Monday, November 30, 2009

A Blimp at the Opera

The MetLife blimp has been floating around the skies of San Francisco for the last couple of days....

...and this evening at dusk it was slowly circling the Civic Center...

...looking like it was about to land on the roof of the San Francisco Opera House.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Michael Nava for San Francisco Superior Court Judge

In the "Politics" column of the Bay Area Reporter newspaper last week, there was a small announcement about a campaign kickoff party at the Eureka Lounge in the Castro District for the lawyer Michael Nava (above). He has been on something of an informal career judge track over the last 20 years, working as a research attorney and writing judicial opinions for the legendary Arleigh Woods on the Second Court of Appeals in Los Angeles during the 1980s-1990s.

Nava, who earned a J.D. degree from Stanford Law School in 1981, moved back to the Bay Area in 1995 and has been working as a staff attorney for the California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno (click here for an interesting recent article from the LA Times). Moreno also performed a marriage ceremony for Nava and his partner George Herzog (above) last October.

Nava would like to be appointed as a Superior Court Judge, but his chances have been slim to none with Schwarzenegger in the California governor's seat, so he has decided to run for election for an open seat in the June 8, 2010 primary election. How many open seats will be available and how many candidates will be vying for them is still an unknown, but he decided to put his hat in the ring early.

I knew none of this before the campaign kickoff party, since my reason for attending was as a literary fan. Besides being an accomplished lawyer, Michael Nava happens to be one of my favorite fiction writers in the world. From 1986 through 2001, he wrote a series of seven slim mystery novels featuring the gay Chicano detective Henry Rios, starting with "The Little Death" and finishing with "Rag and Bone," which he announced would be the end of the line. In an email to me, Nava confessed that it took him a while to get comfortable:
"I had never written a long piece of fiction before the first novel -- I wrote only poetry before then -- and I didn't really know what I was doing until about the third book. I suppose I could have profited from a creative writing program, but I was already practicing law. After that, though, I found myself in the midst of the AIDS epidemic and writing with an urgency that probably made me a better writer than I would have been otherwise. I have not re-read the books in a long time; it seems, when I think about them now, that they were written by different hands than these."

Though Nava's humility is charming, as far as I'm concerned his Henry Rios books are classics of California detective fiction, comparable to Ross McDonald and Raymond Chandler. As a glbtq encyclopedia puts it (click here):
"The seven novels are more than simply puzzles to be unraveled. Indeed, the novels are not plot-driven, but character-driven. What sets them--especially the last five--apart from much detective fiction, in addition to their highly textured and allusive prose, is the increasing depth with which Nava probes character and motivation. Rios is gradually revealed to be more complex and more introspective than most fictional detectives, and his internal struggles and his often tortured relationships with others are what finally provide the major interest of the books and lift them above their formulaic genre."
Interestingly enough, none of the guests at the San Francisco Superior Court Judge campaign kickoff party seemed to have read the novels, including San Francisco District 8 Supervisor candidates Rebecca Prozan and Rafael Mandelman (above).

Neither had San Francisco Supervisor David Campos (above), who gave an eloquent speech about the qualities Nava would bring to the judiciary, and also how expensive a citywide campaign was going to be.

If Michael Nava is half as empathetic, intelligent and nuanced about justice as his fiction, he should make an absolutely superior judge. I volunteered to work on his campaign immediately.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Save and/or Restore Sharp Park

Last Thursday, November 19th, there was a hearing at the San Francisco Recreation & Park Commission in City Hall on the proposed plans for the Sharp Park golf course in the seaside town of Pacifica. At the beginning of the 20th century, the shoreland and adjoining valley in the middle of town was deeded to the SF Rec & Park Department for public recreation, and in the early 1930s the legendary golf course architect Alisteir Mackenzie created a municipal course in one small section near the ocean.

The course is barely withstanding a number of enemies these days, starting with the Rec & Park Department itself, which for at least the last decade has been starving the course of money and resources while it sinks millions of dollars into the money pit that is Harding Park Golf Course at Lake Merced where the PGA occasionally holds a professional tournament. The other opponent is an outfit called the Center for Biological Diversity, a litigious environmental group out of Tucson, Arizona which claims that the golf course is home to two endangered species, the California red-legged frog and the San Francisco garter snake.

As Paul Slavin points out in an op-ed in the San Jose Mercury News, "Now, the red legged frog is found across much of low-elevation central California so we're not talking about extinction here, however heated some of the debate has gotten. The frogs, and their eggs, have been found on course property as well as much of the surrounding area, including Mori Point." The San Francisco garter snake, by the way, is found most plentifully around the San Francisco Airport rather than Sharp Park but let's not let facts get in the way of moral righteousness.

The hearing lasted for about three hours with people being asked to watch the proceedings in the ground floor City Hall Light Court until their names were called for public comment. There were three options being considered by the commission: 1. Destroy the golf course and return the area to wetlands; 2. Keep the 18-hole golf course but replace three holes that are close to Laguna Salada with new ones further east in the valley; or 3. Turn it into a 9-hole golf course.

With Phil Ginsburg as the new head of the Rec & Park Department and Jim Lazarus as President of the Rec & Park Commission (above center), it's probable that a back room political fix is already in, and that it has something to do with "mitigation banking."

The commenters were pretty evenly divided between those who wanted to "Save Sharp Park," in other words keep the golf course, and those who wanted to "Restore Sharp Park," which means destroying the course and restoring the wetlands to some imagined pristine condition. There were a few idiots on both sides, but the majority of people commenting were smart, idealistic citizens who were being pulled emotionally by all the rhetoric flying around.

The final decision was put off until the next Rec & Park Commission meeting, and video of the meeting at the San Francisco Government Television website still hasn't been posted a week later, so you won't be able to see me give my brief comments near the end of the meeting. I started by extolling the beauty of the course and the importance of Mackenzie the golf architect but could see everyone's eyes rolling with disinterest after three hours of testimony, so I cut to the punchline. "Thank you so much for proposing to get rid of the Par 3 12th hole. I've always hated it." This actually produced a laugh from everyone.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bolcom Meets Strauss in the New Century

The New Century Chamber Orchestra is a conductorless string ensemble formed by Stuart Canin in 1992. Last year they appointed the star violin soloist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg as their concertmaster and music director, and from most accounts it's been a good mesh. (Click here for a wonderful interview with Nadja by Steven Winn at SFGate.)

The first thing I noticed about the group on Saturday evening at Herbst Theatre was how predominantly female the two dozen performers were, which is a rarity in the classical music world. It's usually the other way around. I asked Maura Lafferty (above), the pleasant p.r. lady of the organization, if the ratio of women to men was 3-to-1 or 4-to-1. "Probably the latter," she replied. The ensemble reminded me a bit of The Women's Philharmonic which used to play a lot of interesting, commissioned music from 1981 to 2004, and who played in the same hall.

The evening began with a few short, self-deprecating remarks by Nadja, above, thanking us for being in the hall when there were so many other events in the neighborhood we might be attending, referring I assume to the Berlin Philharmonic at Davies Hall or "Otello" next door at the San Francisco Opera. "So you couldn't get tickets over there, you were dressed up already, and decided to join us here."

She then talked a bit about the program, how it was going to start upbeat with some orchestrated piano rags by American composer William Bolcom, get darker with the same composer's 2005 Serenata Notturna for Oboe and String Quartet, and finally get downright depressing with Richard Strauss' 1944 "Metamorphosen: for 23 solo strings."

In truth, the three rags ("Poltergeist," "Graceful Ghost" and "Incineratorag") were more sinister than what I remember from the Scott Joplin rag fad that overtook the country after the movie "The Sting" was a huge success, and "Metamorphosen" wasn't sad so much as extraordinarily beautiful and exquisitely played by everyone. I had never heard the music before and it instantly became a favorite Strauss piece.

I've been reading about the 71-year-old American composer William Bolcom and his singer wife Joan Morris for decades but never really heard any of his music, which is supposed to be extremely eclectic, from pop parlor songs to symphonies and full-length operas. (Click here for a great recent interview by Georgia Rowe with the composer at SFCV.) His Serenata, with the fine SF Ballet and Opera oboist Laura Griffith as soloist, didn't make me want to rush out and hear more of his music, but it also was perfectly competent and lovely, and I wouldn't mind hearing it again.

The performer who was most fun to watch all night, however, was Candace Guirao (above left) who is the Principal Second Violin. She looked as if she was having a ball the entire evening, and watching her connect up with Nadja and her coperformers with a series of animated looks was a reminder why it can be so much fun to watch live music.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Strange Japanese Art 3: Gothic Lolitas

A fashionista friend, Anthony Herrera, once despaired after seeing a group of young Japanese tourist women who were decked out in the latest of fashions.

"It's no fair. Their hair is perfect, their bodies are perfect, and their cutesy fashion is always more interesting than anywhere else."

He definitely has a point, and New People is a great place to check out that thesis.

You can buy tabis from the Santa Monica designer PNUT (above)...

...and accessorize them with the perfect socks...

...while reading about Plastic Culture...

...or buy a handmade Bumperboy mini-megazine...

...signed by its maker.

I felt old and unhip at the event, but enjoyed myself thoroughly watching the interesting characters...

...especially the women dressed in various subcategories of "Lolita" fashions...

...which extend from Goth Lolitas to Sweet Lolitas and every variation in between.

Strange Japanese Art 2: New People Bazaar Bizarre

Kimo (above) invited me to an art opening on Friday at a new four-story complex on Post Street across from Japantown called New People.

The complex had joined up with a group called Bazaar Bizarre SF, which specializes in odd crafts, for a weekend "vertical artist village."

The SUPERFROG Gallery on the top floor was showing the work of seven contemporary artists from Tokyo (not pictured)...

...and there were exotic libations...

...being served gratis on each floor...

In the basement level, a Peruvian bartender was explaining the history of the Pisco Sour... door to a beautifully designed 143-seat movie theatre which is devoted to screening Japanese films.

The design of the entire complex is about ten years ahead of anything else in San Francisco...

...and the consumer goods devoted to Japanese pop culture in all its manifestations are amazing to behold.

Even the stairwells are cleverly designed with whimsical line drawings... innovation the Asian Art Museum should consider for its dreary stairway between floors two and three.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Strange Japanese Art 1: Dog Chasing

On a whirlwind tour of the permanent collection of the Asian Art Museum this week, the most interesting "newly on view" section seemed to be in the Japanese wing on the second floor.

From the Avery Brundage collection, there is an amazing pair of six-panel screens from 1640 called "Dog Chasing."

It depicts a large stadium ground for people to watch the Samurai sporting event, which consisted of two teams consisting of 17 men each.

The wall signage tried to allay animal abuse revulsion with the following: "The riders used softly padded arrows in order not to seriously hurt the dog, which was released within a circle of rope to begin the game."

Next to the newly on view screens is one of Masami Teraoka's prints from the 1985 series "31 Flavors Invading Japan."

Around the corner is the most consistently fascinating display in the museum...

...a constantly rotating selection of Japanese bamboo baskets from a collection of 900 donated in 2001 by the ex-CEO of Neutrogena, Lloyd Cotsen.

The fly basket is some kind of genius.