Friends

Some corner of a foreign field…

Thursday, October 13th, 2016 | Art, Food, Friends, Stavros, Travel | 1 Comment

I spent the last few weeks in Greece, traveling around with Stavros and his new squeeze. Big Chrissy joined us for the first week, passing a few days in Athens, visiting the Archaeological Museum, Acropolis and Acropolis Museum–musts for new visitors, and for me so nice to revisit Papposilenus, Poseidon, Hadrian and all my other guys.

We attended a staging of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex at the open air Odeon of Herodes Atticus, built in 161 AD on the southern slope of the Acropolis. It was a joint production of the Vakhtangov State Academic Theatre of Russia and the National Theatre of Greece, directed by Rimas Tuminas. Greek actors performed the ancient Chorus in Greek, and Russian actors the lead parts in Russian. At the center of the stage was a single rusted steel tube, a little over a person’s height in diameter, that characters hopped onto and off of, rolling upstage and back as Oedipus hollers at Tiresias and Creon and slowly figures out that he can’t escape his fate. Jocasta was played by an actress who almost comically looked like Oedipus’ grandmother, slowly hobbling across the stage in a dynamite performance.

We visited the Panathenaic stadium, built around 330 BC for the Panathenaic games. It was rebuilt entirely of marble by Herodes Atticus in 144 AD, and much later, and after a complete restoration, in 1896 hosted the first modern international Olympics games. At one end of the field are two delightful herms, one of which is double-sided and double-genitaled, representing Apollo and Hermes. Herms were made to ward off bad energy, as markers, for good luck, etc… but I find their stripped down quality, just head and penis, incredibly entertaining–really, just forget about the rest of this guy.

We saw a really great show of sculpture by Ai WeiWei at the Museum of Cycladic Art. Installed in the neoclassical wing of the museum were meticulously hand-crafted pieces that conceptually addressed the current refugee crisis in Greece, various humanitarian crises in China, and a clever statue made in the style of an early cycladic figure dropping a vase, referring to Ai’s destruction of neolithic pottery in his earlier work. Interspersed throughout the rest of the museum were sculptures that visually blended in with the museum’s collection, handmade shards of pottery, ground neolithic pots, etc, made to look old but referencing contemporary concerns.

From Athens we drove through the Peloponnesos to Neapolis and hopped on the ferry for Kythira. Kythira is where Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was born. There are several versions of her origins, but my favorite has her emerging from the sea foam after Cronus chopped off his dad Uranus’ genitals and tossed them into the sea. The first thing you see on approaching the island is a shipwreck. Driving out of the port and across the barren island, it quickly becomes apparent why Aphrodite was only born here, not much to inspire procreative activity, at least on this part of Kythira. Indeed, the island’s population has dwindled from 14,500 in 1864 to about 4,000 today. In the 16th century the pirate Barbarossa invaded the island, leveled the capital, and sold the survivors into slavery. Stavros complained the whole way, “This is terrible, this tastes horrible, that’s fake.”

The scenic village of Mylopotomos once had 22 mills operating along a small stream with a charming waterfall. We hiked through the ruins of the mills, most almost completely consumed by the surrounding forest, to the seasonally dried-up waterfall and pesto pond below. We had lunch in the main square, under huge old sycamores, and then made our way to the ruins of a Venetian castle on the edge of town, and the cave of Agia Sofia with its 13th century byzantine frescoes. The current capital was founded by the Venetians in the 13th century and is crowned with a picturesque castle.

We had a fabulous dinner at Taverna Filio in Kalamos, the last customers on their last open night of the season. We ordered stuffed fried zucchini flowers, fava (puréed split peas), horta (stewed greens), lamb and potatoes, and baked eggplant, each dish so flavorful. We also had tiganopsomo, a deep fried flat bread served almost like a pizza, with toppings of cheese and tomatoes. They grow and grind their own wheat for their breads, which are proudly brought to the table fresh from the oven. The house wines are crisp and refreshing. The service is friendly and enthusiastic. All dishes are made with locally grown and sourced produce and meats.

The next day we hopped on the ferry back to Neapolis and drove to Monemvasia, a perfectly preserved byzantine gem of a city built into the side of a solid sheer rock of an island. This was my third time to visit, and my first time to stay within the castle walls. Our hotel was an outrageously fabulous restored centuries-old house, with a terrace overlooking the sea and rooftops and domes of the town. No cars are allowed within the castle walls, so you hear only the occasional donkey clomp-clomping by. It really feels like stepping back in time.

After dropping Chrissy off at the airport, Stavros and I headed to Evia, about an hour and a half drive northeast of Athens, a large island that hugs about half of the mainland’s east coast, separated from it by a narrow channel. Our first stop was Halkida (Chalcis), for a quick walk along the channel waterfront. Because of the length of the island, its proximity to the mainland, and the different flows coming into the channel from north and south, an effect called “crazy water” can be observed. Every six hours strong tidal currents reverse direction, creating strong flows of water in opposite directions. Aristotle spent his last year in Halkida and was among the first to speculate correctly about the cause of the tidal shift.

After a really nice lunch on the waterfront near Kymi, we hopped onto the ferry for Skyros island. Skyros is another of those islands not on the map for a lot of foreign travelers. Stavros and I reserved a house through AirBnB, in the village of Molos, in the shadow of the main town and close to the beach. Our hostess was the most knowledgable Skyrophile who has ever lived, having written books on the cuisine, ceramics and history of the island, the books casually scattered among our room’s furnishings. On Sunday morning, driving into town with Stavros, hours after she and her husband had taken off for church in town, we saw her sauntering back to the house, in her tight dress and high heels and perfect conch of a hairdo. To get to where she was from town, she had to have walked down through the winding streets of town–essentially down a mountain–and then several miles to where we saw her. In high heels. Not a hair out of place. I was in awe. She’s like someone Melina Mercouri would have portrayed.

The main town is perched on the slopes of a steep mountain overlooking the sea. Near the charming folk art museum, there’s a nude statue dedicated to eternal poetry and Rupert Brooke, the english poet known for his beauty and romantic war poems, serenely perched on a theatrical stage set of sea and sky. Rupert was connected to Skyros only through his death. While in the British Royal Navy, he developed sepsis from an infected mosquito bite and died in a French hospital ship moored in a bay off the island. He was buried in an olive grove in the otherwise rocky and barren southern part of the island.

Hiking up through town to the castle we were accosted by several sweet middle-aged women, Athenians closing up their houses for the season, one of whom invited us into her home. Eager to show us a traditional Skyrian home, she proudly pointed out her many ceramics and freshly polished copper wares, and served us mastiha, a liqueur flavored with resin of the mastic tree.

The island is shaped like a figure 8, with the northern part densely green and lush. There’s a neolithic settlement on the northern tip and several other ruins scattered here and there along the drive, reflecting the various architectural styles of Roman, Venetian, Macedonian and Byzantine civilizations.

The southern part of the island is very rocky and bare. Near the most southern point, along the main road, are rock formations–either naturally occurring or by human hand, not sure, but they’re very striking in the landscape–forming a (seemingly) natural abstract sculpture garden, with the occasional passing goat or wild pony.

There’s a pony that’s native to Skyros, brought to the island by Athenian settlers sometime between the 8th and 5th centuries BC, one of the rarest horse breeds in the world. The ponies may have been used by Alexander in his conquests, and might be the horses depicted on the Parthenon frieze. The ponies are semi-wild in the southern part of the island, but many have been caught and tamed for use by farmers, ranging across the island until they are needed for the grain harvest.

Driving back to Athens, we took the longer mountainous route through the heart of Evia, a beautifully scenic drive twisting through dense forests, steep gorges, and sweet little hilltop villages. I’m back in San Francisco now, where Autumn is in full swing, a little discombobulated by how swiftly my time in Greece passed, missing those placid Greek waters, souvlaki pitas, and my dear friends…

Two More Days

Saturday, November 15th, 2014 | Film, Friends, Stavros, Travel | 2 Comments

I’ll be 48 for only two more days. Ron was 48 when we briefly went out nearly 30 years ago. Well, we didn’t really “go out,” we actually just boinked a few times, but man did I have a crush on that guy. His big gray mustache and eyebrows, his deep bellowing laugh, the craggy lines on his big face. I completely fetishized the late 40s for much of my baby gay days. I’m that age now, but somehow can’t make the leap to thinking of myself as his peer, or having my grays and wrinkles and ear hair fetishized.

My sister died less than 2 years ago. I still wake up crying, I still can’t wrap myself around the notion of Susie being so profoundly gone. I read about Syrians and Palestinians losing several generations of family members in one brutal moment, and wonder how in the heck they do it. And I have a home and hot water.

Life used to be this thing that was forever in the future, so many things to do, so much time to get it all done, later, always the possibility of later. Now it seems that later is now, and the only inevitability is more ear hair, more gray, a body that gets progressively less cooperative… On the bright side, I’m totally on the road to becoming the man I love, or at least looking like him. As soon as my back hair grows in I won’t need anybody. I used to think of old people as a sort of other species, that they were cranky because they were of a different sort of genetic material. Now I find myself complaining about Republicans and dirty sidewalks and noisy kids and the changing demographics of my neighborhood. I listen to the Carpenters with no irony.

And then Davide came to visit, fresh from his breakup, and dated up a storm while he was here, no not a storm, some sort of southeast Asian typhoon-like squall, and with all these guys with beards down to their bellies and bellies sitting on their laps.

And then Stavros and Giorgos came to visit. I seemed to be sick the entire time they were here, but with me hacking and wheezing we went to Lake Tahoe with Big Chris and the dogs, took the ferry to see Ai WeiWei’s show on Alcatraz (a few visually dazzling sculptural statements, but generally Public Art for people who like confirmation that what they think they’re experiencing they are indeed experiencing: lots of stuff to read, politically correct, softcore, nothing particularly memorable or challenging), we visited Julia Morgan’s Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland, met with my movie group, had a reception for my show at Mercury 20 and the same three guys who eat everything at all of our openings came and ate all of our deviled eggs and pickled veggies, attended a pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving dinner in honor of Big Chris’ little sister’s birthday, celebrated my grand-nephew’s first birthday, attended an authentic suburban party in honor of my friend Thomas’ 50th birthday, with taco truck!, spent a day driving up and around the Sonoma Coast, saw a million movies together including Cloudburst, known as the best geriatric lesbian road movie every made, but it’s really the only geriatric lesbian road movie ever made and it put seven of us to sleep, plus two dogs… and then they were off, back to Athens, the visit over way too fast. Now I miss my little Stavros again, the dogs my only furry companions, pushing me into an increasingly tinier corner of the bed as they flash their fuzzy tummies at me to rub.

I hope you all saw Dean Smith’s show at Paule Anglim’s. It was great, paintings from before his current obsessive compulsive squiggly line and check phase. I was mesmerized by the simultaneous flatness and depth, some like windows onto some unreachable but lush and possibly fleshy scene. Those surfaces are something else, so much happening, with lines, strokes and waves going this way and that… and Dean’s hand nowhere but obviously everywhere. So satisfying to see paintings that have so much physicality and visual allure, that change so radically with proximity.

And now my sister Carol is visiting. We’re up at my other sister June’s for the day, in Santa Rosa, the first of my birthday celebrations. Last night Carol and I watched a wonderful Italian film, Dino Risi’s Il Sorpasso about a studious shy recluse, Roberto, swept away by a gregarious stranger, Bruno. Virtually the only person in town while the rest of Rome is off to the country celebrating Ferragosto, Roberto lets Bruno use his phone, and then reluctantly agrees to take a short break from his studies to share a quick drink with the dynamic Bruno, who is eager to show his gratitude for the use of Roberto’s phone. Once in the car, numerous delightful diversions ensue, with Roberto gradually relaxing and letting himself enjoy the various unexpected and wild whims of Bruno. After 2 days on the road together, Roberto, excitedly egging on Bruno to pass cars, laughing wildly, declares the past 2 days to be the best of his life. The car swerves off the road, Bruno is thrown safely to the shoulder, but Roberto, our shy recluse, trapped in the car, is crushed to smithereens as the car tumbles down the cliff.

It can all end any minute now, so stop resisting and enjoy the ride.

What I Did This Summer by SanFranChrisKo

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 | Art, Film, Food, Friends, Travel | 1 Comment

I’m up at my buddy David’s, enjoying a quiet weekend at his place in Point Reyes, overlooking the placid Tomales Bay, like sitting in a Monet painting, finally able to do some catching up.

For the past few months I’ve been preparing a show of my work, my first solo exhibition in 7 years. I’m showing now with an artists collective in Oakland, the Mercury Twenty Gallery. The thought of being with another commercial gallery—well, actually their collective sort of decision to not work with me, lol—pushed me into seeking an alternative venue to show my work in, one not constrained by profit or homogeneity, but defined by community and the support of ideas and creativity. The members of the collective are responsible for all aspects of running the gallery and presenting exhibitions. I have a backlog of projects, rejected over the past few years by the likes of Mark, Pat, Paule, Brian, and Bernie, that I’ll now have the opportunity of moving from my basement into the light of the white cube, that you all can finally see!, beginning with my recent projects Bouquet and A Dozen Little Roses that opens this Thursday.

So David. He and I dated briefly 20 or so years ago. He’s kind of exactly the guy that I should have settled down with, but I was distracted by the chubby men. Years go by without seeing each other, but whatever attracted us to each other in the first place keeps bringing us back together. He’s working on his memoirs in the garden, while I wait for the blur of my summer activities to coalesce into some internet appropriate narrative.

Big Chris’ big family visited. We took them to see the sea lions at Pier 39, via the touristy Hyde Street Pier and Pier 39, but they were all off mating somewhere. San Franciscans never visit this part of the city. And really, they shouldn’t. Seeing the remains of what was once a working port was sort of thrilling but also instilled a sad sense of loss in my otherwise chirpy proto-tourist demeanor. I love the crazy gospel people, though, the ones with the “He died for you” signs and portable amplification systems, next to the break dancers and old Chinese erhu players. Their sincerity and intensity and vaudevillian showmanship make for great family entertainment, like the 8-year old reverend Jimmy Joe Jeeter on Mary Hartman Mary Hartman. And I love hearing those Bible words, like “smite” and “asunder.”

My mom flew to Chicago to spend some time with her sister, so I flew to Birmingham to dadsit. The downtown is really hopping, with a new arts district and lots of really great restaurants. Rather than replacing southern cuisine with healthy west coast or skimpy nouvelle stuff, they’re integrating other styles and flavors while emphasizing local ingredients and updating classic southern dishes. And you always get a square meal.

Same thing is happening in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Chrissy and I flew out for Labor Day weekend to pick up d’Auggie’s little brother, Zoobie, the latest addition to our ever expanding alternative family. Zoobie is great, the brother of the Best Dog Ever, soon to be the Other Best Dog Ever. He’s soft and cuddly and does all the same bad things that his brother did when he was a small puppy, down to chewing on the same plant in my garden and peeing on the same spot in my kitchen. So Sioux Falls has this little foodie renaissance happening downtown. We ate at Parker’s Bistro. My favorite dish was a soup, a warm silky sweet potato soup with a puree of chilly avocado and cream swirled into it, stimulating the taste buds with contrasting flavor and temperature sensations. We had an amazing meal, at about 1/4 the price we would have paid in San Francisco. And a parking place right out in front! I’m thinking of becoming a part-time mid-westerner.

Chrissy and I flew to New York for a few days. Just to remind people: we are not boyfriends. Despite his looking like the kind of guy that I would marry, despite having dated him on and off for the past 15 years, and despite us doing everything together, we are not boyfriends. My boyfriend lives in Greece and is named Stavros and you can read about him in my past entries, and when he arrives next month for his periodic conjugal visit. So anyway, New York. The occasion of our visit was to see Cate Blanchett and Isabelle Huppert in Genet’s The Maids, two of our greatest actresses in a deliriously demented play. And Jeff Koons’ show was great! Shut up! People who don’t like his work probably don’t like puppies either.

What else did I do this summer? I sadly missed all chances to have anything other than my extremities exposed to the sun, and thus developed a pronounced farmer tan. High school buddies Jason and Weestro came to visit, and Archie and Vicki, and Lilly from New York. Lilly was being celebrated for her films at the Jewish something or other Center in Berkeley, and I went one night to see her amazing film about good-intentioned heroic Palestinian and Israeli women peacemakers who end up at each others’ throats by the end of the film. I introduced my buddy to her afterwards and he said something along the lines of “Well, I can’t imagine giving Manhattan back to the indians” which amazingly and almost surreally missed the entire point of not only Lilly’s film but the entire Palestinian peoples’ ongoing struggle to free their land from its occupiers. Lilly’s talk after the film was interesting more for the sparring that took place in the audience. This was a mostly over-70 crowd, mind you, and most seemed well acquainted with each other and with each other’s long developed and unchanging perspectives, and ready to pounce. When one calm and articulate rival of hers seemed to be getting too much positive attention, Lilly leaned into her mike and chastised her with “Hey, this evening is about ME, not about you.” I started a new photo project with spider webs, Bob’s and my book project got shelved by our publisher, Aimée made raspberry-topped chocolate cupcakes for Luna’s birthday that were the best treats of summer—actually the best sweet treats, the best savory were the forbidden victuals at Traif in Brooklyn. I saw hardly any art. I’m like a lapsed Catholic kind of artist. Well, actually, I should say that I saw hardly any art that I can remember. Except for Christopher Williams’ The Production Line of Happiness at MoMA, which so completely and with energetic theoretical rigor encompassed the entire art making visual technical consumerist experience. I saw a million movies, but really liked Blue Ruin, The Test, Pietà, Night Moves, Martin Gable’s only (directed) film The Lost Moment, Stranger by the Lake, 7 Boxes, Enemy, Romance and Cigarettes and Under the Skin.

Okay, back to the city…

For Love and Glory

Friday, July 18th, 2014 | Art, Friends | No Comments

I stopped by Jack Fischer’s gallery in San Francisco last week, to see the work of my friend, Sarah Ratchye. Sarah led me and a delightful buddy of hers through the exhibition, For Love and Glory, which consists of graphite and silverpoint drawings, paintings, collages, and handmade wallpaper. There are images of lunar surfaces, octopus tentacles, ballet slippers, fabric, gems, floating astronauts, the Venetian lagoon, blood splattered space gloves… disparate images woven into a narrative that explores our interaction with the moon, both as graphic inspiration and potential living space. Well, and a lot more than that. Sarah explores the surface of the moon aesthetically and metaphorically, searching for meaning in our involvement and experience there.

Her eyes light up when she talks about space junk, the “final frontier,” and bloody moon shoes. Yet like not wanting someone to spoil the end of the movie, I don’t want her to talk too much about this stuff and upset the experience of discovery. I could look at those silverpoints all day, lost in the folds of lunar landscapes, and suddenly there’s an arm, or those ballet slippers. There’s always deeper to dig, always some delightfully enigmatic image that frustrates an easy reading.

A particular favorite of mine, DIvr, has as a backdrop a blurry image of a few buildings on the Venetian lagoon. In the foreground, in sharp focus, are an upside down astronaut, the sea reflected in his silvery helmet, and above him a woman’s bathing cap, one of those fabulous mid-20th-century architectural rubber floral helmets that Esther Williams would have worn, removing it to reveal a perfectly coifed shimmery Technicolor ‘do. The background image dissolves on the right side of the canvas into a different plane of reflected lagoon water. The slight shifts in focus and perspective within the same canvas create a kind of soft Cubist space, but instead of letting us view an object from many perspectives within one picture plane, Sarah fills her painting surface with beautifully rendered psychologically rich images of different cultural and technological signifiers.

You could call her a lunatic, hahaha… One painting titled Menas, presents the moon as menace, seemingly entering the earth’s atmosphere–the sky is pink, the clouds black and brooding–yet the moon has these red blossoms around it, like a flower a kid would paint, and the surface of the moon so beautifully bright and crisply clear. If she can’t get to the moon just yet, the moon is finally coming to her, and in humanity’s end, she finds nothing but delight and wonder.

It’s not the same old story, Sarah’s tales of love and glory. On that you can rely.

Dinner and a Movie. And a Show.

Saturday, April 26th, 2014 | Family, Film, Food, Friends | No Comments

Bob had me over to watch Babette’s Feast. He made beer bread soup, taking inspiration from a culinary corner of the film that isn’t the one that usually inspires such activity. He took some liberties with the recipe in the film (beer, water and bread), including the addition of pureed fresh peas, which provided some much needed vegetable matter as well as a not entirely pleasant green tint that brought to mind scenes from The Exorcist more so than Babette’s Feast. I brought over some plundered Pliny the Elder beer from a visit last week to the Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa. The beers there are lip-smackingly delicious, covering the entire breadth of tastebud sensation, from sweet caramel to sour cherry. After dinner and the movie, we went to Oddball Cinema on Capp to check out the evening’s show of vintage erotic films. One film from 1970 was a filmic equivalent of the sexual experience—lots of blurry red body parts, hair, and panting—and came the closest to creating a sensual and erotic atmosphere. But generally, the films were the stuff of stag parties in the 1950s and 60s, mostly titillation, except for a disturbing screwball comedy porn flick from the silent era starring a trio of scantily clad beach beauties, a horny little dude, and a goat. Another prescient silent film depicted the developing medium of television as a potential means of bringing topless women into the homes of frustrated adolescents.

David and I went to see Morgan James at the Venetian Room. She’s a young singer with a powerful voice who idolizes Nina Simone, one of the great song-stylists of the 20th Century, and while singing her tunes, channels instead that high-pitched Broadway belting style that is about as far as one can get from Nina Simone. She did deliver a few amazingly forceful interpretations of jazz standards that went slightly beyond her Jazzy Little Mermaid voice into the realm of soulful interpretation. I really should have taken notes, because I can’t for the life of me recall the particular songs, but if you like that kind of powerful high decibel singing free of burdensome emotional content, she’s the singer for you!

Pesca-vegie-occasional-bacon-itarian Homobots

Friday, March 21st, 2014 | Film, Friends, Gay | No Comments

Last night Dean & Mike came over for dinner. I inadvertently made exactly the same thing that I made for them when I had them over last time. In my baby-gay days, my older buddy William would have me over for lunch and always make the same thing for me, a sort of flavorless broccoli pasta and a green salad. Always. And he’d always ask excitedly how I liked the pasta, as if it were the first time for me to experience it, and I’d always find something positive to say, like “the broccoli was cooked perfectly!” I got a kick out of it, each time wondering if there would be some kind of variation. I attributed it to the onset of senility, normal for people over 45, I thought. And now I am William. The thing is, these guys are vegetarians, well, sophisticated pesca-occasional-bacon-itarians, and I’ve run through all my veggie standards, so maybe I’m seized by a lack of culinary exploration and not some nascent middle-aged senility… not quite William. I hope.

I wonder if I’ve already written a post about this?

We watched Funeral Parade of Roses, Toshio Matsumoto’s wild inversion of the Oedipus myth, set in the gay subculture of late-60s Tokyo. The fractured narrative and visceral imagery and occasional shots of the filmmaking process and interviews with the actors were simply electrifying. Nothing else is like it, well, I should say that nothing else that’s like it is terribly watchable, and certainly nothing as engaging from or about the gay community lately. Except maybe the lesbotic but more mainstream Blue is the Warmest Color, which so profoundly and intimately captured erotic awakening, and Concussion, examining the other end of the erotic timeline. The thing I love most about those two recent films is that homosexuality is incidental–no coming out stories, no suicides or conflicts over their sexuality, no tidied-up sexless made-for-primetime-viewing homobots, just real people struggling with real issues who happen to be gay. The queens in Funeral Parade of Roses put on the masks of another gender in order to simulate acceptability, and despite the artifice and posturing, seemed so sadly real, like killing one’s mother and sleeping with one’s father were not only plausible, but inevitable.

Earlier in the day a new buddy from the east came over for tea, let’s call him Bill Cosby. I had met him only earlier that morning online, and because we hit it off so swimmingly and he was leaving town the next day and I had but a teeny window of availability, I abandoned my cardinal rule of meeting in a public place where I could easily escape from, and asked Mr. Cosby up to the CocoPlex for a spot o’ tea and conversation. What a story he told me! He’s married, and to a woman(!), and has all these kids, and only came out of the closet a few months ago and is staying with his wife as they transition to whatever is to come. I admired his honesty and openness, and could sense the relief and enthusiasm he must be feeling to finally express a side of himself that’s been dormant for so long. He even blurted out that he’s a Republican. We were sitting on my back deck at the time and I quickly glanced around to make sure there were no neighbors passing by who may have heard his pronouncement, briefly fearful that my leftist credentials would be tarnished by association. I didn’t directly tell him that I’m a Prius-driving ultra-liberal socialist, but I did chastise him for supporting a fascist regime whose backward fantasy-based environmental, social and fiscal policies are going to take decades to unravel if the public ever wakes from its brainwashed tea party stupor.

Anyway, he’s sort of exactly the kind of middle-aged guy that I always went after during my halcyon twinkie days (balding, furry face, dark eyebrows, hairy forearms, yadda yadda, you all know my type) and now he’s, like, my age! I felt an instant affinity, having experienced the same thing with Bob, realizing I was drawn towards something else but not wanting to end such a beautiful relationship and eventually deciding it just wasn’t fair to anybody. He’s at the beginning of this process, and like a bad therapist, I told him what was going to happen by telling him what happened to me. A delightful man, starting a new life in middle age. Lou Grant said, “You’ve got spunk,” and so does this guy, a lot of spunk. Lou also said “I hate spunk,” but I love it, and am eager to follow this developing story.

Broadway, Burglary, and Sergeants Bert & Ernie

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014 | Art, Film, Food, Friends, Travel | No Comments

Big Chrissy and I took a trip to New York City for Christmas.  We had our luggage stolen from our hotel room, but we saw some great shows, were photographed by Bill Cunningham buying bananas in Brooklyn, and got to ride in a cop car!

The night our luggage was stolen, we made our way to the local precinct to report the burglary.  It was just like in Barney Miller, a shabby interior filled with wise-cracking, heavily-New-York-accented helpful cops.  They drove us back to our hotel in a real NYPD cruiser, but somehow the back seat was pushed forward taking up all the legroom, so Chrissy sat side-saddle and I in a lotus position.  Looking through the rain-smeared windows at the blinking lights outside I thought of Taxi Driver and Bernard Hermann’s haunting score.  “This is totally worth being burgled,” I told the cops.

We spent several hours with them at the hotel, as we waited for the fingerprint guy.  I told them that we had already fouled the crime scene and that fingerprints weren’t necessary and that in San Francisco the police would have never taken the theft of our underwear and socks so seriously.  “Aren’t there other crimes in the neighborhood that you guys should be looking into?  Rapes?  Murders?”  Sergeants Bert & Ernie looked at us gravely, “We take every crime seriously.”  Chrissy and I just melted.  New York cops are indeed the finest.

We saw Isaac Julien’s ridiculous but sumptuous installation at MoMA, supposedly about some tragic drowning, but really about Maggie Cheung flying over gorgeous Chinese scenery, the subject matter seemingly of no real interest to the artist or anybody there.  The Margritte show was just a delight, completely amazing the dazzlingly mature and inventive body of work that he produced from the ages of 28-30.  Walking through Mike Kelly’s retrospective at PS1, the only thought that came to mind was that suicide was inevitable.  Ah, Wangechi Mutu’s show at the Brooklyn Museum was the show for me.  First of all, nobody goes there, to the Brooklyn Museum, so you can really spend time with the work with no one taking pictures over your shoulders.  She creates collages and sculptural pieces that are simultaneously lovely and disturbing, two qualities that I strive for but rarely achieve.  I’m totally going to steal from her this year, so watch out…

On Broadway we saw two Pinter plays, No Man’s Land with Ian McKellan and Captain Picard, and Beyrayal with Rafe Spall, Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz. Pinter can create scenes that have nothing to do with plot or story, just language, how we use it, what it does… Of course there usually is some kind of story, but the dialogue is about the essence of communication and words liberated from silly things like narrative. We also saw the awesome Laurie Metcalf and Jeff Goldblum in Domesticated, which takes as its thesis the basic inessential and catastrophe-prone nature of the male of the species. We saw a couple of other things, but I don’t think they were all that memorable, so let’s move on…

We met up with Emily for a traditional Ukranian Christmas Eve repast at Veselka’s in the East Village, followed by American Hustle. As we left the movie, and once again Jennifer Lawrence was dynamite, after having eaten all the same things and with Chrissy and I about to explode, Emily announced that she was going out for dinner. What a metabolism! And she’s like this super skinny chick. “I’ll have what she’s having.”

We spent Christmas lunch eating Swedish meatballs in the West Village and seeing Jia Jiang-Ke’s completely depressing A Little Sin on those stupid little IFC screens that they should really only charge $5 entry to see, then meeting my brother Paul and sister-in-law Debbie at their hotel near Grand Central. Chrissy and I didn’t want to leave their room–unlike ours, theirs had a window. And a view. Not that ours didn’t have a window, or a view, of sorts. Our window opened onto a narrow eternally dark alley that only a pigeon could squeeze into, our view the filthy building windows next door, mounded with pigeon poop dating back to the early days of Broadway. We enjoyed a really great French dinner in the West Village, laughing and stuffing ourselves silly. The next morning we met at the big tree in Rockefeller Center and toured the murals in the GE Building, imagining what Diego Rivera’s mural there would have looked like. It was ordered destroyed by Nelson Rockefeller after Rivera refused to replace Lenin’s portrait with that of an anonymous face. The subsequent murals, by Josep Maria Cert, form an almost homoerotic allegory depicting big beefy white guys constructing modern America in loin cloths–just like I’ve imagined it…

Mefistofele

Saturday, September 14th, 2013 | Friends, Performance | No Comments

My opera-enthusiast friends S+E invited me to the opera the other night, to see Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele. It was my first time to sit in a box, and thus my first time to experience real air flow, perfect sight lines, actual leg room, and a comfy seat to boot. Not to mention completely charming and intelligent company. And my first time to stay completely awake during a 3-1/2 hour opera.

This was Boito’s only completed opera, yet he was an accomplished man of letters who, among other literary accomplishments, wrote libretti for several other composers of his day, including Verdi’s late masterworks Otello and Falstaff. Based on the Faust legend, the opera was a complete thrill, with opulent over-the-top sets that evoked a kind of 18th century La Fenice set in heaven, and this being San Francisco, gratuitous full-frontal (and plenty of dorsal) nudity and lots of lascivious behavior. The libretto was lusciously illustrated by the music, with trilly approximations of the emotions and subject matter, plus a few truly gorgeous arias and an ending that musically lifted us out of our seats toward redemption, right along with the repentant Faust.

In the patron lounge area, there was one woman who was just absolutely fabulous. She had to have been someone important, or rich, or both, for she was wearing those big bug-eyed black glasses that only the ultra-wealthy seem to wear, a fashion sensibility of a world far from my own. She could very well have been Cindy Sherman dressed up as a society matron, if she wasn’t the actual society matron that Sherman aimed to replicate. Her bronzed face was framed by a perfectly shellacked conch of a hairdo, the bodice of her embroidered dress clinging tightly to her slim figure and hanging from a stiff collar that rose behind her head like those on silver-suited spacemen in the 1950s.

Most everybody else was dressed elegantly in black, except for me in my Mossimo corduroy jeans and Zara gold velvet jacket. I was going for the look of someone–maybe a film director or famous artist–for whom fashion is irrelevant, yet I fear that all I pulled off was Country Bumpkin.

The image above is “Witches Going to Their Sabbath” (1878), by Luis Ricardo Falero.

Birmingham New York

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013 | Friends, Travel | No Comments

Big Chrissy had to meet with a client in Birmingham, so I tagged along to visit mom and dad for a few days, in Pinson, about 20 minutes northeast of the city. Chrissy is the first of my friends in San Francisco to go back home with me, so of course we had to get fried green tomatoes at the Irondale Cafe, barbecue at Dreamland, a trip up to the Vulcan to get a closer look at that big iron butt, and drives past the countless predatory lending establishments along Highway 75 between Centerpoint and Pinson.

We even saw a praying mantis at the 16th Street Baptist Church. My friend, Susan, who endearingly calls Big Chrissy “sir,” pointed out that it looked like it was praying. Language and meaning coming together on the site of one of the most tragic incidents of the civil rights movement, we all three looked at each other, “Oh, that’s why it’s called a praying mantis.”

A schoolmate of mine has been the mayor of Pinson since 2004, when the city was incorporated, paradoxically following the near complete disappearance of much of what was a quaint old town. Susan assures me that Main Street is experiencing a sort of mini revival, but the shopping centers that have displaced the little old businesses there are eyesores, with nothing to distinguish them from similar such symbols of American convenience that have destroyed the old small town urban experience across the country.

It is sort of overwhelming, coming from arid golden-hilled California to drive through acres and acres of lushly verdant rolling hills, hysterically chirping cicadas, green grass. It is a beautiful state. Fireflies twinkled on and off in the forest behind my parents’ house at sunset, dogs meandered by without leashes, it rained.

On the way home, we stopped in New York City for a few days, seeing a few plays, including Tennessee Williams’ rarely produced The Two Character Play, and the awesome and inimitable Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams and an adorable Cuba Gooding, Jr in The Trip to Bountiful. We also saw The Weir and Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike with David Hyde Pierce and not Sigourney Weaver.

At the Met we saw a dynamite photography show about the American civil war. My favorite image was a portrait of Frances Clalin Clayton, by Samuel Masury. Frances fought alongside her husband on the Union side, until his death in battle, disguising herself as a man named Jack Williams. In the picture she’s sitting with her leg crossed over her knee, suggestively (to this contemporary viewer) holding the hilt of her sword between her thumb and index finger, a hauntingly contented sliver of a smile on her face. She could be the subject of a Cathy Opie photo.

We also saw yet another Edward Hopper show at the Whitney, this time drawings and studies for paintings, as well as paintings. An obviously gifted illustrator, Hopper is just plain boring. I love his work, though, precisely because it’s so boring–just paint, light, space, location, depth, masterfully conveying a sort of intimate blandness. I like just not thinking sometimes, you know?

James Turrell’s show at the Guggenheim was thrilling, just a few pieces taking up the entire museum. He converted the central atrium into a theme park art ride consisting of giant concentric rings of color extending down from and around the naturally lit translucent window in the center of the ceiling, the rings slowly shifting through the pastel corners of the spectrum. While the colors of the room shifted, people laid on the ground looking up, their friends all changing colors, taking unauthorized photos with flash, the guards yelling constantly to stop taking pictures…

The Major and the Mogul: Hearst Castle

Monday, July 29th, 2013 | Art, Friends, Travel | 1 Comment

The Major and I took a little road trip down south earlier in the week, to visit San Simeon and Hearst Castle. William Randolph Hearst worked with architect Julia Morgan for 28 years, starting in 1919, designing an estate to showcase his vast collection of European decorative and fine art.

The castle is the only structure visible from the coast road, enshrouded in fog and ringed by tall palm trees that poke out conspicuously from the surrounding landscape of dried grasses and live oaks. Driving up the windy road, the castle is glimpsed every now and then, looming closer and closer into view. The landscape is beautifully untouched. A mile-long arbor runs alongside the road, once covered in grape vines and espaliered fruit trees and flowers. Inside the castle gates, the formal lushness of the gardens contrasts delightfully with the spare natural features of the encircling hills, peppered with clean white marble statues–original and reproductions–from Ancient Egypt to the early 20th century. “The statues are white because we don’t have air pollution down here,” our tour guide emphasized while looking over her sunglasses into the eyes of the scruffy Parisians standing next to me.

The grandeur of the architecture and the exquisite craftsmanship and clever integration of antique european ceilings and structural elements are overwhelming. There’s nothing modest here, except a complete absence of art or architecture of Hearst’s own time. It’s a Disneyesque museum of european architecture, decorated with artwork purchased at a time when Europe was recovering from a World War and selling off its shattered cultural heritage. A guide told me that Hearst saw himself as a protector of sorts of these objects that he feared would have been destroyed in the wars. Lord Elgin on a shopping spree.

On the drive down, the Major played the music of Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, the soundtracks of Glee and Smash, and several of those really loud screechy singers of the early 80s who paved the way for other even louder screechy singers like Whitney Houston and Jennifer Hudson. He gleefully accompanied every song. I intervened urgently at one point with some Nina Simone, but after two songs and fidgety silence from the Major, he blurted out, “Could we listen to something happy?”

The Major’s general insistence on being surrounded by happy-making stimuli is what makes him such a pleasure to be around, a walking Disneyland exhibit. After stuffing ourselves silly in Cayucos one night with fried things from the land and sea, and complaining about how uncomfortably full we were, the Major suddenly commanded “Let’s get dessert!” It wasn’t just any dessert, either, but an olallieberry (“ollieberry” as he endearingly calls it) cobbler about the size of a full pie, topped with a quart of whipped cream and a pint of ice cream. I was in awe at the gustatory prowess of my dear friend, the idea of the pleasure of dessert cutting off any signals from his stomach to cease and desist. Calories are to the Major what Renaissance Spanish ceilings were to Hearst. Our little vacation seemed guided by this dual lack of resistance. Once again, sensation reigned supreme!

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