Monday, December 29, 2008

Mountaineering with Monica

There are certain self-published voices on the internet that feel like odd soulmates, and everyone has their own taste in voices in the same way people have yearnings towards different kinds of music and food.

I stumbled across Monica's voice last April after writing a fiery condemnation of Palm Springs' only downtown bookstore being replaced by a stupid retail outlet devoted to "Life Is Good" merchandise (click here). When I Googled for some information about the company and the Palm Springs opening, I came across Monica's recently launched "Astrology Mundo" blog where she wrote about the very same event except from a laudatory business viewpoint, mixed in with some astrological musings (click here).

Our yin/yang accounts, oddly enough, were complementary rather than contradictory and between the two of us there was a holistic picture of the evening, something not possible with just one narrator.

This is the real future of journalism, where a community of voices and links offer the reader anything from a surface glance to a deep, historical look at any subject.

Monica is a New Yorker who's been a professional journalist most of her life.

Currently she's followed her husband who works in the golf industry in the Coachella Valley, while she works virtually over the computer for her New York employers.

I invited her to a hike in nearby Tahquitz Canyon where she peppered me with questions like the omnivorous, curious character that all great journalists are, and I returned her rapid-fire scan with questions of my own.

Thanks to people like myself who are creating journalism for free out of love and political purpose and a need to clear out the thickets of lies being fed to us by the owners of media conglomerates, Monica's job is fast becoming as extinct as travel agents in the digital world.

Professional story-telling, truth-telling journalists are more important than ever so I think Monica, with her clear-eyed fascination with the world, will be making the transition to the new journalistic order just fine. The real question is how to make a decent living at it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Wind Storm

Our adventures traveling on Christmas didn't stop with the gas-starved zombies of Grapevine. After escaping a wild rainstorm driving east on Interstate 10, Palm Springs felt like a perfect oasis, calm and mostly dry, though my partner was thoroughly shaken after driving for ten straight hours in hellish conditions.

I offered to treat him to a fancy Italian Christmas dinner, so we walked four blocks through our downtown neighborhood, and were eating delicious appetizers when a wind storm suddenly arrived and knocked the power out, closing the restaurant. We ran back to the condo, dodging palm fronds, trees, and sections of carports sailing through the air while marveling at the star-studded sky which was blessedly free of ambient light.

Most of the housing in the "historic tennis club" neighborhood consists of single-story homes and small hotels, but a faux Olde Spanish Days monstrosity was built in 2005 over most of a block by the local real estate developers Wessman Gonzales. It's called "St. Baristo," which is not the name of an actual saint. but the Santa Barbara style "signature appointed attached villas" are on Baristo Road, so they must have thought, "why the hell not?"

The multi-story units must be impossible to cool off in the summer and the 38 units don't seem to have attracted many buyers at their approximately $1 million price since the place always looks empty. It will be interesting watching how the development fares during the current economic wind storm.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Apocalypse

We spent Christmas Day driving from San Francisco to Palm Springs down Interstate 5 in the San Joaquin Valley, dodging storms that were whisking by to the southeast.

The trip was going splendidly until we stopped for gas at Grapevine, which is at the base of the mountain pass from the Bakersfield area to Los Angeles. The scene that greeted us at the half-dozen gas stations which made up the offramp was surreal because there was no power, which meant that the pumps couldn't dispense any fuel.

People were driving around aimlessly, looking scared and lost, and what made for a truly eerie experience was that all the employees at the various mini-marts attached to the gas stations had locked their doors and put up handwritten signs saying "Closed. No Power." They refused to come out and help anybody with information or even open up their bathrooms as they stared warily at the hordes from behind their plate glass windows.

We drove a couple of miles further south, praying we didn't run out of gas, but the story was the same at the next offramp except this time there was even a Ramada Limited hotel which had locked its doors and put up a "Closed. No Power" sign on its lobby door. It started feeling like that bad recent Mark Wahlberg movie, "The Happening," where killer winds make people commit suicide.

My partner called AAA for an emergency gas infusion, and I stood near the freeway offramp dispensing as much information as I could collect from various travelers. Thankfully, the AAA guy showed up thirty minutes later and we felt rather guilty as other stranded people crowded around his truck, looking like a scene from "Night of The Living Dead." As my friend Markus Crouse once said, after teaching high school in Hollywood for half a dozen years, "L.A. is just one bad day away from the apocalypse."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Buddhist Christmas Birthday Card

My friend Heidi in Santa Barbara is a Christmas baby and has had to compete with baby Jesus for attention all her life...

...which may partially explain why she became a Tibetan Buddhist as a young adult.

Happy birthday, Miss Heidi, and hope you like your miscellany of San Francisco Asian Art Museum Buddhas.

On a darker note, I'd like to offer a lump of coal to both the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches this season.

They have notoriously harbored pedophiles and polygamists respectively for decades, and then have had the utter gall to moralize to the larger secular public about love and marriage.

That's not something Buddha would have done...

...nor Jesus either for that matter.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Larkspur Ferry Fridays

I used to ride the ferry boat from San Francisco to Larkspur in Marin County every Friday at evening rush hour, and then drive back to San Francisco with my partner who worked for Industrial Light + Magic in San Rafael.

The $2.65 fare used to be one of the best deals in the Bay Area, a price that held steady until about 2003.

The fare is now $7.45 one-way, which seems to be part of a trend by local governments to make simple necessities such as transportation more expensive for the working poor.

The trip is still worth it, though, as the boat glides across San Francisco Bay with its constantly changing light...

...and travelers who actually seem to be enjoying themselves.

Though the new Larkspur ferries don't have as much room to sit outside as their older counterparts, and the wind can be fierce...

...there are always a band of hardy souls who adore the elements, such as the young man above who looked like a North Sea sailor keeping watch.

When Mount Tamalpais appears head on, the landscape becomes almost otherworldly...

...though the quick view of San Quentin Prison at the mouth of the ferry terminal channel can bring one quickly back to earth.

My partner was part of a round of layoffs at Industrial Light + Magic some years ago, went to work for another special effects company in The Presidio of San Francisco, and for the last couple of years has been working for a movie company called Polygon Entertainment whose offices, in an interesting twist of fate, are in the old Industrial Light + Magic headquarters in San Rafael. I think it's time to start taking the Friday ferry again. It's restorative.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Ducks of Stow Lake

After a beer at the de Young Museum's odd, glass cafe...

...and a surreptitious touch of the Henry Moore in the sculpture garden...

...I wandered a bit of Golden Gate Park which is a great work of artifice and nature combined.

Stow Lake, not far away, is a manmade creation in what was once a field of sand dunes...

...with a very contented looking collection of ducks using its boat loading docks...

...which are part of a set of old recreational attractions that look lost in time.

The ducks, however, looked like they were living very much in the present.

Famous and Forgotten Asian American Artists

An exhibit of obscure and mostly forgotten Asian American artists from 1900-1970 turned out to be the real surprise at the de Young Museum on Tuesday.

Though the works span different mediums in every kind of style, incorporating elements from their home cultures in some cases and not at all in others, what binds most of the work together is its sheer quality. Ruth Asawa was the only name I recognized, and the exhibit made me want to see more of these mostly forgotten artists. (Are you reading, Asian Art Museum?)

Special thanks should go to the co-curators, Daniell Cornell, from the Palm Springs Museum of Art, and Mark Johnson, a professor of art at San Francisco State University.

As usual, photography was not allowed in the "special" galleries in the basement so you'll just have to take my word about the Asian American exhibit. It's running concurrently with a group of wood and wire sculptures that mime natural topography by Vietnam Veterans Memorial architect Maya Lin.

"2x4 Landscape," in the photos above, has been installed in the soulless Dede Wilsey Airline Terminal lobby, and it helps to give the space a bit of warmth...

...and it actually looks good with the fuzzy Richter piece on the wall behind it.

The biggest problem with many of the works in the basement was that they really invited touching, but there were surly faced security guards everywhere making sure that any sensual experience was strictly non-tactile. It felt a bit like prison.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Yves Saint Laurent at the de Young Museum

Signage underneath my living room window has been beckoning people to the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park for a large exhibit of couture gowns by the recently deceased fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.

The $20 entrance fee seemed ridiculously stiff so I went as a guest of my friend David Barnard on a cold Tuesday afternoon.

Yves Saint Laurent was born into an upper-class French colonial family in Algiers and made his way to Paris to study fashion as a teenager in the 1950s, where through a friendship with Michel de Brunhoff, the editor of Paris Vogue, Yves ended up becoming the assistant to Christian Dior, who was at the height of his fame. (For an interesting Wikipedia article, click here.)

Dior died in 1957 at the age of 52, and because a fortune teller he trusted had already told him that he was going to die at that age, he made sure that everyone knew Yves Saint Laurent was going to be the heir to the throne of the House of Dior. His first two years at the helm were a success, but the third was a disaster, and the directors at Dior made sure Yves was drafted into the military which was in the middle of their colonial war with Algeria. After a couple of months of "hazing" in the military, Yves ended up in a mental institution being drugged to the gills and given electroshock treatments. He blamed his "mental instability and drug addictions" for the rest of his life on this particularly nasty period.

Meanwhile, in 1958 Yves had coupled up with a slightly older, driven businessman, Pierre Berge, and the two of them opened up the Yves Saint Laurent fashion house in 1961, which dominated most of the fashion revolutions of the 1960s and which became outrageously successful when they moved into the ready-to-wear business in the 1970s.

The exhibit at the de Young is huge, but not particularly well displayed. The lighting is way too dark to really see the detailing on the clothes, which is what is most interesting, and the exhibition has been installed on the second floor in a series of narrow, triangular rooms that are almost an object lesson in bad feng shui.

The show isn't arranged chronologically but thematically, which made for an interesting game. When I loved a particular piece, it would invariably be from pre-1975 and when I hated one, it would always be from post-1975. I guess the cocaine and the binge drinking eventually took its toll. Still, the exhibit is well worth seeing if only for some of the iconic outfits involved.