Saturday, November 8, 2008

Na Na Na Na Na, Shame On You--Or, The Taliban and Fixation With Twins

Listening to the Indigo Girls a lot today. And no, I'm not morphing into lesbian. This town would be a whole lot easier if I could, but Jo does nothing easy, as we know.

Speaking of gay, I'll put that gun on the mantle and come back to it...


Continuing with my bouquet of museum visits to new exhibits this month, I journeyed to San Francisco's Civic Center/United Nations Plaza area. If you are from this part of the world, you don't need me to tell you this is a borderline dodgy area--the Civic Center sits right on the cusp of SF's infamous Tenderloin district, a nest of mostly drug dealers and users, psychotics, and thugs. (Western Addition and Hunter's Point are two other points of interest for these kinds of groups, but I won't take you on a tour of the neighborhoods. That's another post.) I call the Tenderloin the "Claw-Hammer District" because I once got between a man running from another man who was swinging a claw hammer and ready to murder the runner. Both men brushed my sleeve in the chase. (Remarkably, Civic Center is where the governing of this fine City all goes down--you would think the law would be a little tighter there, but no...)

Occasionally, though, I get brave and visit the Library or the Asian Art Museum. Today it was both. The Asian Art Museum was running an exhibition on Afghanistan.

Yes, Afghanistan. And yes, I WANTED to see it.
As I have mentioned in previous posts concerning the "One City One Book" series sponsored by the San Francisco Library, I have been trying to learn more about Afghanistan. A gray land of waste was my previous impression. But at the Asian Art Museum there are brilliant colors in droplets everywhere in two wings. The Afghan National Museum in Kabul is loaning out pieces obtained in archeological digs from the 1930's and 1940's for people around the world to visit, and they aren't solely doing it to be benevolent--the last thirty-some years of Afghan culture has been ragged, at best. Between the Russians and the Taliban, Afghan artifacts and historical art have been damaged or completely ruined beyond measure (see the photos, above, of before and after of one of the Buddhas at Bamyan--that's a 57-meter cavity leftover from demoltion of the biggest one, like the kind you get from not going to the dentist, all thanks to the Taliban in March of 2001. How ironic that they destroyed the TWO Buddhas and then came over here and destroyed TWO towers the same year). The museum itself in Kabul has been bombed, looted, etc since the Russian invasion, and the pieces that I saw today were salvaged.

What's remarkable about the pieces is that they don't look like something you would find in Afghanistan...they look like someone crossed a Roman with a Chinese art dealer and the two of them had a whole variety of children. And why would they look like this? During the time of Alexander the Great the Romans were knee-deep in trade with China and Afghanistan for gems, spices, foodstuffs, silk, etc. And from that trans-continental travel we have wonderous pieces of glass, jewelry so delicate and soft that you know a heat wave would probably melt it off the wearer, ivory statues of women with perfectly buxom breasts and cat-like eyes, compartmentalized perfume vessels with slate-colored lids...

It's like whiskey and ice cream.

I've had that, though, and it's damn good.


After the fine golds and ivory, I ventured into the cafe at the museum and had a brightly-colored and savory lamb curry dish and miniature cannoli that were the size of my pinky-finger--just the right portions and so BRIGHT in the curry with red curry and white rice and green beans (never would have thought of adding that, but it was brilliant) and green cilantro--and as I sat by the window and looked out at the courtyard I found myself thinking, "Let's do the library today. Let's do that, too." The Library is free and tomorrow is the last day for the Robert Sabuda exhibit in the lower level, so I might as well grab it while I am there. At the table next to me a group of three people were talking about their friends who were buying up guns because "with Barack and the Dems in Congress, who knows if you could own a gun by February." Strange conversation for San Francisco, let alone one to have in a building where the current exhibit is here because it's seeking asylum. I finished my meal and picked up my coat and tote bag and left quietly, moving toward the Library.

The library levels are a bit twisty, and not all levels can be easily travelled to from other levels by stairs. (The Main Branch of the San Francisco Library has elevators, but due to the number of homeless that camp there an over-powering, over-ripe smell usually permiates the close places in the building. The building and set-up are beautiful, but you can smell the homeless everywhere in it, especially on rainy days like today.) While I was looking for the Sabuda exhibit, another exhibit that is currently in the 6th floor gallery caught my eye--the peaceful years of Afghanistan. These were photographs of Afghanistan from 1970 to 1975. Okay, Jo, let's do that first. Then I'll find Sabuda.

After a quick and breathless climb up the stairs, I was greeted with another exhibit that I'll discuss in-depth in a moment (remember, my gun's on the mantle, so to speak) and spent some time with the 1970 people of Afghanistan. Some of it wasn't surprising (pictures of street barbers shaving their customers and causing pain because they are too poor to have good straight-edge blades), and some of it made me smile (the intact Buddhas in their glory, the children traveling to schools on lorries and winking). The photos were all black and white, and I imagined the colors wouldn't be all that different if the photos had been shot in Kodachrome, but a million colors of joy and pain shaded through the photos. Two destitute patrolmen embrace and grin for the camera. A proud owner of a new wool hat balances the headgear as though he is wearing a dozen eggs as a crown.

Afghanistan, I wish you a joy in the rubble, be it gray or marbled with rainbows.


Speaking of rainbows.

So when you first arrive at the sixth floor of the SF Library, there is a glass-topped table and two walls of Harvey Milk memorabilia. I don't know if these items have always been there (they could be because Milk and then SF Mayor Moscone were shot and killed about two blocks from the exhibit in 1978, or the items might have been just put there recently due the debut of Sean Penn's movie Milk). As I said, I don't get to this branch of the library often. But since my understanding of Harvey Milk has been limited to the SFGate coverage of Penn shooting the movie earlier this year in the Castro district, I was fascinated. There were books about him, about Moscone, about their shooting by Dan White (played in the movie by Josh Brolin--I swear, between that and "W" this guy is shaping up to put a bigger stamp on the world than his Barbra Streisand-marrying dad)...letters from Milk to Moscone (apparently, Moscone didn't like Milk when Milk was elected the first openly gay--the literature of the time capitalizes it as Gay--politician elected in the state of California, but Moscone learned that Milk was on his side for a lot of important issues in the City), propaganda pieces Milk wrote to fire up the public about gay rights, etc. There are about hundred pictures of Milk in all of his humor and devotion to his cause and to the public at large on issues other than gay rights.

I walked away from that exhibit a little more than giddy with the added knowledge that wasn't taken from a Focus Features clip of Sean Penn.

This week Proposition 8--a ballot initiative to ban gay marriage in the state of California--passed. Narrowly. (The California voting system is something I will never understand as a Midwesterner, and I will never understand why we even have elected officials here: Californian voting rights are such that you can put any frickin' initiative that you want on the general election and if the people vote for it, it's in. No constitutionality withstanding. This is the reason we have a Governator, not a governor. This is also the reason the ballots are 7 pages long, if you count front and back. I'm not a fan of republics.) A lot of people in other states looked stunned to the Golden State--aren't you people supposed to be crazy anarchists who blaze new trails? I thought this too.

Wednesday morning I was full of questions that I wanted to ask people who voted for the ban. Questions like "Ideology aside, who does gay marriage hurt?" or, leaning on the funny to me, "What, you afraid they're going to breed if they marry?" or "Is marriage really perfected that heterosexuals have the expertise to keep gays from it?"

I can't wrap my head around limitations like this.

But I do know this. 200 hundred years ago a black man was considered 3/5ths a person by God-fearing citizens of this country, and in March of 2001 the Taliban insisted that two statues of peace were representative of something repulsive to their beliefs and destroyed them.

And today I stood in my feminist jeans and sweater and purposefully mis-matched socks and gazed into the drops of gold from that former land of the Taliban and basked in the glow of a President-Elect who poses more hope for this country in his pinky finger than the guy from Texas who would have been fully enfranchised at our country's birth.

To paraphrase from Sean Penn's Milk:


Shine like gold and dress down the ivory.

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