Wednesday, December 30, 2015

'Letters to Afar' - my top pick for SF shows in 2015

This is my top pick for 2015: a montage/installation of rediscovered home moves from the 1920's and 1930's films, restored and rearranged by Hungarian documentary filmmaker Peter Forgacs. The show is devastating, transcending, unspeakably poetic – a visual Kaddish for a vanished, murdered people.

Letters to Afar: Entering the darkened upstairs gallery at the Contemporary Jewish Museum where “Letters to Afar” is showing is like entering an old fashioned movie house showing only your grandfather’s home-made movies. Young girls with 20’s bobbed hair smile at the camera, another young woman applies makeup. Young men pose in front of a car, children tumble out of school, full of life and mischief. Other films portray the traditional world of the Hassidim and the Shtetl – men wearing the top hats and the forelocks of Orthodox Jews. The clips recall the tumbledown wooden houses and synagogues of impoverished shtetls and their threadbare residents.
These amateur movies, made in the 1920’s and 1930’s, were shot by American Jews returning to their Polish homeland to visit friends and family. What makes the images almost too painful to watch is the knowledge that a decade or two later, those who remained in Poland would be dead.

“And when the day has faded, the pure spring begins to sing to the heart of the world,” says the narrator of Forgács’ film. “And the heart of the world sings to the pure spring. And their singing spreads all over the world, and radiant threads emerge from the singing and they reach the hearts of all things in the world and they reach from one heart to the next… And there is a righteous and gracious man who wanders about the world and gathers the radiant threads of the hearts and weaves them into time. And as soon as he finishes weaving an entire day, he passes it on to the heart of the world, and the heart of the world passes it into the pure spring. And the pure spring lives for another day.”

Ninety percent of Polish Jews were murdered in like Treblinka and Chelmno and Auschwitz, the killing fields of Nazi-occupied Poland. That sweet-faced child, those sisters dancing in front of the camera, that elderly woman – dead, perished in a holocaust of unmanageable horror.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Peace on Earth, Goodwill towards all

Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis Peace on Earth, goodwill towards men

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Holly and the Ivy

The Holly and the Ivy by Nancy Ewart. 2015

The Holly and the Ivy is a traditional British Christmas carol. Although the song itself has very old roots, the lyrics and music we know today were published by Cecil Sharp in the 19th century.
Holly and ivy were brought into the home during the harsh winter months as a sign of luck and life, as the evergreen plants were hardy and strong. Holly and ivy were also used as decoration in churches in the 15th and 16th centuries.

The song originally dates back to pagan times. Druids saw ivy as a scared plant associated with the winter solstice. The original lyrics and meaning have been lost over the years.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Raphael's 'Lady with a Unicorn' opens at SF's Legion of Honor in January

A Renaissance masterpiece comes to SF in January

In his "Lives of the Artists," Renaissance writer Vasari declared that Heaven had bestowed upon Raphael the “infinite riches of her treasure.. of modesty, grace and talent.” His work personified the Renaissance ideals of clarity, order and balance.

Viewers will have a chance to decide for themselves when “Lady with a Unicorn." a one-painting exhibit opens at the Legion of Honor in January 2016. The work comes to us via the Cincinnati Art Museum and marks the very first time Raphael’s “Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn” has visited the United States, itself a reason for celebration.

If reading about art is too boring, how about this - was Raphael killed by too much sex:

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Happy Birthday Beethoven

From those clever people at Google:


"Rock out to the 9th with on his birthday- we especially enjoy the : Help Beethoven's unfortunate journey to the symphony hall by arranging his masterpieces in time for the big crescendo!

Even when you’re the preeminent musical genius of your generation, sometimes you just step in it. So begins Beethoven’s trip to the symphony hall in today’s musical puzzle, which Leon Hong created in collaboration with artist Nate Swinehart and engineers Jonathan Shneier and Jordan Thompson. It happens that our story isn’t much of a stretch in the broader context of Ludwig van Beethoven’s life, which saw more than its share of rotten luck.

Ludwig’s father, a middling singer in the Elector’s court and a man too often in his cups, pulled the precocious child out of school at the age of ten in hopes of earning some money on the shoulders of his talent (as a result, his handwriting was so bad that musicologists still struggle to authenticate his signature). He lost two siblings prematurely, had to assume full responsibility for his family as a teenager, fell madly for unrequiting lovers twice, and, most famously, began losing his hearing at the peak of his career.

Despite all of this, Beethoven’s music prevailed. As Mozart reputedly said, “one day, [that boy] will give the world something to talk about.” That he certainly did. Sure, he may have raised his voice a few times, but he could overwhelm his friends with excessive kindness and generosity just the same. And while his romances brought him more anguish than happiness, would we have Für Elise or Moonlight Sonata if they hadn’t?

It’s unclear when Beethoven was actually born, but December 17th marks the 245th anniversary of his baptism. Today provided us a rare opportunity to construct a game in step with beautiful music, whose evocative moods, drama, lightness, and depth made conjuring visuals to match it rollickingly fun. Here’s to one of history’s greatest artists, and to hoping that, wherever you happen to be traveling this holiday, your life’s work isn’t eaten by a horse."

Sunday, December 13, 2015

'Sunrise' and 'Time Tunnel' at the Chinese Culture Foundation

Last Thursday’s (December 10. SF Examiner) discovery of old sewing machines in Chinatown and the current exhibit in Stanford ("The Chinese and the Transcontinental Railroad") remind us of how important Chinese labor has been to building the United States. This has often meant that the Chinese have, in the past, been marginalized and denigrated.

The Chinese Culture Foundation’s current project, “Sunshine,” takes the idea of Chinatown as a source of cheap labor and junky souvenirs and brings that old stereotype into the light of the 21st century. The Chinese, both in the Chinese diaspora and in the United States, are now a vibrant and innovative part of contemporary life, especially the life of San Francisco.

“Sunrise” is a project which takes the mundane pedestrian bridge from the Chinatown Hilton to Washington Square and elevates it to a vision for Chinatown’s future. According to Mabel Teng, executive director of the Chinese Culture Foundation, the bridge was built as a compromise for the 27-story hotel tower blocking sunlight to the square known by many as Chinatown’s living room.

That utilitarian purpose will be a thing of the past if the Foundation’s plans for a mini park and art installation go through. The plans have been in process for over a year, from the initial idea generated by the staff at a retreat to the current and more ambitions vision of a Chinatown full of art for all to enjoy.  According to Teng, this project is only one of many designed to bring Chinatown to the center of San Francisco’s life  - in ideas, if not in geographical reality. The current Central subway project, due to be completed in 2019,  will also make Chinatown more accessible to the rest of San Francisco as well as make San Francisco more accessible to the Chinese who tend to be locked into this densely packed part of the city because of overcrowded and slow public transportation.

Designed by competitively-selected artist Mik Gaspay, the layout features a mosaic of a sunrise around the flight of stairs to the center, as well as native California plants and benches intended to make the bridge a more inviting open space. Mik Gaspay is a San Francisco based interdisciplinary artist who works primarily in found objects, painting, and sculpture and is interested in translating the meanings of commonplace products and structures.

Since the beginning of 2015, the hub has been in the planning stages, with rigorous rounds of judging from a panel composed of community, business, and art leaders on various proposed design components of the pedestrian bridge.

Public viewing next week for commentary and input:

The project has already gone through San Francisco city hall’s complex – and not always friendly – building process. It took amazing patience and perseverance for the Center to get the permits through the various bureaucratic roadblocks but they succeed and look forward to the bridge becoming a reality in 2017.  When the bridge is revamped, Hilton staff will manage it nd shut the gate between it and Portsmouth Square at 7 p.m. daily.

The project doesn’t yet have a total cost estimate, but will be funded 20 percent by the Chinese Culture Center, 30 percent by the Hilton hotel, and 50 percent through city funds. It is expected to be completed in May 2017 and remain a fixture on the bridge for at least five years.

Teng said, “We hope that this is a model project that can be a lesson for other communities and we definitely hope to inspire The City to make that kind of commitment to all the neighborhoods – especially the low-income neighborhoods.”
“Time Tunnel” is currently on view inside the museum. A time line of the last 50 years of the Center, the exhibit celebrates both the educational and visual accomplishments of this small space – small in size but large in vision and achievements.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

SantaCon 2015

One thing that San Franciscans, new and old know how to do is to have fun. Santa Con: “SantaCon” or “Santarchy” is San Francisco’s annual city-wide Santas-only pub crawl happening on Saturday, December 12, 2015. The event is free but it’s not just a city wide party; it’s also for a good cause. Bring a new, unwrapped toy to donate to the SF Fire Department’s Annual Toy Drive.

This friendly mob-type event brings together hundreds of people, who start out sober but don't always end up that way,  dressed in Santa costumes parading around the city, visiting landmarks (like walking down Lombard Street) drinking at bars, and causing general mayhem. And just so you know, wearing a Santa hat isn’t enough… get yourself a full-on Santa suit.

SantaCon 2015
 Saturday, December 12, 2015. The event starts at noon. Meet at Union Square Park, San Francisco

RSVP on Facebook

The main rules:

1) Wear a full-on Santa suit

2) Don’t be a drunken jerk; don’t mess with the police, security, bartenders, or kids

3) Download Santa’s song book

4) Bring a toy to donate at Union Square

For More Information:

San Francisco Santarchy Blog

•SF Santarchy Twitter: Follow @sfstanta for updates

2015 SantaCon Details

Toy Donations | Union Square | 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.: Bring a toy to with you to Union Square first thing, before you hit the bars or the flask. There will be a San Francisco Fire Department fire truck parked outside of the Handlery Union Square Hotel, located at 351 Geary Street. Cash donations are also okay; just make sure you only give cash to uniformed SFFD personnel.

Here are the guidelines for toys:
•Bring something for a kid 12 years old or under.
•Bring a NEW toy, not some old piece of junk you have lying around the house. Put some effort into it OK?
•Don’t wrap it.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish friends

image from here.

Happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish friends. Light the candles, drink the wine, fry the latkes and celebrate. Make of yourself a light! L’chaim!

"Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights that rolled around usually at the same time as Christmas. Yet it is a holiday with many meanings and expresses many events at once. The medieval Jew embraced it: the idea of the smaller army of Jews rising up to conquer their Gentile oppressors was irresistible.

Always a popular theme with Jews in Europe when they were ousted from so many places as they had been in the Holy Land. They related. Given that this is a holiday with no biblical source (the Books of Maccabees where at least part of the Hanukkah celebrations can be found, are listed in Christian bibles, which are apocryphal to Jews and not considered part of the canon), there was a clash between those rabbis who followed oral rabbinic traditions and those that were strictly biblical. (The same clash occurs between Protestants and Catholics regarding traditions with a small "t" and Traditions with a large "T". In the Last Supper, for instance, where the gospels say that Jesus is reclining at table is a perfect example of the importance of following tradition with a small "t". Biblical commandments in Exodus have God exhorting Moses to instruct the people to eat their Passover standing up as a people in flight, ready to high-tail it when the time is right. But sometime between the time of Moses and the time of Jesus, Jewish tradition changed to the partaking of the Passover in a reclining position. As it says in the Haggadah [the prayer book used during the Passover Seder] the Egyptian Hebrews stood to eat just as a slave stands to eat in the presence of his master.

But to recline is to exclaim one's freedom. Thus Jesus, as a good Jewish boy, follows Jewish tradition rather than God's biblical command.)

More about the medieval take on Hanukkah at this link (also a great blog to follow)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Carry on, bake on, sing on, decorate on..

Throughout these last months with all the death and destruction around us, I didn’t know what to say that wouldn’t sound shallow. I feel lucky to be 70 (soon to be 71) and to have a modest income that covers my modest needs, decent health, friends and family and places to go if life gets too hard. But that also doesn’t speak to the suffering and the grieving that I see around me. The things that anger me seem so petty when I look at the pile up of disasters facing all of us in this winter of 2015.

Then, I found this via the Internet  - not mine. I wish I wrote this well (Rachel is facing surgery and I urge everybody to go to her page, read her marvelous columns and contribute what they can) :

No matter what mysteries we face today, there are clues all around us indicating hope is near … goodness is abundant … and we are being held in loving, faithful hands.

My friends, whether we are facing small mysteries or gigantic ones … whether they’re mysteries for ourselves, our loved ones, or the world in its most troubling state, I am certain this is how we must deal. We must:

Carry on
Bake on
Sing on
Decorate on
Strum on
Praise on
Pray on
Dance on
Love on
Believe on
Twinkle on
Inhale on
Exhale on

Because when we do, our people are thankful we joined in.

Because when we do, we see, taste, and smell beautiful things we might have missed.

Because when we do, angst diminishes and hope swells.

Because when we do, the beautiful Evidence of Life becomes stronger than any troubling mystery we face.

I am a medical mystery. I face a medical mystery. But nothing will stop me from carrying on. Please join me, friends. Let’s carry on. Together, hope swells higher.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Closing events for the 100th anniversary of the Panama-Pacific Expo

Throughout 2015, the PPIE100, a citywide consortium of cultural, civic, and historical organizations, has conducted centennial programs to commemorate the PPIE’s historical significance and to reflect on its legacy. Yet, even as the city celebrates the triumphs of 1915, "The Palace of Fine Arts", the sole surviving building from the PPIE and Bernard Maybeck’s masterpiece, is slated to be turned over to private development companies who have proposed a host of money making ventures including a hotel, a restaurant, a gym and a spa. The rotunda, the columns, the temple in the lagoon and a performing art space are to be preserved. But the three final plans all incorporate commercial venues like hotels and restaurants, which will bring hundreds more cars into the already congested location.

A local group, calling itself “Save the Palace of Fine Arts” has already collected 20,000+ signatures calling on the San Francisco Department of Parks and Recreation to use the space exclusively as a cultural and educational center. They face powerful opposition but, as in 1915, it’s not wise to underestimate the love that San Franciscan’s have for their city and their willingness to fight to preserve the legacy of the past.

 More on the closing events here:

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A calendar page for December

Calendar page for December, with decorative border comprising a Zodiac sign, roundels, and bas-de-page scene, from the London Rothschild Hours, Southern Netherlands (Ghent), c. 1500, Add MS 35313, f. 7r

Winter has fully descended in this calendar page for December.  Against a snowy landscape, a peasant is kneeling atop a pig that he has just slaughtered, bracing himself for the arduous task ahead.  Beside him crouches a woman, holding out a pan to catch the pig's blood.  Behind them a distant figure is crossing a bridge over a frozen river, while to the left two women are at work in an open-sided building.  The only hint of welcome warmth comes from the fire blazing in the hearth.  

December, naturally enough, includes a number of major feast days - so many, in fact, that the illuminators of this manuscript have had to be creative in order to include them all.  On the lower right, beneath a depiction of the Nativity of Christ for Christmas, are four roundels containing scenes commemorating St Stephen, St John, the Holy Innocents, and St Thomas a Becket, archbishop of Canterbury (for more on images of St Thomas, see our post Erasing Becket).  

Detail of a bas-de-page scene of peasants slaughtering a pig and working in a snowy landscape,  Add MS 35313, f. 7r
More about the Rothschild Hours here

Images from the British Library