Sunday, September 30, 2007

Down With Car Culture

The owner of the Power Exchange sex club (above) is running for mayor and was part of the raucous after-party at the Temple Bar Friday night following the weekly mayoral debate in front of City Hall.

The drinking was briefly interrupted by the arrival of thousands of bicyclists riding by in the fifteenth anniversary of the Critical Mass bike ride which takes place on the last Friday evening of every month.

One of the other mayoral candidates, Lonnie Holmes (above), had the gumption to stand in the middle of the street holding up a large campaign sign as the cyclists whizzed by appreciatively.

The Critical Mass event and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition are controversial for their advocacy of bikes over cars for this congested city...

...but who can seriously advocate for car culture over ped culture after looking at the estuary of the Presidio, for instance, which until recently was a huge asphalt expanse covering a toxic dump?

On Saturday morning, the place was filled with locals and tourists on rented bicycles gasping at the almost psychedelic beauty of the day.

It's hard to change people's behavior, but living without cars as much as possible creates communities, improves everyone's health, and is a blueprint for some kind of future without oil wars.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Das Lied von Erde at San Francisco Symphony

On a whim, I called the San Francisco Symphony hotline Thursday morning at (415) 503-5577 (don't let them know I told you this number), and was informed there were $20 rush tickets available for that evening's performance of Mozart and Mahler at the Davies Hall box office.

Even with this inducement, I felt a little ambivalent, because Mahler's 1909 "Das Lied von Erde" has twice bored the heck out of me when I heard it live. The piece is an hour-long set of six German art songs that somehow bloat into a huge symphony as Mahler channels his inner melancholic Chinese soul (the lyrics are German translations from Chinese poetry).

The auditorium was one-third empty, and my $20 even got me a First Tier box all to myself, just to the right of the stage, which turned out to be a wonderful spot.

The concert is being recorded as part of Michael Tilson-Thomas' Mahler Cycle, and though the audience sounded like a tuberculosis ward in the first half of the program, coughing up a storm through Mozart's Symphony No. 34, they were wonderfully silent for the most part during the long second half.

The performance of "Das Lied von Erde," as it turned out, was one of the best live concerts of my entire life, finally winning me over to the piece.

This was due not just to the magnificent playing in the orchestra, but because of baritone Thomas Hampson who was in spectacularly superb voice, filling the huge hall with sound in a way that very few singers in the world can accomplish. I can't wait until he crosses the street to the San Francisco Opera next month for Verdi's "Macbeth." The other soloist, tenor Stuart Skelton, wasn't even remotely in the same league, but he wasn't terrible and his share of the songs came through fine.

The concert is going to be repeated tonight (Friday) and again on Saturday. According to that phone number I told you not to write down, there are $20 rush tickets available tonight for the concert. I can't recommend the experience highly enough.

Youth at City Hall

The under-18 set were all over City Hall on Thursday, on the Van Ness front stairs...

...and on the rotunda stairway inside.

Also setting up shop in the South Light Court late Thursday afternoon was a group called the "Arts Providers Alliance of San Francisco" (click here for their website)...

...which has something to do with San Francisco's Art Commission...

...which administers something called the "Arts Education Funders Collaborative" (click here for the site).

As one arts group vendor explained to me, as she was setting up her table to introduce her group to various educators, "there's a lot of new money out of Sacramento for arts programs in the schools, so we're here to take advantage of that."

Though the entire affair seemed to consist predominantly of women, there were a few token male representatives, such as the young man fronting for "Shakespeare Camp" above.

Across City Hall in the North Light Court, another education-related group was setting up for an awards ceremony for "business partners" who had helped with "Summer Academies"...

...that are set up annually for paying summer jobs in various industries for students between their junior and senior years.

The young ladies above seemed to be the "Hospitality and Tourism Industry" stars. Good luck, everyone.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Sea of Grass

There are many types of grass forming a huge, undisciplined lawn on the northern seashore of the Presidio...

...between the Marina district and the Golden Gate Bridge.

When the San Francisco Opera runs out of room, rehearsals are sometimes held in an abandoned YMCA facility across from the lawn and under the bridge.

I've just been cast as a supernumerary in a production of "The Magic Flute"...

...which started rehearsals on Tuesday.

I had forgotten how breathtakingly beautiful the area can be, particularly when the scene looks like a sea of grass.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Prime of Mister Thad Trela

Early Saturday evening, my friend Thad Trela celebrated his 80th birthday... hosting dinner at Home restaurant on Church and Market...

...for about 40 friends who consisted of ex-lovers...

...old acquaintances...

...folk dance partners... playing buddies...

...along with former colleagues and students from Thad's days teaching at San Francisco State.

At the end of the evening, Thad gave a short speech, starting off with a quote from Maurice Chevalier on being asked what it felt like to be 80. "Well, if you consider the alternative..."

He then continued with one of the most moving testimonials I have ever heard. "Through all the missteps, and stupid mistakes, and wrong turns in my life, not to mention the worries about this and that, I never expected to reach this age and feel happier and more content than at any other moment in my life. Plus, I've actually found a partner late in life, Steven, which was completely unexpected. Each and every one of you helps to make my life so rich. Thank you."

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Newsom's Latinos and Mirkarimi's Koreans

Early Friday evening was a hive of activity in the City Hall area, with a few spectators such as the masked man above watching the collaborative of mayoral challengers debate on the Civic Center plaza lawn.

H. Brown, pictured above with Josh Wolf, Wilma Pang, and Kenny (the Clown) Kahn, has a brilliant wrap-up of the event over at his SF Bulldog site (click here).

In the rotunda of City Hall, City Treasurer Jose Cisneros and Mayor Gavin Newsom were giving dumb speeches honoring "Latino Heritage Month," which started on September 15th.

Catalina Garcia from Univision was there (above) as were a 25-year-old lobbying group called the Instituto Laboral de la Raza (click here for their website). It seems they started off as an advocacy group for low-paid Mexican-American workers but over the years they seem to have been co-opted by the organized power structure of San Francisco almost completely. Their current major mission, from the looks of their website, seems to be giving out awards to the powerful at $200-per-person "awards" dinners every year.

At City Hall, they were giving out awards for Latino "Business Leadership," and the winners were three Mexican restaurants: Casa Sanchez, L's Cafe, and Regalito. Newsom strung together a condescending cascade of cliches and then posed for a few fans before disappearing.

He was followed by the Xitlalli, Danza Azteca group who at least made a mighty drumming noise in the rotunda.

On the second floor, Supervisor Mirkarimi was hosting his monthly art show, and September's installment was called "Women Artists in Action."

It was being held in conjunction with two concurrent shows at Somarts and the Japantown "Miyako Mall" (click here for more info).

It's being curated by a group called KAWAWA (click here for their website), which is an acronym for Korean American Women Artists and Writers Association.

Now that's a mouthful.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Why Are We Still Murdering People in Iraq?

The weekly Thursday vigil in front of the Federal building on Golden Gate Avenue continues as does the insane, evil occupation of Iraq by the United States military and tens of thousands of overpaid thugs working for sinister corporations like Blackwater.

Meanwhile, Senator Dianne Feinstein only seems to get upset when the warmongers are criticized, as her recent vote "condemning" the "Petraeus/Betray Us" ad put out recently by (for more, check out Jan Adams' "Happening Here" by clicking here).

There was new signage sponsored by the national American Friends Service Committee (the Quakers) which is trying to persuade Americans through monetary self-interest rather than moral appeals, though I doubt whether it will be any more effective in changing the status quo.

The present leadership of the United States is so outrageously tone deaf to how most people currently think and feel about the Iraq occupation, as evidenced by their latest votes in D.C., that it's starting to look like we need a complete clean sweep of these rotting politicians, and that includes Madame Speaker Pelosi, who is going to be remembered as one of the most inept enablers of tragedy in American history.