economy, 'technology', public space, San Francisco past and present, class, books

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Arts Ecology

Autumn is the time for endless conflicts over what to do and see. San Francisco is overrun with great shows and performances. I was blessed this past weekend with free tix to a couple of stellar shows, first Cirque de Soleil’s latest show, Kooza., and then last night at the SF Jazz Festival we caught a fantastic set by Brazil’s Caetano Veloso.

I’m actually not as wild about Cirque de Soleil as some folks are, but there’s no question that they’re a major step up from other circuses. I think it’s mainly attributable to the fact that they have so much money, relative to other performance groups. If you ever wanted to peer into the methodology of today’s “Arts Success,” Cirque de Soleil must be the best place to look. There are corporate sponsors names on every exit of their fancy hi-tech tent/stage. There is an incredible mini-mall of merchandise, from show-related schwag to well-designed, comfortable good looking clothing. There are music CDs, video DVDs, masks, puppets, bags, coffee mugs, kitchen goods, you name it. You can’t approach the actual tent for the performance without passing through the merch tent first.

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Precarious Urbanity, Linear History

Back in beautiful San Francisco, where it somehow turned back into summer while I was away. Balmy warm weather the past few days, yum! My week in New York was really interesting for lots of reasons, but one that has really stuck with me is the utter precariousness of the urban fabric. I was lugging my bags through the NYC subway, first the G line which looks like someone forgot it exists, then the L, which had a creek running down the middle of the tracks, and finally the A to JFK which was just my usual experience of the subway there. When I’m standing on a subway platform gazing at the crumbling iron beams or grimy track beds, especially with water dripping everywhere, I marvel that it all keeps going. Add to that the aging water system, the potholed roads, the overheated crappy buildings in the midst of too cold weather… it’s a wonder that the city doesn’t just collapse. Riding around NYC on bike, gazing from bridges at the endless sprawl of highrises and cityscape, there’s something mind-boggling and incomprehensible about all the human effort and just-barely-holding-on-ness that keeps the place running.

I’ve been reading Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us, which is a great book. He writes really well, breezily even, which is odd for a book that takes as its central pretense that all humans have vanished from one day to the next (rapture anyone?) and now he’s trying to see how nature and planetary ecology quickly or slowly recapture the artifacts and environments created by humans… from vast monumental architecture to centuries-old fields of cultivated crops, most of it goes really fast. He brings in a lot of good journalistic investigation, talking with scientists and technicians who know a lot about how things work and what it takes to keep it all going, from oil refineries and nuclear plants to agriculture and water systems. He also goes way back in geologic and paleolithic history to compare processes of succession at different periods with our own. From an historical point of view, this book is brilliant at reframing things in much longer terms…

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Now Playing in New York!

I’m in New York visiting my lovely daughter, Francesca, and having a fun time all around. I came with a new folding bicycle (downtube) that I picked up so I could arrive and head straight over the Williamsburg Bridge with F. to her class at CUNY Grad Center in midtown Manhattan. I took a red-eye flight on Jetblue which was ok, but therefore I only slept about 2 hours before arriving at 4:30 a.m. PST (7:30 here). It took me the airtrain and 3 subways to get to Francesca’s place in Bedford-Stuyvesant at Myrtle/Willoughby… and nearly 2 hours too… still I arrived in plenty of time (though the bag Downtube sold me extra to carry the bike in came perilously close to losing its carry straps, now repaired by Francesca).

We went to her class on “Environmental Psychology” (?) and entered a great discussion on one of my favorite topics, public space. I was really impressed with the tenor of the class, the diversity of the 20+ students (from all over the place: Jamaica, India, Costa Rica, Boston, Portland, SF, Hungary, Italy… and more), and the intelligence of the conversation. I piped up of course, bringing up the recurrent problem of discussing public space as though it were primarily an architecture problem, rather than a problem of how we live, what kind of public lives do we have anyway, etc.? I was well received, in fact, the woman from Hungary was a big Critical Mass organizer there, so she was very surprised that I popped up in her class as the father of one of her co-students… funny!

Anyway, here’s a shot of me and Francesca on the Williamsburg bridge and also one of me with a partial view of my new folding bike:

On Thursday we hung around Brooklyn, went to the Park Slope co-op (where I had to get a guest pass to even visit the place… strange) and made a big chicken dinner with her very cool housemates, drank a lot of wine, and had also as guests two of Francesca’s new pals from a new social center two blocks away called 123. F is volunteering there on Thursdays when they have an afterschool program for local kids (the place has only been open since September and it’s already quite the hit with locals). 123 (Tompkins, off Myrtle in Brooklyn) is co-rented by a bike co-op in the basement, much like other bike co-ops everywhere in N. America now, a DIY facility to make or repair your own bike; also the local Anarchist Black Cross (!) who is conducting some kind of prisoner letter writing program; some overlapping Freegans, and then the youth programming that F is working with.

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