Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Taste of Cuba in San Francisco

San Francisco is famous for its tourist hot spots. Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39, Alamo Square, China Town, Golden Gate Bridge, and Union Square can be found crawling with tourists on any given day. While these places are all interesting attractions to explore, the real gems are hidden throughout the city like a pirate's buried treasure. This is just one of the reasons why living in a place trumps being a tourist any day. Of course, you get the best of both worlds if you happen to know an insider who lives in the city you're visiting. That's a good combo, too.
Despite having lived in San Francisco for the past six years, I am still discovering treasure troves tucked away in the little pockets of various neighborhoods. The recent heat waves have had me wide awake at night and wanting to play. No better way to do it than cruising through the streets on the back of a motorcycle. There's just something about being on a motorcycle that makes me feel cool. Plus, without the roof of a car obscuring my view, I often see things I might have otherwise missed.
That was how my friend, Michael, and I stumbled upon Radio Habana Social Club. Michael is my hair stylist and rocker friend. We met while sharing the stage for a rock and roll belly dance show I produced. His band, Electric Sister, headlined. Nothing like getting to know people while you're undulating on stage with them.
We were driving back to his place for a late night hair cut (that's the only way I've managed to get my hair cut these days) when we heard jazzy Cuban music spilling out of this tiny bar.
The place was almost too eccentric to describe. It was like the Mad Hatter's playground; nothing made sense, and yet it all came together in a way that fit. Avant garde and abstract art adorned every nook, cranny, ceiling, and wall. Even the floor was covered in art. Marionettes and random objects dangled overhead, like a flock of mismatched birds suspended in flight. Most of the objects were hybrids of various items that had been joined together in a way that was creepy yet mesmerizing. Doll heads with fish bodies, barbies with dragon wings, eyeballs and random body parts glued onto toy cars. All sorts of grotesque images that will haunt your dreams. In addition to this madness were black and white photos of Cuba, musical instruments, and pieces of quotes and poems. The menu had been spray painted on the floor in several places.
This eclectic spot is apparently known for its sangria. Michael and I had already downed some beers at a bar, so we opted for herbal tea and desert instead. Yeah, I'm not as much as a party girl as I make myself out to be. Either way, the cheesecake we shared was melt-in-your-mouth yummy.
Also, big thumbs up for the service. The owner was like the sweet grandma you always wished you had. Don't get me wrong, I love my grandmothers, but this lady was adorable in a way that you only see in fiction.
Perhaps that added to the surreal vibe of Radio Habana Social Club. Well, I guess the customer with his face painted in Dia de los Muertos make-up and the old Cuban men smoking cigars helped, too. It seemed like the kind of place where anything goes. Exactly the kind of place I like to be on a warm San Francisco night.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Hard Lessons

Costa Rica is like a rose: beautiful and sweet, but you better watch out for the thorns. Is that too cliche of a metaphor? Either way, it's an apt description. I had to learn some lessons the hard way this past summer during my time in Costa Rica.
My fiance, Wilson, and I decided to buy property on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast three years ago because we had fallen in love with the people, the food,the diversity, the community, the nature, and the laid back culture. We now have our own little retreat in the jungle- a two bedroom house on a quiet road in the rain forest. We have neighbours, and have made friends with almost everyone on the road.
Anyone can see how it would be easy to get lulled into a false sense of security. We had already had our place broken into twice, so we knew all about the underground "tax" we paid as foreigners. However, the ultimate shocker came during the middle of a peaceful, quiet day. I was sitting at the table on my porch, writing on my laptop, and took a break to bring Wilson a glass of water down in the yard.
Our porch is ten feet up, and I locked the bottom door. Plus, we can see under the house, as we haven't yet finished building the bottom. I figured my laptop would be fine for five minutes, especially since I would only be about twenty feet away.
When I got back to the table, the laptop was gone. My first thought was, "Damn, that was fast!" My second thought was, "How long had someone been watching me?" Knowing that I had been staked out made my skin crawl. So much for knowing the neighbours.
For weeks after, every time someone came down the road I wondered if they had been the culprit. I was suddenly suspicious and paranoid and overly cautious. Those thorns sure hurt.
I'm the kind of person who likes to think that people are good at their core. I tend to see the best in people upon meeting them, and assume that people have good intentions, until proven otherwise. So, it's difficult for me to switch my thinking to "everyone is a potential enemy until proven otherwise", which is now my motto.
I'm still happy about owning a house in Costa Rica, but I've learned from my mistakes.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunny Days in San Francisco

I found out a surprising fact recently: Mark Twain did not infamously quote "the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco". Either way, the quote is dead on. Lucky for me, I spent the summer in Costa Rica and missed out on the chilly fog that filled the city all summer long. Luckier still, I am back in San Francisco just in time for Indian summer.
There really is nothing like a sunny day in San Francisco. Everyone is out and about and in a good mood. All the girls are wearing cute, summer dresses, and all the boys are turning their heads every time a girl walks by (unless, of course, you are in the Castro).
Festivals dominate the weekends, farmers' markets overflow with produce, people sunbathe half-nude in Dolores Park (or fully nude if you are at Baker's Beach).
The antics of street performers can be seen every few blocks. Musicians, jugglers, clowns, fortune tellers, and the like will perform for you for a donation or a smile. Although, I noticed something as I strolled by several performers while I was on my way to the Ferry Building (great place to spend a sunny day): where were the belly dancers? You've got the break dancers at the corner of Powell and Market, tap dancers at Fisherman's Wharf, even people trance dancing by hippie hill. But no belly dancers. In a city filled with Tribal Fusion dancers, you'd think there would be at least one tapping into her inner gypsy and performing for the passersby.
I'm almost tempted to belly dance by the street myself. But then I feel the warm sun on my skin, meander by a cafe, and get lulled into buying an iced coffee and lounging at an outside table. I guess I'll save the belly dancing for another time.
Side note: I did belly dance in Duboce Park for a kid's birthday party once. During the performance, a flock of green parrots landed in a nearby tree. Yes, we were that good- even the birds came to watch!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Rockin' Bellies!

Lately, I have been into producing shows as much as I have been into performing at them. My last creation, “Rock-A-Belly” went down at the internationally famous CafĂ© du Nord, in San Francisco.
Belly dance and rock music? Can the two really be combined without looking silly?
After “Rock-A-Belly”, the answer is a definite ‘yes’!
It’s easier to belly dance to rock music than you’d think. Everything is in an eight count, and the guitar solos are really just rock and roll versions of a taxeem. And the drums! Great way to get your shimmy on. And frankly, let’s admit it, there’s a reason so many strippers grind and get down to rock music; rock is sexy and fun and makes you want to dance! There’s a wild abandon that comes with rock music, which is so unlike the strict traditionalism that can come with classic styles of belly dance music.
I certainly let loose with wild abandon at the show. We opened with a belly dance set (sans bands), and all four dancers- Rasa Vitalia, Leah, Alodiah, and myself- had the crowd entranced by our own, unique styles. Yes, belly dance is diverse! It’s not all coin belts and sequins and bad Middle Eastern pop music. Especially in San Francisco.
I had only booked three bands for the night, but we somehow ended up with five. Deeva opened, but shared their set with Art in Heaven. Castles and Spain rocked the middle set. Ironically, there were no belly dancers in their set, and yet they were the only band that night who had a history of including belly dancers at their shows.
Our headliner was Electric Sister. Really sweet guys. So respectful to Alodiah and I during the rehearsals we went to. No sleaziness whatsoever. Until they got onstage. I knew they sometimes described their music as “LA stripper metal”, but I didn’t quite put two and two together. And really, it’s quite the challenge to belly dance to that kind of music, with the band guys acting like sleazy rock stars, while trying to maintain some sense of class.
Don’t get me wrong. I love, love, love sleazy rock and roll. And Electric Sister are great at what they do. It’s just a challenge to belly dance with them and not look like a stripper. Just one eight count of sloppy technique and I knew I’d be doomed!
Thank god, Alodiah and I had spent hours rehearsing our choreography. We could put those moves to any kind of music- rock, Middle Eastern, or otherwise- and we’d still look like professional belly dancers. Which was what I was going for: to show that belly dance is classy all on its own, regardless of what kind of music you put it to.
The night ended with a great surprise. One of my favorite bands, Triple Cobra, showed up to play a secret set after Electric Sister. Triple Cobra has a bit of a cult following, and their glam rock, make-up, and sparkles fit right in with the belly dance theme. Despite the differences between belly dance and rock culture, I’m glad to say that we can at least all get away with wearing sparkles on our faces.