Cary Park water temporarily stopped, but now continues to flow

As of today, the broken sprinkler head on the SE corner of Cary Park continues to release water steadily into the gutter. It has been one week since I first noticed it, and it has been 5 days since the leak was reported to the city.

As of today, the broken sprinkler head on the SE corner of Cary Park continues to release water steadily into the gutter. It has been one week since I first noticed it, and it has been 5 days since the leak was reported to the city.

This past Friday, as I left the house, I spotted two white City of Fresno trucks in Cary Park. Repairmen were looking at the sprinkler heads, two days after my initial blog post about the daily watering of Augusta Street. When I came back in the afternoon, the busted sprinkler head at the SE corner of the park, which had been quietly releasing water into the street since at least the start of the week, looked like it had been dug up and presumably repaired. At a glance, the curb looked dry. I then posted a tweet saying that the city appeared to have fixed and adjusted the sprinklers. I felt happy and relieved. The city said it would fix the problem and it looked like they did.

But then I noticed on Saturday that a bigger plume of water had formed in the gutter alongside Holland School. On Sunday, I walked over to check it out and I was heartbroken to trace the source: The same busted city sprinkler head at the edge of Cary Park was again flowing. And it’s still flowing today. I’m not a landscape guy, so I’m not sure how these kinds of repairs work, but it seems like this water leak must be coming from somewhere deeper than the sprinkler head at the surface. I’m not sure when the city plans to come back. I hope it can be fixed soon, so I can get back to focusing on not-watering my own (mostly brown) yard!

Local journalist Joe Moore and the news team at Valley Public Radio have invited me to come on their Valley Edition program on Tuesday to talk about “drought shaming” and my blog posts from last week. Also appearing will be city spokesperson Mark Standriff, as well as someone from the state water board. I’m looking forward to seeing how the conversation develops. The show airs live on FM 89 from 9 to 10 a.m., and the re-broadcast airs from 7 to 8 p.m. I think our segment is scheduled second, and it’ll run for about 15 minutes or so.

In the comments section of my second blog post last week, Mr. Standriff invited me to ask more questions about the city’s water plans. He pointed to 10 “water conservation representatives” that the city apparently has on hand to respond to residents. Among other things, I’d like to know more about what exactly those folks do. (The Fresno Bee less flatteringly called those 10 city employees “water cops” in their Sunday cover story on the drought.) If the VPR segment runs short, I’ll post more questions here so that Mr. Standriff and the city can respond in full and so that others can chime in too.

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City pauses overwatering, blames the homeless

So first, the good news.

After I wrote a blog post yesterday calling out the City of Fresno for its daily watering of Augusta Street alongside Cary Park, a wide range of friends and strangers on Facebook, Twitter, and in local media responded by sharing, retweeting, and engaging with the story. This morning, as I made my morning walk, the sprinklers were off for the first time this week and the city’s overwatering of Cary Park was paused–for now.

Now, the bad news.

As my new video above shows, there’s still a busted City of Fresno sprinkler head on the SE corner of Cary Park, where the water has been leaking into the street 24/7 for at least four days. The broken sprinkler head is on the edge of the park where people with cars–including city vehicles–often drive over the curb and onto the park’s grass. Local journalist Mariana Jacob and a news crew from ABC30 captured the quiet gusher in action yesterday as well, as part of their story on the challenges of water wasting that both the city and others are facing. It aired last night on ABC30’s 11 o’clock news.

Here’s what upsets me about the city’s response. In the ABC30 story, the city’s public works director, Scott Mozier, blames the homeless for the broken sprinkler head, rather than accepting responsibility himself. He says: “People [are] vandalizing and breaking into boxes to be able to get water out of the system, and sometimes that’s damaging the irrigation system.”

The homeless? Really, Mr. Mozier? Yes, the city’s public relations strategy for owning up to its own water wasting and lack of oversight and prompt fixes to public parks seems to be to blame the homeless, some of the most vulnerable people in our city, a group that our mayor and city manager saw fit to flush from downtown in a series of removals the past two years. A friend of mine on Facebook yesterday commented that he’d heard from neighbors near Einstein Park that sometimes the city would run the sprinklers in that park all night in order to keep the homeless from sleeping there. I thought that might have just been a rumor, but perhaps giving the city the benefit of the doubt on having such a strategy would be too kind.

Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 7.55.57 AM

So, let me be clear.

First: Dear city, please come and fix this gushing sprinkler head in Cary Park. Mr. Mozier told ABC30 that when fixes are reported, “We will be jumping on that. If there’s a repair that needs to be made, we’ll make it happen.” How about today?

Second: Dear city, own your mistakes and stop blaming others. If the city’s high-paid communications director, Mark Standriff, is asking local journalists (like VPR’s Ezra Romero, in the above photo’s Twitter exchange) to give the city a chance to have its voice heard, it better be ready to point the finger at itself when necessary.

Finally, as the city prepares to move us to “Stage 2” watering restrictions on Aug. 1, which will include fines for violators who run water unchecked into the street, I ask this question: Is the city prepared to fine itself the state-mandated $500 per day for mistakes like this broken sprinkler head in Cary Park, as it seems poised to fine residents?

The city says to call 559 621-5300 to report problems you see with the city’s water wasting in parks and medians. I say, take them up on it.

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The daily watering of Augusta Street

Local news outlets reported Tuesday that the City of Fresno would be implementing “Stage 2” water restrictions beginning Aug. 1, in response to our state’s historic drought. That means that not only will the city be limiting residents to outdoor watering only two days per week, but that the city would also be stepping up its monitoring and fines for violators.

The move to fewer watering days seems long overdue to me. But I have mixed feelings about the move to more monitoring and fines when the City of Fresno itself continues its wasteful watering all over town. Case in point: the daily watering of my block of Augusta Street, next to the thick, green grass surrounding the baseball diamonds at Cary Park behind Fashion Fair Mall.

I’ve been taking my morning walk at 5 a.m. every weekday this summer, and the city has faithfully been watering both the park and a big stretch of Augusta Street every weekday as well. Let’s ignore for a moment that the current water restrictions on residents limits them to three days per week and that the city breaks its own rules by watering every weekday from 5:15 until 6 a.m. Let’s focus instead on the persistent lack of lawn trimming around the sprinkler heads, to prevent puddling. Let’s focus on the misdirected streams of water that spray halfway into the street each and every day and that blanket the full street from curb to curb with sprays on days like today when there’s just a bit of a breeze. And let’s focus on the multiple pools of standing water throughout the park caused by daily overwatering, creating ideal conditions for Little Leaguers and walkers to sink into the mud, twist their ankles, and fear mosquitos. (Hello, paging vector control!)

Although “drought shaming” seems to be growing in popularity in California — TV stations all over the state and even The New York Times have widely reported on the trend — I’m not at all interested in spying on my neighbors. One of my neighbors, in fact, saw me making photos of the city’s wasteful watering this morning and felt the urge, without prompting, to defend his own watering habits for his putting-green perfect lawn. His water guilt is his own. But what I am most interested in is some basic accountability from our fair city.

Mayor Swearengin, City Manager Rudd, and all the parks employees out there: When are you going to follow your own rules? Please stop watering Augusta Street every day, and please stop overwatering Cary Park.

UPDATE: The city tweeted at me the following reply this morning, a couple hours after my post went up. Let’s hope their parks people follow up as quickly as their social media people do!
Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 9.44.17 AM

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Rewind 2013: 10 Good Things That Happened To Me

Inspired by a year-end list made by my friend, colleague, and former student Olga Verkhotina, I decided to sit down and reflect on at least 10 good things that happened to me this past year.

My wife and me in Pixley, on the art bus tour.

My wife and me in Pixley, on the art bus tour.

1. Sharing my 100 Days, 100 Portraits project
In the 100 days from Feb. 24 to June 2, I managed to make and post 100 portraits to my Instagram feed, a daily feat of artistic self-discipline that I still in many ways cannot believe I accomplished. Friends, family, and strangers alike embraced the project, and I felt lucky to present the portraits in three very different venues to three very different audiences: on a Central Valley art bus tour that ranged from Fowler to Pixley and back, in a statewide art festival at a big-city gallery in the heart of San Francisco, and inside a Tower District co-work space designed for Fresno creatives. The whole experience still seems surreal to me, and I’m thankful for the kind responses.

At KQED's Central Valley Bureau production desk.

At KQED’s Central Valley Bureau production desk.

2. Contributing research and field work for KQED
I didn’t produce as much freelance journalism work in 2013 as I had the previous two years, but I learned to be okay with that. The journalistic highlight of my year came in the summer, working with friend and colleague Sasha Khokha of KQED Public Radio. I traveled to Huron, Avenal, and Hanford to contribute field recordings for Sasha’s important radio stories about Rape in the Fields, part of an extensive Frontline multimedia series that documented sexual assault against female farmworkers. And I logged nearly 50 hours as one of two field researchers for the Hunger in the Valley of Plenty project, a Center for Investigative Reporting documentary series on food insecurity in the Central Valley. I learned a lot.

With Carina, Alex, and Matt on the set of NBC 24.

With Carina, Alex, and Matt on the set of NBC 24.

3. Re-joining the Board of Directors at Fresno Filmworks
I’ve been a fan of Filmworks since its inception in 2002, and I’ve been involved with the cultural arts organization in some form since 2007. I decided to re-join the board in December 2012, and I served as Communication Director through July 2013. I then became President in August 2013, through the present. While working with sponsors, donors, and our audience members this past year, I’ve met so many interesting and unusual people that I would never have otherwise met. And on the marketing end, I’ve been plopped down on the other side of the newspaper notebook, TV camera, and radio microphone, now becoming the subject being interviewed by my broadcast journalist friends and colleagues. Representing Filmworks feels like a monthly whirlwind, and it has made me a much stronger media professional, teacher, and communicator in so many ways.

With 2013 Filmworks interns Andrew, Olga, and Colby.

With 2013 Filmworks interns Andrew, Olga, and Colby.

4. Working as a mentor to Filmworks marketing interns
One of my favorite parts of teaching is one-on-one mentoring, something I haven’t had much chance to do in recent years as an adjunct community college instructor with a heavy teaching load. So this past year, I made my own opportunity: At Filmworks, we created a Media Relations and Communication Intern position, with me as the supervisor. The interns have all served as hands-on content producers, creative consultants, and event staff. I got a chance to work with three young media professionals who are all really going places: Olga Verkhotina, Andrew Veihmeyer, and Colby Tibbet. It took a ton of time and energy to meet with them each week, give them feedback on their work, and generally design a worthwhile internship experience for them. But every minute was worth it to me.

Kathleen Hanna in a Sadie Benning music video, on the big screen in Intro to Film Studies.

Kathleen Hanna in a Sadie Benning music video, on the big screen in Intro to Film Studies.

5. Teaching film studies classes
Through my connection with friend, teaching mentor, and fellow Filmworks board member John Moses, I got an amazing opportunity to teach film studies classes at Fresno City College this past year. I taught intro to film in the spring, and I taught cinema history 1960-present in the fall. The whole experience was a real crash course for me in visual literacy and film theory, not to mention learning about, understanding, and applying international film history and national cinema movements. Some of my favorite film discoveries and re-discoveries of the year included: Federico Fellini’s “8 1/2,” Maya Deren’s “Meshes of the Afternoon,” Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth,” and Sally Potter’s “Orlando.” I fell a bit behind catching new movies over the course of the year, because I was so busy studying old movies! Watching movies sure makes for tough homework assignments (wink wink, nudge nudge).

The newly restored Old Administration Building at FCC.

The newly restored Old Administration Building at FCC.

6. Getting settled as an adjunct instructor at Fresno City College
Fresno State parted ways with me in 2009, after I taught journalism and advised student media there since 2002, and ever since I have bounced around quite a bit on the community college adjunct circuit. The semester-to-semester work uncertainty, especially during the recession, has been one of the most difficult parts of my working life, as I’ve taught multiple subjects and classes at multiple campuses now for five full years. But 2013 seemed to yield a semi-regular assignment for me just five minutes away from my house, all at Fresno City College: one journalism class, one film studies class, and one English composition class. I was assigned the maximum 10 units each semester– the most units a community college adjunct can accept in one district– and even though I was teaching three different classes in three different disciplines, I was still teaching a lot of the same types of material: media literacy, critical thinking, and writing. The volume is never easy; serving about 100 students in the three classes always proves challenging. But knock on wood, it feels like I’ve found a decent spot for now.

My Journ 1 classroom teaching desk in OAB 127.

My Journ 1 classroom teaching desk in OAB 127.

7. Assigning my Journ 1 students an oral history project
The Spring 2014 semester will mark the 10th semester in a row that I’ve taught one section of the Journ 1 intro to mass communication class. Of course, the materials change about every other semester due to the rapid changes in media. But in 2013, I made a big upgrade of my major assignments, inspired by my friend and colleague Susan Currie Sivek, who used to teach journalism at Fresno State but now teaches at Linfield College near Portland, Ore. The big assignment in the class is now an oral history project, where I have the students interview someone 65+ about their media experiences over the course of their lives. Students then produce a 2-minute multimedia clip for sharing with the class and also write a 1000-word paper analyzing the experience and connecting it back to their own media use. The projects are always a hit. It gets students to connect with, figure out, and use the media tools they already have in their pockets. But most importantly, it gives them significant quality time with an elder, and that time always yields profound results.

Reading Dave Eggers on the couch with Morris the Dog.

Reading Dave Eggers on the couch with Morris the Dog.

8. Reading for myself
I’m proud that I read a baker’s dozen worth of books this year, which averages out to about one book per month. I didn’t have much time for reading during the school semesters, but I had a fruitful summer that balanced out the year. For teaching, I read two dense but excellent film studies textbooks, and for my English 1 class I also re-read Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” (spring) and Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club” (fall). I managed to read new books by James Ardaiz, Lee Herrick, and the Masumoto Family while writing three book reviews for Fresno Life Magazine, which was a lot of fun. Beyond that, my selections were eclectic personal choices: “How Music Works” by David Byrne; “Music for Chameleons” by Truman Capote; “What is the What” by Dave Eggers; “The Trial” by Franz Kafka; “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury; and “Orlando” by Virginia Woolf. My book list is already quite long for 2014!

Our first backyard pomegranate turns from green to red.

Our first backyard pomegranate turns from green to red.

9. Moving slowly forward on several home improvement projects
My wife and I didn’t have much extra money this year to do any major house upgrades, but we managed to make a few smaller projects into a reality. In the front yard, we started digging out what’s left of the lawn. We only got about halfway done with that, but this spring we hope to keep going. In the back yard, we planted three new trees– an apricot, a peach, and a nectarine– and we harvested our first crop from our meyer lemon, pomegranate, and tangerine trees, which are now 2-3 years old. We also dug out two new planter boxes for herbs and vegetables, to go with the two active beds we already had. Inside the house, we bought a new dishwasher, and we started working on finishing and painting the walls in the garage. It’s always hard finding the money, time, and energy for home improvement, but we were pleased with our slow and steady progress.

Tracy and her vegan and gluten-free holiday cookies.

Tracy and her vegan and gluten-free holiday cookies.

10. Eating healthier and losing weight
In 2013, my wife transformed our food life at home. In February, Tracy completed a 28-day vegan challenge through her yoga studio and then she spent the rest of the year teaching herself how to cook delicious vegan food. We eliminated all meat products and most dairy products from our kitchen, replacing them with vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains. I decided that I would eat vegan whenever I’m with Tracy. The exceptions: I do still eat Greek yogurt and very small amounts of high-quality cheese, and I do indulge in meat or eggs from time to time when I eat out. But overall, my health and diet have improved drastically. I won’t disclose the pounds lost. But let’s just say that I’ve lost a significant amount of weight, so much that I’ve had to start wearing smaller clothes! Most importantly, on a mostly vegan diet, I feel healthier and happier than I have in a long time. Can’t wait to continue to make more lifestyle improvements in 2014.

What were some of your 2013 highlights? Please share them with me in the comments.

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Rewind 2013: Best albums

Sixto Rodriguez is my favorite musical discovery in 2013-- even though his first album, "Cold Fact," first came out in 1970. Photo via Sony Pictures Classics.

The folk rock of Sixto Rodriguez is my favorite musical discovery in 2013, even though his first studio album, “Cold Fact,” technically came out in 1970. Photo via Sony Pictures Classics.

I have always been a list maker, especially when it comes to music. I even have a whole separate category for lists here on my blog that includes past year-end best-of lists and tons of old playlists from a few years ago when I used to host a weekly college radio show. And don’t even get me started on the 20-plus years of mixtape and mix-CD playlists I’ve got tucked away in safe places– each one of them a little time capsule, ready to bring that moment back to me all over again.

But I’ve noticed something funny happening the past couple years: I’ve quickly grown out of touch with all the newest music, movies, and media that’s out there. Maybe the Internet is just moving too fast for me, but I now find myself mostly unaware of what’s new and hot. In some cases I’ve heard OF it, but I’ve never actually heard it. Or, in a growing number of cases, I’ve just plain missed it. I became overwhelmed with this feeling last year, so much so that I skipped making some kind of year-end music lists in 2012 for the first time I can remember.

This year, as several friends have put their own lists out there and have said they’re looking forward to reading mine, I decided to dip my toe back into the water and make a best album list. More than ever before, this is definitely not a “tops” kind of lists, since I haven’t actually heard much of what new music was officially released in 2013. But instead, I’m focusing on music that was “new to me” and that I found myself returning to over and over again throughout the year, music that I will keep returning to. You’ll see that several of these records were actually released or re-released in 2012, but I just got around to hearing them in 2013. I’m thankful that I did.

2013-rodriguez1. Rodriguez – Cold Fact
Label: Light in the Attic
For my best album of 2013, I picked a record that first came out in 1970. I learned about Sixto Rodriguez in late 2012 with the release of the documentary film “Searching for Sugar Man.” My uncle Jorge Garcia, a Professor Emeritus of Chicano Studies at Cal State Northridge, sent me a generous gift package early this year: a DVD copy of the film– which I’ve shown to my English 1 classes twice now, to rave reviews– and CD copies of the excellent 2008 Light in the Attic re-releases of Rodriguez’s two studio albums, “Cold Fact” and “Coming from Reality.” The hype about the mysterious Rodriguez being the long lost “Chicano Bob Dylan” is inaccurate in only one sense: Rodriguez is actually better.
Favorite track: “This Is Not a Song, It’s an Outburst: Or, the Establishment Blues”

2013-slow-season2. Slow Season – Slow Season
Label: Easy Rider
This album technically came out in late 2012, but I didn’t discover it until October 2013 when I made my annual pilgrimage to the Orosi Memorial Hall for the homespun Spanspek Music & Art Festival. Slow Season hails from Visalia, Calif., and I knew a couple of the band members from their days in the folk/Americana group The Whiskey & The Devil Chaplain a few years back. At Spanspek, I got to experience Slow Season as they are surely meant to be experienced: up super close on the cold, hard floor, and at full force. At the time, I tweeted: “Goddamn these boys sound like sinister, creeping dread on a Southern back road.” Afterward, I listened to their debut full-length for pretty much two months straight.
Favorite track: “Heavy”

2013-love-this-giant3. David Byrne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant
Label: 4AD
Ahh, here’s yet another late 2012 release that I didn’t get around to fully appreciating until 2013. I’ve always been a big David Byrne fan regardless of his strange projects, and this year I fully nerded out on him. Early in the summer, I read Byrne’s excellent nonfiction book “How Music Works” as a homework assignment before seeing him live with St. Vincent at the gorgeous Mountain Winery in Saratoga, Calif. Seeing one of my musical heroes live for the first time felt invigorating, and his collaborations with Annie Clark and their full traveling band were fun, funky, odd, and inspiring in a way that instantly made the baroque pop album into a living thing that I’ll never hear the same way.
Favorite track: “I Should Watch TV”

2013-its-up-to-emma4. Scout Niblett – It’s Up to Emma
Label: Drag City
I first discovered Scout Niblett a few years ago via La Blogotheque, a French music blog that continues to produce stunning multimedia documents through their Concert à emporter performance series. Niblett’s 2007 episode remains one of my favorites. Her latest record features my favorite song and video of the year, the single, “Gun,” which juxtaposes fairy tale images with searingly murderous words and music. With the exception of an unfortunately botched TLC cover, this album feels like heavy, dirty, whining blues rock, but with an aching, folky troubadour subtext.
Favorite track: “Gun”

2013-imperceptible-ufo5. The Besnard Lakes – Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO
Label: Jagjaguwar
I’ve always been attracted to dreamy space rock. And so while everyone ranted and raved about the first My Bloody Valentine record in 20 years– which, sadly, I still haven’t yet heard– I chose to put my shoegaze love into one of my recent favorites, The Besnard Lakes. In 2011, they made the soundtrack to one of the most stunning multimedia stories I’ve ever seen, Welcome to Pine Point, a truly sprawling and interactive examination of memory curated by the National Film Board of Canada that remains way ahead of its time. And I love that their new album makes me feel like I’m on a train as the landscape slowly peels away, a little lullaby as the world rolls past.
Favorite track: “People of the Sticks”

2013-seanario6. Seanario – Resorts
Label: Way Grimace
I don’t know what the big summer party album was in YOUR house this year, but in mine it was this one. My prolific musician friend Sean Duncan from Modesto, Calif.– previously known for his work with indie bands Fiver, Kid Mud, and Thombie, among many other projects– made a retro/schlocky dancefloor concept record about Las Vegas in the early ’80s that has real narrative depth. Duncan got married in 2011 and had a daughter this year, and it seems to me that his kooky creativity is just now starting to hit its stride.
Favorite track: “The Strip”

2013-melted-eyes7. Le Wolves – Melted Eyes EP
Label: self released
I don’t remember now who suggested I catch Le Wolves at this year’s Fresno Urban Sound Experience festival, but I’m sure glad I did. These four young lads from Fresno, Calif. wear their postpunk/goth influences on their sleeves, but with an element of creepy intensity that belongs entirely to them. Their three-song demo EP reminds me equally of Morrissey, the Buzzcocks, and Black Heart Procession. I’ve since learned that the group sounded more folk/rock when it first started a year or two ago, but now their sound has quickly evolved into more complicated territory. I cannot wait to see what’s next.
Favorite track: “I Laid Down and Died”

2013-time-of-joy8. Dim Peaks – Time of Joy
Label: Gold Robot
I’ve been a fan of California singer/songwriter Niilo Smeds for nearly a decade. The Reedley, Calif. native seems to change musical incarnations almost yearly– from the mottled rock of the Magic Whores to the experimental machinery of Police Dog, and from the freewheeling Americana of Wheels of Fortune to the simmering folk of his one CD-R album released under his own name. Smeds lives back in San Francisco now with his wife and infant son, and his latest record, recorded with several new players and released under the moniker Dim Peaks, somehow stitches bits of all of those previous musical parts together into a thoughtful new manifestation of fear and hope for 30-somethings.
Favorite track: “Slumberland”

2013-victim-of-love9. Charles Bradley – Victim of Love
Label: Daptone
The Screaming Eagle of Soul makes old-timey soul music in the present time, and his latest record sounds like a real gift. It always feels a little strange to me that Charles Bradley’s first record only came out in 2011. His songs feel so familiar, like they’ve existed for years. Bradley packs his second full-length record full of perfectly crafted love songs, each with big, crooning hooks. His live performance of the album’s title track on Netherlands radio shows the pure power of a well-traveled vocalist finally getting his due.
Favorite track: “Through the Storm”

2013-mehreideran10. Mehreideran – As Seen on MySpace
Label: Sweet Sea
My favorite reissue of the year is this messy, imperfectly perfect Mehreideran odds-and-ends compilation from audio communication wizard Reid May and now Virginia-based Sweet Sea Records. May was one-third of this Fresno, Calif. garage rock trio circa 2005, back in the day when MySpace bulletins were king and all the Central Valley indie kids rallied around Rademacher and Tokyo Garden for a few glorious Fresno Famous years. The thing I adore about these recordings nearly a decade later is that they still feel loose, experimental, and right on the edge of some kind of discovery.
Favorite track: “Hedonist”

Honorable mentions:
Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe
Light Thieves – Spirit Homes
Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight …
Restaurnaut – Singles and Besides (released in 2012)
Sparklejet – Phonovella (not out officially until 2014)
Werebear – Devil’s Deal

Please share your lists of 2013 best albums in the comments.

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Foodies fond of delectable French films

Jean d'Ormesson stars as the President and Catherine Frot stars as Hortense in Haute Cuisine, the latest movie about the bittersweet pleasures of French cooking. Via The Weinstein Company.

Jean d’Ormesson stars as the President and Catherine Frot stars as Hortense in Haute Cuisine, the latest movie about the bittersweet pleasures of French cooking. Via The Weinstein Company.

This post was originally published on the Film Forum blog at Disclaimer: I serve as President on the Filmworks board of directors.

Movie lovers have long developed a hearty appetite for films about international food.

The Danes have Babette’s Feast, the Mexicans have Like Water for Chocolate, the Italians have Big Night, and the Japanese have Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Of course, there are many others.

The status of French cuisine around the world has left its imprint on foodie movies, too. For more than a century, French cooking has symbolized intricate preparation and gourmet taste.

On Dec. 13, Filmworks presents the latest film about French food, the political comedy Haute Cuisine. The movie – loosely based on the memoir of Danièle Mazet-Delpeuch, who served for several years as private chef to French president François Mitterrand – tells the story of Hortense, a no-nonsense cook with exacting standards but deceptively simple taste and technique. She becomes the first woman to prepare food in the Elysée Palace, as she navigates the jealousy and backbiting of the all-male kitchen staff.

Haute Cuisine comes from a long line of recent movies about French food that have inspired popular international productions.

Based on a 1999 novel by British author Joanne Harris, the 2000 comic fable Chocolat stars Juliette Binoche as a chocolatier who arrives in a repressed French village and changes the lives of the townspeople with her rich chocolate concoctions.

Directed by Swedish filmmaker Lasse Hallström, the movie makes the chocolate itself into a sort of sensuous character. Critic Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune calls the film “tantalizing, delectable, and randy – a movie of melting eroticism and toothsome humor.”

Produced by the renowned Pixar Animation Studios, the 2007 animated comedy Ratatouille tells the story of an ambitious young rat named Remy who befriends a bumbling garbage boy. The unlikely pair joins forces in their mutual aspiration to become the finest chef in Paris.

Directed by acclaimed American animator Brad Bird, the movie celebrates the simplicity and the necessity of learning how to create handmade, wholesome food. Critic David Denby of The New Yorker says, “Remy has his own version of the omnivore’s dilemma: He’s afflicted with a refined palate. Refusing the [rat’s] usual repast of garbage, he realizes that in order to eat well, he needs to cook.”

Based on two books – a 2005 memoir by blogger Julie Powell and the 2006 autobiography of renowned chef Julia Child – the 2009 dramatic comedy Julie & Julia stars Amy Adams and Meryl Streep. The movie, directed by American novelist and filmmaker Nora Ephron, weaves together the story of Powell, who in one year cooked her way through all 524 recipes in Child’s famous cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, with the story of Child, the master cook and TV personality largely credited with introducing French cooking to the United States.

Streep nails the no-nonsense, never-apologize gusto of the fearless Child, while Adams embodies every home cook’s insecurities about learning (and failing) in the kitchen. Again, critic David Denby of The New Yorker calls the movie “one of the gentlest, most charming American movies of the past decade. Its subject is less food as something to cook than food as the binding and unifying element of dinner parties, friendship, and marriage.”

And with that, the only way to properly send off a blog post about French cooking would be to invite foodies and film fans alike to enjoy the delicious Haute Cuisine while channeling the voice of the great Julia Child in your ear: “Bon appétit!”

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Portrait project finds two new homes: Fowler and San Francisco

Intersection for the Arts interns install the 100 Days, 100 Portraits prints alongside the work of artist Joan Osato in late October for the Califas Festival, which runs Nov. 1-17 in San Francisco. (Photo by Rebecca Ahrens)

Intersection for the Arts interns install the 100 Days, 100 Portraits prints alongside the work of artist Joan Osato in late October for the Califas Festival, which runs Nov. 1-17 in San Francisco. (Photo by Rebecca Ahrens)

This past spring and early summer, I gave myself a photography assignment: Make 100 portraits in 100 days. After falling off the personal creativity wagon around the first of the year, while I immersed myself instead in teaching at Fresno City College and volunteering for Fresno Filmworks, I felt like I needed the challenge.

My friend and colleague Jes Therkelsen, a talented photographer and documentary filmmaker who came to the Central Valley this past January to teach digital media at Fresno State, inspired the assignment. In his intro to photojournalism class, he asked his students to make 100 portraits of strangers over the course of the semester. At the end of the term, their best photos were featured in a show at Arte Américas downtown. Jes’s students used his prompt to help them break out of their shells socially and get tuned-in to their visual literacy skills. I decided to modify the prompt a bit to allow myself to make photos of whomever I’d like — some strangers, and some people I knew — but I added the photo-a-day regimen to build self-discipline.

My portrait of AP journalist Gosia Wozniacka kicked off the series.

My portrait of AP journalist Gosia Wozniacka kicked off the series. (Photo by me)

I posted my first portrait on Feb. 24, a photograph of my friend and colleague Gosia Wozniacka from the Associated Press, while she worked on a documentary shoot with her new DSLR. (I served as her production assistant that day.) I decided to make all of my photographs using my iPhone 4S, to emphasize intimacy and mobility. I first published the photos on Instagram, using minimal filters and corrections, to emphasize immediacy. I also shared the photos with family and friends on Facebook and Twitter, and I collected the full project as I went along on Tumblr, where I also occasionally post to my ongoing Drugstore with Dad series. Occasionally, I worked ahead a few days, but I promised myself that I would not fall behind (and miraculously, I didn’t!). Most people, when I explained the project and asked if I could make their portrait, said yes without hesitation. Only a couple folks, most notably Jes, my sister, and my veterinarian, declined. I posted my last portrait on June 2, a selfie that I fittingly made while driving home past the rural intersection of Jefferson Avenue and Golden State Boulevard, north of Selma.

I had a vague idea that I might like to try and get the project into a local gallery for an Art Hop show at some future time, but I wasn’t sure how I would prepare and present 100 individual photographs. So I let the portraits sit there on my Tumblr for a few months, as I returned to making artsy fartsy, heavily filtered snapshots of my dog, my wife, and random still lifes from my day.

And then, performance artist Nikiko Masumoto called.

Performance artist and friend Nikiko Masumoto, at the Pixley community garden. (Photo by Andre Yang)

Performance artist and friend Nikiko Masumoto, at the Pixley community garden. (Photo by Andre Yang)

Yes, THAT Nikiko Masumoto, of Masumoto Family Farm fame. Nikiko calls herself an “agrarian artist and farm apprentice,” and her family is one of the most high-profile farm families in the Central Valley. I’ve been lucky to know her father, David Mas Masumoto, through his books over the years and through my time in the MFA program at Fresno State. I’ve also been lucky to eat the Masumoto family’s delicious organic peaches and nectarines. And in spring 2012, I was beyond lucky to produce a public radio feature story on Nikiko’s inaugural Valley Storytellers Project performance, two collaboratively written plays about hunger facilitated by Nikiko that included the voices of nearly two dozen community actors.

Nikiko invited me to present my 100 Days, 100 Portraits project as part of her second Valley Storytellers Project performance, a Central Valley Art-guided Bus Tour that took place on Oct. 19. The tour started at the Fowler branch of the Fresno County Public Library, where I helped kick off the day by projecting my portraits on the wall of the community room and reading the names of the participants aloud, like a poetic incantation. We then boarded the bus and made stops at the grassroots community garden in Pixley and at the Phillip S. Raine rest area along Highway 99 in Tipton. At each stop, the day’s six other artists — including Nikiko, my wife Tracy Stuntz, and my Chicana sister Teresa Flores — shared their creative offerings. You can see how the day unfolded live on Twitter by checking out the #ArtBusCenCal hashtag.

I take a walk through the rows of tomatoes, squash, and basil at the Pixley community garden. (Photo by Andre Yang)

I take a walk through the rows of tomatoes, squash, and basil at the Pixley community garden during the art bus tour. (Photo by Andre Yang)

The art bus was made possible by the folks at The Triangle Lab, an experimental art organization based in San Francisco, as part of their two-part Califas Festival, which celebrates the people and stories of the Golden State. The Triangle Lab’s director, Rebecca Novick, contacted me shortly after the bus tour and commissioned my portrait project to be included in the second half of the Califas celebration, which runs from Nov. 1-17 at Intersection for the Arts at 5th and Mission in San Francisco. The show includes an original play called Alleluia, The Road by L.A.-based Chicano performance artist Luis Alfaro. I was completely bowled over! The Triangle Lab folks even offered to make prints of all 100 portraits for the show, and the prints will be returning home to me in Fresno after the show’s run ends later this month. The portraits were installed last week next to the work of accomplished Bay Area visual artist and youth activist Joan Osato.

I am beyond grateful to everyone who has given my 100 Days, 100 Portraits project such warm feedback, both while it was first being produced and now that it is enjoying its second life. I am particularly grateful to Nikiko and to Rebecca for giving the project its first two physical homes, in Fowler and San Francisco. Where will these faces appear next?

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