Thursday, July 05, 2007

How We Spent the Fourth

I can't say I have any special habit regarding the Fourth of July, which, for those not familiar with US holidays, is Independence Day. If the circumstances are right, I enjoy watching fireworks, but California has not yet managed to show me a good fireworks display, and this is despite my family having moved here when I was eight years old. I'm not saying California has none to offer, but in the Bay Area the weather is always chilly at night and fog and distance generally obscure the numerous shows. About the best I've managed was to get high in the Berkeley hills and stand on the road seeing four or five tiny explosions in various distant places. That doesn't live up to my recollections of warm midwestern nights with dramatic close-up displays in the park, seen after a nice picnic on a blanket.
John, however, makes a tradition of getting together friends and going to Dolores Park to watch the San Francisco Mime Troupe. For some reason this year was the first time in our acquaintance that we were actually both in the Bay Area on the Fourth, so this was the first time I went. (I had, of course, seen the Mime Troupe on other occasions over the years.)
An excursion of this sort, naturally, requires food. Had I been a little more enterprising, I would have made my first potato salad of the season, but I did not manage to get to the grocery store. The last of the apricots had to be dealt with, so I made pie #3 in the series. The pie was too drippy and the pan too fragile to take to the park, so Cesar, John, and I ate most of it before leaving. They seemed quite taken with it, I am glad to say.
John requires sufficient coffee before embarking on any venture, so we had to stop at his current favorite purveyor before getting very far on the road. Cesar lectured him extensively about this addiction, no doubt for my entertainment. I am quite familiar with John's coffee habit, of course; even my mother knows that she can give him multiple refills late at night without causing meltdown. A second cup of coffee, John assured us, prompts him to feel a great love for humanity and an optimism about world peace. I inquired whether he thought our president is not drinking enough coffee, but he replied that some people have congenital defects.
Outside the cafe, I noticed this interesting display.
Dolores Park was filled with picnickers, a great many of them gathered around the Mime Troupe's stage. We did not get ideal seats and ended up laying out our blankets in the sun a ways behind the sound booth. More agreeably, we were near the chair massage vendor, so John bought massages for me and his friend Monica. I realized that it was probably the first time I had ever had a massage when I didn't seem to be in dire need of one. Life in Prague must have had a beneficial effect despite all that daily carrying of laptop and camera.
The Mime Troupe is a San Francisco institution. We discovered that this year marked something like its 48th anniversary, which we found mindboggling; I think we had all assumed it began in the 60s or 70s. We don't know why it's called the Mime Troupe when as far as we know it has never, ever done anything in mime. Its specialty is political theater, which is done with a lot of broad humor and wild musical numbers. This year's offering, about media coverage of the Iraq war, struck me as one of the better ones I've seen. I can't claim to be a connoisseur of their oeuvre, but John also thought it was pretty good. Cesar thought it recycled one of their favorite themes, that of the journalist who sells out and has a crisis of conscience, which I think is true, but I don't really expect anything stylistically new or remarkably subtle from the Mime Troupe. I was content to see Dick Cheney humorously portrayed.
After the show, many people gave it a standing ovation. I will say that while I think Americans are a little too inclined toward this form of praise, their expressions of appreciation after performances are weak in comparison to the Czech need to clap for fifteen minutes after every show. Applause is a fine thing, but the Czechs seem to feel that it would be insulting not to try to get the performers to do three encores and eight or ten separate bowing sessions with huge quantities of bouquets.
One thing that did surprise me at this performance, however, was the behavior of the people seated in front of us. The woman who had first staked out the spot spent most of the performance either working on her laptop (!) or reading fashion magazines. For awhile she was joined by a female friend who had a small child who skillfully managed to stand directly in front of my line of vision no matter how I moved around. After awhile mother and child departed, having seen perhaps 20 minutes of the play. The next arrival was a stocky young male in a Bob Dylan Tshirt. He appeared to be the mate of the magazine reader. While he watched a certain amount of the play, he read a book during much of his tenure on the blanket. After his departure, mother and child returned briefly, then the magazine reader apparently decided that she had saved the spot long enough and packed up and left. The play lasted at least another fifteen or twenty minutes. I grant that Mime Troupe shows don't require terribly close attention from audience members and that it is normal not to watch absolutely every minute of the show, but since there were many other parts of the park to sit, I wasn't really clear why these people wanted to be in the Mime Troupe audience if they were barely going to watch any of the show. I don't really think that going to the Mime Troupe is quite the same "go to be seen" type of event as theater was for the rich in the 18th and 19th centuries. It's true that our magazine reader was an attractive young woman who must have been quite uncomfortable in her black outfit and high-heeled sandals, but far more people would have been watching her elsewhere.
After the show, we moved to a shady spot to finish the wine and cheese, then embarked on a walking tour of unfamiliar parts of San Francisco.
Cesar had heard of a tree not far from the park where people allegedly left ribbons with wishes. We were not very optimistic about finding it, but it really does exist. People had left wishes in a wide variety of languages, and we read about desires for healthy babies, happiness in love, and so forth. The ribbon box was empty, so Cesar pulled some thread out of his backpack and we tied paper wishes to the branches. (I refrained from reading my companions' wishes.)
Unfortunately, at this point all my camera batteries gave out. I think the heat was to blame. It was unfortunate, as we encountered a great many photo-worthy sights in the next few hours. Monica took us to a hillside slide (we each went down a couple of times and skinned some elbows in the process), then further uphill to a community garden, on a visit to her landlady (who has a delightful Ruth Asawa sculpture and a lovely garden), and all over the place to various enchanting public staircases and other interesting vantage points.
Eventually we headed back to the Mission, where John showed us a couple of alleys with a vast number of murals, Cesar and Monica persuaded us to stop and listen to an Argentinian-style band that was attracting some very fine dancers (Cesar and I danced briefly but I was footsore at that point and we were not to be compared with the other dancers), and eventually we settled at John's to watch Godard's Pierrot le fou and eat pizza. Other than all of us having sustained some sunburn in the unusually warm afternoon, we were very pleased with our day.

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Blogger Dr. Zaius said...

You make me homesick. I swear that the graffiti in San Francisco is a lot better than the graffiti out here.

July 06, 2007 4:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps the lady in black was reading fashion magazines to become more bootylicious?

Does this mean that being "high" in the Berkeley hills intensified the experience of fireworks because you were in a state of, er, heightened perception? Or was it just that the altitude offered a better vantage point and improved due to the thinning atmosphere? I suppose that it really doesn't take too much effort to "get high" (in whichever sense) in the Berkeley hills.

July 06, 2007 6:01 PM  
Blogger Kristen said...

It has long irked me that audiences here leap to their feet after every performance unless it is spectacularly bad.

July 06, 2007 6:49 PM  
Blogger Karla said...

The art graffiti here is indeed excellent; I won't speak to the other graffiti. As for the height, I speak (in this case) purely of the vantage point.

I think the obligatory standing ovation should be reserved for children's performances, and even there it is probably a bad idea.

July 06, 2007 8:04 PM  

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