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A Bit of Nowtopia at Home

On my way north now, heading to Eugene, Portland and beyond during the next three weeks. Unfortunately, Russell H. and I are ensconced in a hotel in Yreka because the car we’re borrowing broke down. Hopefully it’ll be a minor repair and we can make it to Eugene in time for a bookstore appearance scheduled for tomorrow evening.

On the way here we passed Mt. Shasta and its lake created by a dam, which provided stark visual evidence of the proclaimed drought here in California. Usually the mountain is covered in deep snow year round…


We took a break at a rest stop so I could speak by phone with KDVS 90.3 FM in Davis, CA, on a show called “Speaking in Tongues”. I hope they get the podcast up soon, but it’s not at this point.

My week in San Francisco turned out to be surprisingly on topic of this Nowtopia tour. On the first day back I ran into several friends, many of whom were up in arms about the plans of California to start aerial spraying pesticides and pheromones over the Bay Area to control the Light Brown Apple Moth infestation. It’s a great example of the kind of counter-expertise and DIY science that’s an important backbone of the emerging movements to redesign life. Rather than passively deferring to governmental “experts” (who are in this case clearly serving the narrow interests of certain agribusiness concerns) people with varying degrees of their own scientific skills are organizing, digging up information, and debunking the government’s bland safety assurances.

People like to think of San Francisco as a bastion of lunar-tics, or moon-worshippers, and when I snapped this shot I realized it was true!

This past Saturday night was another installment of MAPP (Mission Art & Performance Project) and I made it over to my friend Iris’s installation and events at Cocoon on Harrison near 25th. Fifteen different sites open up with art, music, performance, discussion and among all the locations in a radius of about a half mile, centered in 23rd and Folsom, people stroll about, engaging in a very social passeata, meeting each other, chatting, catching up.

I had a lovely time. I was even teased by one group of friends for claiming that I’d already had several great conversations when they wondered if I was automatically adding the conversation I was having with them to the list of “great conversations”! I admitted I would, and defended it outright. We need more public life! Strolling around meeting friends new and old, talking about anything at all, is a vital re-animation of urban life.

At the nearby Taqueria Vallarta, I came up on this band Tierra del Sol playing Rock Mexika. It didn’t knock my socks off, but they were spirited and laid down a nice rock beat…

Over at Cocoon I came in, unexpectedly, on a talk being given by Brett Stephens of Native Spaces, a slide show on edible native plants in San Francisco. It was kind of funny, because of course I am a fan of such Nowtopian projects, but I also want to eat well. His talk presented a number of plants that he admitted didn’t taste so good, or that were used historically by native people, but in a weird unintended consequence, something about how the information gets presented defeats itself. By emphasizing a diet of weeds and native plants of varying textures and tastes, it implies that this is what people ate long ago, when the reality is that Bay Area dwellers before Europeans had an abundant diet of fish, crustaceons, game, birds, and of course some of these plants and acorn mush…

Anyway I was delighted to find an hour-long talk like this as part of a monthly festival of art and music. Another manifestation of the growing shift of consciousness, the growing interest in basic information on what’s edible and local. Similarly, I saw a flyer in the Haight advertising “Urban Permaculture: How to Make the Haight Sustainable”, a talk by Kevin Bayuk, a local permaculture designer, on June 12 sponsored by HANC.

After I headed back towards home on MAPP night, I came to Philz, my corner coffee joint, which had been converted to La Peña de Philz and a really impressive young band was cranking out some driving rhythms and playing at a very high level of complexity and competence. I loved them! And they seemed smart and funny and savvy too… Antioquia:

One of the gallery spaces that have popped up on 24th Street lately (to some folks’ chagrin, who see it as part of a wave of gentrification sweeping the neighborhood… and it’s true in part. But the MAPP is very much an attempt by talented and aware artists to create a new kind of life, a new reinhabitation of the neighborhood that knits together people across a lot of the boundaries that have dominated us for so long)… anyway in that gallery window there was a puppet display which caught my eye, and on closer examination I realized that the cyclist in the diorama had a hand-made version of my yellow “Bicycling Against Oil Wars” signs! very cute!

On June 9 I spoke at a warm-up public discussion on “Take Back the Commons” for an upcoming event called The Big One, an attempt by a number of people to pull together a sprawling public discussion on over a dozen themes, to be held in Golden Gate Park over two days June 21-22 in Sharon Meadow. It was much more interesting than I expected. We had a stimulating conversation about The Commons, and many aspects of how we think about such issues. To a great extent I felt this group was another example of the small-ish, but significant epistemological shift going on, and I think they felt reinforced too, after our shared discussion. If you’re in SF on the 21st, check out the Big One in the park, or if not, check out the link that takes you to the WiseEarth group on their topics.

On Tuesday afternoon I went to visit Marina and Maize in Page Street Community Garden, a garden I hadn’t seen before. What a sweet garden! What a pleasure to have a leisurely hour with good friends on a hot sunny midweek afternoon! Just what “work” usually keeps most of us from, all the time… A Nowtopian moment for sure!

I got to climb up and get some close-ups of Mona’s new mural in Noe Valley:

What a lovely vision of a new, slowed down system of public transit!

Well, I got to hurtle around on my own bicycle again, but in what turned out to be the first of three mini-breakdowns, I was nearly to the top of Twin Peaks for my usual photos from the south peak, when I got a flat.

I walked 40 minutes down to the best worker-run bike coop in town these days, Box Dog Bikes, who fixed my tire in minutes (thank you!).

My “comedy” of accidents continued yesterday morning when I lost the only key to my father’s car that I borrowed for this trip, which forced me to get towed to a locksmith and spend $120 to get new keys made!… In what I hope is the third AND FINAL mini-disaster, we gassed up here in Yreka only to have the starter stop starting… so we hope by tomorrow we’ll be repaired and on our way in time to make our first gig in Eugene… more later.

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One Response to “A Bit of Nowtopia at Home”

  1. 1
    Gerry:

    Chris, I desperately need more ways to feel positive about the MAPP, i.e. the “talented and aware artists” who are knitting us together, etc, because I admit I’m one of those people who are cynical about it. Most of the art to me is unprovocative and most of the generally homogeneous crowd seems pretty cliquish and uptight. Last month I went into it trying to be positive, trying not to think it was all just about self-promotion and self-congratulation, and the first thing I saw was a tv screen, facing the street, with just a constant image of some hip white dude staring blankly out. I’m pretty sure he was the “artist”! Another time, the youngsters who were mad about the cops unplugging an outdoor music performance were allowing themselves to be defended by a guy who was telling the cops that this gathering was in the process of “improving the neighborhood” (which was an especially strange choice of words because the guy actually looked like a realtor) and why couldn’t the cops just go “arrest some drug dealers” or “gang members.” The would-be revelers didn’t say a word. So I really appreciate your admiring references and would love more, but don’t you think the tie-in to gentrification is worth discussing a bit more? Not long ago I met a guy who has since started one of these galleries, and my overall impression was that he was just an arrogant careerist who didn’t really give a fuck about the neighborhood at all. Just my two cents. See you soon.

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