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[whitespace] Best of the North Bay Best of 2002

Staff Picks: Culture

Feelin' It



Fortunately, art is a community effort-- a small but select community living in a spiritualized world endeavoring to interpret the wars and the solitudes of the flesh.

--Allen Ginsberg


Best Place That's Most Like It Was

Ever since it was discovered by the longhaired and the armpitty in the '60s, Fairfax has possessed a delightful duality. On the one hand, there's the steak 'n' scotch set who scream at Little League games, yell "Yer blind!" at volunteer high-school refs, and threaten to tussle on the bleachers. On the other, there's the vegan/hemp set trucking little Ani and Dylan off to open-classroom education under the oaks. They've coexisted peacefully for years, even before Van Morrison's painfully straight parents ran the local record shop. Though there are those of us who will mourn the demise of the Corner Bar to the ends of our days, Fairfax has essentially kept its old-school integrity, and for that we settle with a scotch on a metaphoric stool, meditatively enjoy a TofuRella sandwich, and murmur "Yer blind" at any yoga instructor who can't tell that this lotus is balanced.
From central Marin, take the Central San Rafael exit and go west on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. It's the scruffy place past San Anselmo. --G.G.


Photograph by Michael Amsler

Best Weekly Backwoods Rock and Roll Hootenanny

Occidental appears out of the redwoods suddenly, like a dream vision of an oversized spice-rack village, and vanishes just as fast. After driving for miles down twisting West County roads on a Friday night, this may be the last place you'd expect anything to happen--unless you're craving punishingly large portions of family-style Italian food. But what's that music seeping out a bar door? Is it "Good Night Irene"? If it's Friday, it must be Nick Gravenites. Gravenites, whose claim to fame outside the time zone of Occidental was playing with Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company, has probably the longest-standing gig in the North Bay at Negri's Restaurant. Folks older than me can't even remember a time when he wasn't playing, but you can be sure that his song list hasn't changed in all that time. But that doesn't bother the groovin' regulars or any one of the other characters who wander in. Don't worry about dressing up, since you couldn't hope to fit in with this potpourri of hippies, cowboys, hombres, and the home-from-college set. Just join them in unabashed freeform dancing.
3700 Bohemian Hwy., Occidental. 707.823.5301. Shows usually Fridays, 10pm-1:30am.--J.K.


Photograph by Michael Amsler

Best Singing Healthcare Professionals

When you're sick or hurting or worried about your health, doctors may be necessary. But they are not usually a whole lot of fun. Unless, of course, they are singing to you as they treat your condition. In the North Bay, there are two excellent examples of this remarkable phenomenon. Popular Rohnert Park chiropractor Venus Maher has been known to serenade her patients after adjusting their spines. Possessed of a fine singing voice and a folky, bluesy, New Agey taste in music, she also writes her own songs. And she even has a CD available for purchase right there at the counter. Dr. Ralph Hoyal of Santa Rosa, on the other hand, prefers feet (he's a podiatrist) and Broadway show tunes. A regular participant in the Santa Rosa Players, the good doctor requires just a little prodding to let loose with a rousing baritone rendition of songs from Oklahoma, Camelot, or Oliver ("You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two"?). --D.T.

Best Bad Public Art

There is probably an official title for the enormous pastel-enhanced metal sculpture that inhabits the walkway in front of the Sonoma County Administration Building. Unfortunately, no one who works inside can remember or report what the sculpture's title is. What we have been able to determine is that the thing was designed by Penngrove metal artist Robert Ellison--whose work adorns public buildings and sculpture gardens around the country--and that it probably isn't called The Big Ice Cream Cones, no matter what it looks like. At least 12 feet tall, the surprisingly goofy-looking sculpture is made up of three sugar-cone-like triangular wedges, which are tinted the color of sweet cream and vanilla and . . . well, nothing edible in nature comes in the exact color of blue that adorns those parts of the piece. To further the ice cream effect, the three cones are joined together by a stylized, rounded-and-fluffy swath of white something or other, suspended over the sculpture like a melting trio of double-scoop Cold Stone Creamery specials. It makes us hungry just thinking about it. Now--what does it have to do with Sonoma County?
575 Administration Drive,Santa Rosa. --D.T.

Other Best Bad Public Art (also the Best Local Attraction for Japanese Tourists)

The celebrated Railroad Square sculpture depicting Snoopy and Charlie Brown--those characters created, of course, by Sonoma County's own Charles Schulz--has turned out much different than the town-leaders-who-fell-all-over-themselves-to-put-the-thing-in-place had ever imagined. For one thing, it's creepy. Hey, we at the Bohemian love Snoopy as much as anyone. (This sentimental writer personally slept with a big, stuffed Snoopy plush toy, complete with World War I flying ace goggles and scarf, from his eighth birthday till his first wife "accidentally" threw it out one day with the old light bulbs and lettuce). But this particular monotone Snoopy, embraced by a similarly single-hued Charlie Brown, just looks wrong. It's like someone froze them in carbonite along with Han Solo. Or dipped them in molten bronze for posterity. (Poor Charlie Brown! Poor Snoopy!) That the Santa Rosa edifice has become a major attraction for camera-wielding visitors from Japan is especially unexpected. It's not often that you'll visit the statue without seeing at least a half dozen such people (who, by the way, we welcome with fiscally responsible arms) standing around snapping pictures as if it were the Sphinx or the Eiffel Tower or the waxy corpse of Lenin. Good grief! --D.T.


Photograph by Michael Amsler

Best Place To Kick Up Your Heels

In a county that boasts something for just about everyone, there's no place quite like Monroe Hall. Dance lovers of every shoe size and style find the well-worn floor beckoning them to tap their toes. The choice is yours--Sufi, line, or tap dancing; or perhaps you prefer the Hustle--and that's just on Monday. And if you still aren't satisfied, there's jazz, swing, country-western, ballroom, square, contra, salsa, or even a little Tai Chi. The one common thread no matter the music is the smile indelibly plastered on the faces of those whose feet are prancing, leaping, or twirling about.
1400 W. College Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.576.9773.--K.A.

Best Restored Public Art

In the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, there are two magnificent art deco murals depicting naked nymphs frolicking in various cinematic ways. Visitors to the state-of-the-art movie house often gasp in appreciation of these works' contagious enthusiasm and obvious self-assuredness. But for a time, these nymphs were doomed to be forgotten, either hidden away under decades of dirt and grime--as the mural over the theater screen was--or locked away completely behind massive mirrors, as was the fate of the enormous mural in the main lobby. The murals were painted by Mill Valley artist Henry Martins in 1937. Though naked as the day they were painted, the women in the murals managed to survive the scrutiny of prurient art critics until the early 1970s when the theater began showing Disney films on a routine basis. "No one even noticed the mural over the screen anymore," says Art Kusnetz, author of The Rafael and a former manager of the Rafael Theater, "but the mural in the lobby was more obvious." So vast mirrors were installed over the frolicking nymphs. When Kusnetz began managing the Rafael in the early '80s, he heard rumors that there were X-rated paintings hidden somewhere behind the walls of the Rafael, so he launched a kind of cultural treasure hunt, leading spelunking tours between the walls of the theater. He eventually uncovered an old black-and-white photo, taken of the lobby mural just before it was mirrored over. When the Film Institute of Northern California acquired the building a few years back, they made the restoration of the murals a main priority, carefully repairing the damage. On opening day, Kusnetz visited the refurbished theater, and finally saw the restored but still mysterious nymphs he'd hunted for so tirelessly. "I don't know how many times I looked at that black-and-white photo," he says, relieved and happy that the murals did make it into the 21st century. "I tried to imagine what it had once looked like in color. So seeing it for the first time, it just blew me away."
1118 Fourth St., San Rafael. 415.454.1222.--D.T.


Photograph by Rory McNamara

Best Example of Bizarre Architecture

It rises from the ground like a crazy tower built out of scrap metal by a band of river gnomes. If Rapunzel had lived in a junkyard and had known a really expensive architect, this is the kind of place she'd have had. If John Steinbeck and Frank Lloyd Wright had ever gotten drunk together in a Cannery Row bar, this is the home they might have designed, sketching it out on a cocktail napkin. Not to run the place down or anything; this is truly the coolest single-family dwelling in town. Located at 530 First St., near Petaluma's Foundry Wharf, the instantly recognizable house (is it a house?) is a wild, unexpected, three-story edifice--or is it four stories? It's hard to tell: Odd groupings of windows are scattered across its corrugated metal exterior, and an occasional window is turned at an odd angle, as if it were slipping down the wall. The street number is boldly presented in blue neon, and there appear to be not one, but two rooftop patios, from which, one suspects, the residents can see the flowing ebb of the Petaluma River--and the open-mouthed faces of astonished passersby.--D.T.


Photograph by Rory McNamara

Best Place to See Jack-Booted Thugs on the March

You just never know what Petaluma is going to surprise you with next. Take the military antiques museum. While innocently shopping for memorabilia in the city of butter and eggs, if you look above the Mickey Mouse and Betty Boops you might see a series of 10-foot-long bombs pointing the way to the back of the store. Down a creaking staircase and in the basement you'll find the nation's largest military collectibles store, purveying anything from songbooks and toothbrushes to original Nazi dinner plates, as seen creepily displayed in the movie American Beauty. (I was hardly surprised to overhear one eager collector admit simply, "My wife doesn't like it.") But there's more. If you ask, you might be led beyond a steel bunker door, past a Disneyesque automatronic gun sentry, into a one-of-a-kind museum featuring life-sized, uniformed mannequins posed in a variety of wartime activities. In one corner, a mannequin family hides under the floorboards while the battle rages. Another depicts some kind of übermensch party in the desert, while across the way ski troops hit the slopes.
Sgt. Richard Penry Congressional Medal of Honor Museum, located in the Petaluma Collective, 300 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. 707.763.2220.--J.K.

Best Town in which to See a Movie at a State-of-the-Art Movie Theater

That would be Petaluma. Oops. Sorry. We keep forgetting that Petaluma doesn't have a movie theater anymore. Since the demise of the ever struggling--and let's face it, not all that well managed--theater at Washington Square, fast followed by the closure of the Petaluma Cinemas (for which we may never forgive the Pacific Theatres chain), moviegoing Petalumans have had to travel at least 25 minutes in order to catch a flick. Here's hoping that some enterprising independent movie magnate discovers Petaluma's problem and that a new movie theater will be Coming Soon. --D.T.


Photograph by Michael Amsler

Best Literary Couple

Petaluma authors Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller have shared 21 years of marriage, during which they've traveled the world, racked up a garageful of literary awards, and written a combined total of nearly 200 mystery novels. Pronzini, author of the best-selling Nameless Detective series (plus plenty of others) occasionally even collaborates with his wife Marcia Muller, creator of the long-standing Sharon McCone mysteries. So prolific they make most writers cringe with envy, the dynamic duo has, over the years, worked out a satisfactory work system. Observing traditional office hours, they write at home in separate rooms--at opposite ends of the house--meeting up at lunch to critique one another's pages. When they collaborate on the same novel, it gets even better. "We just sit down at the table with a bottle of wine," says Pronzini, "and plot out our sections together. Then we each go off and write. It's fun." Sounds like fun. And quite a neat trick, working at home, pounding out pages without pouncing on each other. How do they do it? Says Muller, "Very cautiously." --D.T.

Best Town in which to See a Free Movie in a Riverside Coffeehouse

That would also be Petaluma. For real. The popular, long-running Friday Night Film Series is sponsored by a quirky coalition of Petaluma organizations, including the Petaluma Progressives, Sustainable Petaluma, and the Petaluma Arts Council. When the series began--offering such blockbusters as Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent and Public Exposure: DNA, Democracy, and the Wireless Revolution--the events were held at Petaluma City Hall. The series hit the big time after it moved to the Arts Council's centrally located temporary gallery next to Copperfield's and began showing such crowd pleasers as the silent classic The Passion of Joan of Arc and Jean Cocteau's gorgeous La Belle et la Bête (not to mention the standing-room-only drug flick Turn on, Tune in, Drop Out). Now the series has moved down to the water, featuring the same eclectic mix of art films and message films--only with really good coffee this time--at the Petaluma Coffee Company. Until Petaluma gets itself a real theater--heck, probably even after Petaluma gets a real theater--there's no better movie show in town.
189 H St., at the Petaluma Foundry Wharf, Petaluma. --D.T.

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From the March 21-27, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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