Saturday, September 16, 2006

If you see one Matthew Barney film this year...

[Finally, after a week and multiple promises, Fosco delivers his review of Matthew Barney's Drawing Restraint at the SFMOMA.]

I've seen more Matthew Barney than most people. We go back a long way. I saw the original exhibit of Cremaster 2 at the SFMOMA in 2000. I spent an entire afternoon at the Guggenheim New York in 2003 to see the Cremaster Cycle exhibit. That fall, I spent over seven hours in a theater (in Grand Rapids, MI), watching the complete Cremaster Cycle. I hope this solidly establishes my Matthew Barney credentials...

In all of my Matthew Barney contemplation, I have reached several conclusions:

  • Only his films themselves are worthy of appreciation as art. Each film is generally accompanied by a physical exhibitions of sculpture, drawings, photographs and artifacts that relate to the film. This exhibition is never worthy of the film itself. Without the film, the sculptures are almost completely unevocative. His drawings tend to be either banal or incomprehensible. Sometimes the vitrines he designs for the display of drawings are pretty nifty, but come on--he just shouldn't be allowed to work in any medium besides film.
  • Never has a Matthew Barney interview increased my understanding or enjoyment of one of his films. He is not to be listened to. Let the films speak for themselves.
  • He needs an editor. Isn't it interesting how great writers are often improved by good editing? Do you ever read recent novels by famous writers and bemoan the fact that they are now too famous to admit editing? Art doesn't always spring forth from the mind of the artist in its most powerful form--sometimes the editor is necessary. Consequently, there are a few hours of Barney's Cremaster series that could be excised with no consequent diminishment of artistic merit.
That being said, I need also to note one more thing: despite all of his faults, I love him. The Cremaster Cycle was one of the most transcendent art experiences of my life and I will continue to contemplate it for decades. Some future Halloween, I even plan to attend a costume party dressed as the "Entered Apprentice" from Cremaster 3 (picture at left). So, consequently, I approached the Drawing Restraint exhibit at SFMOMA with a great deal of anticipation.

The physical exhibit itself can be dispensed with by repeating one of my conclusions from above: "only the films themselves are worthy of appreciation as art." Now let's talk about the film.

The most interesting new element in Matthew Barney's recent artistic milieu is the presence of his ladyfriend Bjork. As much as I hate to disagree with the dreamy Alex Ross (aka, Mr. "I'm hanging out at Carnaval in Brazil with Bjork and Matthew Barney, so SUCK IT, Anthony Tommasini!"), I'm not really a big fan of Bjork's music. In fact, apart from a song here or there (like "Bachelorette," which is an exceptional song), I think her best work was on Selmasongs, the soundtrack to Dancer in the Dark. In fact, as much as I love her whole "adorable Icelandic pixie" thing, I was beginning to think her a bit overrated. Her presence in the movie, therefore, worried me a bit.

I should not have feared. The film was phenomenal. Somehow, working together has allowed Barney and Bjork to do the best work of their careers. I've now seen it three times. Before we go further, go watch the trailer again.

Before we go too much further, it's time for a plot summary (such as it is...):
  • the film opens with an exquisitely beautiful scene of a Japanese woman wrapping two halves of a krill fossil as gifts.
  • we see sweeping helicopter shots of a Japanese port city and watch a crew of jumpsuited workers build a gleaming white dock on the water.
  • a decorated tanker truck is pulled through a refinery, preceded by a parade of dancing Japanese dancers and children.
  • the camera descends one of the smokestacks at the refinery, looking upward; we splash into a bath of golden petroleum and watch strands of bubbles flow toward the surface; a dark, whale-like shape passes over us and the titles, in bronze flensing-knife font, spread across the screen. This is probably the most beautiful shot in the film and it left me completely breathless. You can get a sense of it from the trailer.
  • the tanker arrives at the whaling ship, the Nisshin Maru, on whose deck a large steel cast of Barney's "field symbol" (it's that lozenge-with-a-bar-through-it that you see all over his work) has been created. The field symbol is filled with liquid petroleum jelly. This is the third shot in the trailer.
  • pearl divers put on makeup, prepare their equipment, and go diving. They come across a large floating chunk of ambergris.
  • strung with colored paper, the Nisshin Maru pulls away from the dock and heads out to sea.
  • the chef of the Nisshin Maru (in a very witty scene), cooks dinners of whale blubber (shaped like the "field symbol") with pomegranite seeds and prawns.
  • Bjork, cute as a button in a red winter wrap and hiking boots, waits on the shore for a boat to pick her up. One does.
  • Matthew Barney (as the other "Occidental Guest") waits on a pier for his motorboat, which arrives.
  • Bjork arrives at the Nisshin Maru and is lifted on board in a basket; she is undressed and takes a bath. You see her naked from behind through a scrim--you just get a hint of public hair. Also, you see her remarkably pointy breasts underwater.
  • MB arrives on board the boat, removes his furry, furry overcoat and has his beard shaved off.
  • MB lays down to sleep on a tatami mat.
  • during the night, the crew plays a mock game of whale-harpooning on the deck.
  • as MB sleeps, a drunk crew-member slips into his quarters and shaves off MB's eyebrows and shaves a large bald swath on the top of his head from his forehead to his crown.
  • the next morning, there is much unsuccessful whale hunting, but the ship does find and take onboard the large floating chunk of ambergris.
  • Bjork has her hair done (with many sea anemones!) and is dressed in animal skins; MB awakes and is also dressed in strange clothing. MB does full frontal nudity in this scene (uncircumcised, it appears), but Bjork does not.

  • Once they have been attired, they (eventually) enter the tea ceremony room. The tea master appears and MB speaks the first spoken line in the film (over an hour in at this point): "Please come in." A long ritualized tea ceremony follows, in which Bjork says her one line (in Icelandic): "Thank you for inviting me." After the tea, MB asks the tea master (in an extremely stilted manner): "Can you tell us something about the vessel?" This leads to a long monologue by the tea master about the history of the Nisshin Maru, about the special effects of the ambergris onboard, and about the psychological scars left by the Nisshin Maru's collision with a Greenpeace boat near Antarctica. Once this monologue is over, there are no remaining spoken words in the film (at least another hour at this point).
  • as the tea ceremony goes on, the workers on the deck above have stowed the ambergris log in the hull and have cut the bar from the middle of the now-solid petroleum jelly field symbol. The bar is hoisted to a different part of the deck and is cut into blocks using flensing knives. The blocks of jelly are fed into the ships boiler and are melted.
  • Night falls. Bjork and MB remain in the tea room alone. They begin to make out, animalistically. There is licking of faces and noses. It's hot. MB gets one of the anemone spines from her hair stuck into his forehead. She pulls it out. It's very hot. A storm blows up. The ship is now strangely deserted (except for the couple). The boiler begins to overflow with petroleum jelly and the jelly slowly begins to fill the tea room.
  • This is where things get a little weird. A flensing knife floats into the room and MB picks it up and begins to cut Bjork's legs with it. Bjork picks up her dagger and cuts his legs in return. There is some blood, but not as much as there should be. The couple continues their cutting as the petroleum level rises. Eventually, they manage to cut off each other's feet. Then they keep cutting. They break for a moment to feed each other a delectable morsel from their own thighs--sashimi-style. "Mmmm... Delicious Bjork." This is upsetting, but their faces remain placid as they float in a "cloud" of hardening petroleum jelly. Eventually, they slice each other's legs off entirely. Somehow, their lower torsos transform into whale-like tails and blowholes appear in the backs of their necks. They dive into the oil.
  • While MB and Bjork complete their transformation, the workers on the deck remove the sides of the field symbol mold and the unstable petroleum jelly begins to collapse on the deck.
  • The Nisshin Maru is now surrounded by icebergs. We see two whales surface near the ship, blow, and dive again heading away from the ship. Is this MB and Bjork? Your guess is as good as mine.
  • The "petrolatum" spirit, hiding belowdecks, begins to refill a mold with petroleum jelly.
  • A pearl diver surfaces and spews pearls from her mouth. The pearls sink to the ocean floor and form two interlocking circles.
  • A small concrete deck is pulled from the sea by a chain onto the dock next to the gleaming white one built early in the film. The concrete dock collapses under the weight of the model.
I think I've probably left something out but, as this plot is only vaguely linear, you probably wouldn't miss it.

What could all this mean?

Well, as you can tell, Barney's work is really more interesting for its images than for its stories. And you can tell which images made a serious impression on me. You can get a sense of many of these images from the trailer, luckily. As for the narrative, well, I wouldn't worry too much about it. Just consider it an opportunity to think for a while about ritual, social constraint, oil, and biological plasticity.

Why is this film so good (apart from the fact that it is so absolutely gorgeous)?
  • Matthew Barney, finally, has learned to edit--at least to some extent. Granted, 145 minutes is not svelte, but five years ago this film would have been six hours long. In almost no scene does Barney let the action occur in real time. This is a significant improvement over several of the Cremaster films (especially 1, 4, and 5).
  • Bjork's music is wonderful. She singlehandedly moves several slower scenes along with her music. Although Jonathan Bepler's music for several of the Cremaster films was interesting, it was never meant to be an equal partner to the visual images. I'm beginning to think that Bjork does her best work when she is contrained by having to write music for a film.
  • It is such a thick text. You can spin so many interpretive webs from these dark materials. It's so allusive that many areas of knowledge are in play: Japanese culture, physics and chemistry, marine biology, whaling history and practice, and, of course, Barney's previous artistic work in both the Cremaster and Drawing Restraint series.
  • It's totally sexy (and discomfiting at the same time). As Fosco has said recently: "I like things that make me horny and uncomfortable at the same time."
Sadly, the exhibit closes tomorrow... Let us hope that the film will be screened again somewhere in the future (or even better, maybe it could be released on DVD).

Tainted Spinach: An Unanswered Question

As Fosco has three packages of "Natural Selection Foods" fresh baby spinach languishing in his fridge, he has a personal interest in the ongoing tainted spinach debacle. According to the Times (and numerous other media outlets),

'Simply washing it is not enough to protect you,' Mr. Doyle said in a news conference in Milwaukee.
That's great, but what if you wash it in bleach?

Friday, September 15, 2006

SFMOMA, Part 2: "Hey, there's art in here!"

Now that we've tasted the crust of the pie that is the SFMOMA (in Part 1), we can fork the creamy, creamy filling inside.

Fosco loves contemporary art--loves it! So naturally, he enjoys lurking (with notebook) in the galleries at the SFMOMA, winking at sexy strangers, and hastening together to the bathroom for a quickie... Oh wait, or maybe that was an episode of Queer As Folk. But, anyway, Fosco still loves the art. Here are the highlights from several of the exhibits that he saw during his three(!) recent trips to the SFMOMA.

The exhibition "Between Art and Life" is designed to show off the permanent collection of the museum, including some gorgeous new acquisitions. It's small, but packed with flava. Some highlights:

  • Gerhard Richter's "Lesende (Reading)" 1994. Richter's slightly blurry photorealist paintings are so beautiful, and this is one of the best. That shockingly attractive woman is his wife, the stud. This painting makes regular appearances on Fosco's laptop as the deskpicture. It is worth visiting Richter's website to see more.
  • Fosco was not familiar with the work of Marilyn Minter but he should have been. Minter's art is feminist, sure, but it's also voluptuous and enticing. The SFMOMA is showing "Strut" (2004-05), a painting on enamel of a dirty and sweaty heel in rhinestone-encrusted Dior stilettos. The message is obvious, but it's sooo pretty to look at. See it here. As I was researching Minter, I found another of her works that I adore. It's called "Treasure Trail" (2003) and you can see it below:I think this is a remarkably sexy painting, and that response is destabilized (at the same time that it occurs) by questions of the sex of the owner of the navel as well as by questions about objectification and voyeurism. Fosco likes a painting that makes him horny and uncomfortable at the same time.
  • Jenny Holzer has been one of Fosco's favorite artists for years. In fact, he even has one of her "truisms" tattooed on his shoulderblade. (Which one? Discover for yourself and receive a complimentary t-shirt.) On display at SFMOMA was Holzer's "I AM A MAN" (1987), a ten foot tall vertical LED board with red and green messages (in all CAPS and with no punctuation) scrolling rapidly upward. Fosco managed to read
    before he had to look away. The scrolling speed and light colors are designed to produce a sense of vertigo, disorientation, and maybe even motion sickness (all of which Fosco felt). This is powerful stuff, kids.
  • The last highlight I will mention in this exhibit was a painting by Julie Mehretu, Fosco's homegirl from Michigan (reprazent!). Mehretu has (justifiably) become an art star in the last few years (since Fosco saw her coming-out party at the 2004 Whitney Biennial), even receiving a 2005 MacArthur Foundation Grant (Fosco thinks they're nicknamed "genial grants" because the recipients are typically quite friendly). At any rate, Mehretu's compositions are usually quite stunning. They are composed in ink and acrylic paint, but they fool the eye into perceiving several layers of depth, typically including: grids (or askew grids) in ink, lines of movement/force, and brightly-colored almost-recognizable shapes and symbols. The effect is kinetic, but in an energizing (not tiring) way. The SFMOMA recently acquired "Stadia I" (2004), but, unfortunately, I wasn't able to find an image on the web. You can get the idea, at least, from "Stadia III," a painting from the same series: "Stadia I" is a little bit less easily identifiable as a stadium (the flags aren't quite as obvious), but it is essentially similar.

Some representative highlights from several of the other exhibitions (this is turning into a long post and splitting them up doesn't seem worthwhile):
  • Charles Sheeler's "Aerial Gyrations" (1953) was really fascinating to me. I wrote a long paper on Sheeler in college and thought I had his "precisionist" style pegged (check out some representative work here), but then this little painting shows up as a nifty surprise. The reproduction here isn't great, so you can't tell that those are pastel colors (not usually associated with Sheeler). And it's so cubist! This isn't the "precisionist" Sheeler. Consequently, this is a really interesting painting and were Fosco an art historian, he would want to spend some time thinking about it. But, as he is only a blogger, he is moving on.
  • Creepy architecture from the FUTURE! That's what is designed by Xefirotarch. They do some kind of thing with biological processes that produces shapes that don't exactly occur regularly in geometry. It all looks pretty complicated and math-based to me. Also, as far as I can tell, nothing they have designed has been built. I'm sure that "theoretical architecture" is important and all, but I especially like it when architects build things.
  • How can anyone not love Wayne Thiebaud? I love his "Display Cakes" (1963) so much. Thiebaud is brilliant at making food seem otherwordly, comforting yet strange. What planet did these cakes arrive from? And why do they still look so delicious? Fosco once spent an incredibly romantic date strolling through the Thiebaud retrospective at the Phillips Collection in DC with a charming young man named Henry. Unfortunately, the object of Fosco's affection later turned out to prefer to date less interesting and less entertaining people... De gustibus non est disputandum. But that date was still bliss, and Fosco has transferred a portion of that affection to Wayne Thiebaud.
  • Graphic designer Rex Ray creates posters for concerts and, as a small exhibit in the SFMOMA's Design Collection suggests, they are beautiful. I love this poster for a Radiohead show:

Aren't you impressed that I made it this far and didn't once mention the most famous work in SFMOMA's contemporary collection? Enjoy...

SFMOMA, Part 1: Building Trouble

The SFMOMA (picture at right) has resided at its current location south of Market St. for over ten years now. I visited for the first time a year after it opened and, caught up in the local excitement, was impressed by the building, designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta.

Now that the shine has worn off, I have to suggest that the Botta building hasn't really aged that well. Part of the problem, I think is that really tall and shiny buildings have sprung up around it--it makes the SFMOMA look, well, squat. On the inside, the space is still quite lovely and light-filled. However, on the outside, the horizontal stripes don't exactly soar. It's clearly not the architectual icon that San Francisco definitely needs. Of course, I'm not the only person who thinks so.

Speaking of architectural icons in San Francisco, what are the possibilities for the immediate future?

  • the new deYoung Museum, designed by Herzog and de Meuron. Despite the exceptional reviews (read Paul Goldberger's New Yorker review--about halfway down in the column), a sustained low-speed driveby by Fosco on Thursday made it look unimpressive. I wanted to like it, but it just didn't do anything for me. I'll give it another chance, sure (and go inside as well), but I'm not optimistic.
  • the (recently-deceased?) Prada building designed by Rem Koolhaas. Critics desctibed it as a "giant cheese grater" and it looks like the project is dead. Alas--this is one building I would have liked to see.
  • the Contemporary Jewish Museum, designed by Daniel Libeskind. Visit the website and view the images here.
  • I'm really curious to see this one: the "Federal Complex" and Seventh and Mission. The problem, of course, is that no city wants its most iconic building to be a government office building.
Or perhaps SF needs to turn to the homegrown-Californian architect Mike Brady (of Phillips Brady LLC).

The News from Paraguay: "Continued mortgaging the country" is a problem.

We are approaching the season of some of the serious literary awards and Fosco has a confession to make: he likes the big literary prizes. There is no easier way to snag his interest in a book than to mention that it won the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, or the Booker Prize. Er... I mean the Man Booker Prize. Even some of those oddly-named PEN awards can be worthy of notice.

Fosco is also immediately interested in any book that receives more than "three paws up" from Piper. Be warned: fewer than three paws up is just a waste of your time.

The reason that Fosco enjoys these awards is that he doesn't take them too seriously. It seems silly to believe that the National Book Award could really mean that the winning book was the best book of that year. What would that even mean? Rather, Fosco takes these awards as saying something like this: "We, a committee of well-educated, well-read people who pay attention to the world of letters, would like to suggest that the following book or books is probably worth your time." If you think about the awards in this way, it frees up a lot of potential anger and resentment that can then be applied elsewhere (ideally, towards the elderly).

Speaking of anger and resentment, remember all that nastiness over the 2004 National Book Award? That was the year that love-him-or-hate-him author Rick Moody was the chair of the panel and the nominees were 5 women who

  • all lived in NYC
  • had sold less than 2500 copies each
  • no one had ever heard of (and by no one, I mean: anyone who subsequently wrote a resentful criticism of Moody's choices).
In the end, I felt bad for eventual winner Lily Tuck and her novel, The News from Paraguay. After all, I imagine that she felt like she hit the lottery even to be nominated over heavy hitters like Philip Roth (considered by Fosco to be our greatest living writer). And then, to actually win the award, only to have her book remembered as "that undeserving book that Rick Moody promoted because of his own weird literary agenda." The whole thing has the flavor of a "your wish has been granted, but with an unpleasantly ironic loophole--ha ha!" and that makes me feel a bit sorry for Lily Tuck.

But, even though I felt sorry for her, I had no intention of reading the book. After all, it's about Paraguay--an afterthought of a country on an afterthought of a continent. And even worse: it's about Paraguay in the 19th Century! I would have bet a large amount of money that Paraguay didn't even exist in the 19th Century (and I would have lost...) Maybe this makes me a First-World Chauvinist (although, I have read historial novels about India, China, and Africa--so maybe my chauvinism is limited to South America).

But then, several months ago, I came across a sad sight: an entire stack of hardcover copies of The News from Paraguay (first printing!) on remainder at a bargain bookstore. No National Book Award winner should suffer this fate, no matter its shortcomings (isn't there something the National Book Foundation can do to prevent this?). I was moved to purchase a copy, just to make the pain go away. And then, last week, mainly because it was there (and it did win a National Book Award), I picked it up and read it.

And you know what? It's actually really good. Luckily, the novel doesn't require you to learn much about historical Paraguay or even to care much about Paraguay (which is good, because I wasn't going to do either). Rather, by recounting brief vignettes (kaleidoscopically, I think the reviews said) with a gently irony (reminiscent of my beloved Penelope Fitzgerald), Tuck illuminates everyday emotional life, with its mixture of venal absurdity and pitiful sincerity. It's sweet and sad and occasionally sexy and I was moved by it. Was this the best novel of 2004? I don't care--I'm just glad that I finally got around to reading it.

And as for the news from Paraguay, according to a Babel Fish translation of one of the stories in today's Ultimo Hora:
"IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO BE CONTINUED MORTGAGING the COUNTRY", INDICATES the PRESIDENT Of the CONGRESS We rejected the orders of the Executive authority because the guarantee sufficient does not exist to administer that money, the holder of the National Congress declared. The oviedista senator Enrique González Quintana made these declarations during a meeting of leaders of large stone benches of the Senate, occasion in which the reasons were explained that motivated the decisions taken yesterday in the Legislative Power.
All I know is that I would lurve to see all those "leaders of large stone benches." Do you think they're animate? Even if not, Paraguay still probably has a better democracy than we do.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Drawing Restraint 9: Eight things NOT overheard on the way out of the theater...

It's 9 pm, and Fosco just returned from another day trip to San Francisco to see yet again Matthew Barney's film Drawing Restraint at the SFMOMA. (It turns out that the film is just like Miss addictive!)

Fosco is exhausted (and stuffed with Nanking scallops). He is (finally) ready to write his full review of the film and exhibit--look for it tomorrow. Until then, do two things:
1. Watch the trailer.
2. Enjoy the following bit of silliness.
(N.B., if you don't know much about the film, some of these will be funnier after you read Fosco's full review tomorrow).

Eight Things that Fosco did NOT overhear on the way out of the theater:

  • "My favorite part was the dialogue."
  • "I wish it had been longer."
  • "Now I'm hungry for sushi!"
  • "I don't understand what he sees in Bjork..."
  • "I hear there were script problems from day one."
  • "I still don't understand why Gene Shalit hated it."
  • "What do you think Bjork will wear to the Oscars this time?
  • "Who did the music?"
It's bedtime for Fosco. Until tomorrow, I remain

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Bocadillos: Alas, "tapas" is not Spanish for "topless."

[The most recent of Fosco's weekly restaurant reviews.]

This week, Fosco ventures even further afield from Santa Cruz in order to consider Basque tapas in San Francisco.

The regular reader may recall Fosco's earlier foray into Basque cuisine in Elko, Nevada. Fosco recalls fondly that hearty meal, but would expect few similarities between that food and the tapas at Bocadillos. After all, to Fosco, "tapas" might as well be translated as "too small to be filling" (which is the reason he typically avoids tapas restaurants). However, he did have one good reason to give Bocadillos a chance: "chef hot" (according to the Gawker Professional Hotness Scale) Rachael Ray.

Now Fosco doesn't quite understand why there is so much hatred of Rachel Ray. As television chef/personalities go, she seems to be one of the most likeable and inoffensive. She doesn't pretend to be a culinary genius (a la Bobby Flay, who should probably be flayed alive. HA!). She doesn't have an infernal catchphrase. She doesn't use a fake Chinese accent. At worst, sometimes her taste is a little middlebrow, but... so what? She's not trying to fool anyone. And how can you fault her for being enthusiastic about food? Isn't that, um, part of her job?

But anyway. I happened to catch Ray's recommendations for San Francisco and thought that Bocadillos looked enjoyable. Additional research confirmed its reputation and so, yesterday evening (after another afternoon at the SFMOMA-that place is addictive), I dropped in for an early dinner.

Because tapas must be accompanied by a drink, Bocadillos has a long, strange list of signature cocktails (in addition to many, many types of wine). I ordered the appropriately-named Euskadi cocktail: a blend of nigori-sake, cranberry juice, and lime juice. The presence of sake in a Basque-themed cocktail is somewhat inexplicable to me and, alas, I do not recommend it.

I'm afraid that this question may cause Fosco some difficulties in the "cultural sensitivity" department, but why are Basque cocktails so bad? The picon punch that I had in Nevada was also really unappetizing. Think I'm exaggerating? Here are two of the other cocktails offered at Bocadillos:

  • half sprite, half lager.
  • half Coke, half red wine.
The next thing you know, they'll be mixing milk and orange juice!

Luckily, the food at Bocadillos is better than the cocktails. The menu is long and there are so many appealing choices that settling on a few is difficult--truly, it would be best to bring several friends and share. However, as Fosco was alone yesterday (his personal assistant Geoffrey was still in Seattle, presenting his entry in the HUMP Amateur Porn Festival). Fosco (heroically) ate
  • a "bocadillo" (small sandwich) of house-made catalan sausage and manchego
  • marinated Moroccan beets: Fosco loves beets, especially as the marinade contained cardamom. Yum!
  • patatas bravas: twice cooked steak fries, tossed in red pepper and served with a delicious romesco sauce
Fortunately, the patatas in particular were quite filling, as Fosco was meter-parked and had to skip dessert.

The food at Bocadillos is good (if you avoid the cocktails), but, on the whole, I don't plan to return. The problem is the service, which was pretty obnoxious, actually. I was made to feel as if I were not quite hip enough to be there (especially strange as I was one of only two patrons there at the early hour--it's not like I was filling a chair that would otherwise have been occupied by Lindsay Lohan's vagina. Would they rather my chair be completely empty? Odd.)

Is it possible that Fosco just isn't cool enough to live in San Francisco? Hmmm.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Field Trip Week: San Francisco Treat, Part 2

[Read Part 1 here.]

After the spending spree at City Lights, Fosco and his personal assistant Geoffrey window-shopped their way through the Market St shopping area (why does the H&M at 150 Post St only have women's apparel? Women's clothes don't fit Fosco.)

Looking up, we were discomfited to see the spooky wraiths crowning the mansard roof of 580 California St. (see pic at right). Later research reveals that:

  • the building was designed by Philip Johnson.
  • the statues are "corporate goddesses" and were designed by Muriel Castanis.
  • they are twelve feet high and HAVE NO FACES (note the hint of rising panic in Fosco's voice).
With due respect to Ms. Castanis, Fosco prefers to disregard the artistic intention (corporate goddesses? whatever.) in favor of a much more sinister reading of these figures. Clearly these figures mean harm (and are eerily reminiscent of Peter Jackson's Ringwraiths in his LotR trilogy).

Fosco has but one request for the 580 California wraiths: "Please don't kill me."

Fosco and Geoffrey decided that the best place to hide from the wraiths was inside the SFMOMA. Fosco will have a separate entry on this visit (including a full review of the Matthew Barney film and installation in an upcoming post).

After the museum, we decided to play tourist for a bit, with a visit to the sea lions at Pier 39. Despite the frigid grey weather, the sea lions were out in force and they were spunky.

I must admit that I'm quite fascinated by sea lions. I like that they sleep in big piles of bodies. I also think it is cute when they scratch themselves with their hindflippers--like they had fingers or something. And did you know that they are evolutionarily related to bears? And who doesn't like bears?

And then something weird happened at Pier 39: I walked right past my freshman-year roommate Chuck Kapelke, who was pushing a stroller. I hadn't seen Chuck in almost ten years, but I recognized him easily (as he did me). We hadn't been in touch, but it turns out that he lives in the Bay Area and has an adorable daughter named Dahlia. He's a freelance writer, and it seems he has co-written a book, which is exciting. Even more exciting, according to the text stats, is that his book is written at a much more advanced level than is Rick Moody's Garden State (for example). Awesome work, Chuck!

Watching all those sea lions made me hungry, so it was time to head to Chinatown for dinner at the famous dive, House of Nanking. Yes, there are no frills and no atmosphere (and you can be in-and-out in under 30 minutes), but it is still worth a visit. Surprisingly, the executive chef, Peter Fang, (dressed casually in a rugby shirt) was actually taking the orders himself when we were there. Maybe he needed a break from the kitchen. He was not exactly "friendly"--in fact, he arched an eyebrow at one of the dinner selections we made, for reasons which we don't understand (nor probably ever will).

The food was exceptional:
  • Steamed potstickers in a red peanut sauce.
  • Nanking scallops were crispy on the outside and smooth on the inside, each one served on a bed of lemon and eggplant.
  • Stuffed mushrooms (listed in the vegetable section of the menu, but don't be fooled): filled with ground beef and pan-fried, then covered with a brown sauce. These were addictive--I will order them every time I return.
As we were finishing, I looked toward the cash register and spotted football star Warren Sapp waiting impatiently for a takeout order. In spite of my better judgment, I like Sapp a lot--I think he gives an extremely entertaining interview. He's actually not as big as I would have thought (I didn't realize he is only 6'2" and 300). He was dressed in blue/white Nike Jordan shorts and sweatshirt, large white leather soccer sandals, and some nice bling (big gold watch, chain, bracelet). He was chewing on a toothpick and seemed a bit peeved that he had to stand in front of the whole restaurant for 10 minutes while he waited for his food. He kept checking his cell and his pager. I'm pretty sure that I'm the only person eating there that recognized him (this wasn't exactly a sports-loving crowd).

And no, I didn't say anything to him--I just smiled, nodded and went back to my mushrooms. I would love for him to be gay, though. Sigh.

All-in-all, a full day in San Francisco, no? On the drive back, it became apparent that the South Bay had enjoyed a beautifully sunny day. As we drove, it was quite cool to watch the fog return to slide down the Eastern slopes of the mountains:

The fog here is certainly like no weather I've encountered before. It's actually a bit like that "nothing" from The Neverending Story. Great, now I'm hearing Limahl in my head. See you in hell, Limahl!

Field Trip Week: San Francisco Treat, Part 1

I was going to title this post "Homotown USA," but then I realized that I've seen more homosexuals on a Saturday afternoon at the East Palo Alto IKEA than my personal assistant Geoffrey and I did in San Francisco on Friday. But, that's mainly the fault of our itinerary: we went nowhere near the Castro, staying mainly in the FiDi, SoMa, and NoBe (wow, that's annoying).

Even without homos, it was still a perfect day in San Francisco. Well, except for the weather, which was cold, windy and drizzly. I thought we were going to be on the sunny side of the city (at least in the afternoon), but the fog never lifted. It was actually pretty miserable. I had planned for cool weather, but hadn't realized that I would need a hat and gloves. Oh well.

The drive from San Francisco from Santa Cruz was even pleasurable, thanks to I-280, sometimes called "the most beautiful freeway in the world." It is a lovely freeway, winding beneath the slopes of the Santa Cruz mountains, avoiding the urban/suburban sprawl just a few miles to the East, and flirting with the San Andreas Fault. However, as a connaisseur of interstates, I would suggest several other stretches that are more scenic:

  • I-70 between Denver and Vail: a spectacular ascent into the Rockies.
  • I-80 between SLC and Wendover: the Wasatch range, the Great Salt Lake, and the Bonneville Salt Flats.
  • I-64/77 between Charleston and Beckley, West Virginia: a high-speed curvefest along a winding creekbed
But I digress...

We started our San Francisco adventure with a retro lunch at swinging supper club Bix. It's located in this hard-to-find alley in an upscale furniture/antiques neighborhood near the Transamerica Pyramid. I felt like I was in a speakeasy, but with much better alcohol (did you know that Prohibition booze was yucky? It's true.) My lunch:
  • the Bix Strawberry Rickey (Skyy 90, strawberry puree, sweet & sour, and soda): so fresh and crisp! I could have had three.
  • roasted tomato soup with a basil-ricotta crouton: competent and hearty-perfect for fighting the chill weather.
  • shallot crusted albacore tuna with butter beans, gypsy peppers, and lemon-smoked paprika sauce: divine! The sauce just made everything melt in your mouth.
  • chocolate brioche bread pudding: topped with a fist-size dollop of thick-whipped cream, this was rich, hot, and smooth. Another great course for a cold and dreary day.
The service and atmosphere were almost pitch-perfect (right down to the white-coated waiters), with one troubling exception: the restaurant's location in the FiDi (Financial District) means that, at lunch, it's filled with businesspeople and lawyers. Yuck. The high-powered commercial real estate go-getter at the next table kept talking about how she was going to make a "shitload of money." I hadn't realized how well I've managed to structure my life to avoid these kind of people on a regular basis.

After lunch, we made a pilgrimage to the greatest bookstore on the planet: City Lights. I love this place! It was founded by beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti! They published Allen Ginsburg's Howl (someday, ask Uncle Fosco to tell you the story of how he played a reading of Howl on the radio and got into serious obscenity toruble...). And how can you not love their new banners? (pic below)I kinda bought a bunch of books, including a collection of essays on Howl, selections from Paul Valery, and the book that started it all: Pictures of the Gone World.

I see water and buildings...

Alas, it's been five years since September 11, 2001.

I'm not interested in writing a long post recalling painful memories, mourning the victims, praising heroism, or expressing my anger at what has happened in the US and the world ever since. I suspect that you can correctly guess what I would have to say on each of those topics.

Instead, I would rather take a moment to mention the most moving artistic responses to the events:

These works of art have made the last five years a little more bearable.

For a moving post on the personal aftermath of 9/11, visit The Gideonse Bible here.

N.B.: the title of this post is taken from the devastating libretto for Adams's "Transmigration."

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Denouement: 9/3-9/10

This week, while you were creating your very own blog about masturbation, Fosco was

Sex Baiting Alert!

I'm going to step outside of the fun-loving Fosco persona for a post in order to call your attention to this item:

Sex Baiting 'Prank' from

This is EVIL.

Basically, some self-promoting tool decided to post a sexually explicit ad on Craigslist Seattle pretending to be a woman seeking casual sex with men. Then this bacterium did the unthinkable: he posted all of the replies verbatim (including pictures) on the website Encyclopedia Dramatica.

Now granted, some of the people who responded to this ad should have been smarter than to use identifiable email addresses and pictures. However, should the punishment for that lapse really be getting fired? Or a divorce?

The post discusses the chances of legal sanctions against the loser who started this (conclusion: slim-to-none). As someone who believes neither in an afterlife nor in karma, I hope there is some way for guy to get what is coming to him in this lifetime.

And for all of you who, like me, enjoy internet hookups, please USE A PSEUDONYMOUS EMAIL ACCOUNT. Don't make it easy for the idiotic and malicious.