Nicole Gluckstern

The buzz on urban bees



GREEN CITY One would hardly even notice there was a beehive in the garden behind the Mission District’s Kaliflower Collective, except for the winged traffic shuttling industriously between the four-tiered bee box and the fruit trees flowering just overhead.

It’s not easy to imagine, given the scant handful of visible bees, that as many as 50,000 bees might be contained within the modest hive which, at less than two feet square and about three feet tall, looks as innocuous and unthreatening as a stack of closet organizers. It’s also hard, in this tranquil setting, to fully appreciate the crisis situation of colony collapse disorder (CCD), which has been quietly decimating honeybee populations nationwide since 2006. Some beekeepers report up to 90 percent losses. Since bees are responsible for pollinating a wide variety of urban plants — from fruit trees to garden veggies, from clover to cactus — beekeeping is more than a curious hobby. It’s an essential link in the chain of life as we know it.

The even-keeled behavior of San Francisco’s backyard bees is appreciated by most urban beekeepers. Roger Meier, a Castro District-based beekeeper whose home-produced honey appears in several local markets under the label Mint Hill, admits that despite their proven usefulness in city settings, the idea of kept bees can cause some consternation among the uninitiated. Swarming bees in search of a new hive (such as a recent incident in the Mission reported on is cited as a cause for alarm by nervous neighbors.

"It’s pretty frightening to wake up and find a big swarm of bees in your backyard if you don’t know much about them," Meier says. His neighbors have come to appreciate his honey-making habit over the years, not to mention their own well-pollinated apple trees, which he calls "happy with fruit." That Meier, like most experienced beekeepers, actively maintains his hives to prevent swarming also helps keep potential public relations problems in check.

Since swarms mainly occur when a hive gets overcrowded, Meier and his fellow apiculturists monitor the population growth of each hive and split their broods into empty bee boxes when necessary — a process known as "forced swarming." Despite these precautions, swarms can occur, but people are urged not to panic or reach for the Raid. Instead, the San Francisco Beekeepers Association offers removal referrals on its Web site,, and many urban beekeepers are happy to inherit a new brood.

Peter Sinton, president of the association, estimates there to be around 60 active beekeepers in a club with a membership of 171, a number that seems initially low until you consider that most beekeepers run multiple hives. Kept bees can be found across the area in backyards, rooftops, community gardens, the Alemany Farm, and the Crystal Springs watershed. Spreading the bee population over far-flung neighborhoods is one way to ensure the continued survival of diverse flora and means that even if the beekeeper loses one or two hives to infestation, infection, or CCD, there will be some survivors.

It’s not just a passion for pollination that brings nascent beekeepers into the fold. Nancy Ellis, animal exhibit coordinator at the Randall Museum, began her journey into apiculture when she became responsible for the upkeep of the museum’s exhibit hive. Nearly nine years later, she cares for four hives in various locations and bottles her honey harvests under the label Bee Bop. She waxes somewhat rhapsodic on the unique benefits of honey: "It’s bactericidal, like Neosporin," she explains, "and its chemical makeup keeps it from spoiling or getting moldy." Another unique benefit of honey is its reported effect on sufferers of pollen allergies, whom Ellis encourages to take a small dose of locally-produced honey per day to "inoculate" themselves against the allergens present in surrounding flora.

But it’s not just the medicinal that lures folks into apiculture. Suzi Palladino, youth program and compost education manager at the Garden for the Environment, cites her interest in urban sustainability and self-sufficiency as key to her forays into apiculture. Peter Sinton refers to the meditative state his beekeeping encourages.

"Handling bees is like tai chi," he says. "Do it with calm and grace, and bees usually do not get riled up."

Art Street Theatre


PREVIEW The places we long to be often have the greatest hold on our imaginations. In Chekhov’s The Three Sisters, Olga, Masha, and Irina dream of returning to Moscow, believing it’s the only place they can be truly happy. Of course, in Chekhov’s version, they never do manage to reach the Promised Land. Their dreams unfulfilled, the sisters eventually must resign themselves to their respective quiet desperations. Mark Jackson’s Yes, Yes to Moscow, which makes its North American premiere at Dance Mission Theatre for the San Francisco International Arts Festival, imagines the long-awaited arrival of the sisters to Moscow and the pitfalls of getting what you wish for.

Jackson, whose focus on the physical has long been a hallmark of his work, collaborates with Berlin-based choreographer Sommer Ulrickson, American actor Beth Wilmurt, and German performance artist Tilla Kratochwil to create a multidisciplinary, multilingual, multifaceted production. A smash hit at the Deutsches Theater a continent away (leading to a commission for Jackson and Ulrickson to collaborate again in 2009), Moscow‘s San Francisco debut fits in well with SFIAF’s theme: the truth in knowing/now. Forced by an unsympathetic and foreign reality to reexamine their assumptions about home, Moscow, and familiarity, the sisters must confront the not-knowing within their now, and rediscover truth as best they can.

Art Street Theatre Fri/30, 9:30 p.m.; Sat/31, 4:30 p.m.; Sun/1, 7 p.m. Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St., San Francisco. $20. 1-800-838-3006,

6 African feasts


If there’s one thing I learned while traveling in Africa, it’s that you can never predict the sublime. With little to guide you except your nose and your gut, eating "out" usually means perching on the side of the road in front of an unprepossessing stall and entrusting your appetite’s fate to the dish of the day. Luckily it seems there’s no end to the possibilities created from a handful of humble ingredients — tomatoes, onions, legumes, and yams — and the deft talents of a multitude of unsung culinary geniuses. Even luckier, in San Francisco, traveling gastronomically around an entire continent is as easy as hopping the bus to the next neighborhood, proving that even local travel can broaden one’s horizons — not to mention waistline.


Ever the sentimentalist, I have been known to wax nostalgic about Tajine’s former gritty Jones Street location, which was so tiny it only had two or three tables and a bustling to-go trade among the city’s taxi drivers. But because I consciously strive to embrace change (no, really!), I am able to appreciate their newer, bigger, and admittedly more expensive Polk Gulch location. Though its menu includes kebab plates, flaky bastilles (savory phyllo dough pastries), and an array of salads, it’s the hearty, meaty, one-pot stews (tajines) that really get my tastebuds tingling.

1338 Polk, SF, (415) 440-1718,


From the national dish of Senegal (thiebou djen, a tilapia-based stew, served with red rice) to the regional specialties of yapou khar (a melt-in-your-mouth lamb dish from the city of Thiès) and yassa chicken from Casamance, Bissap Baobab dishes up pan-Senegalese cuisine with friendly flair. The not-to-be missed drinks, mixed with bissap (hibiscus), ginger, and tamarind juices inspire smooth (and otherwise) moves on the dance floor of Little Baobab once the tables have been pushed away and the rotating lineup of DJs comes out to play at 10 p.m.

2323 Mission, SF. (415) 826-9287

3388 19th St., SF. (415) 643-3558


The axis of the San Francisco Ethiopian restaurant "scene" for many years, Axum Café serves a fine, spicy kifto (Ethiopia’s version of steak tartare), tender lamb tibsie, and an array of vegetarian options that would make even a diehard carnivore’s mouth water. Tucked behind an unpretentious facade on Haight Street, what Axum might lack in slickster glamour it more than makes up for with its solid menu and neighborhood-friendly prices. Plus, you can mistake their injera for a tablecloth — it’s that big (though much tastier).

698 Haight, SF. (415) 252-7912,


If you’ve come down, as I’ve been known to, with a persistent craving for fufu and egusi soup, you’ll be relieved to know that your hankering can be satisfied at A Taste of Africa without having to jump on the next plane to West Africa. This cheerful Cameroonian establishment also serves steamed corn koki (call ahead for availability) and a variety of savory vegetable dishes and meat stews. For an even more accurate taste of Africa, their food truck at the Ashby BART flea market definitely reminds me of the open air food stalls where I sampled so many of these dishes the first time around.

3015 Shattuck and Ashby BART station, Berk. (510) 981-1939


Though the cuisines are virtually identical, you don’t want to confuse Eritrea for Ethiopia in polite company. Still, for those who love their Ethiopian restaurant experiences, the drill at New Eritrea Restaurant will be familiar. Receive platters of flavorful food, plunge in sans silverware, and chase with copious amounts of Harar beer or steamed milk with honey. For the frugal and adventurous alike, they offer the familiar vegetarian sampler platter and a less usual meat one, plus three varieties of sambusas (stuffed East African fritters).

907 Irving, SF. (415) 691-1288


I love eating out in Berkeley period. You never have to stand in hipster hell waiting for admittance to food heaven, even on weekends. And for my money, as far as heavenly goes, you can’t beat the Ghanaian grub at Tropical Paradise. Try the tastiest fried plantains in the Bay, served piping hot alongside delicately seasoned black-eyed peas — a deceptively simple dish known as Red Red. The ubiquitous fermented corn dumplings (kenkey), hearty waachi, and a blood-warming "light" soup with fufu and generous portions of goat, chicken, or salmon bring Ghana to life in your mouth — especially when pleasantly washed down with a spicy sweet blend of fruit and ginger.

2021 University Avenue, Berkeley, (510) 665-4380 *

The 100-yard diet



GREEN CITY Locavorism — the practice of eating only or mostly food raised with a 100-mile distance — has been a hot trend the past couple of years. It’s a concept that makes a lot of sense — even organic food grown hundred or thousands of miles away can hardly be considered sustainable once you figure in the resources used to ship it.

But a committed breed of urban farmers is challenging even the 100-mile definition of local food. These folks are cultivating their own cornucopia in their backyards and community garden plots, pruning their own fruit trees, raising their own chickens….

Hold on a minute. Chickens? In the city?

It’s true. Not only is it possible to raise your own small brood (four or less) in San Francisco, but it’s less labor intensive and materially more rewarding than caring for your household pets. Do you need to take a chicken out for walks? No. Does your Chihuahua lay eggs? No.

And you can expect to reap more than just eggs from your new feathered friends. As Walter Parenteau of the Panhandle puts it, "Chickens fill an important spot in the cycle of a sustainable backyard." From their nitrogen-rich manure (an excellent catalyst for compost) to their enthusiasm for pest control, chickens earn their keep — even without the dozen eggs a week you’ll get from each pair of first-year layers.

A major issue for raising chickens in your backyard is space. In San Francisco, the city’s Department of Public Health requires that chicken coops be situated at least 20 feet from all buildings — which rules out keeping chickens on your patio or in your living room. Chickens also need space to thrive in: their run should ideally provide a minimum of four square feet per chicken and include a predator-proof covering of chicken wire or nonmetallic "poultry netting," which also will prevent escapees (contrary to popular belief, chickens can fly, albeit clumsily and infrequently).

A fully enclosed chicken coop built of sturdier materials — plywood or bamboo — is also necessary. Interior nesting boxes should be about one square big foot — just large enough for one chicken. For cleanliness and insulation, a thick layer of straw or hay should be scattered over all the surfaces and changed every couple of months. The old, excrement-laden material can then be composted immediately.

The other main consideration for urban chickens is protection from predators.

"We never saw raccoons in our garden until they discovered we had chickens," says Walter, a San Francisco chicken farmer. "But when they did, we saw them in there every night for three weeks." The unwelcome visitors’ persistence finally paid off when the coop was left unlocked, and the coons made off with one of two hens.

Brian W., who raised chickens for 10 years in the Bayview District, also cites hawks as a major threat to chickens living in uncovered runs, and says that rats are attracted to unclean or unsupervised coops.

"You have to think hard about how you’re going to shelter your chickens from predators," agrees Paul Glowaski, who teaches workshops on raising urban poultry at SF’s Garden for the Environment. "You might need to get creative with your space."

These considerations aside, city-dwelling chicken farmers remain overwhelmingly positive about their experiences. Inexpensive to feed (kitchen scraps, garden snails, and cracked corn play the biggest dietary roles) and content, for the most part, with entertaining themselves, backyard birds provide a gentle gateway experience for novices to animal husbandry. They offer benefits to the ecology of their environment, and help restore a connection to the food production chain. Chickens are the missing link to perfecting what Novella Carpenter of Oakland calls "the 100-yard diet." Even as a hobby, raising chickens can impart an irresistible element of eco-chic to their respective owners.

"At the end of the day, you get to be the ‘guy with chickens in his backyard,’ " Walter says. "And that can be a lot of fun."

To be, or to be autonauts


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REVIEW Certain travelogues can be likened to love letters to a destination, though rarely does actual romance play a part in their construction. But when acclaimed postmodern Argentine author Julio Cortázar took to the road with his third wife, Carol Dunlop, it was a journey precipitated by mutual fondness as much as a desire for discovery.

In Autonauts of the Cosmoroute (Archipelago Books, 354 pages, $20) an author best known for his nonsequential opus Hopscotch and collections of surreal short stories approaches the task of travel with the same whimsy and contradiction that characterize his literary oeuvre. Setting out on a pseudoscientific expedition to map the freeway between Paris and Marseilles, a distance of approximately 500 miles, Cortázar (nicknamed El Lobo) and the Canadian Dunlop (La Osita) spend a full 33 days en route, confining themselves to two rest stops per day.

Diligently recording their every meal, the time and temperature, and the specifics of local flora and fauna, the two intrepids further intersperse their daily log reports with expository musings on the nature of games, perception, and existence; fictitious letters from a fellow freeway traveler; and sweetly sincere tributes to their May-December romance. From Dunlop: "This genus of wolf is capable of the worst insanities, which are usually the most beautiful." From Cortázar: "My new day, my reason to live a new day."

Whether perused as an exploration of the external world or a map to an interior one, Anne McLean’s translation of Autonauts of the Cosmoroute compels the reader to examine the minutiae of the mundane with the microscope of wonderment. Reveling in inconsistency, El Lobo and La Osita aim not to simply bridge distances but to illuminate them. Their unique approach is perhaps best espoused by Cortázar, who apocryphally quotes another, unnamed metaphysician: "When you concentrate your attention in that gap, in the void between two objects … then at that one moment, you see reality."

Lucky 13


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Since 1996 the Goethe-Institut’s annual Berlin and Beyond Film Festival has been bringing German-language cinema from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland to the Europhiles of San Francisco. As 2008 marks the festival’s 13th year — which signals a transition toward maturity in many cultures — it’s perhaps appropriate that several offerings come from directors who have already brought their first or second films here. One example is Robert Thalheim, winner of the fest’s 2005 Best First Feature Award for Netto, who returns with his fictional account of a young German’s experience of working in Auschwitz today, And Along Come Tourists. But perhaps no triumphal return is more anticipated than that of Fatih Akin, whose The Edge of Heaven comes to San Francisco after garnering multiple awards on the festival circuit, including best screenplay honors last spring in Cannes.

Akin is a director much concerned with connection. After exploring the tenuous alliances of family and homeland in 2002’s Solino and the complex, at times violent bonds of love in 2004’s Head-On, he meditates on death’s unanticipated capacity to unite the living in his newest film. The slow pace and nonlinear construction of his latest offering might initially surprise audiences looking for the visceral force of his previous movies, but it’s a surprise worth following to the film’s introspective conclusion.

Heaven begins by focusing on characters of Turkish descent living in Germany, a diaspora of more than two million people. When aging pensioner Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz) seeks comfort in the arms of middle-aged prostitute Yeter (Nursel Köse), it is their common language, not just the blow job, that excites him. Ali also speaks Turkish to his son Nejat (Baki Davrak), a fastidious intellectual, but divines that otherwise their relationship lacks closeness. Nejat and Yeter quietly ally after she reveals she is prostituting herself in order to put her daughter through school in Istanbul, and when an act of unexpected violence shatters their fledgling harmony, he resolves to find Yeter’s daughter and finance her studies himself.

At this point Heaven breaks away from simple narrative to trace the intricately entwined paths of three strong-willed women. Yeter’s daughter, Ayten (Nurgül Yesilçay), is not a student after all, but a revolutionary and a freedom fighter. Following a police raid on her flat, she comes to Germany to find her mother. Instead, she finds Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska), a headstrong German girl who offers her a place to stay. Soon they embark on an almost gratuitous (yet earnestly portrayed) lesbian relationship. Former Rainer Werner Fassbinder muse Hanna Schygulla’s nuanced performance as Susanne, Lotte’s disapproving mother, is one of the film’s strongest. Struggling to relate to her stubborn daughter, she adds a necessary ballast of reason, even as Lotte abruptly leaves home to follow Ayten, who’s been deported to Turkey and jailed.

Another death is all it takes to draw the survivors together, discovering in one another and themselves the attributes they thought were lost with the deceased. Susanne and Nejat in particular find solace in their unifying memories, creating a link that, though forged from tragedy, speaks more to life. Leaving all final reconciliation offscreen, Akin deftly ends his film on a note of pensive ambiguity, a restraint that befits his rising reputation as a director entering his prime.

Another Berlin and Beyond alum, Christian Petzold, delivers a film that — though it couldn’t be more texturally different from Akin’s — is strangely complementary to Heaven. Disassociation, not connection, is the overriding theme of Yella, propelling the titular protagonist from East to West, desperation to determination, the bottom of a river to the head of a boardroom. Nina Hoss plays a woman haunted in every sense of the word. After leaving her small East German village and abusive husband behind in search of a new life as a corporate drone in Hannover, she can’t keep remnants of her past from resurfacing in disorienting ways. Even though you can spot the supposed surprise plot twist an hour away, Hoss’s slow unraveling casts a spell. *


Thurs/10, 8 p.m., Castro (opening-night party 6:30–8 p.m., $35)


Sat/12, 8 p.m., Castro


Runs Jan. 10–16 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF, and the Goethe-Institut, 530 Bush, SF, and Jan. 19 at the Arena Theater, 210 Main, Point Arena. For tickets (most films $10) and additional information, call (415) 263-8760 or visit

Feast: 5 tables for one


It’s such a cliché to say, "I hate to eat out alone." What’s to hate? True, it’s different from eating at home in your pajamas with a Scarface DVD for company, but when you’re on the go, you’re on the go, and there comes a point when grabbing another soggy sandwich at the corner market just won’t do. Sometimes you have to sit down, regroup, and eat something hot that doesn’t come out of a microwave or a cellophane packet. Peruse the latest Stop Smiling, or, god forbid, meet new people. Here’s a short list of a few places where eating alone doesn’t feel like an excerpt from No Exit — and the only hell involved is choosing just one entrée.


While I was living in Madrid, solitude was hard to come by. Everyone went out in large groups, and day or night the streets were never empty. It was in the lively corner cafés of Lavapies that I honed the ability to be alone despite being constantly surrounded — gleaning respite within the chaos. Sometimes I like to relive those gloriously jumbled evenings of unfamiliar faces, clattering platters, and a graciously retiring waitstaff. At Esperpento, as in Lavapies, I can camp out in the corner with a dog-eared book, sipping a second fino, nibbling my boquerones, patatas, and olives (Spanish comfort food) as the Missionista jet-set ebbs and flows around me.

3295 22nd St., SF. (415) 282-8867


OK, I admit it. I have something of a fetish for erratic Eurostyle dining. Much like Esperpento, Café Prague never lets me down in this regard. There’s ABBA on the radio. The cooks are frequently having uncomfortably loud discussions in the back that sound like they would be a lot of fun to eavesdrop on, if only I spoke Czech. The place is almost invariably out of the soup I want (though it does have more than 10 to choose from). What it boils down to for me, though, is that Café Prague serves my favorite spinach salad in town. Bigger than my head, it comes adorned with an entire hardboiled egg, chunks of addictive bacon, a slab of focaccia, veggies, and chunky blue cheese dressing. I wouldn’t call it an authentic central European spinach salad by any means, though Café Prague has the hookup on goulash and strudel too if you’re into it. But I am into spinach, and this is where I eat it.

584 Pacific, SF. (415) 433-3811


It takes a certain gumption to force your hungover self out of the homestead on a Sunday morning for a solo brekkie. But sometimes the cupboard is that bare, and it’s times like these when places like the Golden Coffee fulfill a need you might not even have known you had — for example, the need to eat a $6 steak, or the need to drink half a dozen coffee refills over a plate of crispy, golden hash browns (or chow mein!) cooked to greasy perfection by the middle-aged Asian grill master to the lilting strains of classical music. Seated elbow to elbow around a horseshoe-shaped countertop, the patrons of this landmark greasy spoon may not always agree on sports teams, career paths, or politics — but we can all agree that breakfast is a very important part of our day.

901 Sutter, SF. (415) 922-0537


One reason to come here alone is because it’s so impossibly tiny that if you try to enter with more than one (short) friend, you might not make it beyond the front door. By yourself, you have half a chance of finding an empty bar stool — eventually. While you wait, nursing a juicy sangria, there is plenty to feast your eyes on, as every available surface of the place is decorated with a Dali-esque array of limbless misfit toys with mohawks, loteria cards, doctored lithographs, and dioramas containing giant rubber insects. Being social is more than just the name of the place: it’s the entire point. So leave your homework at home where it belongs and strike up a conversation with the Cuban expat beside you while plowing into a satisfying plate of black beans and rice or nibbling on a crispy chicken empanada.

1109 Valencia, SF. (415) 824-7659


After a long, hard afternoon shopping at Amoeba Records, you might find yourself in the awkward position of needing an immediate noodle transfusion (don’t scoff, it happens). Too cramped and clattery to be a good venue to bring anyone with whom you might want to have a conversation, the Citrus Club, a pan-Asian noodle house, is a great place to fly solo while you down some hot and sour soup from a bowl big enough to bathe in afterwards. A bit of a hipster magnet, it has vegan options and sake cocktails too. Best of all, the inevitable lines can be easily circumvented by sitting at the counter — an action that delivers its own smug reward.

1790 Haight, SF. (415) 387-6366*

Biodiesel backfire



On May 18, 2006, Mayor Gavin Newsom issued Executive Directive 06-02 — also referred to as the Biodiesel Initiative — ordering the city of San Francisco to switch to a fuel blend that includes at least 20 percent biodiesel in all of its diesel vehicles. The move won environmental plaudits: the National Biodiesel Board cited the plan as being the farthest-reaching proclamation of its kind.

It was the kind of ambitious program that played up the mayor’s environmental credentials. Biodiesel is made not from petroleum but from renewable domestic resources such as vegetable oil. It produces far fewer greenhouse gases and toxic byproducts than traditional diesel and can work with any standard diesel engine.

Using just 20 percent biodiesel in the fuel mix can reduce carbon monoxide emissions by 12 percent and smog-forming hydrocarbons by 20 percent.

And Newsom insisted this wasn’t a far-off dream: he projected that a full 25 percent of the city’s diesel fleet would be using the green fuel by March 31, 2007, and every last bus, street cleaner, and fire truck would be switched over by the end of the year.

But March 31 has come and gone, and the city isn’t even close to meeting that goal.

San Francisco uses approximately eight million gallons of diesel fuel per year, in vehicles ranging from heavy-duty fire engines to street sweepers, airport shuttles, and maintenance vehicles. The biggest user by far is Muni, which burns as much as six million gallons annually.

And Muni is way behind on its biodiesel deadline. In fact, the agency has yet to submit its pilot proposal to the Department of the Environment. And while clean vehicles coordinator Vandana Bali told us 33 of Muni’s nonrevenue vehicles are being fueled with B20 — the mandated mix of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent traditional petroleum product — she was unable to offer even a tentative timeline for introduction of the less-noxious fuel into Muni’s diesel bus fleet.

Converting Muni to biodiesel hasn’t been as easy as Newsom projected. Much of the bus fleet uses a high-tech emission control system, and the manufacturer hasn’t approved the device for use with biofuels.

And then there are the transition issues.

Mike Ferry, a firefighter at the San Francisco Fire Department, which runs about 150 diesel vehicles, told us the department had to put a lot of time and money into upgrading its infrastructure for biodiesel.

Regular diesel is a fuel that practically takes care of itself, even under substandard conditions — but biodiesel requires better storage conditions, more regular rotation, and cleaner tanks. And although diesel engines require little to no modification to be compatible with biodiesel blends, it’s often necessary to change out the fuel filter before introducing the biofuel, to prevent clogging.

The fire department also has to clean out all 20 of its diesel storage tanks, at a cost of between $2,000 and $3,000 a tank.

But for a department with an annual budget of $220 million, that’s not a vast amount of cash. And several other city departments have managed to comply with Newsom’s edict. San Francisco International Airport started using B20 in 19 airport shuttles in July 2006, and the entire inventory of approximately 150 diesel vehicles switched to B20 on a permanent basis the following September.

The city’s central shops, where more than 900 diesel vehicles — including street sweepers and Recreation and Park Department equipment — are fueled, switched one of two diesel tanks over to B20 in 2006 and the second on March 15, 2007. Jim Johnson, superintendent of central shops, estimates that the agency uses about 650,000 gallons of diesel fuel annually.

But compared with the six million gallons of diesel fuel used by Muni, 650,000 gallons is a drop in the municipal bucket. In fact, while the Biodiesel Initiative was designed to spare the air the effects of at least 1.6 million gallons of petrodiesel annually, 20 percent of 650,000 gallons is just 130,000 gallons of pure biodiesel. Even adding in the approximately 5,000 gallons of B20 per month used by the airport and the 2,000 gallons (out of 170,000) per month currently being used by the Fire Department, the city still falls short of 25 percent implementation by a large margin.

Nathan Ballard, a spokesperson for Newsom, told us the mayor had discussed the situation with Muni before making his public statement and at the time Muni officials were fully supportive of the plan.

It’s still possible for the city to get closer to Newsom’s emissions-reduction goal: even if Muni is unable (or unwilling) to make the shift, other agencies could increase the amount of biodiesel they put in the mix. Most vehicles can run fine on 100 percent biodiesel. But December is fast approaching — and it’s hard to see how Newsom can make his promise come true. *

For more SFBG biodiesel coverage, click here

3-2-1 Impact



I can kick your ass. Not euphemistically, not theoretically, but literally. If you were to attack me in a dark alley — or anywhere else — I could break free, knock you to the ground, and kick you into unconsciousness. I’m five-foot-five, 135 lbs., and not particularly athletic, and I’ve been in exactly one fistfight in my life, which I won mostly by default (I was eight). But as a graduate of Impact Bay Area self-defense training, I am confident in my ability to fight for my life — and win.

I’d heard about Impact for years — how students are taught to set and assert boundaries, identify unsafe situations before they escalate, and defend themselves against an attacker — but I only recently decided to try the program myself. I knew advanced courses were offered in defense against attackers with weapons and multiple assailants, but since the majority of assaults are perpetrated unarmed (according to the National Crime Victimization Survey), I decided to start with a basics class — 20 intensive hours of physical training and emotional strengthening in preparation for handling a single unarmed attacker.


Impact training addresses a woman’s weaknesses and her strengths: how to minimize the former and capitalize on the latter in the event of an attack. Although developed in the 1980s at Stanford by martial artists, Impact training doesn’t much resemble the controlled sparring and structured techniques you’ll find at your local dojo. Instead, women are taught to fight primarily using their leg strength and lower center of gravity, often by dropping to the ground (or remaining there if they’ve been tackled or pinned). Since men are more accustomed to fighting on their feet, any advantage their upper-body strength might afford them decreases exponentially when they’re forced into ground fights.

Encouraged to fight by any means possible, women are also trained in the finer points of eye gouging, choke-hold breaking, foot stomping, testicle smashing, and weenie whomping, all while vocalizing vociferously. The intent is to be as uncooperative and squirmy as possible. The point is few attackers expect women to fight back — let alone know how.

But on our first day, my 15 classmates and I started off slowly, our moves painstakingly choreographed by our tag-team instructors: coach Naomi (last name withheld according to the Impact anonymity policy) and the padded assailant I’ll call Theo. With the practiced, upbeat demeanor of a summer camp counselor, Naomi first demonstrated the moves we’d use in each fight, then walked each participant through the scenario step by awkward step. She was both guardian and ringleader, facilitating the sometimes emotional minisessions with which we started each class and goading us in every fight. It was encouraging to note that Naomi is no superathlete. She is short and soft bodied, but her moves were executed with a precision and speed she promised we’d all achieve by graduation. The back of her T-shirt read, "Caution: I kick like a girl."

The unenviable role of attacker was played by Theo, whose average-to-large frame was made to resemble the impossible physique of a cartoon weight lifter by the custom-made body armor he wears. Encased in supersize denim overalls, Theo wore padding constructed of three separate layers of foam and hard plastic, which turned his shoulders and torso into those of an NFL linebacker and extended over his thighs and genitalia. It was the helmet, though, that turned soft-spoken Theo into the unrecognizable alien we referred to as Random Creepy Guy: an enormous dome of foam and duct tape wrapped around a hard hat, with mesh "eyes" larger than the palms of our hands. This outfit ensured the physical safety of the man we were going to learn to kick, bite, gouge, jab, stomp, and generally beat the shit out of with full permission — and full force. By our third day, a second mugger was brought in to split the work, our strikes having become too powerful for one person to withstand for six hours straight.

It’s probably time for the obligatory disclaimer: I’m no advocate of violence. And Impact is not a crash course in aggression. We each signed an agreement that includes this emphatic phrase: "I will only use the techniques for self-defense and will not ever intentionally escalate a situation that could lead to an otherwise unavoidable physical confrontation." To this end, we practiced what Naomi called the protective stance: hands up, palms out, elbows at our sides, we placed one foot behind us and one in front, knees slightly bent, ready to strike — but only if necessary. With clear, modulated voices, we then practiced setting boundaries.

"Move away," we firmly told Random Creepy Guy as he hovered nearby. "Back off." Sometimes he moved away. Sometimes he moved closer, too close, reaching out to grab, and that’s when the real action began.

Our classmates cheered and shouted out the moves. "Eyes!" they’d say as we went for the assailant’s eye sockets with fingers pressed in triangular "bird beaks." "Groin!" they’d say, and knees flew up accordingly, hands still raised to protect our space.

Down went the padded assailant. The whistle squealed. "Halt!" And from the sidelines: wild, heartfelt applause. I was elated. I’ve never struck out at anyone or anything with full force, kneed a denim-clad Martian in the groin, or been applauded by a roomful of women for any reason — let alone for either of the above. I couldn’t help but get the warm fuzzies — which was, of course, the point.

I mentally added this experience to my rapidly increasing list of personal firsts and moved on to the second scenario: being grabbed from behind and wrestled to the ground. As instructed, I employed a rapid-fire sequence of biting, elbow strikes, eye jabs, and a powerful sideways thrust kick, a move we would come to use frequently. We practiced the kick in a circle on the mats.

"Strike with the heel," Theo reminded me patiently. Eventually, I discovered that if I point my toe slightly while positioning my legs before the kick, the heel naturally extends forward on its own. "How does that feel?" he asked.

"Weird," I admitted. I imagined having to ask a real-life attacker for do-overs, grinned, and kept practicing rotating my hip.

At the end of the first six-hour day, woozy from adrenaline, one of my classmates broke down crying before her final match. Her fear of being grabbed from behind had only intensified. Naomi soothed her but had her fight anyway. We cheered her on like Romans at the Colosseum as she was tackled, and we whooped as she battled her attacker, through her tears, to a knockout blow.

It was the most important lesson we learned all day: We can fight when we’re crying. We can fight when we’re exhausted. We can fight when we’re afraid. We can fight.


It’s this attention to emotions that sets Impact apart from other full-force defense techniques such as Krav Maga (an Israeli-developed school of hand-to-hand combat). More Impact instructors hail from therapeutic or healing than fitness or martial arts backgrounds, and the emphasis on training the body and mind together helps create a supportive, refreshingly noncompetitive atmosphere in the classroom. Beyond support, though, increased awareness of our mental state helps to minimize the tendency to freeze when abruptly forced into a high-adrenaline situation. By paying attention to our impulses, we are able to snap out of inaction more quickly than sheer instinct might allow, while through repetition and the uninhibited use of our full strength, we are building fight reflexes into our body memory.

I was told that instructors go through an estimated 150 to 200 hours of training in order to be able to tailor the curriculum to each student’s needs and capabilities. Students of Impact, at least in the Bay Area, are also given the opportunity to participate in a custom fight — battling the personification of an abstract fear or a real-life trauma. In this way a single classroom can simultaneously empower a victim of past abuse (such as Naomi) to take back space, encourage a nice girl to assert her boundaries firmly, and inspire a perennial klutz like me to drop to the floor of her living room to practice thrust kicks — leading with the heel — over and over until it no longer feels weird at all but just right.

For our public celebration, or graduation, we invited friends and family members to witness our final fights. We took turns being tackled, grabbed, held down, and verbally provoked while we battled back with all the promised speed and finesse that seemed so impossible our first day. Not every move was executed with picture-perfect aplomb, but the audible thwap thwap of our connecting strikes was evidence enough of our newfound abilities. If we took nothing else away from our experience, we could be sure of this: each Impact graduate (and there are more than 8,000 in the Bay Area alone) — older or younger, fit or not — has learned to kick like a girl, with strength, with speed, with heart. *


Adults $465, young adults $395, teens $195

146 E. 12th St., Oakl.

(510) 208-0474

Join Impact Bay Area for its annual SHINE fundraiser at the Women’s Building on April 29. After a demonstration of Impact techniques, the public can watch graduates of each training level fight a padded assailant on the mat. Admission is free; children under 12 are not permitted. All proceeds go to Impact’s scholarship fund, which enables low- and no-income women to take the course. (More than $17,000 in scholarships were distributed in 2006.)

April 29, 1 p.m., free. Women’s Bldg., 3543 18th St., SF. (415) 431-1180


Dance dance revolution


"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 floor–loving patrons less frequently found these days in an increasingly class-divided Mission.

3158 Mission, SF. (415) 282-3325,


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,


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 every–day–is–New Year’s Eve disco ball and silver star decor hastens their effect.

3225 22nd St., SF. (415) 647-2888,


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,


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,


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,


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,


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,


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,


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,


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,


Careers and Ed: Bio the people, fuel the people



Cars suck. I have stickers that say so and a venerable beater of a bicycle that underscores the point. But for every one of the approximately 40,000 bicycle commuters in San Francisco, there are more than 10 registered car owners, and just wishing they didn’t exist won’t make it so. But I’m no hater. I’m sure glad my plumber drives a van, for instance, and my gardener roommate wouldn’t get very far without a pickup truck to haul all that gravel and mulch. Still, the environmental, economic, and just plain moral implications of using anything that relies on petroleum for fuel have become increasingly difficult to justify — especially since interest in and access to alternative fuels are on the uptick. Last year’s mayoral biodiesel directive, when implemented, will make San Francisco the national leader in biodiesel use for municipal vehicles. In fact, the demand for biodiesel in the Bay Area could soon outstrip the current supply, and as far as getting in on the ground floor goes, the time has never been better to be involved with biofuels.

Of course, a lot of people get into biodiesel not as a career move but as a form of activist self-sufficiency that hearkens back to the ’70s return-to-the-land movement. The notion that one can power a vehicle on homemade fuel made from recycled cooking oil and a few bucks worth of drain cleaner is nigh-irresistible to penny-pinchers and political progressives alike, and the accessibility of the technology is such that even the least mechanically minded can pick it up with minimum instruction. Some instruction could be beneficial, though. Considering that two of the three major ingredients of biodiesel are highly toxic and flammable (methanol and lye), it may well behoove nascent home brewers to hone their skills in a structured environment, which local biofuel advocates are conveniently providing.


Jennifer Radtke knows her biofuels. Despite an incongruous educational background in Slavic languages and poli-sci, she has become one of the Bay Area’s premiere authorities on brewing biodiesel and running a biodiesel station, and she has offered courses and internships in both since 2003. As one of the cofounders of the women-owned Berkeley cooperative BioFuel Oasis (which serves as a station for more than 1,600 regular customers) and an instructor for the Real Goods Solar Living Institute and the Berkeley Biodiesel Collective, Radtke is committed to the biodiesel community. She teaches five different classes covering almost every aspect of the biofuel biz for beginners and advanced users alike. Though many of her classes are held in Berkeley, you can occasionally find her holding forth in Golden Gate Park’s SF County Fair Building.

For tyros to the technology, Radtke teaches a one-day introductory class covering biodiesel usage, sustainability, and home brewing. At a typical class, she opens with a presentation on biodiesel basics, listing the benefits and drawbacks of using biodiesel. Even to a nondriver like myself, the benefits appear to outweigh the disadvantages by a hefty margin.

Lower emissions and a higher rate of biodegradability are things I take for granted when thinking about biodiesel, but I certainly didn’t realize it’s less toxic to the human body than table salt when ingested and less irritating to the skin than a 4 percent soap-and-water solution. Biodiesel’s flashpoint (the temperature at which it ignites when exposed to flames) is over 300 degrees Fahrenheit — the flashpoint of petroleum-based diesel is about 125 degrees. Most interesting to me and my low-to-no-maintenance requirements is finding out biodiesel is a natural solvent that cleans out the fuel tank and filters. (Can I get it to do my dishes too?) With bennies like these, who can fault biodiesel for its unfortunate tendency to burst through rubber fuel lines (discontinued since 1994) or eat through your slick new paint job? Such inconveniences seem minor in comparison to those created by toxic, flammable petroleum-based fuels.

After a comparison discussion of biodiesel to petroleum diesel and SVO (straight veggie oil), Radtke demonstrates home brewing and discusses the chemistry involved. After a lunch break, the students brew their own one-to-two-liter batch. Starting out with a quantity of recycled cooking oil, the class tests for water and free fatty acids, a process known as titration. (When water is present in the oil, the home brewer runs the risk of making soap instead of fuel.) Titration determines whether the used oil is too rancid or has been broken down too much by high fryer heat. If the oil is deemed usable, students concoct a test brew, mixing the heated oil with methanol (wood alcohol) and sodium hydroxide (lye). Here especially is where the presence of an instructor comes in handy.

Unlike the finished product, the chemical components of biodiesel have a very low flashpoint, and their toxicity is much higher. Methanol in particular can be harmful, even deadly, if improperly handled, and for this reason alone, many biodiesel advocates are still skittish about taking the last step toward home production. After walking beginners through a safe mixing procedure, Radtke discusses washing and filtering the biofuel and assessing its quality. She also discusses how to dispose of byproducts and offers additional educational resources. For people who want to practice brewing bigger batches (20 to 40 gallons) and a get a more in-depth overview of the small production industry, a three-day advanced course is occasionally offered, often on an on-demand basis.


It doesn’t take long for the would-be home brewer to want to start tinkering with processors. For the mechanically unsavvy, Radtke offers an equipment-building workshop for five participants at a time (often in conjunction with co-instructor Alan Pryor of the Berkeley and Alameda Biodiesel co-ops or alternatively through Real Goods). Hoarding industry secrets doesn’t seem to be an issue for biofuel distributors teaching people how to make their product. In fact, a common denominator among backyard biodiesel advocates seems to be their genuine desire to spread the knowledge of their chosen vocation far and wide. Plus, as Radtke points out, most of her processor-builder students actually come from outside the Bay Area, some from as far away as Southern California, where stations like BioFuel Oasis and the SF Biofuel Cooperative have yet to materialize.

This is a paradox that Radtke and Melissa Hardy, also of BioFuel Oasis, hope to address in their upcoming five-day intensive class, How to Start Your Own Biodiesel Station (Feb. 18–23), walking students through the process, from procuring fuel and testing it to applying for the required permits and necessary funding. Other topics of interest to the budding entrepreneur include zoning and taxation laws, equipment building and maintenance, and even market development. By the end of the course, participants should have a clear vision and a working business plan to get them started in the distribution biz.

In addition to that course, BioFuel Oasis holds monthly fuel filter–changing workshops on-site (next scheduled for Jan. 21). Since biofuel has such a solvent effect, cars that have just recently switched over from regular diesel run the risk of clogging from the leftover residue dredged out by the introduced biofuel. For a $10 to $20 sliding scale fee and about 30 minutes of time, attendees learn to replace their filters, a much preferable option to waiting until they clog on the freeway. Registration and information for any of these classes can be found on the following Web sites:,, and (for classes connected with the Solar Living Institute)


Of course, even the acknowledged masters of their craft were once beginners too. For Jennifer Radtke and dozens of other home brew aficionados in the Bay Area and around the country, the force behind their fascination is one Maria "girl Mark" Alovert. With a background in grassroots activism, girl Mark is one of the nation’s most vocal proponents of home-brewed biofuels and the inventor of the ubiquitous appleseed processor, which can be made cheaply from an old hot-water heater and a handful of hardware store components. Her self-published Biodiesel Homebrew Guide is considered the definitive guide to home brewing, and her two- to four-day seminars for beginners and advanced students alike fill up months in advance. In addition to teaching and touring, girl Mark is a member and sometime moderator of several biodiesel forums and the instigator of a peer-reviewed home-brewing and equipment-building Web site known as the Collaborative Biodiesel Tutorial ( A schedule of her classes and tour dates can be found online at and

For San Franciscans who’d like their introduction to biofuel to be a little closer to home, the San Francisco Biofuels Cooperative ( offers once-a-month orientation meetings where interested parties can get practical advice on everything from where to buy a diesel car to how to advance the biofuel community’s agenda. More than 200 members strong, the co-op’s pumping station shares a location with Incredible Adventures (, a local adventure tour company that runs its biofueled fleet all the way to Baja. Co-op members can pay the premium price for biodiesel at the pump (currently $3.65 per gallon) or volunteer a couple hours per month to purchase their biofuel for less. Hailing from the old People’s Food System, former Rainbow Grocery cofounder and SF Biofuels Cooperative Board of Directors member Bill Crolius is also a driving force (with Ben Jordan and Trevitt Schultz) behind the People’s Fuel Cooperative (, a biodiesel delivery operation. Taking the long view on energy sustainability, Crolius envisions a future in which even biodiesel will be obsolete, but for the interim, he and his co-op compatriots believe it serves an essential role in weaning people off fossil fuels.

David Dias, advanced transportation and technology project coordinator at City College, organizes workshops on a variety of alternative fueling technologies, including biodiesel, natural gas, and SVO. He also heads the Biodiesel Conversion Club, an extracurricular group dedicated to converting muscle cars such as El Caminos into biodiesel road warriors. Most of the workshops cost money but are open to the general public. Contact Dias for details at (415) 550-4455 or

For nondrivers this is something of a nonissue, but for people who aren’t quite ready to give up the family car or rely on their vehicle the way contractors do, the siren song of home brewing is a seductive one. It doesn’t take much space either: a corner of your garage or the back of a toolshed will do. In light of our national crude addiction and the wars being waged on its behalf, biodiesel is a compelling product; and while there is a San Francisco–based large-scale biodiesel production company in the works (, the reality is that low-cost biodiesel on demand is still a few years away — a reality that makes home brewing an attractive solution and, in time, perhaps even the ultimate answer. *

Rapists and fishwives


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Popular cinema places a lot of stock in stories about the redemptive power of love — stories in which love turns a skeptic into a true believer, an ill-tempered miser into a philanthropist, or a broken spirit into an undamaged specimen free from the taint of failures past. This year’s Berlin and Beyond Film Festival offers two very different takes on the theme: Matthias Glasner’s The Free Will (Der Freie Wille) and Doris Dörrie’s The Fisherman and His Wife — Why Women Never Get Enough (Der Fischer und Seine Frau — Warum Frauen Nie Genug Bekommen).

No Berlin and Beyond would be complete without at least one film that turns the concept of redemptive love upside down and inside out with relentless aggression. In 2005 that film was Head-On (Gegen die Wand), directed by Fatih Akin. Its gritty exploration of a mutually destructive downward spiral forged within a marriage of convenience was mercilessly high impact and emotionally challenging. This year’s contender for most controversial confrontation with the devil inside is The Free Will, a movie about an unlikely love affair set within the context of a current hot-button topic: the effectiveness of rehabilitation for repeat sex offenders.

Opening with a scene of brutal rape, The Free Will doesn’t immediately elicit much sympathy for its protagonist, Theo (Jürgen Vogel), a marginalized dishwasher in a middle-school cafeteria. Cut to nine years and four months later, as Theo is being released from a mental institution into a halfway house for a crew of equally wayward characters. "They tell you at the hospital it’s a new chance," the home’s caretaker, Sascha (André Hennicke), cautions him. "But the others call the front door the gateway to hell." Nevertheless, Theo seeks to refamiliarize himself with normality. He lands a job in a print shop, buys himself new clothing, eats his dinners at the neighborhood trattoria. He forces himself into a punishing exercise regime, while down the hall his flatmates cry out at night and blast heavy metal through the walls. He and Sascha become fast friends and sparring partners at the local dojo, and for a time it seems as if Theo’s demons have moved on to more susceptible prey.

Enter Nettie (Sabine Timoteo): awkward, unsmiling, and living on her own for the first time at the advanced age of 27 in an attempt to break away from her overbearing father’s influence. After an initially unrewarding encounter with Theo during which she tells him she hates all men (and he lets her know he’s not that fond of Frauen), they begin to reach out to each other and eventually become a couple.

Naturally, the tensions of their unspoken personal histories remain, seething below the surface of a tenuous bond based on mutual loneliness. At the end of this unflinchingly deliberate two-and-half-hour film, director Glasner leaves the audience grappling with almost the same conundrums he presented in the beginning: can forgiveness be granted even when unsought, and can the unforgivable ever truly be redeemed?

On the opposite face of the aggression-versus-love coin is Dörrie’s reconstruction of an old Grimm’s fairy tale. Otto (Christian Ulmen) is a soft-spoken fish parasitologist whose unlikely whirlwind romance in Japan with a backpacking fabric designer results in a marriage of mismatched expectations. His new wife, Ida (Alexandra Maria Lara), quickly asserts herself as a woman of ambition, designing first scarves and then dresses based on the various distinctive markings of the koi fish she encounters through Otto. Soon her material desires outstrip Otto’s modest means, and the two find themselves locked in a passive-aggressive struggle that is both familiar and poignant. Ida has no difficulty defining what she wants, but what does Otto want? Does he even want to be with her? Why can’t he say so? For Otto, Ida’s insatiable aspirations are baffling. Why can’t she be content with what they have at the moment? "Why is the here and now an obstacle that has to be overcome?" he asks, not understanding that her relentless quest for more is an attempt to compensate for the affection Otto has trouble articuutf8g — and that she has trouble detecting in his actions.

Like those of the demanding fishwife in the fairy tale, Ida’s dreams soon outstrip all realistic measure, and her seemingly endless good fortune catapults them from camper van to condo to country home in quick succession. The more preposterous their prosperity, though, the greater the gap becomes between their understanding of each other’s emotional needs, and it’s increasingly apparent that something will have to give if love is to be preserved. Narrated in part by a chorus of tategoi who await their own transformation, The Fisherman and His Wife examines the age-old dilemma of miscommunication between the sexes and the modern-day struggle for a balance of family, career, and koi — a word that means not just fish but love. *

The 12th annual Berlin and Beyond Film Festival runs Jan. 11–20 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; Goethe-Institut, 530 Bush, SF; and Point Arena Theatre, Hwy. One, Point Arena. Tickets (most shows $5–$15) are available at; for additional information, visit


The sounds of Berlin and Beyond


Einstürzende Neubauten (Danielle de Picciotto, Germany, 2006). Perhaps appropriately, April Fool’s Day 1980 marked the first appearance of Einstürzende Neubauten, at the Moon Club in Berlin. After taking the stage frontperson Christian Emmerich (better known as Blixa Bargeld) and percussionist Andrew Chudy (N.U. Unruh), plus others, proceeded to bemuse their audience with a Dadaesque display of hammers banging on metal sheets mixed with accompanying electronic sound effects. For reasons perhaps even they can’t explain, their aggressive approach to experimental music gained an immediate following — one that has held firmer than architecture for more than 25 years. Though they announced during a 2004 tour of the United States that they would never again play live here (due to the expense of transporting their enormous, self-engineered instruments), you still have the opportunity to see them in this one-of-a-kind concert film, also from that year.

Performing in the stripped shell of emblematic East Germany eyesore (and former seat of Parliament) the Palast der Republik, Bargeld and company jump immediately into the past with “Haus der Lüge” (House of lies) from 1989 and even further back with the chilling “Armenia” from 1983. The insectile droning of Alex Hacke’s bass, Jochen Arbeit’s guitar, and Ash Wednesday’s programmed samples give way to Bargeld’s blood-curdling yowling, which rivals that of Armenian-blooded shriek chanteuse Diamanda Galás. Newer converts to the Neubauten mystique are not left adrift in a sea of nostalgia for long, though. The reason for playing at an abandoned building slated for demolition is revealed midway through the show as the Palast becomes a site-specific instrument and a chorus of 100 volunteers adds to the general clamor. Pushing the boundaries of their musicianship with seemingly infinite inventiveness, Einstürzende Neubauten signal that while their touring days may be behind them, their creative juices are in no danger of drying up. (Nicole Gluckstern)

Jan. 16, 11 p.m. Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF. $6–$9. (415) 621-6120,

Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback (Lucía Palacios and Dietmar Post, Germany/US/Spain, 2004). How to describe the Monks? Try atonal and angry and hard to dance to despite a tom-tom and an electric banjo keeping time. Plus, they tended to shout their lyrics, the more comprehensible of which were along these lines: “Hey, well, I hate you with a passion baby, yeah I do! (But call me!)” And that’s without even mentioning that the five-piece was composed of American ex-GIs who lingered in Germany after their early 1960s service was up. Or that they dressed in all black, with nooses for ties, and sported matching, entirely unflattering tonsure haircuts. The band name and costumes may have been artfully styled gimmicks (thanks to a pair of crafty German managers well familiar with deconstruction, minimalism, and the art of advertising), but the music was no novelty act. Some say the highly influential Monks invented feedback (widely disputed, of course); others insist their experimental, anti-Beatles sound foretold the coming of both techno and heavy metal even as it left boogie-happy fans of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” stone-faced.

Whatever you make of songs like “Higgle-dy Piggle-dy” (lyrics: “Higgle-dy piggle-dy, way down to heaven, yeah!”), there’s no denying the ballad of the Monks comes fully stuffed with rock ‘n’ roll lore. Dietmar Post and Lucia Palacios’s lively doc Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback tracks down all the band members, now in advanced middle age and living quiet lives that barely hint at their prepunk pasts (drummer Roger Johnston passed away after filming his interviews). All five are given equal time to reflect as well as share impressive caches of memorabilia (especially photos with detailed captions) that suggest someone, at least, was aware that the Monks’ lightning-in-a-bottle moment would later be eagerly revisited by future devotees of incredibly strange music. A reunion concert — marking the group’s first-ever stateside show — nudges the film in a Bands Reunited direction, but for the most part Monks is propelled by the triumphs of the group’s past, which include 30-year-old tunes that still sound wholly creative (and ever so off-putting) even today. (Cheryl Eddy)

Jan. 17, 3 p.m. Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF. $6–$9. (415) 621-6120,


Fixin’ to ride


Lately, I’ve been feeling like a gearhead dilettante. The realization that there is indeed a gap between acquired knowledge and wild conjecture has been nagging me — particularly in regards to my beloved bicycle. Said beloved bicycle, once such a pleasure to ride, has recently taken to dragging its vulcanized heels every time we start up Potrero Hill, gasping, “I think I can’t, I think I can’t.” Does the problem lie with my bearings, my rims, my gears, my chain? Should I have been filling my tires more than once every six months? Do I need to invest in a Shimano 105 RD-5501 Triple Rear Derailleur? (Full disclosure, I don’t actually know what that is.) I’m embarrassed to turn up at a bike shop and admit that although I once traversed the pays Tamberma of northern Togo on a single-speed clunker, I can’t even fix my own flat. And frankly, judging from the way I’ve seen some of you court death with your squealing brakes and your red blinkies in the front, I don’t think I’m the only bike enthusiast in San Francisco lacking the fundamentals.
Question is: where can we go to gain some mad cycle skills of our own?
I naturally begin my search with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Andy Thornley, the boundlessly encouraging SFBC program director, provides me with a list of fix-it-yourself resources that astounds me with its paucity. I’d rather expected that a city with as flamboyantly visible a bike culture as San Francisco would have a greater emphasis on the DIY. But a little list is still a list worth checking out, especially if it promises to save me some coins and squeals.
Thornley also clues me in that although SFBC doesn’t offer anything in the way of bike maintenance, it does give a free 10-hour, 2-day course on road safety for urban cyclists of all levels. The course, certified by the League of American Bicyclists, includes instruction on “riding in traffic, necessary equipment, crash avoidance, and legal rights and responsibilities.” He recommends registering for the class online, where it’s also possible to sign up for weekly e-mail updates on events, bike-related news, and volunteer opportunities.
On to my FYI FIY list. First stop: the Freewheel, a Western Addition fixture since 1978. The current course instructor, Wayne Brock, ushers me into what was once a health food and hardware co-op, and points out some of the amenities of the community workshop: four bike stands in the center of the room (plus two others for classes against the wall), a big blue solvent tank, a wheel-trueing stand, and a wall of shop-quality tools. A row of new hybrid cycles lines the far wall, but the emphasis here, unlike at the Freewheel branch on Valencia Street, is less on retail than on repair and custom building. Brock, 31, is a science teacher by day and actually acquired his own basic skills at Freewheel eight years ago.
“The curriculum has been ironed out over a long period of time,” he says. “Really boiled down to the essentials that will get you going.” These essentials, taught over two four-hour sessions, begin with flat repair, then continue with wheel-trueing, brake adjustments, hub overhaul, crank removal, drive train cleaning, chain maintenance, and derailleur adjustments. Already I’m a little overwhelmed. Which part is the crank? Fortunately for class participants, a take-home cheat sheet covering all of the above is provided and the $100 course fee includes a six-month Freewheel membership, with unlimited access to the community work space and tools during regular business hours.
One former student I talked to praises the Freewheel technique for “demystifying” the bicycle for her, though she admits to not availing herself of the membership benefits. She does, however, keep her bike much cleaner and better-lubed than before and feels more able to perform minor repairs on her own. Classes, generally held on Mondays, are limited to six students, and an absolutely nonrefundable $50 deposit guards against no-shows. To get on the waiting list, it’s best to go directly to the shop, deposit in hand. Your bike should already be in good repair, since the object of the course is familiarization, not parts replacement. Still, with complete in-store tune-ups going for $120, the value of a class that gets you even partway there seems like a good deal.
Over at San Francisco Cyclery in the Upper Haight, shop owner Heather Bixler, herself a former Freewheel instructor, is pioneering a schedule of classes with an emphasis on specialization. After a free class in basic maintenance, participants have the option to take one or all of a series of successive one-hour, $15 classes focusing on one component at a time: brakes, shifters, bearings, and wheels. Sometimes an additional class in roadside repair is offered, and graduates of all of the above may take a final class in complete tune-ups. Not coincidentally, the Cyclery’s female-facilitated workshops attract many women, though the classes are open to everyone. The emphasis is “to really get your hands dirty,” Bixler says, though, as with Freewheel, your cycle should be in working order prior to the course. Classes range in size from five to six people and are normally held on Wednesdays or Thursdays. A $15 deposit is required to hold your space (except for the free class), and booking is best done over the phone.
While Pedal Revolution in the Mission District has a community membership workbench plus occasional free seminars on a variety of repair topics, the nearby Bike Kitchen offers sliding-scale courses with a bit more regularity. I drop in on a wheel-building class ($30–$60 plus parts purchase) and watch as five newly threaded wheels are tried and trued. Instructor Brian Cavagnolo circulates while his students, including a former bike messenger and an editorial intern from a local luxury magazine, squint intently at their trueing stands, spinning their wheels. I’ve been frustrated by the Bike Kitchen in the past when trying to get on the repair class waiting list, but Cavagnolo seems optimistic that this will be less of an issue after its big move from the Mission Village Market to Mission at Ninth Street. (The grand opening is Aug. 19.)
“It’s a smaller space,” explains Cavagnolo. “So we’re going to have to be more organized.” Due to be streamlined is the build-a-bike program, which allows one to earn bike parts through volunteer labor and use Bike Kitchen tools to construct a working two-wheeler. In 2005, the volunteer-run Bike Kitchen was awarded a San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Golden Wheel award for its contributions to bicycle culture in the city, and the newbie wheel builders seem pleased with the experience they’re gaining.
“I took a wheel-building class [in Berkeley],” the magazine intern says, “and it was totally useless. I watched a guy build a wheel.” He rotates his self-made wheel with satisfaction. It hisses against the fork of the wheel-tuning stand as he reaches over to tighten another spoke. Cavagnolo recommends keeping abreast of class schedules via the SFBC newsletter or by visiting the Bike Kitchen Web site and e-mailing to get on the waiting list.
My survey at an end, I ride my still-recalcitrant yet soon-to-be-purring steed home, my head spinning like a newly tuned wheel. I stop by Needles and Pens and pick up “A Rough Guide to Bicycle Maintenance,” a slim but informative bike zine compiled in Portland. With clearly labeled diagrams of various bike parts, some simple repair methods, and the tools I’ll need to get started, I already feel one step closer to bicycle demystification. Now all I have to do is sign up for my first repair class … and you folks with those screeching brakes and front-mounted red blinkies should probably consider doing the same. SFBG
995 Market, suite 1550, SF
(415) 431-BIKE (2453)
1920 Hayes, SF
(415) 752-9195
672 Stanyan, SF
(415) 379-3870
3085 21st St., SF
(415) 641-1264
1256 Mission, SF
3253 16th St., SF
(415) 255-1534

DJ without borders



If you were born in Algeria, of Jewish and Berber descent, and had a penchant for classical Indian raga, you might be as disinclined to align yourself with any one school of thought or music as genre-blending DJ Cheb i Sabbah is. Equally at home in Morocco, France, India, and San Francisco, he has been skillfully infusing traditional South Asian, Arabic, and North African melodies with modern electronic beats in the Lower Haight since 1990, first at Nickie’s BBQ and now every Wednesday night at Underground SF. On June 16, Cheb i Sabbah celebrates the release of his sixth album with Six Degrees Records, La Ghriba, with 1002 Nights, his performance group of vocalists, percussionists, and dancers, and superstar Senegalese singer Baaba Maal.
SFBG You started DJing in Paris, how many years ago now?
DJ CiS It makes me look ancient, but 1963, 1964 is when I started. I was 17.
SFBG And have you DJed continuously for 40 years?
DJ CiS I’ve had three professional DJ incarnations. In 1963 that was the first one. Second one was 1980, also in Paris, and then the next one was about 16 years ago, here. In between I performed with the Living Theatre, then raised a family. Working at Rainbow Grocery, working at Amoeba Records …
SFBG You worked at Rainbow?
DJ CiS Actually it’s a funny story, because that’s how I started spinning again. I worked at the one on 15th, before the big new one opened on Folsom. I would make tapes, and then whenever I went to work, if somebody liked my tape, they would play it. One day this guy comes up to me, his name is Bradley, and he says, “Man, this music is cool.” I say, “Yeah, that’s raï music from Algeria,” and he says, “You know what, I have a little club in the Lower Haight called Nickie’s, and if you want to come on a Tuesday Night and spin some music, I’ll give you $40.” At first I was, like, “I don’t know about this, it’s not like Paris,” although within two weeks there was a line outside the door. Then [legendary jazz musician and sometime Sabbah collaborator] Don Cherry would come to Nickie’s, and I would say to him, “I don’t know if I’m going to stick with it,” and he actually forced me to. He said, “No, you should stick with it. It’s important.”
SFBG So we have Don Cherry to thank.
DJ CiS From there I spent 10 years spinning at KPFA. Later on I became the world music buyer in Berkeley for Amoeba, and in those 14 years I put on close to 40 shows which I produced.
SFBG The 1002 Nights shows?
DJ CiS Yes, with Khaled. With Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. It was a period where I did quite a few shows.
SFBG And you’re going to be doing that again, the 1002 Nights?
DJ CiS Yeah, but this time I’m being hired more than actually putting on the show. The last show I did produce, which was actually a huge one, and very successful, was one I recently did with Khaled at the Berkeley Community Theatre, and there were 3,300 people there.
SFBG Do you decide in the club what kind of beats you’re going to add, or do you decide in the studio?
DJ CiS I think the producing aspect is different than the dance floor one. However, the great thing about being a DJ is if you do a mix, you can try it out right away. You don’t have to wait to find out if people like it or not. But it’s really two different approaches, because also it’s very subjective. Is Shri Durga [his first record on Six Degrees] a danceable album or not? Well, I don’t know. I think it is. Maybe not every track, but not every minute of the day is there to dance. And it does have a focus on the tradition, you know. I’m not trying to do such a modern thing with just a little bit of the tradition. I’m doing the opposite. The tradition is first; second is bringing in what we call these days “global electronica,” which is better than “world music.”
SFBG You’ve referred to it as “outernational” music. How is that different from “international”?
DJ CiS It just goes … out [gestures, hands apart]. It seems like “outer” opens it up to the idea that we don’t need national boundaries and restrictions and all of that, but maybe that’s a whole other discussion. I think the challenge for a DJ is to never refuse any kind of audience. If you were to spin a heavy metal set, you would find the heavy metal that appeals to you, because there’s good music in every area. It’s a gift, Don Cherry would say. You have to give it. SFBG
Fri/16, 8 p.m.
Masonic Auditorium
1111 California, SF
(415) 776-4702