August 08, 2005

Taking Place

Once upon a time I was a big comic book geek, albeit one who stuck to black-and-white, independently-produced books rather than superhero dreck. The one character who could lure me into the mainstream was Batman, especially the dark, emotionally-damaged incarnation of Batman. It is that version of the story that director Christopher Nolan and actor Christian Bale tap into for Batman Begins, and by doing so they have completely rescued a franchise that was spiralling downward from Tim Burton's quirky gothic vision into rubber-costume hell. The film explores the story of how Bruce Wayne first took on the persona of the Dark Knight, and there are plenty of shots of him sitting high above Gotham (a CGI-enhanced Chicago) seemingly lost deep in thought. Fitting, because this is a thinking woman's Batman who is struggling to find the right path between justice and vengeance, and not always quite succeeding. I would place Batman Begins right up there next to Ang Lee's The Hulk as comic book adaptations that I love for being about so much more than mere superhero escapism, and for being beautifully art-directed besides. I would have gladly paid full price to see it, but Aimee and I were lucky to catch it at 2-for-1 night at the Parkway.

The next evening after work I drove over to the Civic Center to hear Kim Addonizio read from her new novel Little Beauties at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books. I arrived early and walked smack into a bounteous wine and cheese reception for the local author, which had I known about it I would have skipped dinner. Addonizio is best known for her poetry, but Little Beauties is her first fictional work. The passages she read were full of sharp, funny insight into human nature, whether she was describing an obsessive-compulsive housewife or an unwed teenage mother, and it was interesting to hear her talk about the different processes she employs when she is writing prose versus when she is writing poetry.

Addonizio's book is set in Long Beach, not far from the Los Angeles that Francesca Lia Block writes about in her Weetzie Bat books. I have been listening to Aimee rave about those books for years, and she and I went to go hear Block read from the latest Weetzie novel Necklace of Kisses at the Booksmith Friday night. The audience was filled with teenage girls who were beside themselves with happiness at the chance to hear their idol, and it was impossible not to catch some of their glee. So many of these young women spoke of how Block's books helped them through hard times or when they felt like they didn't fit in, and the author was visibly touched. After the reading Aimee stood in line to have her Dangerous Angels collection inscribed to Sophie, and then she pressed it into my hands for borrowing. I read through Weetzie Bat in one sitting when I got home, and if I hadn't already been thinking of moving back to southern California, I sure am now.

Luckily I've already got a trip scheduled to visit LA next weekend to go soak up the sun and run around with some of my favorite people. And a month after that I'll be heading out to New York for the first time since the total headfuck that was my 2003. I was already very excited about the NYC trip, and then I watched the first episode of Ric Burns's New York documentary, "The Country and the City," and that just heightened my anticipation. These first hours of the PBS series covered New York's origins as the Dutch trading post Nieuw Amsterdam through to the building of the Erie Canal and the institution of the plan for Manhattan's grid system. Burns tells the story through a wealth of historical documents as well as commentary from notable folklorists, politicians, historians, and writers to keep things lively. I hope to devour the remaining episodes before I go.

Let me not neglect the treasures my own San Francisco has to offer, however, like the amazing series of free summer concerts in Stern Grove. So far this year I've already enjoyed Flamenco hip-hop from Ojos de Brujo and gorgeous vocal harmonies from Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Sunday afternoon Maria de Barros and Waldemar Bastos were on the schedule, and I joined JD and Logan in the Grove early enough to get an excellent seat on the grass. Maria de Barros performed sexy sexy party music from Cabo Verde, the country where my brother Brent just so happens to be spending the next two years of his life. I can only hope he's had a chance to enjoy some of that music on the islands already. After the intermission Waldemar Bastos took the stage, and when he wasn't singing songs of joy and sadness about his native country of Angola he was completely mesmerizing the audience with his acoustic guitar. I just felt lucky to be there.


Batman Begins
A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books
Kim Addonizio
Francesca Lia Block
New York
Stern Grove
Waldemar Bastos
Maria de Barros

Posted by nightfall at August 8, 2005 09:48 PM