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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Loving San Francisco Botanical Garden to death

Butterflies are free, but it takes considerable funds to support the plants pollinated by these beauties at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. In fact, it takes $1 million a year to maintain the 23 gardens covering 55 acres that constitute one of the undisputed treasures of Golden Gate Park.

The city of San Francisco helps support the garden, as does the nonprofit San Francisco Botanical Garden Society; however, as in every other area of our civic life, funds available to help maintain the garden have shrunk substantially.

Those who resist any charge claim they love the garden and want unlimited access to it for everyone, including out-of-towners who would not blink at paying a much lower admission charge than the one, for example, that gains entry into the nearby California Academy of Sciences. Virtually all other major botanical gardens in the United States are supported by admission fees.

Without some revenue, special features of the garden will be compromised if not eliminated. This includes care of rare and endangered species. It also includes outreach to more than 10,000 San Francisco schoolchildren who visit the garden each year.

Because of San Francisco's unique topography and location, the garden is able to nurture plant assemblages adapted to a remarkable range of climate conditions. In the Ancient Plant Garden, the pathway through greenery both glorious and strange is laid out according to major epochs of earth history: a walk through this garden is a walk through evolution. The garden is also great for bird-watching. The 11 city gardeners who keep things watered, weeded, and thriving in the garden provide other vital services. The garden is a de facto laboratory for integrated pest management strategies - that is, chemical-free ways to minimize bug and fungus damage - solutions found here are adopted in open spaces by the city. Nobody wants to have to pay for something previously gotten for free. But a $7 charge to tourists and other visitors is minimal for the vital services, as well as aesthetic pleasures, the garden provides. There are plenty of other beautiful green spaces to wander through in Golden Gate Park; these unique collections need special care. We all love the garden. Let's not love it to death.


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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Hosts 23rd Annual Young at Art Festival

The Visual and Performing Arts Office of the San Francisco Unified School District unveils Young at Art; a nine-day celebration of student creativity in visual, literary, media, and performing arts hosted by the de Young through May 24. For the past twenty-three years, this unique San Francisco event (formerly San Francisco Youth Arts Festival) has been a point of destination for families, teachers, artists, and community members in the Bay Area. The San Francisco Unified School District's groundbreaking Arts Education Master Plan, which originated from the programming of Young at Art, promotes the equity and access of the arts in education for all students K–12.

Over 9,000 children from 250 schools throughout San Francisco actively participate in Young at Art 2009. Of these participants, 2,000 youth are showcased through the visual art exhibition, live performances on stage, and through literary and media arts. Over 150 volunteers help organize Young at Art events and approximately 15,000 people are expected to attend the festival over the course of the nine days. All students in San Francisco’s public, private, independent, and parochial schools are eligible to participate in Young at Art and all activities are free for the public.


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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

31st Annual San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival

World Arts West presents the 31st Annual San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, an annual multi-cultural event featuring performances from talented and top ethnic dance companies accompanied by world-class musicians. Be inspired by the beauty of different cultures from various countries.

Kariktan and Parangal dance companies are the two Filipino groups that will be performing at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre in San Francisco. Both companies' main goal is to promote, preserve and present the Filipino culture through its dances and music.

Kariktan Dance Company will be performing on weekend 2, June 13 & 14 presenting three pieces. First is portraying the historic immigration to the Philippines via outriggers with colorful sails. Second, a pre-nuptial dance with complex footwork and gestures imitating that of a fish, and third, a dance from the island of Mindanao featuring a princess wooed by her prince.

Watch Parangal Dance Company on weekend 4, June 27 & 28 as they present different dances performed during tribal gatherings of the Lumad (natives) of Mindanao. The piece is inspired by the movement of real and mythical birds and is ccompanied by live kulintang ensembles. It is also Parangal Dance Company's first festival appearance.

Where : Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, San Francisco

Time : Saturdays at 2 & 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.

When : June 6 & 7; 13 & 14; 20 & 21; 27 & 28, 2009

Ticket price : $22 - $44


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Friday, May 15, 2009

San Francisco really is the Golden City that has it all

Are you ready to leave your heart in San Francisco? When Tony Bennett recorded his signature hit almost 50 years ago, San Francisco was quickly emerging as one of the world's great cities.

The city had been slightly overshadowed by the Hollywood glitz of Los Angeles for a number of years, but the 1960s saw San Francisco begin to grow in stature.

Whether it was the huge success of the wines of Napa Valley, the computer revolution ushered in by Silicon Valley or establishing a home for West Coast hippie counterculture in Haight Ashbury and Berkeley, San Francisco has scarcely been out of the limelight ever since.

More recently the city has led the way in cuisine, theatre and fashion (it is the home of Levi's jeans).

But what makes San Francisco so appealing to visitors is that everything is extremely accessible. This is a place waiting to be discovered on foot, by bike, boat, bus - or, of course, by cable car (can there ever have been a more joyous form of public transport?).

The city may be famously hilly - look out for the stunning views over the bay towards Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge - but it is surprisingly compact.

Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square - all on the waterfront - are among the best known tourist sites. Here you will find an intriguing mix of good places to eat, tourist shops and street performers. From here you can stroll off and discover the rest of this fascinating city.

Better still, take a cable car and cling on as you are pulled up the steep streets lined with exquisite 19th-century townhouses. Around Union Square, for example, you can find fabulous shopping - Market Street has the excellent San Francisco Center shopping mall.

For a real touch of the exotic, head for Chinatown and find a restaurant for an unforgettable meal (and see what the future holds with your after-meal fortune cookie).

Hire a car or take a tour and head out of the city to discover fabulous places within an easy drive. Napa Valley is a favourite destination - also worth a look is nearby Sonoma.

Unmissable San Francisco

Golden Gate bridge: a stroll or bike ride across this iconic bridge is one of the must-dos when you visit San Francisco: there are few vistas on earth that can compete with the view from here.

Alcatraz: people used to be desperate to escape from this notorious former prison - now they queue for an excellent tour.

Golden Gate Park: be sure to spend some time here, and, in particular, see the amazing new academy of sciences and De Young museum.


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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Five Signs that it's Spring in San Francisco

Spring has sprung, and unlike most of the country, San Francisco's weather isn't the best indicator of the fairest season's arrival. Instead, we have to look a little closer to find differences between now and a 70 degree day in January.

1. It's Crazy Costume Season!
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence Easter Celebration in Dolores Park marked the beginning of what I like to call "costume season." Other signs of this most colorful time of year include the How Weird Street Faire, the Cinco de Mayo festival, and, of course, Bay to Breakers.

2. Increasingly Crowded Beaches
The weather is more or less the same as it was a few months ago, but for some reason the word "Spring" tends to send people scurrying off to the beach, only to find that it's freezing and windy once they get there. And yes, I'm planning a beach day next week.

3. Tourists Venturing Into Your Neighborhood
A slightly warmer clime means tourists galore. Most of them can be found in the usual spots: Fisherman's Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, etc. But the growing mass of tourists means that some of them will inevitably get lost or overly adventurous and end up at, say, the corner of 24th and Mission looking utterly bewildered. Not to worry; once they see the mass of hipsters and Mexicans, most of them will retreat back to their hotels.

4. A Funny, Slightly Suffocating Smell
Sure, the fires are only in Santa Barbara now, but it's only a matter of time before they spread over to our neck of the woods. And once they do, expect that familiar burning smell. And running up some of our city's larger hills without wheezing? Forget it.

5. A Mass Influx of Houseguests
That's right--it's not just random tourists cramming into our city right now. Your mom, dad, sister, and best friend are all angling to get some space on the couch now that it's stopped raining. Get ready to play tour guide for the next few weeks.


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Sunday, May 10, 2009

"Snow" wins award at San Francisco filmfest

"Snow" is a joint production of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, France, and Iran, and has already won the Cannes Critics' Week Grand Prix, the International Critics' Week of the film festival in 2008.

The story is set in the small isolated village of Slavno four years after the war in Bosnia. A government delegation comes to Slavno, offering the villagers money to leave the village. But the villagers, mostly women, find it hard to abandon their homes and decide to fight for their freedom and the survival of Slavno.

In addition, Babak Amini's "Angels Die in the Soil" received the award at the Short Narrative section of the festival. Amini had already worked as assistant director for Bahman Qobadi in his productions "A Time for Drunken Horses" and "Turtles Can Fly."

The Founder's Directing Award of this year was presented to Francis Ford Coppola. Robert Redford was also this year's recipient of the Peter J. Owens (1936-91) award, which honors an actor whose work exemplifies brilliance, independence and integrity.


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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Umpqua opens international division in San Francisco

Umpqua Bank opened an international banking division based in San Francisco to help its customers involved with international trade.

The office will serve the needs of bank customers at all Umpqua Bank branches.

Umpqua has 150 branches in Washington, Oregon and Northern California, with 21 branches in the counties of El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo.

"Many businesses choose to bank with a local bank that is invested in the community, yet also have a need for international banking services. By establishing an international banking division, our customers now have access to financial resources with global reach," said Ray Davis, president of Umpqua Bank. "We are pleased to welcome Anthony Oriti to Umpqua and are confident that his wealth of expertise in international trade services will set Umpqua apart from the field in this exciting move to connect our community based services to the global community."

Oriti is an international trade veteran with more than 30 years experience. Before coming to Umpqua, Oriti was a senior manager of international divisions for several banks, including Bank of America.


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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Historic preservation is about San Francisco's future

Until this year, San Francisco was one of the few cities in the nation without a Historic Preservation Commission. A clear majority of San Franciscans voted to establish a new Historic Preservation Commission this past November.

So let's take a deep breath and let the new commission do its work. Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius' April 30 column, "Historic preservation may hamstring S.F.'s future," might have benefited by conversations with few more folk. Historic preservation is a useful planning tool that every city uses to enhance livability and to sustain and adaptively reuse underutilized buildings and places such as San Francisco's Ferry Building and Plaza, now transformed into an international tourist destination and Farmers Market.

The regulations and restrictions in place with the new commission are really not much different than with the former and outdated Landmarks Advisory Board. The legislation does not "make it easier to declare a neighborhood a historic district." It offers different avenues to start the nomination process (allowing citizens to get signatures on a petition, for example). All nominations must be vetted as before: approved by the new commission, then go to the Board of Supervisors.

Previously, they had to be approved by the Planning Commission and then go to the Board of Supervisors. The level of review and analysis is no less. Additionally, historic districts are not "declared" if the majority of property owners in the proposed district do not agree with it.

It is absolutely incorrect that contributing buildings to historic districts will be "nearly impossible to change, tear down or renovate." They will have to get approval from the Historical Preservation Commission instead of the Planning Commission. Property owners will not have to visit both commissions, and applications for permits to alter contributing buildings will not automatically be rejected.

The Historic Preservation Commission's decisions are based on nationally accepted Standards for Rehabilitation as outlined by the National Park Service.

As in every other town and city in the United States, historic districts are based upon professionally compiled surveys, done both by the planning department and expert historians. Contributing buildings are not determined solely by date, but are analyzed in terms of context.

Oftentimes, the very buildings preservationists aim to save are ones important to broad cultural communities (history, locations where turning-point events took place in minority history, places of worship or community centers important to cultural groups, neighborhoods with a long history as a densely populated area for a specific culture or ethnicity). To imply that preservationists aim to preserve structures and places only important to a white middle class is offensive and narrow-minded.


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Sunday, May 03, 2009

San Francisco Cinco de Mayo Festival: For kids

If you would like to celebrate Cinco de Mayo without the risk of your kids getting splashed by overflowing margaritas and beer, look no further than San Francisco's Dolores Park this Saturday.

The Mission Neighborhood Centers, a community service organization that is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, presents the Cinco de Mayo Festival, which is free, kid-friendly and alcohol-free. You'll find plenty of activities to keep your kids entertained, including arts and crafts, a soccer skills camp and tours of nearby Mission Dolores. Mascot Scooby Doo will be on hand for high fives and picture taking. (Who knew he was Latino?) And three lucha libre wrestlers - Vaquero Fantasma, El Amante and Golden Lion - will pose for pictures and sign autographs. "They're really popular," said event coordinator Coco Corona.

The main stage will feature Aztec and Mayan dance troupes in the morning, Ensambles Ballet Folklorico de San Francisco and mariachi bands between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., plus a magician. In the late afternoon, things will start to sizzle with salsa band Futuro Picante, featuring Jose Leon, the Latin pop of Alfa-Omega-Añez, mariachi soloist Berta Olivia and, capping the day, Zhono, Los Angeles rockers of Mexican descent who sing in Spanish.

In addition to offering fun and entertainment, festival organizers have an agenda: to promote health. So this year there will be Health, Education and Going Green sections in addition to the regular vendors and food booths. The American Society of Hypertension is hosting a Health Care Pavilion and will offer free health screenings, including blood pressure, BMI (body mass index, calculated from a person's weight and height), glucose and cholesterol testing with on-site results and referrals. They'll be giving away free pedometers (to encourage exercise) as long as supplies last. And all health instructions will be available in both English and Spanish.

For the record, Cinco de Mayo commemorates the day in 1862 when Mexican soldiers and citizens of the city of Puebla halted an invasion by the French army. Last year the Cinco de Mayo Festival welcomed about 4,000 invaders to Dolores Park. Organizers expect an even bigger turnout this year, especially because Oakland is not holding its festival.


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Friday, May 01, 2009

Lost World finds sound in San Francisco

Every year, the San Francisco International Film Festival screens a silent movie as part of their showcase of new and innovative cinema. This year - during the Festival's 52nd annual event - tradition holds.

On Tuesday, May 5th, the SFIFF will screen The Lost World (1925). This early sci-fi film, based on the 1912 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel of the same name, concerns an expedition to an isolated plateau in South America where prehistoric animals, including dinosaurs, still live! (Arthur Conan Doyle is, of course, best known for creating Sherlock Holmes, though he also wrote a handful of worthwhile science fiction stories including The Lost World.)

Directed by Harry O. Hoyt, this 100 minute film stars Wallace Beery (as Professor Challenger), Bessie Love and Lewis Stone. Doyle's novel has been adapted to film many times - including versions in 1960, 1992, and 1998. This version - the first adaption -has been deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

Today, The Lost World is Hoyt's best known film. It was popular in its day, and was hailed for its stop-motion animation. That animation was created by Willis O'Brien, a pioneer in the field who would go on to special effects immortality for his work on King Kong (1933). Within the annals of film history, it's been suggested that The Lost World was a practice run for the many techniques which shine in King Kong and later works.

In some ways, the dinosaurs are the stars of The Lost World. The film features some amazing stop-motion sequences. And the scenes near the end of the film, when a captured dinosaur roams through modern day London, are impressive.

This San Francisco International Film Festival presentation will take place at the historic Castro Theater. Accompanying the film will be Los Angeles-based musical group Dengue Fever, who will perform an original score. According to the SFIFF program, "Dengue Fever's score will playfully and lovingly evoke worlds both known and unknown and elevate the The Lost World’s offbeat humor and singular beauty."

Dengue Fever's unusual style has been described as a Cambodian / American musical hybrid. However, psychedelic rock, Bollywood glitz, spaghetti Western twang, ska, klezmer, funk and Ethiopian jazz all contribute to the band's unique sound. Ch'hom Nimol's powerful singing voice, in Khmer and more recently in English, is a luminous vibrato that adds exotic ornamentations to her vocal lines –while complementing the band's driving sound. That exotic sound should meld beautifully with the exotic story told in The Lost World.


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