Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Fight Against the Death Eaters

On my first night in the hospital this week, my doctor came around to talk medical stuff but got so excited by seeing me with the latest Harry Potter tome, which he had just finished himself the night before, that we really didn't talk much about illness but did go into our favorite characters.

"I've got 150 pages to go so NO SPOILERS!" I told him.

"Have you gotten to The Cave yet?" he asked in a voice filled with a trace of chilled awe.

"No, and don't say another word because I'm not reading it tonight. It feels too scary to be reading it at night in a hospital."

My physician is the same age as me, by the way, on the wise side of 50.

I'm feeling ridiculously grateful for all kinds of things right at the moment, including the fact that we have our own version of a Charles Dickens phenomenon, where people would wait on the docks in the 19th century on the East Coast waiting for the latest installment of his serialized novels. The emotional high point for me was the third book in the series, "The Prisoner of Azhkaban" where Harry finally found Sirius Black who loved him unreservedly like a good parent, after having been tortured by the Dursleys all his life. And like Dickens, Ms. Rowling didn't let that warmth and fuzziness last very long but plunged us back into some serious sadness.

The series is also funny and infinitely surprising. My favorite line in the latest book is "What do I care how he looks? I am good-looking enough for both of us, I theenk!" which is fabulously absurd but in context is quite an admirable remark.

What's also interesting is how connected the whole saga is to "current events." I'm not sure if it's intentional on Rowling's part, but her capturing of the zeitgeist of our "real" times is uncanny. I can't watch the Bush Administration, Berlusconi and Pope Benedict in Italy, Blair and his gang in England, without thinking "Death Eaters." They need to be fought in every way possible, and we can win, because as Dumbledore tells Harry, "You have a power that Voldemort has never had. You can love."

The subject of fighting for change, large and small, and unintended consequences is addressed in one of the most beautiful essays I've ever read by a San Francisco writer who I'd never heard of before, Rebecca Solnit. It's been reprinted on Tom Engelhardt's blog, and is called "The Great Gray Whale." Do check it out.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Medical Sabbatical

I've been having breathing problems for the last couple of weeks and finally got a chest X-ray today, which makes it look like pneumonia, so I'm being checked into the hospital for IV antibiotics and oxygen in about an hour. Since I HATE hospitals, this is not something I'm particularly looking forward to, but it looks like the only way I'll live another day.

Talk to you all later.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Buddhas, Etc.

My friend David Barnard always carries a pair of ear plugs when he goes to museums because he hates having to listen to docents, who usually have loud voices, explain what the art really means.

So I'm going to do the equivalent, and just show you a few of my favorite things on the third floor of the Asian Art Museum without too much commentary. Let's start with Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god which greets one at the top of the escalator.

This huge, absolutely glittering gold temple above is from Thailand...

...and across from it are scary demons from Cambodia.

From Nepal, there is a sculpture dating from 600 AD of a female goddess in the Buddhist pantheon.

In the "Jade Room" there is a beautiful little sculpture of Buddha with Big Ears.

Near the beginning of the China section of the museum, there is a long room that has a lot of natural light and a whole cornucopia of Buddhas.

My favorite is probably the large guy reposing above.

Now that the sand mandala monks have moved on, the big Samsung Hall was peaceful and uncrowded.

You could color in peace or if you were museum'd out, it was not a bad place to catch a snooze.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Girlie Art

Next door to the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House on Van Ness is a building that looks like its twin, The War Memorial Veterans Building. The history of how the two beaux-arts buildings were created is quite interesting, and for a detailed summary, check out the SF Virtual Museum on the web here.

Essentially, there were two groups in 1920 who wanted a big public space built, the veterans of World War I (which included the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars), and wealthy cultural patrons who wanted an opera house for the local symphony and opera companies. The two groups finally joined and started a public appeal for funds, but they started fighting amongst each other immediately for power and space. So in truly typical San Francisco fashion, it took twelve years to get the things built. Interestingly enough, that struggle continues to this day, with "society" encroaching on the veterans with each year.

The Veterans Building houses a weird mixture of uses, including a second floor "Green Room" which is quite grand and is actually painted green. It is usually rented out as a party space, for wedding receptions, and the occasional concert (though the acoustics are awful).

This weekend, however, it has been taken over by a pleasant group called The Whole Bead Show out of Nevada City. Their website can be found by clicking here.

There is something about narrow interest groups like Bead Enthusiasts that I find totally amusing and fascinating.

My friend Heidi Seward in Santa Barbara wrote to me yesterday with the following: "Just a note to say I continue to enjoy your blog, especially the photos of art and people! I am addicted and when you don’t post for a day or two, I really miss it." Now that is music to a blogger's ear, so the rest of this entry is just for you, Miss Heidi, with lots of art and people.

Near 16th and Mission is an art gallery called "THE LAB" which was having an opening for a number of artists, including my ex-next door neighbor, Kimberly Koym.

She does fairly sinister video art mixed in with cabinets, dioramas, and various scenic elements.

She's originally from Texas but went to art school in The Netherlands where she met her husband Pedro Murteira, a brilliant young artist from Lisbon, Portugal. Click here if you'd like to see some of his work.

Also part of the exhibition was a video/performance art installation by a Polish woman named Monika Weiss that was pretty cool.

She writhed around in the sheets while the live video image was projected on the wall.

Spectators were also invited to be part of the exhibit, but it was hard to compete with the artist.

Elsewhere in the room, a couple of sisters from Atlanta had put themselves naked on a pedestal.

They stayed there as bookends, looking quite decorative.

Pedro and I walked a block up Mission Street to another art opening at our friend Clark Buckner's place.

Clark and a partner took over the top floor of the Thrift Town building a year ago and have created a warren of art studios along with a couple of galleries.

The show was "guest curated" by a woman named Libby Werbel, and it was called "Comfort."

The curator had this to say:
Is the place where you live comfortable? How does personal space translate into public view? In this show, four artists investigate the fantasies and vulnerabilities at play in our ideals of home.

The usual gaggle of beautiful young people were in attendance.

And in a weird bit of synchronicity, there was another woman wrapped in a sheet on the floor.

The curator had this to say about the artist:
Gabrielle Wolodarski explores the limits and possibilities of articulating private matters in public settings. She spent the last month living in an installation at a gallery in Portland, and for Comfort has created a piece, which attempts to articulate this experience of living and creating in front of other people.

Wolodarski, huh? What are the chances that two women with Polish surnames would be on the floors of two art galleries a block away from each other in the Mission District of San Francisco?


Friday, July 22, 2005

Iraq and the U.S. Press

The weekly peace vigil in front of San Francisco's Federal Building was a jolly affair on Thursday. Two pairs of European tourists, one from Scotland and another from Italy, happened to walk by and decided to join the group.

The shameless cheerleading and dispensing of Bush Administration lies by the majority of the U.S. press in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion is a pretty well-known story. What is possibly more disturbing is how the major television and print press suppresses any information that would help make any sense of all the mendacity.

The best example is the "Downing Street Memo," where the head of M16 (the British equivalent of the CIA) told a meeting of British leaders in 2002 after a trip to the United States that the Bush Administration had decided to "fix" the intelligence so they could invade Iraq, no matter what any evidence or non-evidence of weapons of mass destruction might show.

On a wonderful website called TomDispatch run by Tom Englehardt, there is a fuller explanation:

On May 15, Tomdispatch posted a piece Mark Danner wrote for the New York Review of Books on the Downing Street Memo, the first of a string of secret documents leaked to the Times of London from the upper reaches of the British government, which cumulatively offered an unprecedented look inside the Bush administration as it was preparing, 8 months ahead of time, to prosecute a war against Iraq. By the time Danner wrote his piece, the memo, released by the London Times on May 1, had already sped around the Internet, but had still not seen the print light-of-day in the United States. Neither the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, nor the Washington Post thought the notes of a meeting of Tony Blair's war cabinet in which the head of M16, the British equivalent of the CIA director, discusses recent high-level private talks in Washington, a memo with a classic line -- "But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." -- was fit enough to print or even highlight on their front pages.

Englehardt then reprints from the The New York Review of Books (prior to publication on August 8th) a great exchange between Michael Kinsley, the editor of the "Los Angeles Times," and Mark Danner, a brilliant writer and professor of journalism at UC Berkeley, where Kinsley defends not printing the memo and Danner disagrees. As James Wolcott wrote, "Kinsley comes off rather the worse in the exchange, if I may deploy a rare bit of understatement." For the entire exchange, click here.

Here in San Francisco, we suffer under the yoke of the "San Francisco Chronicle," which has long competed for the title of Worst Major Morning Daily in the World. Somehow, when the Hearst Corporation took it over about six years ago with Phil Bronstein, the ex-Mr. Sharon Stone as editor, the newspaper actually managed to get considerably worse, which frankly had seemed impossible. Their two "Chronicle Washington Bureau" writers are a couple of mealy-mouthed reactionaries named Marc Sandalow and Carolyn Lochhead (whose name I can't help but change to Blockhead in my brain every time I see it). I would give you links to some of their typical blatherings, but there's already enough stupidity and darkness in the world, so I will not.

The best stuff in the "Chronicle" is always buried somewhere, as the above chart taken from AP demonstrates. It was on page A9 last Friday, the 15th, and actually has a cute little chart showing it's "civilians" who are bearing the brunt of all the mayhem in Iraq.

I don't think the U.S. press is ever going to recover from its lies and omissions about Iraq. If you didn't trust them before, the last four or five years have been a real eye-opener.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Libraries and The Miserable Ms. Cohen

My friend Pedro Murteira wrote to say I should stop bothering the librarians at the Main Library and just use their horrible internet database from home to reserve whatever I wanted, and that the system works quite well.

He was perfectly correct, but part of the pleasure of being physically at a library is stumbling across books you would not have thought to ever read, or encountering a DVD of a movie that had never even crossed your radar.

I wrote last week
about how the staff was so grouchy at the Main Library back in the 1990s and the private Mechanics Institute Library staff was so welcoming during the same time, but that somehow the opposite is now true. I've also noticed quite a few former employees from the Mechanics Institute now working at the Public Library.

One of them clued me in. "Inez Shor Cohen used to work here at the public library for a long time and she was a real piece of work, plotting with her cohorts how to make everyone miserable. Unfortunately, a few of them are still working here. Right now I've heard that they're having serious staffing problems at the Mechanics Institute and firing people without cause. It's not pretty."

Why are certain people so purposeful in spreading misery wherever they go and why are they so often in positions of power? My friend Jack Murray, a retired Proust scholar in Santa Barbara, writes that Voltaire's "Philosophical Dictionary" is "fun for an undergraduate or a cynical adult, but it wears thin after a while." Still, I'm sure Voltaire will have some answer to the above question. It's a subject with which he was well acquainted.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Heart of the City Farmers Market

In United Nations Plaza, between the Main Public Library, the Asian Art Museum and Market Street...

...there is a twice-weekly farmers market on Wednesdays and Sundays.

Farmers markets have recently become ubiquitous in various neighborhoods around San Francisco, but this one has been around longer than most.

It's certainly not fancy or very extensive in its selections... the one on Saturdays at the Ferry Building, which you can read about at my friend Samantha Breach's fabulous food blog, Becks and Posh.

But the truth is that it's nice being around fresh food selling that isn't pretentious on either the part of the farmers or the consumers.

The market is also a serious public service since the only other grocery stores in the area tend to be the corner liquor store variety which don't particularly specialize in food.

Plus, the place has cut flowers for sale...

...along with orchids...

...and succulents.

There's also Indian vegetarian food cooked by a Sikh...

...and a masseur to work on your aching back after an afternoon of shopping.

What more do you need?