Thursday, February 01, 2007

Self Portrait

291104293_dab45cfd6c_o291104293_dab45cfd6c_o Hosted on Zooomr

Monday, November 27, 2006


I don't think anyone actually reads this because it's been so long since I've written. I know, I am a bad friend. In the past year, I got a job, went to a sad funeral, sold my car and rode my bike to work every day, moved cross town twice in two months, got engaged, went to Samoa again, got married over there, had a reception over here, and moved to Texas.

I started a photoblog to mark our move to Texas. Check it out:



Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Happy Birthday to me

So Friday was my 29th birthday. It's also Bill Clinton's special day. Why the world didn't stop and throw a parade for the two of us, I don't know. I did manage to wrangle 18 or so of my friends to Saha for a birthday feast. Sorry if I didn't invite you, it wasn't intentional, it's just kind of hard for a restaurant to accommodate such large groups.

Saha bills itself as "Arab Fusion" which is about right, what with lamb appearing on the menu as often as tofu or edamame. I chose Saha because they had an extensive menu with meaty dishes (including steak, for those types, seafood, vegetarian and vegan dishes. Anyone can eat there. And everything was quite affordable, especially because of the 30 or so tapas-style small plate dishes. It's also kind of obscure, so it wasn't crowded on a Friday night, which is a good thing in my mind.

Ahh, but the food was an incredible yummy yum. I went prixe fixe; in this case soup of the day, a small plate, and an entree. The soup was carrot-ginger-coconut cream, so it was rich and decadent with a slight spike of spice from the ginger. Next up was the BBQ Mushroom and Tofu small plate, for which I lack the vocabulary to describe its tasty savoryness. My entree was a okra, tofu and quinoa stew. Again, I could never be a food critic because word do no justice to the flavor sensations exploding in my mouth.

Sweet Tar made arrangements for Maggie Mudd to deliver one of their legendary vegan ice cream cakes. Candles were lit, that song was sung, the crowd chanted "speech! speech! speech!" and when I stood up to thank everyone, they yelled "boring!" Half the cake was my favorite, the subtle and delectable lychee-coconut. The other half was Tarmac, a concoction of chocolate, peanut butter and oreo chunks (right?). People were shocked and baffled by the vegan-ry of the cake, because it was so yummy.

Jem showed up with her cousin Pete, which was a pleasant surprise because she went to the Liz Phair show earlier, and you know what happens at rock and roll shows. By the way, Jem's band, Jean Marie, is the best. Please go to all their shows. Or at least listen to their songs on mySpace.

After dinner we walked to the Edinburgh Castle, to occupy the front room. We rolled dice, people bought me shots, Smith showed up, Ryan B. drank too much Jaeger. It was a gay old time. All in all, it was one of my better birthdays. Thanks everyone.

The next day I made a run for the hot sunshine of Ukiah, leaving the cold cold fog of San Francisco behind. Even though he never said actually said it, Mark Twain was on to something when he didn't say the thing about the coldest winter was a summer in San Francisco.

Ukiah is so hot and nice right now. In the evening the coastal breezes roll over the western hills and gently push the hot air around. I've been wearing flip flops and shorts for three days straight now. My toesies are so happy.

On Saturday night I went to a Lu'au fundraiser for the Grace Hudson Museum in Ukiah. Grace Hudson live in Mendocino County around the turn of the century and she documented the native Pomo Indians with beautiful oil paintings. I've lived in Ukiah most of my life, and have been to the museum a few times, but I guess I mature enough or something now to appreciate both the aesthetic and anthropological value of her work.

The Lu'au was kind of junky. It should be said that I have attended many a fine Lu'au this summer, but this one a had a typical catering menu but with Hawaiian music playing in the background and mai-tai's served in plastic cups. And for a fundraiser, it seem liked the 100 or so people in attendance were either on the museum board of directors or already volunteered.

Highlights of evening included an older dude who grew up in Hawaii giving a talk about the slack key guitar music of the islands and it's connection to country western music and the steel pedal slide guitar. I was totally into that, especially when he supplemented his talk by playing some tunes.

After the lu'au, I drove around Ukiah for a bit, hoping to see someone I know wandering the streets or something. I drove by the Forest Club, my old haunt, in the hopes that an old bro of mine might be smoking out front. I should have just gone in, but it's been a long time since I hung out in Ukiah and I just don't know too many people around here. The Forest is kind of rough sometimes too; I've never walked in there alone. It isn't always the most inviting place.

The cops were out in full force, which is pretty typical, but kind of shocking when one is used to the laissez-faire approach the SFPD takes. I was followed twice for tens of blocks by patrol cars. After running up on my bumper for several blocks, a patrol car darted into the next lane and pulled up next to me. I am not a kid anymore and I wasn't doing anything wrong, so I gave the cop a "what the fuck do you want?" look as I am tax paying, speed limit driving citizen. Once he decided I was cool, he dropped a block back and left alone.

I saw two patrol cars parked and surveilling the entrance to the Forest Club, yet another reason to not go in there. Perhaps there's a Fatwa out on the Forest Club and the Ukiah PD was protecting it. It's not like the Ukiah Valley is a police state, but those effing guys get bored and have nothing better to do than to harass those that are out on a Saturday night.

Sunday I had brunch with my family. My dad got bummed when he found out the sausage was vegan. I collected my loot. I did pretty good this year. Tar took me to Chico to see Alfalfa, bought me two shirts, a Dears CD and this killer box set of 80's underground music. Becky and Ian gave me a gift certificate to Millenium and my family gave me a bunch of photography gear including a nice Bogen tripod.

The city of Ukiah sponsors concerts in the park every other Sunday in the Summer time. It's prolly a lot like the Stearn Grove concerts in the City, but without the fog and the Arctic Zephyr wind. So I totally went. There were several thousand people there and I was terrified of running into people I used to know and not remembering their names.

I did run into a few whose names I could never forget, like my old friend Scarb. Scarb showed me his new motorcycle, which was pretty sick, and his two year old boy, Waylon. Waylon had a mohawk. It kind of made me want to have kids, so my boy could have a mohawk and grow up hanging out with Scarb's kids.

I had a several awkward conversations, mostly with old friends that now have kids. It kind of made me crazy and I had to leave. As the sun set, I took the long way back to Hopland, along the scenic East Side Road which winds through pear orchards and grape vines. I almost kept going straight on through to San Francisco, but I decided to stick around for another day.

I spent Monday hanging out a Freedom Skate Shop with Justin and Scarb. It's a good way to spend the day. Freedom recently expanded, so now the skate shop and the neighboring Freedom Girls occupies the whole building. I had sushi with homeowner Scarb and he tried to talk me into buying a house. While that maybe possible in Mendocino County, it's impossible in the absurd Bay Area real estate market, so it took us a while to understand where the other one was coming from.

I could write more, but I should cut it off here. Thanks.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The O-A-K

Last night Tar and I went to the "Least Bay" to see Jean Marie play at Mama Buzz Cafe (23rd and Telegraph) in Oakland. You all should see Jean Marie. Jem and Jasmyn play precious, delicate lullabies that are meant to sooth you to sleep. In fact they are playing tonight at Amnesia Bar in SF.

Jem has a real intimate whispering style of singing. I've said this before, but it's easy to imagine I am sitting cross legged on the floor of her bedroom, while she sits on her bed and tells me all of her secrets. Jasmyn is self taught on drums, so she often throws in refreshing, unconvential rhythms and patterns instead of banging away at 4/4.

After the show, we tried to go to a DIY shop next door called Rock Paper Scissors. Alas they were closed, but we could see people milling about inside. We were about to leave when a happy, friendly crew of people walked passed us and went in. One of them held the door open and asked if we "were getting onion facials?" We responded with confused looks on our faces.

Then the very friendly proprieter invited us in to look around, but told us the cash register was closed. Inside the smell of cooking onions teased our olfactory sensors while we looked at tons of cute and creative hand made, locally produced clothing, jewelry, zines, music, and assorted trinkets. It was pretty rad and inspiring, and the people were warm and inviting.

It seems like East Bay has more of this kind of thing going on. Over the bridge, you get the sense that people are just doing things because they can't help it. It's not a conspiracy to party and get laid like it is in San Francisco. Please, please prove me wrong tho.

Rounding out our East Bay adventure, Tar and I went to Golden Lotus (13th and Franklin) for some yummy dinner. Golden Lotus must be the sister restaurant to Golden Era in San Francisco. They have nearly identical menus and the food is so yummy good. Get the Vegetable Combination Soup, it is truly magical. There tons of mushrooms, cauliflowers, carrots, tofu, and veggie ham in a clear Vietnamese style broth. I could eat it everyday all day.

It's nice evenings like these that make me think I could really enjoy living in the East Bay. Sure, it's not San Francisco, but there's lots of good restaurants, the weather is always warmer, a fella's rent money goes a little bit further, there's all sorts of creativity going off there and life seems to be a bit more mellow and relaxed.

I took a picture of the sun setting in front of Mama Buzz. You can see it at my photoblog. Thanks.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Chico! Wooo-ooooo!

So Tar instant messaged me on Friday afternoon, told me to pack an overnight bag for hot weather, and to be ready to go Saturday morning. She decided we should get out of town to celebrate my birthday, which is this coming Friday, the 19th. I kind of ruined all the fun by making her tell me where we were going, so I could plan the trip according. I am kind of a logistics monster, and I can't help myself.

You see, last Christmas she adopted a goat at Farm Sanctuary on my behalf. Farm Sanctuary rescues animals from factory farms, nurses them back to health, and gives them a nice farm to while out the rest of their days without fear of becoming dinner. They have two farms, one in upstate New York, the other in Orland in California's Sacramento Valley.

The Orland farm is over 300 acres, nestled in the rolling hills of the valley wall near a small mesa, with creek cutting across the cow pasture. It's roughly three and half hours away from San Francisco. That means it's peaceful and rural and idyllic and I could live out there. I've been there a few times now, for their annual "Feed the Turkeys" vegan Thanksgiving dinner. There's an impressive quietude there. It sounds corny, but a fella could really start feeling like one with nature and it's cycles in a place like that.

A cow homey

That's all to say, I really like it out there, so a trip to Farm was a great birthday present. And I got to relive my college days in nearby Chico.

We rolled out of the Bay Area early Saturday morning, like 8 AM. Traffic was light, which is good because Californians do not know how to drive. I've been trying a new thing, what with gas prices so high. I lock the cruise control in at the speed limit. It's really bizzare to have 85% of the traffic going a much faster than I am, but there's less drama and congestion. I don't know, maybe I am getting old... maybe I've had a few too many close calls... maybe I think because in the past 5 years I've driven about 100,000 miles, including two times across the US that my time is up... it's just not safe to speed.

There's something going on in our culture. That's the understatement of the decade, but anyway, just about every car commercial emphasizes power, performance, and Fun FUn FUN. Led Zeppelin soundtracks cars powersliding across wet pavement or blasting through the Utah desert. NASCAR is second only to the NFL in popularity. Most drivers seem to see the freeway as some sort of Indy race that you win by passing close, strategically changing lanes, letting the other guy know he's going to slow by tailgating. The California roads are really dangerous; however I can assure that vast stretches of our great land are asshole free.

We got to the Farm midday, and it was effing gee dee hot. We took a quick tour. In some ways, being there on a random Saturday was better than the crowded Thanksgiving event because the tour guide was able to tell is some of the stories behind the animals. There were less animals out tho, because they were all trying to avoid the blazing hot rock in the sky. I've been a vegan for four years now, so I've heard a lot of the horror stories, seen the movies, and it's always a bummer to hear how cruel us humans can be. But... It's incredibly uplifting to see how happy these animals are now. The cows lie in the sun, the pigs splash around in the pond, a kitty cat naps with the bunny rabbits...Have you ever had a turkey, or any other bird, walk up to you and request a pet like a kitty?

A piggy homey avoiding the sun, smiling from a belly rub

Tar pets a turkey

I met my bro Alfalfa. I may have mentioned that it was really hot, so the goats were keeping it pretty mellow. Alfalfa liked the extra attention, and he seems like the kind of dude I could have as a pet. Goats are great, although we were told they are quite mischevious.

Alfalfa, my special goat homey

A boy and his goat

After broing off with Alfalfa, Tar and I headed to Chico, in search of a motel that was near downtown and had a pool. Chico doesn't really have quality lodging, unless you want to stay on the extreme north or south sides of the college town, and the rooms book up fast. Motel #1 was booked up. #2 only had a smoking room #3 was booked, so we settled for the slightly seedy Thunderbird Lodge. To Ukiah types this name evokes the seediest of all motor lodges out on south South State Street past the airport, where people don't stay so much as they live there, selling drugs or fixing their cars on the motel lawn. To Chico-ans, the Thunderbird is a curious oddity on the edge of downtown; nobody knows anybody that has stayed there and there's just something weird about the place. I am pretty sure they are ownded by the same people, but none of the employees could verify that. Both the Chico and Ukiah Thunderbirds are trad, like they were built in the 1950's, and neither has been renovated since then, I'd wager.

Our room was quiet, mostly because of the cinder block walls. The wall paper was pealing, the bathroom tile linoleum need to be replaced, random screws in the walls suggested that art had once adorned them. The door had been kicked in at one point. But the TV was brand new. And there was a pool.

First, we decided to go on a bike ride to earn our dip in the pool. We were smart and brought our bikes to enjoy Chico's flat landscape. We rode through the empty Chico State campus and I showed Tar all the highlights like the creek running through campus and my old dorm room. Then we rode over to Bidwell Park, which is the nations 2nd largest municipal park (Central Park in NYC is #1). In all the years I lived in Chico, I never once went on a bike ride in Bidwell. I effed up. Bidwell is rad. In fact, a casual afternoon bike ride through Bidwell alone is worth the three hour drive to Chico.

Tired and sweaty, we changed into our swim gear for a dip in the pool. The beer cans and cigarrettes in the poolside ash tray were not encouraging. I dipped my legs in, when Tar saw a used band aid stuck to an inflatable pool toy that was floating by. We skipped the swim and went to dinner instead.

After some yummy pizza, we started our evening out with $3 teas at Panama's. The giant glasses start with shots of vodka, gin, rum, and triple sec like a Long Island Ice Tea but Panama's has a menu with 30 different variations on that theme. Tar and I each had two and we were feeling pretty good walking out of there.

Next stop was Normal Street Bar. I used to live across the street from Normal St. and they were always good to me. It had some punk on the jukebox and the crowd was just swordy enough to be bearable. And they served the "Poor Boy Special" which was a shot of Mad Dog 20/20 fortified wine and a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon for $1.25. I promised Joe I would get a Poor Boy Special on his behalf. Tar and I walked in and it was unreal. It was like every jock, frat boy and meat head in a 250 mile radius crammed into the bar. There was some intense Godsmack/Staind type jock rock farting very loudly from the jukebox. We were totally the oldest people in there, and we're not that old. We stayed long enough to use the bathroom.

Dejected, we walked to Duffy's, a Chico favorite. Duffy's Tavern is like many an Irish pub that you might find in the Inner Richmond, but it's also been a refuge for people like me to escape the people like those at Normal St. The crowd was a bit older. I felt comfortable there, but it was just kind of boring, so we made one more attempt at bar hopping. We went next door to Mr. Lucky's. This place opened up after I left Chico, but I had some great times there cutting a rug with Smith, Fritch, Trevor, Joe, etc. during our many trips up to Chico in the early 2k's. Tonight however, a handful of ugly chicks swayed on the dance floor while a suspiciously underage looking couple made out in the corner. That shit was D-E-D ded, so we called it a night.

Chico was fun, but it made me feel very old. I'd like to go there with posse of homies with bikes so we can go for a nice ride and not feel so old.

I left out a bunch of stuff like the fact that we rode our bikes downtown that night, or the 1965 Mustang that Tar almost bought on the spot, or the good food we ate at Grilla Bites, or the English Bulldog boxers I bought. All in all tho, I had a great trip and Tar is the best for sneaking me out of town.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

I can't stand it anymore. I've started four different posts about Samoa, Hawaii and the week I spent on tour with Billy Corgan, but I just haven't committed the time to finish them.

So here you are. See 100 of my favorite Samoa photos here. See 24 of my favorite Hawaii photos here. Both photosets are in my "Recent Work" section see you can see some of the other stuff I've done recently. Coming soon, photos from the Billy Corgan tour.

The Mall photos made the cover of Mesh Magazine, an every 6 weeks or so arts & music tabloid here in SF. I really like the photos and those guys were great subjects to work with, and their music is really good. Listen to them here and check out the upcoming show dates while you are at it. Although there's some Casio keyboards in there, I like The Mall a lot because there are doing something outside the mind-dulling dance-punk that seems to own San Francisco right now.

Also up are promo photos of Danny & Linda Fetzer of Jeriko Estate Winery for a new wine magazine coming out of Mendocino County. I ended up doing that one totally unexpectedly. After getting back from Billy Corgan, I went up to Hopland/Ukiah to recover my car, which I stashed at my parent's house back in June. The sun was setting, and I was hanging out with the old man on the porch. My parents live next to Danny & Linda and the Jeriko Estate. He gave them a call about some sort of neighborly thing, and they lamented their inability to take a good looking photo. So my dad, being the good man that he is volunteered my services.

It was the exact right time of day for those kind of photos. Thanks to the wonder of technology, I was able to shoot 150 photos in about 45 minutes. Then I uploaded the photos to the laptop. I chose 25 of my favorites. From there, the Fetzers, my dad and I narrowed it down to 5 finals. I spent a few minutes color correcting the photos and the whole job took about 2 hours from the first shutter click to me handing over a finished CD to the client. With film, it would have take literally days to accomplish the same thing.

Ahhh, but these days my primary focus now that I am back for reals, is getting a jobby job. I am ready to work. I need to work. And my photography career is taking off in such a direction that I could stand to have a regular day job, and have photography to live for when I am not slaving for the man. Please, I need your help. If you work and your work like hires people and stuff, I am a pretty capable guy. I have a whole lot of project management and supervisorial experience, plus a grab bag of other skills so I can fit in just about anywhere.

I am trying not to do the San Francisco art-o thing of living in the Mission, working at a bar or restaurant, etc so I can focus on my art. For one, I am getting a bit old for that, and I need to start getting somewhere besides sidetracked in life. The truth is San Francisco just doesn't offer much for a creative but also employable/business minded late 20's guy like myself. If I were willing to live in NYC or LA, I think my employment situation wouldn't be so bleak. I love San Francisco, and I think the old girl still has a bit more for me, but the hard truth is that SF is dead, and well, I'm not the one to get things going.

I haven't been too crazy about new music these days, but in the past few weeks I've picked up a few albums that I can't stop listening to. The Crimea were openers for Billy Corgan. They sometimes remind me of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street band but from London 2005 instead of New Jersey 1975. I listened to their EP "Lottery Winners on Acid" on infinite repeat for like three days straight, and I am the guy that effing hates it when people listen to the same songs over and over again. They have an album on Warner Bros out September, but the label is kind of giving the run around so they may suffer from a lack of promotion. But they are brilliant, so get it. Or go to their myspace page and listen to a few of the songs.

The thing the broke me out of my Crimea trance was Rilo Kiley "More Adventurous." Joe M recently admitted he gets giddy every time Rilo Kiley comes on internet radio and is a yuppie because of it. I guess because they had a song on The OC and I bought the CD at Target and Jenny Lewis's lyrics are scientifically engineered to appeal to directionless late 20's-ers, then yeah Rilo Kiley is for yuppies. Well then, I am King Yuppie. For my money, this is like my album of the year. Lewis's voice is intensely beautiful, her lyrics clever and intelligent, and the recording has beautiful layer upon layer, just the way I like it. There aren't boring guitar wankery solos, but rather carefully chosen subtle over dubs. This is the kind of album you listen with the headphones on.

Oh yeah, I am really starting to warm up to the new Oasis album. Thank you.

Friday, July 08, 2005

american samoa, day 2

i've been waking up around 6:45, which is pretty early, but then again, that's almost 11 am back home. my morning routine consists of doing some writing, reviewing my photos from the day before, taking an icy shower and perhaps reading if tar isn't up yet.

(as an aside, i am reading "mark twain's letters from hawaii" which he wrote for the sacramento union when he visited the islands in 1866. he's still a young writer at this point in his life, but it makes for an interesting read nonetheless.)

at around 9, i decided to emerge from my room and walk across the yard to tar's grandmother's house to see if tar is up yet. tar's grandmother is both a kind hostess and a vivacious character. she doesn't speak english so much, although after a few days i am figuring out that she understands a lot more than i originally thought. i've had a lot of conversations with her now, but all are made up of short sentences by both parties. often, after saying something in english, she'll laugh, and i haven't decided if she is amused by her own use of english or if she's being jovial but it's prolly a little of both.

tar & her grandmother
tar & her grandmother

this morning she welcomed me as i walked in, told me tarita was still asleep, and asked if she should wake her. i gave her a conspiratorial nod in agreement. she walked over to the bedroom door, stuck her head in and said "tarita! the boy is up! he is out here. get up and make him breakfast!" tar and i had breakfast similar to that described previously, and i helped her make it.

in the afternoon, peti, tar's mom, took a break from her samoan language conference and we went for a tour of the island. the roads are pretty good here, but it's not like there's an interstate. there's not even a way to circumnavigate the island. mostly driving is done at a mild 20 miles an hour, and the drivers are exceptionally courteous. samoan drivers are constantly yielding their right of way to cars making left turns across their path. people use and also acknowledge turn signals. it's really the complete opposite of california, where drivers are selfish and territorial, impatient and dangerous. "no man is an island" is the rule of the road on this island. but, this can make for some slow going, especially if you get stuck behind and exceptionally safe driver that goes slower than the usual 20 mph.

although there aren't many accidents here, the drives can be mind numbingly slow. a drive to "town", ie the harbor village and capitol city of pago pago can take 45 minutes or more. and it's only 12 miles! growing up in the sticks in ukiah, i know what a 12 mile drive into town is like, and they take things pretty slow up in mendocino county too, but 45 minutes is something else.

pickups rule the road around here, although SUVs are pretty popular. (i've even seen a few SUVs with outlandish dubs and one with spinners). i can count 1 motorcycle and perhaps three or four honda civics. pickups are popular because the elevated suspension is good for some of the less developed roads, it's easier to haul stuff around, but most important--you can cram a whole lot of people in there. besides the buses, which i will write about later, the most common way to get around samoa is in the back of a pickup. it's common to see five or six or eight people piled in the back of a pick-up, and it's not just kids. grandmothers, uncles, brothers, aunties, they all ride in back.

on this afternoon, we traded uncle john his swank toyota 4-runner for his toyota tacoma pick-up and i rode in back with teenagers sam, lu'ai, and tatiana. it's a great feeling to be out in the sun in the back of a slow moving pick-up, but the slow moving traffic on the winding coastal rode makes for a long day. we drove nearly the entire length of the coastal main road that runs along the southern edge of the island. i saw so many charming villages and so much natural beauty that my meager words or modest photographs can do little to describe or represent its scope.

sam, taitana, & lu'ai go for a ride
sam (left), tatiana, & lu'ai go for a ride

driving from one side of the island, you get a sense of just how friendly samoans are, as everyone waves and smiles when you go by. i'll talk about samoan kindness and generosity later, but i will say samoa has to be the friendliest place in the world, and their casual and welcoming regard for strangers is abundant.

sam in the back of the pick-up
sam in the back of the pick-up

the definite low-light of the day's trip was the tuna canneries. like the beauty of the samoan islands, words cannot describe the awful dry tuna-fishy stench that blows out from the canneries. i am not really sure how people can work there, but the canneries employ 34% of the workforce, and supply 30% of the canned tuna to the mainland. it must be like working at a paper mill or something; after a few days you just can't smell it anymore.

ok. time for a quick geography lesson. there are roughly a dozen samoan islands, with a distinctly western group and an eastern group. the western group is samoa (aka western samoa, aka independent samoa, but locals in both countries call it "samoa"). the eastern group is american samoa; with the majority of the 60,000 residents living on the island of tutuila. tutuila is where we've been staying. i should mention, people freely call the island "pago" because pago pago (pronounced pango pango) is the commercial and government center of the society. when i speak of "samoans" i am usually referring to people from either island group; when i use "samoa" i usually mean the whole.

the biggest disappointment about tutuila is the lack of beaches. i really expected more, but there just isn't any. in fact, despite the lush greenery and rugged landscape, tutuila is kind of worthless. as a volcanic hunk of rock in the middle of the ocean, only about 15% of its land is arable, so naturally, roughly 15% of the land is inhabitable.

the only thing tutuila has going for it is the naturally deep volcanic harbor, with a coastline that encloses it protecting ships from rough seas, while the steep mountains protect the harbor from high winds. naturally, the US navy fell in love with the harbor and built a coaling station there in 1904. theodore roosevelt was president at the time; as a former secretary of the navy, roosevelt made it the country's top priority to build up the navy to be the strongest in the world. in 1907, roosevelt launched the "great white fleet" of 16 brand new battleships (painted gleaming white), which circumnavigated the world as a show of the US's new naval might. in 1908, while the great white fleet cruised the pacific, a squadron of ships was dispatched to pago pago, should the fleet need reinforcements.

so, back to no beaches. there's a few, but the only beach suitable for a tourist such as myself would be tisa's barefoot bar and beach. tisa, an old school chum of peti, runs this legendary beachfront bar with her australian boyfriend, an aus who is totally awes. tisa's bar is like something out of swiss family robinson; everything is improvised, the bar stools are made of coconut tree stumps, and fishing nets are the primary decor.

tisa's barefoot bar & beach
tisa's barefoot bar & beach

we got there after the sun had set over the steep mountainside, so it was kind of cold. the sand was rough, but it sure was nice to get in the water after spending the afternoon in the back of a pick-up. while us kids swam in the ocean, peti went up to the bar to see her old friend (just missed her), but ended up talking to a pair of americans that were staying in tisa's guest cottage. peti forgot their names, but there were big time mountain climbers, having scaled everything from everest on down. they were in samoa to relax and to climb the islands' tallest peaks.


it had been a long day, and we rode back during the samoan rush hour. with only one road around the island, around 5 pm, the roads get clogged with slow moving busses and overloaded pick-ups. again a frustrating experience especially because we had to go from just east of pago pago to about 45 minutes west to leone. in leone we had to drop off the kids, and change into to dinner clothes, and then drive 45 minutes back to pago pago. oka oka!

pago pago harbour
pago pago harbour

because samoa is fairly close to the equator, the sun rises and sets roughly the same time (6:30 and 6:00) year round. in the hour before the sun goes down, samoans of all ages gather in the malae (village commons) and play football (soccer and american) volleyball, etc. to end the day.

evening sports at a malae
evening sports at a malae

as we rushed back to leone, the hour of 6 was approaching; night was falling. although there are streetlights, it's still pretty dark on the island after the sun sets. bells started ringing. stern looking gentlemen with matching lava-lavas (cloth waist wraps like a sarong, worn by men and women) started lining the road. with their hands on their hips, some holding pipes or sticks, or crossing their thick arms across their chest, it was clear something very serious was going on.

it's an ancient samoan custom the men of the village make sure the night falls without incident, so they stand watch on the streets. they also make sure people hurry home for evening prayers. every village does things its own way. in some villages, the men wear matching lava-lavas in the village colors, while in a larger village like leone, the men cruise around in pick-up trucks. in some villages the curfew lasts for an hour, while in others, everyone must be in for the rest of the night.

tar and i joined her uncle tony and aunty salu for dinner at sadie thompson's inn in pago pago. sadie's is one of the best and oldest restaurants on tutuila. we had the good fortune of salu's company for a second night in a row. her daughter diana was home for two weeks from iraq, so salu has a short break from caring for diana's three children.

sadie's, tony tells me, is named for a famous madame that ran a brothel in the building the restaurant/hotel now occupies. the internet tells me sadie thompson is the main character of the short story "ms. thompson" by somerset maugham about a san francisco prostitute that tries to start anew in pago pago. the story became the play "rain" which was later made into the movie "sadie thompson" starring gloria swanson in the title role. it wouldn't surprise me if both were true.

the dinner was excellent, but the main reason we dined at sadie's was, like the night before, peti was attending a dinner for the samoan language conference. after stuffing our faces, we went to the patio to watch the floor show. sadie’s has the best floor show on the island, the locals tell me, but normally it features dance styles from all over polynesia. because of the language conference, all dances tonight were traditional samoan dances.

the dancers were the waitresses, wearing beautiful red puletasis. a puletasi is a women's formal wear in samoa, made up of a form fitting ankle length skirt and a long, form-fitting top. the patterns are usually colorful and hair is worn in a bun. puletasis are very beautiful and an important part of samoan culture, like the lava-lava, but i can't help but note they represent the westernization of samoan culture, as they came about after christian missionaries de-heathenized the islands. before christianity, women were topless. the puletasi is like the exact opposite; extremely conservative and covering most of the body, although newer designs are more revealing in the bodice.

traditional dancing is an important part of samoan culture, and often i would see women subconsciously making the hand motions to the dance from their seats. which is to say, everyone knows the songs and the moves to the songs. at several points during the show at sadie’s, audience members were called up to dance based on where they lived. peti jumped up on stage when all the californians were called.

peti dances at sadie's
peti dances at sadie's

about halfway through the show, an overwhelming odor blast of gasoline came over the crowd. i thought i was sitting on top of an old lawnmower. all concerns were erased when the fire knife dancers took the stage. the fire knife dance is a traditional samoan dance, which i always thought was hawaiian from TV. it's so traditional and samoan that it was first performed in golden gate park in san francisco in 1946! Letuli Olo Misilagi was about to perform the very traditional samoan knife dance for a shriner's convention, when indian fire-breathers and baton twirlers wowed the audience. letuli upstaged them by lighting his knives on fire, and arguably the most famous expression of polynesian culture was born.

sadie's is a small place, so the we could really feel the heat from the flames, and i got sprayed with gasoline a few times as the dancers whipped the flaming swords around. it was pretty incredible. so incredible, i didn't take pictures. sorry.

alright, well, that's like 2400 words, so i'll stop here. more to come tho.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

curse of the traveler

hi. we got back from 4 days in west samoa last night. it was really great, and i have so much to write and hundreds of photos to share. that's the good news. the bad news, and it was bound to happen, is that i ate or drank something funny and have been laid up with the gripper since monday night. feeling a bit better today, and maybe later on i will post a whole bunch more.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

american samoa, day one some more

many of the showers in samoa skip the hot water altogether, a fact i discovered all too quickly this morning. after my chilly rendezvous with cleanliness, i walked across the yard to see if tar was up.

we decided peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fresh papaya would make a fine breakfast. as we constructed our sandwiches a neighbor or a cousin or both showed up with a steaming casserole dish of cocoa rice. this chocolaty treat is rice prepared in coconut milk with cocoa mixed in. a few minutes later, someone else showed up with two bowls full of samoan pancakes, which are donut hole sized balls of banana batter deep fried to make yummy goodness. what started off as a modest PBJ snack turned into a samoan breakfast feast.

grandma's garden

after breakfast, we walked through the beautiful and lush garden that surrounds tar’s grandmother's house. i don't know what an acre looks like, but if i had to tender a guess, i would say her property is at least an acre's worth.

samoan market

tar's sister tatiana walked us around the corner to the neighborhood market run by a relative. the village is littered with small markets that are much like the bodegas in the mission district or in nyc, although some are in the front of people's homes. after stealing their cousin lu’ai to be our tour guide, the four of us set out the explore the expansive village of leone. i can only put this in terms that i know, so bear with me. leone, i guess, must be about the size of willits, which is to say it's several miles long and has a few thousand inhabitants.

swimming hole

we made the swimming holes our first stop on our late morning walk. the swimming holes are actually a network of caves in the volcanic rock that the local kids swim through. them things looked kind of scary to me, but then again, the tide was out, so the holes looked deep and dark. the ladies climbed down the lava rock-ed cliff face to put their feet in the water, while i stood above them taking pictures.

in the water

it was agreed that spelunking was not the day's charge, so we headed east towards another swimming area favoured by the locals. again, we had to climb down some lava rock, this time to a small beach. the beach was mostly worn down chunks of coral and a pockets of rough sand.

i got to put my feet in the water this time, and it was the best. when i was a wee lad, i went swimming at a beach in Santa Monica, but i've never experienced warm ocean water before. none of us were clothed for swimming so we splashed around in the water for a while. this mostly involved lu’ai taunting tatiana with a sea cucumber, and picking up a handful of water and dumping it on tati's head.


at certain point tatiana decided she wanted to go for a quick swim, but her gray shorts immediatly turned translucent. a group of boys roughly tatiana and lu’ai's age came hacking through the brush with a machete and jumped in the water. one of them used the machete to flick crabs off the lava rocks at his swimming friend. i think the girls got kind of shy around the boys, so we decided to leave. tatiana borrowed la’ui's lava-lava to cover her translucent shorts.

walking back

tar and i were pretty tuckered out from the morning's activities and decided to relax with a game of cards on her grandmother's front porch. being lunch time, it wasn't long before the food started arriving again. this time it was boiled breadfruit smothered in coconut milk, boiled bananas, and oka which is like a ceviche of raw tuna soaked in the lime juice and coconut milk with slices of green onions, tomatoes and cucumbers. the breadfruit was good, especially with some salt. the starchy fruit tasted similar to, but not exactly like, artichoke. i am not sure why they boiled the banana, because it rendered it incredibly bland. the banana wasn't bad once i dipped it the oka sauce.

still kind of jet lagged, tar and i retired to our respective quarters for an afternoon nap. i woke up before tar, and went with her mom, peti, to drop of her friend at the other side of the village.

it's really hard to describe what leone looks like. there aren't any zoning laws, which explains why people open business in their homes. some houses have sidewalks, some houses are built right next to the street, while others are way back from the street. every once and a while a house is parallel to the street, but usually they are canted any way from 5 to 45 degrees off the street. the houses a are generally made of cinderblock, presumably to withstand the hurricanes that blow through here in the winter months. most of the roofs are made of the ripple corrugated steel.

obviously everything is intensely green, and every front yard looks like it has been masterfully landscaped, but that's probably more of nature taking it's course than anything else.

there are dogs everywhere, and i am told i should carry a stick when i walk because some of the dogs will come at you. they are responsive to threats of stick or stone, though. all the dogs on the island seem to be of the same genetic mutt stock. they are small, maybe 25 pounds, lean bodies with long faces that give them a sort of an ancient dog look. they are usually brown or tan, but sometimes they have black markings. there's a few scrawny pathetic looking cats around too.

people don't keep dogs and cats as pets here like they do in the mainland. in fact, while any bodega back home would have a pet food on its shelves, i think you'd have to drive pretty far to buy actual dog food. the cats are totally feral, and live off of table scraps and whatever else they can scrounge up. they are tolerated because they take care of vermin, but you never have one those filthy creatures hop in your lap for a petting and purring session. although cute because kitties are cute, samoan cats are contemptible scrounges like pigeons, and like the dogs, they have an ancient, lean look to them.

samoan cats

you don't pet the dogs either. the dogs have it a little better. most dogs are freelancers, and they'll enter a contract with a family, exchanging vicious barks at strange cars or people and general protection duties for choice table scraps. the dogs act like regular dogs, wagging their tail excitedly when you come by or acknowledge their existence, and they take long naps in the shade of the carport. but they drink rainwater out of buckets and puddles, and scrounge for human leftovers.

later that evening, tar and i had dinner with her auntie salu and her uncle john at the equator restaurant, which is connected to the clarion suites tradewinds hotel. the hotel is prolly one of the nicest in american samoa, but was exactly what you would expect of a clarion suites anywhere's in the US. during the daytime, tar's mom peti has been heavily involved with a samoan language conference at the nearby american samoa community college. this evening the tradewinds hotel hosted a buffet and floor show for all the delegates. after dinner, the four of us walked over to the poolside floor show and met up with peti.

what can i say? the evening was absolutely stunning. we pulled up some chairs to the edge of the pull and watched the traditional polynesian dances from behind the stage. the almost full moon rose up the sky directly in front of us, illuminating the tops of the coconut trees. an occasional gentle breeze caressed our faces. it was one of those moments to sit back and enjoy, while thinking about how nice it is to be alive.

samoan moon

Monday, June 20, 2005

american samoa, day one


it's day break in leone. after getting about 6.5 hours of sleep, i am awake, ready to see samoa. but i prolly have to wait a few hours for everyone (tari, mostly) else to wake up. there are all sorts of birds making tropical bird noises. and there chickens, which i am told fly around and roost in trees. and a rooster, who desperately wants us to know the sun is up.

it's pleasantly warm here. i've been warned about the heat and humidity, and how it is vastly different from san francisco. it's not much worse than ohio or the sacramento valley this time of year. maybe more humid, but after 75%, who's counting anyway?

the two flights were long and uncomfortable. i might as well take it from the top. my shuttle van to SFO showed up 15 minutes early, which was fine because I got up at 5 AM to get ready anyhow. i got to say my proper goodbyes to marvel, my kitty, who greeted my affections by slipping off my lap to nap under my bed. at the airport, i walked straight up to the Pago Pago check in line. as i approached the counter, a hawaiian airlines employee came up to me and asked "sir, can i help you? what are you doing in this line, sir?"

when i responded that i am traveling to pago pago today, she apologized saying "it's just that you don't look like one of our regular customers."

i flew to honolulu, where i had a layover for many hours.


tar made her connection from las vegas, and we waited out the layover sipping mai tais and eating a fresh fruit salad, which rested in a bowl fashioned out of a cut in half and hollowed out pineapple. we got to the gate early, and relaxed in the empty terminal until a grumpy old man armed with a vacuum cleaner told us rudely to get out! i took us a few moments to realize that we needed to be at gate 29, and we were in gate 26.


we took off on the runway that serves as an emergency back-up runway for the space shuttle, a fact, which I am sure every person that has flow into to honolulu knows, because they mentioned it when we landed, and when we took off. i, of course, am deeply impressed by this fact, and leaned over tar to examine every detail of the black asphalt as we accelerated over it at 180 miles per hour.

flying is bizarre, especially when you do 10 hours of it. it's like sitting in classroom that occasionally bumps around and sometimes your ears pop. especially on the big planes, there's almost no sensation of motion or travel.

when we touched in pago pago, there was a light rain that came down in sheets like it does in the movies. even though it was almost 10 PM, it was 80 degrees. we disembarked directly onto the runway. as we walked up to the terminal, tar and i looked back to see the massive 737 we just came from and the long line of people exiting the plane. she said that would make a good picture. i showed my agreement by leaving my camera in the bag, which was stupid because now all i can think about is what a good picture it would have been. i guess i was kind of overwhelmed, worried about getting my luggage, etc.

pago pago international is an open-air affair, therefore it feels more like an agricultural inspection station in the sacramento valley than an international terminal. while we waited almost an hour for all of our luggage to show up, various geckos skitted by, and a giant moth bounced off my temple. tar told me that was a dead relative checking up on me, according to samoan folklore.

tar's mom peti and her younger sister tatiana, as well as various cousins, greeted us. the village where tar's family lives, leone, is about 25 minutes from the airport. on the way home, we stopped at a corner market that was just turning off its lights as we pulled up. the korean proprietors kindly reopened the store and we bought PBJ making supplies. the store, which was surrounded by tropical flora and fauna and had 50 lb bags of pigs feed stacked in front, was called "California Mart, inc" which only proves it is impossible to escape california.

we were greeted by various relatives, so many names and faces that it all escaped me. i certainly met tar's grandmother, who greeted me by kissing the top of my hand.

i also met a small mutt of a dog appropriately called "brownie." samoa is full of feral dogs, looking for a kind family to feed them table scraps, and brownie is the latest in a long and storied line of dogs that have made their home in the tuitele's yard, including a legendary three legged dog from years past.


i am sleeping across the yard from tar's grandmother's house at her uncle john's house. i have her cousin daniel's bedroom to use. this means that her cousin daniel gets to sleep in the living room. thanks daniel, i know how that is. i thought i would have trouble sleeping, but the fan kept me cool enough that i didn't touch the air conditioner.

so here i am in leone, american samoa, waiting for tar to wake up so we can start our day.

(i know i haven't yet delivered the goods as far as photos go, but have patience...i've already shot over 200, and i have some 2000+ words to post later.)