Monday, November 28, 2005

A Flock in the Wind

One of the occasional commenters on this site, Kit Stolz, noted that he couldn't figure out why the new Burning Man sculpture in the Civic Center Plaza was called "Flock." He said that maybe it was more obvious when you saw the piece in person.

I didn't understand the name either, so I wrote to the sculptor, Michael Christian and presumptiously asked him what the title represented or if it was meant to be mysterious.

He wrote back today with the kindest note, and an explanation that veers towards the more "mysterious" interpretation.

"as for the is intentionally ambiguous being both a noun and a verb. it does have personal meaning but i don't feel its that integral to the piece itself. id say its somewhere between the noun and the verb. someplace between flocking to and being a part of a flock. i also liked the idea of one word describing many. one body or being representing many. i could go on but you get the idea."

I discovered Kit Stolz in the comments section of Lance Mannion's blog where he had written something short, brilliant and filled with original thinking.

So I followed the link to his own blog, called "A Change in the Wind" which you can get to by clicking here.

It's one of my favorite blogs on the internet, combining essays about nature, literature, politics, and ecology in an eminently sane voice which is rare.

He's also a great, adventurous reader who quotes brilliant stuff liberally from all over the world. Do check it out.

And one of the joys of "Flock" is the fact that there are real flocks of birds flying by in Civic Center, framed by puffy white clouds.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Farewell to The Force

The San Francisco Opera's new production of Verdi's "La Forza del Destino" is ending this Saturday, the 27th, and all the bloody flagellants...

...along with the proto-KKK penitents will soon be no more.

The second scene, set at an outdoor tavern in Spain in the mid-1880s, involves the most people, supernumeraries and choristers both onstage and off.

Scores of folk wait in the wings while the ill-starred principals start the miserable chain of events in the first scene that culminates in almost everyone's tragic death four hours later.

Tom Reed, a longtime opera chorister, and a brilliantly funny writer, has written a synopsis of the opera that includes absurdities from the plot and the new production which he entitles "La Forza del Schizophrenia."

Here's his description of the first scene:
Act I Scene 1 - In the household of the Marchese of Calatrava

Leonora has been dating Don Alvaro, but her father, the Marchese, says he's not going to let his daughter marry a lowlife. Alvaro shows up intending to elope with her, and it all goes well, except for one little glitch when he accidentally shoots Leonora's father dead.

Backstage gets a bit spooky waiting for everyone to go on...

...with flagellants in sheer, bloody robes carrying monster crosses around...

...along with penitents in heavy red robes that include long trains to trip over, and red light sabers that are straight out of "Star Wars."

The reaction to the production has been pretty uniform. Everyone loves the young conductor, Nicola Luissoti, and is ambivalent about the strong-voiced principal singers.

The set and costume design has been almost universally hated, with its bizarre anachronisms and deliberate lack of color, two features which seem to be part of outgoing general manager Pamela Rosenberg's Germanic style.

Tom Reed's brilliant fractured fairy tales synopsis continues:
Scene 2 - An inn, Hornacuelos, Spain

On the lam disguised as travelers, Alvaro and Leonora are greeted by the local chorus. By the time Verdi wrote Forza, Italian audiences were getting really good at following his convoluted plots, so this time Verdi decided to trip them up by introducing the concept of multiple personality disorder.

Apparently quite accustomed to multiple personalities, the choristers greet the guests by singing "hello" not once, but dozens of times. Everyone sits down to dinner. Don Carlo is there, but he is no longer Leonora's brother. He is now Pereda, a student searching for the killer of Carlo's father. This might seem odd, but in a town where villagers happily dine on bowls of imaginary soup, anything goes.

Suddenly the fortune teller Preziosilla, who is dressed as a lobster, jumps up on the table and announces that war has broken out. Overjoyed, the townsfolk can't wait to try out their new machine guns - very advanced weaponry for the mid-1800s. The revelry is interrupted by the arrival of pilgrims stumbling blindly across the oddly slanted stage with bags over their heads, dragging huge crosses and light sabers. Under the cover of some gratuitous religious music, choristers collect the disoriented penitents and point the poor souls back to their dressing rooms. The merriment resumes with Pereda telling the story of his entire life. It takes just two minutes. As the villagers pretend to understand whatever it is he's babbling about, Preziosilla begins to suspect that he might be another multiple. Finally the Alcade sends everyone home, touching off another long round of hellos and goodbyes.

To read the entire piece, click here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Indians, Politicos and Journos

On Monday the 20th, a group of American Indian nonprofits set up shop on a lawn in the Civic Center Plaza.

They were handing out literature and even giving out canvas tote bags from The Friendship House Healing Center.

The Friendship House just opened in April of this year at Valencia and 14th Streets, housing an 80-bed rehab center with an American Indian religious emphasis.

The nonprofit running the place has been around since 1963 and seems to be pretty well connected into the local political structure.

If you go to their website (click here), the pictures of the Grand Opening abounded with politicos like Willie Brown, Jr. and Gavin Newsom, not to mention the Surgeon General of the United States.

There were a few other groups helping with everything from dentistry... AIDS prevention.

The exhibit was set up in conjunction with the first ever San Francisco Native American Heritage Month, with a celebration slated for early in the evening in the City Hall rotunda.

Having worked in the graphics industry for years, I always get a little suspicious when the four-color printing on nonprofit brochures gets a little too fancy.

Still, they seemed to be doing good work.

"Well, you get to hang out on a beautiful day and watch the monster Christmas tree go up in the Plaza," I told a few of the women handing me literature.

"Actually, that's where we were supposed to be," one of the women said. "But we got moved over here to the side. As usual."

I can't even think about American Indians without feeling Tribal Shame for what my white ancestors did.

I also find it interesting that we have Jewish Holocaust museums galore in this country, even though it was essentially a European event, while the United States Holocaust of the Indians goes officially uncommemorated.

Across the street in City Hall, in Room 263 off of the main Board of Supervisors chamber, there was a follow-up hearing on the Grand Prix Bicycle Race.

This was supposedly to determine how the illegal permits were given to close down city streets last Labor Day Weekend for the Race even though the organizers hadn't paid any of their outstanding bills.

So not only were they getting a special deal because of all the money they were supposedly bringing into the city, according to bogus consultants' reports, but they weren't even bothering to pay their bills.

As h. brown told me, "They've made Peskin look like a complete ass."

The two newspapers in town were interesting, both of them trumpeting virtually the same press release/interview with Peter Rangone, who is Gavin Newsom's representative. The Chronicle article started with this:

San Francisco's best-known bike race may have hit a dead end.

The organizer of the annual San Francisco Grand Prix, a pro race that attracted some of the world's best cyclists, said in a written statement Sunday that it will cancel next year's race because of a raucous dispute with City Hall over who should pay for police and other city services required for the event.

"Sadly, it's a no-win situation, and we simply cannot go forward," said David Chauner, director of San Francisco Cycling LLC, which founded and runs the annual race.

The 108-mile race was regarded as one of the country's most challenging because of its length and the city's steep hills. It wound through the heart of the city and drew hundreds of thousands of spectators and more than 100 world-class athletes. Lance Armstrong, seven-time winner of the Tour de France, participated several times in the race before he retired.

City leaders have bickered for years over how much of the race's costs the city should absorb, if any.

Ay, there's the rub. Supervisor Daly calls it "corporate welfare" when a billionaire gets a special deal that nobody else is getting, and he's right.

However, the way it was framed, headlined, etc. in the two San Francisco dailies, you'd have thought Trotsky & Co. had taken over the Board of Supervisors and had spitefully destroyed this beautiful, money-bringing, glamorous, professional bike race because of small-minded leftist politics.

The increasingly odious PJ Corkery of the San Francisco Examiner also put in his two cents:

And this week, it was announced, the Uriah Heeps of City Hall having thrown a wrench of hostility into the spokes, that the Grand Prix bike race, which brings $12 million, lots of excitement and fun, as well as closed streets to the City one weekend a year, won’t be returning to San Francisco next year.

PJ then goes on to talk about the raw deal being given the recently fired Gerald Green, the deeply and essentially corrupt Planning Commission Director under the reign of Willie Brown, Jr. PJ is going mad, I think.

And so is Sean Elsbernd, the supervisor on the left. He's been giving off some serious Dan White vibes lately, which can be translated as the Born and Raised San Franciscan who is filled with amorphous anger over the city being taken over by them (gays, asians, whatever).

However, before all this criticism gets out of hand, let me reprint the bookmark given out by the American Indian group: "Great Spirit, grant that I may not criticize my neighbor until I have walked a mile in his moccasins."

Monday, November 21, 2005

Bye-Bye to the Blue Butts of Norma

Nothing crystallizes the essential Buddhist truth that all existence is transitory better than being in a theatrical production which has a beginning, middle and end, from rehearsal to the final performance.

And then it's over, never to return, not with the same group of people caught in the same stream of time and place.

San Francisco Opera's production of "Norma" closed tonight, on a Monday, and the house was surprisingly full with a large smattering of standees in the balcony, which is always a good sign.

For the record, the final performance was easily the best. The conductor Sara Jobin and the principal singers were finally going at a crisp pace together, and everyone was in fine voice and holding nothing back.

In my thirty something productions at the opera house as a spear carrier, I've never been in a thong before, and probably never will be again.

To say that this entire experience was amusing is a vast understatement.

I suppose it's time to go on to the next adventure and wade into the stream.