Thursday, June 29, 2006

Feinstein vs. Watada

The weekly Thursday peace vigil in front of the Federal Building on Golden Gate Avenue continues since the illegal occupation of Iraq by the United States military also continues. So what was Dianne Feinstein, our "centrist" Democratic senator from California, doing at the same time, you ask? Why, she was co-sponsoring a constitutional amendment in the United States Senate to ban American flag burning.

According to Jon over at SFist, "In her speech to her fellow Senators, DiFi put up that famous picture of marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima and talked about all the warm fuzzies she got when she first saw the picture." To call this woman a contemptible witch is actually being kind.

Meanwhile, a truly patriotic soul such as Lt. Watada of Hawaii became the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse deployment to the Iraq War. Lt. Watada said, "I refuse to be silent any longer. I refuse to be party to an illegal and immoral war against people who did nothing to deserve our aggression. My oath of office is to protect and defend America's laws and its people. By refusing unlawful orders for an illegal war, I fulfill that oath today."

Lt. Watada faces possible court-martial charges for refusing to participate in the Iraq war and occupation and intends to defend himself based on the illegality of the Iraq war and occupation. "I am whole-heartedly opposed to the continued war in Iraq, the deception used to wage this war, and the lawlessness that has pervaded every aspect of our civilian leadership." To check out a website supporting Lt. Watada, click here.

At the "happening-here" blog, Jan has just returned from a trip to Lebanon, Jordan and Syria where she took beautiful photos (above is from the Damascus souq) that accompany interesting stories from international aid workers and Iraqi exiles both Christian and Muslim. Though it only reinforces the true horror of what the blundering American empire has wrought in Iraq recently, the specificity of the accounts and the details are fascinating. Check it out by clicking here.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Celebrating AIDS, Earthquakes and Elza

During the 100th anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire this last April, signage sprouted all over the Civic Center in what looked to be a celebration of death and destruction.

On the other side of the banner, there is a phoenix with the slogan "San Francisco Rising," but let's get real.

The entire commemoration, with its weeks of repetitive, overkill media was basically "earthquake porn," as one poster at Metroblogging put it.

For this year's San Francisco Gay, Etc. (Lesbian/Bi/Transgender/What-Have-You) Pride Festival, the signage and theme all seemed to revolve around celebrating the arbitrary 25th anniversary of the AIDS epidemic.

This included a week of San Francisco Chronicle articles reprinting all their greatest death and destruction hits, such as "Look how many people died in the San Francisco Gay Mens Chorus!"

The "Pride Festival" is a huge tourist event that attracts most of gay suburbia from the Bay Area along with tourists from further away, and it seems to grow larger and more elaborate each year.

It's no longer enough to have just Gay Pride March Sunday. Now we need to have an entire weekend festival in the Civic Center that includes free entertainment on the main plaza on Saturday, including this year's inaugural hour-long recital by student Adler singers from the San Francisco Opera.

They started with a trio from Mozart's "La Clemenza de Tito," and the featured female singer was my next-door neighbor, Elza van den Heever from South Africa.

Later, she sang Lisa's difficult suicidal aria from Tchaikowsky's "Queen of Spades" so extraordinarily well that I started crying.

Voices as large and as beautiful as Miss Elza's are freakishly rare.

It's going to be really interesting to see what happens with her career, but in terms of raw talent and natural musicality, she reminds of a young Joan Sutherland or Jane Eaglen.

The question is whether or not she will meet the equivalent of her Richard Bonynge.

On Sunday's Gay Pride March Sunday, I returned to the main stage with my partner domestique Tony to hear Elza's return singing a dance remix version of "Un Bel Di," the big aria from "Madama Butterfly."

The celebratory AIDS signage was still there above the stage, and it reminded me of the very rude parody of "Rent" in "Team America: World's Police" where the hero is singing the rock anthem, "We all have AIDS, AIDS, AIDS, AIDS, AIDS..."

At 12:30 the Parade Board of Directors President, who looked a bit like Charles Nelson Reilly, and who had one of the most annoying voices imaginable, kicked off the main stage entertainment.

He introduced a flamenco troupe which danced delightfully for 15 minutes only to be replaced by A Speaker, a published Jewish Female-to-Male Transgender Socialist Worker Leftist.

He/she somehow managed to utter more cliches in his/her ten minutes than one thought humanly possible while exhorting us with tired leftist slogans ("Beware of Big Oil!"). It almost made me want to become a Republican hetero white male.

Finally, after also hearing from a group of Native Americans, who at least chanted a bit rather than lecturing us...

...Miss Elza made quite the entrance...

...and the audience roared with pleasure.

Though I prefer the Malcolm McLaren dance remix of the same tune, just for its sheer musicality and trashiness, Miss Elza again took no prisoners with her amazing set of pipes. Brava, diva.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Madama Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton

An interesting new exhibit has been installed at the Asian Art Museum.

It's called "A Curious Affair: The Fascination Between East and West."

The exhibit consists of one room filled with objects, mostly stretching from the 17th through 19th centuries, that picture and incorporate The Other from both sides of the equation.

Asian art picturing Western travelers and Western art picturing Asians are freely mingled, along with antique furniture and decorative pieces that include fantasy details of the other culture.

Across the Civic Center Plaza, the wildly cross-cultural "Madama Butterfly" continues its run at the San Francisco Opera.

A Japanese geisha singing in Italian while being seduced and abandoned by a brutish American naval officer pretty much defines East and West fascination and misapprehension.

After some backstage melodrama, one of the six supernumeraries who was playing the very complex and difficult part of a Kabuki-style kuroko dropped out of the show in the middle of the run.

So I was called on the day of the performance, as the official cover, to take over the part.

The dozen supernumeraries are about half Western gringos and half Asian...

...though I don't think there is an actual Japanese or Italian person in the bunch, excepting Steve Lavezzoli below.

That evening when I first filled in last Friday was quite terrifying, because the role is both extremely complex and precise, with lots of spike marks where props are to be delivered and screens moved.

Just to make it even more difficult and like an anxiety dream come to life, we wear a black veil through the entire show which makes vision somewhat challenging, particularly with stage lights shining straight into one's eyes.

I managed to survive the evening without any major mishaps, watched Patricia Racette kill herself with her sword right after singing over the monster orchestra from a few feet away, and then received a nice surprise.

The six kurokos had their own curtain call where we got to rip the veils off of our head, drag-queen style, and take a bow. Since the opera had just ended and the diva-worshiping audience was going insane, the ovation was an astonishing rush of energy and sound. I almost floated off the stage.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

San Francisco Solstice Light

The third large piece of "Burning Man Art" from the Black Rock Arts Foundation appeared on the Embarcadero earlier this month.

It's a 30-foot high statue of a mother and child called "Passage" that was a popular favorite at last year's event in the Black Rock desert.

The piece is also an instant hit on the San Francisco waterfront, where Mission Street hits the Embarcadero, a block east of the Ferry Building.

People are posing on the sculpture...

...walking around and through it...

...and altogether being thoroughly amused.

The sculpture was created by a couple of newlyweds in Hunters Point, Dan Das Mann and Karen Cusolito.

As is usual with these Burning Man art pieces, the installation is temporary.

If you want more information, check out the Black Rock Art Foundation's website, (click here).

Even cooler than the sculpture is a brand-new "public recreation" pier that stretches out into the bay from the same location.

It was originally a 637-foot concrete breakwater protecting the ferry terminals...

...but somebody had the bright idea to create a new public space out it.

It's all very spare and moderne, but there are metal chairs sprinkled around the far end of the pier.

The best part about the chairs is not only that they're fairly comfortable but they swivel...

...and you can spin around in them...

...while taking in the spectacular 360 degree view...

Or you can read and just take in the bay essence if that's what you so desire.

There's even a nice, minimalist trio of engravings with a Lawrence Ferlinghetti poem, which reads:
The light of San Francisco
is a sea light
an island light

And then another scrim
when the new night fog
floats in

And in that vale of light
the city drifts
anchorless upon the ocean

Whoever made this pier possible deserves hearty congratulations.