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Athens, Greece

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View of Athens from the Acropolis

Greece’s economy is recovering at a painfully slow pace. Now is the time to visit Greece, to spend your money there, and enjoy the beautiful people and culture.

“Athena and her uncle Poseidon were both very fond of a certain city in Greece. Both of them claimed the city and it was decided that the one who could give the finest gift should have it. Leading a procession of citizens, the two gods mounted the Acropolis. Poseidon struck the side of the cliff with his trident and a spring welled up. The people marveled, but the water was as salty as Poseidon’s sea and it was not very useful. Athena’s gift was an olive tree, which was better because it gave the people food, oil, and wood. Athena named her city Athens.”

In Athens the sidewalks are made of marble and the streets lined with orange trees heavy with bright but bitter temptations. The air was soft and warm, not too hot yet, and not smoggy; it had just rained and another storm was kicking up. The buildings have balconies, filled with bougainvillea, geraniums, roses, wind chimes, maybe a little table for breakfast.  Men finely dressed in suits with pastel ties pose on corners swinging worry beads in one hand. Cafes line the streets with tables of Citizens, talking, gesturing enthusiastically while drinking demitasse cups of espressos and cappuccinos, or in the heat, frappes. Bakeries are just as plentiful and fascinating as their golden brown flaky treats are a hybrid of French, Italian, and middle Eastern baking traditions. We partook of it all.

The ancient sites, especially the Acropolis are guarded by stray, but civilized dogs. These mystic dogs are generally asleep on a marble walkway, or under a clump of bushes. They look healthy and well fed. They will lift their heads and look at you with contentment, never asking, never sad, just being.

The Parthenon

The Parthenon

At 1PM, we take a siesta with everyone else in the city.  The metal doors come down to cover the shop fronts. The streets are quiet, no people, no cars. We soon learned that siestas make one day feel like two.  You wake recharged and ready for another complete set of daily activity.

We walk toward the Acropolis. It is always lit so majestically, floating above the city, a marker as one navigates through the distance and time of the city. There is a restaurant on the way Manh Manh.  On the street, it is completely quiet and the only indication of the entrance is a large dark green door, propped open with candles on the stairs. This must be it. We venture cautiously up, fearful that we may be entering someone’s home. On the third floor, tables were set, the windows wide open, and suddenly we could hear the people boisterously carrying on, each with a large glass of wine in one hand, a cigarette and a fork of fig in the other.

We started with a mountain of salad: finely chopped red lettuce with finely chopped green figs, a sweet fig vinaigrette dressing and two puffs of tangy goat cheese on the side covered with pistachios.    It was divine. I have been trying to recreate it. Our second course was risotto with scuttle fish ink. (Ah, scuttle fish. It is a type of squid that is very popular in the Mediterranean. Its ink is so black one hesitates a moment, awed by its edibility. Its flesh, white with a tinge of orange, cut into quarter inch wide and two inch long strips of tender but firm and smooth morsels. For a main dish, we ate rooster! Stewed in a savory sauce that included some cinnamon. It was almost like a mole but without the chocolate. It is a traditional dish.

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The city belongs to us

In addition to seeing ancient sights, walking through Plaka to the old market where there are antiques, old phones, phonographs, lamps, posters, espresso sets, buttons, you name it, we spent a great deal of our time conversing with my former professor and dear friend Nanos Valaoritis in cafes and at his home.  Nanos is a well-known writer and poet, and his great grandfather was one of Greece’s most famous national poets; to this day, all the children read his work in school. Nanos fled the Nazis when they invaded Greece and lived in London where he knew Lawrence Durrell and met Henry Miller and T.S. Eliot. Then he moved to Paris and became a surrealist, and friends with Andre Breton and Marcelle Duchamp. In Paris he met a lovely painter from California, Marie, and stole her away from Picasso! They married and moved to the Oakland hills, had three lovely children, and Nanos taught at San Francisco State for over 25 years.

“Between us there was no other obstacle but a beautiful and fearful ampersand.”

“For many years I have pursued a poem, Which regularly escapes me, It’s a funny little poem, About nothing at all.”

Nanos Valaoritis

After several days in Athens, we drove through the Peleponese, down a road that looked well defined in thick red on the map. At one point, we are stopped by a flock of sheep. My husband, born and raised in San Francisco, with a look of absolute terror asked, “What do we do now?” I replied, “Just wait here. They will go around.”

Along the roadside I kept seeing these little dollhouse size churches or boxes.  As we whizzed by, I could just make out their contents to be photographs, crosses, rosaries, cans of coca cola, packets of cigarettes, prayer cards.  It was explained that they were shrines to those who had died in accidents on the road. Despite these constant reminders, people sped and passed like maniacs, though it was not as bad as I had expected.

The sun starts to set, and we wonder how we will be able to reach the sea, on such a road; finally we hit a rock slide and have to go all the way back to the main road. Ten hours later, (the trip usually takes four) exhausted, we end up at a lovely hotel. Our balcony looks out at the bay, a perfect perch from which to watch the town wake and sleep and wake, the fishing boats, the trucks of fish, come and go. The square filled with families and children like the tide at 8AM, 1PM, and again at 10PM.  Melina Mecouri’s daughter, or so she appeared, served us at a bay-side restaurant, octopus, dandelion greens (horta), homemade white wine, a whole fish with sharp, strange teeth. For dessert we walked to the square and sat on a comfy wicker sofa under a gigantic oak tree. The waiter suggested the chocolate lava cake with a small shot of ouzo. I never would have thought of it. He was right!

The sun weds the sky to the sea (I think Author Rimbaud wrote that)

The sun weds the sky to the sea (I think Author Rimbaud wrote that)

The sea’s siren song: During the day we lounged on the beach under shade trees with roses and geraniums all about, either swimming or staring into the hypnotic azur. I think that the Mediterranean is closer to our biological fluids than other bodies of water. It has a perfectly soft salinity, warmth and dreamy clear color. It was paradise.

We ate at a restaurant that had tables with white tablecloths and antique rose china set out under the shade trees, just 50 feet from the water’s edge. There we ate garlic yogurt with cucumbers, and fresh from their garden, Greek salad and Kalamata olives. Groves of Kalamata olives made the hills green and lovely. My favorite though were the aubergines, small and sliced thin, then fried until extra crisp in fresh olive oil and sprinkled with dry mizithra cheese. Of course fried anchovies are also a favorite, and the souvlaki (sausages) are a must, each region, each restaurant, each cook, takes pride in their souvlaki. For dessert we had the best cup of demi-sweet Greek coffee ever – a demitasse cup with the fine grounds in the bottom. And of course, a honey filled yet flaky, nutty pastry.  Sometimes, the other people around us, made us feel that we were in an Agatha Christie novel or a Monsieur Hulot film; we were not sure which.

Sadly we had to depart this paradise very early one morning to catch a ship, called Zeus’ Palace, that left at midnight.

More about Greece: http://www.greecetravel.com/

Souvla, Greek Inspiration (See EatDrinkFilms.com)

Souvla sidewalk seating

I am excited that this article was published by EatDrinkFilms.com a wonderful new site that I highly recommend!  Please visit it here: http://eatdrinkfilms.com/2014/12/11/greek-inspiration-democracy-and-deliciousness-in-action-at-souvla/

Souvla has only been open for a couple months and yet it already plays a role in the culture of San Francisco that is far beyond a place for a quick bite. Souvla owner/chef Charles Bililies was inspired by Greece, not just the delicious souvlaki acquired from hole in the wall vendors in Athens, but also the communal eating experience, the sense of citizenship and place.

Souvla’s huge front windows are open to the street. At the sidewalk bar one can sip wine, watch and talk to neighbors passing by, or turn and ponder the thoughtfully designed interior. Alternatively, one can order take out and walk half a block to sit in Hayes Valley’s Octavia Green, a gathering place much like a Greek village square. One can also eat inside at a communal table.

The decor at first appears effortless, simple, but take time to observe the details: the button-size marble tiles on the bar, pale wood shelves, copper table tops, worry beads (aka κομπολόι, ko(m)boˈloj) and olive branches. The antique pieces, including the copper pots on the walls, are from Charles’ grandfather’s Boston Greek restaurant. The wooden beams in the ceiling and white washed walls are reminiscent of restaurants in Greece, and the large skylight gives the space a light and airy feeling of being on a Greek island. Charles traveled through Greece to collect ideas about cuisine and decor, and also gathered inspiration from the website Remodelista.

But the center piece, the grainy black and white photo-mural of a mustached Greek man drinking from a large bottle of booze in one hand, and holding up a chair in the other, sets the stage. A symbol of determination and playfulness, a type of foolishness that is to be both heeded and admired. A challenge to customers, to let go a little more than perhaps they thought they could, to let themselves be transformed. In the evenings in particular, under the mural, at that large communal table, a diverse group of folks, including Greek immigrants, mostly young, creative and entrepreneurial, escapees from the oppressive European Union imposed austerity measures, gather with traditional copper carafes of Greek wine.

Souvla rotisserie, communal table, and photomural

The lively discussions that ensue are democracy in action, Greece’s most significant export. The Greek economic nose dive has been heart-breakingly devastating. But the Greeks I know have a particular way of resisting, by simply not playing the dominate game. In Greece citizens are starting food exchanges that use barter, and other alternative systems of exchange, and those who are leaving Greece are starting innovative companies in San Francisco and beyond, and finding ways to help their fellow Greek neighbors back home. Charles, who was born in the states to Greek immigrant parents, is helping this effort by introducing Greek wines to a US audience.

He has a vision that someday Greek wines will be valued in the same way that Italian wines have come to be valued over the past thirty years from being seen as “red” to being known for the full spectrum of fine Italian varietals. Souvla not only offers fine Greek wines but they are also able to tell you all about them, and they have a retail license, so one can take a few bottles home. Most notably, Souvla features wines from the Skouras Winery. This winery is particularly special because it was founded by Dijon-trained oenologist George Skouras who is known for his pioneering Megas Oenos label. He was the first winemaker to blend Saint George, a Greek grape (aka Aghiorghitiko), with Cabernet Sauvignon. But my favorite is the Zoe Rose, comprised of Aghiorghitiko 70%, Moscofilero 30%, grapes from the Peloponnese. I know, big new words, but they are exciting on the mouth! The Zoe Rose’s vibrant red berry fruits and crisp acidity compliments all the dishes at Souvla in such a delicate and delightful way. But what I love the most about Greek wines are their terroir. In some wines, one can taste the minerals of the ancient fertile soil and smell the air of the Mediterranean sea. One may not be able to afford a visit to Greece, but one can dream in a glass.

Zoe Rose with chicken salad in blue and white enamel bowl

Finally, the food, that which everyone, everywhere, gathers around. Souvla has become beloved so quickly for many reasons, but most importantly, the food is outstanding. Enjoy succulent spit-fired lamb, pork, or chicken in a Greek pita bread or a more modern take, in a salad with kale and the most delicious salty mizithra cheese shaved on top, some citrus, mild sweet pickled pink onion, some baby radish and cucumber slices. Each bite is a symphony. A tender savory bite of locally-raised organic lamb, balances with the salty, sweet, and sour notes, and contrasts with the crunch of fresh kale or romaine, paired with a refreshing glass of Zoe Rose. The fries are dangerously perfect and the yogurt dipping sauces far superior to ketchup or mayonnaise. Top it off with softy style Greek yogurt in a New York City “Greek” paper coffee cup, with sour cherry syrup imported from Greece. Charles started out in Napa at the French Laundry as Thomas Keller’s culinary assistant. He also worked at Bouchon and Michael Mina, and helped open RN74 and served as assistant general manager there. He started roasting whole lamb on Easter in his backyard for friends and like many of us with a relationship to Greece, saw the need for more affordable yet high quality Greek inspired food in San Francisco. The food is so delicious, and affordable, we eat there at least once a week.

Charles, and the entire amazing Souvla team, go above and beyond being just a restaurant by providing the neighborhood with a communal gathering place, and with stories, stories about the food, the wine, their own journeys, and Greece.

http://souvlasf.com
http://www.remodelista.com/posts/souvla-greek-restaurant-in-hayes-valley-san-francisco
http://www.skouras.gr/domaine.asp
http://www.allaboutgreekwine.com/

Lucy Loy

Lucy Loy and her friend had a Manhattan last night. Can you guess where they were?

—- Excerpt from Behind the Sun, a novel in progress

TelenewsPolarBearJTillmany

Telenews on Market Street “From the collection of Jack Tillmany”

DAY ONE

Lucy Loy’s pumps were stuck to the floor by soda pop sap and unmentionables. Slowly she lifted each shoe so as not to disturb her neighbor, a delicate man in tweed. The newsreel had made its trip around the world twice. Guns, smoke, tanks, and boys, all those boys, charging into the unknown: black and white faces the size of gods, streaked with sweat, eyes in anguish, intent on aiming a gun. Then no more, just silence, bodies face down, in the sand. And no sign of M.

As she stepped heavily onto Market Street, Lucy paused to catch herself by touching the stuffed Polar Bear in front of the Telenews. Blinded, it took her a few moments to suss out whether the sun was still glaring or not. No, just the neon. Shameless but true reds, blues, and white, Market Street. Adjusting her hat over dark honey waves, yanking gloves onto slim hands, looking up and down Market street with watchful eyes and she clicked her heels a few storefronts west for her next fix. If she could not find him, then at least she could forget him for an hour or two. She would meet the girls later at the Embassy for McLean’s show. She looked up, the marquee flashed on and off “Maltese Falcon, Last Week!” The razor sign spelled out “P-A-R-A-M-O-U-N-T” in a slow tease. She had seen it a dozen times already but that was not the point. A sudden “C” note horn honk bounced off the granite, glass, and cement, echoing down the street, making her jump. Phillis, the girl on display in the ticket booth took her money silently and smiled knowingly with brandied cherry lips and a flick of lashes.

An usher escorted Lucy, blinded again by the sudden change back to dark, to a seat, mid-section, aisle. Wafts of hot popcorn and cigarette smoke rose and fell. The feature was just starting. Good. The glorious glow wrapped around her for a moment before she sunk into her dark seat. She tried to focus on the light, on the screen, but her mind drifted toward M., “M-I-A.” M. Missing. Missing-in-action. A weight pushed on her chest while her heart beat frantically, resisting. She pulled a slim lady-size flask out of her handbag and took a long sip of Four Roses. The heat filled her marrow; she rubbed her arms.  A voice in her mind kept holding on, kept chanting so she changed the words to “Please-keep-him-safe, please-keep-him-safe,” and every once in a while she heard her mind say “dear God,” but, despite years of comfort given to her by old Greek women at the Orthodox Church, she did not really believe in “A God,” who would answer her. Rather she thought, they were like light, separate particles yet interconnected waves. She focused on Humphrey Bogart’s eyes, so large on the screen. His voice fell in sync with the chant and soothed her nerves, like her father’s voice she thought, with his low grumble and curt confidence. Finally the voice in her mind quieted enough for her to drift into the screen.

It was some time into the film, a good twenty minutes, when Lu felt someone looking at her. Her eyes had adjusted and she turned ever so slightly, just to shift her hips, it appeared, so that out of the corner of her eye, she could see the delicate man in tweed across the aisle. He must have arrived after her. He wasn’t looking at her, but she felt his presence.

Bogart made a good Sam Spade, she thought for the one-hundredth time. He is not exactly Hammett’s Spade. But Bogart kept her attention. He worked. His confidence held her. She met his eyes. Clung to his arm. Felt safe.  She was there, in her city, in San Francisco, but enjoying it much more in black and white than in sunlight.

Gun shots caused a stir in the house. Lucy’s body jumped and gasped, but her mind remained focused on the flickering light. She felt a bit silly, took a long breath. Confined by her gray flannel pencil skirt, she shifted in her seat again, and as she turned, she noticed the man in tweed was gone. What a relief. A sailor and his girl a few rows in front of her started to kiss with desperation. A lone soldier a few seats to her right held his popcorn between his knees and solemnly ate each kernel with his only hand. Her palms sweated though her arms and neck were chilled. She rubbed vigorously and clutched them together. Holding her own hand, in her own hand, in the dark. She wished she had some soothing warm popcorn. And just then a gentle but disembodied hand rested on her shoulder making her quietly gasp. A warm breath leaned in and whispered with a British accent, “Sssshhh. There, there. I have some information for you. Please do not turn around. I tried to tell you earlier at the news reel but you left abruptly.”  She paused, trying to think but just reeling, hoping a few Bogart lines, click click click, would buy her mind time. Should she run? Spin around and confront this man face to face? Call the usher?  No. His touch was so gentle. “Can I help you?” Lu asked in a low hush without moving her head. “I have a message from M.”

An Evening with Guillermo Gómez-Peña

Valencia Street sidewalk

Guillermo Gómez-Peña (http://www.pochanostra.com) hosts the best salons I have ever attended. First there is his museum of an art studio apartment perfectly curated with kitsch popular-culture objects revealing the racism in American capitalist consumer culture as well as some whimsy and playful reappropriation. Aunt Jemima dolls, Mexican wrestling action heroes with their masks on, children’s toys, South American religious figures in sexy poses, Marilyn Monroe clocks, black velvet paintings. The living room is a Hollywood set of a Mayan or Aztec ceremonial stage, a faux stone wall with carvings and a huge sun worship dial in the middle. We all sit on comfortable red sofas with an ocean breeze flowing in from a few open windows, on a wall of square-pained windows leftover from when the building was an industrial factory. A boxing bag, four desks, a walk in closet with rows and rows of Guillermo’s outfits that he uses for his performances, or everyday, which is also always a performance. He is on. He is a perfect host, a shaman; he gathers artists and writers and musicians and stirs us together with a bit of his magic which consists partly of inspiring words, loving words, hugs, kisses, intimacy, connection, presence, here now be. Bring a bottle, there will be tequila, bourbon, rum, wine, pomegranate juice. Guillermo usually in a man skirt made out of strips of heavy canvas, maybe more like a Roman warrior skirt than a kilt. Black shoes with faux leopard fur tops, tight black leggings, a rock t-shirt, a man purse, long black hair (to his butt) with streaks of defiant gray, black eyeliner, maybe a touch of lipstick, long feathers for earrings, some bracelets, and of course tatoos. He is stunning and charming. But most importantly, he makes us all feel so welcome, so valued, so loved. We are then so much more free to express ourselves and the conversations circle and flow from GPS devices and how to locate oneself culturally, geographically, complexly, to how to use white academic privilege to subvert and transform academia from the inside out, to how to navigate borderlands, one of Guillermo’s more significant themes, to a punk band named Ono, fronted by an older African-American man, to a heartbreaking blues song about a young woman who was raped. And of course, we talked about the closing of Esta Noche (http://blogs.kqed.org/pop/2014/02/27/esta-noche-to-close-nothing-is-sacred-san-francisco/), a wonderful Latino drag queen club, and what is happening to San Francisco, how the city that took in anyone, of any color, flavor, type, etc. and has become such a desired place because of this diversity, and creativity, is now losing all of that. Yet we left feeling inspired and knowing that the city of Saint Francis will continue in way or another to be a place where people from all over the world can come to reinvent themselves and the world.

Some cultural tips from the evening:
Read Edouard Glissant, (http://www.goodreads.com/author/list/5461517._douard_Glissant)

Listen to 87.9 FM

Listen to Ono (http://www.roctober.com/roctober/ono.html) NOT Yoko Ono, but just Ono

Larry, when your play is ready, please send the link to me to post.

March 2014

Mr. Lucky at Three Street

Mr. Lucky

One evening in early November, we trotted out to Armstrong and Three Street, Third to those out of know. Mr. Lucky was throwing a party and hosting an open studio. On large canvases in dark rich oil colors, Mr. Lucky paints conceptual figurative works. Drawing off his extensive experiences as a private detective, his faces reveal the subtle tells of people who have something to hide. Something that charms but also sends a shiver down one’s spine; an intriguing result! He has also painted many lovely figures, portraits, dreamy landscapes, and abstract water colors that are my personal favorites. http://mrlucky.org/

Over Martini’s and bubbly, with The Killing playing silently on the screen and Astrid Gilberto swooning us with her sweet song, Laura Hazlett (http://www.laurahazlett.com) explained her recent coup. She designed a dress for a gay man attending a Marie Antoinette party just outside of Paris. The skirt looks like layers of cake, the middle is a tight bodice, and the sleeves, puffy pink poodle heads that bark!!! She also recently created costumes for two ladies who attended Heidi Klum’s Halloween fete. Both were old broken ballerina dolls; one was a white swan with cockroaches and spiders among the feathers, and the other was black with mice! Heidi Klum was dressed as an old lady with a cane. A brave costume for a super model. She has scored some points in my book. http://www.express.co.uk/news/showbiz/440642/Heidi-Klum-gives-Halloween-party-goers-a-fright-as-the-ageing-supermodel

DeWitt Cheng the art writer and curator was there too. We talked about the value of art. Or rather, if you are interested in creating a more just world, why spend one’s life making or writing about art? Our conversation reminded me of a story I once heard. At the end of the Serb-Bosnian war, some members of the ODC dance company went to Bosnia to ask women in a village what they needed. The dancers wanted to host a fundraiser back in the San Francisco Bay Area to raise funds to buy them food, clothes, etc. whatever they needed. The women looked at them for a long time and then said something to the extent that they needed food for their souls, they needed culture. They asked ODC to raise funds to fly their troop to Bosnia to perform. Now sometimes food and clothes do take priority over anything else, but without soul food, other food may seem futile.

LEFT IN THE DARK: Portraits of San Francisco Movie Theatres, edited by Julie Lindow, photographs by R.A. McBride

Cover of Left in the Dark: Portraits of San Francisco Movie Theatres, photograph by R.A. McBride

I am pleased to introduce you to LEFT IN THE DARK: Portraits of San Francisco Movie Theatres! The book is available for purchase at www.leftinthedark.info or at an online bookstore.

Edited by Julie Lindow
Photographs by R.A. McBride
Literary essays by: Rebecca Solnit, Katherine Petrin, Melinda Stone, Eddie Muller, Liz Keim, D. Scot Miller, Gary Meyer with Laura Horak, Elisabeth Houseman with Joshua Grannell, Sergio de la Mora, Chi-hui Yang, and Sam Sharkey.

Left in the Dark: Portraits of San Francisco Movie Theatres celebrates twentieth-century movie theatres and moviegoing through lush full-color fine art photographs and personal essays with both scholarly and literary appeal. R.A. McBride’s vivid portraits of the Castro, New Mission, Balboa, and many other theatres illuminate the role of the movie house as a great social nexus. McBride gained rare access to the interiors of closed theatres, picturing them empty and allowing the grandeur of the architecture to take center stage. Casting the theatres as characters within the city’s cultural landscape, scholars and film exhibitors, including Rebecca Solnit, Eddie Muller, Chi-hui Yang, and Gary Meyer, among others, uncover a wondrous variety of forgotten or never-before revealed histories. As society retreats from public life into the anonymity of multiplexes and personal entertainment technologies, our moviegoing heritage becomes ever more significant and inspiring. San Francisco is fortunate to be one of the world’s most vital moviegoing cities and to have so many of its historic movie houses still standing. By drawing a continuum from past to present, Left in the Dark offers hope that even as these landmarks crumble, the spirit of cinema thrives.

Praise for Left in the Dark:
“This book is absolutely wonderful!! I had the greatest time reading, or rather, immersing myself in its sense of celebration. It not only evokes the spirit and experiences of another era, but shows that they are definitely alive today, even in these grim alienated times. In that sense the book is as politically important as it is entertaining, informative, and revelatory. I am going to give copies of it to everyone who carries the torch for a more humanistic collective society and see if we can re-enliven that quality of spirit and community.”
Jerry Mander, Author: In the Absence of the Sacred; Four Arguments for the Elimination
of Television; The Case Against the Global Economy

“McBride’s well-crafted photographs provide a valuable record of a disappearing institution as well as an insightful look behind the scenes at the mechanisms and structures that create the visual experience we call cinema.”
Sharon Lockhart, Artist

Press for Left in the Dark:

South China Morning Post, Oct 17, 2010
download PDF

SF Bay Guardian, Oct 13-17, 2010, print issue, and online at
download PDF

Examiner, Oct 20, 2010
download PDF

Mubi, Oct 6, 2010
http://mubi.com/notebook/posts/2360

SF360, Oct 4, 2010
http://www.sf360.org/Home/?pageid=13075

San Francisco Chronicle, December 3, 2010
http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/article/R-A-McBride-s-Left-in-the-Dark-2454976.php

Published by Charta Art Books, distributed by D.A.P. (Distributed Art Publishers), 2010.
10 x 8 cardstock cover, 59 photographs, 168 pages, 11 chapters