Thursday, September 29, 2005


A disappointment but no great surprise to learn that Governor Schwarzenegger has vetoed the same-sex marriage bill passed by California's legislature. I share the sentiment expressed in EQCA's news release, that we should take this momentary setback to take stock of how far we have come. That both houses of our state legislature would actually pass such a bill is extraordinary, and public opinion has moved tremendously in just a few years. It won't be long before Governor Schwarzenegger's veto looks as quaint as Governor George Wallace blocking the schoolhouse steps. So George and I won't be able to legally marry in January, but it will happen, and it will happen before very long.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Hammer Gets Hammered

It couldn't have happened to a better guy. I was delighted to hear the news today about House Majority Leader Tom DeLay being forced to step down (at least temporarily) from his leadership position due to a Texas grand jury indictment on conspiracy to violate political fundraising laws. While DeLay is probably right in claiming that the Texas District Attorney has political motivations, that doesn't mean that the charge is baseless. (I'm hoping DA Earle has the goods to make it stick.) While I can't know whether this particular charge is true, I certainly share Congressman Henry Waxman's feeling that "where there's smoke, there's fire", and there's sure been a lot of smoke around DeLay for years. I've had a whiff of that since at least two years ago when DeLay hammered through the shamelessly partisan, dubiously ethical Texas "re-redistricting". (Note to California voters: that Texas travesty is a great example of why we should vote Yes on Prop 77.) I'm sure there's been a lot of dirt that just hasn't been pinned to Congressman DeLay, so anything they can make stick is fine by me. With the sort of leadership that Tom "no more fat" DeLay has been exhibiting lately, even some conservatives won't be too sorry to see him go.

Monday, September 19, 2005

FILM: Everything Is Illuminated

Liev Schreiber, in his directorial debut, has done a phenomenal job in his adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's novel Everything Is Illuminated. The film is a visually rich, dialogue-spare exploration of how our family history shapes us, how ancestral memories, even those long suppressed, are somehow genetically encoded and handed down, making us who we are. The structure of the film is a road trip story, but the trip is really into the past, into lost and suppressed memories, and subsequent illumination. And the characters are far from your typical road trip characters. There is Jonathan, a pasty stiff repressed Jewish young man with a passion for collecting petty artifacts of his life in ziplock bags. Then there is Alex, the Ukrainian young man with a "less than prime" command of the English language who serves as Jonathan's translator on their trip into the Ukrainian countryside, even though he'd rather be hitting the night clubs of Odessa. And there is Alex's Grandfather, the driver for their trip, whose wide-eyed unshaven face looks like a Van Gogh portrait, and who thinks that he is blind. Rounding out the party is Sammy Davis Junior, Junior, a deranged mutt who serves as Grandfather's "officious seeing-eye bitch". This unlikely group sets out into the Ukrainian countryside in search of a woman who saved Jonathan's grandfather from the Holocaust, armed only with a decades-old photograph, a first name, and the name of a long-destroyed shtetl that hardly anyone remembers. Jonathan is stiff and reserved, but the garrulous Alex does his best to keep conversation going despite his broken English, and to calm his curmudgeonly Grandfather who seems haunted by something when he's not making gruff remarks. Their exchanges are quite amusing at times, and provide just the right comic balance to what would otherwise be a very ponderous film. Much of the movement in this film takes place "between the lines", and in visually rich sequences. The film plays with time (Dali's "The Persistence of Memory" comes to mind), dissolving liquidly between present characters and their own past, or their ancestors' pasts. Cultural memory and its suppression is a theme subtly woven throughout the movie, not just in Jonathan's passion for collecting, but in Alex's coming to realize his blind spots about Ukraine's history, and even references to the Soviet conscious oppression of memory and its becoming a memory itself. (At one point, they drive past an abandoned gray concrete housing project. "What is that?" Jonathan asks. "Soviet," Alex replies, as if that explains everything. "What happened to it?" "Independence.") Schreiber gets exquisite performances out of Eijah Wood (Jonathan), Eugene Hutz (Alex), Boris Leskin (Grandfather), and Laryssa Lauret (the last remnant of the shtetl). Elijah Wood is famously wide-eyed and often a bit blank, but that suits his character (think Harold from Harold and Maude). Hutz, who is not so much an actor as the leader of a New York-based "gypsy punk" band called Gogol Bordello (who provide some of the music for the excellent soundtrack), does a wonderful job in the central role. And Leskin is perfect as the gruff, haunted Grandfather. What these characters eventually discover changes all of them, and will make a powerful impression on the viewer.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

FILM: Côte d'Azur (Crustacés et Coquillages)

This amusing French farce is a very light-hearted treatment of parents coming to terms with their late-teenage children's sexuality, not to mention their own. Marc and Beatrix are the parents of Charly and Laura. Marc is a conscientious father, and while not an uptight moralist, he is a bit alarmed by his children becoming sexual. Beatrix, on the other hand, has a liberal laissez-faire attitude (which she attributes to having had a Dutch mother, as if that explains everything). Marc has inherited a seaside home from his great-aunt, which is the scene for their summer vacation and some summer love. Laura is running off for long escapades with boys on motorcycles, while everyone is waiting for Charly to finally come out of the closet, including his friend Martin, who is in love with him, and spending the summer with them. But Charly remains tantalizingly ambiguous (while taking long showers and using up all the hot water -- a running theme). Meanwhile, Beatrix has a lover who keeps popping up in the funniest of places, and Marc has some surprises of his own. The nocturnal hallway traffic in their Riviera villa gets as convoluted as any Shakespeare comedy. Aside from Dutch mothers and hot water, the local shellfish (particularly something called "violets") seem particularly aphrodisiacal.

The film was written and directed by Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau, the same pair who did Drôle de Félix (The Adventures of Felix) a few years back, and as in that film, they bring out some interesting characters. We get glimpses of teen angst, unrequited love, conflicting emotions, and difficult situations. But where Félix was all serious, this film has comic moments that will make you laugh and smile, and an overall very light-hearted tone. It even has a couple of corny musical numbers tossed in the middle and at the end. (It is surprising how the French really seem to appreciate corny touches.) This frothy soufflé of a film, like a summer love, may not be one you remember all your life, but you'll certainly enjoy it while it lasts. We were in need of a laugh last weekend, and it certainly provided an amusing distraction.

Friday, September 16, 2005

OPERA: The Grand Duchess

Last night my opera buddy Denny and I enjoyed the Los Angeles Opera production of Offenbach's The Grand Duchess. What a delightful, hilarious romp! As I've mentioned before, Los Angeles Opera benefits from LA being rich in creative talent as the home of the entertainment industry. In this production, Garry Marshall, creator of numerous TV sitcoms (including Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and The Odd Couple), director of many films (including Pretty Woman, Beaches, and The Princess Diaries), not only directed but adapted the French operetta. Marshall took Offenbach's music and the original libretto, and added his own comic touches. Just before the curtain went up, a bespectacled man with a wild shock of gray hair, who seemed to be the conductor, appeared and received polite welcoming applause, and egged the audience for more. Just then, the real condutor appeared, and tapped the other on the shoulder, "Excuse me, but what is this, guest conductor night? Who are you?" Comes the amiable reply, "Ah pardon, monsieur, but I am Jacques Offenbach! And I'll be back often!" And indeed he was. Marshall added the character of Offenbach, who appeared at various times throughout the performance for amusing narration and color commentary. This set the overall tone of the opera poking fun at itself, as the performers frequently stepped out of character for self-conscious asides to the audience. In this version, the Grand Duchess' favorite confidant is her little dog Morrie, and when we first meet Morrie (played by an adorable mutt all dressed up), one of the characters explains that the Duchess' dog Morrie is a male dog, but he's being played by Bertha, a female dog, and this is a rare "canine trouser role". In the opening of the second act, the royal hall is filled with dancing ladies of the court, receiving letters from their soldier husbands and lovers. And amidst them is a maid in traditional black skirt and white apron with a feather duster, scurrying around dusting everything, with marvelous physical comedy. She's dusting under the large dresses of the ladies, and at one point, she's dusting break-dance style in circles on the floor. And there were also the contemporary quips. At one point, the Duchess is reflecting on the history of murder and scheming in her family, debating whether she had it in her to join in a murder plot. Deciding against it, she quips, "It's not like I'm one of the Sopranos. I'm a mezzo!" At another point, a newly appointed general is commenting on the old general he's replaced: "He's not a bad guy really, although he was always a bit paranoid about the enemy invading, ranting about their secret weapons." Even the supertitles got into the comic act. While all of the singing was in the original French, all of the spoken dialog was done in English. After the opening numbers when the cast first switched into English, the supertitle flashed "Well obviously they're speaking English now and you don't need us anymore, so stop looking up here. But we'll be back when they sing in French again!"

Clearly much of this was Marshall's innovation, but Offenbach himself was constantly revising his material to suit his audience, and I have to think that he would have whole-heartedly approved. And the performance was one of those that the cast seemed to be having a hoot themselves, a contagious spirit that just made it all even funnier. I certainly can't remember an opera where I've laughed more, out-loud and often. I should add that I don't think the comedy came at the expense of the opera. There were some top-notch performers here, including Frederica von Stade as the Duchess (a great actress as well as a beautiful voice), baritone Rod Gilfry (apparently he's no longer Rodney) as Prince Paul, and tenor Paul Groves who was marvelous as Private-cum-General Fritz. The sets and costumes lent a vivacious and colorful Belle Epoque texture to the whole affair. What fun!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

FOOD: Patina

Last Saturday, we took our friends Mark and Heather out to Patina for a special dinner. They had not been to the new Patina, nor had they been to the Disney Hall yet, so we arrived early and took a stroll around the "steel artichoke" and its gardens. It's a great addition to our downtown, and there are some nice spaces to wander around the building. The new Patina is nicely tucked into a corner of the concert hall, with a small outside patio and some window space. The room is modern, but understated, the most striking feature being wavy white ceiling "strips" with light coming from above them.

Dinner at Patina has always been a special treat. They serve some of the finest food in the city, and they do it in keeping with the French dinner tradition, with several courses, and little treats and tidbits between courses, all best enjoyed over the course of a leisurely evening. (While Patina is well-located for a pre-concert or pre-theater dinner, I couldn't imagine doing it the injustice. We were horrified when our waiter told us that some people arrive there at 7pm and expect to be out for an 8pm curtain.)

As we pondered the menu, a server brought us an interesting selection of delicious breads, including a dark olive bread and potato rolls. Our waiter was helpful in navigating the menu, especially for Heather and for George who each had special dietary concerns, and they were very accommodating in making rearrangements to suit. Shortly after our order was settled, a delightful "amuse bouche" arrived, a piece of sashimi in aromatic oil and tiny bits of fruit, just the thing to wake up our tastebuds.

For our appetizers, I opted for my "usual", the ocean quartet, a sampler of delicious seafood morsels varying with the season. Tonight it comprised a morsel of lobster clawmeat in a delicately seasoned crème, a chunk of hamachi sashimi with bits of mango, a piece of salmon sashimi in mustard sauce, and a fresh oyster on a bed of rock salt. The quartet is elegantly presented on a large square plate, with four small square plates that fit into the larger one. As I enjoyed my seafood, Mark and Heather savored a Hudson Valley foie gras with apricots and almonds, and George enjoyed his off-menu heirloom tomato salad.

Meanwhile, our wine arrived, a 2002 Justin Isosceles. (The wine list was a bit overwhelming. Patina has an extensive wine collection, with vertical flights from many wineries. Serious wine cognoscenti may appreciate this, but I found it a bit daunting, with the wine list reading a bit like a phone book. And I have to say the prices were a bit daunting as well. On this list, a very modest price bottle was $60-80, and the markups were around 150%.) Fortunately, the sommelier pointed out several suggestions based on our dinner choices, and I jumped at a name that I recognized and had very good memories of. I've always had great experiences with wines from Justin, a Paso Robles (central California) winery, and particularly remember the Isosceles from a wine-tasting several years ago. It is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, but balanced with a bit of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The result is as wonderful as I remembered it, very fruity, rich and velvety, like cherries and chocolate.

Presently, our main course was served, and I found myself greatly enjoying a succulent Kurobuta pork chop, topped with braised veal sweetbreads and chanterelle mushrooms in a mushroom glaze, and accompanied by gnocchi. (I'd been immediately drawn on the menu to that combination of several of my favorite things.) Meanwhile, George and Mark both enjoyed a saddle of lamb, and Heather had seared encrusted ahi tuna in a huckleberry emulsion with fava beans.

While all of this was superb, what followed is perhaps Patina's finest feature: the cheese course. Not only do they have the fine French tradition of a cheese course served from a cart from which there are many selections, but they have Andrew Steiner, their maitre fromager (think sommelier for cheese) to guide you through the selections. (Can you think of a better job than that?) This man loves cheese and knows cheese like nobody else, obtains marvelous cheeses from around the world, and makes the whole process of choosing cheese a delight. We got a plate of five samples to share, which ended up being seven after Mr. Steiner tossed in a few bonuses. (Mark and Heather related a story of flying business class on Air France last year on their honeymoon, which they said was excellent. After dinner had been finished, the attendant asked if they would like to have cheese before dessert. Their reaction: "But of course, we're not barbarians!") Our selections made, we embarked on our cheese flight in the recommended order, from milder to more powerful. We started with Chaource, from Champagne, a creamy mild cheese a bit like Brie but with a bit of salt and bite to it. Next came Ubriaco (Italian for "drunken"), a hard cow's milk cheese from Calabria that is aged in barrels that had held merlot. Then a Pecorino Fresco from Tuscany, not as hard and dry as Pecorino usually is, with a rich flavor. Fourth in the line-up was Monte Enebro, a hand-crafted goat cheese from Avila, Spain, hard but very smooth (not at all like typical goat cheese) and with a finish almost like a hint of bleu. Next, Tallegio, a cow's milk cheese from Lombardy, with quite a pungent aroma, but smooth and soft taste with a hint of earthiness. A dollop of fromage fort, a whipped cheese with garlic and herbs that spread deliciously on dark bread, had been made by Mr. Steiner himself. And our finale was Valdeon, a strong blue cheese from Leon, Spain, made from goat, cow, and sheep. Nearly as strong as Cabrales (the benchmark for strong blue), it was perfect with a bit of honey.

Continuing with the French dinner tradition, dessert comes after cheese. Mark enjoyed a cheesecake brulee, while George took a chocolate/espresso mousse with a praline crust, accompanied by an artisanal cream sherry. Heather and I both went for apricot tarte tatin with lychee sorbet, which turned out to be several tartelettes, each the size of a half apricot over marvelously light flaky pastry. It went perfectly with a glass of muscat. Andfinally, as in France, a post-dessert handful of small sweets, chocolates, and biscotti.

Ahhhhh. Dinner as it should be.

Monday, September 12, 2005

STAGE: Wicked

Over Labor Day, George and I finally got the chance to see Wicked. We'd been wanting to see this since it had gotten so much buzz on Broadway, but we didn't plan far enough ahead when we went to New York, and I wasn't fast enough on the ball to get tickets here in Los Angeles before the entire 6-week run quickly sold out. So we made a trip to San Francisco to see it there. We are so glad we did. The show is absolutely phenomenal: great music, great story, great performances, great staging. It completely deserved to win Best Musical Tony and then some. Some shows are enjoyable for an evening, but every once in a while, you experience a show that you know you'll remember for years if not a lifetime. (I enjoyed Avenue Q, but will remember Wicked a lot longer.)

So what makes Wicked so incredible? Any classic show has a great story for its foundation. Wicked begins with a creative concept: the "back story" of the Wizard of Oz, expaining what really went on before and during the story we know so well. Imbue the story with great characters and great themes. In this upside-down Oz story, we only catch a fleeting glimpse of Dorothy's shadow, while the focus is on Elphaba (later known as the Wicked Witch of the West) and Glinda (the "good witch"). Subverting everything we thought we knew about Oz, we learn that Elphaba may not actually have been so wicked after all, but perhaps just misunderstood because she is green. There is great character development in the interaction between Elphaba and Glinda (who is, in a word, blonde) as fate makes them roommates at school. One of the great themes dealt with in this story is judging people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. (While the green-skinned Elphaba primarily makes this point, it has also been subtly reinforced with some of race-blind casting. On Broadway, Ben Vereen played the Wizard of Oz, while in San Francisco, we had a white Wizard and the handsome black actor Derrick Williams took over the romantic lead which was created on Broadway by white Norbert Leo Butz.) Another great theme is the conflict between being true to your own values versus doing what is popular and politically expedient. The Wizard is a man of the expedient school, and while he is not very admirable, he does make a wise point when he explains (in song) to Elphaba that history is written by the winners, and the only difference between a dictator and a liberator is in who is telling the tale. As the story sounds notes on these lofty themes, the characters evolve in interesting ways, primarily Elphaba and Glinda, but also Fiyero (the romantic interest), the Wizard, and Elphaba's sister Nessarose (a.k.a. the Wicked Witch of the East). The story is neither simple nor sugar-coated, but from its darkish Dickensian tone, notes of hope and heroism come through, though alloyed by realism and cynicism.

This intriguing story is elevated and made to soar with music that is still in my head weeks later (and not because I bought the CD -- I didn't -- though I put it on my Amazon wish list). From laugh-out-loud numbers like "What is this Feeling?" (when Elphaba and Galinda first meet) and "Popular" (Galinda doing an "extreme makeover" on Elphaba), to show-stopping inspirational numbers like "The Wizard and I" and "Defying Gravity", to the beautiful, tear-drawing "For Good", Stephen Schwarz' music and lyrics are classic. Add to this a marvelous set that enhances the production at every turn, with some impressive stagecraft, but no gimmickry for gimmickry's sake (a lesson that the LA Center Theatre Group's new artistic director appears to be learning the hard way, but that's another story).

The cast were all very talented. Eden Espinoza was awesome as Elphaba, with a voice that stopped the house more than once. And Emily Rozek, who was the understudy for Galinda, was more than equal to the task -- were it not for the slip of paper in the program, we'd never have known she wasn't the "star". Derrick Williams was great as Fiyero, the playboy prince who is deeper than he thinks he is, and David Garrison was notable as a Harold Hill-ish Wizard of Oz. We also missed Carol Kane, who plays Madame Morrible, but Brooke Elliott made the part her own.

I don't know why they're doing such short runs in major cities like LA and SF. This could have easily run for months if not years in Los Angeles, as the Phantom did. But if you have to hop on a plane to New York, Chicago, or somewhere else, go see this musical!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A Geocaching 9/11 Memorial

When I started this blog, one of the things I said I might write about was geocaching, a fun hobby (some might say addiction) that I picked up a couple years ago. In its typical form, geocaching combines navigational skills using a GPSr, sleuthing ability to find hidden objects, and often (though not necessarily) hiking. The sport is organized through a website,, where participants have registered nearly two hundred thousand active geocaches in over two hundred countries around the world. The typical geocache is a tupperware container holding a log book and possibly some trinkets, hidden or camouflaged in a spot whose exact latitude/longitude coordinates are posted on the website, along with a description of the cache. On the website, you can enter a location (by lat/long, zip code, or country/state) and discover the listings of geocaches that have been hidden near you. The object is to use your GPSr and sleuthing ability to find the cache, sign the log book, trade some trinkets if you like, and then report the find by posting a virtual log entry at the website. People have been incredibly creative in variations on the theme, and there are now urban caches (often hidden in small hide-a-key containers or film cannisters) as well as ones in the wilderness, and "virtual" caches (where there is no actual container, but you must do something to prove you were at the site, like take a photo, or answer some question that can only be answered by actually visiting). The sport had tremendous appeal to me, as I've long been a "map geek" and loved navigation, I've always loved solving puzzles (and loved "hide and seek" as a kid), and I enjoy a good hike. (My geocaching nickname, DeadReckoner, comes from the fact that I found my first 50 geocaches without actually having a GPSr, just using map and navigation skills. The GPSr definitely makes it easier.)

I've had a number of great caching experiences, but the one I wanted to write about on this particular day is a fairly simple geocache called California 9-11. This cache initially just pointed to a memorial in a Burbank CA park, a plaque that lists the names of the 78 Californians who died on 9/11, but has since become a memorial in its own right. Originally, it was an urban microcache, a small container hidden nearby the spot. As sometimes happens, the container was discovered accidentally by non-geocachers ("geo-muggles") and pilfered. The owner of the cache (whose nickname is "Brainerd") temporarily converted the cache to a "virtual" cache, asking those who found it to prove that they had visited by logging the next name off of the list. At some point early on, a geocacher elaborated on this request by not only logging a name off of the list, but by doing a bit of online research and providing a few personal details about her. Many of the cachers who have visited since have carried on this tradition, each adding a new name to the logs, and in some cases providing entire mini-biographies. Inspired by this response, Brainerd decided it was appropriate to let it remain a virtual cache instead of trying to put a new container there. This virtual log is keeping the memories alive of these people who perished on 9/11, not only listing their names, but recounting their occupations, experiences, lives, and hopes. It has become a virtual equivalent of the AIDS Quilt, a way to memorialize these people not only in the "volume" of a long list, but making each one very personal. I have subscribed to this cache on my watchlist, a feature that causes me to get email each time a new person adds a log to this cache. Even two years of getting these emails, they have not lost their ability to inspire a moment of reflection. Thanks to Brainerd for putting up this cache. Here's to the memory of all of the hopes, dreams, and lives that were cut short four years ago today.

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Disaster Response Disaster

It's been remiss of me not to say something about Katrina. It's not that it hasn't been on my mind, but so much has already been adequately covered and said elsewhere (Andrew Sullivan, for example, has been on Katrina 24x7) that for me to add anything of significance (and properly researched and sourced, as I try to do on this blog) is beyond the small amount of time I've had to devote to it (this blog thing is only a part-time job after all, which comes after working 10-hour days, cooking dinner for my husband, and doing household chores). Looking back on my blog though, I admit it gives an unduly cavalier impression for me to have been writing about restaurant and film reviews, or even gay marriage, this past week while so many fellow Americans are displaced, distressed, or dead. On the other hand, it's hard for me to seem more cavalier than President Bush, playing golf the day after the hurricane struck and only reluctantly cutting short his 5-week vacation days later to go strum a guitar and cheer up Trent Lott who lost his coastal home but by golly will build a better one with a new and improved sea-front view. Or Secretary of State Rice, who was shopping for boots in Manhattan, while generous offers of help from around the world went unanswered for days. Or Vice-President Cheney, also on vacation, in Wyoming and then scouting out multi-million dollar Chesapeake Bay vacation homes. (I wonder if his vacation included another duck hunt with Justice Scalia, who could have been lobbying for the Chief post before the late Chief Justice's body is even cold. The two old boys could have shared some reminiscences of last year's trip to Louisiana. What a shame if that good duck-hunting ground was damaged in the storm.)

As with most disasters, this brings out the best and the worst in people. The best: the amazing professionals and volunteers who have plunged into the muck and chaos to help; the generosity of people around the country and around the world who have offered money, supplies, help, homes. The worst: idiots shooting at hospitals and rescue helicopters; looters (those stealing TVs and camcorders and such, not to be confused with those legitimately appropriating necessities); scammers setting up fraudulent web sites to steal money under the con of Katrina aid.

But it's just impossible to ignore the appalling incompetence of the government in responding to the disaster. While the government gave excuses about the ciy being inaccessible due to roads and communication lines being down, and needing more time to mobilize, news organizations like CNN had people on the ground and communications set up almost immediately. Companies with a large commercial presence in the affected area were quickly mobilized to get help to their employees, and get their business operations resumed. Walmart was expeditious (as well as quite generous) in getting truckloads of essential supplies into places where it was needed. In battered St. Bernard Parish, the first rescuers they saw were the Vancouver Urban Search & Rescue Team that had come down from Canada. All those good people rolled up their shirtsleeves, got organized, and got to work, while President Bush and Governor Blanco were the first to start the "blame game" pointing fingers at each other, reporters were having to explain to a clueless FEMA Director where the Morial Convention Center was, and the FEMA "leadership" was sending trucks and planes to the wrong places and being nearly as much a hindrance as a help. Some people are speculating that FEMA Director Michael Brown ought to be fired, just because he is political patronage hack lacking any substantive qualifications for the job he was appointed to, may have falsified his resume, and bungled the most important task in his organization's charter. Remember, however, that this is the Bush Administration. Accountability means nothing. Brown may be angling for a Medal of Freedom.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Open Letter to Governor Schwarzenegger

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger,

I urge you to reconsider your just-announced decision to veto the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act. While I understand your stated reason -- respecting the will of the people as expressed five years ago in Prop 22 -- I hope you will consider a couple of points. On this issue, people have been evolving. As a gay man, I can tell you from experience that our society has changed dramatically in the last five years, and even more in ten years. A new Public Policy Institute poll found Californians equally split on this issue, 46% in favor of marriage equality, 46% opposed. This is a big chnge from five years ago when Prop 22 was passed. More importantly, you can see the direction it is moving. An increasing number of Californians recognize marriage equality for same-sex couples as the right thing to do. (And I believe that you in your heart know it is the right thing.) Given the changes of the last five years, it's not hard to predict the next five. Consider how you will be viewed only five years from now. If you veto this bill today, people looking back will see you as they now look back on Gov. Wallace of Alabama, blocking the university door to black students. On the other hand, signing this bill today is an opportunity to demonstrate your independence and leadership (the reasons I and many others voted for you). You will be leading the people, slightly ahead of them but not too far ahead, just where a leader should be. You'll be on the right side of justice and history. And you'll make a huge difference for California's nearly one hundred thousand same-sex couples (including my domestic partner husband and me).

Respectfully yours,
Thomas R. Chatt

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A Great Moment, Perhaps Short-Lived

Well, the California Assembly has done it!!! With the Assembly passing the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, just a few days after the Senate passed it, California becomes the first state whose legislature has voluntarily enacted marriage equality for same-sex couples. The victory hinged on three Assemblymembers who had abstained when the measure first fell short in June. There were some inspirational comments made on the Assembly floor. Assemblymember Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana), one of the swing votes, noted that he was "cajoled, harangued, harassed, and threatened" by partisans on both sides, but that he ultimately saw this as a defining moment to lead, and to set an example for his own three children: "I wanted them to look back and see where I was when we could make a difference, if I stood with those who took a leadership role in terms of tolerance, equality, and fairness. And I'll be proud to say I did." Another swing voter, Assemblymember Gloria Negrete McCloud (D-Santa Barbara County), said she was swayed by a reading of the Declaration of Independence, a reminder that one of country's core values is "justice for all". (The measure passed 41-35, on a completely party line vote, with no Republicans for and no Democrats against.) Meanwhile, losers such as Assemblymember Jay LaSuer (R-La Mesa) couldn't see the leadership: "You are not leading. You have gone astray." I'm confident that history will show who was on the right side of this one.

Unfortunately, in the short term, justice may be forestalled yet again. The latest releases this evening indicate that Governor Schwarzenegger intends to veto the measure. His statement cited the passage of Prop 22, an initiative statute passed in 2000 by 61% that outlawed California's recognition of same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions. The act that was just passed by the legislature technically does not conflict with Prop 22, though I would concede that it is a fine point. (Should the new legislation become law, California would be in the strange position of allowing same-sex marriage within the state, but not recognizing those performed anywhere else.) The Governor is concerned that the Legislature is defying the will of the people as expressed in Prop 22 five years ago. He has made positive statements about full equal rights for gays and lesbians, but has said it is up to the people or the courts to decide. (Personally, reading between the lines, I think the Governor is hoping that the Supreme Court will do the right thing when the issue reaches them, perhaps next year.) However, I think that the Governor is underestimating how much popular opinion may have moved on this issue in the last five years. From my own personal experience, I can vouch that society has shifted leaps and bounds in the last five years (and even more so in the last ten). A recent Public Policy Institute poll of Californians found virtually equal numbers supporting and opposing marriage equality. So, I'm going to send a letter to the Governor urging him to be on the side of justice (as well as history) and reconsider his decision to veto. Please join me in sending him a letter, or just take a moment to call. You'll find the Governor's contact info here.

Friday, September 02, 2005

FOOD: Jardiniere

San Francisco has always been one of the world's top restaurant towns, and we were glad to discover on a recent visit that it hasn't lost its luster. Visiting here this weekend, we treated ourselves to dinner at Jardiniere this evening, an old favorite. The room is as beautiful as ever, arranged around three sides of a central bar, with a horse-shoe-shaped upper level overlooking the bar. The arrangement of bottles and glasses in the bar positively sparkles, complimented by the art deco scalloped light fixtures around the room, giving the whole scene an effervescent luminescence. At the back of the upper level, an excellent jazz trio performs. The tables are discreetly spaced so that conversation is possible, yet you can still enjoy gazing around the room to see what other people are eating and wearing (the people-watching was quite good sport there).

Amidst this lovely setting, the food exceeds expectations. I started with a duck confit salad, a delicious morsel of duck breast with crispy skin but moist tender meat inside, atop super fresh haricots verts and corn, with a bit of frissee lettice, and drizzled in a port emulsion and corn milk. (Jardiniere is famous for dealing with local farm produce and getting very fresh ingredients. It shows, and it's worth it.) I relished every bite. George enjoyed his simple salad of heirloom tomatoes with shaved ricotta dura cheese (taste like ricotta but more flavor, a bit of salt, and hard like parmesan), with a savory drizzle over it.

For my main, I had a perfectly pan-seared pork chop, served over Italian butter beans and braising greens, and topped with sour cherries and almonds. It was an innovative and delightful flavor combination. And the pork chop was just sensational, sliced thickly, and incredibly flavorful, tender and juicy. (When I commented on it, the waitress told us that they brine the pork chop in milk. I should also have asked about where the pork comes from, as I know Jardiniere prides itself on earth-friendly sustainable resources.) I savored it. George's main was a beautiful piece of salmon, served with roasted artichokes, cherry tomatoes, fingerling potatoes, and some olives. Our meals were nicely complimented by a glass of Volnay for me and Meursault for George. (They had nice selection of wines by the glass, as well as split bottles.)

For dessert, I had a macadamia coconut tart served with a coconut sorbet. The tart was delicious, on a light and flaky pastry shell, big pieces of macadamia nuts, and in a coconut base that was naturally sweet but not overly so. The sorbet was done the same way, tasting naturally sweet of coconut but without heavy added sugar. George had a vanilla crème brulee (the dessert menu was very constrained, as it usually is, by his gluten allergy, though the staff were very accommodating and attentive about this throughout the meal). In perusing their extensive after-dinner libation menu, I noticed that they offered Old Potrero Rye, which I had recently read about and decided I needed to try. It was really quite good, neither smoky nor floral, but with a pure grain flavor and very aromatic, as a great whiskey should be. (I'll be keeping my eyes open for a bottle.) George complimented his dessert with a glass of eiswein, which was quite nice. All in all, it was a top-notch dining experience.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Proud to be a Californian Tonight

I heard the good news on the radio as I was driving home from work today, and let out a whoop. The California Senate has become the first legislative body in the nation to enact gay marriage without being forced by a court mandate. The bill passed 21-15, the minimum majority needed. (I see that my senator is listed as absent or abstaining. Hmmm.) Apparently, there was some quite passionate debate on the Senate floor, including one Senator who has been interracially married for 50 years. (California was a leader in that regard, when the state Supreme Court struck down miscegenation laws in 1948.) Three Senators who are planning to run for state-wide offices next year spoke out for justice, despite heavy targeting by the Pharisees religious right. Kudos to them for doing the right thing.

Of course it's not a done deal yet. The bill now goes back to the Assembly, where it fell short by three votes earlier this year, but they may be able to gain a few votes now having passed the Senate. In addition, Equality California has been working overtime to recruit additional support, and has gained the support of the United Farm Workers (including UFW political director Christine Chavez, who noted that her grandfather, labor leader Cesar Chavez, was a longtime gay rights supporter). Even if they squeak through the Assembly, nobody knows what Governor Schwarzenegger will do. He has not taken any official position on it. But for the moment, I'm going to relish the positive news.