Dragon Gate: San Francisco’s Portal into China(town)

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Photo credit: David Martínez

As the oldest Chinatown in the United States, established in 1848, the twenty-four square blocks that compose San Francisco’s Chinatown is a symbol of the resiliency of the immigrant experience in the middle of what was once Ohlone Indian land, but which is now under layers of Spanish, Mexican, and American colonization.

Chinatown is, on the one hand, a product of American race laws, such as the 1879 Chinese Exclusion Act, which severely limited Chinese immigration, and local ordinances that barred non-whites from accessing white American neighborhoods and business sectors. On the other hand, Chinatown is a major political and cultural enclave. As such, it has become a nation within a nation, complete with a vibrant economy, cultural institutions, and a form of local governance, namely the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and the Chinatown Community Development Center.

When my wife and I stayed at the Orchard Garden Hotel, at the corner of Bush & Grant, we were just a few steps away from the Dragon Gate. Designed by Clayton Lee, the gate has stood as a portal—really three portals—into Chinatown since 1970. To pass through this gate is to literally walk into another world, one defined by roughly 15,000 residents speaking the major dialects of China (Mandarin and Cantonese). Fortunately, for the tourist, one doesn’t need to be fluent in the language in order to enjoy this magnificent place filled with shops, restaurants, and parks. And oh the food and the people watching! A feast for the senses. Please click on the photo above to access my Chinatown photo album on flickr.

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“You make me feel alive, alive, alive!”: Sailing the High Seas Off Pier 39

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photo credit: David Martínez

Went on the Adventure Cat sailing tour of San Francisco Bay recently, in which I got to feel like a glamorous pirate in some latter-day Duran Duran video. In other words, it was a lot of fun! My wife and I took the tour on a late Wednesday morning. The 11am tour, to be more precise. Perhaps because we did this in the middle of the week, there were only sixteen of us on a catamaran that otherwise has a ninety-eight person capacity. Consequently, there was plenty of room of move around. At the same time, because of the brisk winds and the choppy waters, one moves around at their own risk. While falling overboard is unlikely, there are two large nets into which passengers can fall, should they ever lose their balance while taking all of the magnificent sights. Speaking of which, be sure to bring a camera!

In the case of our experience, we assembled to board at a clearly marked gate on Pier 39. However, pay attention to which tour is setting sail. The Adventure Cat your shares a gate with The Neptune Society. So, unless you’re there to scatter a loved one’s ashes on the open sea, watch for the personnel wearing the Adventure Cat gear. Once you set sail, the route is simple yet scenic one, out and around Alcatraz Island, toward the Golden Gate Bridge, where you turn around after going under the bridge for a view of the other side of the Bay, then slowly back again. Along the way, you may see porpoises, sea birds, airplanes, and an array of other boats. In addition, you will never take as many photos of the Golden Gate Bridge as you will on this tour. There’s even beverages and snacks available for purchase. Please click on the photo above to get to my photo album of the day on flickr.

Ceci n’est pas René Magritte Exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

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When Michel Foucault published his short treatise on Magritte’s iconic painting of a gentleman’s pipe, titled Ceci n’est pas une pipe, in 1968, it was the year after the artist’s death and two years since the publication of Foucault’s Les mots et les choses – une archéologie des sciences humaines (published in English as The Order of Things). Equally important is the fact that Foucault’s work coincided with the climactic period of Magritte’s legendary images, which the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has curated in an exhibit titled René Magritte: The Fifth Season.

During the 1940s through 1960s Magritte displayed a fully developed vision of the world as a panoply of phenomena in which images are as much seen as projected, mediated by an eye for the fantastic, such that even the most ordinary of objects, an apple or stone, may suddenly reveal a world that are beyond rational explanations. Instigated by classical Cartesian doubt, whereby sense perception is immediately put under question, what Magritte invokes—similar to Diego Velázquez—is a worldview characterized by solipsism, illusion, belief, trompe l’oeil, and the poetic imagination.

Just as a pipe may not be a pipe but the illusion of a pipe, in spite of what our eyes and words may tell us, so too may a great boulder be as light as a feather or a landscape painting be a metaphorical widow through which we may see the literal world it supposedly represents in a new way.

In the final analysis, I thoroughly enjoyed The Fifth Season.  More than an homage to an historically significant artist, the exhibit was a transformative experience in which I not only felt that I saw Magritte’s work for the first time but also that I saw the ordinary world around me with fresh eyes, like a blind man with his vision restored.  Oh, how beautiful everything is!

Please click on the above image to see more photos of the exhibit

Lana Del Rey @ Talking Stick Resort Arena: Hollywood Glam with a New York Attitude

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[click on the photo to see more images on flickr]

Although I’ve been a fan of Elizabeth Grant, aka Lana Del Rey, for several years now, at least since the release of her 2014 album Ultraviolence, I have had to be patient about getting my first opportunity to see the sultry singer perform live.  Her twenty-song set before encore, which included two medleys, did not disappoint.

Once the band took the stage to Henry Mancini’s “Experiment in Terror” the music suddenly stopped, followed by the opening chords to “13 Beaches,” a transcendent number from her 2017 album Lust for Life.  While never forgetting to acknowledge her throngs of adoring fans, which filled the Talking Stick Resort Arena in downtown Phoenix, Arizona, Lana Del Rey consistently kept her audience transfixed as she segued effortlessly from one song to the next, touching upon the span of her five-album career.

What has always been appealing to me about Del Rey’s music style is the way in which she can evoke a by-gone era—such as the 1960s—as though the ambience of those days were just a short drive away in a convertible, somewhere in the Hamptons or Bel Air.  In the case of her live performance, Del Rey sang and danced on a stage that referenced her Malibu hideaway in her 2014 video “High by the Beach.”  Then for each song, images from her various videos shown on a large screen, which served as an animated backdrop, as she reminded everyone of her exceptional songwriting skills in her now classic songs “Born to Die,” “Ride,” “Summertime Sadness,” and “Ultraviolence.”

The set ended with Del Rey descending into her audience to sign autographs and pose for photos, affirming her appreciation for the people in cities everywhere that make-up her Apocalyptic Chic America who have made her a star.  As for me, the show immediately became one of the highlights of my music-going life.  In spite of being from different generations, Lana Del Rey’s music has become a part of the soundtrack of my life, not because she makes me feel nostalgic for my youth, but because she makes me feel really good about the here and now, which is filled with gorgeous music and new experiences.

Indian Market, 1989

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I’ve been to Indian Market only once in my entire life. Way back in 1989, I went with my friend, Barbara Ortiz. At the time, I was a Visiting Scholar at the University of New Mexico, studying Indigenous land relations.  I commuted to campus from my studio apartment on Girard, taking the bus each day.  Since it was summer, there weren’t that many people around.  However, since this was well before the era of online courses, anyone attending summer school had to show up in person.  Consequently, that’s how I met Barbara.  She was from Laguna Pueblo and worked for the American Indian Student Services office at UNM.  Lucille Stillwell was the AISSS director, while Barbara served as program coordinator, which was a fancy way of saying secretary.

Anyway, Barbara had a car—a big old giant Oldsmobile—and I didn’t, so she was the one to invite me out for the day around mid-August. I actually didn’t know what Indian Market was at the time, but it sounded fun, so I said, “Sure!” Barbara, as it turned out, really didn’t like driving around Santa Fe, so she asked me to drive us. No problem. Not having a car all summer was kind of a drag. So, I seized the opportunity to get behind the wheel. The open road between Albuquerque and Santa Fe felt good! Upon arriving at our destination, I vaguely remember a dirt lot where we parked that was a bit of a hike from the Plaza. I also remember thinking “This Plaza is kinda small and CROWDED!” when we got to where all the booths were set up.

Not knowing what to do or where to begin, Barbara and I started meandering around, two brown dots in a river of white faces. All the other Indians were in their booths, some dressed up in their tribal regalia, while others looked like Billy Jack, with a few looking like regular people from the Rez. Although I’d been to events at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ before, this was different. From my point of view, as a Pima Indian, the Santa Fe Indian Market was a combination swap meet-and-zoo. I guess as a unique experience, Indian Market was fun and interesting, though I get a bit uncomfortable being around that many white people. Unfortunately, I didn’t buy anything because I couldn’t afford it, neither could Barbara. So, at the end of the day we walked back to the car empty handed and drove back to Albuquerque.

Along the way, we gossiped about people we knew back on campus and what we were going to have to do when Monday rolled around. I remember telling Barbara about meeting Greg Cajete at his office on the edge of campus, where the American Indian Studies program was located. I also told her about the Luci Tapahonso poetry reading that was held outdoors on the UNM campus, and how she started talking to me like she’d known me a longtime, asking me how my writing was going? We’d never met before. I also saw Tony Hillerman that summer. When we stopped for coffee, Barbara told me about her life at Laguna and how she started working at UNM. I found out, after being friends with her all summer, that she’d been married before. As the day turned to twilight, we hit the road again, talking away, as Santa Fe became a memory, far behind in the distance.

My Heard Museum Experience: A Crossroads of the American Southwest

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Ever since I can remember, the Heard Museum has been a prominent part of the City of Phoenix.  Founded in 1929, the ranch-style complex has sat just north of McDowell Blvd on Central Ave.  Because of its Hopi Kachina collection, Navajo jewelry, and an array of pottery samples, not to mention its changing contemporary art exhibits, the Heard galleries have long been at the crossroads of American Indian art and society in the Southwest.

While the museum has undergone a variety of changes over the years, what hasn’t changed is its place in the Phoenician and local American Indian communities, both of which regard the Heard as a citadel dedicated to Indigenous cultures.  Most importantly, as an Indigenous person, I especially appreciate the museum’s concern for not limiting the portrayal of Indigenous peoples to the distant historic past.  In addition to the ethnographic collections of traditional arts are the galleries honoring the generations of children who endured the hardships of the boarding school system, many of whom went on to create works that are still influencing modern American Indian art.

Equally Important is the recognition that Indigenous nations exist throughout the Western Hemisphere, including various mestizo populations, such the ones in Mexico.  Indeed, the ongoing exhibit “Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera” is a stunning example of the complexities of the Indigenous experience, which exceed notions of tribe, language, and blood quantum.  Indigenous peoples, in contradistinction to popular stereotypes, have recurrently adopted alien influences, creating innovative responses to the rapidly changing world around them.  To see some of what I saw recently, please click on the photo, which will take you to the photo album I posted on Flickr.  Thank you!

When Horses and Bison Ruled Europe: Werner Herzog’s ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams’

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Watched Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010), a documentary about the oldest known painted images. They were found in Chauvet, which is in Southern France, and have been dated some 25-33,000 years old. This place radiates with beauty. An exceptionally sacred area.  Belying the myth of the “caveman,” the images left behind by these ancient artists are evidence of a spiritually sophisticated culture, which likely possessed a complex oral and ceremonial tradition, in which the great animals depicted on these cave walls were immensely powerful and revered beings.