorstep. "I didn’t want them to fly me out of Iraq. I wanted to stay. I knew that if I told the Post, they would ask me to leave, give me another job somewhere else. I didn’t want that."
He had dreams of using this opportunity at the Post to eventually start a newspaper in Iraq and, if that went well, perhaps a career in politics. First he would need the hard currency of an American education. Reluctant to leave his family, Fekeiki bargained with himself and decided he would only apply to UC Berkeley, where some of his Post friends had attended journalism school. If he didn’t get in, he would stay in Iraq.
The final death threat came June 15, 2006. "A car chased me from the office to my house," he recalls. Flooring the gas pedal of his Opal, he managed to get away.
By then he’d received his acceptance letter to Berkeley and had a scholarship fund started by Post owner Don Graham and continued by his colleagues at the paper. All he needed was a student visa, but the risks were mounting. "I was supposed to leave early August. I thought, why would I risk two months? Let’s just leave now," he said. He hid in the Post office for four days until he could catch a flight to Amman, Jordan, where he waited two more weeks for his ticket to the States.
Just three months after he left Iraq for Berkeley, he received a phone call from his aunt, telling him that a recent raid of an insurgent house had turned up a "to kill" list for assassins. Fekeiki’s name was near the top.
It’s incomprehensible to many that he’d want to be back in Baghdad, but to a seasoned war correspondent, it’s not entirely unbelievable. Chris Hedges spent 15 years as a foreign bureau chief for the New York Times covering conflicts around the world and is the author of the 2002 book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. He describes the typical war reporter as an "adrenaline junkie," hooked on a certain kind of bravado. "They’re people who don’t have a good capacity to remember their own fear," he told the Guardian.
"The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living," Hedges wrote in the introduction to his book.
"I never felt safe, but I always felt productive," Fekeiki said. "If I wanted productive or safe, I chose productive. I never thought about being safe or not. That’s why I was the only Iraqi in the Washington Post to embed with the military and Marines, because the others feared for their lives. I did fear for my life. I just didn’t let it stop me. If I fear for my life, I shouldn’t be a journalist in Iraq."
In one sense the war was a blessing for Fekeiki. Before the war began in 2003, he says, "I didn’t have a future."
Although he had a college degree in English language and literature from Al-Turath University College, he was denied admission to grad school at Baghdad University. "He doesn’t meet the security requirements," Fekeiki quotes wryly from the code language of the blacklist, for his family doesn’t play nice with Hussein’s.
Fekeiki supported the American invasion, and once the war began he had no intention of leaving. After Hussein’s regime was eradicated, he knew that smart young people with local knowledge and solid English skills would be in high demand from American businesses, reconstruction contractors, and government workers.
"My last thought was to leave Iraq after the invasion, because here’s a country that needs to be rebuilt. We’ll have all the foreign companies working in Iraq. I’ll use the language I studied for four years, English, and I’ll have the best job in Iraq," he recalled.
And eventually, he did. Offers came in from the New York Times for double his Post salary and from Fox News for triple, but he admired the ethics of the Post, which made a point of encouraging its Iraqi writers and crediting their work, so he stuck with that paper.
Fekeiki found more than money and a ticket out of the crippled country. He found his calling. His enthusiasm for his job at the Post sounds like that of a classic American workaholic.
"I miss my office," he said, remembering his desk at the center of the newsroom. "I called it the throne. I spent at least 14 hours a day there, for two years, nonstop. Not one single day off. After two years, in theory, I had a chance to take a day off every week. I spent it in the office, not working but in the office with people."
"My only motivation now is that desk," he says. He hopes to return to it after school. "I’m going to help journalists in Iraq and the future of Iraq."
Without this thought, he says, "I don’t think I’d be able to endure what I’m going through now. It’s just dull. The boredom is hard. In Baghdad I had fun not knowing what was going to happen every day. Here, I wake up, go to school, reply to e-mails on my blog, go to dinner, go to sleep. That’s not a life. That’s retirement."
He feels guilty that his life is now so easy when his family and friends are still threatened back home.
"Being safe terrifies me. I can’t get used to it."
For Fekeiki, staying abreast of the violence is like keeping in touch with reality, though here in the States he has to turn to fiction to find his fix.
The Situation, a film about an American journalist covering the war in Iraq, recently screened at the Lumiere Theatre in San Francisco. One of the first dramas about the war, it opens with a scene of two young Iraqis being thrown off a bridge in Samarra by US troops. One of them drowns, causing a stir in the province.
"That actually happened," Fekeiki says. Throughout the film, his eyes rarely left the screen, except for fleeting moments to scribble a few notes on a pad and near the end to wipe away a couple tears. Though the characters are fictional, the plot is very real, centering on misguided US intelligence, the schism between Iraqis and Americans, and the overall futility of war.
"Wow," he said, getting up from his seat as the last credit rolled and the screen went completely black. "I could identify with every aspect of that movie."
The violence doesn’t bother him as much as it reminds him of where he’s come from, where his family is, and what his friends are doing. "I want to still feel connected," he says.
In Berkeley he doesn’t. The first semester of basic reporting, de rigueur for all journalism students, was difficult for Fekeiki. He found the Bay Area beat more terrifying than Baghdad. "Some people think reporting in a war zone is difficult, but I did it, and I know how to do it," he says.
"In Iraq everything you think about is a story. Here you have to squeeze your mind to find a story that interests the readers. That’s really challenging. I don’t know the place. It’s not my culture. I don’t know the background. I need a fixer," he says, laughing.
He was as lost working on a story about Merrill Lynch as an American reporter might have been covering the Al-Askari Mosque in Samarra. "At 7 a.m. I get an assignment to go write about Merrill Lynch in San Francisco. What’s Merrill Lynch?"
Lydia Chavez, Fekeiki’s professor for basic reporting, said she usually pushes her students to cover stories they wouldn’t normally choose. But she told us, "Someone like Omar, I was trying to find something that would be comfortable because everything is so foreign."
His turning point came when he covered a psychic fair in Berkeley. "He came back with something I never would have expected," she said.
"They didn’t want me to write anything," Fekeiki said of the psychics he encountered at the fair. "They wouldn’t let me interview the people there who came to heal their aura. So I was, like, ‘OK, can I heal my aura and take notes?’ They said, ‘Yes, why not?’ So I did it, and it turned into a personal piece."
The amazing part of the story is what the healer saw about him even though he hadn’t told her his name, let alone that he was from Baghdad. "The woman just shocked me with her information about me. She started to talk about how my family is in danger and how I am terrified about being in a place I don’t think I belong to and have to compete with other people. It was amazing," he says, still somewhat aghast.
"She couldn’t heal my aura, though. She said I have conflicting thoughts: ‘You’re very protective of your thoughts, and you’re confused, and it’s messed up.’ Which is true."
Fekeiki has the cockiness of youth and the undaunted faith of a survivor but also a certain attitude toward life he doesn’t always see in his fellow Iraqis. "I tell people I will live to be 94. And I will," he says, believing that all it takes to succeed is to say that you will.
He states his ambitions solidly: to be the charming dictator of his own newspaper, to rise through the ranks of parliamentary politics, to one day rule the country as a prime minister. To stay in this country, to be "nothing" in Berkeley, is just not satisfying enough.
"I’m Iraqi," he says. "I just want to feel that I’m spending my time doing something to benefit my country. If everyone leaves Iraq, we’ll not have an Iraq on the map in the future. I don’t want that to happen."
The newspaper he hopes to own and manage will be fiercely independent and printed daily in Arabic, Kurdish, and English. It will be called Al Arrasid (The Observer), after the publication his family used to run, which folded in 1991 for lack of subscribers. Beyond bringing the truth to the people of Baghdad and penning editorials from his secular point of view, he’s looking forward to being in power once again.
"I can’t wait to have my own newspaper," he said. "I can’t wait to sit behind my desk and tell people what to do."
Yet he has a strong sense of morality. Fekeiki said his personal mantra is a proverb his father often told him: "Harami latseer min el sultan latkhaf…. Don’t be a thief. You will fear no judge."
He says these words have always made his life easy and kept his choices simple. Chavez says she saw the same spirit in him when he passed the bulk of the credit to his cowriter, David Gelles, for a story about jihad videos on YouTube that they contributed to the front page of the New York Times, a near-impossible feat for a first-year journalism student.
"It’s so rare to see someone that generous, that honest," said Chavez, who actively worries about him returning to Iraq.
Berkeley’s curriculum demands a summer internship in the field, and Fekeiki pressed the Post to put him back at the Baghdad bureau this June. He planned to report without telling his family he’d returned to the country, so they would be safe. However, the hands of American bureaucracy are holding him here. His one-entry visa status means if he leaves the United States, he can’t come back without restarting the application process. On top of that, the United States is only accepting the newest Iraqi passports, the G series. They’re so new that most Iraqi embassies aren’t even making them, and Fekeiki doesn’t have one.
"It’s frustrating," he says. Besides being unable to report from home this summer, if something were to happen to his family, he wouldn’t be able to respond beyond a phone call or an e-mail. "My father is 77 years old. I don’t know when he’s going to farewell us. And if it happens, I can’t go and be with my family. It’s not fair," he says. Instead, he’ll be spending the summer break in Washington, DC, reporting for the Post‘s metro desk.
"I’m very glad for the visa problems," Chavez said. "It really scares me. I couldn’t convince him to stay at all."
What would keep him in the States? "If going back to Iraq is not going to help me get my newspaper started, I’m not going to do it," he says. What might not make his paper succeed? "People wouldn’t buy it. They just bomb the place where it’s published. The government turns against me." He knows he could speak his mind outside Iraq, but the whole point is to do it in Iraq, and he feels very strongly that solutions will only come from within, that his country needs people like him.
"The toughest moments I have to deal with," he says, pausing, "are when I think maybe I’m not going back." *
Splurging not to be confused with surging is one of those activities whose scale and pleasures tend to vary according to where the fluttering bill comes to rest. Who, in other words, is paying? Because San Francisco is to tourism something like what Rome is to Catholicism, with all roads leading here, we the citizenry of this city are certain to find wanderers from afar turning up on the doorstep sooner or later. They are glad to see you and perhaps accept your hospitality, and in return they offer to take you and yours out to dinner at the best restaurant in town.
It helps if these willing souls are rich, or parents, or both. (European friends aren’t bad either, since they probably wield the mighty euro, and America for euro wielders is one huge fire sale.) They will be grateful for your expertise in choosing the restaurant, and you will need take no notice of the bill, when at last it arrives, nor of its proportions, which, if there is significant wine involved, could vaguely resemble a month’s rent. Glance at the harmless-looking little chit if you must or if you are curious; otherwise, pay a visit to the restroom while the putf8um AmEx card does its work.
These kinds of blowouts are fun, like showing up empty-handed at somebody’s party and gorging on the food and drink everybody else brought, but the more meaningful splurges are those we pay for ourselves. Yes, there can be a certain pang when ordering, since we know the damage is coming right out of our pocket; there can be an even greater pang when the server presents what the French discreetly call l’addition. But there is also a sense of having earned the moment and its satisfactions and of having spent money not on a yacht or a marbled bathroom with gold-leaf fixtures worthy of Nero but on an experience that will last a few hours at most and will be just a memory even before we get into bed for the night. That is priceless. (For everything else, there’s MasterCard.)
What follows is a brief survey of places I consider splurgeworthy (not to be confused with spongeworthy). The first group consists of restaurants most suitable for the spending of other people’s money i.e., they are expensive, quite a few of them hideously so. The second group is the spots that you should treat yourself to even if you can’t arrange for somebody else to pick up the tab. You live here, and experiencing these restaurants is part of your education: you are obliged. The last set is the best bang-for-the-buck ones; you’ll pay, but not quite so woundingly, and you’ll come away feeling that the money was well spent. (Paul Reidinger)
Somebody else pays
The experience of gastronomic luxury is nowhere more holistic than here. Everything is just right and in balance; the restaurant is handsome but not showy, lively but not overwhelming. Members of the service staff seem genuinely pleased to see you, and the food is sublime. I did notice on my last visit that the tables seemed closer together than a few years ago the more the merrier, apparently, especially in the accounting department. Noise levels have risen a bit, and the staff seems slightly more in a hurry. Nonetheless, a visit is certain to be ethereal and unforgettable, and you will be lauded for your acumen and good taste if you agree to be taken here. NB: the food is quite rich, so adjust your cholesterol meds accordingly if applicable.
800 N. Point, SF. (415) 749-2060, www.garydanko.com
Even people who are wary of seafood will find much to like at Aqua, which really can’t be improved on. The look has softened and warmed subtly over the years, while the food is as good as it’s ever been, maybe better. Chef Laurent Manrique (who follows in the illustrious footsteps of George Morrone and Michael Mina) brings a muscular elegance to his maritime-leaning menu, and there is even foie gras, if you are so inclined. The wine list is huge and interesting, the ceilings high (noise vanishes up there like unwanted smoke or heat), the bread warm and fresh, the staff well schooled. There is a certain formality of tone that might have to do with the restaurant’s Financial District location; at weekday lunches, hordes of money changers descend. Evening’s the time, then.
252 California, SF. (415) 956-5662, www.aqua-sf.com
FLEUR DE LYS
Being inside Hubert Keller’s restaurant is like being inside A Thousand and One Nights; the walls ripple with loose, tentlike fabric. And you can’t possibly miss the huge pot of flowers that dominates the middle of the main dining room. The cooking combines elements of nouvelle with a certain whimsy. The prix fixe menus offer lots of wiggle room, bigger and smaller portions as you choose and so forth. There is also a vegetarian menu. The cuisine is among the most visually interesting in the city; individual courses tend to be highly architectural and to arrive in, or be sauced from, a wealth of dollhouse-size pots, pans, and pitchers. For those who like to play with their food before eating it, this adds to the fun.
777 Sutter, SF. (415) 673-7779, www.fleurdelyssf.com
Parents are a special case, and Campton Place is the special spot to bring them. Although the dining room is quite small, the tables are decently far apart, and a civilized hush obtains. The kitchen has launched its share of stars over the years; the alumni association includes Jan Birnbaum, Bradley Ogden, Laurent Manrique, and Daniel Humm. No matter who’s cooking, the food is superior there is none better. What is most distinctive about Campton Place is its layered European feel; there is a sense of tradition and grandeur that does not call attention to itself because it doesn’t need to. It’s a given. Of all the city’s top-tier restaurants, Campton Place is perhaps the one that’s been most resolute in the face of fads and trends; it’s not stuffy, but it isn’t afraid of being what it is either.
340 Stockton, SF. (415) 781-5555, www.camptonplace.com/dining
You grit your teeth and pay
If there’s one restaurant all Bay Area folk should have their passport stamped at (I am speaking metaphorically, of course), it’s Chez Panisse. All the mother-ship clichés are true; many if not most of our best restaurants and chefs can trace their lineage here, and they must be proud to do so. The restaurant’s understanding of California cooking remains distinctive in its unclutteredness; the big wood-fired hearth in the open kitchen means many dishes are grilled, and for rustic elegance, the kiss of wood smoke is unsurpassed. The wider experience is modulated with similar grace. Chez Panisse isn’t quite casual, but it isn’t overformal either. It’s in harmony with its arts and crafts setting, as are most of its patrons.
1517 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 548-5525, www.chezpanisse.com
Notwithstanding a bit of the Parisian brasserie look, including a fair amount of dark wood and brass, chef-owner Nancy Oakes’s longtime jewel on the Embarcadero is really quite all-American in its own high-stepping way. The restaurant is a microcosm of the city, a place of power lunches and multigenerational family get-togethers. The food is as stylish as it gets, but if you want some glorious version of meat and potatoes, you will likely find it here and if you want a main course that knows it’s a main course and not just a puffed-up small plate, you’ll find that too. Of all the city’s top-tier restaurants, Boulevard might be the least terrifying to heartland sensibilities.
1 Mission (in the Audiffred Bldg.), SF. (415) 543-6084, www.boulevardrestaurant.com
RIP: HAWTHORNE LANE
And a quick digression to remember Hawthorne Lane, which closed at the end of the year (and an 11-year run) to be reborn a few weeks later as Two. I haven’t been to the new place, but I know that even if I like it, I will never stop missing the dearly departed. Hawthorne Lane was as comfortably gracious a restaurant as could be found in San Francisco: plush but not stuffy, vibrant but not loud, with a menu rich in style and short on intimidation. It was the sort of place 25-year-olds and their parents would be equally impressed by, and that’s saying something.
Two, 22 Hawthorne, SF. (415) 777-9779, www.two-sf.com
Chef-owner Craig Stoll’s Mission venue tilts toward youth famous rock stars are said to like it, and the crowd (not to mention the service staff) has more than its share of tattoos and piercings but beneath the hipster glamour is one of the best restaurants in the city. The kitchen turns out Tuscan-inflected dishes that reflect Stoll’s sojourn in that overfamous Italian region; Tuscan might be a cliché now, but it isn’t at Delfina. Noise has long been an issue, and while a large expansion a few years back (along with plenty of quilted sound-baffling material posted discreetly around the dining room) has helped dilute the clamor, Delfina is packed so reliably that it can never truly be calm. Older people can find it overwhelming. But … a glass of wine will help soothe any ruffled feathers.
3621 18th St., SF. (415) 552-4055, www.delfinasf.com
Drive-by history lesson: in 1887 the French declared pretty much the whole of Southeast Asia and its disparate people to be French Indochina. They made a silly-looking flag and exported a lot of tea and rubber. This lasted until 1954, when the Vietminh handed them their asses at Dien Bien Phu. What legacy did they leave? Liberté, égalité, fraternité? Well, maybe not that so much, but they definitely left the art of baking French bread. The enterprising Vietnamese did the equivalent of taking lemons and making lemonade, creating delicious sandwiches called bánh mì with said bread: a baguettelike roll stuffed with either grilled or sliced meat (usually some form of pig), cucumber, pickled carrots, cilantro, hot peppers, fish sauce, and mayo. (Duncan Scott Davidson)
Saigon Sandwich has four menu items. It’s such simplicity that I admire in Vietnamese cuisine. I once stayed in Saigon near a restaurant that pretty much only sold BBQ pork chops: two on a bed of rice with a side of fish sauce went for 50 cents. That type of value has crossed the ocean with bánh mì: you seldom find a sandwich for more than three bucks. The roast pork and roast chicken varieties at Saigon Sandwich run $2.50, while pâté and "fanci pork" (i.e., steamed pork) will cost you $2.25. I go with roast pork, spiced just right with a touch of chili powder and jalapeños that aren’t too hot, served on a crispy section of baguette with plenty of mayo or as I like to call it, "sandwich lube." Perfect.
560 Larkin, SF. (415) 474-5698
Unlike its neighbor up the street, the inexplicably named Wrap Delight boasts a huge selection of bánh mì: 25 varieties, including the classic "combination pork" (which is usually ham, head cheese, and pâté) and some westernized options such as turkey, tuna, and hard-boiled egg. I like the BBQ chicken and pork combo, served on a mammoth French roll for a meager $2.75. The surprise is the topping, which the sandwich maker called "barbecue sauce" but had a subtler, more gravylike taste than your typical, sugary stateside condiment. The thing was packed full of meat with that tender, falling-apart feel of a Memphis pulled-pork sandwich. Wrap Delight, despite not selling any wraps (maybe spring rolls?), definitely lives up to the "delight" claim.
426 Larkin, SF. (415) 771-3388, www.freewebs.com/wrapdelight
LITTLE PARIS COFFEE SHOP
I was introduced to the joys of the Vietnamese deli in general, and bánh mì in particular, at the Little Paris on Clement. That location has since changed into a medical supply store, its windows constantly advertising a sale on adult diapers, so I’m forced to hit the Chinatown locale to relive the golden sandwiches of my youth. My favorite combo is a bowl of spare rib pho and a BBQ pork croissant sandwich. Yeah, you heard me: a croissant. Take that, French colonialists! We have your beloved flaky crescent roll, and we ain’t givin’ it back! Dip the sammy in the soup, and you’ve got a one-way ticket to flavor country. Of course, if you eat everything, you’ll be grossly overstuffed, but so will your wallet: Little Paris is dirt cheap.
939 Stockton, SF. (415) 982-6111
While somewhat devastated at LP’s closing, I was stoked to discover Pho Clement. For one, its grilled pork pho rocks my world. But this is about the sandwich, and Pho Clement doesn’t disappoint there either. My favorites are the grilled beef, which isn’t that common at most of the places I’ve been, and the Xiu Mai, or meatball, sandwiches. The beef’s tender and generously stuffed into the roll, while the Xiu Mai is smashed into bits and accented with a tangy BBQ sauce that adds zip. A warning or two: the sandwiches are more expensive here, though still reasonable, with the grilled beef being the crown royale of the fleet at $3.75. Also, the shop’s jalapeños might as well have been cultivated on Mercury, since they’re nearly as hot as the sun. But never fear: you have a big slice of cucumber to cool you off.
239 Clement, SF. (415) 379-9800
The sammies at Vietnam (not to be confused with Vietnam II, on Larkin) might be the best bánh mì in town, though it only offers two varieties: grilled pork and grilled chicken. They’re loaded with meat, and the chicken has a smoky five-spice flavor that’s hard to top, though top it the chefs do with the requisite cucumber, fish sauce, cilantro, pickled carrots, and some pickled, shredded white stuff the counter guy called "white carrots" but which I think is daikon. There’s lettuce on the chicken ‘wich (and not the pork), which normally would’ve bummed me out but in this case was inexplicably delicious. These sandwiches are just the ticket to keep you from running up and down Broadway shooting drunk frat guys in the face.
620 Broadway, SF. (415) 788-7034 *
For more suggestions from our resident sammich fanatic, including where to get the best hot pastrami and Philly cheesesteak in town, check out our Web site, www.sfbg.com.
Adult life can be overwhelming: taxes, traffic, parking tickets, deadlines … and city living can be particularly frenetic. You know by now that when it comes to navigating your increasingly complicated life, there is no high road, fast track, or slow lane, and that it really is the road less traveled that brings the greatest pleasure or, more important, the sugary, chocolaty, gooey goodness you consume on your journey. What better way to escape the rat race than to indulge in the culinary ecstasy of a luscious dessert? Read on to discover where to get some delectable desserts that will transport you back to the sweet, gentle, and unhurried time of your fast-disappearing youth. And the good news is, now that you’re all grown up, you’re welcome to have your pudding first, whether or not you’ve eaten your meat. (Cara Cutter)
BI-RITE CREAMERY AND BAKESHOP
Admit it. It’s not just the kiddies who find ice cream irresistible. Yes, the mere mention of the food to a minor can ease pain, stop tears, and miraculously get the house picked up in short order. But cold, creamy goodness can also melt the iciest of adult hearts. So indulge in one of your childhood favorites vanilla? chocolate? mint chip? at this Mission creamery. Or, if you want a real treat, try the butter pecan it probably wasn’t your top pick as a tot, but after one taste of Bi-Rite’s, you’ll be hard-pressed to remember the others. The coconut macaroons also offer a taste of nostalgia too good to miss.
3692 18th St., SF. (415) 626-5600, www.biritecreamery.com
This dual-locale eatery is named for its down-home cooking style, of which the black-and-white molten chocolate cake with homemade cookies ‘n’ cream ice cream is exemplary. The flavors are simple and rich, just like those of Dad’s ice cream sundaes. The cake is fresh and warm, and its bittersweet flavor is perfectly balanced by the vanilla bean ice cream drizzled down its sides. This is family-style yumminess at its pinnacle, and it doesn’t stop at cake. You can also give Grandma’s recipes a run for their money with peach shortcake, banana bread pudding, sorbet with shortbread cookies, or Dutch apple pie. For those big kids who simply can’t choose from such a tempting array, there’s a dessert trio option for $18.
2100 Market, SF. (415) 503-0333; 2032 Union, SF. (415) 931-5006. www.home-sf.com
If you don’t seem to be scoring with the chic SoMa sweeties at the bar, you’re still bound to hit a home run with the sweets, as this Rincon Center restaurant offers a surprising and playful dessert menu. Childhood favorites such as cinnamon churros and snickerdoodle cookies come complete with adult garnishes. But the best (and most popular) bit of nostalgia is the warm-baked Scharffen Berger chocolate-chunk cookie with a Tahitian-vanilla malted milkshake. That’s right: a genuine malted milkshake. In fact, this contemporary twist on an old classic might be just the thing you needed; try ordering two straws and inviting one of those trendsetters to the drive-in. How could anyone resist?
121 Spear, SF. (415) 543-4001, www.thecosmopolitancafe.com
BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE CAFE
Curl up in this Fillmore Street café and drink in the flavors of the best hot chocolate you’re ever likely to have. Imagine a liquid brownie, and you’re getting close. These drinks are so rich and thick you’ll be forgiven for using a spoon. For adventurous chocoholics, there’s the Bittersweet, a nondairy "drink" that should come with the warning "may induce comalike pleasure period followed by dizzying sugar high. Do not attempt to drive or operate heavy machinery for at least 30 minutes following consumption." Or, if you’re more of a milk-chocolate lover, try the Classic. And of course, there’s chocolate milk for kids of all ages (including the one living inside your psyche).
2123 Fillmore, SF. (415) 346-8715; 5427 College, Oakl. (510) 654-7159. www.bittersweetcafe.com
Unless you grew up in Paris, this bakery-café might not evoke your typical Norman Rockwell nostalgia. It is highly likely, however, that after a quick glimpse of the whipped, frosted, and glazed goodies behind the glass, you’ll feel like the proverbial kid in a candy store. Due to the extreme popularity of these pastries, expect a long line on weekend mornings. However, once you’re sinking your teeth into a lightly sugared cinnamon and orange morning bun, time will seem meaningless and it won’t just be your inner child doing somersaults of pleasure.
600 Guerrero, SF. (415) 487-2600, www.tartinebakery.com
This Mission restaurant and bar has an incredible list of postprandial delights. For the 35-year-old kid in your party, there’s a "make your own s’mores" option. For the weight watcher, there’s an apple-huckleberry crisp. But the culinary pleasure that’s earned Luna Park a spot on our list is its deadly coconut cream pie a confection so unexpectedly delicious you won’t dare to share, no matter what you learned in kindergarten.
694 Valencia, SF. (415) 553-8584, www.lunaparksf.com *
In 1971 community activist Bea Robinson improvised a battered-women’s shelter in the garage of her San Jose home. Thanks to demands for shelter legislation by women’s rights groups of the same era, an ample network of Bay Area safe houses is now available to women from all walks of life from abused mothers and trafficked teens to marginalized immigrants and disempowered queers.
Each of the listed shelters is communal, confidentially located, child friendly, and multilingual. They also offer or can help secure longer-term housing, counseling, and legal aid. Other services include food, clothing, transportation, employment assistance, and play areas. Calling one of these confidential 24-hour crisis lines starts the shelter intake process and connects battered women to the Bea Robinsons of the Bay Area.
In an effort to keep families united, Oakland’s A Safe Place (510-536-SAFE, www.asafeplacedvs.org) accepts male children up to age 17. During the maximum eight-week stay, residents receive counseling while younger children participate in play therapy.
Substance-free women and their children may reside indefinitely in one of the 16 beds at Marin Abused Women’s Services (MAWS) (English: 415-924-6616; Spanish: 415-924-3456; men’s line: 415-924-1070; www.maws.org). MAWS works globally to educate communities about the sociopolitical roots of domestic violence. In 1980, MAWS initiated ManKind, a male-led program that reeducates imprisoned abuse offenders and confronts community beliefs that support male violence.
San Francisco’s Asian Women’s Shelter (AWS) (1-877-751-0880, www.sfaws.org) renders services in 31 Asian languages. The AWS serves all women but is especially outfitted for Asian immigrants who speak little to no English. An average stay at its 18-bed shelter lasts 12 to 16 weeks, though extensions are often granted. The Queer Asian Women Services program supports lesbian, bisexual, and transgender survivors of relationship violence. The AWS also confronts forced labor and sexual exploitation via the Asian Anti-Trafficking Collaborative. Its affiliate, Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, offers pro bono legal services.
Building Futures with Women and Children (1-866-A-WAY-OUT, www.bfwc.org), a 20-bed safe house in San Leandro, doesn’t exclude women with substance abuse or mental health issues, as do some shelters. A typical stay at this former overnight winter relief refuge also known as Sister Me Home can last up to 21 weeks. Programs include child tutoring, parent support groups, and family night one night per week of guided mother-child bonding.
The Emergency Shelter Program (ESP) (1-888-339-SAFE, www.espca.org) in Hayward can accommodate 40 women and their children, including teen boys, for 12 weeks. The ESP also accepts single teen mothers and functions as a homeless shelter for those who have been evicted, are out of work, or are experiencing familial hardship.
As San Francisco’s largest domestic violence shelter, La Casa de las Madres (adults: 1-877-503-1850; teens: 1-877-923-0700; www.lacasa.org) can house up to 35 women and children for eight weeks at a time. Thanks to a 24-hour intake, women can be admitted to the shelter whenever necessary. Art therapy and animal-assisted counseling give residents a chance to learn, relax, and have fun. The teen program offers a 24-hour emergency crisis line and youth-tailored services for battered or at-risk girls.
Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence (408-501-7550, www.nextdoor.org), whose crisis line hasn’t changed for the past 34 years, is Robinson’s brainchild. The shelter can accommodate up to 19 women and children for as long as four weeks. Elderly battered women older than 50 can benefit from the unique MAVEN (Mature Alternatives to Violent Environments Now) program, which offers home visits and recreational activities. On-site legal services include court accompaniment and support for undocumented immigrants.
The Riley Center (415-255-0165, www.rileycenter.org), a program of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of San Francisco, gives priority to women and children in immediate danger. Its 25-bed shelter, known as the Rosalie House, provides a 12-week refuge. Families receive private rooms, though women without children may have to share accommodations. Residents perform basic chores in shared living spaces. Prospective residents should call the crisis line for a confidential interview with a trained counselor.
Safe Alternatives to Violent Environments (SAVE) (510-794-6055, www.save-dv.org) is in Fremont but serves the world over. It offers a 30-bed shelter the only battered shelter in Fremont, Newark, and Union City where women and their children can reside for 12 weeks. Counseling with a licensed clinical therapist is available for a sliding-scale fee. SAVE also holds free drop-in support groups facilitated by certified domestic violence counselors on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Concord’s STAND! Against Domestic Violence (1-888-215-5555, www.standagainstdv.org) manages additional offices in Richmond, Antioch, and Pittsburg to better serve its Contra Costa County hub. The Rollie Mullen Center, a six-building complex containing its 24-bed shelter, can accommodate families and individuals for up to six weeks. On-site services and amenities include long-term transitional housing, a computer lab, and a playroom. *
"If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your revolution" is a club-friendly sentiment traditionally attributed to estimable anarchist Emma Goldman. But even if she didn’t put it in quite those words, the message is clear: changing the world doesn’t have to be a grim slog. Why struggle at all if it doesn’t result in a world we can actually enjoy? That’s where these benefit-hosting, rabble-rousing, community-oriented bars, clubs, cultural centers, and performance spaces come in. Like the spoonful of sugar that masks the medicine, a nice pour and a few choice tunes can turn earnest liberation into ecstatic celebration.
Billing itself as "your dive," El Rio defines "you" as a crowd of anarchists, trannies, feminists, retro-cool kids, and heat-seeking salseros as diverse as you’re likely to find congregating around one shuffleboard table. Whether featuring a rawkin’ Gender Pirates benefit show or a rare screening of The Fall of the I-Hotel as part of radical film series Televising the Revolution, El Rio encourages an intimacy and camaraderie among its dance floorloving patrons less frequently found these days in an increasingly class-divided Mission.
3158 Mission, SF. (415) 282-3325, www.elriosf.com
THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE SANITIZED
Although it’s really an aboveground Mission storefront, Balazo 18 has a great "in the basement" underground vibe, and within its gritty labyrinth, upstart idealists lurk like scruffy Minotaurs. The low overhead and inclusive ambience has proven fertile ground for local activist functions such as the recent Clarion Alley Mural Project fundraiser and December 2006’s Free Josh Wolf event (freedom still pending). The dance floor’s generous size attracts top-notch local bands and sweaty, freedom-seeking legions who love to dance till they drop.
2183 Mission, SF. (415) 255-7227, www.balazogallery.com
Applause for the Make-Out Room‘s green-minded stance against unnecessary plastic drink straws (it doesn’t serve ’em), its championing of literary causes (Steven Elliott’s "Progressive Reading" series, Charlie Anders’s "Writers with Drinks"), and its calendar of benefit shows for agendas as diverse as animal sanctuary, tenants rights, and free speech. Plus, not only are the (strawless) drinks reasonably priced, but the wacked-out everydayisNew Year’s Eve disco ball and silver star decor hastens their effect.
3225 22nd St., SF. (415) 647-2888, www.makeoutroom.com
STOP IN THE NAME OF ART
The Rickshaw Stop hosts progressive literary luminaries by the library-load, raising the roof and the funds for programs such as the 61-year-old San Francisco Writer’s Workshop and the reading series "Inside Storytelling." Other beneficiaries of the Rickshaw’s pro-arts programming include SF Indiefest and Bitch magazine, and the club calendar is filled with queer dance parties, record release shows, and even an upcoming "Pipsqueak a Go Go" dance party for l’il kiddies with the Devilettes and the Time Outs. If teaching a roomful of preschoolers the Monkey isn’t an act of die-hard, give-something-back merrymaking martyrdom, well …
155 Fell, SF. (415) 861-2011, www.rickshawstop.com
A dancer- and activist-run performance incubator, CounterPULSE hosts a diverse collection of cutting-edge artistes ranging from queer Butoh dancers to crusading sexologists to mobility-impaired aerialists. It’s also home to the interactive history project Shaping San Francisco and a lively weekly contact jam. But it’s the plucky, DIY joie de vivre that pervades its fundraising events featuring such entertainment as queer cabaret, big burlesque, and an abundance of booty-shaking that keeps our toes tapping and our progressive groove moving. Best of all, the "no one turned away for lack of funds" policy ensures that even the most broke-ass idealist can get down.
1310 Mission, SF. (415) 626-2060, www.counterpulse.org
MORE THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS
Sometimes a dance club, sometimes an art gallery and sometimes not quite either 111 Minna Gallery is pretty much guaranteed to always be a good time. Funds have been raised here on behalf of groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the West Memphis Three, and Hurricane Relief as a plethora of local and big-name artists and music makers from Hey Willpower to Henry Rollins have shown their stuff on the charmingly makeshift stage and the well-worn walls.
111 Minna, SF. (415) 974-1719, www.111minnagallery.com
THE HUMAN LAUGH-IN
It’s true the revolutionary life can’t just be one big dance party. Sometimes it’s an uptown comedy club adventure instead. Cobb’s Comedy Club consistently books the big names on the comedy circuit and it also showcases some side-splitting altruism, such as last month’s THC Comedy Medical Marijuana benefit tour and the annual "Stand Up for Justice" events sponsored by Death Penalty Focus. Even selfless philanthropy can be a laughing matter.
915 Columbus, SF. (415) 928-4320, www.cobbscomedyclub.com
The headless guardian angel of cavernous, city-funded cultural center SomArts has been a silent witness to countless community-involved installations and festivals, such as the "Radical Performance" series, a Day of the Dead art exhibit, the annual "Open Studios Exhibition," and the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival. And plenty of fundraising celebrations have been hosted beneath its soaring rafters on behalf of organizations such as the Coalition on Homelessness, Survival Research Labs, and the Center for Sex and Culture. We’ve got to admit nothing cries "community" like a space where you can drink absinthe and build misfit toys one night, dance to live salsa the next, and attend a sober seminar on pirate radio the following afternoon.
934 Brannan, SF. (415) 552-2131, www.somarts.org
STORMING THE CASTLE
Even if the Edinburgh Castle were run by community-hating misanthropes, we’d come here for the craic and perhaps a wistful fondle of the Ballantine caber mounted on the wall. But general manager Alan Black has helped foster a scene of emerging and established writers, unsigned bands, and Robbie Burns lovers in the lively heart of the upper TL. The unpretentious, unflappable venue also hosts benefits for causes such as breast cancer research and refugee relocation. And the Tuesday night pub quiz, twice-monthly mod-Mersybeat dance nights, and annual swearing competition keep us coming back for more (except maybe the haggis).
950 Geary, SF. (415) 885-4074, www.castlenews.com
SHAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT
Turning martini shaking into charitable moneymaking, Elixir has been the go-to drinks dispensary for fundraisers of all varieties since it launched its unique Charity Guest Bartending program. The concept is simple: the organizers of a fundraising effort sign up in advance, beg or bully a hundred of their best buddies to show up early and stay late, get a crash course in mixology, and raise bucks behind the bar of this green-certified Mission District saloon (the second-oldest operating bar in San Francisco). Did we mention it’s green certified? Just checking. Barkeep, another round.
3200 16th St., SF. (415) 552-1633, www.elixirsf.com
SPACE IS THE PLACE
A 2006 Best of the Bay winner, CELLspace has weathered the usual warehouse-space storms of permit woes and facility upgrading, and yet it continues to expand its programming and fan base into some very far-flung realms. From roller disco to b-boy battling, hip-hop to punk rock, art classes to aerial performances, the CELL has been providing an urban refuge for at-risk youth, aging hipsters, and community builders since 1996. Though we mourn the loss of the Bike Kitchen, which moved to its new SoMa digs, we’re glad to see the return of the Sunday-morning Mission Village Market now indoors!
2050 Bryant, SF. (415) 648-7562, www.cellspace.org
True to the post-postmodern hyperreal world of the inner-Web, I hit the Trucks’ MySpace page before I’d heard their 2006 self-titled CD (Clickpop). Browsing through their photo pages, I saw toy xylophones, lots of keyboards, underwear on the outside, leg warmers, pigtails, and more stripes than a Quiet Riot promo photo. A brief listen to their posted tracks left me feeling old and arrhythmic. I felt my receding hairline burn, like youth was talking behind my back.
Determined to find the dark lining in even the fluffiest of pink clouds, I kept the disc in heavy rotation while driving. At first it felt like a guilty pleasure infectious synth popdance punk, with a menagerie of female voices singing choruses and cracking wise in concordance with or contradiction to the main vocal line. The issues are put out there on the opening track, "Introduction": "I’ve been in therapy for five years / I’ll be in therapy for five years more," Kristin Allen-Zito sings. (I think it’s her three out of four Trucks are credited with vocals.) "I wake up depressed, I wake up manic / You never know what you’re gonna get."
Still, as the opening beats of the unequivocal dance jam of the decade, "Titties," come through the speakers, it’s hard to feel that there’s any kind of subliminal bum-out happening beneath the Peaches-esque query "What makes you think we can fuck just because you put your tongue in my mouth and you twisted my titties, baby?" "Titties" is one of a series of songs touching on the theme of failed relationships and inept lovermen. The poignant indie pop perfection of "Messages" has Allen-Zito serenading an absentee boyfriend whose voice mails are more attentive than he is: "Well, I save all my messages from you / Just in case you’re not there / When I want you to be."
A dozen tracks in, the concept of a boyfriend has been jettisoned for the much more accommodating vibrator in "Diddle Bot," which is closer to a lover than any mentioned heretofore: "You made me feel brand new / You love me through and through." The album ends with "Why the ?," an indictment of a beau who’s prepared to woo with everything but his tongue, and an a cappella request: "Dear Santa, please don’t bring me another boyfriend for Christmas / Oh no! / The last one sucked." Or didn’t, as the case may be.
Never do the Trucks jettison humor for histrionics in their tales of love gone awry in the great wet Northwest: the band members, who share songwriting duties, get their point across in a way that transcends merely grinding the storied ax of feminism. Sisters are doing for themselves, sure, but it’s not a girls-only joint: everyone’s invited to dance their woes away. Thematically, the disc gets heavier than the tales of missed connections and inept sexing. "Shattered" has implications of rape: "You could not keep your pretty hands off me … You shattered my image of love / While I was naked in the tub." "Man Voice" is call-and-response song play touching on predatory types, with a gothic-baroque feel that resembles Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies meeting Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Finally, "Comeback" tells the tale of love turned obsession turned homicide from a male point of view: "You don’t have to run away / I’m gonna kill you anyway."
"It’s pretty standard turning pain into comedy, trying to somehow make peace with things that have happened to us or to people that we’ve known," Allen-Zito says on the phone from Seattle.
Does the fact that their songs are still fun and danceable lead people to dismiss the Trucks as fluff? "That’s what I enjoy the most," she explains. "I think it’s really great when we play shows and there’s a mixture of people in the audience. There’ll be dudes who are, like, ‘Play the titties song! You guys are hot!’ They’re obviously not getting the lyrics at all. And then, on the other hand, there’s these two feminist friends of mine who are definitely a little overboard. Just seeing them next to these dudes that were just falling over themselves it was hilarious and perfect. This one woman came up to me outside and put her arm around my neck and was, like, ‘Kristin, they just don’t get it. They don’t get it!’ It’s kind of funny, because maybe she doesn’t get it."
And for me, that’s what I enjoy most. The fact that you can get it on one level and miss it entirely on another. Free your mind, and your ass will follow. Or, perhaps, free your ass, and your mind will follow. You can have just as much fun missing the point as getting it: the Trucks are simultaneously above your head and below your knees. *
March 24, 9 p.m., $8
1600 17th St., SF
It was four years ago this March 19 that the United States invaded Iraq, triggering massive street protests in San Francisco and a widely criticized military occupation that has become one of the longest in US history.
The war has proved to be as bloody and shortsighted as its opponents always claimed it would be. More than 3,100 American soldiers have been killed, as have as many as hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, with little hope of the violence abating anytime soon, despite President George W. Bush’s recent deployment of 21,500 more troops. The war has cost the United States about $400 billion so far, a price tag increasing by about $250 million every day of the occupation. And it has spurred anti-Americanism around the world.
Opinion polls show a strong majority in the United States favors immediate withdrawal from Iraq, and a growing number of Democrats in Congress now appear to be moving in that direction. But antiwar activists are planning an escalation of their own, arguing that only through a ramped-up and more widely disseminated peace movement will this war come to an end.
To mark this inauspicious anniversary, United for Peace and Justice, the nation’s largest antiwar coalition, has issued a call for "a massive outpouring of opposition to the war in locally based, decentralized actions throughout the U.S." from March 17 to 19. It’s a clear departure from the peace movement’s norm of massive, centralized marches located in Washington, DC, New York, and San Francisco.
Tens of thousands of people poured into the streets of San Francisco on March 20, 2003, with more than 1,500 people arrested in civil disobedience actions that effectively shut down the city. Antiwar groups are still hoping for a big turnout in the city next week, even as they shift their strategy to include more of Middle America.
Instead of relying on charismatic visionaries, influential organizations, and hierarchical organizing in the big cities, the new strategy calls on citizens to take the initiative and organize from Mobile, Ala., to Jonesboro, Ark., to Fayetteville, N.C. and demonstrate a broad base of active opposition to the war.
"The resistance isn’t only in San Francisco," Jim Haber, a member of the steering committee for United for Peace and Justice Bay Area, told the Guardian. "Large demonstrations here get attributed to San Francisco being out of step with the rest of the country although less so these days."
While it is important to have big showings, Haber said it’s also important to demonstrate that the opposition is widespread. "Rather than making people who want to protest come to us, we’re going to them and they’re all over."
Several of the affinity groups that were instrumental in the shutdown of San Francisco four years ago are regrouping for a rally and nonviolent direct action at Chevron’s headquarters in San Ramon.
"Four years ago we not only shut down San Francisco’s Financial District, we also shut down Chevron," Antonia Juhasz, one of the organizers and a Tarbell fellow with Oil Change International, told us. "Neither our message nor our tactics have changed."
The Iraqi parliament is set to pass a law that would transform Iraq’s nationalized oil system to a commercialized model, completely open to corporate pillaging, following the trail first blazed by the US-installed Coalition Provisional Authority, headed by L. Paul Bremer. "The law is the brainchild of the Bush administration," Juhasz said. "Now is a particularly critical time to expose the oil agenda behind the war."
David Solnit, a longtime organizer and member of the Bay Rising affinity group, told us, "This is a similarly strategic moment for the antiwar movement to escalate. Hopes of getting the Democrats to do anything are fading. It’s up to us, and folks are hungry for taking direct action."
Just about everyone organizing for March 17 to 19 agrees that relying on the congressional Democrats to bring the troops home is an abysmal plan.
"We’re telling people to stop looking up and start looking around," Ben Rosen, youth organizer and media coordinator with World Can’t Wait, told us. "There is no Democratic savior here."
World Can’t Wait has allied with the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) coalition to organize a massive march up Market Street to the Civic Center on March 18. ANSWER still favors centralized protests, including a massive march on the Pentagon.
"The real direction for this war is coming from the Pentagon," Richard Becker, ANSWER’s West Coast regional coordinator, told us. "A powerful march on the Pentagon would be the most significant thing that could happen right now."
Rosen agrees that centralized coordination is required to build a cohesive and powerful movement.
"They argue that marching in San Francisco is preaching to the choir," Rosen said. "But actually we’re setting an example for people in the middle of the country who look to San Francisco, New York, and DC as models."
Massive centralized marches have been the linchpin of this country’s peace movement, but many observers are questioning whether they are the most effective strategy.
"People say ‘the movement’s failed,’ " Becker said. "That’s an incorrect conclusion. Building a movement powerful enough to stop war when all the resources of the state are mobilized for it is very difficult."
Max Diorio, conational coordinator of Not in Our Name, which has joined the ANSWER coalition organizing for March 18, agrees. "If San Francisco has a paltry march, what does that say about the rest of the country? It took 10 years from the first big mobilization against Vietnam to end that war. People are used to instant gratification in this country, but it takes a while. That’s why they call it a struggle."
On March 19 there will be a die-in on Market Street, also initiated by former members of Direct Action to Stop the War.
"The die-in will help to make personal the real cost of war in human lives," Suzanne Sam Joi, a coordinator for Codepink Bay Area, told us. "Too often we can forget that someone who was loved and treasured a mother, a sister their life has been destroyed."
In another national antiwar effort, UFPJ member group the Voices for Creative Nonviolence initiated the Occupation Project. Demonstrators have sat in at their legislators’ offices across the country, and 159 people have been arrested so far.
The shift in the UFPJ’s strategy calling for decentralized, localized actions all over the country is significant. Until Middle Americans stop looking east and west for models and start organizing themselves, their representatives can safely ignore calls to bring the troops home. *
Marisa Handler’s first book, Loyal to the Sky: Notes from an Activist, chronicles her experiences in the global justice movement from Miami to Lima to Kathmandu.
It’s no small feat that Aussie gossamer popsters Youth Group were able to rescue Alphaville’s overwrought new wave flashback-grenade “Forever Young” and miraculously twirl it around into a glistening, gently unfolding four-minute pageant. Better yet, their latest release, Casino Twilight Dogs (Anti-), gushes with 11 other exquisitely crafted charmers destined to draw inevitable, but understandable, Shins comparisons, while elements of that glorious synergy achieved by English pop-anthem geniuses James with producer extraordinaire Brian Eno bubble up. (Todd Lavoie)
8:30 p.m., $13
333 11th St., SF
If we live in an age of cynicism, one in which an existential leap of faith, to borrow from Søren Kierkegaard, is necessary to imbue with meaning this unbright rock we call earth, then Creativity Explored is a safe house in our land of dread. This inspirational Mission gallery and studio provides a venue for people with disabilities, many of whom are nonverbal, to create and express themselves. “Seeing Memory” — curated by Larry Rinder, California College of the Arts dean — is an exhibit of recent work by member artists exploring the images and mechanisms of memory. (Nathan Baker)
Through April 6, free.
Creativity Explored Gallery
3245 16th St., SF
The San Francisco Chronicle’s intrepid reporters have insisted repeatedly in recent weeks that the Delancey Street Foundation accepts absolutely no government funds. “Instead, it relies on donations and the profits from its commercial enterprises,” San Francisco’s paper of record wrote on Feb. 6.
A simple search of the city’s vendor database, however, confirms that several local agencies in San Francisco paid Delancey Street amounts totaling well over $1 million for the last two fiscal years alone. The Department of Children, Youth & Their Families gave Delancey Street $98,000 in program grants for each of the last two fiscal years and by the end of 2007 will have given the nonprofit more than $300,000.
And the mayor’s office gave Delancey Street $435,000 in fiscal year 2006 and $483,000 in 2005, the records show.
The city has paid the foundation more than $200,000 so far this year, and there’s another $64,000 in outstanding payments. The Guardian obtained copies of the grant agreements through sunshine requests made last week.
Mayor Newsom is receiving “counseling” for a self-diagnosed excessive love of white wine from Delancey Street’s politically well-connected executive director, Mimi Silbert, who has known Newsom and his family for years.
The foundation’s easily accessible federal tax forms reflect the hundreds of thousands in annual government dollars paid to Delancey Street.
After local blogger Michael Petrelis began contesting the claims, a Chronicle reporter clarified for Petrelis following a call to Silbert that grant money from the city supports a charter school on Treasure Island called the Life Learning Academy. The academy is managed by Delancey Street and targets troublesome teens – half of them on probation – who have had problems elsewhere in the school district. Silbert told us that the school was designed in part to emulate Delancey Street by operating businesses like its organic produce subscription service and bike maintenance shop.
She said, as Delancey Street has for years, that program residents living at the nonprofit’s Embarcadero Street headquarters depend on one another to keep the place operating through its variety of undertakings.
“We structured it without a staff and without day-to-day funding so that people could help each other,” Silbert said. “And it’s in the helping of each other that you begin to find your strength. And since they run the organization and go from department to department to department, they eventually find what they are good at.”
But there’s more. According to Delancey Street’s tax forms and deed records maintained by the county recorder, the Mayor’s Office of Housing facilitated a $4 million loan for Delancey Street in 1989 using city money to help with the construction of its sprawling residential and commercial center on the Embarcadero, which cost $20 million to build, not including donated labor. As long as Delancey Street complied with a series of terms, the loan, plus interest, would be forgiven after 20 years. Free government money, in other words.
The city’s mayor at that time was Art Agnos. Delancey Street leveraged $18 million more through the private sector to cover the rest of its construction costs for the Embarcadero Triangle Project, according to its tax forms.
They did so using a cash-generating scheme known as a “leaseback” agreement. A third party purchased the property for $18.7 million paid to Delancey Street and also covered the expense of the $4 million loan made by the city. The whole transaction took place only on paper, and in exchange, the third party got to take advantage of the property’s low-income housing tax credits by technically owning 600 Embarcadero St. while the nonprofit continued to operate Delancey Street at the location.
Silbert wields far-reaching connections inside the Democratic Party and among moneyed philanthropists including Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Sen Dianne Feinstein and even Britain’s prime minister, Tony Blair. When Silbert announced plans to expand nationally, Delancey Street’s longtime supporter, Feinstein, vowed to secure a $1 million grant from the U.S. Justice Department to help in the effort, according to a 2002 LA Times profile of the organization.
The foundation is headquartered in a burnt umber stucco building on Embarcadero Street fringed with decorative iron gates and planters beneath French-style windows. Overlaying the property is a grid of sun-baked courtyards. Its design complies neatly with the principles of New Urbanism encouraged in the northeastern neighborhood with a walkable row of ground-floor businesses and densely packed dwellings. According to lore, it was built entirely by residents of Delancey Street.
If you didn’t know it was a treatment center, frankly, you’d mistake it for another of the innumerable yuppie enclaves that have sprouted in the neighborhood over the last two decades.
Five hundred residents live on site and conduct all of the program’s day-to-day operations as part of their commitment to an intensive two-year program. They provide labor for several Delancey Street businesses that buoy the nonprofit, from its famous Delancey Street Restaurant to a national moving and trucking service.
Leaseback agreements, such as the one entered into by Delancey Street to build its hub on the Embarcadero, are a common financing mechanism for low-income housing construction. But the forgivable loan from the city shows that a little sleuthing on the part of reporters would have gone a long way in confirming the extent of the nonprofit’s professed independence