San Francisco mishmash
One of those weeks that just keeps coming at you… I spoke a couple of times, first “Whatever Happened to the 8-Hour Day?” for the SF Museum and Historical Society (a crowd of apx. 70 in which at least 50 of them were over 65!… why is it that labor history only appeals to old folks? I guess I know the answer…); on Wed. night we had our Talk on “Land Grabs” and I did a somewhat scattered survey of various episodes in the imposition of property and boundaries on the local landscape, up to and including the blatant grab of Mission Bay in the contemporary era by the heirs to the 19th century robber barons.
Last Friday night I was a volunteer wine pourer for the local chapter of Slow Food at the Ferry Building where they had a benefit tasting event. As another volunteer and I discussed, it was very fun to be a peon for a change, not responsible for anything but doing a simple task… and it was very enjoyable to talk about wine and give everyone the taste of Italy (odd that the local SF chapter of Slow Food is so often presenting Italian wines and foods… the whole idea of Slow Food is about local, regional, heritage products and processes…. sigh). By the way, all of you who are interested in the next “Slow Food Feast of Fools and Friends” at CounterPULSE on April 22: it is now open for reservations via paypal and our website.
Want to give a RAVE recommendation for the Peter Watkins’ 6-hour epic film “La Commune” about the Paris Commune. You can buy it on DVD via AK Press for a mere $40… I’ve seen a ton of films in my life but this one might be the single most impressive bit of filmmaking I’ve ever seen. It shows the story of the Commune and the Communards in gritty detail, using a cast of hundreds of mostly non-professional actors, and in a number of ways breaks all the conventions of filmmaking, narrative, and historiography. For one thing it inserts fictional, competing TV reporters into the story, one pair representing “TV Commune” and the others at “Versailles TV” reporting from the monarchist point of view. The send-up of modern media that this accomplishes is worth the film experience alone, but that is only the beginning of an incredibly long list of amazing qualities in this very long movie..
Continuing my mishmash-up of recent things flying through my head and life: I had the great pleasure recently of meeting Amy Franceschini who is leading the charge to kickstart a new city program of “Victory Gardens” (named after the WWII national program that once provided around 40% of fresh produce to urban America from gardens in cities). I went to (most of) a talk given last night by Amy with Matt Gonzalez about the concept. It was held at SF MOMA, and at a certain moment Amy seemed a bit sheepish about presenting this ambitious urban agricultural initiative as an “art” project, but Matt helpfully raised the question of where the boundaries of art actually are. I was practically leaping out of my seat trying to get a chance to chime in on this, one of my favorite openings… So much of what excites me about the various initiatives I’m writing about in my new book are the qualities that make them essentially exercises in the art of living. When we look at urban farming in particular we are faced with a lot of work, much of complicated and not fully understood, but it’s such a meaningful and graceful project to be reorienting our efforts to relocalizing food producdtion, and it’s such a sharp contrast to the sheer stupidity of most work people do in the modern world. Finding ways to engage ourselves artistically in the everyday activities we pursue should be properly one of our primary missions in life, no? Doing so in the context of a practical, ecologically sane transformation of daily life only sweetens the pot even more… I’m excited that Amy is going to be one of the speakers at our next “Slow Food Feast” referenced above.
Last night I took in a couple of films at the Independent Film Fest… a nice thematic package on work and the human culture(s) that grow around various ‘jobs’… the main feature was called “Cutting Edge” set in Harlem at a barbershop, run by a couple of extremely handsome and charismatic brothers, along with a coterie of entertaining barbers and clients. They talk a fair amount about the role of barbers as therapists, but the film failed to capture the deeper points it made only by statement. I was still very glad to see it, but it left me wanting a lot more depth. One of the preceding shorts, Los Tabaqueros, featured cigar makers around Calle Ocho in Miami, all exiled Cubanos working with tobacco from Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua… it was so beautiful to watch them hand-rolling the cigars it almost made me want to go out and get one to smoke!
Another short beforehand called “Loops” was a pleasant surprise for me since I did “loops” for my first 4 years or so of working for dough, when I caddied at the Claremont Country Club in Oakland through high school and early college. The short “Loops” also failed to go deeper with the caddies profiled, though it did capture one 40-year-old white guy who had once had a “promising future” and dissipated it with drink and sex until now at age 40 he has no marketable skills other than an ability to accompany elderly rich people playing golf. The old, mostly black men, that the short only portrayed as visual context, were the real gold mine for this filmmakers, who missed their richest vein by failing to bring their stories into it.
I was deeply affected by my early experiences working with “skid-row” bums (mostly middle-aged and elderly alcoholics, with the occasional younger gambling or narcotic addict) as coworkers, serving our clients, the richest bourgeois of the Bay Area, including the Bankers of Coldwell & Banker, Steven Bechtel Jr., Dick Landis former CEO of Del Monte, and many many other ultra-rich locals. It was a stark lesson in class reality, seeing the innate intelligence and humanity of so-called ‘losers’ versus the utter banality and profound shallowness (dare I say ‘stupidity’?) of the ultra-rich… spending 4 hours with elderly couples playing golf while ‘keeping up appearances’ was an endless saga of triviality and pointless urgency…
Heading over later today for a 2nd visit to an amazing Fernando Botero exhibit of his Abu Ghraib paintings at UC Berkeley’s Doe Library. I highly recommend this… it’s like getting to see an exhibit of Francisco Goya’s paintings of the French invasion of Spain within a year of their creation…
Lastly, for those who have read this far, I am starting an earnest fundraising campaign to bring the full multimedia fun of Shaping SF to the web. Our current iterations have never achieved anything close to what we did in our original Windows software cul-de-sac… I have a proposal from some competent folks to convert the whole project using Drupal, and I need to raise $10,000 to pay them… that in turn brings up the interesting dilemma of being a long-time organizer of volunteer labor, and generally quite happy to do things that way, but finally after all these years, I have to admit that in this case, a skilled re-engineering project of this magnitude cannot reasonably be expected from volunteer labor… sad but true. So if you’re so inclined, please make a donation via the Shaping SF home page where there’s a paypal button… thanks!